LETTERS FROM PERTH,
REV. WILLIAM BELL
LETTERS FROM PERTH,
BY A. BELL,
A SON OF THE AUTHOR, AND NOW IN SCOTLAND.
At my father’s desire, I add to the foregoing series of letters a few of my own, containing such information as, since I came to this country has it appeared to me would be useful, and which he has not given.
Although government does not now give the same encouragement to settlers as formerly, yet emigrants from Great Britain or Ireland may still obtain land from government, on condition of performing the settling duties. These consist of building a house, clearing half of the road opposite to their own land, and clearing and cultivating five acres of the land within three years. They then obtain a title-deed on the payment of certain fees, which now amount to about £3, 10s.
Canada certainly affords great advantages to emigrants. Hardships and difficulties they must and will experience at first, as all new settlers do. But after a few years labour they will come to enjoy an independence, to which the members of an over-crowded and manufacturing population are entire strangers. This is a subject worthy of the attention of the people of Britain; but one great difficulty is, that many who wish to emigrate to Canada are ignorant of the course they ought to pursue. With a view, therefore, of throwing some little light upon this subject, I shall give a few directions with regard to the voyage out, the settlement on lands, and the mode of agriculture at present practised in the province.
Emigrants coming to Canada, ought to leave Britain in the spring with the first vessels that sail. They ought, if possible, to take a vessel going directly to Canada. Many go by New York or Halifax; but this is a bad plan if they intend to come to Canada, as the conveyance of baggage, by this route, will prove very expensive; much more so than the other way. And they ought always to sail from the western coast of Britain if possible, as sailing from the east coast takes longer time, and besides is much more dangerous. If there is any considerable number of people in the same neighbourhood who intend to emigrate, they ought, if possible, to form themselves into societies, as those settlers did who went out a few years ago under the care of government. By doing so, they will be able to charter a ship for themselves, and provision themselves. In this way, they will obtain their passage for one-half, or perhaps one third what it would cost them, were they to take their passages by single families from masters of ships, and be provisioned by them, as it in these cases seldom costs less than £8 or £10 for grown up people, and half for children. Though they should provision themselves, the ship owners will in general provide water and fuel, as the passengers cannot so conveniently provide these as the other articles. Before going away all their furniture should be disposed of, as the expense of conveying such articles as chairs, tables, and bedsteads up the river, will cost far more than they are worth. They ought to take nothing with them but their clothes, cooking utensils, crockery ware, and a few other necessary articles. They ought to leave behind them everything of a bulky nature, and take nothing but what is absolutely necessary; and all that they do take with them ought to be packed in stout boxes of a convenient size. They ought to be especially well provided with clothing for winter. In summer they need but little, and that little of the slightest materials. Flannel shirts are worn by many of the common people both summer and winter; in the former they dry up the sweat, and in the latter they keep out the cold. The weather is sometimes very severe in winter, and then thick woollen clothing is necessary, with which all going to that country ought to be well provided previously to their leaving home, for there all such articles are very dear. The cotton goods taken out ought to be of a substantial quality, that they may wear well. The most of those sold there are of a flimsy kind. Indeed, the females among the old settlers seldom wear a cotton dress about their household employments, as the wood fires throw out many sparks, which seldom fall on a cotton dress without burning a hole in it, if they do not set it on fire. For these reasons, they often wear woollen dresses of their own manufacturing. In many farm-houses a loom is to be seen, the manufacture of clothing being the principal employment of the females when they can be spared from cooking, and other domestic concerns.
Emigrants should convert all the money they possess into Spanish dollars, or English guineas or sovereigns. The dollars pass in Canada for five shillings, and sovereigns at £1. 2s. 6d. The guineas are valued according to their weight, and pass at from twenty-two to twenty-four shillings. All other gold and silver coins rise in value much in the same proportion when brought into the province; but these are most common and the most convenient for carriage. This rise in value is allowed by law, in order to encourage the importation of specie into the colony. Copper coins of all descriptions, pence, halfpence, farthings, and pieces of every sort, and belonging to every nation, pass at the value of a halfpenny, and are called by the general name of coppers.
People who have never been at sea before are generally sea-sick. Various remedies have been prescribed for this disagreeable disorder; but none of them have fully answered the ends for which they were intended. No cure can be proposed for it, except going a long time to sea, and getting so accustomed to a seafaring life that it produces no effect. The best way, however, to prevent it, is to remain as much as possible in the open air.
After being confined a long time to bad water at sea, most people are apt to drink rather too freely of good fresh water when they get it first. Those who go to Canada, ought to beware of drinking too much of the fresh water of the river St. Lawrence, when they come first up to it, as, from its effects on those who are not accustomed to it, it is able to cause a flux.
