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My First Year in Canada

By the Right Rev. Ashton Oxenden, D.D.
Bishop of Montreal, and Metropolitan of Canada

London: Hatchards, 1871.

Chapter VII. A Summer in the Eastern Townships

MONTREAL, as I have already said, is not desirable as a place of residence in the summer; for, although the upper parts of the city are airy and pleasant, it is, for some reason which I cannot fathom, certainly not healthy, especially for children, during the hot weather. I suppose there is something defective in the drainage of the town, although I certainly should not have come to this conclusion, had it not so frequently been pressed upon me.

After casting about for a place of retreat, we fixed upon the little village of Dunham, in the Eastern Townships, about fifty miles south of Montreal. Most people choose gayer and more fashionable quarters, where they may get sea-air; such as Portland, a sea-port in the States, or Murray Bay, Riviere du Loup, or Cacouna at the entrance of the Gulf below Quebec. Others again are content with Lachine, a village near the junction of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa, which unite a little higher up, and here present a noble expanse of water. This is a nice change for those who like boating, and wish to be near Montreal; but the place is not otherwise very attractive.

We decided upon a pretty little new house in the peaceful village of Dunham, because we longed for perfect quietude after the publicity of a winter at Montreal; also because it lay in the very heart of the Diocese, and I was anxious to become better acquainted with my clergy and their people. It also gave me a favourable opportunity of holding several Confirmations, with scarcely the necessity of spending a single night from home.

Here we arrived at the end of June, immediately after the Synod and its anxieties were fairly over. And never did I seem to breathe more freely than when I found myself with my wife, child, and servants, established in our village home.

A large tract of country to the south of the St. Lawrence goes by the name of the Eastern Townships. In the reign of George III. the Government laid out this part of the country in plots of land, each comprising ten or twelve square miles, and called a township, having its own separate municipality. These townships extend from Bedford and Stanbridge in the west to some distance beyond Richmond in the east, and on the south they touch the line or border of the States. The larger portion of this tract is in the Diocese of Montreal: the rest in Quebec. The country has a more riant and flourishing appearance than other parts of Lower Canada. It is tolerably cleared, and is pretty well cultivated. And if it were not for the long and severe winters, I should say it must be as fine a spot for farming enterprise as any in the world.

The whole country, from Philipsburg on the Missisquoi Bay eastward towards Memphre Magog, and from thence to Brome Lake, and across to Waterloo, Shefford, Iron Hill, and Sweetsburg, is extremely pretty. In many respects it reminded us of parts of Switzerland. The mountains are low, but beautifully wooded, and of mountain-like formation. There is a little lack of water in the district, with the exception of two or three beautiful lakes; and the wooden buildings certainly cannot compare with the picturesque Swiss chalets. The country is studded about with innumerable barns and outhouses; but they lack the projecting eaves, the carved work, and, more than all, the colouring of the same class of buildings in Switzerland. Still it is a beautiful country, and we were charmed with many of our drives.

My first step was to buy a little horse and carriage, as I found it was almost impossible to hire. The usual conveyances in these parts are called waggons or buggies. They are extremely light, on four very slight wheels, and holding two persons. The wheels are very high and near together, and the whole carriage weighs less pony-carriage. They are neat

than an English enough in themselves, but they are usually unwashed, and therefore have a slovenly appearance, and the harness is not of the best, nor is there much blacking bestowed upon it. Every one has his carriage here, as no one walks. If a person comes round with wild raspberries, she calls in her buggy; and as for walking a mile, it is a thing unheard of; every one drives.

I was told of a beggar in an adjoining parish, who keeps his carriage, and drives from house to house collecting alms. So we, like our neighbours, fell into the Dunham way, and drove about the country, almost forgetting that we had legs to walk with.

It is curious to see the number of carriages that are gathered around the churches. Close to every Church there is commonly a large half-open shed; and this affords shelter to the waggons in the summer, and the sleighs in the winter, the horses patiently remaining during service.

The roads are mostly unstoned, but they are fairly good, are most pleasant to drive upon, and I am not sure that I would exchange them for a hard English flint road. At all events we were quite content with them.

