Samuel Strickland.

Twenty-Seven Years in Canada West The Experience of an Early Settler (Volume I) online

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broke upon his ear - and _never_ lost his presence of mind. He trusted
in God, and used the means within his reach for his preservation, and
arrived safe at last.

Few boys would have displayed so much sense and spirit - but the boy is
almost always the father of the man; and what James was then, he is



I REMEMBER on my first visit to the mouth of the river Maitland, now
the site of Goodrich, a bridle-path for seventy miles through the
trackless forest was the only available communication between the
settlements and Lake Huron. This was only twenty-four years ago. This
vast and fertile tract of more than one million acres, at that time did
not contain a population of three hundred souls; no teeming fields of
golden grain, no manufactories, no mills, no roads; the rivers were
unbridged, and one vast solitude reigned around, unbroken, save by the
whoop of the red-man, or the distant shot of the trapper.

Reverse the picture, and behold what the energies and good management
of the Canada Company have effected. Stage-coaches travel with safety
and dispatch along the same tract where formerly I had the utmost
difficulty to make my way on horseback without the chance of being
swept from the saddle by the limbs of trees and tangled brushwood. A
continuous settlement of the finest farms now skirts both sides of this
road, from the southern boundary-line of this district to Goderich.

Another road equally good, traverses the block from the western
boundary. Thriving villages, saw and grist-mills, manufactories,
together with an abundance of horses, cattle, sheep, grain, and every
necessary of life enjoyed by a population of 26,000 souls, fully prove
the success caused by the persevering industry of the emigrants who
were so fortunate as to select this fruitful and healthy locality for
their future homes.

Much of this prosperity is due to the liberality and excellent
arrangements of the Canada Company, who have afforded every facility to
their settlers in regard to the payments for their land: I particularly
refer to their system of leasing, which affords the best chance
possible to the poor emigrant.

"This spirited and enterprising" Company's principal tract of land lies
nearly in a triangular form, commencing in latitude 43 degrees, and
extending about sixty-miles along the coast. In 1824, this incorporated
company contracted with Government for this line of country and some
others, as well as for a portion of the clergy reserves, comprehending
in all about two million acres, payable in fifteen years.* [*
M'Gregor's "British America."]

In the spring of 1827, a memorable year for Canada, the Company
commenced their operations at Guelph, under the superintendence of John
Galt, Esq.

I had heard a great deal about the fertility of their lands, especially
of those in the Huron tract, containing a million of acres in one
block, of which I shall hereafter speak more particularly.* As I was
enterprising, and fond of an active life, I resolved to go and judge
for myself; and as I heard the superintendent was then at Toronto, I
determined to call upon him there and collect all the information in my

[* The territory from which the Huron tract has been selected, was
explored previously to the selection being made, and the reports which
were received from the parties employed on that mission were of the
most satisfactory nature. This tract is bounded on the west by Lake
Huron, along which it runs for nearly sixty miles, having within its
limits one considerable river, at the mouth of which is a good harbour;
another river, which may probably be rendered navigable, and numerous
creeks and streamlets, many of which are large enough, and have fall
sufficient to drive mills or machinery of any description. - Mac
Taggart's "Three Years in Canada."]

My first interview with Mr. Galt, the celebrated author of "Laurie
Todd," took place at the Old Steam-boat Hotel, in February, 1828. He
received me with great kindness, and asked me many particulars of Bush-
life, connected with a first settlement.

I suppose my answers were satisfactory, for he turned towards me
abruptly, and asked me, "If I would like to enter the Canada Company's
Service; for," said he, "I want a practical person to take charge of
the out-door department in the absence of Mr. Prior, whom I am about to
send to the Huron tract with a party of men to clear up and lay off the
New-town plot of Goderich. You will have charge of the Company's
stores, keep the labour-rolls, and superintend the road-making and
bridge-building, and indeed everything connected with the practical
part of the settlement."

This was just the sort of life I wished; so I closed at once with his
offer. No salary was to be named, till I had been three months in the
Company's employ. Indeed, I left everything to Mr. Galt, who, I felt
certain, would remunerate me according to my deserts.

