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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER VII

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


LETTER  VII


THE DISTANCE FROM Quebec to Montreal is 180 miles; four steam-boats were constantly employed carrying goods and passengers backwards and forwards. The passage upwards generally takes about thirty-six hours, including shore stay at Three Rivers and William Henry; but the passage down is performed in less time. The fare in the best cabin was three pounds for each person; but every thing necessary was provided: in the fore cabin; the passage was five dollars, and on the deck four, but without either beds or provisions. Since that time the number of steam-boats has been increased, and the fare has been considerably reduced; the mail, for a number of years past, has been carried by this conveyance but I must resume my narrative.
           At seven o'clock on the morning of Sabbath, the 8th of June, on going upon deck, I found that we were about fifty miles above Quebec. The river was about a mile across, the banks low, and the soil sandy. Along the shore I perceived a few scattered huts, but scarcely any signs of cultivation. After breakfast two gentlemen came to me and said, as they understood that I was a clergyman, the passengers wished to have prayers and a sermon, and hoped that I would have no objection. With their request, I complied and preached in the large cabin to about seventy or eighty people. The young bucks, who gave us so much trouble the evening before, did not behave very well at first, but finding the rest did not countenance their levity, they laid it aside. With regard to the rest, I have seldom had a more attentive audience.
           About three o'clock we reached the town of Three Rivers, which is situated half way between Quebec and Montreal, being ninety miles distant from each. It appeared to contain about 3000 or 4000 inhabitants, two churches, and a number of other good buildings. It stands on a plain, near the mouth of three rivers, from which circumstance it derives its name. One of these is called the Black River, because its water is darker than that of the St. Lawrence. This noble river seems to disdain the company of its dirty companion, for they flow side by side for some distance before they intermingle.
           At Three Rivers the mail and a number of passengers were landed; others were taken on board, and a quantity of goods was put into batteaux, in order to be sent ashore. Many well dressed people were walking on the beach, and the Sabbath appeared to be rather considered a day for amusement than any thing else. The tide sometimes flows up to this place, but seldom beyond it. Every thing being in readiness, we started again for Montreal. At four o'clock we sat down to an excellent dinner, in the preparation of which no expense had been spared. In the dessert, raisins and almonds were served up in profusion. We were now in Lake St. Peter, which is said to be thirty miles in length, and sixteen in breadth. It is so shallow, that vessels often get on the way to Montreal. Near the middle of the lake, we passed a vessel from Greenock with a cargo of coals. She had got a-ground, and was putting part of her cargo on board another vessel.
           June 9 - Next morning, when I got up, we were only sixteen miles from Montreal, and the country on both banks of the river was delightful. By the time breakfast was over, we had reached the foot of the current St. Mary: a team of horses assisted in dragging up the boat, and we soon found ourselves before the city of Montreal, which, being built upon a plain, is not seen to an advantage at a distance. Its interior is, however, every way agreeable, for it contains many elegant buildings, wealthy merchants, and hospitable inhabitants: it struck me as somewhat strange, that though Montreal carries on commerce to a great extent, it has neither quay nor wharf for the shipping. On getting ashore, by means of a gangway, I went immediately to Mr. Clarke, the Deputy Commissary-General, with the order I had received from Colonel Myers. This gentleman behaved to me with great civility, and immediately gave me an order directed to the Commissary of Transports, for the carriages necessary to convey in family and baggage to La Chine: but as it just then began to rain, I determined to defer my departure till another day. We spent the afternoon at the Rev. Mr. Easton's, from whose family we experienced every attention in their power to bestow. In the evening, accompanied by Mr. Easton, I waited upon several gentlemen, to whom I had letters of introduction, and from whom I experienced many civilities.
           June 10 - As the rain still continued, we could not proceed on our journey; but, as the steam-boat was about to return to Quebec, it was necessary to have our baggage landed. This was attended with no little trouble and damage, both from the state of the weather, and the awkwardness of the Canadian carters, who are certainly the most ruthless race of beings I have ever met with. In rainy weather the streets of Montreal are very muddy, especially in the suburbs, where they are not paved: on the shore, where there is.neither paving nor wharf, the mud was ankle deep.
