Loss of a yoke of Oxen.--Construction of a
Log-house.--Glaziers' and Carpenters' work.--Description of new
Log-house.--Wild Fruits of the Country.--Walks on the Ice.--Situation of the
House.--Lake, and surrounding Scenery.
April 18, 1833
BUT it is time that I should give you some
account of our log-house, into which we moved a few days before Christmas.
Many unlooked-for delays having hindered its completion before that time, I
began to think it would never be habitable.
The first misfortune that happened was the
loss of a fine yoke of oxen that were purchased to draw in the house-logs,
that is, the logs for raising the walls of the house. Not regarding the bush
as pleasant as their former master's cleared pastures, or perhaps foreseeing
some hard work to come, early one morning they took into their heads to ford
the lake at the head of the rapids, and march off, leaving no trace of their
route excepting their footing at the water's edge. After many days spent in
vain search for them, the work was at a stand, and for one month they were
gone, and we began to give up all expectation of hearing any news of them.
At last we learned they were some twenty miles off, in a distant township,
having made their way through bush and swamp, creek and lake, back to their
former owner, with an instinct that supplied to them the want of roads and
Oxen have been known to traverse a tract of
wild country to a distance of thirty or forty miles going in a direct line
for their former haunts by unknown paths, where memory could not avail them.
In the dog we consider it is scent as well as memory that guides him to his
far-off home;--but how is this conduct of the oxen to be accounted for? They
returned home through the mazes of interminable forests, where man, with all
his reason and knowledge, would have been bewildered and lost.
It was the latter end of October before even
the walls of our house were up. To effect this we called "a bee." Sixteen of
our neighbours cheerfully obeyed our summons; and though the day was far
from favourable, so faithfully did our hive perform their tasks, that by
night the outer walls were raised.
The work went merrily on with the help of
plenty of Canadian nectar (whiskey), the honey that our _bees_ are solaced
with. Some huge joints of salt pork, a peck of potatoes, with a
rice-pudding, and a loaf as big as an enormous Cheshire cheese, formed the
feast that was to regale them during the raising. This was spread out in the
shanty, in a very rural style. In short, we laughed, and called it a
pic-nic in the backwoods; and rude as was the fare, I can assure you, great
was the satisfaction expressed by all the guests of every degree, our "bee"
being considered as very well conducted. In spite of the difference of rank
among those that assisted at the bee, the greatest possible harmony
prevailed, and the party separated well pleased with the day's work and
The following day I went to survey the
newly-raised edifice, but was sorely puzzled, as it presented very little
appearance of a house. It was merely an oblong square of logs raised one
above the other, with open spaces between every row of logs. The spaces for
the doors and windows were not then chopped out, and the rafters were not
up. In short, it looked a very queer sort of a place, and I returned home a
little disappointed, and wondering that my husband should be so well pleased
with the progress that had been made. A day or two after this I again
visited it. The sleepers were laid to support the floors, and the places for
the doors and windows cut out of the solid timbers, so that it had not quite
so much the look of a bird-cage as before.
After the roof was shingled, we were again at
a stand, as no boards could be procured nearer than Peterborough, a long
day's journey through horrible roads. At that time no saw-mill was in
progress; now there is a fine one building within a little distance of us.
Our flooring-boards were all to be sawn by hand, and it was some time before
any one could be found to perform this necessary work, and that at high
wages--six- and-sixpence per day. Well, the boards were at length down, but
of course of unseasoned timber: this was unavoidable; so as they could not
be planed we were obliged to put up with their rough unsightly appearance,
for no better were to be had. I began to recall to mind the observation of
the old gentleman with whom we travelled from Cobourg to Rice Lake. We
console ourselves with the prospect that by next summer the boards will all
be seasoned, and then the house is to be turned topsy-turvy, by having the
floors all relaid, jointed, and smoothed.
The next misfortune that happened, was, that
the mixture of clay and lime that was to plaster the inside and outside of
the house between the chinks of the logs was one night frozen to stone. Just
as the work was about half completed, the frost suddenly setting in, put a
stop to our proceeding for some time, as the frozen plaster yielded neither
to fire nor to hot water, the latter freezing before it had any effect on
the mass, and rather making bad worse. Then the workman that was hewing the
inside walls to make them smooth, wounded himself with the broad axe, and
was unable to resume his work for some time.
I state these things merely to show the
difficulties that attend us in the fulfilment of our plans, and this
accounts in a great measure for the humble dwellings that settlers of the
most respectable description are obliged to content themselves with at first
coming to this country, --not, you may be assured, from inclination, but
necessity: I could give you such narratives of this kind as would astonish
you. After all, it serves to make us more satisfied than we should be on
casting our eyes around to see few better off than we are, and many not half
so comfortable, yet of equal, and, in some instances, superior pretensions
as to station and fortune.
