William Pittman Lett.

Recollections of Bytown and Its Old Inhabitants online

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As no book, small or great - gay or grave, witty or sublime, scientific,
dramatic, poetic, tragic, historical, metaphysical, philosophical,
polemical, wise or otherwise - can be considered complete, particularly
at the beginning, without a preface; I have deemed it expedient that the
contents of the following pages should be dignified by a few lines of an
introductory nature.

It was not my intention when I commenced these reminiscences to publish
them in their present form, neither had I any idea of their extending
beyond a few hundred lines. That I have changed my mind is entirely
owing to the solicitations of friends desirous of having them in compact
shape, and not to any particular ambition of my own to write a book.

I do not pretend to present the reader with anything perfect in rhythm,
polished in measure, or labored in style of construction. I have aimed
at the truth, and imagine I have hit it.

My object has been, simply, to gather together as many of the names and
incidents connected with Bytown's early history as memory alone could
recal. My desire has been to rescue from oblivion - as far as my humble
efforts could conduce to such a desirable end - what otherwise might
possibly have been forgotten. In the contemplation of those names and
incidents, I have often, recently, overlooked the fact that I now live
in a City with nearly thirty thousand inhabitants, and that its name is
Ottawa. It has, nevertheless, been to me a pleasant labor of love to
walk in memory among the men and the habitations of byegone times.

Doubtless, of the inhabitants of dear old Bytown, there are some among
the dead and others among the living, whose names may not be found in
this little work. These broken links in the chain will be to me a source
of regret. To the shades of the departed and to the ears of the living,
whom I would not willingly have overlooked without

"A smile or a grasp of the hand passing on."

I shall only say, as an atonement for the unwitting lapses of an
imperfect memory, in the language once used by a friend and countryman
in my hearing, as he passed a very pretty girl: "Remember, my dear, that
I do not pass you with my heart."





