Henry Scadding.

Toronto of old; collections and recollections illustrative of the early settlement and social life of the capital of Ontario online

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a distance, like small motionless Niagaras. At one sheltered spot, we
remember, where a tannery was begun but never finished, solid ice was
sometimes to be found far on in the summer.

In the spring and summer, a pull up the Don, while yet its banks were in
their primeval state was something to be enjoyed. After passing certain
potasheries and distilleries that at an early period were erected a
short distance northward of the bridge, the meadow land at the base of
the hills began to widen out; and numerous elm trees, very lofty, with
gracefully-drooping branches, made their appearance, with other very
handsome trees, as the lime or basswood, and the sycamore or
button-wood. - At a very early period, we have been assured that brigades
of North-west Company boats, _en route_ to Lake Huron, used to make
their way up the Don as far as the "Forks," by one of which they then
passed westward towards the track now known as Yonge-street: they there
were taken ashore and carried on trucks to the Holland river. The help
gained by utilizing this piece of water-way must have been slight, when
the difficulties to be overcome high up the stream were taken into
account. We have conversed with an early inhabitant who, at a more
recent period, had seen the North-west Company's boats drawn on trucks
by oxen up the line of modern Yonge-street, but, in his day, starting,
mounted in this manner, from the edge of the bay. In both cases they
were shifted across from the Lake into the harbour at the
"Carrying-place" - the narrow neck or isthmus a little to the west of the
mouth of the Don proper, where the lake has now made a passage.

We add one more of the spectacles which, in the olden time, gave
animation to the scene before us. Along the winding stream, where in
winter the sleighs were to be seen coming down, every summer at night
would be observed a succession of moving lights, each repeated in the
dark water below. These were the iron cressets, filled with unctuous
pine knots all ablaze, suspended from short poles at the bows of the
fishermen's skiffs, out in quest of salmon and such other large fish as
might be deemed worth a thrust of the long-handled, sharply-barbed
trident used in such operations. Before the establishment of mills and
factories, many hundreds of salmon were annually taken in the Don, as in
all the other streams emptying into Lake Ontario. We have ourselves been
out on a night-fishing excursion on the Don, when in the course of an
hour some twenty heavy salmon were speared; and we have a distinct
recollection of the conspicuous appearance of the great fish, as seen by
the aid of the blazing "jack" at the bow, nozzling about at the bottom
of the stream.

_2. - From Tyler's to the Big Bend._

Not far from the spot where, at present, the Don-street bridge crosses
the river, on the west side and to the north, lived for a long time a
hermit-squatter, named Joseph Tyler, an old New Jersey man, of
picturesque aspect. With his rather fine, sharp, shrewd features, set
off by an abundance of white hair and beard, he was the counterpart of
an Italian artist's stock-model. The mystery attendant on his choice of
a life of complete solitude, his careful reserve, his perfect
self-reliance in regard to domestic matters, and, at the same time, the
evident wisdom of his contrivances and ways, and the propriety and
sagacity of his few words, all helped to render him a good specimen in
actual life of a secular anchorite. He had been in fact a soldier in the
United States army, in the war of Independence, and was in the receipt
of a pension from the other side of the lakes. He was familiar, he
alleged, with the personal appearance of Washington.

His abode on the Don was an excavation in the side of the steep hill, a
little way above the level of the river-bank. The flue of his winter
fire-place was a tubular channel, bored up through the clay of the
hill-side. His sleeping-place or berth was exactly like one of the
receptacles for human remains in the Roman catacombs, an oblong recess,
likewise carved in the dry material of the hill. To the south of his
cave he cultivated a large garden, and raised among other things, the
white sweet edible Indian corn, a novelty here at the time; and very
excellent tobacco. He moreover manufactured pitch and tar, in a little
kiln or pit dug for the purpose close by his house.

He built for himself a magnificent canoe, locally famous. It consisted
of two large pine logs, each about forty feet long, well shaped and
deftly hollowed out, fastened together by cross dove-tail pieces let in
at regular distances along the interior of its bottom. While in process
of construction in the pine woods through which the "Mill road" passes,
on the high bank eastward of the river, it was a wonderment to all the
inquisitive youth of the neighbourhood, and was accordingly often
visited and inspected by them.

