Canadian Woods and Waters
THE monotony so characteristic generally of the woodlands of Upper Canada is mitigated, to a great extent, by the pleasant waters with which many of the tracts of that country are intersected. Away back from the great lakes, chains of smaller lakes glisten in the bosom of the immense forest. Rivers take their course from these, narrow at first, but noisy, rushing along by sparse settlements and lonely Indian camps to their junction with the big lakes, where mills, and factories, and ships, and human dross in general, soon pollute with unclean contact their fair waters. Many of the early settlers of these regions were of a stamp far different from that of the fough pioneers by whom new settlements have generally been opened in the United States and their territories. Here and there throughout Upper Canada there are communities−some of them progressive, if not actually flourishing, others yet in a backward state−which were founded by men whose early lives had been passed amid the highest refinements of Old World civilization. Among these, retired officers of the army and navy were very frequently to be met with. They were generally married men, with incomes wretchedly inadequate to the support of themselves and their families on the “European plan." Land in Canada was to be acquired in fee for a mere song, and it was something for the cadet of a landed family to become the squire of a thousand acres upon some remote Canadian lake or river, even although six hundred of his acres might be nothing but cedar swamp. The native British keenness for the pursuit of wild creatures had much to do with the choice of locality by the adventurers, who generally set up their log-houses in districts where game and fish were to be had in abundance. Communication by road, until within the last twenty years or so, was so imperfect in many of these tracts, that but little intercourse existed between one settlement and another. On this account agricultural operations were very limited, being confined, generally, to the raising of sufficient grain for family use. In these communities somebody was always found to build a mill; and as the gentleman settlers themselves were not above doing carpenter and blacksmith work, no matter how bunglingly, things were made to look shapely enough in the course of time, and thus were founded villages, some of which have since expanded into towns of considerable size and local importance.
Strangely grotesque, with their halfcivilization, were these places in their earlier days. Characters which would not have been out of place at a bal masqué were frequently to be met with in all of them. Blanket coats in winter, adorned with beaded epaulets, scarlet woollen stockings pulled up over the legs to fend off the snow, and Indian moccasons, were considered quits the proper thing. Once, as I was travelling by sleigh in a comparatively settled part of the country, a young man, who was driving rapidly in the opposite direction, pulled up to greet my companion, with whom he was acquainted. He was coming to the town, from his residence in the heart of the woods, thirty or forty miles from where we met him, and certainly I was astonished−being then newly arrived in the country−at the extreme slenderness of the outfit of one who was bound to do the “man about town for a few days, and that in midwinter too. He was in his shirtsleeves, having no coat with him whatever. His black velvet waistcoat, now foxy and threadbare with much use, wight once have been a chefd'æuvre from the hand of some London tailor whose gossip was of Guardsmen and their measurement. The rest of his costume consisted of a pair of backskin breeches fastened at the knee with pearl buttons, heavy woollen stockings, and pegged boots,− the latter indebted for their lustre more to the rind of pork than to the blacking-brush. Singularly incongruous with this get-up was the kid-gloved hand with which he removed the black pipe from his mouth; nor was his straw hat exactly the sort of head-dress that one might have expected to meet with during a Canadian sleigli-ride. But it was only when he rose to his feet on the little rough sleigh, three feet by two, on which he had been sitting, that the full splendor of his wardrobe became revealed to us ; for then he threw around his shoulders a magnificent cloak, made, I think, of some kind of Siberian fur, and which, folded up, had served him for a cushion on his journey. I frequently afterwards met this exquisite of the backwoods, wrapped in that showy mantle, walking in the streets of the little wooden town, where his appearance, so strange to me, did not seem to excite any particular comment. In those parts, men would often come into the towns, in winter, dressed in blanket coats, with the rather inappropriate accompaniment of white duck trousers and straw hats. Residents did not appear to see anything eccentric in this ; but in the mind of a stranger a sense of the ludicrous was naturally excited by it.
