WELL, what is a
snowdrift? The doctor may say it is the grave of a dead snowstorm. The
poet will tell you that it is the downy bed in which the storm-king puts
to rest his sleeping children. The thin-blooded rheumatic will say it is
that which gives him the heaviest chills and the sharpest pains. The
wash-woman will declare the snowdrift gives her nice soft water long
after the sunny days of spring have melted the snow off the buildings
and the fields. If you ask the mischief-loving boy, that stands peering
through the fence, and making faces at that other boy that pretends to
be hoeing the corn, he will turn and look at you and then give his
suspenders a hitch and say, “I like snowdrifts, I do. It is that that
gives me the last snowball of the season, and it allows me to take all
that remains of itself to wash the faces of Molly and Jennie, as they go
tripping to the woods to gather the April flowers. Yes, I like
snowdrifts.’' The snowdrift, like almost everything in this world,has
its friends and its foes. The aspect of a snowdrift is affected by the
standpoint from which it is viewed. To contemplate it from the inside of
a comfortable room, with the thermometer ranging among the sixties,
gives rather pleasant ideas of it. But to one wading up to his middle in
it, with the thermometer down to ten below zero, there will not be much
enjoyment. In the one case there is a feeling of security mingled with a
sense of the beautiful. In the other there is a sense of increasing
weariness along with the consciousness of possible danger. Few things
have a prettier look than a grand drift of pure white snow on a bright
sunny day. The glistening brightness that dazzles out in all directions
might lead an inexperienced beholder to imagine that it was a thing of
more than summer warmth. But to the experienced eye it has a different
look. To such the impression made is, that however striking and pretty
the thing may be, as an object of sight, it is, after all, like the
oration of Bob Ingersoll at his brother’s funeral—very brilliant, but
I know something of snowdrifts, both by theory and by practical
experience. Theoretically, it is simply congealed water that has been
carried by the wind and left in a convenient place till spring comes.
Then it is ready to do its part in getting up a flood to take away
somebody’s bridge or break up someone’s mill dam. Practically, it is
like the cold looks and freezing tones of some people in the world—a
good thing to keep away from, unless one had a high fever and would be
the better of a little cooling.
Some of my experiences with snowdrifts were of a character calculated to
wake up a man’s energy if he had any of that quality that is so
necessary to winter life in many parts of Canada. Others were sometimes
a little risky. But I never was much injured, though I was often
incommoded by coming in contact with them. It was during my four years’
travel on the district that I found most difficulties with them. I had
often to meet appointments twenty or thirty miles distant from each
other, and bad roads and stormy weather were not valid excuses for
failing to meet them. I never missed an appointment on account of roads
or weather. But sometimes I had hard work to get to them.
A Day of Needless Fears.
I found myself one time in the town of Kincardine. On Monday, after the
Quarterly Meeting, it began to snow and drift, and for three days and
nights the storm raged with relentless fury. My next work was at
Invcrmay. This was forty miles distant from where I was. The snow piled
up and filled the roadways from fence to fence. The Port Elgin stage did
not come on Wednesday nor Thursday, so that there was no mail from the
north for two days.
On Friday morning I started out from James Ballantine’s, telling him
that if I could not go through I would come back. It was still blowing a
gale, but the snow had ceased to fall. When I sot out of the town and
reached the Saugeen road that runs north from Kincardine to Port Elgin,
I soon found that the storm had overdone its work. The snow being a
little damp, it was so packed by the wind that for a good deal of the
way a horse could walk on the top of the drift, and not sink deeper than
to the fetlocks, and the cutter did not sink the thickness of the
But I also found that when the horse did go down it was no child’s play
to get him up again. In his efforts to get up he was almost sure to get
one of the shafts over his back. Then I must unhitch and draw the cutter
away so that he could get up. This I did a number of times that day. But
all day present difficulties did not trouble me so much as the dread of
one that I imagined was before me. Three miles from Port Elgin the road
consists of a deep cut through one of those gravel-hills so common in
some parts of the country. If that cut should be filled with show it
would present an impassable barrier in the way of further progress. My
great anxiety was to reach that place before dark. To do that I drove
all day without stopping, except to give my horse a pail of water at
noon. About dusk I came to the scene of my expected trouble. To my
surprise I saw that all my fears had been utterly groundless. There was
not a drift to be seen. The same wind that left such heavy piles of snow
in other places, had carried it through the cut. I was reminded of the
advice given by some one, which is, “ Never cross a river till you come
to it.” I made up my mind that in future I would not wallow through a
snowdrift till I reached it. About seven in the evening I got to Port
Elgin and went to old Mr. Bricker’s for the night.
