A Journey To The Westward
We must leave Roncesvalles and La Gloire awhile, and, instead of riding a war horse, canter along upon the hobby, or a good serviceable Canadian pony, the best of all hobbies for seeing the Canadian world, and on which mettlesome charger we can much better instruct the emigrant than by long prosings about political economy and systematic colonisation.
So, en avant! I am going to relate the incidents of a journey last summer to the Westward, and to give all the substance of my observations on men and things made therein.
I left Kingston on the 26th of June, in the Princess Royal mail steamer, at 8 p.m., the usual hour of starting being seven, for Toronto; the weather unusually cold.
This fine boat constitutes, with two others, the City of Toronto and the Sovereign, the royal mail line between Kingston and Toronto. All are built nearly alike, are first class seaboats, and low pressure; they combine, with the Highlander, the Canada, and the Gildersleave, also splendid vessels, to form a mail route to Montreal—the latter boats taking the mail as far as Coteau du Lac, forty-five miles from Montreal, on which route a smaller vessel, the Chieftain, plies, wherein you sleep, at anchor, or rather moored, till daylight, if going down, or going upwards, on board the mail boat.
Passengers go from Montreal to Kingston by the mail route in twenty-four hours, a distance of 180 miles; a small portion, between the Cascades Rapids and the Coteau being traversed in a coach, on a planked road as smooth as a billiard-table.
From Kingston to Toronto, or nearly the whole length of Lake Ontario, takes sixteen hours, the boat leaving at seven, and arriving about or before noon next day; performing the passage at the rate of eleven miles an hour, exclusively of stoppages.
The transit between Montreal and Kingston is at the rate, including stoppage for daylight, the river being dangerous, of eight miles an hour; thus, in forty hours, the passenger passes from the seat of government to the largest city of Western Canada most comfortably, a journey which twenty years ago it always took a fortnight, and often a month, to accomplish, in the most precarious and uncomfortable manner—on board small, roasting steamers, crowded like a cattle-pen—in lumbering leathern conveniences, miscalled coaches, over roads which enter not into the dreams of Britons—by canoes—by bateaux, (a sort of coal barges,)—by schooners, where the cabin could never permit you to display either your length, your breadth, or your thickness, and thus reducing you to a point in creation, according to Euclid and his commentators.
Your compagnons de voyage, on board a bateau or Durham boat, which was a monstre bateau, were French Canadian voyageurs, always drunk and always gay, who poled you along up the rapids, or rushed down them with what will be will be.
These happy people had a knack of examining your goods and chattels, which they were conveying in the most admirable manner, and with the utmost sang-froid; but still they were above stealing—they only tapped the rum cask or the whiskey barrel, and appropriated any cordage wherewith you bound your chests and packages. I never had a chest, box, or bale sent up by bateau or Durham boat that escaped this rope mail.
By the by, the Durham boat, a long decked barge, square ahead, and square astern, has vanished; Ericson's screw-propellers have crushed it. It was neither invented by nor named after Lord Durham, but was as ancient as Lambton House itself.
The way the conductors of these boats found out vinous liquors was, as brother Jonathan so playfully observes, a caution.
I have known an instance of a cask of wine, which, for security from climate, had an outer case or cask strongly secured over it, with an interior space for neutralizing frost or heat, bored so carefully that you could never discover how it had been effected, and a very considerable quantum of beverage extracted.
I once had a small barrel, perhaps twenty gallons of commissariat West India ration rum, the best of all rum for liqueurs, sucked dry. Of course, it had leaked, but I never could discover the leak, and it held any liquid very well afterwards.
I know the reader likes a story, and as this is not by any means an historical or scientific work, excepting always the geological portion thereof, I will tell him or her, as the case may be, a story about ration rum.
There was a funny fellow, an Irish auctioneer at Kingston, some years ago, called Paddy Moran, whom all the world, priest and parson, minister and methodist, soldier and sailor, tinker and tailor, went to hear when he mounted his rostrum.
