Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada


A view of the Niagara

WHEN making a settlement the first settlers usually selected the best land situated on the borders of the rivers and lakes. The Niagara River being a narrow body of water, many of the emigrants from the States crossed the frontier at some point along this river, and made choice of locations along its banks, so that it was not long before a line of settlement extended from Niagara to Fort Erie. As so many rods along the banks of a large stream is a government reserve, the old road along the river might be called a government road. It facilitated the transportation or conveyance of troops from Fort Erie to Fort George, a necessity in itself in those troublous times succeeding the Revolutionary War, and although it followed the windings of the river, it became the main highway for travel for many years. Of late years more direct roads have been made further back in the country, but in picturesqueness and beauty they are not to be compared with the old river road, although it has been getting so very much narrower in places caused by the constant washing away of its banks. Indeed, it is now likely to soon lose its quaint beauty, for a line of electric cars is being talked of to run from the village of Fort Erie to the Falls.

For years, and within the recollection of a few of the oldest inhabitants, this old road was the route for a line of stage coaches running from Niagara town to Fort Erie village. At that time there was a number of hotels scattered along the river, but since the stage coaches have been done away with most of these have also disappeared.

Within the memory of the writer's mother, who was born in 1828, much of the bank along the river has been washed away, and in many places the military road of a hundred years ago now lies under water. To prevent the bank from washing away in front of his farm the writer's grandfather planted a row of willow trees close together along the edge of the water. The river road is rendered very pretty in places by the tall poplars and maples planted by our forefathers fifty and one hundred years ago. Familiar to the writer is the old maple tree in front of the old homestead, which was a good-sized tree three-quarters of a century ago, and still blossoms in beauty and strength. It tempts him to exclaim

"Woodman, spare that tree,
Touch not a single bough
In youth, it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.

'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it in this spot,
So woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not."

Long may its fine spreading branches be protected from the depredations of the despoiler. In the early days it was a great hindrance to the lumbermen, when towing their rafts of logs up the river from Chippawa, as they were obliged to unhitch their horses in order to get around it.

The Wayside Tavern.

Situated here and there, at convenient distances along the leading roads, were to be seen the country taverns. Some of them were fine, imposing edifices, although in the earlier days many of them were built of logs. They did not partake of the nature of saloons as much as the country taverns of the present day, but were built expressly for furnishing accommodation and shelter for man and beast, as well as refreshment, for in those days, there being no railways, all the traffic was over the public roads. Everything had to be conveyed overland by wagons; a great many farmers had to team their produce many miles to the nearest market town. These country hotels, or inns, were patronized largely by the immigrants coining into the country, of which there was at that time a constant stream; The innkeeper did not always depend on the inn for his living, many of them having farms in connection therewith. Liquor in the early days was considered more of a necessity by the people than it is now. The temperance agitation not having commenced, it was the custom for all to drink. Even prominent members of churches "kept tavern" and religious services were frequently held there. Most of the people kept liquor in their houses, and many of them served it at their table, but strange to say, there was no more (perhaps less) drunkenness than there is now. Possibly one reason was because the people were obliged to work hard and had little time for leisure, and less money to spend, for after they became better circumstanced the drinking custom became more alarming. It is true some people drank to excess, but as long as they attended to their business it was not considered wrong. The art of adulterating liquor being then unknown, the same harm did not seem to result from drinking to excess as in later days. It was not considered necessary to adulterate whiskey in those early days, for the pure article could be obtained at a trifling cost, say, from fifteen to fifty cents a gallon. There was no Internal Revenue tax imposed upon its manufacture as at present. In some localities the people were very temperate, very few people drinking to excess, those who did so being considered as lacking in sense.
In the early times the tavern was the centre of social life in the neighborhood. The men would congregate there and acquaint themselves with the latest news of the day, talk politics, have a few glasses of grog, and even if they did become a little tipsy it was thought nothing of.

Over the driving-shed, in connection with many of these country hotels, there was usually a large hall, in which the annual ball was held. It was also engaged by travelling theatrical troupes, lecturers, phrenologists, etc., and was often used for local public and political meetings, and even, as already remarked, for Sabbath service.

