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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 VIII. Close of the Summer

I FELT a little sad when our short summer drew to a close. We were led to think that the heat would be intolerable, but we have found it otherwise. The temperature may be higher, but the heat is less oppressive, than during many a hot season which I remember in Kent.

We had our little gaieties at Dunham--our drives, our calls, our sewing-society meetings, and our tea-parties. These latter are usually the meal of hospitality. Guests arrive about six, and the little parlour is well filled. Then, presently, the folding-doors are thrown open, and a well-spread table presents itself. There is no stint of provisions. There are plates of bread cut in the thinnest slices, cakes of various shapes, and of invariable goodness, and a profusion of jam, which is served to each person in a pretty little glass saucer; besides this, there is plenty of good butter, and sometimes cheese. Certainly, there is no fear of one's going home hungry, or of not meeting with a warm reception. The tea which is most used is from Japan; it has very much the flavour of our green tea, which is considered so unwholesome in England. This however seems to be perfectly innocuous, and to my palate it is very agreeable. One of the clergy told me that a servant of his, observing that her master preferred black tea and her mistress green, whispered to him confidentially one morning, that she had put some green tea at the bottom of the teapot, and a spoonful or two of black at the top; and that if he would pour his out first, he would get all the black, not calculating that the process of admixture would take place, and render her care for her master's interests somewhat futile.

After tea there is a little friendly talk, and then the pleasant evening generally closes as it ought, with a chapter of the Bible and Prayer. Such at least was usually the case at Dunham, when I have been present.

One of our few great excursions was up the Pinnacle, a little strikingly shaped conical mountain, about seven miles from Dunham, closely wooded almost to the summit, with a bare rocky peak. It was seen from all parts, and appeared to be constantly saying to us, 'Come up, and see what I have to show you.' And as we heard that the ascent was quite worth the pains, we determined that it should tempt us no longer.

So we started one afternoon, and drove to die foot of the mountain; and our clergyman, Mr. G-----, and his wife, accompanied us. Having had some experience on the Swiss mountains, though in a very small way, I of course thought and spoke somewhat contemptuously of such a trifling walk as this; but it proved to be a harder afternoon's work than I had bargained for.

Arrived at the base, we tied up our horses at a farm; but hearing that the ascent was a case of impossibility for the ladies, we posted them on a pleasant woodland slope, from whence they could see us on reaching the top, and having obtained some directions from the farmers, we plunged boldly into the bush. Certainly there was a blind path, but we were constantly losing it on account of the number of huge trees, which had been toppled over by a severe hurricane in the previous week. However, by mounting continually upwards, we at length saw the wished-for rock, which we immediately recognised as the goal towards which we were pressing.

We were quite repaid for our walk, and a sharp one it certainly was; and though the atmosphere was hazy, we still had a good near view, and imagined what was beyond.

And now for our descent, which we pictured to ourselves as a mere bagatelle, and easily to be accomplished. Well, we began at a merry pace,

I thought we were but soon lost our bearing.

pointing too much to the left; my companion was sure that we were going right. Both proved to be wrong, and I the more so of the two. For when, after a while, we saw daylight again, and emerged from the bush, we found ourselves a good three miles north of the spot from which we had ascended! Hot and tired as we were, we had to press on to reach our party, who, we knew, must be beginning to feel alarmed, as the shadows of evening were gathering around us. And truly they were a little alarmed. Finding that we did not arrive, they had gone to the farm; and there the good, kind people fully entered into their anxiety, although they assured them that we had only shared the fate of most travellers, and missed our way, and would soon turn up. One of them however most kindly volunteered to sally forth with his horn in search of us; and two labouring men said that they would also be on the look-out. But presently our welcome arrival set all right; and going into the farm-house, we rested ourselves for half-an-hour, revelled in some new milk, and started home by moonlight.

But our troubles were not over. Mr. and Mrs. G-----led the way in their buggy, and we followed in ours. Our little mare was unusually fresh and impatient, and the harness was evidently not right. I got out and adjusted it; but she did not seem very placid even then. And presently, when going down a steep hill, with a ditch on either side, she fairly jibbed, at one moment refusing to move, and the next darting forward as if she was shot out of a gun, so that I could scarcely hold her. At length, when half way down the hill, she peremptorily refused to go on, and finally backed us into the ditch, locking the fore-wheels across the road. At this critical moment to jump out was our best chance; and this we did safely with the reins in hand. And then, with the assistance of our kind and active friend, Mr. G------, who had come back in search of us, we coaxed our steed on, and eventually restored her to a better temper.

We did not reach home till ten o'clock; and there we found our servants gathered on the gallery, having become a little anxious as to what had happened to us. This then was one of our Dunham gaieties, an excursion which I should much like to repeat under other circumstances. And this too was one of the many instances in which God has watched over us, and kept us from harm.

The weather was delightful during our, three months' stay at Dunham. The summer was' more than ordinarily hot; but we were never really oppressed by the heat. Certainly, a healthier residence we could not have found.