There seemed at first to be one great deficiency in our Dunham house. There was no garden attached to it, and no vegetables were to be bought in the place. But our wants were abundantly supplied, and at times even superabundantly, by the kindness of our neighbours, who sent us far more beautiful vegetables of all kinds than we could have got at Montreal. Potatoes, cabbages, peas, French beans, tomatoes, Indian corn, cauliflowers, melons, &c., found their way into our kitchen, and were all the sweeter for being free-will gifts. One farmer, a stranger, drove over from a village, twelve miles off, with a beautiful specimen of his garden produce as an offering to the Bishop. The Indian corn is eaten in a semi-ripe state as a vegetable. There are various ways of serving it; but I think the best, though perhaps not the most elegant, is to boil the whole upon the cone. You then spread a little butter upon it, and eat it au naturel; and it is really very good.

Both the wild and cultivated Flowers are inferior to those in England. The latter grow too luxuriantly; and it is rare to meet with a really trim flower-garden.

There are but few Birds that make their home in Canada. Most of those which are to be seen in summer are birds of passage. Of these some are very pretty, though, as songsters, they are inferior to those we have in England. The prettiest bird is perhaps the so-called canary. In shape it is almost like a sparrow, but it is strikingly handsome--a deep yellow, with very, defined patches of greenish brown. The colours are more decided than those of the tame canaries which are seen in England. One constantly sees them in companies of half-a-dozen by the roadside; and they are so tame that one would expect them to be content with a prison life; but this is not so, and one rarely sees them in cages.

The Canadian robin is as unlike our English redbreast as possible. It much more resembles the thrush. I at first fancied that we had not left all our friends the rooks behind us; but, upon closer inspection, I found that my black acquaintances were something between a carrion crow and a rook. They have however a very homelike look, and a familiar caw, which reminds us of rookeries in the dear old land.

The little humming-bird is rather rare, and they are seldom seen but in flower-gardens. They are more like butterflies or gadflies than birds, both as regards their size and their habits. There is, I believe, but one species commonly met with, but that is very beautiful. It seems almost unaccountable that this very delicate little creature should take so long a flight to visit us for merely a month or two in the height of the summer.

There are but few snakes in this country, and none, I believe, of venomous character. There is a slim kind of squirrel, which is very domestic, and seems to delight in exhibiting its antics in public. And there is also a little fellow between a squirrel and a rat, called a chipmink, which is beautifully mottled.

The farmers around Dunham are many of them substantial men; their fathers and grandfathers having settled here and purchased land, clearing it by degrees. As there is a great deficiency of labourers, they are obliged to do a great deal themselves; and certainly many of them are singularly active, busy, hard-working men. In this immediate neighbourhood a great deal of very excellent cheese is made, and every person has his staff of cows, varying from twenty to fifty. These are milked by the road-side, morning and evening; the milk is deposited in zinc pails, and placed on a platform, and a cart comes trotting by, picks up the various contributions, and carries them to the nearest cheese-factory, where each lot is weighed and duly accounted for. Some of these factories receive the milk of a thousand cows. The cheeses, which usually weigh about sixty or seventy pounds, are sent either into the States or to England, and better I have never tasted.

Soon after our arrival the hay-making season began. This is a stirring time. The grass is mostly mown by machinery, and it is often cut, made, and carried on the same day! Indeed, from its ripeness, and the dryness of the atmosphere,; it needs scarcely any making, but is fit to carry almost as soon as it is mown down. It is then deposited in barns, a stack being a rare sight in these parts.

The corn-harvest follows almost immediately. The most productive crop is the Indian corn, which this year was very fine, and was a good month earlier than usual. A few hop-gardens are to be seen here and there; but they are not cultivated in the Kentish style. My dear old Pluckley Parishioners would cast a very contemptuous eye upon them. And yet in spite of weeds and very scanty manuring, they produce a fair crop, and I have no doubt that, if more expense and labour were bestowed upon them, they would grow well, and make a profitable return.

The mode of farming is very different from that which I have been used to. Much is done by machinery, and little by manual labour. What strikes one perhaps most is the speed with which both men and horses move here. Instead of a huge Kentish plough drawn by four fat horses, you see a light instrument with a couple of quick ponies, which the driver, with the reins round his wrist, steers most dexterously between the roots and rocks, with which the fields abound. Then they carry their loads in very light waggons, the driver perched on the top, and driving with reins at a good brisk trot. Thus they whisk up their produce and carry it off to the barn, whilst our labourers would be crawling about the field, and deliberating as to their next step.

We were much amused one day to watch this process, as we were taking a drive along the high road. We saw, in an adjoining corn-field, a waggon pretty well loaded, and coming towards us. We discovered the only gap in the fence whereby it could properly make its exit, and that rather a steep and perilous one. So we stopped to see how the waggon would fare. It came up swaying terribly from side to side, the driver standing on the top with his legs very far apart, not only keeping his own balance, but poising the whole load by the nice adjustment of his own weight. When he-arrived at the gap he paused, as if to take aim, and then, giving a shout of encouragement to his horses, he dashed through, and making a sharp turn into the road, trotted along to the barn, and deposited his oats there in perfect safety. It was a great feat of dexterity, and would have astonished not a little our English waggoners if they could have seen it.

It strikes me that, considering the great scarcity of labour, most of the farmers have too large a tract under cultivation. The consequence is that the land is insufficiently worked, and not made to yield half that it is capable of producing. There is more to be done than the few industrious hands can properly accomplish.

A great number of English emigrants came out this summer. But most of them were disposed to pass on to Upper Canada, rather than seek their fortunes here. There is however a good living to be got, and a fair prospect for the future, for a settler in the Eastern Townships. What is chiefly wanted is willingness to work, and steadiness of character.

Two emigrants were brought specially under my notice, who had both come from my neighbourhood in Kent. One was a sturdy, sensible, sober, well-educated man, who was fit to be a foreman or bailiff on an English farm. He had left his wife and children behind, and, poor fellow, he longed to send for them, but the means were wanting. However he scraped together enough to nearly pay their passage. This is the stamp of man that is wanted; and if he perseveres, and is content to work as a farm-labourer for a few years, he will soon be likely to save enough to buy a little land, and thrive in this country.

The other was the son of a clergyman in an adjoining parish to Pluckley. His father could not afford to start him with any capital; but he desired to emigrate; and being young and strong he determined to try his fortune in Canada. So he took his passage for Liverpool as a common emigrant. The day after his arrival in Montreal, we met him in the street on his way to our house. He was looking pretty well, but he had suffered not a little from his voyage. He had roughed it, he said, before; but never had he passed through such an ordeal as his emigrant's passage. He was one of four hundred, who were closely packed in one of the regular Line Packets. He had paid the regulation price, six pounds, and was treated after the regulation fashion.

After being a few days with us, he regained his spirits, and cast about for employment. He soon engaged himself to a wealthy farmer, and there he set to with all his heart, turning his hand to anything required of him, and there he remained till after the following harvest. Had he been enabled to remain in the country, I doubt not he would have succeeded; but a death in his family, I grieve to say, called him home.

There are numbers of schools in and around Dunham; about one, I believe, to every square mile. Indeed, there is no lack of schools in Canada generally. Many of these however are very small, and the instruction is defective. There is a peculiarly desolate and unpicturesque appearance about them; and certainly, if the charms of education are represented by the buildings, there is little to attract. There is also this great and radical fault--the education is secular and religionless; and consequently that which ought to be a blessing to this infant country, will, I fear, prove to be its curse. Private efforts should be made to remedy this evil. A few good church schools, where religion is the recognised basis, and a Christian tone cultivated, would be an inestimable boon to Canada.

In the first part of our stay, I was chiefly engaged with my Confirmations, which I held in most of the parishes of the Deanery. The number of candidates generally averaged about fifteen. They were always well conducted, and generally seemed to be impressed with the solemnity of the rite. It gave me an opportunity of gathering the parishioners together, and holding services which the people generally seemed to appreciate, as well as those more immediately concerned; and for these services, I have reason to feel thankful. It is not unusual in a Canadian confirmation to have a large proportion of adults, and even persons of advanced age, among the candidates. I have confirmed an old man of ninety, and several above seventy. Many of these had remained long unbaptized, and have only recently been received into the Church.

During the latter part of my stay in the Townships, I had hoped to be free from work. But this I could not quite manage, as little calls for labour were for ever presenting themselves. A Church had to be opened here, and a special Confirmation to be held there. But still I had a good deal of quiet time to myself, which I greatly enjoyed. And as for ever being quite at liberty, I suppose a Bishop can never expect that; for whether in or out of his Diocese, there are always letters to be written, and matters to be settled, requiring anxious and painful thought. This however is necessarily a characteristic of my work; but I willingly accept it, and am very thankful that my labours are often greatly lightened by the thoughtful consideration of those over whom I am placed.

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