Life in a New World
In this article, designed to provide information to the prospective immigrant, Dr. Bell addresses the physical environment of the new community. In many ways, the flora and fauna around Perth has changed only a little. Wherever cultivated crops are grown, the battle between the farmer and insects, birds and wildlife continue. Although the trees and wild fruit were similar, European varieties had been cultivated for generations and the quality and size of produce differed.
Many of the immigrants were labourers, weavers and wage earners before leaving their native land. Employment opportunities in the new community, were not only limited, but also different to the occupations they knew. The settlers needed to learn new skills to supply the needs of their family. This often meant they were required to identify and produce marketable products they could barter. Barter was a necessity in the new community when money became scarce. Some items could only be obtained through purchase.
“Stamp duties have never been imposed, which affords a freedom and facility to the transacting of business, quite pleasing to those who have long grumbled at this encumbrance. The revenues of the province are chiefly raised from tavern, still, and other licenses, together with the duties levied on imported goods.
“The exports of Canada consist chiefly in furs, timber, pot and pearl ashes. What has been said about exporting provisions has in a great measure founded on a mistake. The flour, pork, beef, and other articles, shipped from the St. Lawrence, come chiefly from the United States. Agriculture is there better understood, and is conducted with greater spirit than in this country. The farmers in the state of New York not only send down quantities of flour and other provisions to Montreal, but they come over to Canada in the winter, when the sleighing is good, and undersell our settlers in their own markets. Last winter, and the winter before, they brought their produce more than 100 miles, and sold it here; the best beef and pork for 3d. a pound, flour at $4 a barrel, and whiskey at half a dollar a gallon. It is true there is a duty upon American produce brought into Canada, but when the river can be crossed at any part upon the ice, it cannot be collected.
“The fur trade is one of which we know little or nothing. It is carried on chiefly by the servants of the Northwest, at a great distance back among the Indians, in the uncultivated parts of the country. A few bears, martins, muskrats, etc. are killed in the settlement every year, the skins of which are sold to the merchants.
“Since the termination of the war, money has become very scarce. This has induced the farmers to begin to manufacture their own clothing. Most of them have a few sheep, which succeed very well. While the mutton supplies their tables, the wool is spun and manufactured into cloth by the female part of the family. It is not unusual now to see a loom in a farmer’s house, especially among the American part of the population. The hides of cattle they kill are sent to the tan work, and they receive half of it back when dressed, the tanner retaining the other half for his trouble. This they work up into shoes, when the weather does not permit their pursuing the labour of the field.
“Almost every farmer manufactures sugar in the spring to last his family the year. When this is spent, they often drink their tea without sugar, till the spring brings them a new supply. Almost every article of provision and clothing is raised on their own farms, but the few articles they must purchase from the merchant, they pay with ashes, timber, staves, wheat, flour, butter, cheese or butcher meat.
Trees and Fruit
“Our forests afford a great variety of timber. The kinds of most used for exportation are oak, pine, birch, and maple. They are also in demand here for the same purpose, mahogany being little used. From maple trees sugar is made, and the wood is the best of any for fuel.
“Apple trees are of various kinds; they are seldom grafted, and yet bear abundance of fruit, especially near the rivers and lakes; but upon high ground they are sometimes destroyed by the severity of the cold in winter. Plums, both green and red, are abundant and easily raised. Cherries of several sorts are also to be met with, but the trees imported from Britain produce the best fruit. This is also the case with gooseberries, currants, strawberries, etc. which are both abundant and good. Those growing wild in the bush are of little use. Wild vines are to be met with, and some of them produce very good grapes, though they are small.
“The horses in the lower province are mostly of the Canadian breed. They are not large, but remarkably strong and hardy; and upon a good road, one of them will draw a light sleigh, with two persons in it, fifty miles a day for several days in succession. In the Upper province, American horses of a larger breed are more in use. Carts are rarely met with here. Wagons are generally used, and the horses are harnessed in pairs.
“The wild animals found in the woods are numerous, but few of them are either troublesome or dangerous, as they generally retire and keep at a distance from the habitations of man. The most common are bears, foxes, wolves, racoons, beavers, otters, martins, minks, squirrels, hares, rabbits, muskrats, and a few others. The bears are the most dangerous and held in great terror, although I have not heard of any persons in this settlement being injured by any of them. Many have been seen and some have been shot.