Every man in this country is his own glazier;
this you will laugh at: but if he does not wish to see and feel the
discomfort of broken panes, he must learn to put them in his windows with
his own hands. Workmen are not easily to be had in the backwoods when you
want them, and it would be preposterous to hire a man at high wages to make
two days' journey to and from the nearest town to mend your windows. Boxes
of glass of several different sizes are to be bought at a very cheap rate in
the stores. My husband amused himself by glazing the windows of the house
preparatory to their being fixed in.
To understand the use of carpenter's tools, I
assure you, is no despicable or useless kind of knowledge here. I would
strongly recommend all young men coming to Canada to acquire a little
acquaintance with this valuable art, as they will often be put to great
inconvenience for the want of it.
I was once much amused with hearing the
remarks made by a very fine lady, the reluctant sharer of her husband's
emigration, on seeing the son of a naval officer of some rank in the service
busily employed in making an axe-handle out of a piece of rock-elm.
"I wonder that you allow George to degrade
himself so," she said, addressing his father.
The captain looked up with surprise. "Degrade
himself! In what manner, madam? My boy neither swears, drinks whiskey,
steals, nor tells lies."
"But you allow him to perform tasks of the
most menial kind. What is he now better than a hedge carpenter; and I
suppose you allow him to chop, too?"
"Most assuredly I do. That pile of logs in the
cart there was all cut by him after he had left study yesterday," was the
"I would see my boys dead before they should
use an axe like common labourers."
"Idleness is the root of all evil," said the
captain. "How much worse might my son be employed if he were running wild
about streets with bad companions."
"You will allow this is not a country for
gentlemen or ladies to live in," said the lady.
"It is the country for gentlemen that will not
work and cannot live without, to starve in," replied the captain bluntly;
"and for that reason I make my boys early accustom themselves to be usefully
and actively employed."
"My boys shall never work like common
mechanics," said the lady, indignantly.
"Then, madam, they will be good for nothing as
settlers; and it is a pity you dragged them across the Atlantic."
"We were forced to come. We could not live as
we had been used to do at home, or I never would have come to this horrid
"Having come hither you would be wise to
conform to circumstances. Canada is not the place for idle folks to retrench
a lost fortune in. In some parts of the country you will find most articles
of provision as dear as in London, clothing much dearer, and not so good,
and a bad market to choose in."
"I should like to know, then, who Canada is
good for?" said she, angrily.
"It is a good country for the honest,
industrious artisan. It is a fine country for the poor labourer, who, after
a few years of hard toil, can sit down in his own log-house, and look abroad
on his own land, and see his children well settled in life as independent
freeholders. It is a grand country for the rich speculator, who can afford
to lay out a large sum in purchasing land in eligible situations; for if he
have any judgment, he will make a hundred per cent as interest for his money
after waiting a few years. But it is a hard country for the poor gentleman,
whose habits have rendered him unfit for manual labour. He brings with him a
mind unfitted to his situation; and even if necessity compels him to
exertion, his labour is of little value. He has a hard struggle to live. The
certain expenses of wages and living are great, and he is obliged to endure
many privations if he would keep within compass, and be free of debt. If he
have a large family, and brings them up wisely, so as to adapt themselves
early to a settler's life, why he does well for them, and soon feels the
benefit on his own land; but if he is idle himself, his wife extravagant and
discontented, and the children taught to despise labour, why, madam, they
will soon be brought down to ruin. In short, the country is a good country
for those to whom it is adapted; but if people will not conform to the
doctrine of necessity and expediency, they have no business in it. It is
plain Canada is not adapted to every class of people."
"It was never adapted for me or my family,"
said the lady, disdainfully.
"Very true," was the laconic reply; and so
ended the dialogue.
But while I have been recounting these
remarks, I have wandered far from my original subject, and left my poor
log-house quite in an unfinished state. At last I was told it was in a
habitable condition, and I was soon engaged in all the bustle and fatigue
attendant on removing our household goods. We received all the assistance we
required from -----, who is ever ready and willing to help us. He laughed,
and called it a "moving bee;" I said it was a "fixing bee;" and my husband
said it was a "settling bee;" I know we were unsettled enough till it was
over. What a din of desolation is a small house, or any house under such
circumstances. The idea of chaos must have been taken from a removal or a
setting to rights, for I suppose the ancients had their flitting, as the
Scotch call it, as well as the moderns.
