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- Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 2/31 -


entry into the world, though I was present when the great event occurred; but I have every reason to believe the date given is correct, for I have it from my mother and father, who were there at the time, and I think my mother had pretty good reason to know all about it. I was the first of the family, though my parents had been married for more than five years before I presented myself as their hopeful heir, and to demand from them more attention than they anticipated. "Children," says the Psalmist, "are an heritage, and he who hath his quiver full of them shall not be ashamed; they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." I do not know what effect this had on my father's enemies, if he had any; but later experience has proved to me that those who rear a numerous progeny go through a vast deal of trouble and anxiety. At any rate I made my appearance on the stage, and began my performance behind the footlights of domestic bliss. I must have been a success, for I called forth a great deal of applause from my parents, and received their undivided attention. But other actors came upon the boards in more rapid succession, so that in a few years the quiver of my father was well filled, and he might have met "his enemies in the gate."

My father, when he married, bought a farm. Of course it was all woods. Such were the only farms available for young folk to commence life with in those days. Doubtless there was a good deal of romance in it. Love in a cot; the smoke gracefully curling; the wood-pecker tapping, and all that; very pretty. But alas, in this work-a-day world, particularly the new one upon which my parents then entered, these silver linings were not observed. They had too much of the prose of life.

A house was built--a log one, of the Canadian rustic style then much in vogue, containing one room, and that not very large either; and to this my father brought his young bride. Their outfit consisted, on his part, of a colt, a yoke of steers, a couple of sheep, some pigs, a gun, and an axe. My mother's _dot_ comprised a heifer, bed and bedding, a table and chairs, a chest of linen, some dishes, and a few other necessary items with which to begin housekeeping. This will not seem a very lavish set-out for a young couple on the part of parents who were at that time more than usually well-off. But there was a large family on both sides, and the old people then thought it the better way to let the young folk try their hand at making a living before they gave them of their abundance. If they succeeded they wouldn't need much, and if they did not, it would come better after a while.

My father was one of a class of young men not uncommon in those days, who possessed energy and activity. He was bound to win. What the old people gave was cheerfully accepted, and he went to work to acquire the necessaries and comforts of life with his own hands. He chopped his way into the stubborn wood and added field to field. The battle had now been waged for seven or eight years; an addition had been made to the house; other small comforts had been added, and the nucleus of future competence fairly established.

One of my first recollections is in connection with the small log barn he had built, and which up to that date had not been enlarged. He carried me out one day in his arms, and put me in a barrel in the middle of the floor. This was covered with loosened sheaves of wheat, which he kept turning over with a wooden fork, while the oxen and horse were driven round and round me. I did not know what it all meant then, but I afterwards learned that he was threshing. This was one of the first rude scenes in the drama of the early settlers' life to which I was introduced, and in which I had to take a more practical part in after years. I took part, also, very early in life, in sugar-making. The sap- bush was not very far away from the house, and the sap-boiling was under the direction of my mother, who mustered all the pots and kettles she could command, and when they were properly suspended over the fire on wooden hooks, she watched them, and rocked me in a sap-trough. Father's work consisted in bringing in the sap with two pails, which were carried by a wooden collar about three feet long, and made to fit the shoulder, from each end of which were fastened two cords with hooks to receive the bail of the pails, leaving the arms free except to steady them. He had also to cut wood for the fire. I afterwards came to take a more active part in these duties, and used to wish I could go back to my primitive cradle. But time pushed me on whether I would or not, until I scaled the mountain top of life's activities; and now, when quietly descending into the valley, my gaze is turned affectionately towards those early days. I do not think they were always bright and joyous, and I am sure I often chafed under the burdens imposed upon me; but how inviting they seem when viewed through the golden haze of retrospection.

My next recollection is the raising of a frame barn behind the house, and of a niece of my father's holding me in her arms to see the men pushing up the heavy "bents" with long poles. The noise of the men shouting and driving in the wooden pins with great wooden beetles, away up in the beams and stringers, alarmed me a great deal, but it all went up, and then one of the men mounted the plate (the timber on which the foot of the rafter rests) with a bottle in his hand, and swinging it round his head three times, threw it off in the field. If the bottle was unbroken it was an omen of good luck. The bottle, I remember, was picked up whole, and shouts of congratulation followed. Hence, I suppose, the prosperity that attended my father.

The only other recollection I have of this place was of my father, who was a very ingenious man, and could turn his hand to almost everything, making a cradle for my sister, for this addition to our number had occurred. I have no remembrance of any such fanciful crib being made for my slumbers. Perhaps the sap-trough did duty for me in the house as well as in the bush. The next thing was our removal, which took place in the winter, and all that I can recall of it is that my uncle took my mother, sister, and myself away in a sleigh, and we never returned to the little log house. My father had sold his farm, bought half of his old home, and come to live with his parents. They were Quakers. My grandfather was a short, robust old man, and very particular about his personal appearance. Half a century has elapsed since then, but the picture of the old man taking his walks about the place, in his closely-fitting snuff-brown cut-away coat, knee-breeches, broad-brimmed hat and silver- headed cane is distinctively fixed in my memory. He died soon after we took up our residence with him, and the number who came from all parts of the country to the funeral was a great surprise to me. I could not imagine where so many people came from. The custom prevailed then, and no doubt does still, when a death occurred, to send a messenger, who called at every house for many miles around to give notice of the death, and of when and where the interment would take place.

