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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER VI

LETTERS FROM PERTH,
UPPER CANADA.
BY THE
REV. WILLIAM BELL


LETTER  VI


I DARE SAY you have observed that the prospect of accomplishing an undertaking one has long contemplated, fills the mind with peculiar pleasure. Though at this time a wide field of labour and difficulty lay before me, yet my feelings and expectations were of a very agreeable kind. Canada, to which my attention had been for some time turned, was now before me - my family were beginning to recover - and what was not at this time a trifling enjoyment, a draft of good water was to be obtained. On the morning of June 1, being Sabbath, we weighed anchor at three o'clock, and proceeded with the tide; but the wind being against us, we made only fourteen miles, before the tide turned, when we were forced to come to anchor, and remain till the afternoon. We had sermon as usual, but the fine day and the novelty of the scene around us, induced a few of the more irreligious part to absent themselves. About two o'clock a boat put off from the shore, and brought on board a large basket of eggs and the carcass of a fine calf, which had been killed about an hour before. The Captain purchased part of the veal at sixpence a-pound, and the eggs at a shilling a-dozen. The boat was manned by by six young Canadians. They were well dressed, and had an air of cheerfulness and comfort, which formed a striking contrast with the care-worn countenances of a great part of our population. We learned from them, that they were Roman Catholics, as indeed most of the Lower Canadians are. At three o'clock we weighed again, and the wind having shifted to the east, we glided up the south channel of the river, which is here about three miles in width. The Island of Orleans, which we were at this time coasting, is twenty-one miles long and three broad. The soil is good, and a great part of it is well cultivated. The south bank of the river also appeared to be good land, and it is studded all along with neat villages and still neater churches. The north bank, which we could see over the Island of Orleans, rises into hills, covered with wood to the very summit. At the upper end of this island we had a fine view of the Falls of the Montmorency, a considerable river flowing from the north, which here tumbles over a high rock into the St. Lawrence. At a bend of the river, a short distance below Quebec, that city gradually presented itself to our view. From its elevated situation, it produces, at first sight, a striking effect, especially to a stranger who has not seen it before. It stands on an extensive and rocky hill, the highest part of which is crowned by the fort or citadel. The side next the St. Lawrence presents a high and precipitous rock. But the north side slopes down gradually to the St. Charles, which at the lower side of the town falls into the St. Lawrence. The spires of the churches, and many of the roofs of the houses are covered with tin, which causes them, when the Sun shines to glitter like silver. Just as the evening gun was fired at the fort, we dropped anchor before the town. The water of the St. Lawrence continues fresh and fit for drinking about forty miles below Quebec and perhaps we never tasted a greater delicacy than the first we obtained. How many real enjoyments are undervalued, merely because they are common! A custom house officer came on board immediately, but we could not get ashore till next morning.
           At eight o'clock, on Monday the 2nd of June we got ashore, being the first time we had been on land for six weeks. Perhaps prisoners liberated from a dungeon never felt more joy on the event. The first thing I did was to purchase a few necessaries for the family. I then went to the Chateau, the residence of the Governor-General, Sir J. C. Sherbroke, and delivered my letter from the presbyter to his aide-de-camp in-waiting. He carried it up, and in a short time returned to inform me that His Excellency wished to see me. I was accordingly introduced, and was received with that politeness and condescension for which Sir John was distinguished. After a short conversation, he told me that I and my family should have a free passage to Perth, and referred me to Colonel Myers, the Deputy Quarter-Master General, to get the details settled. The colonel, he said, was with him when my letter was brought up, and had already received orders on the subject. Having thanked his Excellency, I took leave of him, and went to the office of Colonel Myers. He received me with the greatest politeness, and after making some inquiries, he requested me to call on the following day, when he would have matters arranged. I next took a walk through the town, and called on several persons to whom I had letters of introduction. The day was hot, and the fields were becoming green, though not a month before, carriages were passing the river on the ice. So quickly does winter depart when summer arrives! In the evening I went on board the ship, which still lay in the middle of the river. She had a quantity of gunpowder on board, and on this account was not permitted to come to the wharf till it was landed. Some Indians paddling about among the shipping in their canoes, were to us a great novelty, being the first we had seen.
           The powder being landed on the morning of the 3rd, the ship was brought up to the wharf, so that all the passengers got ashore. My family had been, for some days past, getting much better. Most of them were reduced to skeletons, and indeed I was little better myself; but, through means of better accommodations, and wholesome food, an improvement soon took place. About mid-day I waited on Colonel Myers, and got every thing respecting our conveyance to Perth settled in a satisfactory manner. By the time I returned to the ship, she had been entered at the custom-house, and during the rest of the day the passengers were busily employed getting their luggage on shore. Mr Taylor and family, with a great many more, went off to Montreal by the steamboat, in the evening. A few carpenters and masons remained and obtained employment in Quebec where they got from five to seven shillings a-day.
