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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XXIII

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


LETTER  XXIII


CANADA IS A country susceptible of immense improvement. Its navigable rivers are numerous, and its lakes of an extent unknown in other parts of the world. Both offer a quick and easy communication between the different parts of the province. A few short canals would render the country accessible by water in all directions. Its plains are fertile; and though the greater part of the country is still covered with wood, they must one day submit to the hand of industry, and support a numerous population. The country is in general rather level than otherwise, yet every river affords falls, and some of them sufficient to drive the heaviest machinery. Since the restoration of peace, every year adds a few thousands to the population, and increases the extent of cleared land, which still bears a small proportion to the immense forests on the back ground.
           The lakes formed by the St. Lawrence are not only the largest, but the best known. On ascending that river, the first we meet with is Lake St. Peter, about a hundred miles above Quebec. It is said to be thirty miles long and sixteen broad. The depth is generally from twelve to fifteen feet. Though this lake is 500 miles from the ocean, yet so level is the river, that the tide has been sensibly perceived at its entrance.
           Lake St. Louis is merely an expansion of the St. Lawrence at the upper end of the island of Montreal, and is connected with the Lake of the Two Mountains, at the mouth of the Ottawa River. It is about fifteen miles in length and seven miles in breadth. It contains several islands, the largest of which is Isle Perault, or Perrot.
           Lake St. Francis is entered at Coteau du Lac, forty-seven miles above Montreal. It is thirty miles long and thirteen broad; and, like all the rest, includes a number of islands. The River Raisin, which traverses the county of Glengary, falls into it on the north side.
           Through Kingston has generally been considered the lower end of Lake Ontario, yet properly speaking it extends to Prescott, sixty-eight miles lower. On reaching this place we have passed all the rapids, the river becomes still, and is a mile and a half across. As we ascend, it increases in breadth till we reach Kingston, where it is about twelve miles over. This expanse of water is spotted with an immense number of islands, from which it has the name of the Lake of the Thousand Islands. Wolfe's Island, commonly called Long Island, is by far the largest, being twenty miles long, and six broad. It contains a large proportion of good land, and is partly settled.
           Lake Ontario is of an oval figure, 230 miles in length, measuring from Kingston, and sixty in breadth at the widest part. Its water is remarkably transparent, and in some places very deep. It has been sounded in the middle with a line of 350 fathoms without reaching the bottom. Its islands are not numerous, but its banks afford abundance of excellent limestone for building. On its south shore lies the Gennessee country in the state of New York, where many Dutch and Scotch families are settled in a fertile and flourishing neighbourhood.
           Lake Erie is 350 miles in length, and sixty in breadth at the widest part. It pours its waters into Lake Ontario by the Niagara River, on which are the famous falls of that name. It contains more islands than Lake Ontario. Its depth is not great, varying from fifteen to eighteen fathoms, over a bottom of limestone rock. Its shallowness occasions it to be much agitated in storms, rendering its navigation both difficult and dangerous. On its banks, of late, numerous settlements have been formed, particularly the Talbot settlement, where improvement is making rapid advances. The climate being good, the soil fertile, and the settlers industrious, it bids fair to become one of the most fruitful parts of the colony.
           Lake St. Clair, though of small dimensions, is the next we meet in ascending the St. Lawrence. It commences above Detroit, and extends to forty miles in length and twenty in breadth.
           Lake Huron is of a triangular shape, each side measuring from 250 to 300 miles in length. Its islands are numerous, among which is one 100 miles long and eight broad, held sacred by the Indians as the residence of some of their divinities. This lake abounds with excellent fish, especially with a kind of trout, some of which are from four to five feet long, and weighing from sixty to seventy pounds.
           Lake Superior is the largest body of fresh water in the world. It is 500 miles in length, 100 in breadth, and 1600 in circumference. Its bottom is rocky and uneven, and its depth in many places is very great. It receives the waters of about forty rivers, though its only visible outlet is the St. Lawrence, of which it may be considered the source. It contains several islands, one of which, Isle Royale, is about 100 miles long and forty broad. Its northern banks are high and rocky, but afford some mines of virgin copper. It communicates with Lake Huron by the straits of St. Mary, but the St. Lawrence is here so rapid as not to be navigable by vessels of any description. The climate is cold, and the soil around the lake for the most part barren.
           Besides the above, there is a great number of lakes in Canada, and some of them of considerable extent; but being mostly in the Indian territory their extent is not so well known. I shall, however, notice a few in the districts which are now settling. The largest of these is Lake Simcoe, which lies fifty miles to the north of York. Its extent is much the same as that of Lake St. Clair between the capital and the lake. A main road, called Yonge Street, has been opened, and is now well settled on both sides. To the southeast of Lake Simcoe, a chain of lakes, of smaller extent stretches near a hundred miles. The outlet of these is a large river, which falls into the Bay of Quintè, fifty miles above Kingston.