He was selling the goods of a quarter-master-general who was leaving the place. At last he came to the cellar and the rum. Now, gintlemin, says Moran, I advise you to buy this rum, 7s. 6d. a gallon! going, going! Gintlemin, I was once a sojer—don't laugh, you officers there, for I was—and a sirjeant into the bargain. It wasn't in the Irish militia—bad luck to you, liftenant, for laughing that way, it will spoil the rum! I was the tip-top of the sirjeants of the regiment—long life to it! Yes, I was quarter-master-sirjeant, and hadn't I the sarving out of the rations; and didn't I know what good ration rum was; and didn't I help meself to the prime of it! Well, then, gintlemin and ladies—I mane, Lord save yees, ladies and gintlemin—if a quarter-master-sirjeant in the army had good rum, what the devil do you think a quarter-master-general gets?
The rum rose to fifteen shillings per gallon at the next bid.
You can have every convenience on board a Lake Ontario mail-packet, which is about as large as a small frigate, and has the usual sea equipment of masts, sails, and iron rigging. The fare is five dollars in the cabin, or about £1 sterling; and two dollars in the steerage. In the former you have tea and breakfast, in the latter nothing but what is bought at the bar. By paying a dollar extra you may have a state-room on deck, or rather on the half-deck, where you find a good bed, a large looking-glass, washing-stand and towels, and a night-lamp, if required. The captains are generally part owners, and are kind, obliging, and communicative, sitting at the head of their table, where places for females and families are always reserved. The stewards and waiters are coloured people, clean, neat, and active; and you may give sevenpence-halfpenny or a quarter-dollar to the man who cleans your boots, or an attentive waiter, if you like; if not, you can keep it, as they are well paid.
The ladies' cabin has generally a large cheval glass and a piano, with a white lady to wait, who is always decked out in flounces and furbelows, and usually good-looking. All you have got to do on embarking or on disembarking is to see personally to your luggage; for leaving it to a servant unacquainted with the country will not do. At Kingston, matters are pretty well arranged, and the carters are not so very impudent, and so ready to push you over the wharf; but at Toronto they are very so so, and want regulating by the police; and in the States, at Buffalo particularly, the porters and carters are the most presuming and insolent serviles I ever met with; they rush in a body on board the boat, and respect neither persons nor things.
I knew an American family composed chiefly of females, travelling to the Falls; and these ladies had their baggage taken to a train going inland, whilst they were embarking on board the British boat which was to convey them to Chippewa in Canada.
The comfort of some of these boats, as they call them, but which ought to be called ships, is very great. There is a regular drawingroom on board one called the Chief Justice where I saw, just after the horticultural show at Toronto, pots of the most rare and beautiful flowers, arranged very tastefully, with a piano, highly-coloured nautical paintings and portraits, and a tout ensemble, which, when the lamps were lit, and conversation going on between the ladies and gentlemen then and there assembled, made one quite forget we were at sea on Lake Ontario, the Beautiful Lake, which, like other beautiful creations, can be very angry if vexed.
The Americans have very fine steam vessels on their side of the lake, but they are flimsily constructed, painted glaringly, white, and green, and yellow, without comfort or good attendance, and with a devil-may-care sort of captain, who seems really scarcely to know or to care whether he has passengers or has not, a scrambling hurried meal, and divers other unmentionables.
The American gentry always prefer the British boats, for two good reasons; they see Queen Victoria's people, and they meet with the utmost civility, attention, and comfort. They sit down to dinner, or breakfast, or tea, like Christian men and women, where there is no railway eating and drinking; where due time is spent in refreshing the body and spirits; and where people help each other, or the waiters help them, at table, without a scramble, like hogs, for the best and the most—a custom which all travelled Americans detest and abominate as much as the most fastidious Englishman.