           June 4.- There are in Quebec two markets held every lawful day, one in the upper town, and one in the lower; but the former is the best supplied with provisions. The upper town stands on the top of the rock, and is all within the walls; for Quebec is a fortified town. The lower town lies along the bottom of the hill on the banks of the St. Lawrence and the St. Charles, which here form a junction. In the afternoon, being in the upper town, I took a walk round the ramparts with a gentleman to whom I had been introduced. As I had never before seen a fortified town, the various works were quite a novelty. Defended, as it now is, it would be no easy matter for an enemy to take Quebec, if the garrison were determined to hold out. This being the king's birthday, I preached at the request of a friend in St. John's chapel.The congregation was not large,but the singing was excellent.
           I was told, that during the day our ship's crew discovered a very mischievous disposition, breaking and destroying various articles of the ship's stores, and disregarding the orders of their officers. Since they came into port, the sailors have generally been half-drunk. The cheapness of spirituous liquors at Quebec, soon leads those who have a thirst for them into dissipated habits. Many a ship's crew exhibits an affecting view of human nature. At sea, the Captain is a little tyrant, and the crew little better than slaves; but in port the order is reversed. When hands are scarce, the least harshness or severity is resented, and they take the first opportunity of changing masters. About mid-day, a beautiful halo resembling a rainbow appeared round the sun. Here, as in other places, there are many superstitious people. Some said it foretold the death of the king, others a war with the United States. Some expected an earthquake, others the end of the world; while a few with greater probability, looked for a change of weather. This actually took place; for it rained all the following night.
           5th. The splendid and novel spectacle of the Fête de Dieu, is to be exhibited by the Roman Catholics on the eighth of this month. The 5th is the proper anniversary of that feast; but, since the English became numerous in the colony, the grand procession has generally been deferred till the following Sunday. Divine service was performed in the different churches; but I was in none of them except the French church. It is the cathedral; for there is here both a Catholic and a Protestant Bishop. It was crowded, and the congregation were all on their knees; some of them on the steps on the outside of the doors. They appeared to be very devout. Would to God they were better informed. In the afternoon, I went a few miles into the country to dine with a friend. Here I was introduced to several serious Christians, whose company and conversation were quite refreshing. They afforded me much interesting information respecting the state of religion in the country.
           On the 6th, I called at the Quarter-Master-General's office, and received some papers and letters of introduction, which Col. Myers had promised to have ready for me. The rest of the day was spent in preparing for our departure. Mrs. Bell being so far recovered as to walk out, we spent the evening at the house of a friend who holds a situation under government, and from whose family we had experienced the greatest kindness.
           A great part of the 7th was spent in removing our luggage from the ship to the steam-boat Malsham. As it lay at some distance from the wharf at which we landed, I procured a boat, and conveyed our things by water, without taking them ashore. When I presented Col. Myers' order to the Captain of the steam-boat, he told us we might go below, and select our beds where we liked best. The size of this vessel, and the excellent accommodation which it afforded, surprised me not a little. The large cabin, or dining room, is spacious and well fitted up. On each side is a row of small rooms, each containing four beds in two tiers. There is a separate cabin for the ladies, which is fitted up in a very convenient and elegant manner. Very good printed regulations were exhibited in the cabin for the information of passengers, but they were not strictly adhered to. We were to rise at seven, breakfast at eight, lunch at twelve, dine at four, and sup at eight, &c. The provisions here set before us were not only abundant in quantity, but excellent in quality, and formed a striking contrast with those of the Rothiemurchus, some of which were by far the worst I ever tasted. About sunset, all being ready for our departure, we moved from the wharf, and proceeded up the river. For a few miles above Quebec, the banks were high and rocky; but the bell having summoned us to supper, we saw no more of them till morning. On going below, we found an extensive table furnished in a sumptuous manner, to which about fifty gentlemen and ladies sat down: the company was agreeable and polite, and all went on well till bed time. At ten o'clock all retired to rest, as required by the regulations, excepting four young gentlemen, whom I understood to be officers of militia: but perhaps I do them injustice when I call them gentlemen for as it afterwards appeared from their conduct, they had very little title to that honourable appellation. After the rest had retired, they began drinking, and soon became very noisy. About twelve o'clock one of them, whom his companions addressed with the title of Colonel, began to be not only noisy, but mischievous. He ran through the bed-rooms, waking up all the passengers as he went along,and inquiring if they had not seen a person whom he named. Whatever the answer was, he and his companions set up a loud laugh. Twice the Captain sent below to request them to go to bed, but without effect: at last he sent one of the waiters to extinguish the candles; but this did not mend the manners of the colonel, who now became more noisy than ever. One while he howled like a dog, another he mewed like a cat; one while he swore, another he sung hymns, which he said be had learned at the Methodist meeting. At last, about two o'clock, being tired of their frolic, they all went to bed, leaving no very favourable impression on my mind of the manners of Canadian gentlemen.
END OF LETTER VI.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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