« PreviousContinue »
should be fixed, in preference, on the fur-trade, which seems to be the great or permanent occupation of mercantile capital in this part of America. It fell into the hands of English merchants immediately after the conquest and cession of the province, and was for several years prosecuted by individuals on their separate account: but, about thirty years ago, an association was formed, which, under the name of the North-west Company, has pursued this difficult traffic to a much greater extent than it could have been carried by unconnected merchants. The Company having no exclusive privilege, a second association took place, and was conducted separately for a considerable time: but, in late years, their capitals have been united, and the number of persons interested in the concern is said to exceed forty ; while their clerks, travellers, and Indian servants, amount to upwards of three thousand. The capital employed is unavoidably large, on account of the slowness of the returns :
The trade is now pushed to the very extremity of the continent ; from the coast of Labrador to the Pacific Ocean, extending to the northward beyond the arctic circle. The goods sent up annually from Montreal, for the barter of furs from the Indians, are upwards of four years before they produce a return. The dangers and difficulties attending the transportation of these aticles so many thousand miles across rivers, lakes, and portages, have been so well described by Sir Alexander M-Kenzie, in his history of the fur trade, that it is unnecessary for me to detail them here : it is sufficient to say that they surpass any thing that can be formed in idea, by persons who never explored the vast expanse of waters, the gloomy and interminable fo. rests, which cover the extensive dominions of British North America.
• There is another association established within these few years, called the The South-west or Michillimakinak Company : some of the partners in this association have also shares in the North-west Company, but the general concern is totally separate. The South-west merchants pursue their trade across the lakes Ontario and Erie, and down the rivers Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi, in the territory of the United States.'
I shall perhaps be hardly credited, when I say that manufactured furs can be obtained considerably cheaper in England than in Canada; that muffs, tippets, caps, and hats, are all much inferior, in their appearance, to those articles in London, and above a third higher in price. The Canadian furriers do not yet possess the art of turning their furs to the most advantage ; their muffs and caps are heavy and cumbersome; and I hazard little in saying that a London furrier would make three muffs out of the quantity which a Canadian puts into one.'
Our settlements in the East and West Indies subject those of our countrymen who emigrate to so complete a change of climate, that it becomes very doubtful whether any acquisition of property can compensate, in a general view, for the loss • Rev. JULY, 1814,
sustained by the national population. From this serious objection, our North American colonies are in a great measure exempt; the climate of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, being seldom fatal to persons who have sound lungs. The chief disadvantage of the North American climate consists in the extreme degree to which heat and cold predominate in their respective seasons. While in our own country a rise in the thermometer to 80% is deemed unusual and oppressive, in Canada it is commonly found, in the heat of summer, at 90°, 100°, and even 103°. In winter, the fall below the medium cold of England is still more remarkable ; the mean of the winter-months being about o, while a fall to 20° or 30° below o is far from unprecedented in the depth of the season :
The greatest degree of cold experienced during the winter I re"mained at Quebec, was on the 15th February, when the thermometer fell 30 degrees below o. The preceding month it had been several times as low as 15 and 18, and at one time 26 degrees below o. The greatest degree of cold which I have heard of in Canada was 36 below o. On the coldest days I have walked through the town, and with the wind at my back suffered very little inconvenience ; but when I turned about, I found, as the keen air blew on my face, that my cheeks became numbed and insensible, and would most likely have been frost-bitten, had I not rubbed them briskly with my hands, and restored the circulation of the blood. It is not uncommon on those severe days for people to have their checks, nose, or ears, frost-bitten; and often before they are aware of it. It is then dangerous to approach the fire hastily. The frost-bitten parts must be rubbed with snow until the blood circulates, otherwise mortification would in all probability ensue.
• The winter from Christmas to Lady-day is almost always remarkable for a fine, clear, azure sky seldom obscured by fogs or clouds; and the dry frosty weather is rarely interrupted by falls of snow, sleet, or rain. These advantages render a Canadian winter so agreeable and pleasant, that the inhabitants are never under the necessity of changing their dress, from any sudden alteration of the weather, un. less it is to discard their great coats and fur caps, which is rendered necessary sometimes by the powerful warmth of the sun, whose beams are scarcely ever intercepted by a single cloud. The aurora borealis is common in Canada, and frequently illuminates the winter evening with its playful light.'
• The Canadians feel the cold more than Europeans on their first arrival. The constant use of stoves renders them very little better than hot-house plants during winter, and in summer they are exposed to a burning sun. These things do not affect the European constitu• tion for the first two or three years, but afterwards it becomes as sensible to the heat and cold as that of the Canadians. It may astonish those who have heard such dreadful accounts of a Canadian winter, when I assert it as a fact, that the people of Great Britain suffer more from the cold than the people of Canada; or at least they are more
exposed to it; for they seldom make any material alteration in their dress, either summer or winter.'
• The months of March and April are in general very hot, and the sun then begins to have great power, which is considerably heightened by the reflection of the snow and ice. The inhabitants are more tanned by the reflection of the snow in these months than they are at any other season of the year by the sun. It is likewise so very hurtful to the eyes, that they are obliged to wear shades of green gauze fastened to their hats.
The snow begins to melt early in April, and by the second or third week it is generally all gone. During this period it is dreadful walking in town, and as bad travelling in the country. The streets of Quebec are inundated with snow-water, and the kennels have the appearance and sound of so many little rapids. The ice in the river is seldom totally gone before the first week in May. The breaking up of the ice in the vicinity of Quebec. is not attended with any remarkable noise or appearance; but at Montreal, and the upper parts of the river, where it is frozen quite across, I am told it has a grand appearance, and breaks up with loud reports. The lake ice comes down in prodigious quantities for several days, bringing with it the roots and branches of trees which it tears from the islands and shores in its progress. Until these have passed, none of the river-vessels can leave Quebec for Montreal.'
Travelling in Canada, as it may be expected in a country so imperfectly cultivated, is attended with many inconveniences.
The Post-Calashes are very ill adapted for a long journey; affording no shelter from the rain, the sun, or the heavy dews of the night. Water-conveyance by the St. Lawrence is eligible only in coming down the river; and the Canadians have not yet imitated their American neighbours in resorting to the use of the steam-boat. The chief compensation for the tedium of a river-passage is in the beauty of the surrounding landscape :
•The river St. Lawrence, all the way up on both sides, affords a variety of the most beautiful prospects. As far as the rapids of Richlieu, the shores are steep, rugged, and lofty ; in some places projecting into the river in the form of small capes and promontories; and in others, receding into innumerable coves and bays, which in many parts expand the river to a considerable breadth. . The banks are covered with trees and shrubs of various kinds, except in a few places where the black lime-slate, or lime-stone rock, shivers in thin pieces or moulders into dust. On the summit of the shores, the white farm-houses, and neat churches, placed at almost regular distances, appear at intervals between clumps of trees and rich meadows. In other parts the shores are seen sloping into cultivated valleys covered, with a beautiful rich verdure, and adorned with small neat villages, in which the church, the houses of the curé and the seignior, are generally the most conspicuous. Thick umbrageous forests, and distant mountains whose summita mingle with the clouds, complete the charming scenery, which is viewed to great advantage during a voyage up R 2
the river, and which presents to the eye a succession of the most beautiful landscapes.