Over Covered Fences.
Next morning after my day of groundless anxiety, I started in good time
for Invermay. I had to go a long way around, as the shortest road was
said to be entirely blocked up. I started out a little behind the stage.
I had gone but a short distance when the track went into the fields and
continued for nearly two miles over fences, and through door-yards, and
barn-yards, until I began to wonder if all the fences had been burned
up, as they were nearly all entirely hidden from sight. The road to
Invermay was a crooked one. As I went on I found that the track was
better broken, until I left the main road. Then there was no track at
all since the storm, and I had eight miles yet to go. However, I reached
Invermay and drove up to the house of J. \V. Dunn just as the members of
the Official Board had organized for business under the impression that
the presiding elder was somewhere stuck in the snowbanks.
A Four-Mile Drift.
On the tableland between the valleys of the Bighead ‘ and Beaver Rivers
there is a splendid piece of farming country; but any one who has
travelled over this territory, along the fourth line of the township of
Euphrasia, in the winter time, will agree with me that it is a wonderful
place for snowdrifts.
The distance from “Grier’s Rock” to the margin of “Queen’s Valley ” is
about four miles. On both sides of the road there are clearings all the
way. I have often seen this roadway full from side to side, so that the
fences were covered in and in many places entirely out of sight. Teams
going in opposite directions can pass each other only at the gates of
the farmhouses. When two teams are meeting, the one that comes to a gate
first must stop and wait for the other to come up. I have had many a
tussle with the drifts as I went from Meaford to my work south of there.
On one occasion I was going up the hill at Griersville. The road is cut
down into the rock thirty feet or more, and only wide enough for two
teams to pass. There had been a heavy snowstorm, and the road was filled
up on one side ten or twelve feet deep, so the top of the snow looked
like one side of a steep roof.
As I was going up my horse got off the beaten track and into the
unpacked snow on the lower side. He rolled over on his back and turned
the cutter upside down. When he stopped rolling he was lying in the
acute angle where the inclined plane at the top of the snowdrift met the
perpendicular wall of craggy rocks. I only escaped being in the same
position with the cutter on top of me by throwing myself out on the
upper side as it was going over. When I got on my feet and saw the
condition of things, I concluded the commercial value of my horse at
that moment was an unknown quantity. If he commenced to struggle he
would be almost sure to knock his head to pieces against the sharp
corners of the rocks. I saw that the only chance was to keep him still
as he was until help should come along from some direction. I got to his
head and by caressing and talking to him I managed to keep him pretty
still. It was not long before I saw teams coming. A lot of men and some
women were in the sleighs. When they came to the foot of the hill the
men left their teams in the care of the women, and came to help me.
Shovels were got and the snow dug away, so that in a little while all
was right again. After all was over an old farmer by the name of
Abercrombie said to me, “ Sir, when I came up and saw the fix your horse
was in I would not have given fifty cents for his life. He is the
coolest horse that I ever saw in trouble, and you are the coolest man
that I ever saw have an animal in danger.” I said to him, “ You must
remember that coolness is catching. The man that keeps himself cool can
generally control his horse.” No harm was done only in the loss of time.
Missing the Way.
