List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

visit the country, and are generally willing to sell their secrets
singly, at a regulated price. This seemed a curious investment for
Q---, but he knew how to turn everything to account. By such means
he was enabled to contribute to the amusement of the company, and
thus became a kind of favourite. If he could not manage to sell a
lot of land to an immigrant or speculator, he would carelessly
propose to some of the company to have a game at whist or loo, to
pass the time away; and he never failed to conjure most of their
money into his pockets.

At this time a new character made his appearance at C---, at Mr.
B---, an English farmer of the true yeoman breed. He was a
short-legged, long-bodied, corpulent little man. He wore a brown
coat, with ample skirts, and a vast expanse of vest, with
drab-coloured small-clothes and gaiters. B--- was a jolly,
good-natured looking man, with an easy blunt manner which might
easily pass for honesty.

Q--- had sold him a lot of wild land in some out-of-the-way
township, by making Mr. B--- believe that he could sell it again
very soon, with a handsome profit. Of course his bargain was not a
good one. He soon found from its situation that the land was quite
unsaleable, there being no settlements in the neighbourhood. Instead
of expressing any resentment, he fairly acknowledged that Q--- was
his master at a bargain, and gave him full credit for his address
and cunning, and quite resolved in his own mind to profit by the
lesson he had received.

Now, with all their natural acuteness and habitual dexterity in such
matters, the Canadians have one weak point; they are too ready to
believe that Englishmen are made of money. All that an emigrant has
to do to acquire the reputation of having money, is to seem quite
easy, and free from care or anxiety for the future, and to maintain
a certain degree of reserve in talking of his private affairs. Mr.
B--- perfectly understood how to play his cards with the
land-jobber; and his fat, jolly physiognomy, and rustic, provincial
manners and accent, greatly assisted him in the deception.

Every day Q--- drove him out to look at different farms. B--- talked
carelessly of buying some large "block" of land, that would have
cost him some 3000 or 4000 pounds, providing he could only find
the kind of soil he particularly liked for farming purposes. As he
seemed to be in no hurry in making his selection, Q--- determined
to make him useful, in the meantime, in promoting his views with
respect to others. He therefore puffed Mr. B--- up to everybody as
a Norfolk farmer of large capital, and always appealed to him to
confirm the character he gave of any farm he wished to sell to a new
comer. B---, on his side, was not slow in playing into Q---'s hand
on these occasions, and without being at all suspected of collusion.

In the evening, Mr. B--- would walk into the public room of the
tavern, apparently fatigued with his exertions through the day;
fling himself carelessly on a sofa, and unbutton his gaiters and the
knees of his small-clothes. He took little notice of anybody unless
he was spoken to, and his whole demeanour seemed to say, as plainly
as words, "I care for nobody, nobody cares for me." This was just
the kind of man for Q---. He instantly saw that he would be an
invaluable ally and coadjutor, without seeming to be so. When B---
made his appearance in the evening, Q--- was seldom at the tavern,
for his time had not yet come. In the meanwhile, B--- was sure to
be drawn gradually into conversation by some emigrants, who, seeing
that he was a practical farmer, would be desirous of getting his
opinion respecting certain farms which they thought of purchasing.
There was such an appearance of blunt simplicity of character about
him, that most of these inquirers thought he was forgetting his own
interest in telling them so much as he did. In the course of
conversation, he would mention several farms he had been looking at
with the intention of purchasing, and he would particularly mention
some one of them as possessing extraordinary advantages, but which
had some one disadvantage which rendered it ineligible for him; such
as being too small, a circumstance which, in all probability, would
recommend it to another description of settler.

It is hard to say whether Q--- was or was not deceived by B---; but
though he used him for the present as a decoy, he no doubt expected
ultimately to sell him some of his farms, with a very handsome
profit. B---, however whose means were probably extremely small,
fought shy of buying; and after looking at a number of farms, he
told Q--- that, on mature reflection, he thought he could employ his
capital more profitably by renting a number of farms, and working
them in the English manner, which he felt certain would answer
admirably in Canada, instead of sinking his capital at once in the
purchase of lands. Q--- was fairly caught; and B--- hired some six
or seven farms from him, which he worked for some time, no doubt
greatly to his own advantage, for he neither paid rent nor wages.

Occasionally, other land-speculators would drop into the tavern,
when a curious game would be played between Q--- and them. Once of
the speculators would ask another if he did not own some land in a
particular part of the country, as he had bought some lots in the
same quarter, without seeing them, and would like to know if they
were good. The other would answer in the affirmative, and pretend
to desire to purchase the lots mentioned. The former, in his turn,
would pretend reluctance, and make a similar offer of buying. All
this cunning manoeuvring would be continued for a time, in the hope
of inducing some third party or stranger to make an offer for the
land, which would be accepted. It often happened that some other
person, who had hitherto taken no part in the course of these
conversations, and who appeared to have no personal interest in
the matter, would quietly inform the stranger that he knew the
land in question, and that it was all of the very best quality.

It would be endless to describe all the little artifices practised
by these speculators to induce persons to purchase from them.

Besides a few of these unprincipled traders in land, some of whom
are found in most of the towns, there are a large number of
land-speculators who own both wild and improved farms in all parts
of the colony who do not descend to these discreditable arts, but
wait quietly until their lands become valuable by the progress of
improvement in their neighbourhood, when they readily find
purchasers--or, rather, the purchasers find them out, and obtain
their lands at reasonable prices.

In 1832, when we came to Canada, a great speculation was carried on
in the lands of the U.E. (or United Empire) Loyalists. The sons and
daughters of these loyalists, who had fled to Canada from the United
States at the time of the revolutionary war, were entitled to free
grants of lots of wild land. Besides these, few free grants of land
were made by the British Government, except those made to half-pay
officers of the army and navy, and of course there was a rapid rise
in their value.

Almost all the persons entitled to such grants had settled in the
eastern part of the Upper Province, and as the large emigration
which had commenced to Canada had chiefly flowed into the more
western part of the colony, they were, in general, ignorant of the
increased value of their lands, and were ready to sell them for a
mere trifle. They were bought by the speculators at from 2s. 6d. to
3s. 9d. per acre, and often for much less, and were sold again, with
an enormous profit, at from 5s. to 20s., and sometimes even 40s. per
acre, according to their situation.

As to personally examining these lands, it was a thing never thought
of, for their price was so low that it was almost impossible to lose
by the purchase. The supply of U.E. Loyalists' lands, or claims for
land, for a long time seemed to be almost inexhaustible; for the
loyal refugees appear to have been prolific beyond all precedent,
and most of those who held office at the capital of the province,
or who could command a small capital, became speculators and throve
prodigiously. Many persons, during the early days of the colony,
were thus enriched, without risk or labour, from the inexhaustible
"quivers" of the U.E. Loyalists.

Though the bulk of the speculators bought lands at haphazard,
certain parties who found favour at the government offices managed
to secure the best lands which were for sale or location, before
they were exposed to fair competition at the periodical public sales
in the different districts. Thus a large portion of the wild lands
in the colony were and are still held: the absentee proprietors
profiting from the increased value given to their property by the
improvements of the actual settlers, while they contribute little
or nothing to the cultivation of the country. The progress of the
colony has thus been retarded, and its best interests sacrificed,
to gratify the insatiable cupidity of a clique who boasted the
exclusive possession of all the loyalty in the country; and every
independent man who dared to raise his voice against such abuses was
branded as a Republican.

Mr. Q--- dealt largely in these "U.E. Rights," as they were called,
and so great was the emigration in 1832 that the lands he bought at
2s. 6d. per acre he could readily sell again to emigrants and
Canadians at from 5s. to 15s. per acre, according to situation and
the description of purchasers he met with. I have stated that the
speculators generally buy lands at hap-hazard. By this I mean as to
the quality of the lands. All colonists accustomed to observe the
progress of settlement, and the local advantages which hasten
improvement, acquire a peculiar sagacity in such matters.
Unfortunately for many old countrymen, they are generally entirely
destitute of this kind of knowledge, which is only acquired by long
observation and experience in colonies.