It is not unusual at hotel dinners, or on board steamers, to see a man, I cannot call him a gentleman, sitting next a female, totally neglect her, and heap his plate with fish, with flesh, with pie, with pudding, with potato, with cranberry jam, with pickles, with salad, with all and every thing then within his reach, swallow in a trice all this jumble of edibles, jump up and vanish.
Can such a being have a stomach, or a digestion, and must he not necessarily, about thirty-five years of age, be yellow, spare, and parchment-skinned, with angular projections, and a prodigious tendency to tobacco?
An American gentleman—mind, I lay a stress upon the second word—never bolts his victuals, never picks his teeth at table, never spits upon the carpet, or guesses; he knows not gin-sling, and he eschews mint-julep; but he does, I am ashamed to say, admire a sherry cobbler, particularly if he does not get a second-hand piece of vermicelli to suck it through. Reader, do you know what a sherry cobbler is? I will enlighten you. Let the sun shine at about 80° Fahrenheit. Then take a lump of ice; fix it at the edge of a board; rasp it with a tool made like a drawing knife or carpenter's plane, set face upwards. Collect the raspings, the fine raspings, mind, in a capacious tumbler; pour thereon two glasses of good sherry, and a good spoonful of powdered white sugar, with a few small bits, not slices, but bits of lemon, about as big as a gooseberry. Stir with a wooden macerator. Drink through a tube of macaroni or vermicelli. C'est l'eau benite, as the English lord said to the garçon at the Milles Colonnes, when he first tasted real parfait amour.—C'est beaucoup mieux, Milor, answered the waiter with a profound reverence.
Gin-sling, cock-tail, mint-julep, are about as vulgar as blue ruin and old tom at home; but sherry cobbler is an affair of consideration—only never pound your ice, always rasp it.
It is a custom on board the Canadian steamers for gentlemen to call for a pint of wine at dinner, or for a bottle, according to the strength of the party; but it is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance; for sherry and port are the usual stock, both fiery as brandy, and costing the moderate price of seven shillings and sixpence a bottle, the steward having laid the same in at about one shilling and eight pence, or at most two shillings. Why this imposition, the only one you meet with in travelling in Canada at hotels or steamboats, is perpetrated and perpetuated, I could never learn.
Many American gentlemen, however, encourage it, and have told me that they do so because they get no good port in the States. Ale and porter are charged two shillings and sixpence a bottle, which is double their worth. Be careful also not to drink freely of the iced water, which is always supplied ad libitum. Few Europeans escape the effects of water-drinking when they land at Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, &c. There is something peculiar, which has never yet been satisfactorily explained by medical men, in the sudden attack upon the system produced by the waters of Canada: this is sometimes slight, but more often lasts several days, and reduces the strength a good deal. Iced water is worse, and produces country cholera. The Americans use ice profusely, and drink such draughts of iced water, that I have been astonished at the impunity with which they did so.
Perhaps the change from a moist sea atmosphere to the dry and desiccating air of Canada, where iron does not rust, may be one cause of the malady alluded to, and another, in addition to the water, the difference of cookery; for here, at public tables and on board the boats generally, where black cooks prevail, all is butter and grease.
But the change of climate is undoubtedly great. I had been long an inhabitant of Upper Canada, and fancied myself seasoned; but, having returned to England, and spending afterwards two or three years in the excessively humid air of the sea-coast of Newfoundland at St. Johns, where I became somewhat stout, on my return to Upper Canada, for want of a little preparatory caution in medicine, although naturally of a spare habit, I was seized with a violent bleeding at the nose, which baffled all remedies for several months, until artificial mineral water and a copious use of solutions of iron stopped it. No doubt this prevented the fever of the lakes, and was owing to the dryness of the air. I mention this to caution all new-comers, young and old, to take timely advice and medicine.
There is another complaint in Upper Canada, which attacks the settler very soon after his arrival, especially if young, and that is worms; a disorder very prevalent at all times in Canada, particularly among the poorer classes, and probably owing to food.