I was once going from Singhampton to Horning’s Mills in the middle of
winter. I had my daughter Anna with me. The roads were badly drifted. We
had not gone far from Singhampton when we came to a place where the snow
was piled up from six to eight feet on the roadbed. On one side was a
piece of bush. The horse soon got down in the snow. I took the girl and
carried her oil the drift and set her down by the root of a tree, while
I got the horse and cutter down from the pathless ridge of snow in which
they were partially covered over. I led the horse over old logs and
fallen trees for a distance of twenty or thirty rods till we came to a
clearing; then we went across two farms, throwing down the fences in our
way. At last we came into a barnyard, where we found a man feeding
stock. He told us that we had missed our way and had been on a road that
had not been used for some time. He put us on a better road, where a
track had been broken through the fields, out to another line where
there was more travel.
After we had gone a few miles we came in sight of a man and team with a
load of saw-logs. The road was very sidelong where he was. All at once
the load capsized, and the one horse fell and the other rolled clear
over it, so that the near horse was on the off side and both were lying
on their backs with their legs flying in the air like drum-sticks. When
we came to the place I let the girl hold my horse and went to help the
man. The horses were very restless, and their owner was somewhat
frightened. Two men came from the opposite direction, and with their
help we soon got the horses on their feet. On a close examination it was
found that not a cut or scratch could be seen about them. The man stood
and looked at the horses and then at the sleigh for a few moments; then
he began to swear like a drunken sailor. After a little I said to him,
“My friend, that is a queer way of returning thanks for the safety of
your property.” He answered, “Well, I know it is not just the thing, but
sometimes when a fellow don’t know whether to laugh or cry it seems
easier to swear than to do either.” We soon got to the parsonage at
Horning’s Mills, and put up for the night with Mr. Will, who was then
Bad Harness and Saw-logs.
The next day was very cold and clear. In going through the township of
Amaranth we overtook a man with a load of saw-logs. He had a good team
and a heavy load, but his harness was old and rotten. The road was
drifted full from fence to fence, and the beaten track was a succession
of ridges and hollows. In drawing the load out of one of the
“pitch-holes” the horses broke their harness. When we came up to the
place I saw that there was no chance of getting past until we got to a
cross-road fifty or sixty rods ahead.
I never did like to pass anyone on the road, and not try to help him, if
he was in trouble. But in this case I could not have done so if I would.
Again I gave my daughter the lines and went to help the man. His trouble
now became mine as well as his. While he toggled up the harness, I got
some rails from the fences and fixed them as pries to help lift the load
out of the hollow. After several attempts we succeeded. But we had gone
but a few rods when another difficulty met us. The road became so
sideling that there was great danger of the load turning upside down, as
was done the day before. To prevent this we took a fence rail and made a
temporary lever of it by fastening one end of it to the lower side of
the sleigh, while the other end reached out some ten feet into the road
on the upper side, the rail being placed crosswise of the road. On the
end of the lever I perched myself like a squirrel on a limb. The driver
stood on the upper side of the load and managed the team. We found by
one riding on a sleigh-rail and the other on a fence-rail, we could keep
the load right-side up. We got to the cross-road, and I drove on and
left the man with the bad harness to himself.
Soon after we came to Mr. James Johnston’s in Garafraxa. When we went
into the house, Mrs. Johnston assisted my daughter in taking off her
wraps. She found that both of her ears were frozen as hard as a piece of
sole-leather. She had neglected to attend to herself while looking after
the horse. When I asked her if she did not know that her ears were
freezing, she said: “I felt them getting very cold, but I did not say
anything, for I thought there was trouble enough just then without me
making matters worse by complaining.” She was one of the uncomplaining
kind. But now she is where frozen ears and chilled bodies are unknown,
safe in the home beyond the tide.
Snowdrifts Versus Wedding Bells.
Twelve miles south of the town of Meaford is the home of the Gilray
family. One of the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Gilray was to be married on
a certain day to a young man living in Meaford. I was engaged to perform
the ceremony, assisted by a brother of the bride, Rev. A. Gilray, who
lived in Toronto. Two days before the day of the wedding was one
continued snowstorm. The roads were badly drifted before, but the
addition of two days’ steady snowing and drifting made them almost
impassable. Knowing all about the “four-mile drift” on the fourth line
of Euphrasia, I did not attempt to go by that road. But, instead, I went
by Thornbury, and up the valley of the Beaver River. This was nearly
twice as far, but it was not so much drifted. By starting early I
reached the place in good time.
