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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar
Chapter IX - The After Years


Further extracts from the masters diary would not help the story I am telling you, for it becomes such a record as many farmers keep,—when they sowed and reaped, what they sold and bought. Having completed the account of his first year’s experience in the bush for his friend in Scotland, he ceased noting down his daily happenings, which for him no longer had the interest of novelty.

The forest had been sufficiently subdued to enable him to gain a living from the land, and his life partook more and more of the routine of Canadian farmers. He was, however, much more successful than the majority of them, due to his energy and skill. His first decided start was due to the existence of that swamp whose discovery filled him with dismay. The forage he got off it enabled him to start keeping stock long before he otherwise could have done. In the fall of 1826 he bought a cow and a couple of two-year old heifers, and the following spring there was enough milk to enable the mistress to make a few cheese. These gave the farm a reputation which established a steady demand at a paying price. More cows were got, no grain was sold, everything was fed, and the master, with the help of the mistress, led in dairying. In Ayrshire she had the name of making the best cheese in the parish and her skill stood the family in good stead in Canada.

That second summer the entire swamp was brought into cultivation, and it proved to be the best land on the farm for grass. When other pastures were dried up, cattle had a bite on the swamp, for so it continued to be called long after it had lost all the features of a swamp. The clearing of the forest went on steadily, so that each fall saw a larger yield of grain and roots. In the fifth year the master was rejoiced to find many of the stumps could be dragged out by oxen, and a field secured on which he could use the long-handled plow as in Scotland.

An unlooked for result of the draining of the swamp and the sweeping away of the forest in every direction was the gradual drying up of the pond. A more striking instance was told me by a settler who was led to choose a lot near lake Simcoe on account of a brook prattling across it and which reminded him of Scotland. In twenty years the brook was gone, the plow turning furrows on its bed. The one great drawback to the progress of the three families was the lack of a road to Yonge-street. In winter there was little difficulty for then snow made a highway, but the rest of the year no wheeled vehicle could go over it. At one of the sessions of the legislature, when the estimates for roads and bridges was up, the owner of the 1200 acre block of land that was the cause of our trouble, made a pathetic appeal for a grant to give an outlet to three of the thriftiest and most deserving families he had any acquaintance with, and his appeal resulted in a hundred dollars being voted. Two years later, on being questioned by the master about the grant, the honorable gentleman (for he had Hon. before his name) told him he had drawn the money but there was no condition as to the time he should start the work. In 1830 there set in an unprecedented influx of immigrants, who wanted land. The honorable gentleman saw his opportunity and sold every acre of the 1200. Those who bought had to cut out the road, and making it passable for travel was hard work for years, on account of the size of the stumps and of many parts having to be corduroyed.

With the coming of these new neighbors, a school became necessary and in it services were held on Sunday. The master sought the help of a Presbyterian minister in Toronto. He came once; on finding how rude everything was, he declined to return. A North of Ireland family was no more successful with an Anglican minister. He had newly come out from a cathedral city in the south of England and was shocked to find the log school had not a robing-room. The end was that a Methodist circuit-rider took in our settlement in his rounds, which resulted in a majority of those who attended his services uniting with the Methodist church. The ministers who came from the Old Country in those early days were singularly unfit for new settlements. The Anglican on landing assumed he was the only duly accredited clergyman, and was offended at his claim being slighted, while his feelings were jarred by the lack of conditions he considered essential to the proper conducting of worship. The Presbyterian ministers were more amenable to the changes, yet their ideals were of the parishes they had known in Scotland—a church, a manse, a glebe, tiends, and a titled patron. The effects of State established churches in the Old Land were thus felt in the backwoods, which was shown more markedly in the strife to reproduce State churches in Canada. I look back with distress to the bitter controversy which went on from year to year over the possession of the revenue from the clergy reserves. The cause of strife was not altogether the money, but the proof of superiority the possession of the fund would give. With many it was a.® much pride as covetousness. When we recall the energy that characterized the agitation over the clergy reserves, I think of what the same effort would have accomplished had it been directed to evangelize the province.