           Montreal contains near 30,000 inhabitants, about one half of whom are of French extraction: the rest are English, Scottish, Irish, Americans, &c. The English language is more frequently spoken than in Quebec, yet even here it is difficult doing business without some knowledge of French. The city contains many hansom buildings, and it is evidently making rapid advances in improvement.
           June 11 - The morning being fine, we were in motion at a early hour, for our journey. About 10 o'clock, as it had been previously arranged, the Commissary sent us five carts, and we were busily employed packing up and loading till noon, when we started for La Chine, which is nine miles above Montreal. We went by the lower road, which is on the bank of the rivers. The soil is a strong loam, and seemed mostly to be well cultivated. At almost every house there is an orchard, and the trees were now in blossom. The St. Lawrence has here many rapids, some of which produce a sound like distant thunder. The islands, too, are numerous, and all of them covered with wood. Though the road was none of the best, our carters trotted their horses most of the way with loaded carts. Though, at first sight, the Canadians appear smart and active, they are thoughtless inconsiderate people. If they are not carefully attended to, when loading and unloading, they often smash trunks and boxes to pieces without the least concern.
           On my arrival at La Chine, I delivered my letter to the Commissary, who immediately ordered a batteau to be got ready, and the baggage to be put on board; but as there was a strong westerly wind, we could not proceed till it became more moderate. The delay gave us time to see the village and the neighbouring country. The former contains only a few houses. It is situated at the head of the most dangerous rapid in the St. Lawrence, where the French, soon after they settled in the country, fitted out an expedition to penetrate to China by the west; and, from this circumstance, the place obtained the name of La Chine. Here there is a government store, and a great many batteaux, for receiving and transporting stores and merchandise to the upper province. Batteaux are large flat bottomed boats, drawing, when loaded, from eighteen inches to two feet of water, and navigated by five or six men. In still water they use oars, but in the rapids setting poles; and, where the current is strong, one goes on the bank and assists with a rope. In this way they ascend rapids, which a stranger to their method would consider impossible.
           June 12 - I had resolved to start at six o'clock next morning, but it was eight before the men could be collected; and even then they proceeded with reluctance, as the wind, though more moderate, was still westerly. Having ascended two miles with some difficulty, they landed, and refused to proceed any farther till the wind fell. This gave us an opportunity of making an excursion over the island of Montreal. In a wood through which we passed, we observed several species of birds which we had not before seen, some of them covered with the most beautiful plumage. A squirrel, also, which we saw skipping about amongst the boughs of a tree, was the first we had seen in a wild state. After dining on bread and milk at a farm-house, we returned to the batteaux, and the wind having fallen a little, we proceeded and entered Lake St Louis. Having passed several islands we entered what appeared to be a river, but which afterwards turned out to be a narrow channel between an island and the south shore of the lake. Here we met several rafts of timber passing down to Montreal. On the side of the next island we observed a farm-house; where, as it was now evening, we resolved to spend the night. The owner could speak no English, but he was very civil, and allowed us a room and a fire. As he could furnish no beds, we brought our own from the boat, and spread them on the floor, where we enjoyed a refreshing sleep. We had bread along with us, and got plenty of milk from our host, at two pence a pint, this being the only article of provision be could furnish.