In person, Mr. Galt was, I should think, considerably above six feet in
height, and rather of a heavy build; his aspect grave and dignified,
and his appearance prepossessing. His disposition was kind and
considerate; but at the same time he commanded respect; and I can say
with sincerity, I always found him an upright and honourable gentleman.

Of Mr. Galt's fitness for the office of superintendent of the Canada
Company, it would, perhaps, be considered presumptuous in me to give an
opinion. His position was an unfortunate one, and from his first
residence in the country till his resignation, there appears to have
been a serious misunderstanding between him, the Governor, and the
Executive-council, in consequence of which, Galt's character was
misrepresented at home as that of a meddling politician and troublesome
person. Other charges regarding the wasteful expenditure of money in
forming the new settlements were laid before the Directors, and these
repeated complaints against him left him no other alternative than to
resign his situation.

My own opinion is, that Galt was ill-used by the Canadian Government.
He says in his "Autobiography," that his whole and sole offence
consisted of having accepted a file of the "Colonial Advocate," and
shaken hands with the editor, the notorious William Lyon Mackenzie. In
those days of ultra-toryism, such an instance of liberality and freedom
from party-prejudice was sufficient to excite the displeasure of the
Governor and his council. There is no doubt that Galt acted imprudently
in this matter, though I fully believe without any intention of
opposing the Government.

In regard to the Company's affairs, more might be said to his
prejudice - not in respect of his integrity, for, I believe him to have
been a most honourable man, and incapable of any meanness - but in
regard to his management. Although, as the original projector of the
Canada Company, he evinced much cleverness, and afterwards displayed
considerable judgment in the choice of the best situations for building
towns and villages, yet he committed some grievous mistakes. His ideas
were generally good; but often not well carried out in detail.

His first error was in the selection of persons to fill the various
offices belonging to the Company. For, instead of appointing men who
had long experience in the country, and who were, therefore,
practically qualified to superintend the workmen by their experience of
all the requirements of a new settlement, he filled these situations,
for the most part, with inexperienced young men, recently arrived from
the old country, who, of course, could know nothing of road-making and
bridge-building, and were, therefore, incapable of directing a number
of workmen. Then, again, most of the hands employed on the Company's
works were new settlers, and, of course, knew nothing of chopping,
house-building, or clearing land; and yet these men were paid just as
much as if they had served a long apprenticeship in the country. If Mr.
Galt's appointments had been judicious, there is no doubt, in my mind,
that half the outlay would have produced greater results.

It was arranged that I should meet Mr. Galt at Toronto, in April, at
the commencement of the spring operations. At the appointed time, I
again waited upon him, when he ordered me to Guelph, to take charge of
the department, as formerly agreed upon between us. He then introduced
me to Dr. Dunlop and Mr. Prior, who kindly invited me to take a seat in
their waggon, which would leave for Guelph in a few hours. The former
gentleman is well known in the literary world, as the author of the

During our journey, I found that he deserved his celebrity for good
companionship, which was fully borne out on this occasion. He could,
indeed, speak well on any subject. He was full of sound information,
and overflowed with anecdote - in fact, his way of telling a story was
inimitable. He had a fund of wit, which seemed almost inexhaustible.

My fellow-travellers left me at Mr. Galt's house, near Burlington
Heights, where, after taking some refreshment, I again proceeded on my
journey, and ultimately reached Guelph on the afternoon of the second

The situation of the town I found exceedingly pleasant, and well
watered. It was built in an angle, formed by the confluence of the
rivers Speed and Eramosa. The town-plot also abounds with copious
never-failing springs, of the purest water.