In this craft he used to pole himself down the windings of the stream,
all the way round into the bay, and on to the landing-place at the foot
of Caroline-street, bringing with him the produce of his garden, and
neat stacks of pine knots, ready split for the fishermen's lightjacks.
He would also on occasion undertake the office of ferryman. On being
hailed for the purpose, he would put across the river persons anxious to
make a short cut into the town from the eastward. Just opposite his den
there was for a time a rude causeway over the marsh.

At the season of the year when the roads through the woods were
impracticable, Tyler's famous canoe was employed by the Messrs.
Helliwell for conveying into town, from a point high up the stream, the
beer manufactured at their Breweries on the Don. We are informed by Mr.
William Helliwell, of the Highland Creek, that twenty-two barrels at a
time could be placed in it, in two rows of eleven each, laid lengthwise
side by side, still leaving room for Tyler and an assistant to navigate
the boat.

The large piece of meadow land on the east side of the river, above
Tyler's abode, enclosed by a curve which the stream makes towards the
west, has a certain interest attached to it from the fact that therein
was reproduced, for the first time in these parts, that peculiarly
pleasant English scene, a hop-garden. Under the care of Mr. James Case,
familiar with the hop in Sussex, this graceful and useful plant was here
for several seasons to be seen passing through the successive stages of
its scientific cultivation; in early spring sprouting from the surface
of the rich black vegetable mould; then trained gradually over, and at
length clothing richly the poles or groups of poles set at regular
distances throughout the enclosure; overtopping these supports; by and
by loading them heavily with a plentiful crop of swaying clusters; and
then finally, when in a sufficiently mature state, prostrated, props and
all, upon the ground, and stripped of their fragrant burden, the real
object of all the pains taken. - From this field many valuable pockets of
hops were gathered; and the quality of the plant was pronounced to be
good. Mr. Case afterwards engaged extensively in the same occupation in
the neighbourhood of Newmarket.

About the dry, sandy table-land that overlooked the river on each side
in this neighbourhood, the burrows of the fox, often with little
families within, were plentifully to be met with. The marmot too,
popularly known as the woodchuck, was to be seen on sunny days sitting
up upon its haunches at holes in the hill-side. We could at this moment
point out the ancient home of a particular animal of this species, whose
ways we used to note with some curiosity. - Here were to be found racoons
also; but these, like the numerous squirrels, black, red, flying and
striped, were visible only towards the decline of summer, when the maize
and the nuts began to ripen. At that period also, bears, he-bears and
she-bears, accompanied by their cubs, were not unfamiliar objects,
wherever the blackberry and raspberry grew. In the forest, moreover,
hereabout, a rustle in the underbrush, and something white seen dancing
up and down in the distance like the plume of a mounted knight, might at
any moment indicate that a group of deer had caught sight of one of the
dreaded human race, and, with tails uplifted, had bounded incontinently

Pines of a great height and thickness crowded the tops of these hills.
The paths of hurricanes could be traced over extensive tracts by the
fallen trunks of trees of this species, their huge bulks lying one over
the other in a titanic confusion worthy of a sketch by Doré in
illustration of Dante; their heads all in one direction, their upturned
roots, vast mats of woody ramifications and earth, presented sometimes a
perpendicular wall of a great height. Occasionally one of these upright
masses, originating in the habit of the pine to send out a wide-spread
but shallow rootage, would unexpectedly fall back into its original
place, when, in the clearing of the land, the bole of the tree to which
it appertained came to be gashed through. In this case it would
sometimes happen that a considerable portion of the trunk would appear
again in a perpendicular position. As its top would of course show that
human hands had been at work there, the question would be propounded to
the new comer as to how the axe could have reached to such a height. The
suppositions usually encouraged in him were, either that the snow must
have been wonderfully deep when that particular tree was felled, or else
that some one of the very early settlers must have been a man of
exceptional stature.

