BUSH LIFE IN CANADA.*
Tins is a melancholy record of the miseries endured for some years in the Bush by emigrants whose habits and education rendered them utterly unfitted for such a life. According to the "Emigrant's Lady's" own showing, this emigration scheme was carried out by herself and her family in great ignorance, not only of the particular neighbourhood in which they resolved to settle, but also of the unavoidable hardships they would have to suffer in their forest clearing. We read in the preface that the writer, who is an officer's widow, had lived for several years near Calais, when the state of affairs after the French war compelled her to seek a new home. A younger son had settled on the free-grant lands of Muskoka, and thither, with her eldest daughter, she re- solved to seek a home. A son in London gave up an " excellent situation " to accompany his mother, and a eon-in-law, who held the post of mathematical professor at an English school in France, resolved also to emigrate, with his wife and children. " With these intentions, we read up," says the writer, "a few books on emigration, and being quite ignorant of the expense of so long a journey, of the hardships of the Bush, and of the absolute necessity for a sum of money to begin with, we came out, hoping, in our innocence, that strong hearts, willing hands, and the pension of an officer's widow would be inexhaustible riches in the wilderness." The ignorance or " in- nocence " displayed was portentous. On reaching Quebec, the writer, with her son and daughter, found themselves at the beginning of a very long journey utterly without means to carry them beyond the first few stages. A small remittance was " half- expected," but the expectation proved delusive, and it was found necessary to pledge a gold watch before they could quit the town- They then left Quebec for Montreal, and " were beguiled into Pullman's sleeping-cars, little imagining how greatly it would add to the expense of the journey." The settlement was reached at last, and the reader is asked to judge of their dismay upon finding that " those we had come to burthen with our presence were, for the time being, as penniless as ourselves, and that, weary and fatigued as we were, the only refreshment my dear child could offer us was linseed tea, without sugar or milk, and sour, doughy bread, which 1 could not persuade myself to swallow." Here we must make a break, to explain that the lady's son-in-law and daughter, who had lived previously in France, had preceded her to Canada, and had carried with them a young lady, said to be very beautiful, who was engaged to Charles, the original emi- grant. The marriage took place on her arrival, and the unsatisfactory larder just described belonged to the young couple. The nearest store, at Utterson, was six miles from the settlers' land, and we are told that they were in imminent danger of starvation from the had food and the difficulty of procuring it. The discomforts of life in the Bush are, no doubt, great, and according to the writer, settlers in Muskoka have especial troubles to contend with, as the soil is poor and hungry, and the only reliable crops are oats and potatoes :- "I hardly dare," says the writer, whose Letters aro addressed to a daughter in England, " describe tho miserable change wo found in our employments and manner of life when we first settled down to hard labour in the Bush. It was anguish to me to see your sisters and sister— in-law, so tenderly and delicately brought up, working harder by far than any of our servants in England or France. It is one thing to sit in a pretty drawing-room to play, to sing, to study, to embroider, and to enjoy social and intellectual converse with a select circle of kind friends, and it is quite another thing to slave and toil in a log-house no• better than a kitchen from morning till night at cleaning, washing, baking, preparing meals for hungry men. I confess to my shame that my philosophy entirely gave way, and that for a long time I cried
• Letters's-0m Muskoka. By an Emigrant Lady. London : Bentley and Son. 1878. The writer adds that her children predicted she would bring on softening of the brain by her unceasing regrets for the past and gloomy prognostications for the future. It is evident that this lady had entered thoughtlessly upon a life for which she was un- fitted. Of course it is one thing to sit in a drawing-room and another thing to labour in the Bush, but the difference is so obvious, that we read with surprise how unprepared she was for it. One would almost think these emigrants had looked forward to a pleasant trip, instead of to severe manual labour :— " In coming out," she writes again, " we had no means of providing any special outfit, and therefore brought with us only the ordinary ward- robes of genteel life. We soon found that all silks, delicate shawls,
laces, ornaments, are perfectly useless here We ladies were thankful to lay aside our French kid boots and delicate slippers, and to wrap our feet and legs up so completely that they much resembled mill-posts."
This curious explanation with regard to laces, kid boots, and slippers reveals more, probably, than the writer intended, and we learn a little more upon reading bow the lady, when her log-hut was finished, entered it feeling dreadfully depressed and weary, but " cheered up immediately " when her son-in-law brought her his cat as a present.
This lady felt too keenly the privations and loneliness of a life to which she was unaccustomed ; hard-working men and women, on the contrary, are not disposed to murmur at the labour which is forced upon them in the Bush. The writer allows that unflag- ging industry insures to such persons a competence, if not afflu- ence, and she observes that as a body the settlers are not only thrifty and kind-hearted, but "almost universally seem contented with their position and prospects." People of the working-class, whose imagination is rarely vivid, and who know nothing of the charms of society, are not likely to be troubled by the monotonous solitude of life in the Bush, a life which is especially lonely in winter, when the snow blocks up the familiar tracks through the woods. The writer of these Letters felt this loneliness severely :- 4 None but those who have experienced it can ever realise the utter weariness and isolation of Bash life, the daily recurrence of the same monotonous tasks, the want of time for mental culture, the absence of congenial intercourse with one's fellow-creatures, the many hours of unavoidable solitude, the dreary, unbroken silence of the immense forest, which closes round the small clearings like a belt of iron ; all these things ere long press down the most buoyant spirit, and super- induce a kind of dull despair, from which I have suffered for months at a time."
The writer's story of her miseries in the hated bush corrobo- rates the assertion she makes frequently, and which has been often made before, " that poor ladies and gentlemen form the worst, or at least the most unsuccessful, class for emigration to Canada." Hard-working men can make a shift to live by labour, which, in kind, if not in degree, would be impossible to men of gentle birth, and in the Canadian Bush he who is most accustomed to manual toil has the best prospect of success.
A comparison between this volume and the interesting letters published more than forty years ago in the Library of Entertaining Knowledge, entitled "The Backwoods of Canada," shows bow little changed is the position of settlers in the Bush. The " Wife of an Emigrant Officer," who wrote those charming letters, sailed to Quebec in a brig, instead of in a steamer, and was a month upon the water ; but once having passed out of the track of civilisation, the discomforts and privations endured by both ladies were very similar. Both suffered from the terrible jolting of the stage-waggon on a corduroy road, both complain of the difficulty of obtaining provisions, and if one lady is forced to drink linseed tea, the other tries a vile decoction made of hemlock sprigs boiled. There are times, as both declare, when it is impossible to obtain food from a distance, and when, if it were not for salt pork and potatoes, a new settler would probably be starved. Both ladies describe, in very similar lan- guage, the building of the log huts and the summoning of a " bee " for the purpose, and both are agreed as to the class of persons best fitted for a settler's life in the backwoods. The earlier volume presents a more cheerful picture than the Letters from Muskoka, but the writer of these letters makes an important admission when she allows that even in Muskoka the settlers are, for the most part, contented and happy. Her volume, we may add, despite its gloomy tone, contains many amusing incidents, and presents a vivid picture of life in the Bush.