First Impressions of Perth 1817
Rev. Bell’s First Impressions
Rev. William Bell’s diary helps us to visualize and understand the community our ancestors called home when they settled in Upper Canada. Writing about his arrival and first impressions of the military depot of Perth, he notes:
“Perth is pleasantly situated on the banks of the Tay, formerly called Pike River. The length of the town is 7/8 of a mile, the breadth, somewhat less. The streets are regularly laid out, and cross each other at right angles, at the distance of 140 yards from each other. Many hands were employed making improvements, and at least 60 acres were already cleared. About 30 log houses were erected, and materials collected for more.
“The river runs through the town and varies from 30 to 50 yards in breadth. At the upper side of the town it contains an island, measuring about 10 acres, and connected with two sides of that town by two wooden bridges. On this the militia are annually mustered on St. George’s Day. Near the center of the town there is a hill on which are erected the jail, the courthouse and two of the churches. The streets are 66” wide and by their intersections, divide the site into squares of 4 acres each. Each building lot contains an acre so that the gardens are large and the houses at a considerable distance from one another. The town now contains about 100 buildings, some of them finished in an elegant and commodious manner.
After his first Sabbath, when he preached in an inn, he makes his first comment on the people of the community. For Rev. Bell, first impressions might only be described as culture shock. The gap between the mores of those of his social status in the life he left and those of the settlers was something he struggled with throughout his life. Additionally, many of the individuals of ‘status’ within the community were soon to prove to be a disappointment to him.
Commenting that his situation was not unlike that of a missionary to the heathens he noted that . . . most of the settlers were still living in small huts. . . and he found himself in a thinly peopled country, in which few make a profession of religion. As soon as possible he visited the families of the Scotch settlement where he received a warm welcome. It was while making their acquaintance that he discovered the reality of travel in the new community (more on this to come).
“No person, who has ever been in a new settlement, can conceive how fatiguing and unpleasant it is to wade through swamps and bushes, and climb over rocks and fallen timber, under a burning sun, and surrounded with a cloud of mosquitoes. Every night when I reached home, I was ready to drop down both with corporeal and mental fatigue.
Several Shocks of earth quakes have of late been felt, but most of them were slight. The most severe was in the autumn of 1816, which created some alarm.