This delightful scenery continues to improve as the voyager approaches Montreal. The extent of population and of culture evidently increases in that direction, while the notice of the stranger is attracted by houses and villages scattered every where along the banks, and intermingled with clusters of plantations. Montreal itself, though on the whole the most comfortable residence in Canada, is in point of appearance heavy and gloomy, the houses being deficient in height, and consisting of ponderous masses of stone put together with very little taste. They are seldom more than two stories above the ground-floor, including garrets; and the streets, though regularly laid out, are deficient in width : but they are well paved, and the improvements now going on will render the town commodious, if not cheerful. The doors and window-shutters are covered with large sheets of tin, painted of a red or lead colour, which unluckily corresponds too closely with the darkness of the stone used in building. To be gratified with objects of beauty, it is necessary to quit the streets, and fix the eye on the environs : . All the principal North-west merchants reside at Montreal, which is the emporium of their trade, and the grand mart of the commerce carried on between Canada and the United States. They, and other respectable merchants, have country-houses a few miles from the city, which, with their numerous orchards and gardens well stocked with every variety of fruit-trees, shrubs, and flowers, render the surrounding country extremely beautiful and picturesque. The succession of rich and variegated objects that are presented to the eye of the spec: tator, from the base of the neighbouring mountain, cannot be surpassed in any part of Canada, with the exception, perhaps, of the view from Cape Diamond at Quebec. They are, however, of a very dif. serent nature, and may be described like Homer and Virgil ; the one grand, bold, and romantic; the other serene, beautiful, and elegant. Quebec has more of the majesty of nature ; Montreal more of the softness of art,'-
• The towns of Quebec and Montreal, including their suburbs, are said to contain about 12,000 inhabitants each, nearly three-fourths of whom are French'
The British inhabitants of Quebec consist of the government people; the military; a few persons belonging to the church, the law, and medicine; the merchants, and shopkeepers.
The French comprise the old noblesse and seigniors, most of whom are members of the government; the clergy, the advocates and notaries; the storekeepers.
These different classes form three distinct divisions of society, which contrive to keep at a respectful distance from each other.'
The sizes of Canada, both French and English, who inhabit be to erally of a middle stature, rather slender than robust,
&c. 245 and very rarely possess the blooming and tuddy complexion of the British ; a pale, sallow, or swarthy countenance characterizes the natives of Canada, and, with few exceptions, the whole of the American continent. The country-girls, who are nearly all French, (with the exception of those who reside in the back townships,) are pretty when very young, but from hard work and exposure to the sun they grow up coarse-featured and swarthy, and have all the sturdiness but none of the beauty of our Welsh girls.'
• The manners of the Canadians in the most flourishing periods of the French government are represented to have been by no means fa. vourable to literature and the arts, or to the promotion of knowledge among the rising generation. Those who lived in the country are said to have spent the greater part of the winter in idleness, thought. lessly sitting by the fire ; and when the return of spring called them out to the indispensable labours of the field, they ploughed the ground superficially, without manuring it, sowed it carelessly, and then relapsed into their former indolent course of life till the ap. proach of harvest.'— The education of their children was neglected, and, with but few exceptions, ignorance and illiterateness characterized the whole community; their deficiencies are noticed by General Murray, in his letter soon after the conquest." They are very igno. rant (says the General): it was the policy of the French governinent to keep them so. Printing was never permitted in Canada till we got possession of it, and few or none can read.”
o The British settlers who at this period established themselves in the province were so few, and withal so mean, both in birth and edu. cation, that little or no improvement could be expected from them : even the civil officers who were sent out to administer the government, were illiterate and dissipated characters.'· · As agriculture and commerce have increased, the British settlers have risen into consequence, and men of respectability been sent over to govern the country. The French inhabitants have however degenerated in proportion as the British have acquired importance. The noblesse and and seigniors have almost dwindled into the common mass of the vulgar ; their estates and seigniories have been divided among their children, or have fallen into the hands of the opulent British mer. chants. The few who still possess an estate or seigniory seldom live upon it, but reside wholly in the towns, equally averse from agricul. ture, commerce, and the arts. They visit their estates merely to pick up their rents.
• The education given by the British inhabitants to their children is no more than is necessary for mercantile affairs. A few are bred up to the law, and are sometimes sent home to England for education in .that important branch of the government.
• The French inhabitants send their boys to the French seminary, where there is just sufficient taught to make a priest, a clerk, an advocate, or a notary. These professions, however, must not be understood as requiring the same quantum of knowledge and learning as they do in England. A much smaller share of either will suffice for Canadian practice. As to the rest of the Canadian people, it is said that not more than five in a parish can read or write.