A GREAT MANY settlers prefer going pretty far up the country, as the farther up they go the climate is milder. Numerous new settlements have been formed, and are now forming, on the banks of Lake Erie, more than five hundred miles from Montreal. Those emigrants who wish to go so far up the country will get steamboats at Prescott or Kingston, to take them up to York. Here there is a land-office, at which applications relative to the land in all the surrounding country have to be made. At this office emigrants get tickets with the numbers of several lots, which they are to look at and take the one they like best; and the families should be left at some convenient place till this is done.
In choosing a good lot of land, the emigrant ought first to look to the quality of the land, and see that it is dry, and the soil rich. The quality of land can always be known by the kind of timber that grows upon it. The best is covered with proportion of baswood (a tree pretty much the same as the lime tree in this country.) The land covered with pine and hemlock is in general a barren sand; and where there is a deal of red elm, it is always rocky. The dry land only is cultivated at first; but if once the settlers had time to cut drains through the swamps and let off the water, they will, in general, be the best land. Many of them, which would otherwise be dry enough, are formed by the water from the higher ground being prevented from making its escape, by fallen timber and hillocks of earth. Those of them covered with cedar are sandy; where ash grows they are clayey; and those covered with timerick are a soft black soil. Always the more fertile the land is, the larger the timber upon on it is.
The other things which constitute a good lot are, that there is a possibility of getting a good road into it – that it is near neighbours – that it has either a running stream, or a spring of water in it – and that it is near a navigable river, near a town, near a mill, &c.
A new comer, when looking for land, ought always to get some person who is acquainted with the country to go along with him; and he should likewise take a pocket-compass with him. The roads and the boundaries of the lots are marked but by blazes, ie. a chip taken off each side of the trees all along the line; and by not paying sufficient attention to these, it often happens that a new comer will lose his way in the woods. When this happens, he will no doubt be much alarmed, but he ought to keep his mind as calm and composed as possible, and avoid hurrying himself; but if he does this and gives way to fear and perplexity, he will bring on a state of mind little short of insensibility. In the summer there be little danger of starving though a person should be lost for a short time, as there are a great many kinds of roots and berries in the woods, which will sustain life for a few days. By recollecting in what direction the inhabited country is from him, a person who is lost in the woods may steer his course out with a pocket compass, or if he has none by the appearance of the trees. Large trees have always moss on the north sides of them, and their largest limbs are generally to the south side. The longest branches of birch trees, by which Indians are said to steer their course through the woods, point eastward. If he cannot find his way in this manner, there are several other methods which he may try. If he happens to find a stream of water, or a blaze, by following it he may be led out into the settled country, or, perhaps, to some place which he has seen before, and from which he may find his way. Or should he find any cattle in the woods, by chasing them they will run homewards; and then, if he follows them, he may be extricated from his unpleasant situation. However, if once a person has been settled in one place for a considerable time, and has made observations respecting the situation of his lot, and the direction in which the sun rises and sets from his shanty, there will be little danger of him losing his way, even though he does venture a considerable way into the woods.
Having pitched upon a lot to please him, the emigrant must return to the land-office, to get what is called a location ticket. This contains the number of the lot, empowers him to take possession of it, and tells what are the conditions on which it is to be his. If he finds a lot in a place in some degree settled, there will likely be a road cleared; but if not, all those who settle to in the same place, will join together and clear one. All that is done to the roads, in the first instance, is to clear away the brush wood, and perhaps throw down a tree, to walk on, across a wet place.