“The animals most troublesome to the farmers are squirrels of which they are two species, one brown and the other grey: both destructive to crops, both in the fields and gardens. Though they are very injurious in the spring, by taking the seed out of the ground. I have seen a field of Indian corn entirely ruined by them, so that it was necessary to plant it a second, and even a third time. The number killed by some farmers in the course of a year almost exceeds belief. There is another species, called the black squirrel, much larger than the two former, but it seems scarce, being seldom seen. Most of our wild animals are hunted for the sake of their furs, which forms a considerable article of trade.
“Of the birds there are many kinds. The principal are eagles, vultures, owls, night hawks, cranes, geese, wild ducks, partridges, blackbirds, thrushes, larks, and various other kinds. The wood pigeons pass to the northward in the spring and return on the fall in immense numbers. When they happen to alight upon a newly sown field, they scarcely leave a grain, if not disturbed. Great numbers of them are taken in nets, but they are more frequently shot, and are generally found to be fat, and good eating.
“The rivers and lakes with which the country abounds, are well stocked with fish or various kinds, such as salmon, chub, carp, pike, black bass, pickerel, and sturgeons, which are both large and good. In catching them hooks and lines are seldom employed. They are generally speared or taken in nets in the rapids of rivers.
“Snakes are numerous, though few of them are of a mischievous disposition. Rattlesnakes are sometimes seen in the upper parts of the province, but never, that I have heard of, in this settlement. Those striped in green and yellow, usually called garter snakes, are frequently met with in the woods. They are perfectly harmless, though they are apt to alarm a stranger with their hissing.
“There are various kinds of insects but mosquitoes are the most troublesome. They make their appearance about the middle of May and in a few days, if the weather is hot, the woods swarm with them. They are the scourge of every new settlement but where the woods are cleared away they are seldom seen. Their legs are long and slender, and they have upon the whole a very feeble appearance. The body is about a quarter of an inch long, and both in shape and colour resembles that of a wasp. Their proboscis, as well as their legs, is slender, but their bite is severe and produces a certain degree of inflammation, so that it is more painful afterwards than at the time the wound is made. If the part is rubbed or scratched, it swells, and sometimes produces serious consequences. Attempts have been made, by rubbing the skin with various preparations to drive them away, but so bloodthirsty are they, that nothing will keep them off.
“The hands, face and neck are most exposed to their attacks, but no part is safe, as they easily thrust their proboscis through the thin dress that is worn in summer. Afte a person spends all day exposed to their stings, it greatly mitigates the pain to rub the parts with strong vinegar. Moisture seems to favour their production, as they are more numerous, as well as more troublesome, in a wet summer than in one that is dry, whether hot or cold. Smoke is the only application which has any effect in driving them away, but this is so effectual, that a fire of wet chips is lighted near the door of almost every house in summer evenings for the purpose of keeping them at a distance. They continue during the four warmest months, but when the weather becomes cold they disappear.
“A species of small black flies, common in this country, may be ranked next to mosquitoes for mischief. They are more troublesome in the morning and evening than during the day. They settle among the hair, round the face, and in the neck, disfiguring the place they attack by taking out a small piece of the skin. They are very common in May and June, but in July they disappear.
“Sand flies are a very small kind of grey gnat, just visible to the naked eye, but no less troublesome than the black flies while their attack continues, which fortunately is only a few warm nights every summer. When houses are near swamps or rivers, they enter by thousands and attack the inmates driving away sleep and producing the most uneasy sensations.
“The firefly is the greatest curiosity to be found among the insects of this country. It is of brown colour and about the size of a bug. When it flies in the dark, it emits a bright phosphoric light. In low grounds, where they abound, it is amusing to see hundreds of them dancing about in the dark, like as many sparks of fire.
“Butterflies are numerous and attract attention by the beauty of colours and size of their wings.
“Crickets, resembling grasshoppers, are also very troublesome to new settlers, eating holes in their clothes, especially when they find them in a dirty greasy condition. But all of these insects become less numerous as the cultivation of land advances. (Crickets eating fabric?)