List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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The sites of towns and villages in Canada are never selected at
random. In England, a concurrence of circumstances has generally led
to the gradual formation of hamlets, villages, and towns. In many
instances, towns have grown up in barbarous ages around a place of
refuge during war; around a fortalice or castle, and more frequently
around the ford over a river, where the detention of travellers has
led to the establishment of a place of entertainment, a blacksmith's
or carpenter's shop. A village or town never grows to any size in
Canada without a saw or a grist mill, both which require a certain
amount of water-power to work the machinery. Whenever there is a
river or stream available for such purposes, and the surrounding
country is fertile, the village rapidly rises to be a considerable
town. Frame-houses are so quickly erected, and the materials are so
easily procured near a saw-mill, that, in the first instance, no
other description of houses is to be found in our incipient towns.
But as the town increases, brick and stone houses rapidly supplant
these less substantial edifices, which seldom remain good for more
than thirty or forty years.

Mr. S---'s tavern, or hotel, was an extensive frame-building of the
kind common in the country. All the lodgers frequent the same long
table at all their meals, at one end of which the landlord generally
presides. Mr. S---, however, usually preferred the company of his
family in another part of the house; and some one of the gentlemen
who boarded at the tavern, and who possessed a sufficiently large
organ of self-esteem, voted himself into the post of honour, without
waiting for an invitation from the rest of the company. This happy
individual is generally some little fellow, with a long, protruding
nose; some gentleman who can stretch his neck and backbone almost
to dislocation, and who has a prodigious deal of talk, all about

The taverns in this country are frequented by all single men, and
by many married men without children, who wish to avoid the trouble
and greater expense of keeping house. Thus a large portion of the
population of the towns take all their meals at the hotels or
taverns, in order to save both expense and time. The extraordinary
despatch used at meals in the United States has often been mentioned
by travellers. The same observation equally applies to Canada, and
for the same reason. Wages are high, and time is, therefore,
valuable in both countries, and as one clerk is waiting in the shop
while another is bolting his dinner, it would of course be
exceedingly unkind to protract unnecessarily the sufferings of the
hungry expectant; no one possessing any bowels of compassion could
act so cruelly. For the same reason, every one is expected to take
care of himself, without minding his neighbours. At times a degree
of compassion is extended by some naturalised old countryman towards
some diffident, over-scrupulous new comer, by offering to help him
first; but such marks of consideration, except to ladies, to whom
all classes in Canada are attentive, are never continued a bit
longer than is thought sufficient for becoming acquainted with the
ways of the country.

Soon after our arrival at C---, I remember asking a person, who
was what the Canadians call "a hickory Quaker," from the north of
Ireland, to help me to a bit of very nice salmon-trout, which was
vanishing alarmingly fast from the breakfast-table.

Obadiah very considerately lent a deaf ear to my repeated
entreaties, pretending to be intently occupied with his own plate of
fish; then, transferring the remains of the salmon-trout to his own
place, he turned round to me with the most innocent face imaginable,
saying very coolly, "I beg your pardon, friend, did you speak to me?
There is such a noise at the table, I cannot hear very well."

Between meals there is "considerable of drinking," among the idlers
about the tavern, of the various ingenious Yankee inventions
resorted to in this country to disturb the brain. In the evening the
plot thickens, and a number of young and middle-aged men drop in,
and are found in little knots in the different public rooms.

The practice of "treating" is almost universal in this country, and,
though friendly and sociable in its way, is the fruitful source of
much dissipation. It is almost impossible, in travelling, to steer
clear of this evil habit. Strangers are almost invariably drawn into
it in the course of business.

The town of C--- being the point where a large number of emigrants
landed on their way to the backwoods of this part of the colony,
it became for a time a place of great resort, and here a number of
land-jobbers were established, who made a profitable trade of buying
lands from private individuals, or at the government sales of wild
land, and selling them again to the settlers from the old country.
Though my wife had some near relatives settled in the backwoods,
about forty miles inland, to the north of C---, I had made up my
mind to buy a cleared farm near Lake Ontario, if I could get one to
my mind, and the price of which would come within my limited means.