Among the lofty pines, here and there, one more exposed than the rest
would be seen, with a piece of the thickness of a strong fence-rail
stripped out of its side, from its extreme apex to its very root,
spirally, like the groove of a rifle-bore. It in this manner showed that
at some moment it had been the swift conductor down into the earth of
the contents of a passing electric cloud. One tree of the pine species,
we remember, that had been severed in the midst by lightning, so
suddenly, that the upper half had descended with perfect
perpendicularity and such force that it planted itself upright in the
earth by the side of the trunk from which it had been smitten.

Nor may we omit from our remembered phenomena of the pine forests
hereabout, the bee-trees. Now and then a huge pine would fall, or be
intentionally cut down, which would exhibit in cavernous recesses at a
great distance from what had been its root end, the accumulated combs
of, it might be, a half century; those of them that were of recent
construction, filled with honey.

A solitary survivor of the forest of towering pines which, at the period
to which we are adverting, covered the hills on both sides of the Don
was long to be seen towards the northern limit of the Moss Park
property. In the columns of a local paper this particular tree was thus
gracefully commemorated: -

Oh! tell to me, thou old pine tree,
Oh! tell to me thy tale,
For long hast thou the thunder braved,
And long withstood the gale;
The last of all thy hardy race,
Thy tale now tell to me,
For sure I am, it must be strange,
Thou lonely forest tree.

Yes, strange it is, this bending trunk,
So withered now and grey,
Stood once among the forest trees
Which long have passed away:
They fell in strength and beauty,
Nor have they left a trace,
Save my old trunk and withered limbs
To show their former place.

Countless and lofty once we stood;
Beneath our ample shade
His forest home of boughs and bark
The hardy red man made.
Child of the forest, here he roamed,
Nor spoke nor thought of fear,
As he trapped the beaver in his dam,
And chased the bounding deer.

No gallant ship with spreading sail
Then ploughed those waters blue,
Nor craft had old Ontario then,
But the Indians' birch canoe;
No path was through the forest,
Save that the red man trod;
Here, by your home, was his dwelling place,
And the temple of his God.

Now where the busy city stands,
Hard by that graceful spire,
The proud Ojibeway smoked his pipe
Beside his camping fire.
And there, where those marts of commerce are
Extending east and west,
Amid the rushes in the marsh
The wild fowl had its nest.

But the pale face came, our ranks were thinn'd,
And the loftiest were brought low,
And the forest faded far and wide,
Beneath his sturdy blow;
And the steamer on the quiet lake,
Then ploughed its way of foam,
And the red man fled from the scene of strife
To find a wilder home.

And many who in childhood's days
Around my trunk have played,
Are resting like the Indian now
Beneath the cedar's shade;
And I, like one bereft of friends,
With winter whitened o'er,
But wait the hour that I must fall,
As others fell before.

And still what changes wait thee,
When at no distant day,
The ships of far off nations,
Shall anchor in your bay;
When one vast chain of railroad,
Stretching from shore to shore,
Shall bear the wealth of India,
And land it at your door.

A short distance above the hop ground of which we have spoken, the Don
passed immediately underneath a high sandy bluff. Where, after a long
reach in its downward course, it first impinged against the steep cliff,
it was very deep. Here was the only point in its route, so far as we
recall, where the epithet was applicable which Milton gives to its
English namesake, when he speaks of -

"Utmost Tweed, or Ouse, or _gulphy_ Don."

This very noticeable portion of the river was known as the "Big Bend."
(We may observe here that in retaining its English name, the Don has
lost the appellation assigned to it by the French, if they ever
distinguished it by a name. The Grand River, on the contrary, has
retained its French name, notwithstanding its English official
designation, which was the Ouse. The Rouge, too, has kept its French
name. It was the Nen. The Indians styled this, or a neighbouring stream,
Katabokokonk, "The River of Easy Entrance." The Thames, however, has
wholly dropped its French title, LaTranche. We may subjoin that the
Humber was anciently called by some, St John's River, from a trader
named St. John; and by some, as we have already learnt, Toronto River.
In Lahontan's map it is marked Tanaouaté. No interpretation is
given. - Augustus Jones, the early surveyor of whom we shall have
occasion frequently to speak, notes in one of his letters that the
Indian name for the Don was Wonscoteonach, "Back burnt grounds;" that
is, the river coming down from the back burnt country, meaning probably
the so-called Poplar Plains to the north, liable to be swept by casual
fires in the woods. The term is simply descriptive, and not, in the
modern sense, a proper name.)

Towards the summit of the high bluff just mentioned, the holes made by
the sand-martins were numerous. Hereabout we have met with the snapping
turtle. This creature has not the power of withdrawing itself wholly
within a shell. A part of its protection consists in the loud
threatening snap of its strong horny jaws, armed in front with a
beak-like hook bent downwards. What the creature lays hold of, it will
not let go. Let it grasp the end of a stout stick, and the sportsman may
sling it over his shoulder, and so carry it home with him. When allowed
to reach its natural term of life, it probably attains a very great age.
We remember a specimen captured near the spot at which we are pausing,
which, from its vast size, and the rough, lichen-covered condition of
its shell, must have been extremely old. We also once found near here a
numerous deposit of this animal's eggs; all white and spherical, of the
diameter of about an inch, and covered with a tough parchment-like skin.

The ordinary lesser tortoises of the marsh were of course plentiful
along the Don: their young frequently to be met with creeping about,
were curious and ever-interesting little objects. Snakes too there were
about here, of several kinds: one, often very large and
dangerous-looking, the copper-head, of a greenish brown colour, and
covered with oblong and rather loose scales. The striped garter-snake of
all sizes, was very common. Though reported to be harmless, it always
indulged, when interfered with, in the menacing action and savage
attempts to strike, of the most venomous of its genus. - Then there was
the beautiful grass-green snake; and in large numbers, the black
water-snake. In the rank herbage along the river's edge, the terrified
piping of a pursued frog was often heard.

It recurs to us, as we write, that once, on the banks of the Humber, we
saw a bird actually in the grasp of a large garter-snake - just held by
the foot. As the little creature fluttered violently in the air, the
head of the reptile was swayed rapidly to and fro. All the small birds
in the vicinity had gathered together in a state of noisy excitement;
and many spirited dashes were make by several of them at the common foe.
No great injury having been as yet inflicted, we were enabled to effect
a happy rescue.

From the high sandy cliff, to which our attention has been drawn, it was
possible to look down into the waters of the river; and on a sunny day,
it afforded no small amusement to watch the habits, not only of the
creatures just named, but of the fish also, visible below in the stream;
the simple sunfish, for example, swimming about in shoals (or _schools_,
as the term used to be); and the pike, crafty as a fox, lurking in
solitude, ready to dart on his unwary prey with the swiftness and
precision of an arrow shot from the bow.

_3. - From the Big Bend to Castle Frank Brook._

Above the "Big Bend," on the west side, was "Rock Point." At the water's
edge hereabout was a slight outcrop of shaly rock, where crayfish were
numerous, and black bass. The adjoining marshy land was covered with a
dense thicket, in which wild gooseberry bushes and wild black-currant
bushes were noticeable. The flats along here were a favourite haunt of
woodcock at the proper season of the year: the peculiar succession of
little twitters uttered by them when descending from their flight, and
the very different deep-toned note, the signal of their having alighted,
were both very familiar sounds in the dusk of the evening.

A little further on was "the Island." The channel between it and the
"mainland" on the north side, was completely choked up with logs and
large branches, brought down by the freshets. It was itself surrounded
by a high fringe or hedge of the usual brush that lined the river-side
all along, matted together and clambered over, almost everywhere by the
wild grape-vine. In the waters at its northern end, wild rice grew
plentifully, and the beautiful sweet-scented white water-lily or lotus.

This minute bit of insulated land possessed, to the boyish fancy, great
capabilities. Within its convenient circuit, what phantasies and dreams
might not be realized? A Juan Fernandez, a Barataria, a New
Atlantis. - At the present moment we find that what was once our charmed
isle has now become _terra firma_, wholly amalgamated with the mainland.
Silt has hidden from view the tangled lodgments of the floods. A carpet
of pleasant herbage has overspread the silt. The border-strip of
shrubbery and grape-vine, which so delightfully walled it round, has
been improved, root and branch, out of being.

Near the Island, on the left side, a rivulet, of which more immediately,
pouring down through a deep, narrow ravine, entered the Don. On the
right, just at this point, the objectionable marshes began to disappear,
and the whole bottom of the vale was early converted into handsome
meadows. Scattered about were grand elm and butternut, fine basswood and
buttonwood trees, with small groves of the Canadian willow, which
pleasantly resembles, in habit, the olive tree of the south of Europe.
Along the flats, remains of Indian encampments were often met with;
tusks of bears and other animals; with fragments of coarse pottery,
streaked or furrowed rudely over, for ornament. And all along the
valley, calcareous masses, richly impregnated with iron, were found,
detached, from time to time, as was supposed, from certain places in the

At the long-ago epoch when the land went up, the waters came down with a
concentrated rush from several directions into the valley just here,
from some accidental cause, carving out in their course, in the enormous
deposit of the drift, a number of deep and rapidly descending channels,
converging all upon this point. The drainage of a large extent of
acreage to the eastward, also at that period, found here for a time its
way into the Don, as may be seen by a neighbouring gorge, and the deep
and wide, but now _dry_ water-course leading to it, known, where the
"Mill road" crosses it, as the "Big Hollow."

Bare and desolate, at that remote era, must have been the appearance of
these earth-banks and ridges and flats, as also those in the vicinity of
all our rivers: for many a long year they must have resembled the
surroundings of some great tidal river, to which the sea, after ebbing,
had failed to return.

One result of the ancient down-rush of waters, just about here, was that
on both sides of the river there were to be observed several striking
specimens of that long, thin, narrow kind of hill which is popularly
known as a "hog's back." One on the east side afforded, along its ridge,
a convenient ascent from the meadows to the table-land above, where
fine views up and down the vale were obtainable, somewhat Swiss in
character, including in the distance the lake, to the south. Overhanging
the pathway, about half-way up, a group of white-birch trees is
remembered by the token that, on their stems, a number of young men and
maidens of the neighbourhood had, in sentimental mood, after the manner
of the Corydons and Amaryllises of classic times, incised their names.

The west side of the river, as well as the east, of which we have been
more especially speaking, presented here also a collection of convergent
"hog's backs" and deeply channelled water-courses. One of the latter
still conducted down a living stream to the Don. This was the rivulet
already noticed as entering just above the Island. It bore the graceful
name of "Castle Frank Brook."

_4. - Castle Frank._

Castle Frank was a rustic château or summer-house, built by Governor
Simcoe in the midst of the woods, on the brow of a steep and lofty bank,
which overlooks the vale of the Don, a short distance to the north of
where we have been lingering. The construction of this edifice was a
mere _divertissement_ while engaged in the grand work of planting in a
field literally and entirely new, the institutions of civilization.

All the way from the site of the town of York to the front of this
building, a narrow carriage-road and convenient bridle-path had been cut
out by the soldiers, and carefully graded. Remains of this ancient
engineering achievement are still to be traced along the base of the
hill below the Necropolis and elsewhere. The brook - Castle Frank
Brook - a little way from where it enters the Don, was spanned by a
wooden bridge. Advantage being taken of a narrow ridge, that opportunely
had its commencing point close by on the north side, the roadway here
began the ascent of the adjoining height. It then ran slantingly up the
hill-side, along a cutting which is still to be seen. The table-land at
the summit was finally gained by utilizing another narrow ridge. It then
proceeded along the level at the top for some distance through a forest
of lofty pines, until the château itself was reached.

The cleared space where the building stood was not many yards across. On
each side of it, the ground precipitously descended, on the one hand to
the Don, on the other to the bottom of the ravine where flowed the
brook. Notwithstanding the elevation of the position, the view was
circumscribed, hill-side and table-land being alike covered with trees
of the finest growth.

Castle Frank itself was an edifice of considerable dimensions, of an
oblong shape; its walls were composed of a number of rather small,
carefully hewn logs, of short lengths. The whole wore the hue which
unpainted timber, exposed to the weather, speedily assumes. At the gable
end, in the direction of the roadway from the nascent capital, was the
principal entrance, over which a rather imposing portico was formed by
the projection of the whole roof, supported by four upright columns,

Online LibraryHenry ScaddingToronto of old; collections and recollections illustrative of the early settlement and social life of the capital of Ontario → online text (page 23 of 59)