In '28, on Patrick's Day,
At one p.m., there came this way
From Richmond, in the dawn of spring,
He who doth now the glories sing
Of ancient Bytown, as 'twas then,
A place of busy working men,
Who handled barrows and pickaxes,
Tamping irons and broadaxes,
And paid no Corporation taxes;
Who, without license onward carried
All kinds of trade, but getting married;
Stout, sinewy, and hardy chaps,
Who'd take and pay back adverse raps,
Nor ever think of such a thing
As squaring off outside the ring,
Those little disagreements, which
Make wearers of the long robe rich.
Such were the men, and such alone,
Who quarried the vast piles of stone,
Those mighty, ponderous, cut-stone blocks,
With which Mackay built up the Locks.
The road wound round the Barrack Hill,
By the old Graveyard, calm and still;
It would have sounded snobbish, very,
To call it then a Cemetery -
Crossed the Canal below the Bridge,
And then struck up the rising ridge
On Rideau Street, where Stewart's Store
Stood in the good old days of yore;
There William Stewart flourished then,
A _man_ among old Bytown's men;
And there, Ben Gordon ruled the roast,
Evoking many a hearty toast,
And purchase from the throngs who came
To buy cheap goods in friendship's name.
Friend Ben, dates back a warm and true heart
To days of Mackintosh and Stewart.
Beside where Aumond and Barreille
Their fate together erst did try,
In the old "French Store," on whose card
_Imprimis_ was J. D. Bernard.
"_Grande Joe_," still sturdy, stout and strong.
Long be he so! Will o'er my song,
Bend kindly, and perhaps may sigh,
While rapidly o'er days gone by,
He wanders back in memory.
Aye, sigh, for when he look's around,
How few, alas! can now be found,
Who heard the shrill meridian sound
Of Cameron's bugle from the hill,
How few, alas! are living still -
How few who saw in pride pass on
The Sappers with their scarlet on,
Their hackle plumes and scales of brass,
Their stately tread as on they pass.
I seem to see them through the shade
Of years, in warlike pomp arrayed,
Marching in splendid order past,
Their bugles ringing on the blast,
Their bayonets glittering in the sun,
The vision fades, the dream is done.
Below the Bridge, at least below,
Where stands the Sappers' structure now,
You had to pass in going down
From Upper to the Lower Town;
For, reader, then, no bridge was there,
Where afterwards with wondrous care,
And skilful hands; the Sappers made
That arch which casts into the shade
All other arches in the land,
By which Canals and streams are span'd;
The passing wayfarer sees nought
But a stone bridge by labor wrought,
The Poet's retrospective eye
Searching the depths of memory,
A monument to Colonel By,
Beholds, enduring as each pile
Which stands beside the Ancient Nile,
As o'er the past my vision runs,
Gazing on Bytown's elder sons,
The portly Colonel I behold
Plainly as in the days of old,
Conjured before me at this hour
By memory's undying power;
Seated upon, his great black steed
Of stately form and noble breed.
A man who knew not how to flinch -
A British soldier every inch.
Courteous alike to low and high
A gentleman was Colonel By!
And did I write of lines three score
About him, I could say no more.
Howard and Thompson then kept store
Down by "the Creek," almost next door,
George Patterson must claim a line
Among the men of auld lang syne;
A man of very ancient fame,
Who in old '27 came.
One of the first firm doth remain,
He is our worthy Chamberlain,
Who ne'er in life's farce cut a dash
On other people's errant cash;
Who guards, as it is right well known,
Better than e'er he did his own,
The people's money, firm and sure,
To the last cent, safe and secure.
And opposite across the street,
A friend or foe could always meet
A man deserving hero's title,
Uncompromising Watson Litle!
A stern upholder of the law
Who ne'er in justice found a flaw,
With well charged blunderbuss in hand
He asked not order or command,
But sallied forth _semper paratus_
To aid the _Posse Comitatus_!
"Peace to his ashes!" many a score
Of heads he smashed in days of yore!
Where is the marble slab to show
Where Watson Litle's dust lies low?
Close by "the Creek," on the south side
Of Rideau Street, did then reside
John Cuzner, a British tar,
For pluck renown'd both near and far!
Nor would I willingly forget
While tracing recollections met
Of other days, and from the past
Collecting memories fading fast,
Of lines our earliest purveyor,
John MacNaughton, the Surveyor,
The only one who then was quite
At home with the theodolite,
And boxed the trembling compass well,
Before the days of Robert Bell.
A little further up the street,
James Martin's name the eye did greet
A round faced Caledonian, who
Good eating and good drinking knew;
And "Four-pence-half-penny" McKenzie
Daily vended wolsey linsey,
Next door to one of comic cheer
Acknowledged the best auctioneer,
That ever knock'd a bargain down,
Or bidder if he chanced to frown;
He set himself up in the end
As Carleton's most worthy friend
And by _vox populi_ was sent
To Parliament to represent
The men of Carleton, one and all,
In ancient Legislative Hall.
And by "The Tiger" sleek and fat,
Our old friend "Jimmy Johnston" sat,
The corner stock'd with silks and ribbon,
Was kept and owned by Miss Fitzgibbon.
A good stand it has ever been
For commerce in this busy scene;
Stand oft of idler and of scorner,
I mean the modern "Howell's Corner,"
Called after "Roderick of the sword,"
Once well known Chairman of School Board.
And down below near Nicholas Street,
A quiet man each morn you'd meet
At ten a.m., his pathway wending,
With steps to Ordnance office bending,
A mild man and an unassuming,
Health and good nature ever blooming
Seem'd stamped upon his smiling face,
Where time had scarcely left its trace;
_Semper idem_ let me beg
Thy pardon, honest William Clegg!
Nor must, although his bones are rotten,
The ancient Mosgrove be forgotten,
A man of kindly nature, he
Has left a spot in memory
While gazing on each vanish'd scene
That still remains both fresh and green
For when in heat of hurling bent
The ball oft through his window went,
He pitch'd it to us out again,
And ask'd no payment for the pane.
On Sussex Street, James Inglis flourish'd,
A cannie Scot, and well he nourish'd
A very thriving dry goods trade,
And "piles" of good hard silver made,
Almost amongst the forest trees,
By furs from Aborigines.
No "Hotel" then was in the town,
"The British" in its old renown,
Of our Hotels the ancient mother
Had not one stone laid on another;
Donald McArthur in a cavern
Of wood sustained his ancient tavern,
And there the best of cheer was found
Within old Bytown's classic ground;
And now I'll close my roll of fame
With a most well-remember'd name,
A man of dignity supreme
Rises to view in memory's dream,
Ultra in Toryism's tariff,
Was Simon Fraser, Carleton's Sheriff,
Personified by the third vowel,
Forerunner of W.F. Powell,
A high and most important man
In the renown'd old Fraser Clan,
Who well had worn the Highland tartan,
For he was bold as any Spartan,
And did his duty mildly, gravely,
And wore the sword and cocked hat bravely.