Contrasts were ever to be observed among the striking features of these queer settlements. In one very remote township of which I have memories, there dwelt a family whose eccentricities of costume and manner of life entitle them to some brief record here. A retired officer of the army, with a large troop of well-grown sons and daughters, had built himself a loghouse in this dreary wilderness, the roads leading to which were impassable for four months in the year. The girls of this family were of a beauty that may truthfully be described as magnificent. No painter that I know of ever gave to the world a Diana on canvas at all comparable in beauty of face and form to the eldest of these. The family, although English, had been brought up. I think, in the Greek Archipelago, with the language and dialects of which they were familiar. At home these young wood-nymphs always went barefooted in summer. Their costume, whether in the woods or when they visited the more advanced settlements, was of the Oriental style. Ahead of Mrs. Bloomer, whose note of reform had not yet ruffled the sweeping skirts of the period, they walked fearlessly abroad in loose trousers, fastened at the ankle. Close-fitting bodices, with narrow skirts falling a little below the knee, completed their costume, and the luxuriant masses of their golden-brown hair fell in natural curls to their shoulders from beneath their wide-brimmed straw hats. It was strange thus to find a leaf from “Eothen” amid the black-ash swamps and rickety “corduroy” causeways of one of the dreariest districts of Canada.
In the social life of these places, where rough hospitality is often curiously mingled with a strain of former luxury, incidents of a humorous character will sometimes attract the notice of the visitor. I remember being told by an acquaintance about a visit once made by him to the family of an English gentleman, who had settled upon a small clearing in the depth of the forest. The young men of the family were engaged in burning brush-wood when my informant arrived, and he, anxious to win their approbation, set to work with a will, and toiled with them until the distant horn announced that dinner-time had arrived. Ablution became necessary before the visitor, who by this time was as black as a charcoalburner. could venture to greet the ladies of the household, and pails of water were accordingly furnished hard by the gable end of the house. There was no towel visible, however, and the visitor, with his hands and face dripping from recent immersion, was pained to see that some difficulty had arisen out of his request for one. Then, with sudden impulse, one of the young men went away, and returned in a minute or two with a long and richly embroidered scarf, the golden web interwoven with which, as well as the deep lace border, stamped it as a tissue of price. Assured by the young men that this brocade was inured to duty as the regular family towel, the visitor made use of it as such. The texture of it, as he told me, was not pleasant to the face, and it abraded a good deal of the skin from his nose. It went the rounds after he had used it. and the party adjourned to the dinner-table, where some remark was made as to the non-appearance of the daughter of the house. Presently that young lady entered, however, and took her place at the dinner-table. She had evidently bestowed some extra care upon her toilet in honor of the guest from beyond the “timber limits" but what chiefly attracted his notice in her costume was a curious, gold-embroidered scarf, with deep lace edges, the folds of which, although artfully cast, revealed here and there the smudges of soiled hands. Indeed, my informant− who was a little given to exaggeration, perhaps−used to aver that he recognized upon the mystic garment, just at the point where it was crossed upon the bosom of the lovely sylvan damsel, a portion of the cuticle of his own Roman nose.
In another of these settlements,−it was remote, then, though now it has a great line of railway running through it,−things used to be carried to an extreme just the opposite of that above noticed. It was a little English colony, several of the members ot which were persons of tolerably good means, with influential family connections at home. Engaged, mostly, in agricultural pursuits, they could chop down trees, and drive oxen, and plough, and mow, as well as any lout in the country round, and some of them built their own houses and made furniture for them. They had been swells, though, before they became “hawbucks,” and they brought some of their standard manners and customs with them. It was considered proper in this community to dine at the fashionable hour of six, when every person was expected to be precise in the matter of costume,−the ladies décolletées to the admissible extent, and the gentlemen in black dress-coats and white chokers.” The necessity of supporting the position suggested by this attempt at style, though, induced extravagance. Many of the swells became bankrupt. Their farms passed into more homespun hands. Their black dress-coats have long since become rusty and out of the mode, and the mortiferous whiskey of the country now tantalizes such of them as it has not killed with melancholy remembrances of the Burgundy that was.