He may take his family to his land, either then, or wait till he has got a house built. Should he take them in the first instance, he can erect a wigwam in a few hours, with poles, brush, and bark, in which they may reside for a short time, till a better habitation is got ready. Having selected a proper situation, he must, first of all, proceed to erect a dwelling-house. He will cut a number of straight logs, at the length required, and when he has cut a sufficient number, he will get them drawn to the spot with oxen, or be assisted by his neighbours to carry them in. He will next raise what is called a bee, that is, a collection of his neighbours, to assist him in raising his house. Whenever a person needs help, he gets all his neighbours to assist him, and repays the favour by giving them his assistance when they need it. The house is built by laying the logs across one another at the corners, and notching them about half through, so that they are let down close to each other and hold one another firm in their places. The next step is to get a roof put upon it, and this is done in the following manner. Baswood logs are cut as long as the house is broad; these are split in two, and hollowed out in the middle, and laid close, side by side, with the hollow sides uppermost, across the house, the front of which is made rather higher than the back. Others with the round side uppermost are laid upon these, so as to cover the seams between them, and thus not only a strong, but a completely water-tight roof is formed. A hole is next cut through the logs for a door, and a door hung in it; windows are seldom or never thought of at first in the woods. Some stones are built up against one of the walls to burn the fire against, and to keep it off the logs, and a chimney to carry off the smoke, is made of boards or wicker work and plastered over with clay. The fires in this country are all burnt on the hearth at least on iron or stones only so far raised off it as to admit the air below the wood. A floor of split planks is then laid, the interstices of the logs in the wall are filled with moss or clay, and thus is completed what is called by new settlers a shanty. There ought not to be much labour spent on these, more than merely to make them comfortable, as after a few acres have been cleared, some more eligible situation for building may be discovered and then, too, there will be more leisure for attending to the building of a good house. As soon as the emigrant has got a place to live in, he must begin to clear land for crop; and the first he clears should be round the house, so that there may be no danger of any trees being blown down upon it. The clearing of land is done in the following manner: In the first place, the underbrush, and all the small trees, less than four or five inches thick, are cut close by the ground, cut into pieces, and thrown into heaps. There is always a great quantity of timber lying on the ground, which has been blown down by the wind, and which must be cut up. The next step is to cut down the large trees, which is done by making a cut half through the tree, about three feet from the ground on the side to which it leans, and then cutting it on the other side till it falls. It should be so cut as to fall clear through between the other trees, for if it should lodge upon another, it will be dangerous cutting that one down for fear of the other one falling. People who are very careless often get themselves hurt, and some are even killed this way. As soon as a tree is cut down, it is cut into logs twelve feet long, and its branches are thrown into heaps. In this manner, the whole of the piece intended to be cleared is gone over, and not a tree must be left. Some have recommended cutting only the under brush and girding the large trees, that is, cutting a notch all round them so that they die, as the best way for new settlers to do; as the way that they will get most crop in, and which will cost them least labour. But this is a very bad plan, because the trees in this country, from being so closely crowded together, grow to an immense height, and, of course, when they are left exposed to the wind, and are notched in a piece at the root, they are apt to be blown down, and, besides spoiling the crop, they may, in their fall, kill cattle, or perhaps people themselves. The crop is much inferior, both in quantity and quality, to that raised in an open clearing; and then, after all, the trees will have to be cut some time or other. Those of the logs that are most easily split, generally baswood, are split into rails and drawn off. The remainder of the wood, when sufficiently dry, is set fire to. All the brush and small stuff is clean burnt off, and the large logs are then rolled together, or drawn together with oxen, and pushed up in heaps and burnt. The decayed leaves, and the remaining rubbish is raked into heaps and clean burnt off. A fence between five and six feet high is put up about the field, and it is then ready for crop.
A good workman will cut down and prepare for burning the timber upon an acre in a week but most new settlers, when they first come, take a month. Taking men as we generally find them, a fortnight is a fair average. When the timber is all chopped upon new land, the work of clearing is considered half done. The putting of the logs in heaps, burning them off, and making the land ready for the seed, takes as much labour as the chopping, and is a very dirty employment. The fencing takes about one half the labour of any of the other parts. The chopping. burning, and fencing, of an acre, is now done for from twelve to sixteen dollars, and about six years ago it cost upwards of twenty.
The ashes of the burnt wood are carefully preserved and sold to the potash manufacturers, and they in general fetch sixpence a bushel. Sometimes when the land has been covered with heavy timber, and all hardwood, there is such a quantity of ashes that it will almost pay for the clearing of the land. The settlers generally make their own soap; and it is done in the following manner: A barrel with a small hole in the bottom of it, is fixed up about two feet from the ground, and filled nearly full of ashes. Water is then repeatedly poured into it, and this dissolving the alkali contained in the ashes, and holding it in solution, runs through the hole in the bottom, and is caught in a tub. The ley of a barrel of ashes, boiled along with ten pounds of tallow, till it is of a proper consistence, produces about forty pounds of very good soft soap.
There is a vast quantity of potash annually made in Canada, and, as an account of the manner in which it is manufactured may perhaps be entertaining to you, I shall describe the process. The alkali is extracted from the ashes in the manner, already described, but on a much larger scale. A number of large vessels, called leeches, into which the ashes are put, are ranged upon a sort of a platform of boards, the ends of which slope downwards into a large trough which receives the ley. The manufactories are always built upon some running stream, and the water is raised by a pump, and distributed among the leeches by wooden gutters. The ley is boiled in large boilers, till the watery parts are all evaporated. It is in this state, called black salts. It is then heated to a high degree, till it is completely fused. All the impurities contained in the potash are consumed, and, upon cooling, it becomes perfectly white. It is then fit for the market.