Another agitation, less prolonged but fiercer while it lasted, was that which reached its head in the rebellion year. As was unavoidable, the rule of the province on its being organized, fell into the hands of the people who first came. They divided its public offices among themselves and managed its affairs. In time these first-comers were outnumbered by immigrants, but there was no change. the first-comers held to the reins. Had they used their power in the public interest, that would have been submitted to, but they did not—they abused their power for their own interests. They multiplied offices, increased salaries, grabbed the public lands, and laid the foundation of a national debt by borrowing money. There were instances of stealing of public funds, with no punishment following. Farmers became restless under an iniquitous administration of public lands. The discontent, which was as wide as the province, was taken advantage of by men who designed Canada should become a republic, and began an agitation to bring that about. Men, like the master, who ardently wished reforms, were repelled when they found the main object of the leaders of the agitation was the separation of Canada from Britain and would have nothing to do with them. The first time the master met Mackenzie he took a dislike to him, perceiving his overweening vanity, his habit of contradiction, and his lack of judgment. He said he was a specimen of the unpleasant type of Scot who meddled and denounced to attract attention and make himself of consequence. When he saw him shaping a rebellion he declared it would be a ridiculous failure, that no such whitrick of a creature could lead in the peoples cause. There were grievous wrongs to be righted, but he held the advocacy of the changes called for by such men as Mackenzie was a hindrance instead of a help to their being secured. Brodie’s oldest son was somewhat conceited, and had come to believe he was born to be something else than a farmer. I think the isolation of farm life conduces to develop that notion. The boy brought little in contact with his fellows, does not have his pretensions rubbed down, and comes to think he is superior to them. I have seen many such, who thinking they were business men, or would shine in some public capacity, or were fitted to adorn a profession, made shipwreck of their lives in leaving the plow. Hugh was one of those. A good fellow and a good worker with his father, he began by frequenting corner stores at night and before long considered himself an authority in politics and was ready to argue in a long-winded and dreary fashion with any who disputed his crude assertions. Taken notice of by leaders in the agitation going on, appointed to committees and consulted as to plans on foot, he became carried away and neglected his home duties. When the explosion took place in December, 1837, he was one of those who met at Montgomery’s tavern.

A decisive blow could have been struck had the men there gathered marched to Toronto and seized the guns stored in the city hall. There was no man to take the lead. Mackenzie vapored and complained of others, formed plans one hour to change the next, and demonstrated the weakness of his shallow nature. Seeing this, farmers sincerely desirous of a change in the rule of the province, left for their homes, and the handful left were routed without trouble. Hugh was among those made prisoners and placed in Toronto jail. His father was in great distress and implored me to help to get him released. My stay in Toronto had given a knowledge of its officials and I told him if he was willing to pay it might be done. We went to the home of the prosecutor for the crown. The father told his tale and, in piteous terms, begged the return of his son to his distracted mother. Perceiving what he said had no effect, I took the gentleman aside and told him the father might give cash bail. ‘How much is he ready to deposit?’ was asked. I thought he had $5.25 in his pocket. ‘Not enough' he replied. ‘The lad can be indicted for treason which means hanging.’ ‘You cannot get evidence against him on that charge. Say what you want?’ Turning to Brodie he said if he would deposit ten pounds, and enter into the proper recognizances he would give him an order to the jailor for his son’s release. Without a word of demur the father counted out $40 of his painfully gathered savings and the chancellor scribbled the order. On reaching the prison the jailor raised objections. It was now dark and after hours and the lad had been boarded four days and the fees of the constables who had arrested him had to be paid. I cut him short by asking ‘How much?’ The fellow eyed the father as if calculating the extent of his ability to pay. ‘Ten pound ten.’ he said. ‘Nonsense,’ I replied, farmers have not that much money to give away; say one pound ten and I will advance it for him.’ He nodded and I passed the money. Going upstairs he threw open a door, and we saw in the hall, or rather corridor, a crowd of men. They were silent with the exception of one who was denouncing his being held as an outrage, for he was as loyal as the governor himself. The rest of them were enduring their condition in sullen silence. Among them were industrious farmers who had warrants issued against them because they had been known to threaten officials in the land-office for not getting patents for the lots they had paid for, farmers arrested on information lodged by men who owed them, others by officials who expected to share in their property when confiscated, and barroom politicians who had expressed their opinions too freely about those in power. A few, however, were thoughtless young fellows who had been drawn to visit Montgomery’s tavern from mere curiosity and love of excitement. The room was lighted dimly by two lamps hung on the walls;, the heat was stifling, the odor sickening. We looked among the throng for Hugh. His father pulled my sleeve and pointed to a far corner, where he was squat on the floor with his face to the wall in the stupor of despair. The jailer jostled his way to him, and grasped his collar. Hugh turned his face in agonized apprehension of his fate, for he told us afterwards he expected to be hanged, and that he was wanted. Dragging him to where we stood the poor fellow collapsed at sight of his father and fell on his neck. Hastening downstairs the jailer opened the wicket and we were on the street. Hugh was dazed when he saw the jailer did not follow.

Where are we going, fatlher?' ‘Going home.’ ‘Have I not to go back to prison?’ ‘No, you are free.’ Hugh broke down and cried. ‘We will have supper and then we will hitch up.’ ‘No, no,’ sobbed Hugh, ‘let us go home now.’ On shaking hands with them all the horse started, I saw poor Hugh was thouroly humbled and penitent. It was not for a brief time, for on going home he proved what his boyhood had promised, an obedient son and steady worker. 'He never has now a word of complaint about what is set on the table,’ whispered his mother to me.

This ridiculous attempt at a revolution had one good and one bad effect. The good, was a change in the government that made conditions more tolerable; the bad, was in giving color to fastening upon Liberals the stigma of disloyalty The leaders in the attempted rising had declared for separation from Britain, and those of them who escaped across the frontier became avowed annexationists. W hat they were the Tories asserted all Liberals were and the. maintenance of British connection depended upon their being kept out of office. The many years that have passed have made that pretension traditional, and whenever there is an election, I hear the charge of disloyalty imputed to Liberals and the claim to exclusive loyalty made by their opponents.

The passing years have wrought a marvellous change in the face of the country. Our drive up Yonge-street in 1825 was like a boat treeing a narrow channel of the sea. On either hand was a continuous wall of forest, and where an attempt had been made to push it back the uncarved bush projected like rocky promontories. The houses passed at wide intervals were shanties; the clearances in which they were set cluttered with stumps. How different now. Handsome residences have replaced the log-shanties, the bush has become a graceful fringe in the background of smooth, well - tilled fields. Like the ocean which keeps no trace of the keels that have furrowed its wastes, these beautiful fields are the speechless bequest of the men and women who redeemed them from savagery at the cost of painful privations, of exhausting, never ceasing toil, of premature decay of strength. They fought and overcame and succeeding generations enjoy the fruits of their labors—fruits they barely lived to taste. These were the men and women who made Canada, the founders of its prosperity, the true Makers of the nation to which it has grown. It is common for politicians and their newspapers to steal for their party-idols credit to which they have no claim, by styling them the Makers of Canada, but no suppression of facts, no titles the crown is misled to confer, no Windsor uniforms, no strutting in swords and cocked hats, no declarations and resolutions of parliament, no blare of party conventions, no lies graven on marble, nor statues of bronze, can change the truth, that the True Makers of Canada were those who, in obscurity and poverty, made it with ax and spade, with plow and scythe, with sweat of face and strength of arm.

I would not imply that being first is necessarily a merit in itself. There must be a beginning to everything and to magnify the man who felled the first tree or reared the first shanty is no honor if unaccompanied by moral worth. I have seen many townships come into existence and have known the men who first went into them, and my sorrow is, that so few of them are worthy of remembrance. Recognizing this, I pay no honor to a man who boasts he was the first to do this or that, and who, though first, threw away his opportunity to benefit himself and those who followed. I am tired of men who posture as pioneers and founders and who have nothing else to claim. Unless they also had moral worth, strove to give the right tone to the settlement of which, by accident, they started, they are not deserving of more than passing notice.

Scores of times I have been struck by the differences in settlements, how one is thrifty, and its neighbor shiftless; one sending into the world young men and women of intelligence and high aspiration; the other coarse people who gravitate downward. If a first settler is of sterling character he moulds the community that gathers around him and he deserves honor, but the first settler of gross habits it is welt to forget. The government that tries to make a selection among those who seek its land acts wisely in the interest of coming generations. To give land to all who ask it, regardless of what they are, will indeed fill the country, but will be of no benefit in the long run. I know of townships where laziness, ignorance, prejudice, and gross habits prevail to such a degree that it would have been better had the land remained in bush. The bullet strikes as the rifle is pointed, and Canada has never aimed to secure the best people as settlers. We need population, has been the cry, get it and never mind of what quality it is. What is more blamable, our legislature does not even try to secure settlers who will assimilate. Business called me to a township one summer where few of the settlers knew a word of English. Is that the way to build up Canada as British?

Nature has designed Canada as an agricultural country and such it must remain. It will prosper as its farmers prosper, and languish when they are not doing well. It follows their welfare should be the first consideration, and a mistake will be made if the fact is not recognized when they work under unfavorable conditions.

The farmer in the Old Country can plow every month in the year and his flocks and herds only need supplementary rations to keep them in condition. How different it is here, where winter locks the soil in iron bonds half the year and animals must be fed from October to May. What our farmers raise in six months is consumed in the other six, so that their labor half the year is to store up food for the other half. The result is, that the earnings of our farmers are less than half of what they would be had we England’s climate. The public man who argues that because the Old Country farmer can pay heavy rent to his landlord, bear the burden of severe taxation, and yet make a living, the Canadian farmer should be able to do likewise, shuts his eyes to the kind of winter he has to fight against. That winter cuts his earnings more than half, for, during the months the land is frozen he is unable to do any kind of profitable farm work, indeed has spells of enforced idleness. The Old Country farmer can keep hired help the year round, for he has employment for them; the Canadian farmer needs extra hands only during summer. The result is that his margin of profits is so narrow that he can never pay such taxes as are collected from the agricultural class in England. When public burdens draw on his income to the extent that he is not left a living profit, the Anglo-Saxon will leave the land to be occupied by an unenterprising class of people who are content to vegetate, not to live The pre-eminent essential in Canada’s policy is to make farming profitable and keep it so.

While the statement, that agriculture is the foundation of Canada’s life, is so often repeated that it has become a commonplace remark, is it not extraordinary that none of its public men since Simcoe’s day have acted upon it? With the words on their lips, Canada rests upon the farmer, it would be expected the welfare of the farmer would be their solicitous concern. In the first element of agricultural prosperity, the settlement of the land, they have kept back the progress of the country by bestowing it, not on the men ready and anxious to cultivate it, but upon individuals and companies who expect to make a profit by reselling to the actual settler. By making the land a commodity to buy political support, the settlement of the country has been kept back. The rule, that the land be given only to those who will live upon it and crop itr would have saved heartbreak to thousands of willing men who came to our shores asking liberty to till its soil, and would have placed an occupant on every lot fit to yield a living. The individuals and companies who have been given grants of blocks of land under the pretence that they would settle them, have been blights on the progress of the country.

As to the danger of taxation increasing to a degree that will make the working of the land unattractive to the intelligent and enterprising, that menace comes from two classes—the projectors of public works who agitate for them from self-interest, and from those who have raised a clamor to encourage manufacturers by giving them bonuses in the form of protective duties. Should a levy ever be made on the earnings of the farmer to help a favored class, there will be a leaving of the land for other countries and for better-paying occupations.

My desire is, to see Canada a land where every man who wishes may own a part of God’s footstool and, by industry, secure a decent living. Surely it is a patriotic duty to make Canada a nation where toil and thrift fetch the reward of independence, a nation without beggars or of men willing to work and cannot get it, a nation of happy homes where there is neither wealth nor luxury but enough of the world’s means to ensure comfort and to develop in its men and women what is best in human nature.


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