Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Backwoods of Canada-Letters of a settler.

The Backwoods Of Canada.
I have listened with feelings of great interest to the history of the hardships endured by some of the first settlers in the neighbourhood, when Peterborough contained but two dwelling-houses. Then there were neither roads cut nor boats built for communicating with the distant and settled parts of the district ; consequently the difficulties of procuring supplies of provisions was very great, beyond what any one that has
lately come hither can form any notion of.
When I heard of a whole family having had no better supply of flour than what could be daily ground by a small hand-mill, and for weeks being destitute of every necessary, not even excepting bread, I could not help expressing some surprise, never having met with any account in the works I had read concerning emigration that at all prepared one for such evils.
" These particular trials," observed my intelligent friend, " are confined principally to the first breakers of the soil in the unsettled parts of the country, as was our case. If you diligently question some of the families of the lower class that are located far from the towns, and who had little or no means to support them during the first twelve months, till they could
take a crop off the land, you will hear many sad tales of distress."
Writers on emigration do not take the trouble of searching out these things, nor does it answer their purpose to state disagreeable facts. Few have written exclusively on the " Bush." Travellers generally make a hasty journey through the long settled and prosperous portions of the country ; they see a tract of fertile, well-cultivated land, the result of many years of labour; they see comfortable dwellings, abounding with all the substantial necessaries of life ; the farmer's wife makes her own soap, candles, and sugar ; the family are clothed in cloth of their own spinning, and hose of their own knitting. The bread, the beer, butter, cheese, meat, poultry, &c. are all the •
produce of the farm. He concludes, therefore, that Canada is a land of Canaan, and writes a book setting forth these advantages, with the addition of obtaining land for a mere song ; and advises all persons who would be independent and secure from want to emigrate. He forgets that these advantages are the result of long years of unremitting and patient labour ; that these things are the croi/m, not the first-fruits of the settler's toil ; and that during the interval many and great privations must be submitted to by almost every
class of emigrants. Many persons, on first coming out, especially if they go back into any of the unsettled townships, are dispirited by the unpromising appearance of things.
They find none of the advantages and comforts of which they had heard and read, and they are unprepared for the present difficulties ; some give way to despondency, and others quit the place in disgust.
A little reflection would have shown them that every rood of land must be cleared of the thick forest of timber that encumbers it before an ear of wheat can be grown ; that, after the trees have been chopped, cut into lengths, drawn together, or logged, as we call it, and burned, the field must be fenced, the seed sown, harvested, and thrashed before any returns
can be obtained ; that this requires time and much labour, and, if hired labour, considerable outlay of ready money ; and in the mean time a family must eat. If at a distance from a store, every article must be brought through bad roads either by hand or with a team, the hire of which is generally costly in proportion to the distance and difficulty to be encountered
in the conveyance. Now these things are better known beforehand, and then people are aware what they have to encounter.
Even a labouring man, though he have land of his own, is often, I may say generally, obliged to hire out to work for the first year or two, to earn sufficient for the maintenance of his family ; and even so many of them suffer much privation before they reap the benefit of their independence. Were it not for the hope and the certain prospect of bettering their condition ultimately, they would sink under what they
have to endure ; but this thought buoys them up. They do not fear an old age of want and pauperism ; the present evils must yield to industry and perseverance ; they think also for their children ; and the trials of the present time are lost in pleasing anticipations for the future.
" Surely," said I, " cows and pigs and poultry might be kept ; and you know where there is plenty of milk, butter, cheese, and eggs, with pork and fowls, persons cannot be very badly off for food."
" Very true," replied my friend ; " but I must tell you it is easier to talk of these things at first than to keep them, unless on cleared or partially cleared farms ; but we are speaking of first settlement in the backwoods. Cows, pigs, and fowls must eat, and if you have nothing to give them unless you purchase it,
and perhaps have to bring it from some distance, you had better not be troubled with them, as the trouble is certain and the profit doubtful. A cow, it is true, will get her living during the open months of the year in the bush, but sometimes she will ramble away for days together, and then you lose the use of her, and possibly much time in seeking her; then in the winter she requires some additional food to the browse *
that she gets during the chopping season, or ten to one but she dies before spring ; and as cows generally lose their milk during the cold weather, if not very well kept, it is best to part with them in the fall and buy again in the spring, unless you have plenty of  * The cattle are supported in a great measure (luring the fall and winter by eating the tender shoots of the maple, beech, and bass, which they seek in the newly-chopped fallow ; but they should likewise be allowed straw or other food, or they will die in the very hard weather.
food for them, which is not often the case the first winter. As to pigs they are great plagues on a newly cleared farm if you cannot fat them off-hand ; and that you cannot do without you buy food for them, which does not answer to do at first. If they run loose they are a terrible annoyance both to your own
crops and your neighbours if you happen to be within half a mile of one ; for though you may fence out cattle you cannot pigs: even poultry require something more than they pick up about the dwelling to be of any service to you, and are often taken oil, by hawks, eagles, foxes, and pole-cats, till you have pro per securities for them."
" Then how are we to spin our own wool and make our own soap and candles?" said I. " When you are able to kill your own sheep, and hogs, and oxen, unless you buy wool and tallow"—then, seeing me begin to look somewhat disappointed, he said, " Be not cast down, you will have all these things in time, and more than these, never fear, if you have patience, and use the means of obtaining them. In the meanwhile prepare your mind for many privations to which
at present you are a stranger ; and if you would desire
to see your husband happy and prosperous, be content to use economy, and above all, be cheerful. In a few years the farm will supply you with all the necessaries of life, and by and by you may even enjoy many of the luxuries.

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