Various were the valuable articles of
crockery-ware that perished in their short but rough journey through the
woods. Peace to their manes. I had a good helper in my Irish maid, who soon
roused up famous fires, and set the house in order.
We have now got quite comfortably settled, and
I shall give you a description of our little dwelling. What is finished is
only a part of the original plan; the rest must be added next spring, or
fall, as circumstances may suit.
A nice small sitting-room with a store closet,
a kitchen, pantry, and bed-chamber form the ground floor; there is a good
upper floor that will make three sleeping rooms.
"What a nut-shell!" I think I hear you
exclaim. So it is at present; but we purpose adding a handsome frame front
as soon as we can get boards from the mill, which will give us another
parlour, long hall, and good spare bed-room. The windows and glass door of
our present sitting-room command pleasant lake-views to the west and south.
When the house is completed, we shall have a verandah in front; and at the
south side, which forms an agreeable addition in the summer, being used as a
sort of outer room, in which we can dine, and have the advantage of cool
air, protected from the glare of the sunbeams. The Canadians call these
verandahs "stoups." Few houses, either log or frame, are without them. The
pillars look extremely pretty, wreathed with the luxuriant hop-vine, mixed
with the scarlet creeper and "morning glory," the American name for the most
splendid of major convolvuluses. These stoups are really a considerable
ornament, as they conceal in a great measure the rough logs, and break the
barn-like form of the building.
Our parlour is warmed by a handsome Franklin
stove with brass gallery, and fender. Our furniture consists of a
brass-railed sofa, which serves upon occasion for a bed, Canadian painted
chairs, a stained pine table, green and white curtains, and a handsome
Indian mat that covers the floor. One side of the room is filled up with our
books. Some large maps and a few good prints nearly conceal the rough walls,
and form the decoration of our little dwelling. Our bed-chamber is furnished
with equal simplicity. We do not, however, lack comfort in our humble home;
and though it is not exactly such as we could wish, it is as good as, under
existing circumstances, we could have.
I am anxiously looking forward to the spring,
that I may get a garden laid out in front of the house; as I mean to
cultivate some of the native fruits and flowers, which, I am sure, will
improve greatly by culture. The strawberries that grow wild in our pastures,
woods, and clearings, are several varieties, and bear abundantly. They make
excellent preserves, and I mean to introduce beds of them into my garden.
There is a pretty little wooded islet on our lake, that is called Strawberry
island, another Raspberry island; they abound in a variety of fruits--wild
grapes, raspberries, strawberries, black and red currants, a wild
gooseberry, and a beautiful little trailing plant that bears white flowers
like the raspberry, and a darkish purple fruit consisting of a few grains of
a pleasant brisk acid, somewhat like in flavour to our dewberry, only not
quite so sweet. The leaves of this plant are of a bright light green, in
shape like the raspberry, to which it bears in some respects so great a
resemblance (though it is not shrubby or thorny) that I have called it the
I suppose our scientific botanists in Britain
would consider me very impertinent in bestowing names on the flowers and
plants I meet with in these wild woods: I can only say, I am glad to
discover the Canadian or even the Indian names if I can, and where they fail
I consider myself free to become their floral godmother, and give them names
of my own choosing.
Among our wild fruits we have plums, which, in
some townships, are very fine and abundant; these make admirable preserves,
especially when boiled in maple molasses, as is done by the American
housewives. Wild cherries, also a sort called choke cherries, from their
peculiar astringent qualities, high and low-bush cranberries, blackberries,
which are brought by the Squaws in birch baskets,--all these are found on
the plains and beaver meadows. The low-bush cranberries are brought in great
quantities by the Indians to the towns and villages. They form a standing
preserve on the tea-tables in most of the settlers' houses; but for richness
of flavour, and for beauty of appearance, I admire the high-bush
cranberries; these are little sought after, on account of the large flat
seeds, which prevent them from being used as a jam: the jelly, however, is
delightful, both in colour and flavour.
The bush on which this cranberry grows
resembles the guelder rose. The blossoms are pure white, and grow in loose
umbels; they are very ornamental, when in bloom, to the woods and swamps,
skirting the lakes. The berries are rather of a long oval, and of a
brilliant scarlet, and when just touched by the frosts are semi-transparent,
and look like pendent bunches of scarlet grapes.
I was tempted one fine frosty afternoon to
take a walk with my husband on the ice, which I was assured was perfectly
safe. I must confess for the first half-mile I felt very timid, especially
when the ice is so transparent that you may see every little pebble or weed
at the bottom of the water. Sometimes the ice was thick and white, and quite
opaque. As we kept within a little distance of the shore, I was struck by
the appearance of some splendid red berries on the leafless bushes that hung
over the margin of the lake, and soon recognized them to be the aforesaid
high-bush cranberries. My husband soon stripped the boughs of their tempting
treasure, and I, delighted with my prize, hastened home, and boiled the
fruit with some sugar, to eat at tea with our cakes. I never ate any thing
more delicious than they proved; the more so perhaps from having been so
long without tasting fruit of any kind, with the exception of preserves,
during our journey, and at Peterborough.
Soon after this I made another excursion on
the ice, but it was not in quite so sound a state. We nevertheless walked on
for about three- quarters of a mile. We were overtaken on our return by
S------ with a handsleigh, which is a sort of wheelbarrow, such as porters
use, without sides, and instead of a wheel, is fixed on wooden runners,
which you can drag over the snow and ice with the greatest ease, if ever so
heavily laden. S------ insisted that he would draw me home over the ice like
a Lapland lady on a sledge. I was soon seated in state, and in another
minute felt myself impelled forward with a velocity that nearly took away my
breath. By the time we reached the shore I was in a glow from head to foot.
You would be pleased with the situation of our
house. The spot chosen is the summit of a fine sloping bank above the lake,
distant from the water's edge some hundred or two yards: the lake is not
quite a mile from shore to shore. To the south again we command a different
view, which will be extremely pretty when fully opened--a fine smooth basin
of water, diversified with beautiful islands, that rise like verdant groves
from its bosom. Below these there is a fall of some feet, where the waters
of the lakes, confined within a narrow channel between beds of limestone,
rush along with great impetuosity, foaming and dashing up the spray in mimic
During the summer the waters are much lower,
and we can walk for some way along the flat shores, which are composed of
different strata of limestone, full of fossil remains, evidently of very
recent formation. Those shells and river-insects that are scattered loose
over the surface of the limestone, left by the recession of the waters, are
similar to the shells and insects incrusted in the body of the limestone. I
am told that the bed of one of the lakes above us (I forget which) is of
limestone; that it abounds in a variety of beautiful river-shells, which are
deposited in vast quantities in the different strata, and also in the blocks
of limestone scattered along the shores. These shells are also found in
great profusion in the soil of the Beaver meadows. When I see these things,
and hear of them, I regret I know nothing of geology or conchology; as I
might then be able to account for many circumstances that at present only
excite my curiosity.
[Maps: Charts shewing the Interior Navigation
of the District of Newcastle and Upper Canada.]
Just below the waterfall I was mentioning
there is a curious natural arch in the limestone rock, which at this place
rises to a height of ten or fifteen feet like a wall; it is composed of
large plates of grey limestone, lying one upon the other; the arch seems
like a rent in the wall, but worn away, and hollowed, possibly, by the
action of water rushing through it at some high flood. Trees grow on the top
of this rock. Hemlock firs and cedars are waving on this elevated spot,
above the turbulent waters, and clothing the stone barrier with a sad but
never-fading verdure. Here, too, the wild vine, red creeper, and
poisonelder, luxuriate, and wreathe fantastic bowers above the moss-covered
masses of the stone. A sudden turn in this bank brought us to a broad,
perfectly flat and smooth bed of the same stone, occupying a space of full
fifty feet along the shore. Between the fissures of this bed I found some
rosebushes, and a variety of flowers that had sprung up during the spring
and summer, when it was left dry, and free from the action of the water.
This place will shortly be appropriated for
the building of a saw and grist-mill, which, I fear, will interfere with its
natural beauty. I dare say, I shall be the only person in the neighbourhood
who will regret the erection of so useful and valuable an acquisition to
this portion of the township.
The first time you send a parcel or box, do
not forget to enclose flower-seeds, and the stones of plums, damsons,
bullace, pips of the best kinds of apples, in the orchard and garden, as
apples may be raised here from seed, which will bear very good fruit without
being grafted; the latter, however, are finer in size and flavour. I should
be grateful for a few nuts from our beautiful old stock-nut trees. Dear old
trees! how many gambels have we had in their branches when I was as light of
spirit and as free from care as the squirrels that perched among the topmost
boughs above us.--"Well," you will say, "the less that sage matrons talk of
such wild tricks as climbing nut-trees, the better." Fortunately, young
ladies are in no temptation here, seeing that nothing but a squirrel or a
bear could climb our lofty forest-trees. Even a sailor must give it up in
I am very desirous of having the seeds of our
wild primrose and sweet violet preserved for me; I long to introduce them in
our meadows and gardens. Pray let the cottage-children collect some.
My husband requests a small quantity of
lucerne-seed, which he seems inclined to think may be cultivated to