In Scotland it had
been the master’s custom to keep a record of work done, and of money
paid or received. On parting with a neighbor, a farmer who had a
notion of emigrating, he was asked, as a favor, to keep notes of his
own daily experience. He had his doubts as to accounts of Canada he
had read being correct, and knew whatever the master set down as to
climate and other conditions he could depend upon. The book in which
these notes were made was never sent, the master having learnt his
friend had taken a new tack of his farm. From this journal I will
June 21.—Rushing work in getting up the shanties. Four men felling
trees and sawing their trunks into the desired length. Awkward in
chopping, I took the job of squaring the logs with the adze-ax.
Gordon notched the ends as I finished them. Digging his cellar
Brodie struck clay, which Jabez tells me is worth money to us. Under
Ailie’s direction, the children planted potatoes round the stumps of
the trees as they were cut down, and made a garden on a bare strip
of land on the pond bank. Have got all the boards drawn from Yonge-street.
Slow work with an ox-sled, having to dodge to avoid striking trees.
June 22.—Jabez helped Brodie to finish his cellar, lining it with
red-cedar poles. Great heat. Oxen drawing logs for the shanty.
June 23.—Began raising today. Jabez, never at a loss in finding the
easiest way, had left standing two trees at the site of the house.
Placing a stout pole in their crotches, long enough to reach across
from one to the other, he attached a pulley. An ox, hitched to the
end of the pulley-rope, hauled the logs to the spot and pulled them
up as needed. This saved much lifting and the walls went up quickly.
Gordon had notched the ends of the logs so exactly that they went
together without trouble.
June 24—Have got Brodie’s house up to the square and began putting
up the rafters. Cloudy; heat more bearable.
June 25—Saturday; eager to get the shanty finished all hands turned
to the work, got the shingling finished and the ground floor laid.
Mrs Brodie moved in at dark. Though there was neither door nor
windows in place, she said she was prouder of her shanty than the
Duchess of Hamilton could be of her palace.
June 26—The heat of this country surpasses anything we ever knew in
Scotland. All very tired and glad to rest in the shade, with a
smudge to keep off the mosquitoes. Strange to say, the children do
not seem to care much about the heat.
June 27—Jabez arrived with a wagon loaded with lumber. Drew on sled
first the doors and sashes, which he had got a carpenter to make for
Brodie’s house, which Gordon fitted in. Afternoon being wet, we
helped to lay the loft floor and to chink the house from the inside.
Gordon put up two wide shelves in the corners for beds, and is
making a table with benches on each side to sit on. The table has
crossed legs; the benches have no backs.
June 28—Everything being ready, began on my house.
June 29—Made good progress, for we have been gaining experience.
July 1—The roof being on, moved into our shanty;, well we did, for
it poured at night.
July 2—Had a long talk about chimneys for our houses. The right way
is to have a mason build them. There may be stones on our land, but
there are none in sight. Jabez says we will have to put up with
stick chimneys. In the hot weather we are having, cooking out of
doors is all right unless when it rains.
July 3—The Sabbath rest beneath our own roof was sweet. Mary pleased
and happy and mother proud of the house.
July 4—Leaving to Gordon the finishing of our shanty, the rest of us
tackled with might and main Auld’s. How quickly Jabez and Sal can
hew down a tree is a wonder to me.
July 5—Auld moved his belongings into his shanty this evening,
though it is not half done. Gave Jabez money to bring out with him
on Monday morning the iron-fixtures for our fire-places and the lime
for the chimneys.
July 6—On going out this morning saw a deer with her hind drinking
at the far end of the pond; beautiful creatures. Thank God for the
Sabbath. Without it we would have broken down with our hard toil.
July 7—Jabez brought word from Mr Bambray that he wanted us on the
9th to give us our deeds. Told me he could not finish out a month,
as he had expected. Business had become brisk in Toronto, and his
brothers needed his help. He started at once to build the chimney in
Brodies house, so that we could see how to do the other two. In
laying the floor a 6-foot square had been left uncovered for the
fire-place. In a frame of heavy elm logs that fitted the spot,
puddled clay mixed with sand was rammed hard. Two jambs were built
with brick which Jabez had brought and across them a thick plate of
cast iron, which was to support the front of the chimney. The back
of the chimney and sides had the few stones found in digging the
cellars, and on top of them was laid more brick until the ceiling
was reached. Care had been taken to build in a crane to hang pots.