The simple faith and primitive arrangements that existed in some of these clearings before the advent of the iron horse were peculiarities that never failed to impress visitors from far-off cities and settlements of older growth. Bolts and bars were the last things that a settler would think about, when fitting up his house. A man would leave his rifle in the canoe, upon the river's bank, for days together, without the least misgiving as to its being spirited away. Rust would not touch it, the climate of Western Canada being singularly free from moisture; and the roving Indians who traversed these woods were dependent in a great measure upon the white man, and had learned to look upon his property with respect. Looking over one of my note-books, I recall the picture of a deserted old shanty that stood in a meadow by the margin of a bright and swift river. The gentleman who had formerly occupied this weather-stained hut had built himself a larger and more ambitious mansion upon the opposite bank of the stream. For some time after he had moved into this, the interior of the house remained in an unfinished state, and he had no accommodation for his books. Of these he had a choice collection, and they were left in their large wooden cases, for two years or so, on the upper floor of the old shanty, the doors of which had already parted from their hinges, and the windows yielded to the autumnal blasts. To this most curious of circulating libraries the owner accorded free access to the few neighbors who occupied the clearings around. Many a time I have swung myself up by the crazy ladder that led to the attic where the books were ; and in summer I would often sit there for hours, reading Cooper’s novels, which had then an attraction enhanced by the circumstances and place. In winter I would take books away. If it was the season for wild ducks I would have a gun beside me, to get a shot at them from the attic window as they flew along the course of the stream. So lonely was the hut, that the mink would often haunt it in search of such small plunder as attracts his kind ; and once I encountered upon the threshold of it a milk-snake about five feet long, which disappeared through the chinks of the flooring before I could administer to it the coup de grace by which man feels it to be his stern duty to cut short the serpentine career.
There is a wonderful fascination in these grand old Canadian woods for sportsmen, whose wildest experiences of their craft, previous to their essay in it there, had been associated with stalking deer upon Highland mountains, or shooting grouse upon the moors. The solitude of woods is of a more impressive character, I think, than that of bare mountains,−in countries, at least, where one may expect to find traces of civilized man. From mountain peaks there is a wide range of view, in which some points of guidance to the traveller are usually visible. Wandering in the woods is much like groping one’s way in the dark; and I know by experience how easy it is for an explorer not well accustomed to them to keep moving in circles, until, after hours of what he imagined to be a straight course, he finds himself back again at some wood-mark long since passed, instead of the place for which he was bound. There is something decidedly sensational in this, especially in winter, as anybody who has ever experienced it will allow. The sounds of the forest are impressive, too, while its stillness, at times almost absolute, is painful. In the mystery of its voices lies a good deal of the fascination of the wood. In the clear, frosty air of winter the cry of the great black woodpecker rings out like an elfin laugh, as he wings his curved way through, the gray stems in quest of some skeleton tree. Explosions caused by the frost are heard among the branches of the trees, They are sometimes as loud as pistol-shots, and−as I can aver from my own observation−the deer, after they have become accustomed to them, will not bound away at the crack of a rifle, and the hunter will often get several shots at one herd, by keeping close in his ambush. But the slightest sound of a twig beneath his moccason, or the tinkle of the powderflask against the muzzle of the rifle as he reloads, will send the herd crashing and flashing away. In the stillness of a summer evening there is something very weird in the cry of the loon, or great Northern diver, as it comes vibrating over the surface of a woodland lake. Where the woods are very thick and dark and lonely, the hooting of owls is commonly to be heard in the daytime. Once only—it was in early summer−I heard the wild turkey-cock utter his vehement call, I made my way in the direction whence the sound came, until I was stopped by a river, on the farther side of which I saw a magnificent “gobbler." strutting with drooped wings and expanded tail along the strip of greensward that lay between the water and the woods, while he issued, in very loud and imperious tones, his orders for the ladies of his seraglio to attend. This action, in the case of the domestic turkey, is always provocative of ridicule ; but it was absolutely grand and striking as displayed by the large-feathered free bird, parading to and fro there upon the river-bank. I watched him for a while, expecting to see the hen-birds come, but they did not ; and so the noble Mormon of the thickets furled his tail at last, and, tucking up his wings, strode moodily into the bush, as if to search for the truants.