           The largest piece of water in this neighbourhood is the Rideau Lake. Lying parallel with the St. Lawrence, and seven miles distant from Perth, it extends to nearly thirty miles in length and varies in breadth from six miles to two hundred yards. In the widest part of this lake there are several islands, but not of great extent. The land on its banks is generally good, though in a few spots it is rocky and of little value.
           The Mississippi Lake is eight miles to the north of Perth. Its length is about twelve miles, and its breadth varies from four miles to half a mile. It affords abundance of fish to the settlers in the neighbourhood, who kill them with spears in great numbers in the spring, when ascending the river to spawn. Some of the islands in the lake are still inhabited by Indians, whose hunting ground is on the north side, and who are far from being pleased with the encroachments our settlers are making on their territories. There are many other lakes, but of smaller dimensions than those I have mentioned.
           Canada was long overlooked in Britain, or considered a place of very little importance. This is a very great mistake. Besides all its other advantages, which are numerous, it presents an extensive field for settling emigrants with benefit both to themselves and the mother country. The two provinces are capable, if brought into cultivation, of supporting a population equal to that of Great Britain; yet all they contain at present do not amount to 300,000, and a large proportion of these are very poor. Were a few persons possessing capital and enterprise to settle here they would be of immense advantage to the country, and might eventually benefit themselves. As they would obtain land at a moderate rate, so they would not be troubled with those heavy taxes of which they complain at home. Here we pay no taxes, except what are necessary for the administration of justice in our own district. To a farmer on a hundred acres of land, they seldom amount to more than a dollar a-year, and he may raise his own tobacco, make his own soap and candles, and tan his leather if he chooses, without the danger of a visit from an exciseman. Some have even made their own whisky, but this is unnecessary, as they can carry their grain to the distillery, and get its value in spirits or beer. There are already three distilleries in this settlement, and more have been proposed. Whisky is already selling so low as half a dollar a gallon, which has no favourable effect on the morals of our population.
           Stamp duties have never yet been imposed which affords a freedom and facility to the transacting of business, quite pleasing to those who have long grumbled at this encumbrance. The revenues of the province are chiefly raised from tavern, still, and other licenses, together with the duties levied on imported goods.
           The exports of Canada consist chiefly in furs, timber, staves, pot and pearl ashes. What has been said about exporting provisions, is in a great measure founded on a mistake. The flour, pork, beef, and other articles, shipped from the St. Lawrence, come chiefly from the United States. Agriculture is there better understood, and is conducted with greater spirit than in this country. The farmers in the State of New York not only send down great quantities of flour and other provision to Montreal, but they come over to Canada in the winter, when the sleighing is good, and undersell our settlers in their own markets. Last winter, and the winter before, they brought their produce more than a hundred miles, and sold it here; the best beef and pork for 3d. a pound, flour at 4 dollars a barrel, and whisky at half a dollar a gallon. It is true there is a duty upon American produce brought into Canada, but when the river can be crossed at any part upon the ice it cannot be collected.
           The fur trade is one of which we know little or nothing. It is carried on chiefly by the servants of the North-West Company, at a great distance back among the Indians, in the uncultivated parts of the country. A few bears, martins, musk rats, &c. are killed in the settlement every year, the skins of which are sold to the merchants.
           Since the termination of the war, money has become very scarce. This has induced the farmers to begin to manufacture their own clothing. Most of them have a few sheep, which succeed very well. While the mutton supplies their tables, the wool is spun and manufactured into cloth by the female part of the family. It is no unusual thing to see a loom in a farmer's house, especially among the American part of the population. The hides of the cattle they kill are sent to the tanwork, and they receive half of it back when dressed, the tanner retaining the other half for his trouble. This they work up into shoes, when the weather does not permit their pursuing the labour of the field.
           Almost every farmer manufactures sugar in the spring to last his family through the year. When this is spent, they frequently drink their tea without sugar, till the spring brings them a new supply. Almost every article of provision and clothing is raised upon their own farms, but the few articles they must purchase from the merchant, they pay with ashes, timber, staves, wheat, flour, butter, cheese, or butcher meat.
           Our forests afford a great variety of timber. The kinds of most use for exportation are oak, pine, birch, and maple; the two former for building, and the two latter for cabinet work. They are also in demand here for the same purpose, mahogany being little used. From maple trees sugar is made, and the wood is the best of any for fuel.
           Apple trees are of various kinds; they are seldom grafted, and yet bear abundance of fruit, especially near rivers and lakes; but upon high grounds they are sometimes destroyed by the severity of the cold in winter. Plums both green and red are abundant and easily raised. Cherries of several sorts are also to be met with, but the trees imported from Britain produce the best fruit. This is also the case with gooseberries, currants, strawberries, &c. which are both abundant and good. Those growing wild in the woods are of little use. Wild vines are to be met with, and some of them produce very good grapes, though they are small.
