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- Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 5/31 -

which had been getting ready for decapitation. After home wants were provided for, the rest were sent to market.

The winter's work now began in earnest, for whatever may be said about the enjoyment of Canadian winter life--and it is an enjoyable time to the Canadian--there are few who really enjoy it so much as the farmer. He cannot, however, do like bruin--roll himself up in the fall, and suck his paw until spring in a state of semi-unconsciousness, for his cares are numerous and imperious, his work varied and laborious. His large stock demands regular attention, and must be fed morning and night. The great barn filled with grain had to be threshed, for the cattle needed the straw, and the grain had to be got out for the market. So day after day he and his men hammered away with the flail, or spread the sheaves on the barn floor to be trampled out by horses. Threshing machines were unknown then, as were all the labour-saving machines now so extensively used by the farmer. His muscular arm was the only machine he then had to rely upon, and if it did not accomplish much, it succeeded in doing its work well, and in providing him with all his modest wants. Then the fanning mill came into play to clean the grain, after which it was carried to the granary, whence again it was taken either to the mill or to market. Winter was also the time to get out the logs from the woods, and to haul them to the mill to be sawed in the spring--we always had a use for boards. These saw mills, built on sap-streams, which ran dry as soon as the spring freshets were over, were like the cider mills, small rough structures. They had but one upright saw, which, owing to its primitive construction, did not move as now, with lightning rapidity, nor did it turn out a very large quantity of stuff. It answered the purpose of the day, however, and that was all that was required or expected of it. Rails, also, had to be split and drawn to where new fences were wanted, or where old ones needed repairs. There were flour, beef, mutton, butter, apples, and a score more of things to be taken to market and disposed of. But, notwithstanding all this, the winter was a good, joyful time for the farmer--a time, moreover, when the social requisites of his nature received the most attention. Often the horses would be put to the sleigh, and we would set off, well bundled up, to visit some friends a few miles distant, or, as frequently happened, to visit an uncle or an aunt, far away in the new settlements. The roads often wound along for miles through the forest, and it was great fun for us youngsters to be dashing along behind a spirited team, now around the trunks of great trees, or under the low-hanging boughs of the spruce or cedar, laden with snow, which sometimes shed their heavy load upon our head. But after a while the cold would seize upon us, and we would wish our journey at an end.

The horses, white with frost, would then be pressed on faster, and would bring us at length to the door. In a few moments we would all be seated round the glowing fire, which would soon quiet our chattering teeth, thaw us out, and prepare us to take our places at the repast which had been getting ready in the meantime. We were sure to do justice to the good things which the table provided.

Many of these early days start up vividly and brightly before me, particularly since I have grown to manhood, and lived amid other surroundings. Among the most pleasing of these recollections are some of my drives on a moonlight night, when the sleighing was good, and when the sleigh, with its robes and rugs, was packed with a merry lot of girls and boys (we had no ladies and gentlemen then). Off we would set, spanking along over the crisp snow, which creaked and cracked under the runners, making a low murmuring sound in harmony with the sleigh-bells. When could a more fitting time be found for a pleasure-ride than on one of those clear calm nights; when the earth, wrapped in her mantle of snow, glistened and sparkled in the moonbeams, and the blue vault of heaven glittered with countless stars, whose brilliancy seemed intensified by the cold--when the aurora borealis waved and danced across the northern sky, and the frost noiselessly fell like flakes of silver upon a scene at once inspiriting, exhilarating and joyous! How the merry laugh floated along in the evening air, as we dashed along the road! How sweetly the merry song and chorus echoed through the silent wood; while our hearts were aglow with excitement, and all nature seemed to respond to the happy scene!

When the frosty nights set in, we were always on the _qui vive_ for a skating revel on some pond near by, and our eagerness to enjoy the sport frequently led to a ducking. But very soon the large ponds, and then the bay, were frozen over, when we could indulge in the fun to our heart's content. My first attempts were made under considerable difficulties, but perseverance bridges the way over many obstacles, and so, with my father's skates, which were over a foot long, and which required no little ingenuity to fasten to my feet, I made my first attempt on the ice. Soon, however, in the growth of my feet, this trouble was overcome, and I could whirl over the ice with anyone. The girls did not share in this exhilarating exercise then; indeed their doing so would have been thought quite improper. As our time was usually taken up with school through the day, and with such chores as feeding cattle and bringing wood in for the fire when we returned at night, we would sally out after supper, on moonlight nights, and, full of life and hilarity, fly over the ice, singing and shouting, and making the night ring with our merriment. There was plenty of room on the bay, and early in the season there were miles of ice, smooth as glass and clear as crystal, reflecting the stars which sparkled and glittered beneath our feet, as though we were gliding over a sea of silver set with brilliants.