Come, now, my gentle Muse, once more,
Come with me to the days of yore,
And let us wake, with friendly hand
The memories of that distant land,
The past; and while thy minstrel weaves
A chaplet from the Sybil leaves
Of recollection - let the light
Of truth upon his lines be bright.
May he with reverential tread
Approach the dwellings of the dead,
Seeking for some sweet flower of good
Within their solemn solitude:
And if he finds in fadeless bloom
Around some well remember'd tomb,
Some cherish'd record of the past
Which has defied time's rudes blast,
And down futurity's deep vale
Shed fragrance on the passing gale,
Love's labor, then, the task will be,
My gentle Muse, for thee and me.
'Mongst those of old remember'd well,
John Wade doth in my memory dwell,
A wit of most undoubted feather -
A mighty advocate of leather -
A solemn man too, when required.
With healing instincts deeply fired,
He with claw-instrument could draw
Teeth deftly from an aching jaw,
And ready was his lancet too
When nothing short of blood would do;
Relieved he many a racking pain,
When shall we see his like again?
And William Tormey, stern and straight,
A man who came ere '28,
Chief of the men who kept the fire on
And hammer'd the strong bands of iron,
Which first securely bound together
The old lock gates through wind and weather,
The old Town Council minutes bear
The record that his name is there.
And Thomas Hanly, loud the praise
I gave him in my early days
For bread, that Eve might tempted be
To eat, had it grown on that tree,
On which hung the forbidden fruit
Whose seed gave earth's ills their sad root.
Friend Tom dealt in the rising leaven
In the old days of '27,
With "Jemmy Lang," an ancient Scot,
Who ne'er the barley bree forgot;
An honest, simple man was he
As ever loved good company;
And Tom McDermott, while I twine
The names of yore in song of mine,
Can I forget a name like thine?
Ah, no! although thine ashes rest
Beneath our common mother's breast,
No name more spotless doth engage
My muse, or grace my tuneful page.
Stern Matthew Connell, fiery Celt,
Below the present Bywash dwelt,
Beside John Cowan, o'er whose grave
The grass of '32 did wave.
No man got in a passion faster
Than did old Bytown's first postmaster;
Yet was he a most upright man,
And well the old machinery "ran"
When mail bags came on horse's back
Before we had a railway track,
And their arrival on each morn
Was signall'd by an old tin horn.
Peace to his shade! in '32
The cholera Matthew Connell slew.
Kind reader, let me pass awhile,
Beside the "Bywash," deem'd so vile,
Then called "the Creek" - though now the pest -
The festering miasmatic nest
Of Boards of Health, who dread infection -
My very heart's sincere affection
Clings fondly to that old creek still;
For oft in boyhood's joyous thrill,
O'er its ice-bosom in wild play
I chased the ball in youth's bright day.
With young companions loved and dear!
How few of such, alas! are here
To listen to the bye-gone story
Of the old Creek's vanish'd glory!
'Twixt "wooden lock" and Rideau Street,
Young Bytown oft was wont to meet -
To struggle in the "shinny game;"
Ah! then it was a place of fame,
Full sixty feet from shore to shore,
While now it measures scarce a score;
Modern improvement has prevail'd -
Its fair proportions are curtail'd;
Its banks filled in, more space to gain.
Its stream, by many a filthy drain,
Which once was rapid, always clear,
Changed into color worse than beer,
To cool and icy scowling scan,
Of rigid, total abstinence man.
Gone is its fair renown of yore,
It's schoolboy battles all are o'er,
Which made it then a "Campo Bello"
For many an embryo daring fellow -
Too young to know what men of sense
Have called the art of self-defence;
There buttons flew, from stitching riven,
Black eyes and bloody noses given -
Even conflicts national took place,
Among old Bytown's youthful race.
Why not? for children bigger grown
I rave sometimes down the gauntlet thrown
For cause as small, and launch'd afar
The fierce and fiery bolts of war,
Simply to find out which was best.
Cæsar or Pompey by the test.
In those past combats "rich and rare"
Luke Cuzner always had his share.
For Luke in days of _auld lang syne_
Did most pugnaciously incline,
Never to challenge slack or slow,
And never stain'd by "coward's blow."
The Joyces too, Mick, John and Walter,
In battle's path did seldom falter,
But "Jimmy," in those days of grace
Held a peacemaker's blessed place,
Nor has he wander'd far astray
From the same calm and tranquil way.
The belt was worn by any one
Who had the latest battle won,
'Till Simon Murphy's springing bound
Lit on that ancient battle ground,
And from that hour he was King
Of our young pugilistic ring!
But here I'd like to pause a minute
And go to Hull - there's something in it
That to the hour of life's December
I shall endeavor to remember.
The old "Columbian" schoolhouse, where
In childhood's dawn I did repair;
It was a famous strict old school
Sway'd by the ancient birchen rule,
The place where youthful ignorance brought us,
The spot where famed James Agnew taught us;
A Scot was he of good condition,
A man of nerve and erudition,
A strict disciplinarian, who
Knew well what any boy could do,
And woe to him who did not do it
For he got certain cause to rue it.
No sinner ever dreaded Charon,
Nor was the mighty rod of Aaron,
By ancient Egypt's magic men,
In Pharoah's old despotic reign,
More feared as symbol of a God
Than was by us James Agnew's rod;
With it he batter'd arithmetic,
Lore practical and theoretic
Latin too, and English grammar
Into your head, a perfect "crammar,"
Was Agnew's most persuasive rod,
Nor less his magisterial nod.
How would such stern tuition suit
In our Collegiate Institute?
Amongst the unforgotten few
Who rise to memory's magic view,
While winging on her backward flight,
My schoolfellow, Alonzo Wright,
Appears a lad of slender frame,
I cannot say he's still the same,
Except in soul, for that sublime
Has soar'd above the touch of time,
And in "immortal youth" appears,
Unchanged by circumstance or years,
A good fellow, this was his name
At school, methinks he's still the same.
May he give powers of swift volition
To all who offer opposition
To him in the approaching "scrimmage,"
For what is but a brazen image
At best, a people's approbation,
Which sometimes with the situation,
Changes as egg in hand of wizard,
Or color in chameleon lizard.
There too, are Job and David Moore,
Bill Northgraves mentioned not before,
Who in the little school-house red
On early education fed.
And Thomas Curtis Brigham, too,
Lennox and Christopher in view,
Arise before my sight,
Strongly defined in memory's light,
And Wright both Ruggles and Tiberias,
And Wyman who was seldom serious,
Poor fellow! in life's manly bloom
He slept in an untimely tomb.
Time fails me, or I fain would tell
Of many more remembered well,
But end I here my present strain
Till memory wakes it up again.


