Page images
PDF
EPUB

weighing about 80lbs. each, over a portage of nine miles.

The canoes, when they take their departure from La Chine, are loaded to within about six inches of the gunwale, or edge of the ca/ioe. Instead of oars, they use paddles, which they handle with great dexterity. They strike off, singing a song peculiar to themselves, called the Voyageur Song: one man takes the lead, and all the others join in a chorus. It is extremely pleasing to see people who are toiling hard, display such marks of good humour and contentment, although they know, that for a space of more than 2000 miles their exertions must be unremitting, and their living very poor; for, in the little space allowed in the canoe for provisions, you find none of the luxuries, and a very scanty supply of the necessaries, of life. The song is of great use: they keep time with their paddles to its measured cadence, and, by uniting their force, increase its effect considerably.

The Canadian is of a lively, gay temper; well calculated for the arduous task which he has to perform in his capacity of voyageur.

The character of the voyageur resembles, very much that of the British sailor: he is equally rough in his manners and appearance—equally thoughtless and improvident: he endures the greatest fatigue without complaining, and obeys implicitly the orders of the person who has charge of the canoe (his bourgeois, as he is called), without ever pretending to question or doubt their propriety: he paddles and sings, and eats and sleeps, regardless of to-morrow. Like the jolly tar, he no sooner receives his wages than he commences a life of extravagance and debauchery. The sailor knows that money at sea can be of no use to him, and he hastens to rid himself of his gold. The voyageur, in like manner, knows that money is of no use in the interior of America; and he, too, hastens to get quit of his dollars. Although they act in different situations, yet their minds are operated on in the same way: hence arises a resemblance of character.

From Montreal, Upper Canada is sup

plied with a great variety of merchandize, which is conveyed up the river St. Lawrence in bateaux, or flat-bottomed boats, carrying from four to five tons. They are about forty feet in length, by six feet in breadth. The return cargo is flour, potash, wheat, peltries, &c. They commence their voyage at Lachine, go as high as Kingston, situated near the commencement of Lake Ontario, where the goods are put into large vessels, to be carried up to Niagara. The bateaux take in a return cargo, and get into Lachine after ten or twelve days absence. The distance from Lachine to Kingston is about 200 miles.

The government have stores at Lachine for the reception of a variety of different sorts of goods, of which they think proper to make presents to the Indians.

You probably expect that I should give you some account of the Indians. Doubtless I have seen hundreds of them; but those were such miserable-looking, disgusting , creatures, that I do not undertake the task of describing them with any degree of pleasure.

Indians of different nations, and from different parts of America connected with Canada, come annually to Quebec, to Montreal, and to other military posts, to receive the presents which the government annually distribute amongst them. Those who come to Quebec encamp at a little distance from the town, on the banks of the St. Lawrence; and I took the earliest opportunity to go and see them, gratifying a curiosity so natural to Europeans.

Conceive to yourself a parcel of men, women, and children, huddled together under a wigwam, formed of pieces of wood, seven or eight feet in length, the ends fixed in the ground, and meeting at the top, form a kind of sloping frame, which is covered with the bark of the birch-tree, to keep out the inclemencies of the weather—a very poor covering indeed. They are half naked, wholly covered with dirt, and oily paints, and swarming with vermin; diminutive, and weakly in their persons and appearance; and having a physiognomy, in which you look in vain for traces of intelligence. I do not mean to say that they are without the reasoning faculty, but they cer-r tainly appear excessively stupid. I understand that their numbers decrease every year, —if they were wholly extinct, I do not think that human nature would be a great sufferer by it.

If you wish to see a very pretty story about the dignity of the Indian, you have only to consult Raynal, who says a great deal more for them than dame nature warrants. Their stupid apathy and indifference about the objects of civilized society is called noble independence of spirit. To the same source is traced their adopting a wandering life, with all its privations and hardships, in preference to a fixed abode, and the culture of the ground. Frequent attempts have been made to domesticate them, by taking them when young children into European families, and treating them with every attention. It is surprising, however, that there is no instance of succeeding in the attempt, or of their learning any occupation and becoming members of civilized society.

Two Indians were in England not long since. They had been employed as common voyageurs in the northwest trade, and had learned a little English.—They found means to get to England by way of New

« PreviousContinue »