These, with ague and colic, or country cholera, are the chief evils of the clime; few are, however, fatal, excepting the lake fever, and that principally among children.
The sportsman should recollect, in so marshy and woody a country, subject as it is to the most surprising alternations of temperature, that instead of minding that celebrated rule, Keep your powder dry, he should read, Keep your feet dry. Dry feet and the avoidance of sitting in wet or damp clothes, or drinking iced water when hot, or of cooling yourself in a delicious draught of air when in a perspiration, are the best precautions against ague, fever, colic, or cholera—in a country where the thermometer reaches 90° in the shade, and sometimes 110°, as it did last summer, and 27° below zero in the winter, with rapid alternations embracing such a range of the scale as is unknown elsewhere.
In the country places, in travelling, you will invariably find that windows are very little attended to, and that the head of your bed, or the side of it, is placed against a loosely-fitting broken sash. The night-fogs and damps are highly dangerous to new-comers; so act accordingly.
Fleas and bugs, and such small deer, you must expect in every inn you stop at, even in the cities; for it appears—and indeed I did not know the fact until this year—that bugs are indigenous, native to the soil, and breed in the bark of old trees; so that if you build a new house, you bring the enemy into your camp. Nothing but cleanliness and frequent whitewash, colouring, paint, and soft soap, will get rid of them. If it were not for the strong smell of red cedar and its extreme brittleness, I would have my bedstead of that material; for even the iron bedsteads, in the soldiers' barracks, become infested with them if not painted often. Red cedar they happily eschew.
Travellers may talk as they please of mosquitoes being the scourge of new countries; the bugs in Canada are worse, and the black fly and sand-fly superlatively superior in annoyance. The black fly exists in the neighbourhood of rivers or swamps, and attacks you behind the ear, drawing a pretty copious supply of blood at each bite. The sand-fly, as its name imports, exists in sandy soil, and is so small that it cannot be seen without close inspection; its bite is sharp and fiery.
Then the farmer has the wheat-fly and the turnip-fly to contend against; the former has actually devoured Lower Canada, and the latter has obliged me in a garden to sow several successive crops. The melon-bug is another nuisance; it is a small winged animal, of a bright yellow colour, striped with black bars, and takes up its abode in the flower of the melon and pumpkin, breeding fast, and destroying wherever it settles, for young plants are literally eaten up by it.
The grub, living under ground in the daytime, and sallying forth at night, is a ferocious enemy to cabbage-plants, lettuce, and most of the young, tender vegetables; but, by taking a lantern and a pan after dark, the gentlemen can be collected whilst on their tour, and poultry are very fond of them. Last year, the potato crop failed throughout Canada. What a singular dispensation!—for it alike suffered in Europe, and no doubt the malady was atmospheric. The hay crop, too, suffered severely; but still, by a merciful Providence, the wheat and corn harvest was ample, and gathered in a month before the customary time.
By the word corn I mean oats, rye, and barley; but in the Canadas and in the United States that word means maize or Indian-corn only, which in Canada, last summer, was not, I should think, even an average crop. It is extensively used here for food, as well as buckwheat, and for feeding poultry.
But to our journey westward. I arrived at Toronto on the 27th of June, and found the weather had changed to variable and fine.
On steaming up the harbour, I was greatly surprised and very much pleased to see such an alteration as Toronto has undergone for the better since 1837. Then, although a flourishing village, be-citied, to be sure, it was not one third of its present size. Now it is a city in earnest, with upwards of twenty thousand inhabitants—gas-lit, with good plank side-walks and macadamized streets, and with vast sewers, and fine houses, of brick or stone. The main street, King Street, is two miles and more in length, and would not do shame to any town, and has a much more English look than most Canadian places have.