I cross the Ottawa once more.
From Hull again to Bytown's shore.
And for a moment I behold
The river as it was of old,
Swelling, majestic in its pride,
A glorious stream from side to side!
A "Grand River" was Ottawa then,
The pride of ancient lumbermen,
By slabs and sawdust undefiled.
The joy of nature's dusky child,
Who's matchless, perfect bark canoe
Oft o'er its crystal bosom flew -
Not bridged all o'er like shaking bogs
By endless booms of dirty logs,
Which to the thrifty and the wise
Are doubtless marks of enterprise,
And evidences too of health,
Of pocket and commercial wealth,
Yet sadly, sometimes out of place,
And serious blots on Nature's face.
What would big Indian "Clouthier" say -
The red-skinn'd Samson could he stray
From the happy hunting ground away -
Could he behold the stream to-day -
The great Kah-nah-jo, where the God
Of the Algonquins used to nod
In dreamy slumber 'mid the smoke
Which from the mighty cataract broke,
Hemm'd in by sawmills, booms and piers -
The features of a thousand years
Of beauty ruthlessly defaced -
The landmarks of the past displaced,
And little left to tell the story
Of Ottawa's departed glory;
But water running where it ran
When the red deer chase began.
'Twould startle even Philemon Wright
With all his wisdom and foresight.
Could he arise, good man of old,
And modern Ottawa behold,
He'd feel himself a stranger too -
'Mid scenes of wonder strange and new -
In Hull, of little worth for tillage,
The spot on which he built his village.
Return I now, this slight digression
Was worth the time, I've an impression;
Clouthier, the Indian, was a giant,
And "Squire Wright," strong, self-reliant,
Was he who o'er the border came
And gave to Hull its ancient fame;
A man of enterprise and spirit
Who in this history well doth merit,
Such place of prominence as can
Be given to such a stirring man.
On the way back I see the ground
Where ferrying Odium was found,
And afterwards, next in progression,
Friend John Bedard came in possession,
And certainly much money made
By a successful carrying trade.
The place seems alter'd, art and skill
Have built up Wright and Batson's mill
At the old wharf, or near at hand,
Where the first steamer used to land,
Before even that small craft could ride
At any wharf on Bytown's side.
And not far off, in days of yore
A cottage stood - 'tis there no more,
And if there ever was a spot
Where friend and foe a welcome got -
Where generous hospitality
Presided o'er the banquet free,
And friendship's hand for rich and poor
Was ever opening the door -
That spot was where that cottage stood,
Embowered in the cedar wood,
And he who there resided with
An open heart, was old Ralph Smith!
In memory I behold him now,
With sparkling eye and lofty brow,
And round the table amply spread,
Are Patton, Henry, Ralph and Ned,
And Dolly - blessed be her shade!
Who, such nice things for schoolboys made,
And made them feel just as no other
On earth could do except their mother.
But I must hurry, or I own,
I ne'er shall reach the Upper Town,
For there I'll find an ancient throng
To link together in my song,
And I shall wake them up ere long.
'Mongst those of olden time who came
Was one whose engineering fame
Was brilliant - let none call be braggart
While speaking thus of John MacTaggart,
A genius of the highest grade
In that most scientific trade,
Who plann'd with wise, consummate skill,
Even from the lock-gates lowest sill
To Kingston Mills, the undertaking
Which cost such time and cash in making,
Rideau Canal, the work of years,
And England's Royal Engineers.
Brother of Isaac, once known hero
As Corporation Engineer,
Or Street Surveyor in that time
When Ottawa's fur was not so prime,
Whom well of old the writer knew,