           June 13 - At five o'clock in the morning, the weather being fine, we set out. After rowing two hours, we landed on a small island to breakfast. it was sandy and low, producing nothing but shrubs and grass, mixed with wild vines, which were now covered with blossoms. After another hours labour we landed on the island Perrot, which is the largest in the lake. Here we found wild vines, honeysuckle, berry bushes, and fruit trees, growing along the shore. At a small distance from the place where we landed, two men were ploughing, or rather attempting to plough; for their tackle was so clumsy, and their endeavours so awkward, that they appeared to us very unskilful at their employment. They had two horses and two oxen yoked to a great heavy two wheeled plough, which was almost load enough alone. This work, as might be expected, was executed in the very worst manner, and confirmed the low opinion I had formed of Canadian cultivators. The soil in this, and in most of the other islands in this part of the St. Lawrence, is a stiff heavy loam, like what is in Scotland called, carse land. Our next stage was to the Cascades, where there is a portage of five miles, the current being too strong to be ascended by loaded boats. There is at this place a short canal with locks, but they were at this time undergoing repairs. The person who has the charge of a batteau is called a conductor; and while ours was gone to the Commissary, to get an order for carts, two large American boats came into the basin where we lay, to land their cargo. The men were young and active; but their manners and language were both coarse and disgusting, and they swore most profanely. I confess I felt both mortified and disappointed; for, like many of my countrymen, I had imbibed a strong prejudice in favour of the American character, which at this first interview with them received a severe shock. A little red lead having been accidentally spilt on the deck, one of them painted his face with it in a hideous fashion, and began to dance and shout like the Indians. He was soon joined by his companions, disguised in like manner, and we had an imitation of the war-whoop and dance, unattended by any of their dangers; though, probably, the Indians themselves scarcely ever exhibited a more savage appearance than did the actors in this scene.
           While the conductor was gone to procure carts, I ascended a high bank, to enjoy the prospect of the scenery around me, and seated myself under a tree. I had not been long there, when my attention was attracted by the industrious inhabitants of an ant-hill, near the place where I sat. The whole community were busily employed, and might have afforded a useful lesson to the indolent part of the human race. Amongst many instances of sagacity, the following may be noticed: One of them was dragging the dead body of his companion, which probably had been killed by accident, away from the entrance of the nest. Having, with much labour and tugging, removed it to the distance of a yard, he placed it under some withered grass. Another was dragging a dead fly, far larger than himself, towards the hive, but having to carry it up hill, the labour was immense. In this way, however, he removed it more than a yard, proceeding backwards all the way. On arriving at the hole, the aperture proved too small to admit his prey. After making several efforts without success, other ants came out to give their assistance; but they were also unsuccessful. It was amusing to see how they skipped about, and discovered the greatest anxiety, when they found their efforts of no avail.
           After waiting about four hours, the conductor at length returned with a number of carts and we proceeded to load them without delay. The empty batteau was then loaded to ascend the rapids, by means of some of the men pulling at the rope on the bank, while the rest used their setting poles. I had no idea, till I came here, that the ascent of the St. Lawrence was attended with so much labour and difficulty. On reaching the village of Les Cedres, which is five miles above the Cascades, we unloaded the carts on the bank of the river, and, having covered the goods with a tarpaulin went to procure lodgings for the night, as we did not expect the boat would arrive before the morning. At the inn we found good accommodation, and were provided with an excellent supper, for which we were charged 1s. 6d. each. Being excessively tired with our exertions, and the heat of the weather, we enjoyed a sound sleep. The village of Les Cedres is about thirty-six miles from Montreal.
           June 14 - The men having arrived with the boat, we loaded it, and, after breakfast, proceeded on foot while they with great labour ascended other rapids which we had still to pass. About noon we reached Côteau du Lac, where there is a small fort on the bank of the river, and a short canal with two locks, which enabled us to avoid a very difficult rapid. Here we saw many large rafts of timber going down the river. The velocity with which they shot down the larger rapids was astonishing, and it was still more astonishing they were not dashed to pieces among the rocks.
           We now entered Lake St. Francis, which is about thirty miles in length, and fifteen in breadth. It contains several islands covered with wood. Soon after entering upon the lake we passed a place called Point au Boudet, which makes the boundary line between the two provinces. The county of Glengary, the residence of many Highland families, lay upon our right. The land is low and level, and must form a striking contrast with the hills in their native country. About dusk we reached the mouth of the river Raisin, and there being only one farmhouse near, to it we directed our steps. Here Mrs. Bell, I, and the younger children slept, but the rest, after supping on bread and milk, slept in the boat. The day had been very hot, and, after Sunset, the sand-flies began to be very troublesome. This is often the case at this season of the year, in low and swampy land, where these insects abound.
END OF LETTER VII.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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