Toronto is still the seat of the Courts of Law for Western Canada, of the University of King's College, of the Bishopric of Toronto, and of the Indian Office. Kingston has retained the militia head-quarter office, and the Principal Emigrant Agency, with the Naval and Military grand depôts; so that the removal of the seat of Government to Montreal has done no injury to Toronto, and will do very little to Kingston: in fact, I believe firmly that, instead of being injurious, it will be very beneficial. The presence of Government at Kingston gave an unnatural stimulus to speculation among a population very far from wealthy; and buildings of the most frail construction were run up in hundreds, for the sake of the rent which they yielded temporarily.
The plan upon which these houses were erected was that of mortgage; thus almost all are now in possession of one person who became suddenly possessed of the requisite means by the sale of a large tract required for military purposes. But this species of property seldom does the owner good in his lifetime; and, if he does reclaim it, there is no tenant to be had now; so that the building decays, and in a very short time becomes an incumbrance. Mortgages only thrive where the demand is superior and certain to the investment; and then, if all goes smoothly, mortgager and mortgagee may benefit; but where a mechanic or a storekeeper, with little or no capital, undertakes to run up an extensive range of houses to meet an equivocal demand, the result is obvious. If the houses he builds are of stone or brick, and well finished, the man who loans the money is the gainer; if they are of wood, indifferently constructed and of green materials, both must suffer. So it is a speculation, and, like all speculations, a good deal of repudiation mixes up with it.
There are two good houses of entertainment for the gentleman traveller in Toronto; the Club House in Chewett's Buildings and Macdonald's Hotel. In the former, a bachelor will find himself quite at home; in the latter, a family man will have no reason to regret his stay.
But servants at Toronto—by which I mean attendants—are about on a par with the same race all over Canada. The coloured people are the best, but never make yourself dependent on either; for, if you are to start by the stage or the steamer, depend on your watch, instead of upon your boots being cleaned or your shaving-water being ready. In the latter case, shave with cold water by the light of your candle, lit by your own lucifer match. They are civil, however, and attentive, as far as the very free and easy style of their acquirements will permit them; for a cook will leave at a moment's notice, if she can better herself; and any trivial occurrence will call off the waiter and the boots. The only punctual people are the porters; and, as they wear glazed hats, with the name of the hotel emblazoned thereon, frigate-fashion, you can always find them.
An excellent arrangement is the omnibus attached to the hotels in Canada West, which conveys you cost-free to and from the steamboat, and a very comfortable wooden convenience it is, resembling very much the vans which, in days of yore, plied near London.
My first start from Toronto was to Ultima Thule, Penetanguishene, a locality scarcely to be found in the maps, and yet one of much importance, situate and being north-north-west of the city some hundred and eight miles, on Lake Huron.
The route is per coach to St. Alban's, thirty and three miles, along Yonge Street, of which about one-third is macadamized from granite boulders; the rest mud and etceteras, too numerous to mention. Yonge Street is a continuous settlement, with an occasional sprinkling of the original forest. The land on each side is fertile, and supplies Toronto market.
It rises gradually by those singular steps, or ridges, formerly banks or shores o£ antediluvian oceans, till it reaches the vicinity of the Holland river, a tortuous, sluggish, marshy, natural canal, flowing or lazily creeping into Lake Simcoe, at an elevation of upwards of seven-hundred and fifty feet above Lake Ontario, and emptying itself into Lake Huron by a series of rapids, called the Matchedash or Severn River.
The first quarter of the route to St. Alban's is a series of country-houses, gentlemen's seats, half-pay officers' farms, prettily fenced, and pleasant to the sight: the next third embraces Thornhill, a nice village in a hollow; Richmond Hill, with a beautiful prospect and detached settlements: the ultimate third is a rich, undulating country, inhabited by well-to-do Quakers, with Newmarket on their right, and looking for all the world very like dear home, with orchards, and as rich corn-fields and pastures as may be seen any where, backed, however, by the eternal forest. It is peculiarly and particularly beautiful.
