With thanks to early Canadian pioneers

2017 - a year for Canadians to celebrate on many fronts
By Douglas Phillips
Welcome to 2017, the year we celebrate our 150th birthday and a remarkable journey for a young country.
It is a milestone we can all be proud of - to live and work in Canada, voted one of best places in the world to live.
There will be celebrations in every community across the country. There will be new bank notes and coins, along with 150th anniversary community projects to mark the event.
This new year will also mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April and the City of Montreal will be 375 years old.
But before the Fathers of Confederation agreed to create Canada in Charlottetown, PEI, in September 1864, the settlement of the provinces had to take place.
The Atlantic and Quebec had seen the first wave of immigration that continued until the early 1800s, with the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. These were the immigrants who first settled in Upper Canada (now Ontario).
The second wave of settlers came after the War of 1812. Fearing another invasion from America, the colonial government, with the promise of cheap land grants, encouraged British, Scottish and Irish families to emigrate and settle the back country of places north of Lake Ontario.
British army regulars, known as half pay soldiers, were given land grants to move to Canada and settle. Among the settlers who came in the 1830s was novelist and botanist Catherine Parr Strickland Traill, with her husband Thomas Traill, a retired army officer. They settled in Peterborough County on the shores of Rice Lake.
During Catherine’s lifetime, she wrote many books about life in the back woods and the hardships of every day life as a pioneer wife. One of her bestselling books was The Canadian Settlers’ Guide, first published in 1855. The enlarged tenth edition published in 1860 gives a comprehensive guide to life as a settler, starting with questions for the men of the family:
“Do you have sufficient energy of character to enable you to conform to the changes that may await you in a new life? Canada is not the land for the idle sensualist. To wives and daughters, practical knowledge is highly valued, are you acquainted with the art of baking, curing meat, making butter and cheese, knitting and dressmaking. Everything that is done in the house by the hands of family is so much saved towards the paying for the land or building house and barns.”
The book was a wealth of information and outlined in detail all that a family would need to start their new life in Canada. It covered from choosing the right ship to make the trip across the Atlantic, noting that ladies must pack lots of country flannel and good strong boots for the rough roads. Forget the silk stockings and satin shoes unless they planned to live in the cities.
There was a chapter on the weather starting in January with the snow and sleigh rides, February, the coldest month, to taking care of cattle and drawing in firewood. It detailed annual temperatures and rain falls, noting September being one of the most delightful months.
Agricultural was the backbone of the economy and information was provided on the selection of land choosing the best quality the greatest consideration. Earlier settlers said a good choice was land timbered with oak, ash, elm and sugar maple trees. Good healthy trees meant good crop soil. Avoid land full of boulders as they were expensive to remove.
Hints on clearing the land was detailed and a good axe man should be able to cut an acre in eight days. Most farmers started with a log house or shanty made from the trees cut down and using the stones from the fields for chimneys and a roof of hand-made shingles. As the farm grew and prospered the family could afford a good frame or stone house that we can still see today on our rural travels. If pioneering was not a chosen path and an immigrant had a trade, the book detailed wages for blacksmiths, carpenters, tinsmiths to wheelwrights and shoemakers and for women, dressmaking and millinery.
The book also gave advice on furnishing a log house and recommended simplicity. A stained pine table and a dozen painted chairs. Cover the floor with straw over the rough floor boards before laying out a good Scotch carpet, which should have come with the immigrant.
Intellectual luxuries, books, pictures, ornaments and vases to hold flowers in the summer gave a pleasant finish and an air of taste to the room. A necessity was a good, well-made cooking stove large enough to feed a family of 10 to 12 persons. Cheap stoves were apt to crack.
Once a family had decided to emigrate, a chapter of the book advised which port to sail from - Liverpool or Glasgow. The choice of ship was important for the Atlantic crossing. Sailing ships were to be avoided as it could take a month to reach Quebec City. A steamship was the best choice with a well ventilated single sleeping deck, separate water closets for male and female passengers and a captain and crew with a good safety record.
Once the chosen ship had been inspected, it was best for the family to buy their own ticket at the shipping agents office, avoiding dockside agents as they usually worked on commission and the cost of the ticket would increase considerably. As today, baggage was expensive and it was recommended the family pack their clothes in a trunk, with strips of wood nailed on the bottom to keep the trunk off the damp floor.
If passengers were not provided with meals during the voyage, by British law each passenger was entitled to weekly provisions and they used these to prepare meals in the cookhouse. On these ships, passengers were advised to take cooking pots, a tin kettle and deep tin plates. Upon arrival in Canada, the ship was met by a government agent and medical officer who inspected the passengers for cholera.
Once cleared, most families travelled to their chosen destination by boat along the St. Lawrence and from Kingston to harbours along Lake Ontario. To reach their lot required a difficult journey along broken roads to begin a new life of two years of hard work, continuously clearing the land. Upon full payment, they would receive the hard-earned deed to their farm.
Catherine Parr Strickland Traill - 1802 to 1899, buried in Hillside Cemetery, Lakefield, Ontario. Following her husband’s death in 1862, Catherine moved to “Westove,” a mid-1800s farm house overlooking the Otonabee River in Lakefield, until her death. Catherine was a descendant, through her father’s line, of Catherine Parr, the last and surviving wife of England’s Tudor King Henry VIII.
1 - Early settlers log cabin, Town of Pickering Museum
2 - Pioneer Cemetery and mural, Highland Creek, Ontario
3 - Early Trans Atlantic steamship, RMS Britannia 1840, Wikipedia
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