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Three Years in Canada
An account of the actual state of the country in 1826-7-8 comprehending its resources, productions, improvements, and capabilities and including sketches of the state of society, advice to emigrants, &c. by John MacTaggart, civil engineer in the service of the British Government in two volumes (1829)


The great and growing interests of the Canadas, and the readiness shown by Great Britain to promote the advancement and prosperity of a country of such extent and importance, must render any account of its actual state, at the present moment, highly desirable. The encouragement given to emigrants to settle at such a distance from their native land ; the magnitude of the improvements at present in active operation; and the imperfect knowledge we have hitherto possessed of the internal resources, productions, and capabilities of one of the most valuable of our colonies —have excited a very lively curiosity in the public mind for any new particulars on these interesting points, on the truth of which the fullest reliance may be placed.

Having obtained, from personal observation and experience, the most minute and accurate information on a variety of subjects almost entirely unknown, I have considered it a duty which I owe to my countrymen, to lay before them the results of my investigations.

Early in the year 1826, Mr. Rennie was requested by Government to furnish a Clerk of Works to the Rideau Canal, in Upper Canada, then about to be commenced, and proposed to extend between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario, a distance of 160 miles, through an uncleared wilderness. Being selected as a proper person to fill this situation, I undertook the arduous duties attached to it, and immediately proceeded to the active scene of operations.

Having zealously pursued my avocations, the nature of which will be found detailed in the work, my health began to suffer in the summer of 1828, from the malaria of the swampy wastes, to which I was necessarily much exposed. With a view to benefit by the change of climate, and to regulate other affairs, I returned to England at the close of last year.

The following extract, from an official letter, may serve to show how far my humble exertions have been appreciated.

Royal Engineers’ Office, Rideau Canal,
5th August, 1828.


“I have the honour to state, for the information of his Lordship the Master-General, and Right Honourable and Honourable Board, that Mr. Mac-taggart, Clerk of Works at the Rideau Canal, is so much recovered of a dangerous fever, as to enable him to return to England according to order. And I beg leave to report, that I have found him a man of strong natural abilities, well grounded in the practical part of his profession, and a zealous, hard-working man in the field.

“I most respectfully recommend him to your protection and that of the Honourable Board. He is fond of research, and of exploring this untracked country; his reports are faithful, and I have always found him a man of honour and integrity.

“I have the honour to be. Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,
(Signed) John By,
Lieut-Colonel Royal Engineers,
Commanding Rideau Canal.”

To General Mann,
Inspector-General of Fortifications,
Board of Ordnance.”

In conclusion, I may be permitted to observe, that our possessions in North America embrace a large but ill-defined property, the nature of which we have yet failed to investigate, and respecting which the most erroneous ideas have been entertained. In proof of this assertion, the following letter, from the very first authority, may prove acceptable.

“Glengarry, Upper Canada,
9th September, 1828.


“The warm zeal which you have displayed in forwarding the improvements of the Canadas since you have been at the head of the Colonial department, induces me to believe that it would not be unacceptable to you, Sir, to recommend the bearer, Mr. Mactaggart, to your notice, as, perhaps, the ablest practical engineer and geologist, and the properest person that has ever been in these Provinces for exploring the natural productions and latent resources of the country.

“In recommending Mr. Mactaggart, I rely much more on the testimony of Colonel By, of the Royal Engineers, and other gentlemen of superior talents/ and science in those branches, who have spoken highly of him to me, than on my own judgment.

“From the knowledge which my own travels in the discharge of my pastoral duties, through this Province for thousands of miles annually, for the period of four-and-twenty years, enabled me to acquire, I have no hesitation in saying that very little more than the borders of some of the lakes have yet been explored, and that the inexhaustible resources and capabilities of these indeterminable forests remain vet to be discovered.

“I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your faithful and devoted servant,
(Signed) Alexander Macdonell,
Catholic Bishop of Upper Canada.”

"To Lieut-General the Rt. Hon. Sir George Murray,
His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State
for the Colonies, &c. &c. &c.”

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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