A short distance before reaching St. Alban's, which is quite a new village, the road descends rapidly, and the ground is broken into hummocks.
But I must not forget Bond's Lake, a most singular feature of this part of the road, which, perhaps, I shall treat of in returning from Penetanguishene, as I am now in a hurry to get to St. Alban's.
Here, where all was scrub forest in 1837, are a little street, a house of some pretension occupied by Mr. Laughton, the enterprising owner of the Beaver steamboat, plying on Lake Simcoe, and two inns.
I stopped for the night, for Yonge Street is still a tiresome journey, although only a stage of thirty three miles, at Winch's Tavern. This is a very good road-side house, and the landlord and landlady are civil and attentive. Before you go to roost, for stopping by the way-side is pretty much like roosting, as you must be up with Chanticleer, you can just look over Mr. Laughton's paling, and you will see as pretty a florist's display as may be imagined. The owner is fond of flowers, and he has lots of them, and, when you make his acquaintance afterwards in the Beaver, you will find that he has lots of information also. But I did not go in the Beaver, which ship wharfs some two or three miles further ahead, at Holland River Landing, commonly called the Landing, par excellence. Here flies, mosquitoes, ague, and other plagues, are so rife, that all attempts at settlement are vanity and vexation of spirit.
So, being willing to see what had happened in Gwillimbury since 1837, I took a waggon and the land road, and went off as day broke, or rather before it broke, about four a.m., in a deep gray mist. The waggon should be described, as it is the best voiture in Western Canada.
Four wheels, of a narrow tire, are attached without any springs to a long body, formed of straight boards, like a piano-case, only more clumsy; in which, resting on inside rims or battens, are two seats, with or without backs, generally without, on which, perhaps, a hay-cushion, or a buffalo-skin, or both, are placed. Two horses, good, bad, or indifferent, as the case may be, the positive and comparative degrees being the commonest, drag you along with a clever driver, who can turn his hand to chopping, carpentering, wheelwright's work, playing the fiddle, drinking, or any other sort of thing, and is usually an Irishman or an Irishman's son. For two dollars and a half a day he will drive you to Melville Island, or Parry's Sound, if you will only stick by him; and he jogs along, smoking his dudeen, over corduroy roads, through mud holes that would astonish a cockney, and over sand and swamp, rocks and rough places enough to dislocate every joint in your body, all his own being anchylosed or used to it, which is the same thing, in the dictionary.
He will keep you au courant, at the same time, tell the name of every settler and settlement, and some good stories to boot. He is a capital fellow, is Paddy the driver, generally a small farmer, and always has a contract with the commissariat.
The first place of any note we came to, as day broke out of the blue fog which rose from the swampy forest, was Holland River Bridge, an extraordinary structure, half bridge, half road, over a swamp created by that river in times long gone by; a level tract of marsh and wild rice as far as the eye can reach, full of ducks and deer, with the Holland River in the midst, winding about like a serpentine canal, and looking as if it had been fast asleep since its last shake of the ague.
Crossing this bridge-road, now in good order, but in 1837 requiring great dexterity and agility to pass, you come to a slight elevation of the land, and a little village in West Gwillimbury, which, I should think, is a capital place to catch lake-fever in.
The road to it is good, but, after passing it and turning northwards, is but little improved, being very primitive through the township of Innisfil. However, we jogged along in mist and rain, on the 29th of June, and saw the smoke, ay, and smelt it too, of numerous clearings or forest burnings, indicating settlement, till we reached Wilson's Tavern, where, every body having the ague, it was somewhat difficult to get breakfast. This is thirteen miles from St. Alban's.
Having refreshed, however, with such as it was, we visited Mr. Wilson's stable, and saw a splendid stud horse which he was rearing, and as handsome a thorough-bred black as you could wish to see in the backwoods.
Proceeding in rain, we drove, by what in England would be called an execrable road, through the townships of Innisfil and Vespra to Barrie, the capital hamlet of the district of Simcoe.