A number of the recent settlers in the backwoods, among whom were
several speculators, resorted frequently to C---; and as soon as a
new batch of settlers arrived on the lake shore, there was a keen
contest between the land-jobbers of C--- and those of the backwoods
to draw the new comer into their nets. The demand created by the
continual influx of immigrants had caused a rapid increase in the
price of lands, particularly of wild lands, and the grossest
imposition was often practiced by these people, who made enormous
profits by taking advantage of the ignorance of the new settlers
and of their anxiety to settle themselves at once.

I was continually cautioned by these people against buying a farm
in any other locality than the particular one they themselves
represented as most eligible, and their rivals were always
represented as unprincipled land-jobbers. Finding these accusations
to be mutual, I naturally felt myself constrained to believe both
parties to be alike.

Sometimes I got hold of a quiet farmer, hoping to obtain something
like disinterested advice; but in nine cases out of ten, I am sorry
to say, I found that the rage for speculation and trading in land,
which was so prevalent in all the great thoroughfares, had already
poisoned their minds also, and I could rarely obtain an opinion or
advice which was utterly free from self-interest. They generally had
some lot of land to sell--or, probably, they would like to have a
new comer for a neighbour, in the hope of selling him a span of
horses or some cows at a higher price than they could obtain from
the older settlers. In mentioning this unamiable trait in the
character of the farmers near C---, I by no means intend to give
it as characteristic of the farmers in general. It is, properly
speaking, a LOCAL vice, produced by the constant influx of strangers
unacquainted with the ways of the country, which tempts the farmers
to take advantage of their ignorance.


  Where is religion found? In what bright sphere
    Dwells holy love, in majesty serene
    Shedding its beams, like planet o'er the scene;
  The steady lustre through the varying year
    Still glowing with the heavenly rays that flow
    In copious streams to soften human woe?

  It is not 'mid the busy scenes of life,
    Where careworn mortals crowd along the way
    That leads to gain--shunning the light of day;
  In endless eddies whirl'd, where pain and strife
    Distract the soul, and spread the shades of night,
    Where love divine should dwell in purest light.

  Short-sighted man!--go seek the mountain's brow,
    And cast thy raptured eye o'er hill and dale;
    The waving woods, the ever-blooming vale,
  Shall spread a feast before thee, which till now
    Ne'er met thy gaze--obscured by passion's sway;
    And Nature's works shall teach thee how to pray.

  Or wend thy course along the sounding shore,
    Where giant waves resistless onward sweep
    To join the awful chorus of the deep--
  Curling their snowy manes with deaf'ning roar,
    Flinging their foam high o'er the trembling sod,
    And thunder forth their mighty song to God!




  Some men, like greedy monsters of the deep,
  Still prey upon their kind;--their hungry maws
  Engulph their victims like the rav'nous shark
  That day and night untiring plies around
  The foamy bubbling wake of some great ship;
  And when the hapless mariner aloft
  Hath lost his hold, and down he falls
  Amidst the gurgling waters on her lee,
  Then, quick as thought, the ruthless felon-jaws
  Close on his form;--the sea is stain'd with blood--
  One sharp wild shriek is heard--and all is still!
  The lion, tiger, alligator, shark--
  The wily fox, the bright enamelled snake--
  All seek their prey by force or stratagem;
  But when--their hunger sated--languor creeps
  Around their frames, they quickly sink to rest.
  Not so with man--HE never hath enough;
  He feeds on all alike; and, wild or tame,
  He's but a cannibal. He burns, destroys,
  And scatters death to sate his morbid lust
  For empty fame. But when the love of gain
  Hath struck its roots in his vile, sordid heart,--
  Each gen'rous impulse chill'd,--like vampire, now,
  He sucks the life-blood of his friends or foes
  Until he viler grows than savage beast.
  And when, at length, stretch'd on his bed of death,
  And powerless, friendless, o'er his clammy brow
  The dark'ning shades descend, strong to the last
  His avarice lives; and while he feebly plucks
  His wretched coverlet, he gasps for breath,
  And thinks he gathers gold!