When I arrived neither the groom nor the Rev. Mr. Gilrav had reached the
place. The hour fixed upon for the ceremony came. A number of guests
assembled, but nothing was seen or heard of the expected parties.
Meanwhile the would-be son-in-law and a few select friends were
floundering in the drifts of the “beautiful” that impeded their
movements. They soon became aware of the fact that time was flying,
while they were going at a snail's pace. Old Time relentlessly refused
to wait, even for a wedding party. And the thought that the swift-winged
hours, as they sped on in their unchecked career, seemed to mock the
slowness of the anxious plodders through the snow, was almost enough to
drive an ardent lover and an expectant bridegroom out of his senses. But
Mr. D. Youmans was not the sort of a man to be thrown into despair by a
little delay, but no doubt he would have been pleased to send a short
message to Agnes, saying, “I am coming,” if he could.
At last, after long hours of delay, the party arrived at the old
homestead, where a lovely, blushing bride-elect awaited one of them, and
the best productions of the farm and the grandest achievements of the
culinary art were ready for the whole of them.
But the unpleasant moments of suspense were still to be prolonged. The
reverend brother had not yet made his appearance, and every one felt
that to proceed without him would be about as unpleasant as it would be
for a farmer to bind up a sheaf with a handful of nettles. After waiting
another hour a sort of council was held and the conclusion come to was
to the effect that either i\lr. Gilray had been detained in the city, or
else the train in which he travelled was blockaded in the drift
somewhere. After due deliberation, it was decided to go on. with the
ceremony. We did so, and just as we came to the conclusion of it, Mr.
Gilray came in, just in time to join in the congratulations. It was an
awkward moment. We all regretted the affair. It would have been
difficult for any of us to tell, at that moment, whether congratulations
for the happy couple, or commiseration for the disappointed brother,
were uppermost in our mind. But all concerned accepted the situation
with as good a grace as possible. No one was censured, for no one was to
blame. Years afterward I met Mr. Gilray in the village of Streetsville,
where 1 went to hear him lecture. We had some talk about old times, and
among other things mention was made of his coming too late to the
A Day to be Remembered.
One morning I started from Mount Forest to Mea-ford. The mercury was
about twenty degrees below zero. I had no idea that it was so cold until
I was on the road. When I got to the town of Durham, I turned east
towards Priceville and Flesherton. About four miles from Durham, I came
up to a lot of children on their way home from school.
Among them were two little midgets that were crying piteously as I came
to them. A half-grown girl and a big boy were trying to help them along.
I stopped and enquired what ailed the little ones. I was told that they
were freezing. I also learned that their homes were one and a-half miles
ahead. I said, “It seems to me that their mothers acted very
thoughtlessly to send such small children so far on such a day.” The
answer that I received was, that in the morning they got a ride to the
school, and their mothers did not think it was so cold.
I filled my cutter box full of the smallest of the children. The two
little girls being my special care, I covered them all up with the robes
and drove on. Soon the crying ceased. In a little while everything was
changed. Instead of sighs and whimpers there was laughing and singing.
Before parting with my little friends, I had the most cheery and jolly
load of juvenile humanity that it had ever been my lot to carry.
When we came to the place where I had been directed to let the children
off, they scattered in different directions, and scampered to their
homes. I went on feeling more pleasure than I should if I had conferred
a favor on the greatest man in the country. The day was so intensely
cold that when I got to Priceville, I was so nearly frozen that I was
forced to stop at the hotel and warm. That was a thing that I had never
done before, nor have I done it since. I could stand it as far as a
horse ought to go without feed any day in the year, but that day was too
much for me.
Teamsters Badly Beaten.
