SOME of the experiences
of travel are about as rough as they are romantic. Sometimes, on a
journey, we meet with incidents that are ludicrous and yet dangerous;
and it is not a rare thing that the novelty of a difficulty goes far to
conceal the danger that may attend it. In this article I shall give an
account of some of my experiences with floods and bridges while
itinerating in the new parts of our own country.
The first incident that I will relate is one over which I have often had
a quiet laugh to myself when I have thought of it. If my memory serves
me right, the Conference was held that year in the village of Palermo. I
had left my horse with a friend in Garafraxa, and had gone from Guelph
by train. The Conference had closed its session. I was on my way home,
or rather to where my home had been the last year, for I had to move to
a new place. At Rockwood I fell in with Rev. John H. Watts, who was also
on his way to where his last year’s home had been. But he had just been
appointed to the Garafraxa Circuit, and he intended to stop over and
spend the Sabbath on his new field of labour. This circuit was an old
and favourite field of mine, so I decided to stay there over Sabbath
too. Bro. Watts and I concluded to foot it from Rockwood to the
Garafraxa parsonage, as by so doing we would shorten the distance by a
number of miles and save quite an item of expense.
Accordingly we started, following one of the concession lines through
the township of Eramosa, until we came to the road that runs from
Orangeville, on the south side of the Grand River, to Fergus. Here we
were directed to follow a certain line which, we were told, would lead
to the road running from Fergus to Douglas. We walked on for two or
three miles, when we came to the Grand River. It being in the spring of
the year, the river was high, the current strong, and the water cold.
Here was a dilemma. There had once been a bridge, but it had been swept
away by the spring floods. To go back and around by the bridge at
Douglas would give us an extra walk of some six or seven miles. The
question for us to decide was, “What shall we do?”
After due consideration we determined to wade the stream. It did not
look to be very deep, but was from eight to twelve rods wide and running
with a rapid current. I went in first, but before starting I cut a long,
stiff cane, and running my umbrella through the loops of my carpet-bag
(this before the day of satchels) I swung it over my shoulder, and
taking my cane in hand I started for the other shore. I found the water
deeper and the sweep of current stronger than I had expected. Had I not
taken the precaution to get the cane, I have no doubt but that I should
have been carried down the stream and perhaps drowned. However, after a
hard struggle, I reached the other side wet to the arm-pits, and pretty
well exhausted. I drew off iny boots and drained the water out of them,
and adopted measures to wring out my clothes.
When I got over I called to Bro. Watts and asked him what he was going
to do. I knew that when he undertook anything he was not the sort of man
to back out, but I thought I would try him. His answer was
characteristic of the man. He said, in a determined manner, “I can go
anywhere that you can.” “All right, then,” I said; “come along.” He
benefited by my experience so far that he got his garments well above
the high-water mark by placing most of them on his head and shoulders
before starting in. He got over with less difficulty than I met with.
Two facts contributed to this result. He was a younger and stronger man
than I was; and in the water the less incumbrance in the way of clothing
one has on, the easier will be his progress and the less his danger.
Where we crossed was in the bush, but the mosquitoes were not yet ready
to commence their summer’s work; so we lay down and rested awhile. We
started on again, and in the course of an hour we arrived at the house
of Bro. D. Kyle, on the sixth line of Garafraxa. Here we were made
welcome by Mrs. Kyle and family. The relation of our watery experiences
furnished a good deal of amusement for the young people. However, I
never felt that the getting wet or the being laughed at did us any
particular harm; but we came to the conclusion that the shortest way is
not always the easiest or safest.
A Series of Spring-tide Difficulties.
The Huron District of the Methodist Episcopal Church was a very large
one. It included three whole counties and extended into five others. To
go over this territory four times in the year, as the presiding elder
was expected to do, involved facing some difficulties arising from bad
roads and rough weather. For many years this travel had to be
accomplished with a horse or on foot.
When I was appointed to the position there were not ten miles of railway
within the boundaries of the district. In the spring of the year it was
often very hard to meet the appointments on account of the floods caused
by the melting of the large quantities of snow that fall during the
winter months. One spring I was on my round of Quarterly Meetings and I
found myself in the town of Kincardine. On my way to my home in Meaford
I was to stop over Sabbath and hold a Quarterly Meeting at Eugenia
Falls. I heard that the country was flooded in all directions, and that
travel was almost entirely suspended; but I had a good horse and there
was a good gravel road nearly all the distance.
I started on Wednesday morning. I intended to make my way to the home of
Brother William Cross, in Culross, that day. All went on very nicely for
the first part of my journey. But when I called at the
Black Horse Corners for dinner I went to Mr. Harrison’s house ; he was
the keeper of the post-office, and he told me that four miles ahead, at
Riversdale, the road was flooded so that the mails from Walkerton had
been brought over in canoes for the last week. This was rather
unpleasant news to hear, especially as there was no other road to take.
However, there was no help for it. I had often told young men and boys
never to say “I can’t,” until they had tried. After myself and horse had
been cared for, I started for the scene of trial. When I came to the
place I found that what I had heard was no exaggeration.
The Teeswater, or Mud River, runs for several miles through a low,
level, swampy piece of country. At Riversdale, where the Durham Road
crosses the river, the flat is nearly a mile wide. A deep ditch was dug
out on each side of the roadway and the earth thrown in the centre; this
raised the road some feet above ordinary high-water mark. At this point
the stream runs near the high land on one side, and consequent^’ the
flat is all on the other side.
When I came to Riversdale and looked down the road, what I saw was by no
means reassuring. I saw before me a sheet of water, fully five-eighths
of a mile wide, that entirely covered the road. The flood had brought
down a number of old logs anti stumps that had been lying about on the
flats, and they had caught on the middle of the road and stopped there.
The road had more the appearance of a pine-stump fence run through a
pond than anything else that I can think of.
When I got into the village I spoke to some men who were standing at the
door of the hotel, and they told me that no team had passed over the
bridge for more than a week. One of the men said that he had been over
in a canoe, and he thought it possible to go over with a single rig, if
a man had a steady horse and nerve enough to face it. I told him that
with me it was not a question of nerve, but a matter of necessity, as I
must go over, if that were possible.
I drove on to the bridge across the main stream and got out to take a
survey of things. The water was clear, and I could see the road for some
distance ahead, and I concluded that there was room for the buggy to go
between the row of stumps and the ditch, which was some ten or twelve
feet deep. I took oft the check-rein and unbuckled the side-straps, so
as to give every advantage possible. I took my trunk from under the seat
and placed it on top of it, and took off* m3" coat and put it on the
trunk, then I got up on top of all and started. The men were standing on
the bridge; they said they would wait there until I either got over or
needed help. My horse at first was somewhat frightened, but a few words
spoken to him in a firm yet kind voice seemed to give him confidence.
Sometimes he was half way up his sides in water, and sometimes not above
his knees, but he kept perfectly calm and seemed to take in the
situation fully. We got safely over, and when I waved my hat back to the
men on the bridge as a token that all was well, cheer after cheer came
floating over the five-eighths of a mile of water that ran between us.
Just as the sun was going down I reached the house of Brother Cross, and
put up for the night after a rather anxious day. Here I was kindly
treated and hospitably entertained, and after a good night’s rest I was
ready for the road again. This Brother Cross is a whole-souled
Englishman who, with his Scotch-Canadian wife, always have a place in
their home for the weary itinerant.
A Shaky Bridge.
The morning after my adventure at Riversdale, I started on my journey,
intending to go that day as far as the village of Hanover. I got to
Walkerton about noon, and stopped for dinner at a hotel. Here I was
informed that the bridge over the Saugeen River at Hanover had been
impassable for more than a week. The mail stage had to take another
road, and it went a number of miles out of its way to get around this
obstacle. After dinner I went forward, feeling somewhat doubtful of
success. When I got within a couple of miles of the place I met a man
with a double rig loaded with furniture. I asked him about the bridge.
He said that he had come over it, but that it was in a very dangerous
condition. I asked him about the fiats. He said, “There is no danger
there if you keep in the middle of the road; the danger is at the bridge
over the main stream.” I drove on to the theatre of strife between human
invention and some of the forces of nature. When I came to the place I
found that the fiats, which were about one-fourth of a mile wide, were
entirely covered except the tops of the many
stumps that still disputed the right of soil with the cultivators of the
land. The scene presented *vas somewhat picturesque. The water moving
hither and thither, as if trying to dodge the stumps—said stumps all the
while standing on the spot where they grew, as unmoved as though they
were to stand and last forever. Little currents and eddies were making
music for themselves in ripples among the brush and other things that
came in their way, and seemed to fancy that they were infantile rivers
and baby whirlpools. Bright sunbeams lightly touched the smiling face of
the water as one would pat the cheek of a lovely child.
I awoke from my reverie and started to cross the flats and try the
bridge. I had no difficulty in keeping on the road. The water was up to
the horse’s knees the greater part of the way. When I came to the bridge
I found that it was all afloat, and it was kept from going down the
river only by the precaution of some of the inhabitants who, with ropes
and chains, had fastened it to trees and stumps, otherwise the
municipality would have been out of pocket to the amount of twelve or
fifteen hundred dollars by the loss of their bridge, besides the
inconvenience to the travelling public.
When I drove on the bridge I found that it trembled and swayed to such
an extent that I was fearful that it would break loose and go down
stream despite the chains and ropes with which it was fastened. I walked
over ahead of my horse, and I think that I stepped as lightly as a man
weighing a hundred and eighty can possibly do. We got over in safety,
but when I stopped the horse he was all in a tremble. That bridge had
taxed his nerves to a great extent.
I think if the poor brute could have spoken at that time, he would have
said something like this: “It is much safer to go through deep water if
you have solid ground below you than it is to go over a shaky bridge
with a deep, swift river raging and foaming under it.” I soon after
reached the Hanover parsonage, whose occupants, Bro. and Sister Lynch,
kindly invited me to stop with them over night. I thankfully accepted
their kindly offer, and put up for the night. When I related the
experiences of the last two days, Brother Lynch, who could enjoy a good
laugh as well as most men, made himself quite merry over the picture
that I presented. But the hearty welcome, coming from a warm Irish
heart, which he gave me, more than atoned for any soreness that I might
feel under the lashing of his Hibernian wit. I shall have to refer again
to this brother and his excellent wife in these experiences. I got a
good night’s rest, and in the morning started for Eugenia.
A Big Basin Full of Water.
Starting from Hanover in the morning I went on to the town of Durham,
and put up at Dr. Halstead’s. I found the doctor and young people all
well, but Mrs. Halstead was very sick. I always found a cheerful welcome
at Dr. Halstead’s either by night or by day. Here I fed my horse, got my
dinner, had prayer with the sick woman, and started again for Eugenia.
As I was driving out of town I met the mail stage coming in from the
east. I asked the driver about the road. He said that I would find great
difficulty in getting through. He quaintly stated the case by saying,
“There is a big basin full of water where the road for thirty rods, is
covered all of ten feet deep.” He said that in going around through a
farm he made his horses swim for a couple of rods, but he got through
all right. I thanked him for the information and started for another
fight with floods, cheering myself by the way with the thought that
where another could go with two horses I could surely go with one.
I went on through Priceville and Flesherton. About a mile further on I
came to the “big basin.” Here the water was within three feet of the
tops of the telegraph poles. The stage driver could not have found a
more appropriate name. It was a large, round hollow, almost entirely
surrounded by hills. It had an inlet, but it had no outlet. I had often
passed along the road, but I had not noticed this peculiarity. The road
had been made by cutting down the hills and filling up the hollow until
an embankment was formed some eight or ten feet high, but now this was
from six to eight feet under water. I found the place where the stage
had come out of the fields and turned in, and in a little time I came to
the “ inlet ” of the basin. This was a spring current made by the melted
snow and rains. It was about thirty feet wide, running swiftly, and the
water was very muddy, so that its depth could not be seen. The banks
were some ten or twelve feet high and very steep. As at Riversdale, I
prepared for the worst and drove in; my horse by this time seemed
reckless as to where he went. He was able to touch bottom all the way,
but water ran over his back a part of the time. We got over in safety,
and got out on the road again all right.
After another four miles of road pretty badly defaced by mud, just as
the sun was leaving the last of his beams lingering in the tops of the
trees that crowned the hills around the little village of Eugenia, I
drove up to the preacher’s home and found Bro. Thomas Reid anxiously
waiting for the arrival of the often-talked about and much-scolded
presiding elder. The genial and kindly welcome of Brother and Sister
Reid would drive gloomy thoughts and feelings from the most melancholy
dyspeptic that ever brought a saddened face into a happy home. I felt a
relief at the thought that for two days I would be at rest, so far as
travel was concerned.
On Saturday I learned that the road to Meaford was impassable for a mile
in consequence of an overflow of Beaver River at Kimberley. We also
learned that all the bridges between Flesherton and Singhampton, on the
Durham road, had been swept off, so that it would be impossible for me
to go home by way of Colling-wood. I told Bro. Reid, when he informed
me, that I would dismiss the subject from my mind, and attend to my
duties in connection with his Quarterly Meeting, and see what was best
to do when Monday came.
On the Sabbath people came in from all directions, and we had a good
meeting in the little church. Old Mrs. Purdy, or Aunt Anna as she was
frequently called, lived here with her son and daughter. She was an old
Methodist of over fifty years’ standing. She has since gone to her
friends across the tide. R. McLean Purdy, postmaster at Eugenia, did
much for his mother’s church.
On Monday morning I started for home, having been absent for more than
three weeks. When I got to Kimberley, and as I was passing through it, a
gentleman called to me and said, “You cannot possibly get through the
swamp, as the corduroy bridge is all afloat.” I said to him, “Sir, I
thank you for your kind intentions ; but my way is, when I start to a
place, I go as far as I can And a track or make one. I will go on and
have a look at the road. I do not like to give up now.” “Well,” said my
friend, “you will have to come back, and we will have dinner ready when
you come.” I went on to the river. The main stream at this place is
small, as the river spreads over the low, flat, swampy land,
necessitating a causeway one mile and a quarter in length. This had been
made of logs put side by side on stringers or flat on the "round. For
about half the distance the causeway has been covered with dirt and
I found the uncovered part all floating so that a horse could not be got
over it at all. I found that by stepping very quickly I could go over
without much danger, and I concluded that I could draw the buggy over by
hand, if I could only get the horse over.
While I was thinking what to do, two boys came after me, and one of them
said that his father sent them to tell me to come back and he would see
the horse was got over. When I went the man proposed to put a boy on the
horse, and send him a mile back up the river to where a farmer had made
a bridge into his premises. He could cross there and go through ten or
twelve farms to the side road on the other side of the swamp. This would
involve a good deal of trouble, and require the letting down and
shutting up of a number of fences; but I could see no other way to do
unless I left the horse behind and went on foot home.
The boy started after dinner, and I went to the swamp to take the buggy
over. I could see the boy after he got over in the clearings, as the
land on that side was very high, just on the face of the mountain. I
could see the little fellow steadily moving across the fields. Sometimes
he would be questioned a little, but no one interfered with him. I went
over the floating logs stepping from one to another, drawing the buggy
after me. By the time the boy got around with the horse, I had got over
to the covered part of the causeway. I hitched up and drove on four
miles and stopped at Bro. R. Gilray’s, at Epping. It had taken me all
the day to make less than ten miles. Bro. Gilray and family were always
noted for their unostentatious hospitality. They are Lowland Scotch.
They have a large number of children. One son is a Presbyterian minister
in Toronto, and another is reeve of his native township. They are an
energetic, moral and prosperous family.
The next morning I started for home, which is twelve miles distant; I
got home at noon. After leaving Kincardine, I was four days and a-half
on the road. This time was spent in making a trip that has often been
done in one day and a-half. My next Quarterly Meeting was at Meaford, so
my horse and myself had a rest of a week or more. That was the most
watery journey I ever had.
An Involuntary Dive.
When we were on the Teeswater mission, I used to have some exciting
times on the river fishing for speckled trout. These splendid fish were
plentiful. Wheat and meat being scarce, people caught the trout not so
much for sport, or as a luxury, as they did for family necessity. The
most noted places for trout-fishing were at Parr’s mill and at Carroll’s
mill-pond; Parr’s was three miles from Teeswater, and Carroll’s seven,
on the Teeswater River.
One day I started to go to Carroll’s, and 1 took a boy with me. We
walked as far as Parr’s mill, and there we got a flat-bottom skiff that
George Parr had made for himself. We went down the river in this. When
we got as far as Mr. John Gilroy’s, he invited the boy to stop and pick
a basket of green peas to take home with us. I went on alone to the pond
and succeeded in catching a good string of very fine fish.
When I came back to Mr. Gilroy’s the boy had a basketful, and Mrs. G.
had the tea ready. We took tea, and then paddled up the stream until we
got to where Parr kept his boat. This was in the mouth of a little creek
that ran into another creek of a bigger size, which itself enters into
the Teeswater. There is an eddy at the place, and the whirling water had
scooped out a hole fourteen or fifteen feet deep. In trying to run into
the mouth of the creek which was very narrow and deep, I missed it. I
rose to my feet and placed the oar against the land to push back into
the stream, so that I might try to run into the miniature harbour with
better success. I made an effort, and I suppose I put on more force than
was needed. The boat shot like an arrow into the middle of the eddy, I
lost my balance and found that I must either go overboard or upset the
boat and spill its contents into the water. It is wonderful how quickly
the mind can take in the whole situation at a critical moment. The water
was deep, my boy could not swim, the fish and peas would be scattered in
the creek, and carried by the current into the river, and I would get as
wet as possible. All this I saw at a glance; I chose to get wet alone,
and with a spring I went head first over the side into the water, going
down until my head struck the bottom. The boy was sitting with his back
to me and did not know that I was out of the boat until he saw me come
to the surface some distance off, as the boat had moved on after I left
it. The work of getting into the harbour was soon accomplished now,
myself acting as a tug.
I seems to me that almost everything has a laughable side to it, if one
is disposed to see it. When I took in the aspect of things as I came up,
I could not help but laugh. The look of wonderment on the face of the
boy; myself spouting and blowing like a miniature whale; the little boat
rocking and swaying as if to show how easily it could toss a man into
the aqueous fluid. After securing the boat we went to the house of
George Parr. Mrs. Parr gave me some of his clothes to put on, but on
trying them I found they were too small. So there was nothing for it but
to go on home in my wet clothes. We got home all right, and after the
usual wifely remark, “I told you to be careful,” from the companion of
my joys and sorrows, the events of the day became a matter of family
history, and I never realized any harm from my involuntary ducking.