Ho for the bay, the ice-bound bay! The moon is up, the stars are bright; The air is keen, but let it play-- We're proof against Jack Frost to-night. With a sturdy swing and lengthy stride, The glassy ice shall feel our steel; And through the welkin far and wide The echo of our song shall peal.

CHORUS.--Hurrah, boys, hurrah! skates on and away! You may lag at your work, but never at play; Give wing to your feet, and make the ice ring, Give voice to your mirth, and merrily sing.

Ho for the boy who does not care A fig for cold or northern blast! Whose winged feet can cut the air Swift as an arrow from bowman cast: Who can give a long and hearty chase, And wheel and whirl; then in a trice Inscribe his name in the polished face, Of the cold and clear and glistening ice.


Ho, boys! the night is waning fast; The moon's last rays but faintly gleam. The hours have glided swiftly past, And we must home to rest and dream. The morning's light must find us moving, Ready our daily tasks to do; This is the way we have of proving We can do our part at working too.




Visiting for the older folk and sleigh-riding for the younger were the principal amusements of the winter. The life then led was very plain and uneventful. There was no ostentatious display, or assumption of superiority by the "first families." Indeed there was no room for the lines of demarcation which exist in these days. All had to struggle for a home and home comforts, and if some had been more successful in the rough battle of pioneer life than others, they saw no reason why they should be elated or puffed up over it. Neighbours were too scarce to be coldly or haughtily treated. They had hewn their way, side by side, into the fastnesses of the Canadian bush, and therefore stood on one common level. But few superfluities could be found either in their houses or on their persons. Their dress was of home-made fabric, plain, often coarse, but substantial and comfortable. Their manners were cordial and hearty, even to brusqueness, but they were true friends and honest counsellors, rejoicing with their neighbours in prosperity, and sympathising when days of darkness visited their homes. Modern refinement had not crept into their domestic circle to disturb it with shams and pretensions. Fashion had no court wherein to adjudicate on matters of dress. Time- worn styles of dress and living were considered the best, and hence there was no rivalry or foolish display in either. Both old and young enjoyed an evening at a friend's house, where they were sure to be welcomed, and where a well-supplied table always greeted them. The home amusements were very limited. Music, with its refining power, was uncultivated, and indeed almost unknown. There were no musical instruments, unless some wandering fiddler happened to come along to delight both old and young with his crazy instrument. There were no critical ears to detect discordant sounds, or be displeased with the poor execution of the rambling musician. The young folk would sometimes spirit him away to the village tavern, which was usually provided with a large room called a ball-room, where he would fiddle while they danced the hours gaily away. At home the family gathered round the glowing fire, where work and conversation moved on together. The old motto of "Early to bed, and early to rise" was strictly observed. Nine o'clock usually found the household wrapt in slumber. In the morning all were up and breakfast was over usually before seven. As soon as it began to get light, the men and boys started for the barn to feed the cattle and thresh; and thus the winter wore away.

Very little things sometimes contribute largely to the comfort of a family, and among those I may mention the lucifer match, then unknown. It was necessary to carefully cover up the live coals on the hearth before going to bed, so that there would be something to start the fire with in the morning. This precaution rarely failed with good hard-wood coals. But sometimes they died out, and then some one would have to go to a neighbour's house for fire, a thing which I have done sometimes, and it was not nice to have to crawl out of my warm nest and run through the keen cold air for a half mile or more to fetch some live coals, before the morning light had broken in the east. My father usually kept some bundles of finely split pine sticks tipped with brimstone for starting a fire. With these, if there was only a spark left, a fire could soon be made.

But little time was given to sport, although there was plenty of large game. There was something of more importance always claiming attention. In the winter an occasional deer might be shot, and foxes were sometimes taken in traps. It required a good deal of experience and skill to set a

Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago - 5/31

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