I found some twenty or thirty log-houses, about as many shanties, a
large frame-tavern building, a store, two blacksmiths' shops, and the
walls of two stone-buildings, one of which was intended, when finished,
for the company's office. Besides these edifices, Dr. Dunlop and Mr.
Prior had each a good house, and there was the Priory, a large log-
building, afterwards occupied by the superintendent. This was pretty
well, considering that a year only had elapsed since the first tree was

Mr. Galt, in his "Autobiography," has given an account of the founding
of the town of Guelph,* and how Mr. Prior, Dr. Dunlop, and himself, cut
down the first tree - a large sugar-maple, whereupon the Dr. produced a
flask of whiskey, and they named and drank success to the new town.
This was on St. George's day, April 23rd, 1827. Eighteen months after
this, by Mr. Galt's orders, I had the stump of that tree inclosed by a
fence, though, I make no doubt, it has long since decayed. The name of
the founder will, however, remain, - a better and more enduring

[* "This name was chosen in compliment to the royal family, both
because I thought it auspicious in itself, and because I could not
recollect that it had ever been before used in all the king's
dominions." - Galt's Autobioography.]

On my arrival, I drove up to the only tavern in the place, a small log-
house, kept by one Philip Jones, an Englishman - or, rather, by his
wife - a buxom, bustling body, who was, undoubtedly, the head of the
establishment. In answer to my inquiry for lodgings, she courteously
informed me that she had neither bed nor blanket, but what was doubly
occupied, and, moreover, that she was sure I could not obtain one in
town, as every house was full of emigrants; but as the most of her
lodgers would leave for the Huron tract on the morrow, she should be
able and happy to accommodate me after their departure. With this
promise I was obliged to be satisfied.

I might, perhaps, have succeeded in obtaining a share of a bed, but as
I did not know what population I might gain, or, indeed, what might be
the unpleasant results of such an arrangement, I preferred a hay-loft,
in which I slept soundly till the break of day.

The superintendent and his staff arrived the next morning, when I was
duly installed in my office. Mr. Galt's coach-house being unoccupied, I
took immediate possession, and converted it into a very respectable
store-house and office, till a building was completed for that purpose.
I was thus fairly established as an _employe_ in the service of the
Canada Company.

The township of Guelph contains upwards of forty thousand acres of
land, of a fair average quality, well timbered, and well watered. I
believe the Company have disposed of all their saleable lots in this
township. I was fully employed the whole summer in constructing two
bridges, one over the Speed, and the other over the Eramosa branch, and
also in opening a good road to each. These bridges were built of cedar
logs, and on a plan of my own, which Mr. Galt highly approved. I
should, however, have preferred square timber, framed in bents, which,
I think, would have been more durable, and better adapted for the
stream they were intended to cross.

Amongst the men under my charge, I had two Mohawk Indians, both of whom
were excellent choppers, and behaved themselves remarkably well. One of
them was called Henhawk, and the other William Fish. The Mohawks are
more civilized, and make better farmers than the Chippewas, and I think
are a finer-looking race of men.*

[* Benjamin West, the celebrated American painter, on being shown the
Apollo Belvidere, astonished a number of Italian cognoscenti by
comparing that _chef d'oeuvre_ of ancient Greek art to a young Mohawk
warrior. But the fine proportions of these savage warriors, and their
free and graceful action, rendered the remark of this great artist a
just and beautiful critique, and of a complimentary not a depreciating

My time passed pleasantly enough at Guelph, for I had plenty of work to
do, and in all labour there is profit. And what could be better for a
healthy, active young man than the employment of assisting in settling
a new country?

The only drawback to my comfort was the temporary loss of the society
of my wife; a pretty, sensible young woman, whose mental and personal
charms had, since my union with her, formed the happiness of my life.
We cannot, however, have every blessing at once, and I worked on
cheerfully in the hope of getting things comfortably round me for my
dear girl against the moment when she would join me.

Besides the services rendered to the Company, I performed _con amore_
some gratuitous ones for the benefit of the township of Guelph, which
will, doubtless, both surprise and astonish my readers. We had no
medical man in Guelph for some months after my arrival, so, for want of
a better, I was obliged to turn physician and surgeon, and soon became
very skilful in bleeding and tooth-drawing, and, as I charged nothing,
you may be sure I had plenty of customers. And so well pleased was Dr.
Dunlop with my proficiency, that he invariably sent all his patients to

I remember one time in particular, he came over to my office and
inquired for me, when, on the store-porter telling him I had just gone
out, he said,

"Tell him when he comes back, to take the calomel and jalap down to my
house, and treat those Paisley bodies with a dose apiece."