           The horses in the lower province are mostly of the Canadian breed. They are not large, but remarkably strong and hardy; and upon a good road, one of them will drag a light sleigh, with two persons in it, fifty miles a-day for several days in succession. In the upper province, American horses of a larger breed are more in use. Carts are rarely met with here. Waggons are generally used, and the horses are harnessed in pairs.
           The wild animals found in the woods are numerous; but few of them are either troublesome or dangerous as they generally retire, and keep at a distance from the habitations of man. The most common are bears, foxes, wolves, raccoons, beavers, otters, martins, minks, squirrels, hares, rabbits, muskrats, and a few others. The bears are the most dangerous, and are held in great terror, although I have not heard of any person in this settlement being injured by any of them. Many have been seen, and some have been shot. The animals most troublesome to the farmers are squirrels, of which there are two species, one brown and the other grey, equally destructive to crops both in fields and gardens. Though they are very injurious in the autumn to the growing crops; they do most mischief in the spring by taking up the seed out of the ground; I have seen a field of Indian corn entirely ruined by them, so that it was necessary to plant it a second, and even a third time. The number killed by some farmers in the course of a year almost exceeds belief. There is another species, called the black squirrel much larger than the two former, but it seems scarce, being seldom seen. Most of our wild animals are hunted for the sake of their furs, which form a considerable article of trade.
           Of birds there are many kinds. The principal are eagles, vultures, owls, night hawks, fish hawks, cranes, geese, wild ducks, partridges, snow birds, teal, wild pigeons, black birds, thrushes, larks, and various other kinds. The wood-pigeons pass to the northward in the spring, and return in the fall in immense numbers. When they happen to alight upon a newly sown field, they scarcely leave a grain, if not disturbed. Great numbers of them are taken in nets; but they are more frequently shot, and are generally found to be fat, and good eating.
           The rivers and lakes, with which the country abounds, are well stocked with fish of various kinds; such as salmon, chub, carp, pike, black bass, pickerel, and sturgeon, which are both large and good. In catching them, hooks and lines are seldom employed. They are generally speared, or taken in nets in the rapids of rivers.
           Snakes are numerous, though few of them are of a mischievous disposition. Rattlesnakes are sometimes seen in the upper part of the province, but never, that I have heard of, in this settlement. Those striped with green and yellow, usually called garter snakes, are frequently met with in the woods. They are perfectly harmless, though they are apt to alarm a stranger with their hissing.
           There are various kinds of insects, but mosquitoes are the most troublesome. They make their appearance about the beginning of May. and in a few days, if the weather is hot, the woods swarm with them. They are the scourge of every new settlement; but where the woods are cleared away they are seldom seen. Their legs are long, and slender, and they have, upon the whole, a very feeble appearance. The body is about a quarter of an inch long, and both in shape and colour resembles that of a wasp. Their proboscis, as well as their legs, is slender, but their bite is severe, and produces a certain degree of inflammation, so that it is more painful afterwards than at the time the wound is made. If the part is rubbed or scratched, it swells, and sometimes produces serious consequences. Attempts have been made, by rubbing the skin with various preparations, to drive them away; but, so blood thirsty are they, that nothing will keep them off. The hands, face, and neck, are most exposed to their attacks, but no part is safe, as they easily thrust their proboscis through the thin dress worn in summer. After a person has been all day exposed to their stings, it greatly mitigates the pain to rub the parts affected with strong vinegar. Moisture seems to favour their production, as they are more numerous, as well as more troublesome, in a wet summer than in a dry one. They are also more annoying in a showery warm day, than in one that is dry, whether hot or cold. Smoke is the only application which has any effect in driving them away; but this is so effectual, that a fire of wet chips is lighted near the door of almost every house in summer evenings for the purpose of keeping them at a distance. They continue during the four warmest months, but when the weather becomes cold they disappear.
           A species of small black flies, common in this country, may be ranked next to mosquitoes for mischief. They are more troublesome in the morning and evening than during the day. They settle among the hair, round the face, and in the neck, disfiguring the place they attack, by taking out a small piece of the skin. They are very annoying in May and June, but in July they disappear. Sand flies are a very small kind of grey gnats, just visible to the naked eye, but no less troublesome than the black flies while their attack continues, which fortunately is only a few warm nights every summer. Where houses are near swamps or rivers, they enter by thousands and attack the inmates, driving away sleep, and producing the most uneasy sensations.
           The fire-fly is the greatest curiosity to be found among the insects of this country. It is of a brown colour, and about the size of a bug. When it flies in the dark it emits a bright phosphoric light. In low grounds, where they abound, it is amusing to see hundreds of them dancing about in the dark, like as many sparks of fire. Butterflies are numerous, and attract attention, by the beauty of their colours and the size of their wings. Crickets, resembling grasshoppers, are also very troublesome to new settlers, eating holes in their clothes, especially when they find them in a dirty or greasy condition. But all of these insects become less numerous as the cultivation of the land advances.
END OF LETTER XXIII.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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