Upper Canada being more favourable for British emigrants than Lower Canada, they mostly all go up there. They ought to proceed upwards with the least possible delay, as the earlier in the season they get upon their land the better. Steamboats sail from Quebec to Montreal almost every day, so that there is no occasion for any long delay at Quebec. The navigation of the river for several miles above Montreal is obstructed by rapids, so that their baggage will have to be conveyed by land a distance of nine miles to La Chine, a village at the head of the rapids. There is a canal cutting round these rapids, which, when finished, will be very beneficial to the country in general. At La Chine, they will get boats to convey them to Prescott or Kingston. The navigation of the St. Lawrence between La Chine and Prescott being obstructed by numerous rapids, it is only fit for small craft, and of these there are two kinds employed on it, batteaux and Durham boats. The batteaux are large, open, flat-bottomed boats, navigated by French Canadians, generally five or six to each. The Durham boats are a sort of small sloop, navigated by Americans. The batteaux are by for the safest conveyances. The voyage from La Chine to Kingston, a distance of two hundred miles, takes in general about seven or eight days.
There is still a great deal of land along the St. Lawrence to give away; but it is a considerable way back from the river. There is a land Board in every district, to whom all applications for land are made. They meet only once a month, but their secretary can at all times give any information that is wanted. In every settlement formed under the immediate care of government, there is a land office, and some person is appointed to superintend the affairs of the settlement, to whom all applications are made, and who is constantly in attendance.
To whatever part of the province settlers intend to go, they should push forward as quick as possible, as those who come last have always the disadvantage of going farthest back in the woods. Those, however, who purchase or rent lands in the improved parts of the country, succeed far better than those who at first plunge into the forest, and engage in employments, the nature of which they do not understand. The manner of renting a farm in this country is generally this: The landlord, besides the land and houses, finds cows, horses, farming utensils, and perhaps seed for the first year; the tenant does all the labour, and the produce of the farm is divided between them in such proportion as shall have been agreed upon, generally equally. This is a good plan for emigrants, at first, as even though they should afterwards go into the woods, and take land of their own, they will then have some knowledge of the mode of agriculture practised in the country, and will have some stock to begin with on their own farms.
Emigrants ought at first if possible, to purchase or rent land on which some improvement has been made. Few, indeed are able to purchase; for most of the settlers that go out there are at first poor: but, if they have any ready money at all, a farm may now he obtained at a very low rate, even lower than the improvement cost. Farms containing 100 acres may be bought at from 50 to 400 dollars, according to their situation and goodness. But they should be cautious about buying land upon a location ticket, that is, without a deed. As government will not recognise these sales, new comers are very apt to be deceived by appearances. The cheapness of land is a temptation to the purchase, which they cannot resist; and they very often lay out their money to very little purpose. They ought not to buy more land than they need for the present; for land will not rise in value as long as grants from the crown can be so easily obtained.
That you may, however, have some idea of the formation of a new settlement, I shall give you a sketch of the beginning of the Perth settlement. The first emigrants who went to this settlement went out from Scotland in 1815, under the care of Government. When they got to Brockville, they were lodged in the barracks there, till it could be determined where they were to be settled. Most of them wished to proceed as far as Lake Erie; but the agents of government recommended lands, which were soon to be surveyed, about forty-five miles to the northwest of Brockville. As the season was now, however, too far advanced to proceed to the land before winter, it was resolved that they should remain in the barracks till the spring. In the meantime, several new townships were surveyed, and other preparations for their settlement were made. During the winter, the more industrious part of them dispersed themselves through the country, and obtained employment, some from the farmers and others from mechanics.
Early in the spring of the next year (1816) a party of the men, along with some surveyors, and under the direction of a Captain McEvar, went to mark out and cut a road to the land on which they were to settle. The new townships which had been surveyed were Bathurst, Drummond, and part of Beckwith. The country, for about one half of its distance, was settled and partly cleared. But the other half of their way lay through the forest, where there was not the least trace of a road, and where no people of any civilised nation had ever lived. As they had some sledges with provisions along with them, which could not be brought through the woods, they were obliged to find their way in the best manner they could along the rivers and lakes which lay in that direction, upon the ice. They reached the place where the town of Perth now stands, on the afternoon of the 22nd of March. The snow was then between two and three feet deep, and the weather very cold. Here, in the midst of an immense forest, and many miles from any human habitations, they were obliged to sleep in the open air. They made themselves beds on the snow, of the small twigs and branches of the hemlock trees, and, buried in these, with large fires on each side of them, they passed their first night’s residence in Perth settlement.
