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Backwoods of Canada
Letter 11

Emigrants suitable for Canada.--Qualities requisite to ensure success.--Investment of Capital.--Useful Articles to be brought out.-- Qualifications and Occupations of a Settler's Family.--Deficiency of Patience and Energy in some Females.--Management of the Dairy.--Cheese. --Indian Corn, and its Cultivation.--Potatoes.--Rates of Wages.

August 9, 1833

WITH respect to the various questions, my dear friend, to which you request my particular attention, I can only promise that I will do my best to answer them as explicitly as possible, though at the same time I must remind you, that brevity in epistolary correspondence is not one of my excellencies. If I become too diffuse in describing mere matters of fact, you must bear with mine infirmity, and attribute it to my womanly propensity of over-much talking; so, for your comfort, if your eyes be wearied, your ears will at least escape.

I shall take your queries in due rotation; first, then, you ask, "Who are the persons best adapted for bush-settlers?"

To which I reply without hesitation--the poor hard-working, sober labourers, who have industrious habits, a large family to provide for, and a laudable horror of the workhouse and parish-overseers: this will bear them through the hardships and privations of a first settlement in the backwoods; and in due time they will realize an honest independence, and be above want, though not work. Artisans of all crafts are better paid in village-towns, or long-cleared districts, than as mere bush-settlers.

"Who are the next best suited for emigration?"

Men of a moderate income or good capital may make money in Canada. If they have judgment, and can afford to purchase on a large scale, they will double or treble their capital by judicious purchases and sales. But it would be easier for me to point out who are not fit for emigration than who are.

The poor gentleman of delicate and refined habits, who cannot afford to employ all the labour requisite to carry on the business of clearing on a tolerable large scale, and is unwilling or incapable of working himself, is not fitted for Canada, especially if his habits are expensive. Even the man of small income, unless he can condescend to take in hand the axe or the chopper, will find, even with prudent and economical habits, much difficulty in keeping free from debt for the first two or even three years. Many such have succeeded, but the struggle has been severe.

But there is another class of persons most unsuited to the woods: these are the wives and families of those who have once been opulent tradesmen, accustomed to the daily enjoyment of every luxury that money could procure or fashion invent; whose ideas of happiness are connected with a round of amusements, company, and all the novelties of dress and pleasure that the gay world can offer. Young ladies who have been brought up at fashionable boarding schools, with a contempt of every thing useful or economical, make very indifferent settlers' wives. Nothing can be more unfortunate than the situations in the woods of Canada of persons so educated: disgusted with the unpleasant change in their mode of life, wearied and discontented with all the objects around them, they find every exertion a trouble, and every occupation a degradation.

For persons of this description (and there are such to be met with in the colonies), Canada is the worst country in the world. And I would urge any one, so unfitted by habit and inclination, under no consideration to cross the Atlantic; for miserable, and poor, and wretched they will become.

The emigrant, if he would succeed in this country, must possess the following qualities: perseverance, patience, industry, ingenuity, moderation, self-denial; and if he be a gentleman, a small income is almost indispensable; a good one is still more desirable.

The outlay for buying and clearing land, building, buying stock, and maintaining a family, paying servants' wages, with many other unavoidable expenses, cannot be done without some pecuniary means; and as the return from the land is but little for the first two or three years, it would be advisable for a settler to bring out some hundreds to enable him to carry on the farm and clear the above-mentioned expenses, or he will soon find himself involved in great difficulties.

Now, to your third query, "What will be the most profitable way of employing money, if a settler brought out capital more than was required for his own expenditure?"

On this head, I am not of course competent to give advice. My husband and friends, conversant with the affairs of the colonies, say, lend it on mortgage, on good landed securities, and at a high rate of interest. The purchase of land is often a good speculation, but not always so certain as mortgage, as it pays no interest; and though it may at some future time make great returns, it is not always so easy to dispose of it to an advantage when you happen to need it. A man possessing many thousand acres in different townships, may be distressed for twenty pounds if suddenly called upon for it when he is unprepared, if he invests all his capital in property of this kind.

It would be difficult for me to enumerate the many opportunities of turning ready money to account. There is so little money in circulation that those persons who are fortunate enough to have it at command can do almost any thing with it they please.

"What are the most useful articles for a settler to bring out?"

Tools, a good stock of wearing-apparel, and shoes, good bedding, especially warm blankets; as you pay high for them here, and they are not so good as you would supply yourself with at a much lower rate at home. A selection of good garden-seeds, as those you buy at the stores are sad trash; moreover, they are pasted up in packets not to be opened till paid for, and you may, as we have done, pay for little better than chaff, and empty husks, or old and worm-eaten seeds. This, I am sorry to say, is a Yankee trick; though I doubt not but John Bull would do the same if he had the opportunity, as there are rogues in all countries under the sun.

With respect to furniture and heavy goods of any kind, I would recommend little to be brought. Articles of hardware are not much more expensive here than at home, if at all, and often of a kind more suitable to the country than those you are at the trouble of bringing; besides, all land-carriage is dear.

We lost a large package of tools that have never been recovered from the forwarders, though their carriage was paid beforehand to Prescott. It is safest and best to ensure your goods, when the forwarders are accountable for them.

You ask, "If groceries and articles of household consumption are dear or cheap?"

They vary according to circumstances and situation. In towns situated in old cleared parts of the country, and near the rivers and navigable waters, they are cheaper than at home; but in newly-settled townships, where the water-communication is distant, and where the roads are bad, and the transport of goods difficult, they are nearly double the price. Where the supply of produce is inadequate to the demand owing to the influx of emigrants in thinly-settled places, or other causes, then all articles of provisions are sold at a high price, and not to be procured without difficulty; but these are merely temporary evils, which soon cease.

Competition is lowering prices in Canadian towns, as it does in British ones, and you may now buy goods of all kinds nearly as cheap as in England.

Where prices depend on local circumstances, it is impossible to give any just standard; as what may do for one town would not for another, and a continual change is going on in all the unsettled or half-settled townships. In like manner the prices of cattle vary: they are cheaper in old settled townships, and still more so on the American side the river or lakes, than in the Canadas*.

[* The duties on goods imported to the Canadas are exceedingly small, which will explain the circumstance of many articles of consumption being cheaper in places where there are facilities of transit than at home; while in the Backwoods, where roads are scarcely yet formed, there must be taken into the account the cost of carriage, and increased number of agents; the greater value of capital, and consequent increased rate of local profit, &c.--items which will diminish in amount as the country becomes settled and cleared.--Ed.]

"What are necessary qualifications of a settler's wife; and the usual occupations of the female part of a settler's family?" are your next questions.

To the first clause, I reply, a settler's wife should be active, industrious, ingenious, cheerful, not above putting her hand to whatever is necessary to be done in her household, nor too proud to profit by the advice and experience of older portions of the community, from whom she may learn many excellent lessons of practical wisdom.

Like that pattern of all good housewives described by the prudent mother of King Lemuel, it should be said of the emigrant's wife, "She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff." "She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands." "She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness."

Nothing argues a greater degree of good sense and good feeling than a cheerful conformity to circumstances, adverse though they be compared with a former lot; surely none that felt as they ought to feel, would ever despise a woman, however delicately brought up, for doing her duty in the state of life unto which it may have pleased God to call her. Since I came to this country, I have seen the accomplished daughters and wives of men holding no inconsiderable rank as officers, both naval and military, milking their own cows, making their own butter, and performing tasks of household work that few of our farmers' wives would now condescend to take part in. Instead of despising these useful arts, an emigrant's family rather pride themselves on their skill in these matters. The less silly pride and the more practical knowledge the female emigrant brings out with her, so much greater is the chance for domestic happiness and prosperity.

I am sorry to observe, that in many cases the women that come hither give way to melancholy regrets, and destroy the harmony of their fireside, and deaden the energies of their husbands and brothers by constant and useless repining. Having once made up their minds to follow their husbands or friends to this country, it would be wiser and better to conform with a good grace, and do their part to make the burden of emigration more bearable.

One poor woman that was lamenting the miseries of this country was obliged to acknowledge that her prospects were far better than they ever had or could have been at home. What, then, was the cause of her continual regrets and discontent? I could hardly forbear smiling, when she replied, "She could not go to shop of a Saturday night to lay out her husband's earnings, and have a little chat with her naibors, while the shopman was serving the customers,--for why? there were no shops in the bush, and she was just dead-alive. If Mrs. Such-a-one (with whom, by the way, she was always quarrelling when they lived under the same roof) was near her she might not feel quite so lonesome." And so for the sake of a dish of gossip, while lolling her elbows on the counter of a village-shop, this foolish woman would have forgone the advantages, real solid advantages, of having land and cattle, and poultry and food, and firing and clothing, and all for a few years' hard work, which, her husband wisely observed, must have been exerted at home, with no other end in view than an old age of poverty or a refuge from starvation in a parish workhouse.