"What! all of them, sir?"

"Yes, to be sure; they are but just arrived, and have got as fat as
pigs on the voyage. Some of their bacon must be taken off, or with this
heat we shall have them all sick on our hands. And tell him not to
spare the jalap."

When I returned and heard the message, I literally obeyed his order by
administering forty-two doses of various strengths to the men, women
and children, designated by the Doctor as the "Paisley bodies."

This wholesale way of medical treatment was in this instance attended
with a good effect; for there did not occur a single case of sickness
amongst them during the summer.

Shortly after this, a medical man, a Mr. W - - -, applied for a town-lot
and commenced practice. This gentleman was certainly a great oddity. He
never had but two patients that I ever heard of, and they both died.
The settlers used to call him the "mad doctor," and I believe not
without good reason. He built a log-house without any door, his mode of
entrance being through a square hole he had cut out of the end of the
house about six feet from the ground.

I walked over to his place one day to speak to him on some business,
and found him very busy in his garden, driving into the ground a great
quantity of short sticks.

I asked him "what all those sticks were for."

"Why you see, sir, I have planted part of my garden with Indian corn,
and I am putting sticks down to mark the places where I have planted

A day or two afterwards I met him wearing his coat turned inside out,
the rough seams and red-edging of which had a very curious effect. I
inquired "what might be his reason for going about in such a costume?"

"Well, you see I call this my morning attire; in the evening I have
nothing to do but turn my coat, and, lo! I am dressed; a very capital
arrangement, and quite good enough for the Bush. Do not you think so?"

"As far as regards economy," I replied, "it may do well enough, and as
you do not appear to care about being laughed at, your plan will
answer: and who knows but that you may have the pleasure of introducing
a new fashion into the colonies?"

Amongst other odd characters I had to deal with, was a Mr. W - - -, I
believe a portrait and miniature painter by profession, who had
travelled a good deal in Russia, and understood that language well. He
purchased a lot of land from the company on the Waterloo-road, about a
mile from the village. Under the ground-plot chosen by him to build on,
he found there existed a good quarry of limestone; so he made up his
mind to build a stone-house, although he had spent his last dollar, and
his profession in a new and poor settlement would avail him very

However, he went to work, excavating the stone which he had found when
digging his cellar, for building the walls of his house: his only
assistant in the undertaking was a delicate ladylike young woman, whom
he had married in the United States, and brought here as a bride. He
treated his unfortunate partner like a slave. She had to mix and carry
all the mortar, and help him to raise the stone.

I often, on an evening, walked down to see how they were getting on
with their job, and was quite astonished to find how well they
progressed. But, at the same time, I pitied the poor wife exceedingly,
whom the neighbours said he treated very harshly, notwithstanding her
conjugal devotion to him.

At the end of three months his creditors began to threaten him. His
land was still unpaid for, and the walls of his house unfinished. When
too late, he counted the cost of completion, and found his best plan
was to take a Yankee leave, and clear out, leaving his unfinished home
as a legacy to his creditors.

How to beat a retreat, and take his goods and chattels with him,
without discovery, was a difficult matter. He, however, set his wits to
work, and adopted the following plan, which, in theory, looked feasible
enough, but, when put in practice, was found not quite so easy as he
had anticipated.

He knew that the river Speed, which ran at the rear of his lot, after a
course of fourteen or fifteen miles, debouched into the Grand River,
and was, from thence, navigable for boats to Lake Erie, a distance of
some seventy or eighty miles further. He, therefore, conceived the plan
of building a small scow,* large enough to hold his wife, himself, and
his effects, and silently dropping down with the current, bade adieu to
their sylvan retreat, and the great city of Guelph, which, however, he
was destined to see again, much sooner than he expected.

