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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XX

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


LETTER  XX


YOU PROBABLY THINK I have not given so flattering an account of this country as some others who have written on the subject. But the truth is, many have written descriptions of this country who were ill qualified for the task. A traveller who makes a tour from Quebec to Detroit, a distance of eight or nine hundred miles, sees but little of the interior of the country, and knows very little respecting it, except by the information he receives from others, and hence the erroneous and absurd statements which of late have issued from the press. What I have written is the result of my own experience during a residence of six years. Some of the flattering accounts you have leave seen of the state of the country are more like descriptions of what it may be fifty or a hundred years hence, than of what it is at the present time. This province possesses great natural resources, and, I have no doubt, will at some future time support a dense population; but immense improvements must be made, and many years pass away before this takes place. Nine-tenths of the province are still covered with wood, and lying in a state of nature. The accession which the population every year receives from emigration is trifling when compared with the extent of the country. Every year since the late war, at least ten thousand emigrants have arrived at Quebec, not one half of which ever settle in Canada. The greater part go to the United States and purchase land, though they could get as good in Canada for little or nothing. But delays are sometimes necessary, and these are always disagreeable and often ruinous to a poor man travelling with a large family.
           Most emigrants who write home to their friends an account of the country, represent it either as very good or very bad, according to the circumstances in which they find themselves at first; hence the contradictory accounts which appear before the public. I have been amused with the various effects which even the state of the weather sometimes has upon the minds of emigrants. In a fine day, when the roads are good, they are seen trudging along to the promised land with happy faces; but in rainy weather you may see them carrying their children on their backs, and wading through the deep mud, grumbling out their reproaches against themselves for their folly in leaving comfortable homes for a howling wilderness where nothing but hunger and hardships are to be met with. Often have I seen females sitting at the side of the road resting their weary limbs or crying till they were sick and expressing unavailing wishes that they were back to their native country.
           Some, after much toil and exertions, just reach Canada, when, overcome with fatigue or disease, they sink into an untimely grave before they have half carried their plans into execution, leaving, perhaps a large family of orphans among strangers, without the means of support. Many instances of this kind I could relate to you; but take the following as a specimen: near the end of August in 1820, the mother of a large family died here the day after her arrival from Glasgow. She had left her country and performed a perilous voyage and a toilsome journey; but was not permitted to see the land she was looking forward to as her future residence. She had been sick for some days, but being anxious to reach the end of her journey, she came forward in a covered waggon; but breathed her last a few hours after she reached Perth.
           In 1821, an emigrant who had a large family, went into the St. Lawrence at La Chine for the purpose of bathing; but incautiously going beyond his depth he was drowned. What his wife and children suffered in these circumstances I will leave you to judge. On reaching Fort Wellington, they were detained a few days for want of waggons. The widow, overcome with grief and fatigue, was taken ill and died, leaving a family of eleven children totally unprovided for. But in this country orphans need never be destitute of a home. Farmers, who have few or no children of their own, readily take them and bring them up for the benefit they receive for their labour.
           But I think I hear you saying, Would you to discourage emigrations by these statements? To this I answer, By no means. Your surplus population, who have not employment at home, could not do better than come to Canada, provided they are possessed of health, industry, perseverance, and as much cash as to settle them decently upon their land; but if they have not these, they had better remain where they are; for a removal to Canada is attended with both labour and expense, and even there exertion is still necessary. If emigrants have a correct idea of obstacles they have to surmount, and the country in which they are to settle, the more that come the better. Here is plenty of land to labour on; and labour, if properly directed, will produce a sufficiency of food and clothing. Children may be trained to habits of industry, at employments more conducive to health than those pursued in your manufacturing towns; and people may have their time at their own disposal, to labour when they like, and rest when they like, which of itself is no inconsiderable ingredient in human happiness. Besides, a man who has a piece of land sufficient to provide him all the necessaries of life, is not under the fear of want of employment, so often felt of late years by your artisans and labourers.
           As to myself, though I have had many labours to undergo, and difficulties to encounter, I have never one repented coming to this country. In fulfilling my office, which in this extensive settlement, I can assure you is no sinecure, the heat in summer, and the cold in winter, have consumed me, till, like Jacob of old, sleep has departed from my eyes. But every year the roads are becoming better, so that that travelling is now easy compared with what it once was, when a horse could not be employed. But, from the nature of things in this country, travelling must always be difficult and often dangerous in the fall and spring, the mud at both these seasons, particularly the latter, rendering the roads almost impassable. The winter sometimes breaks up so suddenly, that the traveller finds it very difficult to reach his home. The winter in 1820 had lasted so long that when April commenced the sleighing was not over. On the 4th of that month I went to Beckwith, a distance of twenty miles, to preach and baptize some children. When I left home the morning was fine, and the sleighing was tolerable; but before I had proceeded half way it began to rain, and continued heavy all day and all the following night, and the air being warm, travelling soon became extremely difficult. But it was necessary to return home before I slept, even if I should travel all night. On my return, my horse had no less difficulty in getting through than I had. The snow being half melted, he sunk to the bottom at every step. Between twelve and one next morning I reached home, as wet as if I had been drawn out of the river, having waded a good part of the way to the knees in half-melted snow, while the rain poured down copiously. Had I waited till the rain was over, my return for some time would have been difficult, if