The stage coaches running between the different towns made these hotels their stopping-places. It was here they let off and took on their passengers and luggage. Somewhere on the walls of the hotel shed were posted colored bills of the coming circus. These pictures of animals, clowns, actors, etc., filled the small boy with wonder, and gave him something to think and talk about for days, as was only naturally to be expected.

The Corduroy and Other Roads.

Some of the first roads in the country were not much more than paths through the woods, with a piece of bark cut off the sides of the trees here and there to point out the way. After a while a few trees were cut down along the road, and the strip of sky showing between the tree-tops on each side of the road would indicate the route, for the marks made by the wheels of the occasional waggon were soon grown over with grass In swampy, marshy places, the roads were bridged over with corduroy. This was done by laying logs of cedar, or some other wood, six or eight inches in diameter, close together, across the road. Sometimes these corduroy roads would extend for as much as a couple of miles, where the nature of the causeway required. They fairly jolted the life out of one with the constant bump, bump, bump, they gave when driving over them. In the course of a few years they were usually covered over with ground, which helped to make them a little more passable. Some of the first main roads running through the country were made of plank; sleepers were put down, and four to six-inch plank nailed on them. Macadamized roads were afterwards introduced, but as they were expensive roads to build, the right of building and operating them was granted to private companies, who were allowed the privilege of erecting toll gates and levying toll on all teams passing through. In this way they earned a dividend on the money invested, and paid the running expenses of the road. In the early days, before the era of railroads, when there was so much overland traffic over the public highways, this may have been a good way of securing good roads, but nowadays it would seem like an imposition, and we are pleased to know that of late years the toll-gate nuisance has been gradually done away with, so that now there are very few toll-gates left in the country.

The Old Stage Coach.

Lord Secord's Monument

Before the era of railroads the general public travelled by means of stage coaches, regular lines of coaches running between the different frontier towns. The coaches being heavy and cumbersome, and the roads frequently very bad, especially in the spring and fall, they were usually drawn by four horses, a change or relay of horses being made at certain places along the route. They were obliged to travel fast to make good time, in order to connect with other lines at the various junctions, and, if mail coaches, to fulfil their contract with the Government for carrying the mails. The trunks and valises, or carpet bags, were piled on top or on a rack behind. It must have been a very tedious way of travelling. How much we, who live in an age of steam and electricity, with our rapid modes of transit, finely lighted and comfortably heated cars, have to be thankful for; and yet many of us have yet to learn how to properly appreciate and enjoy the privileges we have. An aged Toronto gentleman ..told the writer that he remembered when it took eight days to travel from Montreal to Kingston by stage, a distance of 180 miles. The stages often got stuck in mud holes, and the passengers were then obliged to alight and help pry the coach out with fence-rails and wooden levers.

Horseback Riding.

Horseback riding was quite common among persons of both sexes in the early days. It formed one of the chief diversions of the young people.* A number of them would frequently gather at a friend's house and go out together for a ride. Every farmer kept a saddle or two for the men, and a side-saddle for the ladies to use. Horseback riding was the most convenient means of travelling through the pathless woods. Some of the old settlers, when visiting their friends so far away as Pennsylvania, used to travel back and forth in this manner. The early Methodist minister, or circuit rider, with his saddle-bags containing his Bible and hymn-book, a valise with his clothing and an umbrella tied on the pommel, was quite a familiar figure on the roads. The roads, in consequence of poor drainage, were very bad in the early days, and for that reason travelling on horseback was the easiest and quickest means of transit. It was not until about sixty or seventy years ago that steel-spring buggies first came into use. The first vehicles of that class were very heavy and cumbersome, and it was some time after their introduction before they became popular. The "buckboard," a species of buggy, was at one time in considerable favor among the people. Being light and strongly made, it could well withstand the jolting over the rough country roads. Saddles were made of hog's leather, or pigskin, the old settler frequently having skins tanned for this purpose. It is quite common, even now, to see a saddle as a sign in front of a harness shop and the name "Harness-maker and Saddler" over the door, but the name saddler has largely lost its significance.


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus