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

kept up between the parties in Parliament; while the people, amidst
these attentions, lost sight of the true interests of the country,
and improvements of all kinds came nearly to a stand-still. As
matters were then conducted, it would have been much better had
the colony been ruled by a governor and council; for, in that case,
beneficial measures might have been carried into effect. Such a
state of things could not last long; and the discontent of a large
portion of the people, terminating, through the indiscretion of an
infatuated local government, in actual rebellion, soon produced
the remedy. The party generally most powerful in the Legislative
Assembly, and the members of which had been so long and so
unconstitutionally excluded from holding offices under the
government, at once obtained the position which they were entitled,
and the people being thus given the power of governing by their
majorities in Parliament, improvements of all kinds are steadily
advancing up the present moment, and their prosperity and
contentment have increased in an equal proportion.

Had the first settlement of Canada been conducted on sound and
philosophical principles, much hardship and privation, as well as
loss of capital in land speculations, would have been saved to its
first settlers, and the country, improved and improving as it now
is, would have presented a very different aspect at the present
time. With the best intentions, the British government may be justly
accused of gross ignorance of the true principles of colonisation,
and the local governments are still more open to the accusation of
squandering the resources of the colony--its lands--in building
up the fortunes of a would-be aristocracy, who being non-resident
proprietors of wild lands, necessarily obstructed the progress of
improvement, while the people were tantalised with the empty
semblance of a free government.

No sooner did emigrants from Great Britain begin to pour into Upper
Canada, so as to afford a prospect of the wild lands becoming
saleable, than a system of land speculation was resorted to by many
of the old colonists. This land speculation has no doubt enriched
many individuals, but more than any other abuse has it retarded the
natural progress of the country, and the interests of the many have
thus been sacrificed to those of the few. Almost all other
speculations may be said, in one shape or another, to do good; but
land speculation has been an unmitigated curse to Canada, because it
occasions a monopoly of the soil, and prevents it from being cleared
and rendered productive, until the speculators can obtain their own
price for it.

The lands granted to soldiers and sailors who had served in Canada,
and those granted to the U.E. loyalists, were bought up, often
at merely nominal prices, from the original grantees and their
children, and sold again with an immense profit to new settlers
from the old country, or retained for many years in an unproductive
state. A portion of the lands granted to the U.E. loyalists was, of
course, occupied by the heads of families; but the lands to which
their children became entitled, under the same benevolent provision
of the government, were generally drawn in remote situations. By
far the larger portion of these grants, however, were not located
or rendered available by the grantees, but remained in the shape
of U.E. rights, which were purchased at very low prices by the
speculators. These U.E. rights were bought at the rate of 1s. 3d.,
2s. 6d., or 3s. 9d. per acre; and it was by no means uncommon for
old soldiers to sell one hundred acres of land for two or three
dollars, or even for a bottle of rum, so little value did they set
on such grants in the then state of Canada. These grants, though
well meant, and with respect to the U.E. Loyalists, perhaps,
unavoidable, have been most injurious to the country.

The great error in this matter, and which could have been avoided,
was the opening of too great an extent of land AT ONCE for
settlement. A contrary system, steadily pursued, would have produced
a concentrated population; and the resources of such a population
would have enabled the colonists, by uniting their labour and
capital, to make the means of communication, in some degree, keep
pace with the settlement of the lands; and Upper Canada would now
have been as well provided with canals and railroads as the United
States. The same abuses, no doubt, existed formerly to as great an
extent in that country, but, being longer settled, it has outgrown
the evil. Enough has been said on this subject to show some of the
causes which have retarded improvements in Canada.

Another chief cause of the long and helpless torpor in which the
country lay, was the absence of municipal governments in the various
rural localities. It indeed seems strange, that such a simple matter
as providing the means of making roads and bridges by local
assessment could not have been conceded to the people, who, if we
suppose them to be gifted with common sense, are much more capable
of understanding and managing their own parish business, than any
government, however well disposed to promote their interests.

Formerly the government of Upper Canada was deluged with petitions
for grants of money from Parliament to be expended in improvements
in this or that locality, of the reasonableness of which claims the
majority of the legislators were, of course, profoundly ignorant.
These money grants became subjects of a species of jobbing, or
manoeuvering, among the members of the House of Assembly; and he
was considered the best member who could get the most money for
his county. Commissioners resident in the particular localities
were appointed to superintend these public works; and as these
commissioners were generally destitute of practical knowledge,
these Parliamentary grants were usually expended without producing
equivalent results. Nothing in the abstract is more reasonable
than that any number of individuals should be allowed to associate
themselves for the purpose of effecting some local improvement,
which would be beneficial to others as well as to themselves; but
nothing of this could be attempted without an Act of Parliament,
which, of course, was attended with expense and delay, if not
disappointment. The time and attention of the provincial parliament
were thus occupied with a mass of parish business, which could have
been much better managed by the people themselves on the spot.

When the union of the two provinces was in contemplation, it became
evident that the business of such an extended colony could not be
carried on in the United Parliament, were it to be encumbered and
distracted with the contending claims of so many localities. This
consideration led to the establishment of the District (now County)
Municipal Councils. These municipal councils were denounced by the
conservative party at the time as a step towards republicanism! Were
this true, it would only prove that the government of our republican
neighbours is better than our own; for these municipal institutions
have been eminently beneficial to Canada. But municipal councils are
necessarily no more republican in their nature, than the House of
Commons in England. However this may be, the true prosperity of
Upper Canada may be mainly attributed to their influence on the
minds of the people.