The female of the middling or better class, in her turn, pines for the society of the circle of friends she has quitted, probably for ever. She sighs for those little domestic comforts, that display of the refinements and elegancies of life, that she had been accustomed to see around her. She has little time now for those pursuits that were ever her business as well as amusement. The accomplishments she has now to acquire are of a different order: she must become skilled in the arts of sugar-boiling, candle and soap making, the making and baking of huge loaves, cooked in the bake-kettle, unless she be the fortunate mistress of a stone or clay oven. She must know how to manufacture hop-rising or salt-rising for leavening her bread; salting meat and fish, knitting stockings and mittens and comforters, spinning yarn in the big wheel (the French Canadian spinning-wheel), and dyeing the yarn when spun to have manufactured into cloth and coloured flannels, to clothe her husband and children, making clothes for herself, her husband and children;--for there are no tailors nor mantua-makers in the bush.

The management of poultry and the dairy must not be omitted; for in this country most persons adopt the Irish and Scotch method, that of churning the _milk_, a practice that in our part of England was not known. For my own part I am inclined to prefer the butter churned from cream, as being most economical, unless you chance to have Irish or Scotch servants who prefer buttermilk to new or sweet skimmed milk.

There is something to be said in favour of both plans, no doubt. The management of the calves differs here very much. Some persons wean the calf from the mother from its birth, never allowing it to suck at all: the little creature is kept fasting the first twenty-four hours; it is then fed with the finger with new milk, which it soon learns to take readily. I have seen fine cattle thus reared, and am disposed to adopt the plan as the least troublesome one.

The old settlers pursue an opposite mode of treatment, allowing the calf to suck till it is neatly half a year old, under the idea that it ensures the daily return of the cow; as, under ordinary circumstances, she is apt to ramble sometimes for days together, when the herbage grows scarce in the woods near the homesteads, and you not only lose the use of the milk, but often, from distention of the udder, the cow is materially injured, at least for the remainder of the milking season. I am disposed to think that were care taken to give the cattle regular supplies of salt, and a small portion of food, if ever so little, near the milking-place, they would seldom stay long away. A few refuse potatoes, the leaves of the garden vegetables daily in use, set aside for them, with the green shoots of the Indian corn that are stripped off to strengthen the plant, will ensure their attendance. In the fall and winter, pumpkins, corn, straw, and any other fodder you may have, with the browse they get during the chopping and underbrushing season, will keep them well.

The weanling calves should be given skimmed milk or buttermilk, with the leafy boughs of basswood and maple, of which they are extremely fond. A warm shed or fenced yard is very necessary for the cattle during the intense winter frosts: this is too often disregarded, especially in new settlements, which is the cause that many persons have the mortification of losing their stock, either with disease or cold. Naturally the Canadian cattle are very hardy, and when taken moderate care of, endure the severest winters well; but owing to the difficulties that attend a first settlement in the bush, they suffer every privation of cold and hunger, which brings on a complaint generally fatal, called the "hollow horn;" this originates in the spine, or extends to it, and is cured or palliated by boring the horn and inserting turpentine, pepper, or other heating substances.

When a new comer has not winter food for his cattle, it is wise to sell them in the fall and buy others in the spring: though at a seeming loss, it is perhaps less loss in reality than losing the cattle altogether. This was the plan my husband adopted, and we found it decidedly the better one, besides saving much care, trouble, and vexation.

I have seen some good specimens of native cheese, that I thought very respectable, considering that the grass is by no means equal to our British pastures. I purpose trying my skill next summer: who knows but that I may inspire some Canadian bard to celebrate the produce of my dairy as Bloomfield did the Suffolk cheese, yclept "Bang." You remember the passage,--for Bloomfield is your countryman as well as mine,--it begins:

"Unrivalled stands thy county cheese, O Giles," &c.

I have dwelt on the dairy information; as I know you were desirous of imparting all you could collect to your friends.

You wish to know something of the culture of Indian corn, and if it be a useful and profitable crop.

The cultivation of Indian corn on newly cleared lands is very easy, and attended with but little labour; on old farms it requires more. The earth is just raised with a broad hoe, and three or four corns dropped in with a pumpkin-seed, in about every third or fourth hole, and in every alternate row; the seed are set several feet apart. The pumpkins and the corn grow very amicably together, the broad leaves of the former shading the young plants and preventing the too great evaporation of the moisture from the ground; the roots strike little way, so that they rob the corn of a very small portion of nourishment. The one crop trails to an amazing length along the ground, while the other shoots up to the height of several feet above it. When the corn is beginning to branch, the ground should be hoed once over, to draw the earth a little to the roots, and cut down any weeds that might injure it. This is all that is done till the cob is beginning to form, when the blind and weak shoots are broken off, leaving four or five of the finest bearing shoots. The feather, when it begins to turn brown and dead, should also be taken off; that the plant may have all the nourishment to the corn.

We had a remarkable instance of smut in our corn last summer. The diseased cobs had large white bladders as big as a small puff-ball, or very large nuts, and these on being broken were full of an inky black liquid. On the same plants might be observed a sort of false fructification, the cob being deficient in kernels, which by some strange accident were transposed to the top feather or male blossoms. I leave botanists to explain the cause of this singular anomaly; I only state facts. I could not learn that the smut was a disease common to Indian corn, but last year smut or dust bran, as it is called by some, was very prevalent in the oat, barley and wheat crops. In this country especially, new lands are very subject to the disease.

The ripe corn is either shocked as beans are at home, or the cobs pulled and braided on ropes after the manner of onions, and hung over poles or beams in the granaries or barns. The stripping of the corn gives rise among some people, to what they call a husking-bee, which, like all the other bees, is one of Yankee origin, and is not now so frequently adopted among the more independent or better class of settlers.

The Indian corn is a tender and somewhat precarious crop: it is liable to injury from the late frosts while young, for which reason it is never put in before the 20th of May, or beginning of June, and even then it will suffer; it has also many enemies; bears, racoons, squirrels, mice, and birds, and is a great temptation to breachy cattle; who, to come at it, will even toss down a fence with stakes and riders for protection, i.e. a pole or cross-bar, supported between crossed stakes, that surmounts the zig-zag rail fences, for better securing them from the incursions of cattle.

Even in Canada this crop requires a hot summer to ripen it perfectly; which makes me think Mr. Cobbett was deceiving the English farmer when he recommended it as a profitable crop in England. Profitable and highly useful it is under every disadvantage, as it makes the richest and sweetest food for all kinds of granivorous animals, even in its green state, and affords sound good food when ripe, or even partially ripe, for fattening beasts and working oxen.

Last summer was very favourable, and the crops were abundant, but owing to the failure of the two preceding ones, fewer settlers grew it. Our small patch turned out very good. The flour makes a substantial sort of porridge, called by the Americans "Supporne;" this is made with water, and eaten with milk, or else mixed with milk; it requires long boiling. Bread is seldom if ever made without a large portion of wheaten flour, mixed with the corn meal.

With respect to the culture of other grain, I can tell you nothing but what every book that treats on emigration will give you. The potatoe instead of being sown in drills is planted in hills, which are raised over the sets; this crop requires hoeing.

With respect to the usual rate of wages, this also differs according to the populousness of the place: but the common wages now given to an active able man are from eight to eleven dollars per month; ten is perhaps the general average; from four to six for lads, and three and four for female servants. You may get a little girl, say from nine to twelve years, for her board and clothing; but this is far from a saving plan, as they soon wear out clothes and shoes thus bestowed. I have once tried this way, but found myself badly served, and a greater loser than if I had given wages. A big girl will go out to service for two and two and a half dollars per month, and will work in the fields also if required, binding after the reapers, planting and hoeing corn and potatoes. I have a very good girl, the daughter of a Wiltshire emigrant, who is neat and clever, and respectful and industrious, to whom I give three dollars only: she is a happy specimen of the lower order of English emigrants, and her family are quite acquisitions to the township in which they live.

I think I have now answered all your queries to the best of my ability; but I would have you bear in mind that my knowledge is confined to a small portion of the townships along the Otanabee lakes, therefore, my information after all, may be but local: things may differ, and do differ in other parts of the province, though possibly not very materially.

I must now say farewell. Should you ever feel tempted to try your fortune on this side the Atlantic, let me assure you of a warm welcome to our Canadian home, from your sincerely attached friend.

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