The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America
Catherine Parr Traill
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The toils, troubles, and satisfactions of pioneer life are recorded with charm and vivacity in this portrayal of pioneer life by Catharine Parr Traill, who, like her sister Susanna Moodie, left the comforts of genteel English society for the rigours of a new, young land.
The work went merrily on with the help of plenty of Canadian nectar (whiskey), the honey that our bees are solaced with. Some huge joints of salt pork, a peck of potatoes, with a rice-pudding, and a loaf as big as an enormous Cheshire cheese, formed the feast that was to regale them during the raising. This was spread out in the shanty, in a very rural style. In short, we laughed, and called it a pic-nic in the backwoods; and rude as was the fare, I can assure you, great was the satisfaction expressed by all the guests of every degree, our “bee” being considered as very well conducted.
You will ask if the use be so great, and the comfort so essential, why does not every settler build one? Now, dear mamma, this is exactly what every new comer says; but he has to learn the difficulty there is at first of getting these matters accomplished, unless, indeed, he have (which is not often the case) the command of plenty of ready money, and can afford to employ extra workmen. Labour is so expensive, and the working seasons so short, that many useful and convenient buildings are left to a future time; and a cellar, which one man can excavate in two days, if he work well, is made to answer the purpose, till the season of leisure arrives, or necessity obliges the root-house to be made.
But while I am writing about flowers I am forgetting that you will be more interested in hearing what steps we are taking on our land. My husband has hired people to log up (that is, to draw the chopped timbers into heaps for burning) and clear a space for building our house upon. He has also entered into an agreement with a young settler in our vicinity to complete it for a certain sum within and without, according to a given plan. We are, however, to call the “bee,” and provide every thing necessary for the entertainment of our worthy hive.
P. 504: – “Betwixt the royal mountain and the river, on a ridge of gentle elevation, stands the town. Including the suburbs, it is more extensive than Quebec. Both cities differ very greatly in appearance; the low banks of the St. Laurence at Montreal want the tremendous precipices frowning over them, and all that grand sublimity which characterizes Quebec. “There are no wharfs at Montreal, and the ships and steamers lie quietly in pretty deep water, close to the clayey and generally filthy bank of the city.
In the dog we consider it is scent as well as memory that guides him to his far-off home; – but how is this conduct of the oxen to be accounted for? They returned home through the mazes of interminable forests, where man, with all his reason and knowledge, would have been bewildered and lost. It was the latter end of October before even the walls of our house were up. To effect this we called “a bee. ” Sixteen of our neighbours cheerfully obeyed our summons; and though the day was far from favourable, so faithfully did our hive perform their tasks, that by night the outer walls were raised.