The knowledge of the causes which promote the rapid settlement of a
new country, and of those in general which lead to the improvement
of the physical condition of mankind may be compared to the
knowledge of a language. The inhabitant of a civilised and
long-settled country may speak and write his own language with the
greatest purity, but very few ever reflect on the amount of thought,
metaphor, and ingenuity which has been expended by their less
civilised ancestors in bringing that language to perfection. The
barbarian first feels the disadvantage of a limited means of
communicating his ideas, and with great labour and ingenuity devises
the means, from time to time, to remedy the imperfections of his
language. He is compelled to analyse and study it in its first
elements, and to augment the modes of expression in order to keep
pace with the increasing number of his wants and ideas.

A colony bears the same relation to an old-settled country that a
grammar does to a language. In a colony, society is seen in its
first elements, the country itself is in its rudest and simplest
form. The colonist knows them in this primitive state, and watches
their progress step by step. In this manner he acquires an intimate
knowledge of the philosophy of improvement, which is almost
unattainable by an individual who has lived from his childhood in
a highly complex and artificial state of society, where everything
around him was formed and arranged long before he came into the
world; he sees the effects, the causes existed long before his time.
His place in society--his portion of the wealth of the country--his
prejudices--his religion itself, if he has any, are all more or less
hereditary. He is in some measure a mere machine, or rather a part
of one. He is a creature of education, rather than of original

The colonist has to create--he has to draw on his own stock of
ideas, and to rouse up all his latent energies to meet all his wants
in his new position. Thus his thinking principle is strengthened,
and he is more energetic. When a moderate share of education is
added to these advantages--for they are advantages in one sense--he
becomes a superior being.

I have indulged in these reflections, with manifest risk of being
thought somewhat prosy by my more lively readers, in order to guard
my countrymen, English, Scotch, and Irish, against a kind of
presumption which is exceedingly common among them when they come
to Canada--of fancying that they are as capable of forming correct
opinions on local matters as the Canadians themselves. It is always
somewhat humbling to our self-love to be compelled to confess what
may be considered an error of judgment, but my desire to guard
future settlers against similar mistakes overpowers my reluctance
to own that I fell into the common error of many of my countrymen,
of purchasing wild land, on speculation, with a very inadequate
capital. This was one of the chief causes of much suffering, in
which for many years my family became involved; but through which,
supported by trust in Providence, and the energy of a devoted
partner, I continued by her aid to struggle, until when least
expected, the light of hope at length dawned upon us.

In reflecting on this error--for error and imprudence it was, even
though the result had been fortunate--I have still this poor
comfort, that there was not one in a hundred of persons similarly
situated but fell into the same mistake, of trusting too much to
present appearances, without sufficient experience in the country.

I had, as I have already stated, about 300 pounds when I arrived in
Canada. This sum was really advantageously invested in a cleared
farm, which possessed an intrinsic and not a merely speculative
value. Afterwards a small legacy of about 700 pounds fell into my
hands, and had I contented myself with this farm, and purchased two
adjoining cleared farms containing two hundred acres of land of
the finest quality which were sold far below their value by the
thriftless owners, I should have done well, or at all events have
invested my money profitably. But the temptation to buy wild land at
5s. an acre, which was expected to double in value in a few months,
with the example of many instances of similar speculation proving
successful which came under my notice, proved irresistible.

In 1832 emigration was just at its height, and a great number of
emigrants, several of whom were of the higher class, and possessed
of considerable capital, were directed to the town of C---, in the
rear of which extensive tracts of land were offered to settlers
at the provincial government sales. Had this extensive emigration
continued, I should have been enabled to double my capital, by
selling my wild lands to settlers; but, unfortunately, the
prevalence of cholera during that year, and other causes, gave
such a serious check to emigration to Canada that it has never
been renewed to the same extent since that time. Besides the chance
of a check to emigration generally, the influx of strangers is
often extremely capricious in the direction it takes, flowing one

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: