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John Graves Simcoe
Chapter VII - Land and Trade


IN a country newly opened for settlement the land regulations are of the greatest importance to the inhabitants and the prospective settlers, and in the early days of Upper Canada they were the first rules that had to be observed. They were, however, of the simplest. The settler held his lands under a certificate signed by the governor and countersigned by the surveyor-general or his deputy. The locations were decided by chance, lots being drawn and situations fixed accordingly. The certificate set forth that at the end of twelve months the holder should be entitled to a deed and become possessor of his land with power to dispose of it at will. Now if the original grantee had held his land secure until the patent was handed him, no confusion would have ensued. But so soon as the allotments were made in 1784 and certificates issued, barter and exchange began. Some settlers were compelled by sheer necessity to sell or mortgage a portion of their lands; others found that their locations were too small to admit of successful farming operations and added to them by purchasing from their neighbours. So under these unsafe conditions of title, property was constantly changing hands. The Land Boards, constituted in 1788, attempted to check land speculation, which had made its appearance even at that early date in the history of the province, by issuing all new certificates subject to the condition that lands so granted would be forfeited if not actually settled upon within the year. They were also not transferable without the sanction of the board.

These regulations were but a rude attempt to maintain a proper system of registration. They could not control the larger grants to officers nor affect the lands in townships only in part surveyed. The exchanges, purchases, and mortgaging went on unchecked, and for ten years the only foundation of title was the original certificate or a scrap of paper that had at some time taken its place. Simcoe found that, although ten years had elapsed since the first allotments had been made, scarcely a single grant had been ratified, and that there seemed to be a disposition in many persons to deny the necessity of the exchange of certificates for grants. This state of .affairs was viewed with extreme dissatisfaction by those who had any large landed interest in the province and could understand the gravity of the situation.

The fourth session of parliament paved the way for a general issue of patents by providing for the registry of all deeds, mortgages, wills and transfers. Simcoe had the advice of his law officers and his legislative councillors, and Cartwright, foremost among the latter, gave him the benefit of his views which were sound and well considered. He had not a very favourable opinion of Governor Simcoe as a lawyer, nor of his colleagues in the executive council. " They are not very deep lawyers," he remarked. Mr. Hamilton also laid the whole matter before a London lawyer, while upon a visit to England in 1795, as a member of the community and not in his capacity of legislative councillor. For this he was called to account by the governor who thought the intention should have been mentioned to him. The moot point was whether the original certificates should be recognized by the patents, or the current deed or transfer. The wise view prevailed at length, and when patents were finally issued under the great seal of the province they were so issued to the holders of the land and not to the original possessors under the Land Board certificates.

Land speculation was rife in the province, and the council had to refuse many applications for grants from persons who did not intend to become active settlers. Even with this care many allotments were made for speculative purposes, and the entries for many townships had eventually to be cancelled for non-settlement. Officers of the British army in the Revolutionary War made demands for large tracts of land in Upper Canada as a reward for service Benedict Arnold was an applicant for a domain in the new land. He wrote to the Duke of Portland on January 2nd, 1707: " There is no other man in England that has made so great sacrifices as I have done of property, rank, prospects, etc., in support of government, and no man who has received less in return." The moderate area that he desired was about thirty-one square miles. Simcoe was asked Ins opinion of such a grant, and on March 20th, 1798, he replies that there is no legal objection but that "General Arnold is a character extremely obnoxious to the original Loyalists of America." From the date of this letter it will be observed that during his residence in England, after leaving Upper Canada, Simcoe was consulted by the government upon Upper Canadian affairs. He, himself, on July 9th. 1793, received a grant of five thousand acres, as colonel of the first regiment of Queen's Rangers. The operations of colonization companies began after Simcoe left the country, and, interesting as some of them are, they do not fall within the term of this story. The Land Boards, which had existed since 1788, were discontinued on November 6th, 1794, after which date the council dealt with all petitions for large grants of land, the magistrates of the different districts dealt with allotments of small areas of two hundred acres.

The beginnings of trade and commerce in a province that now takes such a great and worthy place in the world as a producing power are interesting and to trace and chronicle them is a useful task.

'lie fur trade was the first and for many years the only source of wealth in the country afterwards called Upper Canada. It was carried on by the great companies as well as by individual traders. The Indians were the producers of this wealth and the first, and, it may be said, by far the smallest, profits came to them. Whatever small benefit was derived from the supply of clothing and provisions which the traders bartered for the peltry, was offset by the debauchery and licentiousness that follows wherever and whenever the white man comes into contact with an aboriginal race.

The tribes were, often ruled by these traders who flattered the chiefs, hoodwinked the warriors, fomented quarrels to serve their own ends and did not scruple to attribute to governments policies and compacts which they had never contemplated nor completed. Rum was the great argument that preceded and closed every transaction. The natural craving for this stimulant was so well served that after a successful trade an Indian camp became a wild and raging scene of debauchery, wantonness and license. During the dances that accompanied and fanned these orgies the great chiefs changed their dresses nine or ten times, covered themselves with filthy magnificence and vied one with the other in the costliness and completeness of their paraphernalia. Such a trade could add but little to the capital of a country; it served to enrich those who had made the adventure in goods, but no permanent investment of capital was necessary for its maintenance, and when the source of supply was drained it disappeared and left the Indians worse off than they were before its advent and development.

Simcoe saw the positive evils and negative results of this factitious trade and endeavoured to control it. He proposed as a means to this end to confine the traders to the towns and settled communities, and thus prevent them from crossing into the Indian country. By this regulation the Indians would become the carriers of their own furs, and coming first into contact with the settlers would part with their wealth in exchange for provisions and not spirits. The settler would for his part receive skins that were as ready money when that article was scarce. Thus an internal fur trade would be established, and a certain portion of the wealth would be retained in the country. With the advent of hatters, the craft they carried on would consume a great number of the skins and the contraband trade in hats would gradually diminish. In 1794 three hatters had already come into the province to establish themselves.

One result of this trade and barter between settler and Indian was that an illegal exchange sprang up between the former and the Americans who settled New York state. All the cattle, many of the implements, and much of the furniture of the first Upper Canadians were obtained by the sale of furs in this manner. Not only did American products thus find their way into the country, but goods of the East India Company and even articles and materials made in Great Britain. Smuggling was too common and too convenient to be looked upon with disfavour. The frontiers lay open and unprotected, and the thickly wooded country made detection impossible even had there been an army of preventive officers, and these were, in fact, but few.

This dishonest trade was beyond the power of government to control, but Simcoe was impressed with the importance of promoting commercial connections with the republic. He recommended the establishment of depots of the East India Company at Kingston and Niagara to sell merchandise, chiefly teas, to the people of the state of New York. He believed his province to be the best agricultural district in North America, and pointed out how its forests might be replaced by fields of hemp, flax, tobacco and indigo. Hemp, as a source of wealth to the settler and of supply for the cordage of the lake fleet, was a subject of his constant attention. The exports of potash had begun to fall away somewhat during the term of Simcoe's government ; affected by the war in Europe prices had fallen, and as the land became cleared, and the area under crop more extensive this early industry gradually waned.

The staple product of the country was wheat and Simcoe paid the greatest attention to developing this source of prosperity and wealth. Pork came next in importance as an article for export and for domestic consumption. The exports from Kingston during the year 1794 will show what progress the colony had made. The figures are interesting as they mark a term of ten years from the time the first kernel of seed was sown.

The most important achievement that these figures set forth is the victualling of the troops.

Agriculture, from furnishing a bare subsistence to the people during the first few years, had developed so rapidly that the surplus was sufficiently large to supply York and Niagara where settlement was still active, and to relieve the commissariat to a great extent from the necessity of importing the staples—flour and pork. Upon the quantity of supplies furnished for the troops mentioned in the statement, there was a saving of £2,420 14s., so excessive were the rates of carriage. It cost ten pence to freight one bushel of wheat from Kingston to Montreal. The only means of transport were rude bateaux, the risk of total loss was great, and after a most favourable voyage the actual loss from waste in transhipment was very considerable.

Commerce in the country was on every side beset with difficulties. Mr. Richard Cartwright thus describes the business methods of his day: "The merchant sends his order for English goods to his correspondent at Montreal, who imports them from London, guarantees the payment of them there, and receives and forwards them to this country for a commission of five per cent, on the amount of the English invoice. The payments are all made by the Upper Canada merchant in Montreal, and there is no direct communication whatever between him and the shipper in London. The order, too, must be limited to dry goods, and he must purchase his liquors on the best terms he can in the home market; and if he wishes to have his furs or potash shipped for the London market, he pays a commission of one per cent. on their estimated value; if sold in Montreal, he is charged two and one-half per cent on the amount of the sales."

But while the merchant had these barriers of commissions and difficult transportation to surmount the settler was in a most unenviable position. His sole sources of wealth were his wheat and pork; these the merchants would buy only in such quantities as they chose and when it suited them. They would pay only in goods charged at the highest current prices, or by note of hand redeemable always on a fixed date, October 10th. The absence of any adequate and plentiful medium of exchange was a heavy burden upon the struggling settler, who was in the hands of the buyer. The latter might say "it is naught, it is naught," but, nevertheless, it was a real, pressing and overbearing weight to be carried.

Simcoe had endeavoured to loosen the grasp of the merchant, so far as his immediate power w ould serve, by resuming the contracts for the purchase of supplies for the troops and placing the responsibility in the hands of an agent who would deal justly and equitably both in the matter of prices and quantities. Although his duty was to the king primarily, yet it was largely in the king's interest that his pioneers should have fair pay and ready money, so that his duty was also to the struggling settler and his little field of grain filling between the charred stumps of his clearing. This was a step in advance, yet the main branch of the trouble would remain untouched until some medium of exchange—in fact, a currency—appeared to cover the small local transactions between buyer and seller.