[Illustration: THE FIRST HOME.]

My grandmother was a tall, neat, motherly old woman, beloved by everybody. She lived a number of years after her husband's death, and I seem to see her now, sitting at one side of the old fire-place knitting. She was always knitting, and turning out scores of thick warm socks and mittens for her grandchildren.

At this time a great change had taken place, both in the appearance of the country and in the condition of the people. It is true that many of the first settlers had ceased from their labours, but there were a good many left--old people now, who were quietly enjoying, in their declining years, the fruit of their early industry. Commodious dwellings had taken the place of the first rude houses. Large frame barns and outhouses had grown out of the small log ones. The forest in the immediate neighbourhood had been cleared away, and well-tilled fields occupied its place. Coarse and scanty fare had been supplanted by a rich abundance of all the requisites that go to make home a scene of pleasure and contentment. Altogether a substantial prosperity was apparent. A genuine content and a hearty good will, one towards another, existed in all the older parts. The settled part as yet, however, formed only a very narrow belt extending along the bay and lake shores. The great forest lay close at hand in the rear, and the second generation, as in the case of my father, had only to go a few miles to find it, and commence for themselves the laborious struggle of clearing it away.

The old home, as it was called, was always a place of attraction, and especially so to the young people, who were sure of finding good cheer at grandfather's. What fun, after the small place called home, to have the run of a dozen rooms, to haunt the big cellar, with its great heaps of potatoes and vegetables, huge casks of cider, and well-filled bins of apples, or to sit at the table loaded with the good things which grandmother only could supply. How delicious the large piece of pumpkin pie tasted, and how toothsome the rich crullers that melted in the mouth! Dear old body! I can see her now going to the great cupboard to get me something saying as she goes, "I'm sure the child is hungry." And it was true, he was always hungry; and how he managed to stow away so much is a mystery I cannot now explain. There was no place in the world more to be desired than this, and no spot in all the past the recollection of which is more bright and joyous.

My father now assumed the management of affairs. The old people reserved one room to themselves, but it was free to all, particularly to us children. It was hard to tell sometimes which to choose, whether the kitchen, where the family were gathered round the cheerful logs blazing brightly in the big fire-place, or a stretch on the soft rag-carpet beside the box stove in grandmother's room. This room was also a sanctuary to which we often fled to escape punishment after doing some mischief. We were sure of an advocate there, if we could reach it in time.

The house was a frame one, as nearly all the best houses were in those days, and was painted a dark yellow. There were two kitchens, one used for washing and doing the heavier household work in; the other, considerably larger, was used by the family. In the latter was the large fire-place, around which gathered in the winter time bright and happy faces; where the old men smoked their pipes in peaceful reverie, or delighted us with stories of other days; where mother darned her socks, and father mended our boots; where the girls were sewing, and uncles were scraping axe-handles with bits of glass, to make them smooth. There were no drones in farm-houses then; there was something for every one to do. At one side of the fire-place was the large brick oven with its gaping mouth, closed with a small door, easily removed, where the bread and pies were baked. Within the fire-place was an iron crane securely fastened in the jamb, and made to swing in and out with its row of iron pot-hooks of different lengths, on which to hang the pots used in cooking. Cook stoves had not yet appeared to cheer the housewife and revolutionize the kitchen. Joints of meat and poultry were roasted on turning spits, or were suspended before the fire by a cord and wire attached to the ceiling. Cooking was attended with more difficulties then. Meat was fried in long-handled pans, and the short-cake that so often graced the supper table, and played such havoc with the butter and honey, with the pancakes that came piping hot on the breakfast table, owed their finishing touch to the frying pan. The latter, however, were more frequently baked on a large griddle with a bow handle made to hook on the crane. This, on account of its larger surface, enabled the cook to turn out these much-prized cakes, when properly made, with greater speed; and in a large family an expert hand was required to keep up the supply. Some years later an ingenious Yankee invented what was called a "Reflector," made of bright tin for baking. It was a small tin oven with a slanting top, open at one side, and when required for use was set before the fire on the hearth. This simple contrivance was a great convenience, and came into general use. Modern inventions in the appliances for cooking have very much lessened the labour and increased the possibilities of supplying a variety of dishes, but it has not improved the quality of them. There were no better caterers to hungry stomachs than our mothers, whose practical education had been received in grandmother's kitchen. The other rooms of the house comprised a sitting-room--used only when there was company--a parlour, four


Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 2/31

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