From the floor of the loft squarely cut pieces of cedar, 2 inches
thick, were laid in clay mortar, and as the work went on were
plastered with the same mortar inside and out, until the top was two
feet above the ridge-board. Jabez said there was no danger of the
cedar sticks taking fire. They were so well-beded in the clay that
when it hardened the chimney was all one piece. If it fell, it would
July 11—Brodie, Auld, and myself accompanied Jabez on his going to
Toronto. Mr Bambray had arranged everything and in an hour we had
paid him and each of us had his deed. We asked him about securing a
road to our lots. He said two blocks of bush lay between them and
Yonge-street. Both were owned by a man who was holding to sell, and
he was afraid any influence we could exert would not compel him to
make the road, though that the condition on which the government had
given the land. Met in the tavern several emigrants eager to get
lots, all discontented with their treatment at the government
office. One said he would go to Illinois. Asked how he would get
there. Told me by Buffalo and lake Erie; land sold there at $1.25 an
acre and no bush to clear.
July 12—Tired and rainy. Auld and Brodie came over to square our
accounts. From the time we left the ship till we got into our
shanties, we lived in common. Found Brodie had least money and more
mouths to fill. His wife said she did not fear—they would struchle
through until they got a crop. We had a long talk about getting a
yoke of oxen, which we must have. Offered, if I got them, they would
pay me in days’ work. I decided to put up a stable to be ready when
I bought a yoke.
July 13—Took a tramp to see rear of my lot, Gordon guiding with a
compass. Ail of a sudden the bush ceased, and on finding I stood on
the edge of a swamp, I got angry at my being fooled into paying for
a cattail marsh. There is quite a stretch, not very wide, angling
across the width of my lot. On thinking it over, am satisfied
Bambray knew no more about its existence than I did. Returning home
I followed the creek, which starts from it. There was a little water
flowing. Noticed, where the creek leaves the marsh, a stretch of
tall wild grass.
July 14—Could not sleep thinking about the swamp. Got Gordon to make
a dozen cross-staffs and started for it to take levels. Found the
marsh sloped towards the creek, and between where it entered and a
hundred yards down the creek there is a fall of three feet, so the
marsh can be drained. Dug down in several places and found the marsh
to be a deposit of black soil on top of clay.
July 17—The Simmins family spent the afternoon with us. He knew
about the swamp, and called it a beaver-meadow. The grass that grew
at the head of the creek would make hay good enough for cattle. Said
I would find the dam the beavers had made if I searched a while, and
if I got out the logs that formed it, the water would have a free
course into the creek.
July 18—Spent all Saturday cutting grass at the head of the creek.
It is fine but long. Turned it today and, if rain keeps off, will be
ready to cock tomorrow' afternoon, the sun is so hot and the grass
July 19—Had Sal, Gordon, and Archie come and help to find the dam
the heavers had built. On a crowbar showing us where the logs were
buried shovelled off the dirt and pried them out. It was wet, dirty
work but we managed it. Cleared the bed of the creek of the rubbish
that choked it at its head. Sal found a turtle, which he carried
July 20—Brodie and Auld came early and we set to work to get logs
ready for the ox-stable. Very dry and hot.
July 21—Piled the hay in two stacks and thatched them as well as we
could. We had just finished when a thunderstorm burst.
July 23—Gordon, who has made furniture for all the houses, set up a
cupboard for Ailie, of which she is quite proud. The lad has a
wonderful knack and can copy anything he has a chance to examine. A
deluge of rain; never saw such a downfall in Scotland. Lasted six
hours and then came out sultry.
July 24—Sal stepped in while we were at breakfast with the hind
quarter of a deer, his father had come on during the heavy rain and
shot. First fresh meat we have had. Found it dry eating. Sunday
though it was, walked with Sal to head of creek and found water was
running freely into it from the marsh. Coming back Sal spied bees
round a tree and said he would get the honey next month. Told me the
names of the different squirrels and birds we saw and he had fun
with a ground hog.