not impossible. The snow melted so fast, that in two days the swamps were all covered with water, and the rivers had overflown their banks. In a short time the Tay had risen to such a height that it carried away the bridge built by the settlers in 1816, so that we were forced to travel, for about two months, between the north and south side of this town in boats or canoes. This, to me particularly, was a serious inconvenience, as my school-house was on the south side, while I, and a great part of my scholars, lived on the north. The rivers here do not rise and fall so rapidly as they do with you. The country is nearly level, and so of course are the rivers. Their course is long, and in low places they form lakes, sometimes of considerable extent, so that the progress of the water is slow. The consequence is, that when the snow, which has been accumulating for four months, melts, which it always does in April, if not sooner, the rivers and lakes are raised far above their usual height; and though about the middle of May they begin to fall, yet it is so slowly, that they are not reduced to their usual level before midsummer.
           I forgot to tell you before, that, when our church was building, I applied to the Governor-in-Chief, Sir John Sherbrooke, for some assistance in building materials. He was a worthy man, and I never applied to him in vain. He readily granted the supply I required, consisting of glass, putty, locks, hinges, nails, sheet iron, and a stove. Ill health, however, having required his return to England; soon after, we were under the malicious machinations of some underling in office, nearly deprived of the articles altogether, and we have never obtained the stove to this day. We are not less indebted, however, to His Excellency for his good intentions, and his liberality towards us, while he held the supreme power in this colony. The favour was considerable, because it was granted at a time when both labour and building materials were at a very high rate. The church could be built now for little more than half what it cost at the time it was erected. But this is of little consequence, as money has undergone so great an alteration in value, that it would be more difficult to raise half the sum now, than it was at that time to raise the whole; and that it was no easy matter, no one knows better than I do, as the greater part of the burden rested upon my own shoulders.
           The church, and other property belonging to it, are vested in five trustees, and their successors in office, who must in all cases be members of the church. The power of electing trustees, elders, and a minister, in case of a vacancy, is vested in the members generally, who are in full communion, and no other. Had it not been for this article, which gives great offence to some who are not members, confusion, if not ruin, would have been introduced into the affairs of the congregation, by persons calling themselves Presbyterians, but who are ignorant alike of church discipline and the power of religion. Upon the whole, I have reason to bless God for his goodness in carrying me through many labours, difficulties and trials, and for enabling me to lay the foundation of a church of Christ where there was never one before, and which, I trust, will be a temple for the Holy Ghost till the end of time. While the song of praise has been ascending from our united voices, I have been overpowered with feelings which I cannot describe, on considering, that the worship of God was now established on a permanent footing, in a place where, till lately, nothing was heard but the rushing of winds, the howling of wild beasts, or the war-whoop of savages. What a blessing this may be, not only to the present generation, but to others yet unborn, it is impossible to calculate.
           When I first thought of engaging in the ministry, it was my earliest wish that I might be placed in some situation where I might not even seem to encroach upon the labours and usefulness of other ministers, or appear to build upon another man's foundation. In this I have been gratified to an extent which I did not then anticipate, being, by the providence of God, placed in a new congregation, a new church, and in the middle of a new country, where there is abundant scope for my utmost exertions. I preach Christ, not by constraint but willingly; and, if he is glorified, I am happy. Since I came to this settlement in 1817, besides all my other labours, I have travelled upwards of 4000 miles, and preached about 900 sermons, visited my congregation at their own houses every year, and catechised them as frequently; and when the extent of the settlement is considered, the labour will not appear trifling. Indeed, no one who has never been in a new country, can form a just idea of the difficulty of travelling, where one has to climb over rocks, and fallen timber, wade through swamps, and ford rivers in every journey he makes. In this settlement however, new roads are opened and bridges built every year; so that in several directions, a horse can be used.
           The improvements that are constantly making in the state of the country, render a residence here every year more agreeable. Markets are plentifully supplied, and at a moderate rate; wages are greatly reduced; and public morals, as well as the appearance of nature, are improving. The cleared land is increasing in breadth; settlers have less labour, and fewer hardships; and they begin to be reconciled to many things which they at first thought disagreeable. There is a post twice a-week, which brings us letters, newspapers, and magazines, both British and American. Six years ago there was not a grist-mill in the settlement, now there are six; and several saw mills, which furnish boards of various kinds at a moderate price.
           The inhabitants being from different countries, there is a curious diversity to be observed in their manners and customs, at weddings, burials, &c. In some cases, both men and women attend funerals to the burying-ground; in others the men only. Some request their neighbours to attend, as is the custom in Scotland; in others, they are left to attend or not as they think proper, as in the United States. The small number of deaths which occur in the settlement, in proportion to the population, is a decisive evidence that the country is very healthy. There are always some deaths among emigrants at their first arrival; but these are chiefly occasioned by accidents, fatigue, exposure to the weather, or intemperance.
           The heat in summer, and the cold in winter give the most serious inconveniences we experience but these are felt in an extreme only for a few weeks. The severity of the winter is by no means so great as I was led to expect. A few very cold days occur every winter; but the greater part are not too cold either for working out of doors or for travelling. There is much pleasant weather equally removed from both extremes. The snow is seldom so deep here as in the lower provinces. I have never seen it more than two feet deep, except where drifted; and some winters it is not half so much. Several shocks of earthquakes have of late been felt, but most of them were slight. The most severe was in the summer of 1816, which created some alarm.
END OF LETTER XX.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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