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- Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 16/31 -

poles for pushing. They continued to carry, in cargoes of five tons, all the merchandise that passed to Upper Canada. Sometimes these boats were provided with a makeshift upper cabin, which consisted of an awning of oilcloth, supported on hoops like the roof of an American, Quaker, or gipsy waggon. If further provided with half a dozen chairs and a table, this cabin was deemed the height of primitive luxury. The batteaux went in brigades, which generally consisted of five boats. Against the swiftest currents and rapids the men poled their way up; and when the resisting element was too much for their strength, they fastened a rope to the bow, and, plunging into the water, dragged her by main strength up the boiling cataract. From Lachine to Kingston, the average voyage was ten to twelve days, though it was occasionally made in seven; an average as long as a voyage across the Atlantic now. The Durham boat, also then doing duty on this route, was a flat-bottomed barge, but it differed from the batteaux in having a slip-keel and nearly twice its capacity. This primitive mode of travelling had its poetic side. Amid all the hardships of their vocation, the French Canadian boatmen were ever light of spirit, and they enlivened the passage by carolling their boat songs; one of which inspired Moore to write his immortal ballad." [Footnote: Trout's Railways of Canada, 1870-1.]

The country squire, if he had occasion to go from home, mounted his horse, and, with his saddle-bags strapped behind him, jogged along the highway or through the bush at the rate of forty or fifty miles a day. I remember my father going to New York in 1839. He crossed by steamboat from Kingston to Oswego; thence to Rome, in New York State, by canal- boat, and thence by rail and steamer to New York.



The people were alive at a very early date to the importance of improving the roads; and as far back as 1793 an Act was passed at Niagara, then the seat of government, placing the roads under overseers or road-masters, as they were called, appointed by the ratepaying inhabitants at their annual town meetings. Every man was required to bring tools, and to work from three to twelve days. There was no property distinction, and the time was at the discretion of the roadmaster. This soon gave cause for dissatisfaction, and reasonably, for it was hardly fair to expect a poor man to contribute as much toward the improvement of highways as his rich neighbour. The Act was amended, and the number of days' work determined by the assessment roll. The power of opening new roads, or altering the course of old ones, was vested in the Quarter Sessions. This matter is now under the control of the County Councils. The first government appropriation for roads was made in 1804, when L1,000 was granted; but between 1830-33, $512,000 was provided for the improvement and opening up of new roads. The road from Kingston to York was contracted for by Dantford, an American, in 1800, at $90 per mile, two rods wide. The first Act required that every man should clear a road across his own lot, but it made no provision for the Clergy Reserves and Crown Lands, and hence the crooked roads that existed at one time in the Province. Originally the roads were marked out by blazing the trees through the woods as a guide for the pedestrian. Then the boughs were cut away, so that a man could ride through on horseback. Then followed the sleighs; and finally the trees were cleared off, so that a waggon could pass. "The great leading roads of the Province had received little improvement beyond being graded, and the swamps [had been] made passable by laying the round trunks of trees side by side across the roadway. Their supposed resemblance to the king's corduroy cloth gained for these crossways the name of corduroy roads. The earth roads were passably good when covered with the snows of winter, or when dried up in the summer sun; but even then a thaw or rain made them all but impassable. The rains of autumn and the thaws of spring converted them into a mass of liquid mud, such as amphibious animals might delight to revel in. Except an occasional legislative grant of a few thousand pounds for the whole Province, which was ill- expended, and often not accounted for at all, the great leading roads, as well as all other roads, depended, in Upper Canada, for their improvement on statute labour." [Footnote: II.]

[Illustration: THE OLD SCHOOL HOUSE.]

The Rev. Isaac Fidler, writing in 1831, says: "On our arrival at Oswego, I proceeded to the harbour in quest of a trading vessel bound for York, in Canada, and had the good fortune to find one that would sail in an hour. I agreed with the captain for nine dollars, for myself, family, and baggage, and he on his part assured me that he would land me safe in twenty-four hours. Our provision was included in the fare. Instead of reaching York in one day, we were five days on the lake. There were two passengers, besides ourselves, equally disappointed and impatient. The cabin of the vessel served for the sitting, eating, and sleeping room of passengers, captain and crew. I expostulated strongly on this usage, but the captain informed me he had no alternative. The place commonly assigned to sailors had not been fitted up. We were forced to tolerate this inconvenience. The sailors slept on the floor, and assigned the berths to the passengers, but not from choice. The food generally placed before us for dinner was salt pork, potatoes, bread, water and salt; tea, bread and butter, and sometimes salt pork for breakfast and tea;" to which he adds, "no supper." One would think, under the circumstances, this privation would have been a cause for thankfulness.

The same writer speaks of a journey to Montreal the following year: "From York to Montreal, we had three several alterations of steamboats and coaches. The steamboat we now entered was moored by a ledge of ice, of a thickness so great as to conceal entirely the vessel, till we approached close upon it. We embarked by steps excavated in the ice, for the convenience of the passengers."

The following advertisement, from the _Christian Guardian_ of 1830, may prove not uninteresting as an evidence of the competition then existing between the coach and steamboat, and is pretty conclusive that at that date the latter was not considered very much superior or more expeditious:


"The public are respectfully informed that a line of stages will run regularly between YORK and the CARRYING PLACE, [Footnote: The Carrying Place is at the head of the Bay of Quinte.] twice a week, the remainder of the season, leaving YORK every MONDAY and THURSDAY morning at 4 o'clock; passing through the beautiful townships of Pickering, Whitby, Darlington and Clark, and the pleasant villages of Port Hope; Cobourg and Colborne, and arriving at the CARRYING PLACE the same evening. Will leave the CARRYING PLACE every TUESDAY and FRIDAY morning at 4 o'clock, and arrive at York the same evening.

"The above arrangements are made in connection with the steamboat _Sir James Kempt_, so that passengers travelling this route will find a pleasant and speedy conveyance between York and Prescott, the road being very much repaired, and the line fitted up with good horses, new carriages, and careful drivers. Fare through from York to Prescott, L2 10s, the same as the lake boats. Intermediate distances, fare as usual. All baggage at the risk of the owner. N.B.--Extras furnished at York, Cobourg, or the Carrying Place, on reasonable terms.


"York, June 9th. 1830."

I remember travelling from Hamilton to Niagara in November, 1846. We left the hotel at 6 p.m. Our stage, for such it was called, was a lumber waggon, with a rude canvas cover to protect us from the rain, under which were four seats, and I have a distinct recollection that long before we got to our journey's end we discovered that they were not very comfortable. There were seven passengers and the driver. The luggage was corded on behind in some fashion, and under the seats were crowded parcels, so that when we got in we found it difficult to move or to get out. One of our passengers, a woman with a young child, did not contribute to our enjoyment, or make the ride any more pleasant, for the latter poor unfortunate screamed nearly the whole night through. Occasionally it would settle down into a low whine, when a sudden lurch of the waggon or a severe jolt would set it off again with full force. The night was very dark, and continued so throughout, with dashes of rain. The roads were very bad, and two or three times we had to get out and walk, a thing we did not relish, as it was almost impossible for us to pick our way, and the only thing for it was to push on as well as we could through the mud and darkness. We reached Niagara just as the sun was rising. Our appearance can readily be imagined.

"In 1825, William L. Mackenzie described the road between York and Kingston as among the worst that human foot ever trod, and down to the latest day before the railroad era, the travellers in the Canadian stage coach were lucky if, when a hill had to be ascended, or a bad spot passed, they had not to alight and trudge ankle deep through the mud. The rate at which it was possible to travel in stage coaches depended on the elements. In spring, when the roads were water-choked and rut- gullied, the rate might be reduced to two miles an hour for several miles on the worst sections. The coaches were liable to be embedded in the mud, and the passengers had to dismount and assist in prying them out by means of rails obtained from the fences." [Footnote: Trout's _Railways of Canada_]

Such was the condition of the roads up to, and for a considerable time after, 1830, and such were the means provided for the public who were forced to use them. It can easily be conceived, that the inducements for pleasure trips were so questionable that the only people who journeyed, either by land or water, were those whose business necessities compelled them to do so. Even in 1837, the only road near Toronto on which it was possible to take a drive was Y'onge Street, which had been macadamized a distance of twelve miles. But the improvements since then, and the facilities for quick transit, have been very great. The Government has spent large sums of money in the construction of roads and bridges. A system of thorough grading and drainage has been adopted. In wet swampy land, the corduroy has given place to macadamized or gravel roads, of which there are about 4,000 miles in the Province. [Footnote: In order to ascertain the number of miles of macadamized roads in the Province, after hunting in vain in other quarters, I addressed a circular to the Clerk of the County Council in each county, and received thirty replies, out of thirty-seven. From these I gathered that there were about the number of miles, above stated. Several replied that they had no means of giving the desired information, and others thought there were about so many miles. I was forced to the conclusion that the road accounts of the Province were not very systematically kept.] Old log bridges have been superseded by stone, iron, and well-constructed wooden ones, so that in the older sections the farmer is enabled to reach his market with a well-loaded waggon during the fall and spring. The old system of tolls has been pretty much done away with, and even in the remote townships the Government has been alive to the importance of uninterrupted communication, and has opened up good central highways. The batteaux and sailing vessels, as a means of travel, with the old steamer and its cramped up cabin in the hold, and its slow pace, have decayed and rotted

Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 16/31

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