July 30—Although the weather has been warm have worked steadily
chopping down trees; the sound of the axe coming from the three
lots. On each of them there is now quite a clearance. Jabez had
shown us how to make plan-heaps, and we so fell the trees, which
will save hard work when we come to burn. Except myself, all are
getting to be expert with the axe, though Sal, with less exertion,
can chop down two to Allan’s one.
August 1—Growth far outstrips that of Scotland, and no wonder, there
is no such heat there. In thinning turnips and the like Ailie kept
what is pulled for boiling; they make good greens. We had a long
talk about buying a yoke of oxen at once, and Brodie and Auld agreed
to help me with the stable for them.
August 3—Fixed on spot for stable and began preparing logs for it,
choosing cedar and pine as being easier to handle.
August 8—Began raising stable. Gordon made very neat corners.
August 9—Had stable up to the square when we dropped work.
August 11—Got the rafters on. Having no sawed lumber or shingles,
will have to cut basswood staves and scoops.
August 13—Stable finished and all proud of it. There is a roomy loft
which will be useful for more than fodder, for I am told when there
is no bed in the shanty for a visitor they 'loft him.’
August 14—Had arranged to walk to Toronto, for none of us have been
inside a church since we left Scotland, but the sun came out with
such a blistering heat that we had to give up our intention. It is
awfully lonesome in the bush, and were it not for the work you are
forced to do, we would get vacant-minded. It has been a great
blessing in every way that the three families settled together. I
can believe the report that a family planted in the depths of the
bush, without a neighbor nearer than three miles, abandoned all they
had accomplished to get company.
August 15—While chinking the stable, Gordon helping, I heard a crash
and a cry from where Allan was chopping. We ran to the spot, and my
heart jumped into my mouth, when I saw him lying as if he were dead
under a big branch. I was for dragging him out, when Gordon showed
me the movement would bring down the butt of the branch on his body.
He ran for help. Ailie came first and then Brodie, and while the
three of us held up the limb of the tree, Ailie pulled him out. She
was calmer than any of us. Carrying him to the house, we had the
satisfaction of finding there was no bone broken. A blue mark above
the right eye showed where he had been struck As he was breathing
easily we bad hopes he would come to, but it was long before he did,
and it was the most anxious hour Ailie and I had ever known. When he
opened his eyes, and looking wonderingly round asked, ‘What is a’
the steer aboot?’ we never before thanked God with such fervor.
Gordon had run for Mrs Simmins, and while we were keeping wet cloths
on Allan’s head, she hurried in. Looking at the mark, which was now
swollen, and feeling all round it, Mrs Simmins declared there was no
fracture of the skull and that the blow had only stunned him. ‘Well
for him that he is a thick-headed Scotchman or he would have been
killed' she remarked. Taking a fleam from her pocket, she lanced the
lump and let it bleed freely. ‘If bruised blood is left to get into
the system, there will be a fever, in which many a man has died'
Allan fell asleep and when he woke it was to ask for a drink.
Aug. 16—Allan woke this morning all right, except feeling giddy. He
will never again have as narrow an escape with his life. The tree he
was felling, a big maple, in falling toppled over a dead tree beside
it, which was so rotten that it fell in a shower of pieces.
Aug. 18. — Went to see the swamp and glad to find it was drier. The
water has got vent and is seeping into the creek. Could walk on
parts that would not carry before. Looked it over to plan how to
drain it. Gordon, who was with me, said, Cut a ditch up the centre.
I showed him that would not do when the swamp came to be plowed. The
right way was to cut a ditch across the head and have it empty into
another along the south side to the creek. Looked at me in wonder as
he asked if I ever expected to plow it. Said I would grow grain on
it before other three years. On returning he and I did a bit of
underbrushing, piling as much of the brush as we could round the
felled timber to help to burn it.
Aug. 19—Kept underbrushing all day.
Aug. 20—So hot gave the ax a rest. In the afternoon a thunderstorm.
The downpour tested the roof of the stable, which leaked in only one
place, where a scoop had split.
Aug. 21—Quite cool With a brisk northerly breeze. Wife and myself
started for Toronto, and never enjoyed a walk more. Did us good to
watch the clearances as we passed along. Fall wheat all cut and
stacked. Barley being cradled and oats looking extra heavy though
short in the straw The sight of gardens and patches of potatoes
pleased Ailie, and we both were surprised by the Indian corn, which
we never saw before. It was tasseling. The bell was ringing when we
reached Toronto and had to ask our way to the Presbyterian church.
The crowd was going to the Episcopal and Methodist churches. The
service was dry and cold, but it did us both good to worship with
our fellows once more and join in the psalms. As we were walking
away I heard somebody behind us call, Andrew Anderson, and looking
back saw Mrs Bambray. Told her we were going to the tavern for
dinner. ‘Thee shall go to no tavern on the seventh day,’ and
slipping her arm into my wife’s, led us to her house. Pointing to a
door she told me to go in and I would see what I never saw in
Scotland, and led my wife upstairs. Opening the door I found myself
in a backshed, with Bambray rubbing ointment on a negro’s arm The
man was a runaway slave and had arrived that morning on a schooner
from Oswego. Bambray had washed him end dressed him in clean
overalls. He bade the negro pull off his shirt so that I might see
the marks of the welts made by a whipping he bad got with a
blacksnake whip and his master's brand, made with a hot iron, on his
right arm The left arm had got injured in his flight and had an
unhealed wound. The poor fellow said he came from Maryland and had
known no trouble until his wife bad been taken from him and sold.
His master ordered him to pick on another woman, but he loved his
wife and ran away to find her; had been caught and whipped to within
an inch of his life. Hearing slaves were free in Canada, he took the
first chance to slip away. He hid during the day. and at night,
guided by the plow in the sky, kept northwards. He got some food by
visiting negro huts, and at one of these he was told how a band of
white people helped negroes seeking their liberty. Finding a house
he was directed to call at, he found it was true. The man fed him
and ferried him across a river and gave him the landmarks of the
next house he was to call at for help, and from one to another he
was passed along until he got to Oswego, where he was hid in the
hold of a schooner whose captain was an Englishman. It had taken him
a long time to make the journey, he could not tell me how long, for
he did not know the days of the week much less the months. On
getting to Toronto he was guided by a sailor boy to Bambray’s house,
which was one of several where runaways were sure of help. Asked
Bambray what he would do with the man. When fit for work he would be
given an ax, saw, and sawhorse and was sure of earning a living. ‘Me
strong,’ said the man, standing up, and me free'. Left Bambray’s
late in the afternoon and got home before sunset.
Aug. 27—A week of steady work chopping. We must get clearances big
enough to raise crops for next year's living no matter how hot the
Aug. 28—The Simmins family spent the day with us. They leave for the
lake Simcoe country. All three like the free life of fishing,
trapping, and hunting, and spoke as if they were going on a holiday.
If they did well and got a big pack of furs, they intend in the
spring to try Illinois, so we may not meet again. They sang and
talked all day and we parted with sorrow. The days are still hot but
the nights are cool with heavy dews.
Aug. 30—Each day hard at work felling trees. When I first saw our
lot and how thick the trees stood on it I could hardly believe it
possible we could clear the land of them, yet we have been here
scarce three months and there is a great slash. Taking the trees one
by one and perseverance has done it. Burning the felled trees that
cumber the ground is the next undertaking. This cutting out a home
from the bush is work that exhausts body and mind, but the reward is
what makes life sweet to right-minded people—independence.
September 1—Had new potatoes to-day. They are dry and mealy and
abundant in yield. I may say this is the first food the land has
Sept. 2—Had a chance to send a note to Jabez to look out a suitable
yoke of oxen. On going to Yonge-street found a long building going
up. It is a tavern. The street is lined with them all the way to
Toronto and how far north they go cannot say. Being the leading
outlet there is much traffic on it. Saw several parties of emigrants
pass. Imprudent to come so late in the season. They will have their
sufferings when winter sets in for they have not time to prepare for
it. Experience has shown me emigrants should come early in spring. I
spoke with one lot. They sailed from Liverpool to New York and
thence by the Erie canal to Oswego, avoiding the ordeal of the St
Lawrence rapids. It seems strange but it is so, the United States is
Upper Canada’s market. In comparison, little freight either goes or
comes by Montreal. This ought not to be. The reason given is, that
Lower Canada will not help to improve the St Lawrence route as it
would not be to her benefit.
Sept. 5—There is a plague of squirrels—black, red and grey. Robby
keeps killing them and we have them on the table every day. Pushing
the chopping, for our next year’s living depends on the size of our
clearances. Weather being cooler, work not so exhausting. Had a
scare yesterday from a bear trotting to the pond. It had its drink
and fled on seeing us.
Sept. 9—Had word from Jabez to come to town as he had a yoke of oxen
bought for me.
Sept. 10—Walked to Toronto, taking Gordon to help. Am no judge of
oxen. They cost $60. Besides them had to pay for logging-chain and
an ox-sled. Gordon spent the time in the wheelwright’s shop where I
bought the sled. On Jabez telling me we would need somebody to teach
us how to handle oxen and to burn a fallow, I went to see Sloot, and
bargained with him for a week’s work. On getting all that wets
needed for my neighbors and myself the sled was heaped up; we
walked, Sloot driving. It was near midnight when we reached home,
but Allie and the family got up to see the oxen by candle-light.
Sept. 11—Sunday though it was, Sloot, taking the boys to clear the
way, had to go to the stacks near the swamp for hay to feed the
oxen. It was a work of necessity. They came back in the afternoon
with a small load, for the track was rough.
Sept 12—Sloot and all hands were up at sunrise to set fire to the
brushpiles. The day was cool with a breeze that helped the fires.
Burning the logs was next taken in hand, and being green and thick
they were slow to burn.
Sept. 13—The weather was again favorable for our work of burning the
logs but, despite a strong wind, they burned slowly and we had to
keep poking and turning them to get a hot blaze. The smoke and heat
were like to overcome me, but Sloot went ahead. He was born in the
bush and all its work is second nature to him. Washed in the pond
and got to bed late.
Sept. 14—Auld and Sloot, Allan helping, worked all night with the
logheaps, which I found this morning much reduced in size. The
logging-chains and the oxen today came into play, the partly
consumed logs being hauled to form fresh piles. By dark there was
quite a clearance.
Sept. 15—Light white frost this morning. Helping neighbors. Sun came
out on our starting to burn at Auld’s but the wind blew a gale, and
we had a splendid burn.
Sept. 16—Pouring rain and glad of it, for all of us except Sloot are
dead-tired. He says the rain will wash the charred logs and make
them easier to handle.
Sept. 17—Spent the day hauling the biggest of the partly burned logs
to make a fence across the clearing. The smaller stuff we heaped up
and set on fire. Allan handles the oxen very well considering.
Wanted Sloot to stay another week, but he could not. He is a civil
fellow and not greedy. Ailie sent a queer present to his wife.
Before Mrs Simmins left she explained and showed how to secure and
dry dandelion roots to make coffee. In lifting potatoes, when a
dandelion root is seen, it is pulled carefully, or, if scarce among
potatoes, dug up carefully in the fall so as to get the entire root.
The roots are washed, dried in the sun and stored away. As wanted
for use, a root or so is chopped small, roasted in a pan until
crisp, then ground, and made like ordinary coffee.
Sept. 24—All week we worked at getting crop-into the fallow. After
clearing it of sticks, we used spade, grape, and rake to get it
something near level. Gordon studded a log with wooden spikes which
we dragged over the worst of it. On getting the best seedbed
possible, sowed wheat. The soil had a topdressing of charcoal
cinders and ashes that I thought would help. If the seed gives an
average yield, will not have to buy flour next year.
Sept. 26—It rained all day yesterday; at night cleared with quite a
touch of frost. Busy chopping to enlarge clearance. The young fellow
who came out with us from Scotland and got drunk at Montreal,
appeared at our door this morning. He had lived chiefly in Toronto
and his appearance showed had done no good. Wanted a job. Agreed
with him to dig ditch in the swamp, the understanding being if he
got drunk he need not come back. Leaves are burning color.
Oct. 2—Sat most of the day on front step taking in the beauty of the
trees that overhang the pond on three of its sides. I can compare
them to nothing but gigantic flowers. Steeped in the haze of a
mellow sun the sight was soothing. Nothing like this in Scotland.
The birds have gone; the swallows left in August.
Oct. 9—Been a sorrowful week. On unpacking our baggage on arrival in
the bush, found my mother’s spinning-wheel was broken. Gordon
managed to mend it and I bought ten pounds of wool. This she washed,
teased, and carded, and proud she was when she sat down and began to
spin the rolls into yarn. Tuesday afternoon Ailie and Ruth went to
pick wild grapes, and the rest of us were at our work in the bush.
Grannie was left alone. She had 'moved her wheel to the door to sit
in the sunshine, where she could see the brightness of the trees and
enjoy the calm that prevailed. How long she span we do not know. On
Ailie’s return she was startled at the sight of her bending over the
wheel. She was dead. While stooping to join a broken thread God took
her. Next day buried her on a rising bit of ground overlooking the
pond. What a mother she was I alone can know. I shall never forget
her. Last evening there was to us a marvellous display of northern
lights. When daylight faded pink clouds appeared in the sky mixed
with long shooting rays of white light. The clouds changed shape
continually, but the color was always a shade of red. At times the
clouds filled the entire northeastern sky.
Oct. 10—Crying need for rain; everything dry as tinder; air full of
Oct. 15—My worker at the ditch insisted he had to go to Toronto.
Gave him his pay and knew he would not come back, despite his
promise. There are more slaves than black men. The man of whom
whiskey has got a grip is the greater slave.
Oct. 17—Closed the house on Sunday morning and all walked to Toronto
to attend worship. Today yoked the sled to an ox, for our path to
Yonge-street is too narrow for two, in order to find settlers who
had produce to sell. Bought corn in cob, apples, pumpkins, and
vegetables, but only one bag of oats, few having threshed. Was
kindly received and learnt much. In one shanty found a shoemaker at
work. He travels from house to house and is paid by the day, his
employers providing the material. Agreed with him to pay us a visit
and he gave me a list of what to get in Toronto.
Oct. 18—Spent day in trying to make everything snug for winter.
Oct 19—Went to Toronto determined to find out whether there is no
way of compelling the man who owns the land that blocks us from
Yonge-street to open a road. First of all I called upon him, and he
received me civilly. I told him how our three families were shut in.
Asked if we would not buy his lot, he would sell the 1200 acres
cheap and give us time. Answered we could not, we had all we could
manage. He thought we were unreasonable in asking him to make a road
which he did not need. It would be of use to us but not to him.
Asked him if the conditions on which the lot was granted did not
require him to open a road? Replied, that was like many other laws
the legislature made, and which were disregarded everywhere in the
province. When I said, since it is law it could be enforced, he
smiled and said there was no danger of that. Was pleased to hear of
our settlement behind his land and hoped it would help to bring him
customers. Turning from his dour, I made straight for a lawyer’s
office, to make sure whether the owner of vacant land could not be
forced to open a road. The lawyer, an oldish man, listened to my
story and told me to give up the idea of compelling the making of
the road we needed. You are a stranger and ignorant of how matters
stand. The law is straight enough, that whenever the government
grants a lot, the receiver must do his part to open a road, but the
law has become a dead letter. Two-thirds of the granted land is held
by men who have favor with the government and who are holding to
sell. Did you ever hear of Peter Russel? When a surveying party came
in, he found out from their reports where the lots of best land
were, and made out deeds to himself. ‘I, Peter Russel,
lieutenant-governor, etc., do grant to you, Peter Russel,’ such and
such lots. If you sued the gentleman you visited this forenoon you
would lose. The court officials all have lots they expect to turn
into money and would throw every obstacle in the way. Should your
case come to trial, it would be before a judge who is a relative,
and who holds patents for thousands of acres of wild land. The
condition in their titles about cutting out roads, is like those
that require a house to be built and so many acres of land in crop
before a patent is issued. There are thousands of settlers worse off
than you are, for you say you have a sled-path to your house. The
lawyer spoke candidly and showed his sincerity and goodwill by
refusing to take the fee I offered.
Oct 20—A real cold day; fine for chopping and the sound of trees
falling was heard every hour. Wheat is growing finely. Had a talk
with Auld and Brodie at night and agreed we would improve the
sled-track to Yonge-street, seeing there was no prospect of the
owner doing anything.
Oct. 22—Surprised by a message that there was a bull-plow waiting
for me at the corner-house on Yonge-street. Jabez had told Mr
Bambray about the swamp, and he sent the plow to help to bring it
Oct. 24—Took the plow out to the swamp, which I found pretty dry at
one side. Yoked the oxen to it and I plowed all afternoon. Felt good
to grip the stilts once more.
Oct. 29—Spent three days on the sledroad and the three families
joined in the work. Cut a great many roots, filled hollows, and
felled trees whose branches obstructed. It is now fairly smooth but
far too narrow for a wagon.
Oct. 30—Surprised by a visit From Jabez, who came on horseback. Said
he had a chance to give Gordon a few weeks’ training with a
carpenter. He was not now busy himself, as the shipping season was
over. Brought Ailie a basket of fresh water herring. Left after
Oct. 31—Gordon started early for Toronto, with his bundle over his
shoulder. We shall miss him sadly. In the evening our neighbors came
and we held Halloween as heartily as if we had been in Ayrshire.
Nov. 1—Bright and frosty. Took the oxen back to the swamp; found
there was not frost enough to interfere and turned over a few
ridges, and cast waterfurs leading to the ditch.
Nov. 2—White frosts fetch rain in this country and a cold rain fell
all day. Sawing and splitting the logs we had set aside for
Nov. 3—The rain turned to snow during the night and there are fully
four inches. The youngsters hitched an ox to the sled and started
off, shouting and laughing, for Yonge-street to have their first
sleigh drive. Came home in great glee in time for supper. Robbie
says he wants a sleigh bell.
Nov. 5—Snow gone; clear and fine. Chopping down trees.
Nov. 6—A peaceful autumn day. Heard a robin and wondered how it came
to be left behind by its comrades. Had a walk in the bush in the
afternoon thinking of mother and the land I shall never forget.
Nov. 7—Shoemaker arrived. A great talker. Tells of families where
the children had to stay in all winter for lack of boots.
Nov. 12—A week of steady clearing of the land, we shall have a great
burning in the spring. Have had hard frosts every night. Going to
Yonge-street. to see if I could get oats for the oxen, for the swamp
hay is not nourishing and they are young and growing, found
provisions remarkably plenty and cheap, especially pork. Bargained
for a two-year old steer which the farmer promised not to kill until
steady frost set in. Thankful we did not go farther into-the bush.
It is a blessing to be near older settlers who have a surplus to
sell. There was a smoky haze over the bush today, and the sun shone
with a subdued brightness; very still with a mellow warmth. Was told
it was the Indian summer.
Nov. 20—Had four days of Indian summer and then a drenching rain
from the east, which stopped chopping. A black frost today, dark and
bleak. Had a letter from Gordon yesterday, who is happy in learning
so much that is new to him. He was at Bambray’s for dinner last
Sabbath and spent an evening at Dunlop’s. He will make friends
wherever he goes.
December 3—There has been nothing worth setting down. Have had a
long spell of grey, cloudy days, which just suited felling trees and
under-brushing. Have got our patch of wheat well fenced in, not to
keep cattle out, there are none near us, but to help to keep a
covering of snow on the wheat. Robbie trapped a coon that haunted
the barn and it made fine eating. He says the pelt will make a
neck-wrap for his mother.
Dec. 7—Went to get the steer I had bargained for. The farmer
suggested instead of butchering the beast and hauling the carcase it
would be easier to drive it on foot and kill it at home, which I
Dec. 8—Killed the steer, which dressed well. Auld and Brodie took
away their portions to salt down, but Allie followed Mrs Bambray’s
advice. After the pieces are hard frozen she will pack them in snow.
Dec. 10—Began to snow gently yesterday and continues. There are now
about six inches.
Dec. 11—Bitterly cold; never felt the like. What Burns calls
cranreuch cauld gets into the bones, but this frost seems to squeeze
body and bones, pinching and biting the exposed skin.
Dec. 13—Ailie is never at a loss. On Mrs Brodie telling the children
woke at night crying from cold, she had no blankets to give her.
Having sheets we brought from Scotland she took two and placed as an
inside lining the skins of the squirrels Robbie had killed. Simmins
had taught him how to tan and give them a soft finish. Brodie and
Auld’s houses are cold because they only half chinked them. Mrs Auld
said the blankets were frozen where the breath struck them and the
loaf of bread could be sawn as if it were a block of wood. Both now
believe Canada’s cold is not to be trifled with and are scraping
moss off the trees to caulk between the outside logs the first warm
Dec. 14—The frost holds. Worked all day with Allan. Does not feel
cold in the bush. The trees break the wind that is so piercing in
Dec. 15—Milder; in the sun at noon almost warm. Got out ox-sled and
went with Brodie along Yonge-street to buy pork. Bought three
carcases. People are kindly. Have never called at a house where we
were not invited to return and pay a family visit.
Dec. 19—Have had a three day snap of frost, Either getting used to
the cold or are adapting ourselves to meet it, for do not feel the
discomfort we did. Ruth going to the ox-stable without putting a
wrap over her head got her cheeks and ears frozen. Robbie trapped a
hare. Pleads for a gun. Ailie will give him a surprise New Year’s
Dec. 24—The snow helps greatly in hauling fallen trees and logs.
Give them their own time, and oxen beat horses in handling difficult
loads. Gordon came walking in this afternoon, quite unexpectedly,
for we did not look for him until this day week. He says Christmas
is the big day in Toronto, and not New Year’s day. His master had
shut his shop for a week. He gave him a deerskin jerkin as a
Dec. 27—Gordon has been busy making snow-shoes. His first pair was
for Ruth, who can now walk in them. Snowed all day; not cold. He has
taught her to ride one of the oxen.
Dec. 28—A thaw, much needed to settle the snow, which was getting
too deep. Youngsters shovelled a strip on the pond and made a fine
Dec. 31—Made preparation to keep Hogmanay, inviting our two
neighbors. Had built a big fire, with a beech back-log, so heavy
that an ox had to haul it to the door, and put a smaller one on top,
while in front split wood blazed, and made the shanty so light that
no candle was needed. The young folk had a great night of it, and
braved the frost to go to the stable door and sing their old
Hogmanay rhymes. The feast was plain as plain could be, but
contented and merry hearts care not for dainties.
January 1,1826—All gathered again in our shanty after dinner, when
we had a fellowship meeting to thank God for all his mercies, and
surely, when I review all the dangers he has led us through, and the
mercies he has bestowed on us during the year that has gone, we have
good cause to adore him. Gave Star and Bright an extra feed of oats.
Jany. 2—Allie had just sat down after clearing the dinner dishes
away, when Ruth came running in crying she heard sleighbells coming
up our road. I went out and was astonished when a sleigh came in
sight, the horse dashing the snow into powder breast high. It was Mr
Dunlop and his wife, who had come to pay us a New Year’s call. They
stayed an hour and it was a happy one, for Mr Dunlop is a heartsome
man. Was greatly taken with the improvements we had made. His wife
brought a package of tea for Ailie. She made them a cup of dandelion
coffee which, after their drive, they relished with her oatmeal
cakes. In parting took me aside and told me if I ran short of cash
to come to him. He is a friend. After they were gone, Robbie and
Allan came home. They had to have a tramp in the bush to try the gun
their mother had got for Robbie. They brought in three partridge and
two hares, and were in great spirits. Gordon had bought the gun from
an English lad who had come to Canada with the notion that it was
full of wild beasts and Indians. He found he had no need of it.
Jany. 4—Have had a heavy snowstorm with a gale of wind. The snow
here is not flaky, but fine and powdery, fills the air so you cannot
see ahead, and sifts through every crevice. Thankful when the blast
died down. Mrs Auld declares if the summer heat and the winter cauld
were carded through ane anither Canada would have a grand climate.
The two extremes are indeed most trying.
Jany 5—Work in the bush stopped by the snow, is so deep that when a
tree is felled half is buried.