On emerging from the woods three or four miles from Barrie, Kempenfeldt Bay suddenly appears before you, and if the road was better, a more beautiful ride there is not in all broad Canada. Fancy, however, that, without any Hibernicism, the best road is in the water of the lake. This is owing to the swampy nature of the land, and to the circumstance that a belt of hard sand lines the edge of the bay; so Paddy drove smack into the water of Kempenfeldt, and, as he said, sure we were travelling by water every way, for we had a deluge of rain above, and Lake Simcoe under us.
But natheless we arrived at Barrie by mid-day, a very fair journey of twenty-eight miles in eight hours, over roads, as the French say, inconcevable; and alighted like river gods at the Queen's Arms, J. Bingham, Barrie.
Barrie, named after the late commodore, Sir Robert Barrie, is no common village, nor is the Queen's Arms a common hostel. It is a good, substantial, stone edifice, fitted up and kept in a style which neither Toronto nor Kingston, nay, nor Montreal can rival, as far as its extent goes. I do assure you, it is a perfect paradise after the road from St. Alban's; and, as the culinary department is unexceptionable, and the beds free from bugs, and all neatness and no noise, I will award Mrs. Bingham a place in these pages, which must of course immortalize her. They are English people; and, when I last visited their house, in 1837, had only a log-hut: now they are well to do, and have built themselves a neat country-house.
When I first saw Barrie, or rather before Barrie was, as I passed over its present site, in 1831, there was but one building and a little clearance. In 1846, it is fast approaching to be a town, and will be a city, as it is admirably placed at the bottom of an immense inlet of Lake Simcoe, with every capability of opening a communication with the new settlements of Owen Sound and St. Vincent, and the south shore of Lake Huron.
It has been objected, to this opinion respecting Barrie, that the Narrows of Lake Simcoe is the proper site for The City of the North, as the communication by land, instead of being thirty-six miles to Penetanguishene, the best harbour on Lake Huron, is only fourteen, or at most nineteen miles, the former taking to Cold Water Creek, and the latter to Sturgeon Bay; but then there is a long and somewhat dangerous transit in the shallowest part of the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron to Penetanguishene.
If a railroad was established between Barrie and the naval station, this would be not only the shortest but the safest route to Lake Huron; for, if Sturgeon Bay is chosen, in war-time the transit trade and the despatch of stores for the government would be subjected to continual hindrance and depredation from the multitude of islands and hiding-places between Sturgeon Bay and Penetanguishene; whilst, on the other hand, no sagacious enemy would penetrate the country from Sturgeon Bay and leave such a stronghold as Penetanguishene in his rear, whereby all his vessels and supplies might be suddenly cut off, and his return rendered impracticable.
Barrie is, therefore, well chosen, both as a transit town and as the site of naval operations on Lake Simcoe, whenever they may be necessary.
For this reason, government commenced the military road between Barrie and Penetanguishene, and settled it with pensioned soldiers, and also settled naval and military retired or half-pay officers all round Lake Simcoe. But, as we shall have to talk a good deal about this part of the country, and I must return by the road, let us hasten on to our night's lodging at the Ordnance Arms, kept by the ancient widow of J. Bruce, an old artilleryman.
Since 1837, the road, then impassable for anything but horses or very small light waggons, has been much improved, and Paddy drove us on, after dinner at Bingham's, through the heavy rain à merveille!
When I passed this road before, what a road it was! or, in the words of the eulogist of the great Highland road-maker, General Wade,
Had you seen this road, before it was made,
You would have lift up your eyes and blessed
It was necessary, as late as 1837, to take a horse; and, placing your valise on another, mount the second with a guide. My guide was always a French Canadian named François; and many an adventure in the interminable forest have we experienced together; for if François had lost his way, we should have perhaps reached the Copper-mine River, or the Northern Frozen Ocean, and have solved the question of the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or else we should have had a certain convocation of politic wolves or bears, busy in rendering us and our horses invisible; for, after all, they have the true receipt of fern seed, and you can walk about, after having suffered transmigration into their substance, without its ever being suspected that you were either an officer of engineers or a Franco-Canadian guide.