To hunters who are accustomed to glide through the forest observantly and with caution, most interesting little scenes of animal life are sometimes revealed. One day, in the snow-time, as I was roaming the woods close by a Canadian river, after wild-turkeys, I noticed a flock of mergansers,−thereabouts usually called saw-billed ducks, or sheldrakes,−swimming in a small air-hole that had remained open in the frozen surface of the river. There were four or five ducks, and the pool might have been about ten feet by six in size. I watched them for some time, as they kept stemming the current, but without any intention of wasting ammunition upon them. My attention was attracted elsewhere for a moment, and I was surprised, on again looking towards them, to see a splendid red fox sitting at the upper edge of the little pool, where he could not have been more than a couple of yards from the nearest of the ducks. Presently he jumped up, and, running to the other end of the pool, stretched out a paw, as if to seize one of them ; but they were too quick for him, placing themselves well beyond his reach with a few strokes of their paddles. He was far too cunning to plunge into the water and risk being carried under the ice by the current ; and the ducks appeared to be quite aware of this, for they did not make any attempt to rise, nor indeed did they seem to be at all uneasy at the proximity of their natural enemy. It was exceedingly interesting, not to say amusing, to watch the many stratagems of the fox to get at them. Sometimes he would lie down upon the snow and lash about him with his bushy tail, whimpering in a querulous and imbecile manner at being thus outwitted by simple water-fowl. Then a new idea would take possession of him, and he would start up and run round and round the pool at a tremendous pace, probably to try and get a chance at the ducks by flurrying them ; but they knew too much for Master Reynard, and always edged away from him just at the right moment. Tired at last of watching these manoeuvres, I “drew a bead” upon the fox ; but my hands were numbed from keeping still so long, so that, instead of hitting him in a vital spot, as I had intended, I only broke one of his forelegs, and away he went into the woods on three paws with amazing speed, while the ducks rose into the air at the report of the rifle, and flew up the course of the river in search of lonelier water. I followed the track of the fox for a mile or more, but had to give up the chase at last. The snow was flecked with spots of blood where he ran ; and although the fox is not usually an object of sympathy around Canadian borders, yet I regretted much that I had not missed this one altogether, instead of maiming him, after all the amusement he had just afforded me by his curious pranks. This little incident of fox and ducks might offer a good subject for the pencil of an animal painter, and I hereby present it either to Mr. W. H. Beard or to Mr. Hays,−whichever of them may first happen to glance over these pages.
In some of the districts where game is yet plentiful, and where the maskinonge−prince of the pike tribe— reigns supreme in the woodland lakes, and the speckled trout haunts the eddies of the clear streams, men who cannot be called settlers, in the proper sense of the word, are often to be met with. They have been attracted thither by the free, wild romance of the forester's life, the Bohemianism of which is a kind by itself, although based, like other phases of that philosophy, upon impatience of the formalities by which society is cramped. On one of these lakes, in a picturesque and not very remote part of Upper Canada, there was generally a little knot of such men to be found,−men who had forsworn the gay world, and come from beyond the sea to live among Indians and make havoc of the wild beasts and birds that still abounded in the region. Sometimes they would come to the cities, and return for a brief time to the usages of civilized life. After their arrival, their affectation was to despise such luxuries as chairs and beds. Of an evening they spread blankets on the floor, and sat there with their pipes and “fire-water,” like gentle savages as they were. I have met with several who, for the first few nights, declined to avail themselves of either house or bed, resorting in preference to some open shed or garden, where they wrapped themselves in their inevitable blankets, and slept the sleep of wild men upon the hard ground, with their knives and rifles at hand, ready to resist any attack that might be made upon them by hostile tribes during the night. Once in the streets of a city I remarked a couple of Indian stragglers, such as are common in Canadian towns. They were dressed in blanket coats, handsomely ornamented, and bound at the waist with sashes of gay colors, in which long knives and tobacco-pouches of marten fur were stuck, and they smoked black pipes as they strolled leisurely along. One of them was a Chippewa of the halt-breed stamp, and rather a good specimen of his caste. His companion, who wore a Scotch bonnet, was far too light in complexion to be an Indian, for, though his face was tanned to a healthy brown by exposure to the weather, his hair, which fell down in long ringlets to his shoulders, was of a fair, yellowish hue, and I observed, besides, that he did not turn his toes inward when walking, as Indians invariably dot On inquiry I found that this romantic young man was an English baronet of moderate fortune, who had been living among the Indians at the lake for two or three years. He had been a Guardsman in his time, and a man about the clubs, and, having drained society to the dregs, had taken to Canadian woods and waters as a change from the comforts and inconveniences of too much civilization. Some time afterwards I saw him again, but in far different guise. He was once more a swell, and was driving a smart English “trap,” with a handsome team, in the streets of the same town. Not long after this he returned to England, I believe, and is none the worse, probably, for his adventures by the shores of the pleasant lake of the woods.