I had a letter of introduction to a gentleman of large property, at
C---, who, knowing that I wished to purchase a farm, very kindly
drove me out to several lots of land in the immediate neighbourhood.
He showed me seven or eight very eligible lots of cleared land, some
of them with good houses and orchards; but somehow or other, on
inquiry, I found they all belonged to himself, and, moreover, the
prices were beyond my limited means. For one farm he asked 1000
pounds; for another, 1500 pounds, and so on. After inquiring in
other quarters, I saw I had no chance of getting a farm in that
neighbourhood for the price I could afford to pay down, which was
only about 300 pounds. After satisfying myself as to this fact, I
thought it the wiser course at once to undeceive my very obliging
friend, whose attentions were obviously nicely adjusted to the
estimate he had formed in his own mind of my pecuniary resources.

On communicating this discouraging fact, my friend's countenance
instantly assumed a cold and stony expression, and I almost expected
that he would have stopped his horses and set me down, to walk with
other poor men. As may well be supposed, I was never afterwards
honoured with a seat in his carriage. He saw just what I was worth,
and I saw what his friendship was worth; and thus our brief
acquaintance terminated.

Having thus let the cat out of the bag, when I might, according to
the usual way of the world, have sported for awhile in borrowed
plumage, and rejoiced in the reputation of being in more prosperous
circumstances without fear of detection, I determined to pursue the
same course, and make use of the little insight I had obtained into
the ways of the land-jobbers of Canada, to procure a cleared farm
on more reasonable terms.

It is not uncommon for the land speculators to sell a farm to a
respectable settler at an unusually low price, in order to give a
character to a neighbourhood where they hold other lands, and thus
to use him as a decoy duck for friends or countrymen.

There was very noted character at C---, Mr. Q---, a great
land-jobber, who did a large business in this way on his own
account, besides getting through a great deal of dirty work for
other more respectable speculators, who did not wish to drink at
taverns and appear personally in such matters. To Mr. Q--- I
applied, and effected a purchase of a farm of one hundred and fifty
acres, about fifty of which were cleared, for 300 pounds, as I shall
mention more particularly in the sequel. In the meantime, the
character of this distinguished individual was--for he was long gone
to give an account of his misdeeds in the other world--so
remarkable, that I must endeavour to describe it for the edification
of the reader. Q--- kept a shop, or store, in C---; but he left the
principal management of this establishment to his clerks; while,
taking advantage of the influx of emigrants, he pursued, with
unrivalled success, the profitable business of land-jobbing.

In his store, before taking to this business, he had been accustomed
for many years to retail goods to the farmers at high prices, on the
usual long credit system. He had thus got a number of farmers deeply
in his debt, and, in many cases, in preference to suing them, had
taken mortgages on their farms. By this means, instead of merely
recovering the money owing to him by the usual process of law, he
was enabled, by threatening to foreclose the mortgages, to compel
them to sell their farms nearly on his own terms, whenever an
opportunity occurred to re-sell them advantageously to new comers.
Thus, besides making thirty or forty per cent. on his goods, he
often realised more than a hundred per cent. on his land

In a new country, where there is no great competition in mercantile
business, and money is scarce, the power and profits of
store-keepers are very great. Mr. Q--- was one of the most grasping
of this class. His heart was case-hardened, and his conscience, like
gum, elastic; it would readily stretch, on the shortest notice, to
any required extent, while his well-tutored countenance betrayed no
indication of what was passing in his mind. But I must not forget to
give a sketch of the appearance, or outward man, of this
highly-gifted individual.

He was about the middle size, thin and limber, and somewhat loose
in his lower joints, like most of the native Canadians and Yankees.
He had a slight stoop in his shoulders, and his long, thin neck was
continually stretched out before him, while his restless little
cunning eyes were roaming about in search of prey. His face, when
well watched, was an index to his selfish and unfeeling soul.
Complexion he had none, except that sempiternally enduring
red-and-tawny mixture which is acquired by exposure and hard
drinking. His cheeks and the corners of his eyes were marked by an
infinity of curved lines, and, like most avaricious and deceitful
men, he had a long, crooked chin, and that peculiar prominent and
slightly aquiline nose which, by people observant of such
indications, has been called "the rogue's nose." But how shall I
describe his eye--that small hole through which you can see an
honest man's heart? Q---'s eye was like no other eye I had ever
seen. His face and mouth could assume a good-natured expression, and
smile; but his eye was still the same--it never smiled, but remained

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