From the Black Horse Corners in Kinloss, I once drove to Paisley and
Invermay, through one of the worst snowstorms that I have ever seen. The
snow was deep before, but it had now been storming furiously for
twenty-four hours, with no signs of an abatement. I started about eight
in the morning. The storm came from the north-east, so that I had to
face it. Nobody was on the road. I only met a man and a dog on the road
that day. At that time there was a great deal of teaming of salt and
lumber on the old Durham road. In going twelve miles that day, I passed
eight loads of salt and nine loads of lumber that had been left sticking
in the drift, while the teamsters had found shelter for themselves and
their horses in the houses and stables of farmers along the road until
the storm should cease.
When I reached the Flora and Saugeen road, I thought it somewhat strange
that on such a leading thoroughfare I could see no symptoms of a beaten
track; but so it was. However, I turned north and after a hard tussle
with the immeasurable heaps of snow that covered the road in some places
to the depth of nine or ten feet, I reached the corner at the “Dutch
Tavern.” Here I had intended to get my dinner and feed my horse; but I
went in and looked around a little. I came to the conclusion that if the
kitchen and dining-room were any relation to the bar-room I would not be
able to eat much. So I got some oats and fed my horse, and went without
my dinner. I found here three men and a couple of women and two span of
horses blockaded by the storm. They were going to Ainleyville, now
called Brussels, and the road that I had just passed over was the way
they wanted to go. On my telling which way I came, the landlord told me
that the road had been abandoned two weeks before on account of drifts,
and the teams, including the stage, had gone another way; but the
blockaded travellers took courage and started on their way. They said if
one man and one horse could come through, surely three men and four
horses ought to go through. I told them they could do it if they made up
their minds to go through.
Before they started, one of them proposed to give three cheers for the
old man who had made a track for them. I told him to keep his cheers,
for he would need all of them before he reached the next corners, a mile
and a-quarter ahead. I do not know how they got along, as I started one
way and they the other.
I reached Paisley at seven p.m., and stopped at a hotel, got a good
supper, went to bed, and after a comfortable night, got breakfast and
then wallowed through the drifts to Invermay, which was eighteen miles
distant. I got there in time for the Quarterly Meeting.
The Will Makes a Way.
From Listowel to Mount Forest there was no great amount of travel at the
time that I was presiding elder of the Huron District. In the winter it
was often very difficult to go from one place to the other. On one
occasion I started from Listowel after a heavy storm of snow and drift.
When I got to where Palmerston now is, I turned north towards Ilarriston
in the township of Minto.
The track here was entirely hidden b}7 the recent fall of snow. It
looked as if there was no beaten road ; but my horse was accustomed to
snowdrifts, and by letting him take his own way he would keep on the
track pretty well. When I had gone about half a mile from the turn I met
two men with a horse and a broken cutter. They were both walking. One
was leading the horse and the other going ahead and making a track; but
instead of being on the road they were dodging in and out of the fence
corners. I at once made up my mind that they were city gents who knew
but little about driving borses in deep snow.
When I came up one of them spoke to me and said, “I say, old man, where
are you trying to go?”
“Well, sir,” I answered, “I am intending to go to Mount Forest by way of
He replied, “You may just as well turn back, for you cannot go through.”
“What makes you think so?” I asked.
“We have just come from there and know all about it,” was his answer.
“Well, sir,” I said, “I am an old man, as you can see; I have gone
through a great many snowdrifts in my time, and I have never yet turned
back on account of supposed difficulties before me.”
“There is nothing like a determined will,” said the stranger. “Go ahead
and perhaps you will get along all right.”
“Sir,” said I, “somewhere I have read that a good motto is found in.
this, ‘Go as far as you can, either find a track or make one,’ and I
know of no place where this applies with greater force than in going
We parted, and I went on my way and they on theirs.
A Message that Never Was Sent.
When I was a boy I got into the habit of saying “ I. can’t ” when I was
told to do anything, no matter how easy it might be to do it. My mother
often tried to break me off the habit, but she failed in doing so.