Farther down the St. Lawrence, where Lower Canada stretches away to the northeast until it reaches melancholy Labrador, lies an immense field of exploration. More picturesque in its features than the upper or western province, this offshoot of old France offers peculiar attractions to persons who would escape, for a while, from the turmoils and cares of the too-busy world. On the south side of the river, within thirty or forty miles of the picturesque fortress of Quebec, moose are still plentiful, and during the winter months their venison is always to be found in the markets of the old town. The caribou haunts the wildernesses of timbered mountains that rise away back from the north shore. Parties of hardy sportsmen set out every winter from Quebec for the chase of these noble deer. It is only upon snow-shoes, the raquettes of the French Canadians, that this sport can be pursued; the snow generally lying to the depth of three or four feet on the level in the woods. The practice of walking upon these contrivances is general throughout Lower Canada. On fine afternoons, when the snow is well packed, hundreds of young men, and not unfrequently young ladies, may be seen scudding across the country, in every direction, outside the walls of Quebec. The fences are covered by the snow, so that no obstacles are offered to pedestrians unless they are bold enough to enter the woods. Walking upon snow-shoes is a regular part of the training of soldiers in garrison here and at Montreal. There are snowshoe clubs, which have races during the season, sometimes over hurdles three feet high. I have seen a good performer jump higher than that upon his snow-shoes. This training enables the sportsman to range the forest with ease, and to follow the tracks of the moose until he brings it to bay,−for the animal is heavy, and sinks deep into the snow at every plunge. With the caribou it is not so easy to come up, the hoofs of that animal being so arranged as to spread out and offer some resistance to the snow. When the hunter goes about his work in earnest, the hardship and fatigue attending this kind of sport are very great. In the little churchyard at Rivière-du-Loup, one hundred and twenty miles below Quebec, there is a tombstone to the memory of Captain Turner, an English officer who went there many years ago to hunt moose. I made inquiries about him from the people of the village, who told me that his death was caused by over-fatigue in running down moose, and afterwards conveying the venison, together with the immense heads and horns, on trebogans through miles of the wild bush. One of two Indians whom he had with him as guides died from the same cause. Sometimes hunters are seized with what is called by Canadians the mal-aux-raquettes, which is a kind of cramp caused by the pressure of the snow-shoe thongs near the instep, not unfrequently obliging the sufferer to set up camp and rest for several days before resuming his journey.
But summer is, after all, the season in which to enjoy best the wild scenery and sports of the Lower St. Lawrence. On the north shore, especially, rivers of wondrous grandeur succeed each other at intervals all along the rock-bound coast. About one hundred and thirty miles below Quebec the savage, gloomy Saguenay rolls between its walls of rock into the St. Lawrence, which here is nearly twenty miles in width. A wild and beautiful spot is the little bay of Tadousac at the mouth of the Saguenay, with its curved beach of white sand. When I last visited the place there was a post of the Hudson's Bay Company there, established chiefly for the purpose of the salmon fishery. Since that time, however, all these rivers have been taken under the immediate protection of the government. Laws have been passed for the protection of the fish, and they are rigidly enforced, too, under the direction of a Superintendent of Fisheries. The result of this is, that within a few years the salmon have gradually returned to many splendid rivers from which they had been driven. The system of netting has been regulated so as to favor the fish, although, as I am informed, there is much room for improvement in this respect yet. It is incumbent upon owners of saw-mills now to furnish their dams with “passes” of peculiar construction, up which the fish can travel by a succession of leaps. The Indians are forbidden to devastate the waters with the destructive negogue, or fish-spear; with which weapon they used to mutilate more fish than they killed. One dark night, as I lay on the bank of the Escoumain, one of the most beautiful of these rivers, I was surprised to see a number of lights flashing out suddenly over the dark pool below the lower fall. A horde of Milicete Indians had silently paddled their canoes past us under cover of night, and were now busily engaged in spearing the salmon. It was a curious and beautiful sight to see these ragged savages, by the light of their torches, darting their long spears into the water with wonderful quickness and precision, bringing up every now and then a bright-sided salmon, and knocking it oft the barbs into the canoe. The perfect wildness and remoteness of the place added much to the impressive character of the scene. But it was mortifying to think of the wholesale slaughter that was going on, and of ourin capacity to put a stop to it, for our party consisted of but four, and would have been of no avail against twenty red savages armed with rifles and spears. It is true that we had brought with us a letter from the agent of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Tadousac to the net-keeper at the Escoumain, enjoining that functionary to give us every assistance and information in his power. One of the instructions contained in that missive ran, as I remember, “chassez les sauvages" but the chase of twenty armed savages by one small and smoke-dried old Canadian, like the net-keeper, would have been a futile, not to say ridiculous, proceeding. And so the Indians had the pool to themselves on that dark July night, and at gray dawn they drifted past us down the stream, their canoes loaded with salmon, to which we had fondly, though delusively, fancied that we had an exclusive right.
One of the “gamest” and most beautiful fish for which angler ever busked artificial fly is the sea-trout that comes up with the summer tides into all these tributaries of the Lower St. Lawrence. Seldom under one pound in weight, and often weighing as much as four pounds, these fish are so similar in appearance to the common brook-trout, that many experienced fishermen declare them to be one and the same species, the slight difference between the two being accounted for by the influence of the salt water and the peculiar feeding to be found in it. In color they are rather more silvery than the brook-trout, but they are marked, like that fish, with brilliant spots of red and blue along the sides. The best place to fish for them is where the sea-tide meets the clear, fresh water of the river, near its mouth. There are times when the salmon becomes unaccountably reserved, and will not condescend to reply to the line of invitation wafted to him by the angler across the eddies of the pool. It is then that the sea-trout is found to be a valuable substitute for his larger congener of the river, to whom he is only second in affording excellent sport. In casting for the trout it is advisable to use but one fly. Once, in the Saguenay, I used a casting-line with three flies attached to it, as for ordinary trout-fishing. At the first cast three sea-trout, each apparently over a pound in weight, were upon my tackle at once, and the consequence was a tangle which resulted in the loss of my casting-line and flies.
But for the mosquitoes and black-flies, which are very troublesome in all this region, there can be no pleasanter summer resort for the angler and the overworked city man. In winter there must be an awful, arctic dreariness upon the place, and I can hardly imagine any person not a French Canadian or an Esquimau taking up his abode there. And yet upon one of the most savage of these rivers−the Mingan, I think −an angler with whom I am acquainted fell in with a man of ancient Scottish family. He bore a distinguished name, and had probably once been an ornament to the social circles in which he moved. When my informant saw him, he had ceased to be ornamental in any sense of the word, and had long been a dweller in the wilderness. In appearance he differed but little from the dirty half-breeds of the coast. Like them, he lived in a wigwam, with a squaw, and had around him a family of children so numerous and dirty that they were a wonder to see. He had been there for many years, and did not seem to think that he should ever go back to England again. Society had galled him with its harness, and the "raw” was visible yet. He was in occasional communication with his relatives at home, had a small, but independent income, and was heir. I think, to a much larger one. Occasionally he would make his way to the nearest settlement or Hudson’s Bay post, where he sometimes found letters and newspapers awaiting him ; so that, although a little backward as to dates, he had still some general idea of how matters were going on in the great world. Strong indeed must be the fascination of the free Indian life, thus to work its spells upon a man of education and refinement like this eccentric dweller by the waters of the rugged Mingan.
Among the creatures that visit the Lower St. Lawrence is the white whale, −beluga of the naturalists. On a fine summer’s day, when the water is blue and calm, these curious rovers of the deep may be seen basking with their backs just over the surface, looking so like small icebergs that they convey an agreeable sense of coolness to the observer. At other times, and especially just about nightfall, they are very active, tumbling and splashing and spouting in every direction, as if in play. Often have I been startled by one as it rose, suddenly, and with a loud snort, close by the little yacht, while we lay at anchor for the night. I was told here, that the calf, or young, of this whale utters a kind of bleating cry, and that the mother whales frequently carry their young ones upon their backs. Some few years ago I had an opportunity of verifying the truth of these statements by observing the habits of a white whale and her calf that were exhibited by Mr. Cutter, of Boston, at Jones’s Wood, near New York. The calf used to throw itself upon the back of its dam, with a peculiar squeal, and remain there till carried several times round the tank. Brush wears are built by the inhabitants of these coasts for the capture of this kind of whale, which is generally called the white porpoise here. These wears are merely hedges of stiff brushwood, arranged so as to enclose a wedge-like space, with its wide end open to the river. The whales wander up into them, when they soon become embarrassed by the obstacles on either side, losing their reckoning at last, and “coming to grief” by being stranded upon the beach when the tide ebbs. They are not uncommonly from sixteen to twenty feet in length, and specimens have occasionally been captured which had attained the great length of forty feet. One of average size will yield about a hundred gallons of oil. A soft and excellent leather, well adapted for shoemakers’ and other work, is now manufactured from their skins, which were first discovered to be available for this purpose by an enterprising Canadian named Têtu. residing, I think, at Kamouraska, on the southern bank of the river.
The chase of the pourcil−a small species of whale, not often exceeding five or six feet in length, and ot a sooty color−affords good sport, hereabouts, to those who are skilful and hardy enough to follow it. In calm, clear weather only the hunter dares to pursue this creature in his frail canoe, and even then he runs the risk of being caught in one of the squalls that arise so suddenly on this part of the St. Lawrence. One hunter sits in the stern of the canoe, and paddles, while the other, armed with a long duck-gun, loaded with buck-shot, kneels in the bow. Now and then the pourcil emerges partly from the water, and the canoe is kept swiftly upon his course until a chance offers for a shot. Sometimes the creature is killed by the shot, but more frequently only stunned, so as to enable the hunters to approach near enough to despatch him with their harpoons.
Seals in great numbers haunt the mouths of the tributaries here, attracted by the travelling salmon, upon which they commit sad depredations, often following them even into the fishermen’s nets. The hunting of seals is carried on chiefly in the winter time, when the great river is partially blocked up with ice. About twenty-five years ago, at a place called Trois Pistoles, on the south bank, an immense number of seals made their appearance upon the ice just after it had become fixed along the shore. Seals are reckoned valuable game in those parts, and the inhabitants of the parish, armed with clubs, turned out to chase them, under the direction of six priests. They had killed some four hundred, when suddenly the ice parted from the shore, and went drifting down with the tide, priests, habitans, seals, and all. Down they drifted, past dreary shores, the sparse inhabitants of which did all they could to aid them, but succeeded in taking off only a few in their canoes. On, on, still they floated, past other parishes, where people knelt and prayed loudly for them on the shore ; then past other parishes, again, where the canoemen were more adventurous, and picked the poor fellows off the ice in detail, until every one of them was brought safely to land, yet not before they had suffered great hardship from cold and fright. The old French Canadian from whom I heard this was one cf the hunters on the occasion ; and although he expressed exceeding gratitude to le bonDieu for the rescue of himself and his companions, yet he had words of lamentation for the loss of the seals, not one of which was recovered.
A primitive and interesting race are the French Canadians of these coasts. Many of their villages and churches−the latter with very steep roofs, generally painted red−have a quaint, antiquated air, and some of the settlements hereabouts are really of very remote date. Wind-bound for a couple of days at one of the oldest and queerest of these villages, on a forlorn little bay, not far from the Saguenay, I went ashore to observe the manners and customs of the place. By the threshold of every house there lay two or three pair of huge wooden clogs, looking almost like “dug-out” canoes, and into these the people popped their feet when the roads were muddy, and their occupations obliged them to go out of doors. A large wooden crucifix stood by the roadside near the entrance of the village, with a small space around it enclosed by a wooden railing. Young girls in widebrimmed straw hats were kneeling at the foot of it, and I noticed that they had left their clogs outside the railing. Presently an old woman came along, and she too deposited her dug-outs reverently outside the little sanctuary before she entered. These roadside crosses are to be met with everywhere in the French Canadian settlements, many of them curiously fitted up as shrines, and decorated with votive offerings. The valley in which this little village stood had a pastoral appearance, but the hills to the north, of it were of a wild and dreary character, suggesting endless tracts of wilderness beyond their dark ridges.
At this place, near the margin of the little bay, there stood a frame house of better appearance than the ordinary dwellings of the village. It had a weird and weather-stained look, nevertheless, which was in keeping with the clump of stunted and sea-blighted pines by which it was partially sheltered. The garden belonging to it appeared to have been once well stocked, but it had run much to weeds and tangle now, and the fence had rotted away in places, and left it open to the road. From this house there came, as I strolled past, an old man, whose appearance was at once so singular, and so different from that of the ordinary inhabitants of the place, that my curiosity impelled me to stop and speak to him as he saluted me in passing. He was tall and very thin, and, though apparently between seventy and eighty years of age, walked with an erect carriage, leaning but slightly upon the cane he carried. His face, which was remarkably small, looked like shrivelled parchment, and his iron-gray hair hung straight down to his shoulders, like that of an Indian. He was dressed, not in the gray cloth of the country, but in an old-fashioned suit, which might once have been black, but was now faded to a dingy greenish hue, and there was about him a decided air of tarnished gentility very much out of character with the place and its inhabitants. Speaking excellent English, he invited me to accompany him to his house ; and as dinner was nearly ready when we entered, he pressed me to remain and partake of it. The table was spread by an old lady quite as faded and decayed as himself. She was his sister, he told me; adding that she was very deaf, and so nervous that he hoped I would excuse her for not joining us at the repast. And so we two sat down quite companionably together to a dinner consisting of boiled pork and excellent potatoes and milk, with wild strawberries for a dessert.