[* A long-shaped flat-bottomed boat of the same width the entire
length, rising gently at each end, built of two-inch plank, and much
used on shallow rivers and creeks.]

He built his boat close to the river's edge, having, with the
assistance of his wife, carried the planks down for that purpose. I
suppose he took a lesson from Robinson Crusoe, not to build his scow
too far from the water.

Everything being ready, the boat was launched and freighted, our hero
in the stern, with steering paddle in hand, and his patient _compagnon
de voyage_ acting, as bowman.

The Speed is a shallow, swift, running stream, seldom exceeding three
feet in depth during the dry season. For the first mile they got on
pretty well, till they came to a jam of drift wood; over this with
great difficulty they hauled their scow; every few yards fresh
obstructions occurred in the shape of snags, fallen trees, and drift
wood, which caused them to upset twice before they had accomplished the
second mile, till at last an extensive jam across the river many yards
in length, put a complete barrier to their further advance.

Wet and weary, half the day gone, and no chance of proceeding down the
stream, they determined to retrace their course. This was not easy to
accomplish, for the current was too swift to paddle against; so, tying
a short piece of rope to the stem of the scow, he ordered his
unfortunate wife to take the water and tow the boat, whilst he sat in
state in the stern assisting with his paddle.

In the evening, I was walking out with my wife; and as we were passing
I thought we would look in and see how their work progressed, when to
my astonishment I saw Mrs. W - - - sitting on a stone, weeping bitterly.
I perceived at once that something extraordinary had occurred, for her
dress was sadly torn and saturated with wet. Upon making an inquiry
respecting her appearance, and the causes of her grief, she told me the
sad story I have just related, adding, that they had only just got back
from their expedition, and that all her clothes, bed, and blankets were
wringing wet.

My wife, who had lately joined me, and was of a most kind disposition,
always ready to help those in distress, offered her an asylum for a few
days, and a change of apparel, which she thankfully accepted. Her
brutal husband cleared out the next day, and she joined him the week

Some time afterwards, I was told that Mrs. W - - - had committed
suicide, goaded, doubtless, to desperation by the ill usage of her
partner, and the hardships she had to endure. As this, however, is only
hearsay, I will not vouch for its truth; though from my knowledge of
the parties I am afraid it was only too true.



ONE day, being out in the woods with an emigrant, examining a lot of
land, I was attracted by the barking of my dog, who had treed some
animal, which, upon coming up, I discovered was a porcupine. We cut
down the tree, a small beech, in which he had taken refuge, and secured
him alive. I did not notice my dog till I got home, when I found his
mouth was full of quills, which the porcupine, in self-defence, had
darted into him. The manner in which they accomplish this is, by
striking the object that offends them with their tail, when the outside
points of the quills, being finely barbed, if inserted ever so
slightly, retain their hold, and are easily detached from the porcupine
without pain.

I once lost a fine Irish greyhound, who was stuck full of quills in
this way, although I pulled out hundreds of them from his mouth, head,
and different parts of his body, with a pair of pincers. In fact, some
of these barbs had worked into him nearly their whole length, so that I
had a difficulty in getting hold of the end of the quills to extract
them; and I have no doubt, as the dog died, that many of them had
completely buried themselves in some vital part, and caused his death.

I took home my prize, and put it into a barrel in a dark corner of the
store, which was half full of nails. A few minutes afterwards, Dr.
Dunlop, as he often did, came in to see me, and drink a glass of cider,
of which I had at that time some of excellent quality in bottle. The
Doctor, as he said, used to "improve" it, making what he called, "a
stone-fence," by inserting a small _soupcon_ of brandy from a pocket-
pistol, which he was too much in the habit of carrying about with him
in hot weather.

"Now," said I, "Doctor, I know you like a bit of fun. When Fielding,
the porter, comes in, ask him to go to that barrel in the corner and
fetch you a nail; for I have got a live porcupine in it that I have

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Online LibrarySamuel StricklandTwenty-Seven Years in Canada West The Experience of an Early Settler (Volume I) → online text (page 11 of 16)