An old and respected officer, once travelling this bridle road with François and myself, and mounted on a better horse than either of ours, which was lent to him by the Assistant Commissary-General stationed at Penetanguishene, got ahead of us considerably, and, by some accident, wandered into the gloomy pine forest. Missing him for a quarter of an hour, I rode as fast as my horse, which was not encumbered with baggage, would go ahead, and, observing fresh tracks of a horse's shoes in the mud, followed them until I heard in the depths of the endless and solemn woods faint shouts, which, as I came nearer to them, resolved themselves into the syllables of my name. I found my chief, and begged him never again, as he had never been there before, to think of leaving us. Had he gone out of sound, his fate would have been sealed, unless the horse, used as it was to the path, had wandered into it again; but horses and cattle are frequently lost in these solitudes, and, perhaps being frightened by the smell of the wild beasts, or, as man always does when lost, they wander in a circle, and thus frequently come near the place from which they started, but not sufficiently so to hit the almost invisible path.
But although the road, excepting in the middle of summer, is still indifferent, it is perfectly safe, and a lady may now go to Penetanguishene comparatively comfortably.
Bruce's tavern is a respectable log-house, twelve miles from Barrie; and here you can get the usual fare of ham, eggs, and chickens, with occasionally fresh meat from Barrie, and perhaps as good a bed as can be had in Canada. We started from Barrie at half-past two, and arrived at half-past five.
Whiskey, be it known, with very atrocious brandy, is the only beverage, excepting water, along the country roads of Canada.
From Bruce's we drove to Dawson's, also kept by the widow of an old soldier, where every thing is equally clean, respectable, and comfortable. It is seven miles distant.
Beyond this is Nicoll's, near a corduroy swamp road; and three miles further (which place eschew), seven years ago, I heard the landlady's voice chiding a little girl, who had been sent a quarter of a mile for a jug of water. I heard the same voice again in action, and for the same cause, and a very dirty urchin again brought some very dirty water. In fact, whiskey was too plentiful and water too scarce.
From Nicoll's to Jeff's Corner is ten long and weary miles, five or six of which are through the forest. Jeff's is not a tavern, so that you must go to bait the horses to Des Hommes, about two miles further, where there is no inducement to stay, it being kept by an old French Canadian, who has a large family of half-breeds. Therefore, on to the village of Penetanguishene, which is twenty miles from Bruce's, or some say twenty-four. We started from Bruce's at half-past three in the morning, and reached The Village, as it is always called, at half-past twelve, on the 30th of June, and the rain still continuing ever since we left Toronto. Thus, with great expedition, it took the best portion of three days for a transit of only 108 miles. This has been done in twenty-four hours by another route, as I shall explain on my return.
Penetanguishene is a small village, which has not progressed in the same ratio as the military road to it has done. It is peopled by French Canadians, Indians, and half-breeds, and is very prettily situated at the bottom of the harbour. Lieutenant-Colonel Phillpotts, of the Royal Engineers, selected this site after the peace of 1815, when Drummond's Island on Lake Huron was resigned to the Americans, for an asylum for such of the Canadian French settled there as would not transfer their allegiance. They migrated in a body.
This is the nearest point of Western Canada at which the traveller from Europe can observe the unmixed Indian, the real wild man of the woods, with medals hanging in his ears, as large as the bottom of a silver saucepan, rings in his nose, the single tuft of hair on the scalp, eagle's plumes, a row of human scalps about his neck, and the other amiable etceteras of a painted and greased sauvage.
Here also you first see the half-breed, the offspring of the white and red, who has all the bad qualities of both with very few of the good of either, except in rare instances.
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