The record of this old man’s life was a strange one. He was born at Quebec, of Swiss parents, who took him with them, while he was yet a child, to Switzerland, in which country and in France he received his education and passed the earlier years of his life. Returning to Canada when a grown-up young man, he became a trader among the Indians, and was for some time in charge of a frontier post hard by where the city of Detroit now stands. After various ups and downs in life, he joined his brothers at this old settlement, where they had a mill and a country store. That was nearly fifty years before, and be had never been out of the place since. His brothers were all dead, and the sister to whom I have referred was the only one of the family besides himself now left. Another sister had died only two months previously, and this accounted for the bit of black crape twisted round the old gentleman’s little gallipot-shaped glazed hat, which he had lifted so politely when I met him on the road. One of his brothers was drowned by accident, and another had committed suicide,− a fact which he communicated to me in a hollow whisper, as we sat there in the dim old room. Fourteen members of his family were buried, he told me, under the shade of the pine-trees near the house. Two more graves must have been added to the row long since ; and that is the end of a family which evidently had once enjoyed good social position, judging from the cultivated manners and conversation of the strange old man, who had been fossilizing for nearly half a century in this remote place.
Among the reminiscences imparted to me by the old man of the bay, I have note of the following.
While he was at the frontier post near Detroit, engaged in commerce with the savage tribes and pioneering trappers, there was a gathering of warriors at the place,−a sort of carnival in celebration of some event interesting to the red men. One day the Indians got drunker than usual, and, having exhausted their stock of liquor, a deputation of them entered the store of the trader, and demanded a fresh supply on credit, which was refused. Upon this the savages became insolent and abusive, and the trader’s partner, a man of great determination and personal strength, struck down the leader of them with an axe-handle, just as the tomahawks began to gleam. The savages were now leaping forward to cut down the white man, who had intrenched himself among some barrels, when a fiendish yell rang through the building, seeming to paralyze them like an electric shock, and a short, thickset Indian, of very dark complexion, suddenly made his appearance in the midst of them. Raising his tomahawk aloft, and uttering a few words in his native tongue, the dark-faced warrior pointed to the door, through which the cowed savages filed sullenly away and sought their wigwams. This was the renowned Tecumseh, and such was the influence he exercised over his people, even when they were maddened by drink.
From the rough and sterile nature of the country through which many of these north-shore Canadian rivers run, it seems unlikely that their solitudes will ever be converted into fields for the permanent civilization that agriculture alone can establish. Lumbering operations and the fisheries constitute their only inducements for settlers, and these branches of industry are chiefly carried on by a nomadic population, nearly as wild in their ways of life as the aborigines of the region. Sportsmen will be glad to know, however, that of late years the facilities for reaching these rivers have been much improved. Steamers now ply regularly upon the St. Lawrence, at least as far down as the Saguenay. Landing-piers have been built at many points where it was necessary, not many years ago, for passengers to wade ashore from their boats; and the roads over the capes and highlands−where any roads have yet been made−are of a less impracticable and aggravating character than formerly. The right of leasing the rivers for fly-fishing is vested in the government, from whose Superintendent of Fisheries at Quebec all desired information on the subject can be obtained.
It is from Upper Canada that the curious old-time features of the country are passing rapidly away with the grand old woods. Within the present century the celebrated Joseph Brant, called Thayendenegea by the red men, held his half-barbaric court, as Chief of the Six Nations, at the very spot on the Grand River where the thriving town of Brantford now stands. Brant had seen European civilization, and was the friend and companion of English statesmen ; and he curiously grafted that civilization upon the Six Nations’ manners and customs when be returned to his strong-hold on the Grand River. Old men in Upper Canada yet spin yarns about the entertainments given by this chief at his hospitable mansion, where the guests were waited on by negro servants dressed in liveries ot green, and gold, and a gigantic Indian with a barrel-organ used to be stationed in the hall, to enhance the pleasures of the banquet with sweet music. This condition of things can never exist again, for which people have reason to be thankful, perhaps ; but away into the past with the Indian and his gauds are vanishing the deer, and the wildturkeys, and the creatures that men cover for their fur. Many of the deep, cold brooks, in which the speckled trout used to abound, are evaporating to mere threads as the country is cleared. Others have been poisoned by manufactures or choked up with the débriś of saw-mills, to the extinction of the fish ; and Upper Canada, on the whole, offers but a cheerless prospect now to the blighted young man of leisure who would forswear society and seek to live primitively in backwoods solitudes on the produce of his rod and gun.