WHEN we compare the present with the past,
we see that wonderful changes have been effected in this country during
the term of one lifetime. Some of these changes imply real progress, and
some of them, perhaps do not. We must not forget that there may be much
change, with but little progress.
I can well remember when things in this country were very different from
what they are at the present time. The condition of the country, the
state of society, the position of education, and the influence of the
churches have all assumed widely different aspects since the days of my
boyhood. Then the country was very largely in an unreclaimed state. Much
of the soil was still covered with primeval forests. Society was honest
and industrious, but unpolished. Education was in a crude and
inefficient condition, the schools being the merest apologies for
institutions of learning as compared with our present school system. The
Church was less deficient in zeal than it was in means and appliances.
Things have Changed.
The yelping of the Indian dog, and the war-whoop of his master have died
away in the distance, and in their stead is heard the hum of the
threshing-machine, the rattle of the railway train, the whistle of the
steam engine, and the ringing of the school-bells. The tall forest trees
have given place to the orchard trees. The log hut or slab shanty has
been succeeded by the more elegant frame or brick, or stone dwelling.
The cow-path has grown into a turnpike. The clanking of the logging
chain has been exchanged for the tinkling of sleigh-bells, and the old
ox-cart has its successor in the fine carriage.
Society has changed, too, as much as the country has improved. The
people of the past generation had very different ideas respecting many
things from what we have. And their surroundings in early life differed
from those of the youth of the present day ; but they made the best use
of the few advantages they had. To say that they were weaker than their
descendants, either mentally or physically, would be to say what is the
very reverse of what is true. To admit, however, that for want of proper
training and culture, they were less able to show what was in them, than
their grandchildren are, is only granting what cannot be disputed. But
if some of those sturdy men who cleared up the land in our front
townships, could visit the scenes of their old-time toils, and see some
of their great-grandsons trying to handle an axe or a hand-pry, they
would be as much amused as we would be to sec a boy start off to mill,
with a bag thrown over a horse’s back, having a bushel of wheat in one
end of it, and a big stone in the other end to make it balance.
If some of the old dames who helped to make the homes of our country,
and who were so handy with the wheel and distaff, the rolling-pin, and
the knitting-needles, could revisit the room-of-all-work, where her
house-wifely skill won its former triumphs, and catch some of her
great-granddaughters trying to darn little Bessie’s hose, or to patch
Willie’s coat, she would be likely to take the work into her own hands,
and say, “Law sakes, child, what do you know about mending children’s
fixings? Let me do this, and you
go and pound some kind of tune, like “Auld Lang Syne,’ or ‘Bonnie Over
the Rhine,’ out of the pianner.”
Let it be understood that I am presenting the extremes. Some of the
grandmas were as much at home in the parlour as they were in the
kitchen. And some of the granddaughters are as much at home in the
kitchen as they are in the parlour. These old people did their work, and
did it well according to their opportunities and the means at their
disposal. Well will it be for us, who have inherited the fruits of their
honest toil, if we are as true and faithful in our day and generation as
they were in theirs.
But there have been great changes, too, in educational matters during
the last fifty years. In fact, the schools at the time of my boyhood
were very rudimental in their modes of instruction, and extremely
limited in the range of subjects taught in them. Very many of the
teachers of those days attempted nothing more than the fundamental
branches of common school education. And a man that could read pretty
well and do ordinary sums in arithmetic, as well as write a fair hand
and spell most of the words correctly, was looked upon at that time as
being a fair scholar.
But how different it is now, when our boys and girls are ready for the
high school at twelve or thirteen. At sixteen they are fit for college,
and many of them are graduates at twenty-one or two.
But, it may be asked, is our system, with all its excellences, the best
that could be adopted? Is there not too much drawing the youth of our
country away from the common walks of life, and towards the colleges and
the professions? Will not the various industries and interests of the
country be made to suffer by so many of the young being encouraged in
the belief that toil is degrading, and that a labouring man is inferior
to a professional man?
Would it not be better to make our schools to so far harmonize with the
real and actual wants of the people, as to be their educator in the
ordinary affairs of everyday life, instead of absorbing so much of the
time of thousands of children on subjects that are of little or no use
to them after they leave the common school ? Better to train the
children to be active workers in the great national hive, than to merely
fit them to fastidiously sip the honey that other toilers have gathered.
The professions are already overcrowded, and every year adds to the
difficulty. It has been truly said, in regard to these professions,
“There is plenty of room at the top.” But it is also true, that the
ascent is so steep, and the way so full of anxious aspirants, that very
few have the ability and energy to rush up the steep acclivity, press
through the motley gathering that intercepts his way, and reach the top.
Are there not men in the professions who rank as third or fourth class
there, who would have made first-class farmers and mechanics? I do not
mean by this that farmers and mechanics need less brain, or less force
of character, than the doctor, or lawyer, or clergyman. But a different
combination of faculties is all that makes a successful man in one
calling out of an individual who would be a complete failure in another.
But I am told that a classical education does not disqualify a man for
work. That may be true. But does it qualify him for work in the ordinary
affairs of life? I am now bordering on to seventy years of age, and I
have never seen a B.A., or an M.D., or lawyer, comfortably and
contentedly or successfully shoving the plane or holding the plough. The
time that should have been spent in learning how to do these things was
given to other things that are of but little practical benefit in these
callings. True, there are some highly educated women who are good
housekeepers ; but they can adapt themselves to surrounding
circumstances better and more readily than men can do.
Our school system seems to take it for granted that every child is a
universal genius; and it seems to overlook the fact that success in one
thing does not guarantee success in everything. The system, as yet, is
not sufficiently elastic to adjust itself to the various demands of the
great variety of minds, for the cultivation and development of which it
ought to provide.
In the churches, too, we find change and progress. Not that they are
more earnest and zealous. Not that they have more of love for God and
humanity. Not that the members are more spiritual, nor that the services
are more punctually attended. In none of these things can the churches
of to-day claim to be much in advance of what they were half a century
ago. The difference is found in clearer conceptions of the demands of
the world upon the Church, in a fuller recognition of the claims of
missionary effort, in a stronger feeling of unity among Christians, in a
closer application of Bible precepts to the practices of everyday life,
in a keener sense of individual obligation, and in embracing a wider
range of subjects, and in laying broader plans for carrying out the
Divine injunction to Christianize the world.
The results of these changes are found in the great increase in the
contributions to the various institutions of the Church, in the
advancements of the cause of temperance, and in the expansion of
There have also been great changes in the habits and methods of domestic
life. Machinery now does most of the heavy work at which our fathers
found their hardest toil. Both out door and in the house the burden of
life’s toils is made light by the substitution of the mechanical
contrivances for the exercise of bone and muscle. Men do not now need
the napkin to wipe the sweat from the brow, so much as they need the
oilcan to grease the machinery. Everywhere is heard the hum of whirling
wheels and revolving pulleys. From the kitchen, where the cook handles
the egg-beater, to the barnyard, where the men drive the steam-thrcsher,
the heaviest work is done by some sort of an unconscious servant in tin*
shape of a machine.
An Old Homestead.
Not many months ago I visited an old homestead. In a field near the
house were a number of men working at wheat harvesting. The present
owner was sitting quite comfortably on the seat of one of those machines
called a harvester, driving a fine horse team around tin; field, cutting
as good a crop of fall wheat as any man could expect to reap. The men
were binding and “shocking up” what the machine cut down. There were
four men at one dollar and seventy-five cents a day, which, with the
wages of the teamster and horses, along with the use of the harvester, I
estimated at twelve dollars a day. They expected to cut ten acres that
day. Now, that would be one dollar and twenty cents an acre for
harvesting. Allowing fifteen dollars for hauling into the barn and
threshing, and five dollars for contingencies, would bring the outlay up
to thirty-two dollars, after the wheat was grown, to make it ready for
market. There would not be less than two hundred bushels, which, at
eighty cents per bushel, would be one hundred and sixty-dollars for the
field of wheat.
But while I was making these calculations it occurred to me that, long
years ago, I saw other harvest hands going over the same piece of
ground. The father of the present proprietor was swinging a grain cradle
as but few men could do it. His oldest son and a neighbour were raking
and binding. The field was very “stumpy” then. Fifteen bushels to the
acre would be the highest yield. The wheat was hauled into the old log
barn on a “woodshod” sled. It was trodden out on the floor with oxen, or
threshed out with a “flail,” and cleaned out of the chaff with an
indescribable instrument called a “fan.” What was not needed for bread
and seed was carried with an ox team over twenty-five miles, and sold
for seventy cents a bushel, and mostly store pay at that.
I knew that man for a number of years, and I never heard him complain of
hard times. I never knew him to be without money in his pocket, nor
without a slice of bread and butter for a hungry traveller, or an
unfortunate neighbour. He and his thrifty wife practised that kind of
domestic economy that gauges its wants by the possibilities of supply,
and keeps its outlay within the limits of its income. And they had many
neighbours who were like them in these things.
These are the kind of people who have left us the fruits of their honest
toil. Let us, who have entered into their labours, follow more closely
their example in needful industry and self-denial. Then there would -be
less complaining about hard times, which mostly come in on the line of
Back Country Towns.
Before closing this chapter, I wish to say a few words about the lively
towns that have sprung up in the territory where my ministerial life has
When I commenced my itinerant life, in LS5G, Orangeville was a small
village, so was Meaford, and Owen Sound, and Kincardine. Now they are
towns. Next came up the villages of Mount Forest, Listowel, and
Walkerton. These are all towns now. Later still came Wingham,
Shelburne,and Palmerston. I travelled over the sites of these long
before they were thought of as places for towns. Durham, Paisley, Port
Flgin, Arthur, Fergus, Flora, Teeswater, Thornbury, Tiverton, Priceville,
Chatsworth, Flesherton, Eugenia, Southampton, Tara, Hanover, Clifford,
Harriston, Chesley, Mildmay, Bervie, Ripley, Singhampton, Heathcote,
Kimberley, Ethel, Bluevale, Brussels, and last, but not least,
Clarkesburgh. These are all places of more or less importance, and some
of them are rapidly growing into the dimensions of towns.
There are two or three other subjects that 1 intended to notice ; but
the space at my disposal is filled up.
I always feel a sort of sadness come over me when I am parting with
friends. So now, kind readers, I experience regretful emotions at taking
leave of you. With many of you I am personally acquainted. I have sat at
your tables, I have slept in your beds, I have warmed myself at your
firesides and in many ways I have shared your hospitalities.
For some of you I visited your sick, buried your dead, baptized your
children, and married your sons or daughters.
With some of you I have prayed and wept, as you knelt in humble
penitence at the feet of the Crucified One ; and when you found the joys
of salvation I rejoiced with you.
With others of you I have not the pleasure of an acquaintance; but I
trust that you are not unfriendly either to myself or my little book.
I have given you facts in as pleasing a manner as I could, without
extravagant colouring. I have tried to tell you the truth in describing
these experiences. In doing this, I have used the language of the home
circle as it is spoken by the working people of our own country.
If I have succeeded in meeting your expectations, I shall rejoice; but
if I have failed to do so, I shall regret very much that my ability in
this has not equalled my desire and intention. The disappointment will
be more keenly felt by the writer than it can be by the reader.
And now, wishing every one of my readers a prosperous and contented
life, and a home at last in the bright beyond, I must reluctantly say