And as he comes up for review -
Like volume taken from the shelf -
He harm'd no one but himself,
Is all his bitterest foe can say
Of Isaac who has passed away.
And James Fitzgibbon, where is he?
Beneath the weeping willow tree,
Retired, quiet-going man
Who ne'er his head 'gainst faction ran.
And close upon his fading track
I see the shadow of James Black,
Who once on Rideau Street kept store
In the remember'd days of yore,
A stirring, active man was he,
Genteel, polite to a degree,
That customers were always fain
Who saw him once to call again;
His wife in the old churchyard lay -
Her epitaph I know to-day.
And there stands Thomas Burrows, too,
As he appeared before my view,
Leaning upon his garden gate
Beside the Creek in '28;
He held of trust, an office high
Under the reign of Colonel By.
And Tom McDonald, as we then
Were wont to call the best of men;
A man of spirit rare was he
Who never had an enemy.
And there, too, Captain Victor goes
With most aristocratic nose,
And manners haughty with the ring
Of _ton_ when George the Fourth was king.
And Lieut. Pooley, for whose skill
The "Gully" bridge is named so still,
Ask Lyman Perkins, if you doubt it,
And he will tell you all about it.
And Dr. Tuthill, who with skill
Could cure more readily than kill,
Physic'd, emetic'd, too, and clyster'd,
And _con amore_, bled and blister'd,
In the old Hospital, which stood
Unscathed by tempest, fire, or flood,
For fifty years, to be down cast,
By chance, or carelessness, at last,
Theme for conjecture, most prolific,
Another phase of the Pacific
Railway which will cause a broil,
Unless 'tis built on British soil!
And there, too, Joseph Coombs was found,
With solemn step his march around
Among the patients, pacing slowly -
Disciple of the meek and lowly,
Who afterwards oft turned the key
On many a goodly company.
In that strong work of mason's trowel,
Ruled now by Alexander Powell.
And William Addison, no more -
As trim a soldier as e'er wore
The uniform, or bravely bore
His head erect, with step as light
As wings that touch the air in flight.
Well had he won and kept from harm
The honor'd stripes upon his arm.
Such men as he have been the stay
Of Britain in her darkest day!
And Sergeant Johnston who, with skill,
The raw and awkward squad could drill -
A warrior in air and tone,
Who had his country service done -
Straight as a ramrod, and his might
Of voice would Lambkin's soul delight.
And brave John Murphy - champion John!
I can't forget as I pass on.
As fine a fellow as e'er wore
The scarlet coat in days of yore.
With upright form of manliest grace,
With wondrous beauty in his face,
And perfect symmetry of limb;
Appollo might have envied him!
And then he was as brave and true
As e'er the sword or bayonet drew,
Full many a battle did he fight,
His injured comrade's wrongs to right;
For well he knew each mood and tense
Of the old art of self-defence;
And woe to him who dared a fling
With bold John Murphy in the ring.
There many a pugilistic martyr
Met his match and caught a Tartar.


Near where the George Street market stood
Lived William Northgraves, then a good
And skilful watch-maker, who's chime
Did regulate the march of time,
And Arthur Hopper, sporting blade,
Was in the same time serving trade,
Though guiltless of the modern tricks
Of time serving in politics;
He made gold rings for bridal matches,
As well as cleaned and mended watches.
And last of old watchmakers three,
I mention mild Maurice Dupuis,
Who's even tenor ne'er did vary
From the upright and exemplary,
At Corcoran's corner, now the stand
For carters, very near at hand,
Dwelt one who's unforgotten name
Is worthy of poetic fame;
With scientific sleight he bled,

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