As soon as possible, they built some huts to hold the stores, and then proceeded to mark out and clear the road though the woods to the front, which occupied them the greater part of a month. During this time they experienced great hardships, having to sleep in the cold open air without any covering after working hard all day, often up to the knees in water. One man was taken very ill from fatigue and cold. His companions set out to carry him to his family at Brockville, but he died by the way.
When they had got the road through, they brought in their families, received their land, and built huts for themselves. It was now rather late for them to think of getting much crop in, but however the most of them cleared a small piece, and planted some potatoes.
The most of these people were settled together along both sides of the line between Burgess and Bathurst; and from the circumstance of so many Scotch people being settled together, that line was called the Scotch Settlement. The land they got was in general good, but very level. The two new townships are watered on the front by the Tay, and several other smaller streams, and, on the back, by the Mississippi, which is a very considerable river.
A piece of land containing 400 acres, in the south corner of Drummond, was set apart for the town, and divided into small lots. Men who had been hired from the front settlements, built a Government storehouse, and an office for the superintendent of the settlement and his clerks. Merchants now began to come in and settle in the town. Articles of every description were excessively dear, partly from the great expense attendant on the transportation of goods from the front, and partly from a circumstance which takes place in almost every new settlement, namely, the advantage which is taken of the necessities of the settlers. Flour was twenty-two dollars a barrel, wheat four dollars a bushel, and potatoes two; the four pound loaf half a dollar, and other things in proportion. It is true they had the government allowance of provisions, but yet they had a number of other necessary articles to buy.
The little crop the settlers had put in, in a great measure failed, on account of the smallness of their clearings, being all shaded by the surrounding woods, so that they yet received little benefit from it.
During the summer and in the autumn, great numbers of emigrants and about 1200 soldiers, came to the settlement and received land. In 1817, several new townships were added to the Perth settlement, and they were soon filled up by emigrants who were continually thronging in. In 1818, a settling establishment was begun at Richmond, and in 1820 another at Lanark, and the population has now increased to upwards of 8000.
This settlement, in case of another war with the United States, will be a place of the utmost security; and should that event happen, it will be a place of great importance. It will not only be the route by which the government and merchant stores will be conveyed to the upper part of the province, but it will be the resort of all who are not actively in the war, and the depôt of all the valuable movable property of those on frontier. There was a vast destruction of property all along the front during the last war; but this is a hardship from which the inhabitants of these settlements will be exempt. From its situation, and other advantages which this place possesses, it will be almost impossible to take it, and it would likely be the last place in the province that would yield. Before an enemy could take it, he would have to defeat the whole force on the banks of the St. Lawrence, come through a large extent of forest, and cross a large lake, which he could not avoid, as it extends up and down the country a distance of upwards of thirty miles, and at the narrow passes of which forts will most likely be built; and then, the country has four regiments of militiamen to defend it, a good many of whom have been actively engaged in a military life before.
There is now no land worth settling upon to give away, within the bounds of this settlement; but there is a range of new townships, lying beginning the Lanark settlement, which are now giving away; and when these are all filled up others will be surveyed. This will be a very good situation as it lies upon the Grand River and will have a very easy water communication with Montreal. By and by, however, when the Perth settlers have received their deeds, there will most likely be a number of farms offered for sale; and emigrants who have a little ready money, that would find it more to their advantage to purchase these, if in good situations, than to go so far back into the woods. The land in the Perth settlement is well fitted for agriculture; hills are to be met with, but they are neither numerous nor high.
All the country hereabouts has evidently been once inhabited by Indians, and for a vast number of years too. The remains of fires, with the bones and horns of deer lying round them, have often been found several inches under the black mould, formed on the surface of the soil by the decayed leaves which fall from the trees every autumn. A large pot made of burnt clay, and highly ornamented, was lately found near the banks of the Mississippi, under a large maple tree, probably two or three hundred years old. Stone axes have been found in different parts of the settlement. Skeletons of Indians have been several times found, where they had died suddenly or had been killed by accident in the woods. One was found in a reclining posture, with its back against a hillock, and a rough made stone tobacco pipe lying beside it.
Although it is only a few years since this settlement was begun, it is astonishing to see what improvements have taken place. The woods are beginning to disappear, and luxuriant crops are seen instead of them. Good roads are making in various directions. All the settlers have good and comfortable, and many of them handsome houses of their own; and the county already contains three flourishing towns.
In short, if this settlement improves as fast for few years to come, as it has in those that are past, it will form one of the most important parts of the Upper Province.