One day I was going with my father to the barn. Beside the path lay a
stick of firewood about a foot thick and thirty feet long. My father had
in his hand a switch that he picked up as he was coming along. When we
came to the log he told me to take hold of the end of it and lift it. As
usual, I said, “I can’t,” but before the words were fairly spoken he
gave me three or four cuts across the shoulders with the whip that made
me wince. “Now,” said he, “just take hold and try to lift it, or you
will get more of this,” shaking the switch at me. I took hold of it, and
to my utter astonishment lifted the end a foot or more from the ground.
The secret of this was found in the fact that a stone was under the log
near the middle, so that the ends nearly balanced. Whether this was by
design or otherwise I never knew, but it furnished my father an
opportunity to give me a lesson that has been of use to me in more ways
One winter I found myself at Orangeville Quarterly Meeting, after an
absence from home of over four weeks. Saturday and Sunday were very
stormy. On Monday morning the storm was still raging, with no appearance
of cessation. I had intended to start for home that morning. I was
staying at Mr. Abiathar Wilcox’s, about half a mile from the village.
The day was so rough and the roads so badly blocked up that I concluded
to take the advice of this kind family and not attempt to go until the
storm was over and the roads opened.
I wrote a copy of a telegram to send home in these words: “Stormbound at
Orangeville; home when storm ceases; quite well.” With this in my pocket
1 started to the telegraph office. When going through the gate at the
road I recalled the counsel of my father after I lifted the end of the
log, which was, “Never say you can’t until you try.” I turned back and
went to the stable and harnessed my horse, and in less than ten minutes
was on the road. After a three days’ battle with snowdrifts I got home
to Meaford in safety with the message that never was sent still in my
A Frost-bitten Official.
From the “Black Horse” Corners in Kinloss to Kincardine on Lake Huron is
twelve miles. In the winter time this is frequently “a hard road to
travel.” With the mercury below zero, and the wind going from forty to
fifty miles an hour, persons facing toward the lake need to be well clad
or they will suffer from the cold; and even then “Jack Frost” will
sometimes steal through unsuspected openings in their habiliments and
leave his icy touch on their ears or cheeks or noses.
On one occasion the Rev. J. M. Simpson, who was then presiding elder,
and myself, had been holding missionary meetings at Kinlough and Kinloss.
We had a stormy night at the latter place, so that very few came out to
the meeting. We put up for the night with Mr. and Mrs. John Hodgins.
When we got up in the morning we found that the night had left behind it
one of the wildest days that we had ever seen. It was Saturday, and our
Quarterly Meeting at Kincardine was on the next day. There was no help
for it—we must face the storm. As we were about starting Mrs. Hodgins
said to me, “You must not freeze Mr. Simpson on that cold road. You have
been over it so often that you have got used to it.” I replied that he
had only one to look after, while I had two—myself and horse.
We started out about 10 a.m., and of all the days that I have ever
experienced that was one of the worst. When we got about half way I
asked Mr. Simpson if he was cold. He said he was not, and we went on. As
we came nearer the lake the storm seemed more severe. We both got cold,
and concluded to stop at the house of Henry Daniels and warm, but when
we came to his gate it was entirely snowed up. Then we thought to go on
and stop at William Purdy’s on the next side line, but the snow was so
blinding that we passed that without seeing it. We concluded that we
were a lone: while in reaching the side line, but when we found where we
were it was inside the corporation of Kincardine and almost home.
Next morning when I met Simpson I could not keep my face straight while
I looked at him. His face had the most comical appearance of anything
that I had seen of the kind. Wherever the frozen snow had touched, it
had left a mark. His face looked as though some one had taken the skin
of an Indian and cut it into round pieces ranging from five to fifty
cents in size, and stuck them on in grand confusion all over it from top
to bottom. When I had laughed at him for a while, he asked me if I had
looked into the glass yet since we came home. When I did so I found that
I had been making merry at my own likeness, for my face was about as
spotted as his. I had been doing what people often do, namely, criticise
in others what is most like in themselves. Some of the people said that
we were queer looking specimens of clerical dignity and official