Simcoe, who left not the smallest need of the country untouched in his exhaustive dispatches, did not pass by this grave want. He had great faith in the intervention of government in all matters pertaining to the welfare of the people. He was ever making demands that argued the inexhaustible treasure-chest and the beneficent will. When England was engaged in wars and treaties that called for her utmost resources, a cry came out from Upper Canada for grants for all purposes, from the founding of a university to the providing of an instructor in the manufacture of salt.

He proposed a grand and far-reaching scheme to meet the obstructions to trade which I have mentioned. He proposed that Great Britain should send out a large sum in gold which would form the capital of a company to be formed of the executive and legislative councillors and the chief men in the province. This sum, he says naively, should be repaid, if expedient, by the sale of lands on Lake Erie. Inspectors were to be appointed whose duty it would be to examine all mills and recommend such processes as would reduce their products to a normal standard of quality.

The king's vessels should be used for transport across the lakes. A large depot or receiving-house was to be erected at Montreal, where all the flour was to be pooled. For every barrel there received a note was to issue, payable in gold or silver at stilted periods, and these notes were to be legal tender for the payment of taxes. The freight of all government stores was to be conducted by the company under a contract based upon the prices paid for the three or four years preceding. The benefits that Simcoe hoped to secure by this arrangement were: a provision for the consumption of the flour produced, a medium of exchange instead of merchants' notes, lower rates for transportation from Montreal, ease and certainty in victualling the troops, a sure supply of flour for the West Indies, and a stimulating effect upon agriculture as well as upon the allegiance of the Upper Canadians. He wrote, "it cannot fail of conciliating their affection and insensibly connecting them with the British people and government." The lords of trade to whom the scheme was presented could hardly have considered it, and Upper Canada was left to work out its currency problems upon the safer basis of provincial initiative.

The earliest canals were all constructed within the boundaries of the upper province, but during Simcoe's government they received no enlargement. They had been constructed by Haldimand's order, and were maintained by the government, assisted by a toll revenue of ten shillings for each ascent. All transportation took place in bateaux, built strongly, with a draft of about two feet, with a width of six and a length of twenty feet. These were towed or " tracked " up the river and passed through the primitive canals wherever they had been constructed. The first canal was met with at Coteau du Lac, it consisted of three locks six feet wide at the gates ; the second was at Cascades Point; the third at the Mill Rapids; the fourth at Split Rock. It was many years before these canals were enlarged sufficiently to accommodate the schooners that sailed the upper lakes.

These vessels were constructed upon their shores, and never left their waters. In 1794 there were six boats in the king's service upon the lakes. These were armed ; the largest vessels were of the dimensions of the Onondaga, eighty tons burden, carrying twelve guns. They were built of unseasoned timber, and their life was barely three years. It cost about four thousand guineas to construct one of the size of the Onondaga, and the cost of repairs was proportionately large. The merchant fleet on the lakes numbered fifteen.

The rate of wages throughout the province was high and labourers were scarce. The usual pay for skilled labour was three dollars per diem; for farm labourers one dollar per diem with board and lodging; for sailors from nine to ten dollars a month; for voyageurs eight dollars a month.

Prices were correspondingly high, salt was three dollars a bushel, flour eight dollars a barrel, wood two dollars and a quarter a cord. The commodities that we consider as the commonest necessaries of the table were beyond the reach of the majority of the people; loaf sugar was two shillings and sixpence per pound, and the coarse muscovado one shilling and sixpence; green tea was the most expensive of the teas at seven shillings and sixpence, and Bohea the cheapest at four shillings. The cost of spices may be gauged by the rates charged for ginger, five shillings a pound. A Japan teapot cost seven shillings and a copper tea kettle twenty-seven. Fabrics were most expensive, "sprigged" muslin was ten shillings and sixpence a yard, and blue kersey five shillings and sixpence.

Every industry was carried on under great difficulties, mills with insufficient stones, saws and machinery; trades with the fewest tools and those not often the best of quality. The salt wells in which the governor took an early interest were hampered by lack of boilers or any proper appliances. In four years only four hundred and fifty-two bushels of salt had been produced at a selling price of £362. The only requisites at the wells for the production of this most necessary staple were a few old pots and kettles picked up casually. But the trades and manufactures served the needs of the growing population, the units of which were self-reliant and of a courageous temper. The actual population of Upper Canada is difficult to arrive at accurately. It is stated to have been ten thousand in 1791 when the division of the provinces took place. Writing in 1795, de la Rochefoucauld places it at thirty thousand, but this appears to be exaggerated. The militia returns sent to the lords of trade by Simcoe in 1794 place the number of men able to bear arms at four thousand seven hundred and sixteen, and Mr. Cartwright says that upon June 24th, 1794, the militia returns amounted to five thousand three hundred and fifty. The population during 1796 may have increased to twenty-five thousand. For the breadth of the land this was a mere sprinkling of humanity over an area that now supports above two millions.


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