For about a week the atmosphere was more or less charged with smoke, owing to the burnings in the woods. These fires are sometimes most disastrous. They were unusually so this summer, in consequence of the excessive dryness of the ground. I was told that on one occasion, during a hurricane, the fire travelled over thirty miles of country within an hour--such was the fearful rapidity of its giant strides. Cases occurred too of parents pouring water over their children, in the hope of sheltering them from the burning heat, until at length they were forced to yield them up to the devouring element.

In the neighbourhood of Ottawa, houses, barns, and even villages, were destroyed by the flames. In one of these villages I was to have held a Confirmation, but I was unable to do so, as the people were obliged to watch their homesteads for days and nights together, and much property around them had been utterly destroyed.

The commander of the Fire Brigade writes thus:--

'I encountered sights that for misery and desolation exceeded all I had ever previously experienced. Towards Bell's Corner, for miles, not a habitation was to be found. At one place I observed a man sitting on a charred pine-log, with flannel shirt, and no hat or covering for his head: his story was short; "A few hours ago," he said, pointing to the smouldering embers, " there stood three barns, two of them filled with grain; there stood the cow-shed, and there the stables; now you can see the carcases of eight cows, forty sheep, and nine hogs." Then, turning round, and pointing across the road, he said, " There stood our home, now all is gone, the fruits of thirty years' hard labour. In yonder swamp are my wife and bairns, with no more clothes than now cover myself; but, thank God, our lives are all spared, and within this breast is left a good Scottish heart, so I know we shall not want."'

These fires generally originate from the incautious burning of logs and boughs, which have been heaped together in some spot that has been recently cleared, the wood not being worth removing. A breeze perhaps springs up, and the adjoining trees catch fire, and then it is often impossible to arrest the flames.

Sometimes too, where the soil is peaty, it gets into the ground, and remains there smouldering for weeks beneath the surface. A gentleman told me of a fire in his father's land, which broke out in June. It remained in the ground during the following winter, burning beneath the snow, and burst out again in the spring! It is indeed a great mercy to have been spared witnessing such scenes.

One of my last drives was to Mansonville, which is one of our Missions, at the southern extremity of the Eastern Townships, and within a few miles of Lake Memphremagog. My wife and I started on Saturday morning in our waggon, and went over the hills to Abercorn, where I consecrated a Burial-ground, dined with some members of the Church Mr. and Mrs. N------; and then on through

a most lovely and romantic country to Glen Sutton. Here a little congregation was assembled for service in a schoolroom--a most primitive Service, and I preached to them on 'God is love.' We then proceeded to Mansonville, calling on our way on a nice old lady of eighty-four, who 'would very much like to see the Bishop.'

Next morning, Sunday, Mr. B------and I went to South Bolton, which belongs to another Mission, and is now without a pastor. I fere we had service at eleven, and returned through a beautiful country to Mansonville for an Evening Service, when the church was crammed. This is about the most Swiss-like portion of the country that we have passed through.

Our last pleasure excursion was to Eccles Hill, the scene of the recent conflict with the Fenians, We went a party of ten, and had a capital inspection of the battle-field. Dr. G------and two Mr. B------s, who were in the engagement, were with us, and acted as excellent cicerones, pointing out to us all the interesting particulars.

It seems that, on the night before the skirmish, a party of the Home Guard (a small, but sturdy. band of Irregulars, composed of farmers in the neighbourhood of Dunham) occupied a little eminence close to the village of Eccles Hill. This ground is studded with rocks, which form a natural fortification. It is backed by a thick toll of trees, and commands the village and road, through which the Fenians were expected to pass.

The Home Guard was joined in the morning by about zoo Regular Volunteers. They all posted themselves in this strong and advantageous position; and presently the dreaded Fenians began to show themselves. A few advanced beyond the Border line, and were instantly fired upon by our men. Two or three fell, one in the road, about 300 yards off, and another as he was running across a field at about twice the distance. Several more were wounded, but escaped to a neighbouring wood, dying on the American side of the Border. In less than a quarter of an hour the work was done; and the Fenians, who did not expect so warm a reception, were glad enough to retire, never, I hope, to make another attempt to trouble us with their presence. Some of the regular troops, with Prince Arthur among them, were posted in the town of St. John's, ready to come to the rescue, had their aid been needed.

We saw the spot where one of the Fenians found a temporary grave; and we went into a house in the village, which had suffered a little from our rifle-balls. One of these had made a clean cut through a pane of glass, then through the opposite door, and lodging in the wall beyond.

We were very glad to have made this expedition before leaving the neighbourhood.

And now I must close my chapter, and the account of our pleasant stay in these country parts. Truly I may say of our good friends at Dunham, and indeed of the people of Canada generally, that their hospitality and kindness know no bounds. If a horse or a carriage is needed, you have but to name your want, and one is so cheerfully and willingly offered that you cannot refuse it; and as for food and lodging, they are at the service of every one, whether friend or stranger. During my year in Canada, in all my Visitation tours, which have been pretty numerous, I have never once had occasion to pay for a single article of food, or to provide for a conveyance. The clergy and laity seem to vie with each other in their kind and generous anxiety to serve their Bishop.

We closed most reluctantly our summer in the Eastern Townships, and I exchanged it for three weeks in the rougher parts of my Diocese. This however will not come into 'my First Year in Canada.'

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