Possessing many of the external forms of a parliament, they are
admirable political schools for a free people. The most intelligent
men in the different townships are freely elected by the
inhabitants, and assemble in the county town to deliberate and make
by-laws, to levy taxes, and, in short, to do everything which in
their judgment will promote the interest of their constituents.
Having previously been solely occupied in agricultural pursuits,
it might naturally be expected that their first notions would be
somewhat crude, and that they would have many long-cherished
prejudices to overcome. Their daily intercourse with the more
educated inhabitants of the towns, however, tended to remove these
prejudices, while new ideas were continually presented to their
minds. The rapidity with which this species of practical education
is acquired is remarkable, and also, how soon men with such limited
opportunities of acquiring knowledge, learn to think and to express
their views and opinions in appropriate language. These municipal
councillors go home among their constituents, where they have to
explain and defend their proceedings; while so engaged, they have
occasion to communicate facts and opinions, which are fairly
discussed, and thus enlightened views are diffused through the
mass of people.

The councillors, at first, were averse to the imposition or increase
of taxation, however desirable the object might be; but pride and
emulation very soon overcame this natural reluctance; and the
example of some neighbouring county, with that natural desire to do
good, which, more or less, influences the feelings and conduct of
all public men, were not long in producing their beneficial results,
even with the risk of offending their constituents. When the County
Municipal Councils were first established, the warden or president
of the council, and also the treasurer, were appointed by the
governor; but both these offices were afterwards made elective, the
warden being elected by the council from their own body, and the
treasurer being selected by them, without previous election by the

Lately, councils have been also established in each township for
municipal purposes affecting the interest of the township only, the
reeves, or presidents, of which minor councils form the members of
the county council. This general system of municipalities, and a
late act of the provincial parliament, enabling the inhabitants to
form themselves into road companies, have converted the formerly
torpid and inactive townships into busy hives of industry and
progressive improvement.

Our agricultural societies have also played no mean part in
furthering the progress of the colony. In colonies fewer prejudices
are entertained on the subject of agricultural matters than on any
others, and the people are ever ready to try any experiment which
offers any prospect of increased remuneration for labour. Education,
of late, has also made rapid advances in this province; and now, the
yeomanry of the more improved townships, though they may be inferior
to the yeomanry of England in the acquirements derived from common
school education, are certainly far superior to them in general
intelligence. Their minds are better stocked with ideas, and they
are infinitely more progressive. When we consider the relative
periods at which the first settlements were formed in the United
States and in Upper Canada, and the accumulation of capital in the
former, it will not be difficult to show that the progress of Canada
has been much more rapid.

The excavation of the Erie Canal, the parent of all the subsequent
improvements of a similar nature in the United States, opened-up for
settlement a vast country to the westward, which would otherwise for
many years have remained a wilderness, unfit for the habitation of
man. The boundless success of this experiment necessarily led to
all the other similar undertakings. The superior advantages Canada
enjoyed in her river and lake navigation, imperfect as that
navigation was, operated in a manner rather to retard than to
accelerate improvements of this kind; while the construction of
the Erie Canal was a matter of prospective necessity, in order to
provide for a rapidly increasing population and immigration. In the
same manner, the recent completion of the works on the St. Lawrence,
and the enlargement of the Welland Canal, connecting Lakes Erie and
Ontario, will just as necessarily be followed by similar results,
with the additional advantage of the whole colony being greatly
benefitted by the commerce of the United States, in addition to
her own.

We have now, thanks to responsible government, municipal councils,
and common schools, no longer any reason to consider their
institutions better calculated to develope the resources of the
colony, than our own. Our interests are almost identical, and with
our canals and railroads on both sides mutually beneficial, our
former hostility has merged into a friendly rivalry in the march of
intellect, and we may now truly say that, without wishing for any
change in political institutions, which are most congenial to the
feelings of the people where they exist, each country now sincerely
rejoices in the prosperity of its neighbour.

Before concluding this chapter, I shall endeavour to give the reader
a short description of the county of Hastings, in which I have held
the office of sheriff for the last twelve years, and which, I
believe, possesses many advantages as a place of settlement, over
all the other places I have seen in the Upper Province. I should
premise, however, lest my partiality for this part of the colony
should be supposed to incline me to overrate its comparative
advantages to the settler, that my statements are principally
intended to show the progress of Upper Province generally; and that
when I claim any superiority for this part of it, I shall give,
what I trust the reader will consider, satisfactory reasons for my

The settlement of a thickly-wooded country, when it is left to
chance, is a most uncertain and capricious matter. The narrow views
and interests of a clique in the colony, or even of an influential
individual, often direct emigration out of its natural course,
involving unnecessary suffering to the settler, a waste or absolute
loss of capital, and a retarding of the progress of the country.
The circumstances and situation of the United States were less
productive of these evils than those of Upper Canada, because
settlement went on more uniformly from the seacoast towards the
interior. The mighty rivers and lakes of Canada, though productive
of boundless prosperity, operated in the first period of its
settlement, most unfavourably on the growth of the colony, by
throwing open for settlement an extensive inland coast, at that
time unconnected with the ocean by means of canals. Hence numerous
detached, feeble, and unprogressive settlements, came into
existence, where the new settlers had to struggle for years with
the most disheartening difficulties.

European settlers know but little of the value of situation. In most
cases they are only desirous of acquiring a large extent of land at
a low price, and thus, unless restrained by the wise regulations of
a provident government, they too often ruin themselves, and waste
their capital in a wilderness, where it does good to no one. When
emigration from the United Kingdom began to set in to Upper Canada,
the pernicious speculation in wild lands commenced in earnest. As
most of the land speculators possessed shares in the steam-boats on
Lake Ontario, the interests of both speculations were combined. It
was, of course, the interest of the steam-boat proprietors to direct
emigration as far to the westward as possible; and influenced by

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: