A Trip to Manitoba by Mary FitzGibbonOr, Roughing it on the line

Produced by Bill Keir, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. A TRIP TO MANITOBA BY MARY FITZGIBBON. “Manitoba, the great province which now forms part of the Canadian Dominion” The Rt. Hon. W. E. GLADSTONE, MP at West Calder. DEDICATED TO LADY DUFFERIN. PREFATORY NOTE. The Canada Pacific Railway, so frequently
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1878
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Bill Keir, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.




“Manitoba, the great province which now forms part of the Canadian Dominion”

The Rt. Hon. W. E. GLADSTONE, MP at West Calder.



The Canada Pacific Railway, so frequently referred to in the following pages, is now almost an accomplished fact. It will, after traversing for over a thousand miles the great prairies of the Swan River and Saskatchewan territories, thread the Rocky Mountains and, running through British Columbia to Vancouver’s Island, unite the Pacific with the Atlantic. Of the value of this line to the Dominion and the mother country there cannot be two opinions. The system of granting plots of land on each side of the railway to the Company, with power to re-sell or give them to settlers, has been found most advantageous in, as it were, feeding the line and creating populations along its route. The cars which carry to distant markets the crops raised by the settlers, bring back to them the necessaries of civilized life.

Readers who ask with the post-office authorities, “Where is Manitoba?” [Footnote: Pages 58, 59] may be answered that Manitoba is a province in the great north-west territory of the Canadian Dominion, lying within the same parallels of latitude as London and Paris. It has one of the most healthy climates in the world–the death-rate being lower than in any other part of the globe,–and a soil of wondrous fertility, sometimes yielding several crops in one year. Immense coal-fields exist within the province; its mountains abound with ore; and its natural wealth is enormous.

While the province of Manitoba formed part of the Hudson Bay Company’s territory, its resources were undeveloped. But in 1869 it was transferred to the Dominion Government, and received a Lieutenant-Governor and the privilege of sending representatives to the Parliament at Ottawa. Under the new _régime_ enterprise and industry are amply encouraged.

The original population consisted chiefly of Indians and French half-breeds; the abolition of the capitation tax on immigrants, however, has resulted in a large immigration of Europeans, who, with health and energy, cannot fail to prosper, especially as they are without European facilities for squandering their money in luxury or intoxication. Of how universally the Prohibitory Liquor Law prevails in Manitoba, and yet how difficult it sometimes is to punish its infraction, an amusing instance in given in Chapter XI. Mr. Alexander Rivington, in a valuable pamphlet now out of print (“On the Track of our Emigrants”), says that when he visited Canada it was rare to see such a thing as mendicity–too often the result of intemperance; “the very climate itself, so fresh and life-giving, supplies the place of strong drink. Public-houses, the curse of our own country, have no existence. Pauperism and theft are scarcely known there–income-tax is not yet dreamt of.” Free grants of one hundred acres of prairie and meadow land are still being made to immigrants, and the population is rapidly increasing.



The Grand Trunk Railway–Sarnia–“Confusion worse confounded”–A Churlish Hostess–Fellow-Passengers on the _Manitoba_–“Off at last!”–Musical Honours–Sunrise on Lake Huron–A Scramble for Breakfast–An Impromptu Dance–The General Foe.


Saulte Ste. Marie–Indian Embroidery–Lake Superior–Preaching, Singing, and Card-playing–Silver Islet–Thunder Bay–The Dog River–Flowers at Fort William–“Forty Miles of Ice”–Icebergs and Warm Breezes–Duluth–Hotel Belles–Bump of Destructiveness in Porters.


The Mississippi–The Rapids–Aerial Railway Bridges–Breakfast at Braynor–Lynch Law–Card-sharpers–Crowding in the Cars–Woman’s Rights!–The Prairie–“A Sea of Fire”–Crookstown–Fisher’s Landing–Strange Quarters–“The Express-man’s Bed”–Herding like Sheep–On board the _Minnesota_.


Red Lake River–Grand Forks–The Ferry–Custom-house Officers at Pembina–Mud and Misery–Winnipeg at last–A Walk through the Town–A Hospitable Welcome–Macadam wanted–Holy Trinity Church–A Picturesque Population–Indians shopping–An “All-sorts” Store–St. Boniface and its Bells–An Evening Scene.


Summer Days–The English Cathedral–Icelandic Emigrants–_Tableaux_–In chase of our Dinner–The Indian Summer–Blocked up–Gigantic Vegetables–Fruitfulness of the Country–Iceland Maidens–Rates of Wages–Society at Winnipeg–Half-castes–Magic of the Red River Water–A Happy Hunting-ground–Where is Manitoba?


Winter Amusements–A Winnipeg Ball–Forty Degrees below Zero–New Year’s Day–“Saskatchewan Taylor”–Indian Compliments–A Dog-train–Lost in the Snow–Amateur Theatricals–Sir Walter Raleigh’s Hat–A Race with the Freshets–The Ice moves!–The First Steamer of the Season–Good-bye to Winnipeg.


A Manitoban Travelling-carriage–The Perils of Short Cuts–The Slough of Despond–Paddy to the Rescue!–“Stick-in-the-Mud” and his Troubles–McQuade’s–An Irish Welcome–Wretched Wanderers.


Faithless Jehu–The “Blarney Stone”–Mennonites in search of News–“Water, Water everywhere”–A Herd of Buffaloes–A Mud Village–Pointe du Chêne and Old Nile–At Dawson Route–A Cheerful Party–_Toujours perdrix_–The “Best Room”–A Government Shanty–Cats and Dogs–Birch River–Mushroom-picking–The Mosquito Plague–A Corduroy Road–The Cariboo Muskeg.


The “Nor’-west Angle”–The Company’s House–Triumph of “Stick-in-the-Mud”–On the Lake of the Woods–A Gallant Cook–Buns _à l’imprevu_–A Man overboard!–Camping out–Clear Water Bay–Our First Portage–A Noble Savage–How Lake Rice and Lake Deception won their Names–At our Journey’s End.


Making a New Home–Carrière’s Kitchen–The Navvies’ _Salle-à-Manger_–A Curious Milking Custom–Insect Plagues–Peterboro’ Canoes–Fishing Trips–Mail-day–Indian dread of drowning–The Indian Mail-carrier and his Partner–Talking by Telegraph–Prairie Fires.


Irish Wit–Bears?–Death on the Red Pine Lake–A Grave in the Catholic Cemetery–The First Dog train–A Christmas Fête–Compulsory Temperance–Contraband Goods–The Prisoner wins the Day–Whisky on the Island–The Smuggler turned Detective–A Fatal Frolic–“Mr. K—-‘s Legs”.


Birds of Passage–An Independent Swede–By Sleigh to Ostersund–A Son of the Forest–Burnt out–A Brave Canadian Girl–Roughing it in the Shanty–The Kitchen-tent–Blasting the Rock–The Perils of Nitro-glycerine–Bitter Jests.


We lose our Cows–Cahill promoted–Gardening on a New Principle–Onions in Hot-houses–Cahill is hoaxed–Martin the Builder–How the Navvies lived–Sunday in Camp–The Cook’s Leap–That “Beautiful Skunk!”–Wild Fruits–Parting.


For Ostersund–Lake Lulu–Giant Rocks and Pigmy Mortals–The Island Garden–Heaven’s Artillery–Strange Casualty at the Ravine–My Luggage nearly blown up–The Driver’s Presence of Mind–How to carry a Canoe–Darlington Bay–An Invisible Lake–Lord and Lady Dufferin–A Paddle to the Lakes–The Captain’s Tug–Monopoly of Water-carriage–Indian Legends–The Abode of Snakes.


Clear Water Bay transformed–Cahill’s Farewell–Ptarmigan Bay–A Night under Canvas–“No more Collars or Neckties!”–Companions in Misfortune–Cedar Lake–“Lop-sticks”–An Indian Village–Shashegheesh’s Two Wives–Buying Potatoes–_Seniores Priores_–Excellent Carrots!–Frank’s Flirtations with the Squaws–The Dogs eat Carrière’s Toboggan.


Falcon River–An Unlucky Supper–The Fate of our Fried Pork–A Weary Paddle–A Sundial in the Wilderness–A Gipsy Picnic–“Floating away”–The Dried Musk-rats–Falcon Lake–How can we land?–Mr. M—- “in again”–Surprised by Indians–How we dried our Clothes–The Last Night in Camp.


Indian Loyalty–A Nap on Falcon Lake–A False Alarm–The Power of Whisky–“Magnificent Water Stretches”–A Striking Contrast–Picnic Lake–How we crossed Hawk Lake–Long Pine Lake–Bachelors’ Quarters at Ingolf–We dress for Dinner–Our Last Portage–A Rash Choice–“Grasp your Nettle”–Mr. F—-‘s Gallantry–Cross Lake–Denmark’s Ranche–A Tramp through the Mire.


Tilford–Pedestrians under Difficulties–The Railway at last–Not exactly a First-class Carriage–The Jules Muskeg–Whitemouth and Broken-Head Rivers–Vagaries of the Engine-Driver–The Hotel at St. Boniface–Red River Ferry–Winnipeg–“A Vagabond Heroine”–The Terrier at fault.


The _Minnesota_ again–Souvenirs of Lord and Lady Dufferin–From Winnipeg by Red River–_Compagnons du Voyage_–A Model Farm–“Bees”–Manitoba a good Field for Emigrants–Changes at Fisher’s Landing–A Mild Excitement for Sundays–Racing with Prairie Fires–Glyndon–Humours of a Pullman Sleeping Car–Lichfield.


Lakes Smith and Howard–Lovely Lake Scenery–Long Lake–The Little American–“Wait till you see our Minnetaunka!”–Minneanopolis–Villa Hotels–A Holiday Town–The Great Flour-mills–St. Paul’s–Our American Cousins–The French Canadian’s Story–Kind-hearted Fellow-passengers–A New Way of Travelling together–The Mississippi–Milwaukee, the Prettiest Town in Michigan–School-houses–A Peep at Chicago–Market Prices–Pigs!–The Fairy Tales of Progress–Scotch Incredulity–Detroit Ferry–Hamilton–Good-bye to my Readers.


The Grand Trunk Railway–Sarnia–“Confusion worse confounded”–A Churlish Hostess–Fellow-Passengers on the _Manitoba_–“Off at last!”–Musical Honours–Sunrise on Lake Huron–A Scramble for Breakfast–An Impromptu Dance–The General Foe.

After a long day’s journey on the Grand Trunk Railway, without even the eccentricities of fellow-passengers in our Pullman car to amuse us, we were all glad to reach Sarnia. The monotony of the scenery through which we passed had been unbroken, except by a prettily situated cemetery, and the tasteful architecture of a hillside church, surrounded by trees just putting on their spring foliage.

It was eight o’clock when we got to the wharf, and the steamer _Manitoba_ only waited for our arrival to cast loose her moorings and enter the dark blue waters of Lake Huron. “Haste” will not express the excitement of the scene. Men, rushing hither and thither in search of friends, traps, and luggage, were goaded to fury by the calmness of the officials and their determination not to be hurried. Hearing there was no chance of having tea on board that night, and discovering near the wharf a signboard announcing that meals could be obtained at all hours (except, as we were told, that particular one), we with difficulty persuaded the proprietress to let us have something to eat. Amidst muttered grumblings that she was “slaved to death,” that “her life was not worth a rap,” and so on, every remark being emphasized with a plate or dish, we were at last supplied with bread, cheese, and beef-steak, for which we were kindly allowed to pay fifty cents (2s. 6d.) each.

The scene on board the boat beggars description. The other steamers being still ice-bound on Lake Superior, the _Manitoba_ was obliged to take as much freight and as many passengers as she could carry, many of the latter having been waiting in Sarnia upwards of ten days for her departure. Surveying parties, immigrants of almost every nation on their way to make homes in the great North West, crowded the decks and gangways. The confusion of tongues, the shrill cries of the frightened and tired children, the oaths of excited men, and the trundling and thumping of the baggage, mingled with the shrieks of adjacent engines “made night hideous.” Porters and cabmen jostled women laden with baskets of linen, brought on board at the last minute, when the poor tired stewardess had no time to administer the well-merited reprimand; passengers rushed about in search of the purser, anxious to secure their state-rooms before they were usurped by some one else.

It was midnight when the commotion had subsided, and quarters were assigned to all but a stray man or two wandering about in search of some Mr. Brown or Mr. Jones, whose room he was to share. Climbing into my berth, I soon fell asleep; but only for a few moments. The shrill whistle, the vehement ringing of the captain’s bell, the heavy beat of the paddles, roused me; and as we left the wharf and steamed out from among the ships and small craft dotting the water on every side, “Off at last!” was shouted from the crowded decks. Then the opening bars of “God save the Queen” were sung heartily and not inharmoniously, followed by three cheers for her Majesty, three for her Imperial Highness, three for her popular representative Lord Dufferin, and so on, till the enthusiasm culminated in “He’s a jolly good fellow;” the monotony of which sent me to sleep again.

At four o’clock next morning I scrambled out of my berth at the imminent risk of broken bones, wondering why the inventive powers of our Yankee neighbours had not hit upon some arrangement to facilitate the descent; dressed, and went in search of fresh air. Picking my steps quietly between sleeping forms–for men in almost every attitude, some with blankets or great-coats rolled round them, were lying on the floor and lounges in the saloon–I reached the deck just as the sun rose above the broad blue waters, brightening every moment the band of gold where sky and water met. Clouds of ink-black smoke floated from our funnel, tinged by the rising sun with every shade of yellow, red, and brown. Mirrored in the calm water below, lay the silent steamer–silent, save for the ceaseless revolution of her paddles, whose monotonous throb seemed like the beating of a great heart.

For an hour or more I revelled in the beauty of water and sky, and ceased to wonder why people born on the coast love the sea so dearly, and pine for the sight of its waves. When the men came to wash the decks, a pleasant, brawny fellow told me we were likely to have a good run up the lakes. The storms of the last few days having broken up the ice, and driven it into the open, there was hope both of the ice-locked steamers getting out, and of our getting into Duluth without much trouble–“unless the wind changes, which is more than possible,” he added abruptly; and walked off, as if fearful of my believing his sanguine predictions too implicitly.

Later the passengers appeared, grumbling at the cold, and at being obliged to turn out so early, and wishing breakfast were ready. Of this wished-for meal the clatter of dishes in the saloon soon gave welcome warning. Dickens says that when, before taking his first meal on board an American steamer, “he tore after the rushing crowd to see what was wrong, dreadful visions of fire, in its most aggravated form, floated through his mind; but it was only _dinner_ that the hungry public were rushing to devour.” We were nearly as bad on the _Manitoba_, the friendly steward warning most of us to secure our seats without delay, the cabin-walls being gradually lined with people on either side, each behind a chair. One of the “boys” strode ostentatiously down the long saloon, ringing a great hand-bell, which summoned a mixed multitude pell-mell to the scene of action, only to retreat in disappointment at finding the field already occupied.

It was amusing to watch the different expressions on the faces down the lines while waiting for breakfast. Men, chiefly surveyors, who during their annual trips to and from work had got used to “that sort of thing,” took it coolly; judiciously choosing a seat directly opposite their state-room door, or standing in the background, but near enough to expel any intruder. New men, looking as uncomfortable as if they had been caught in petty larceny, twisted their youthful moustaches, put their hands in their pockets, or leant against the wall, trying to look perfectly indifferent as to the event; some of their neighbours smiling satirically at their folly. Old farmer-looking bodies, grumbling at the crush, mingled with Yankees, toothpick in hand, ready for business; sturdy Englishmen whom one knew appreciated creature comforts; and dapper little Frenchmen, hungry yet polite. Here stood a bright-looking Irishwoman, who vainly tried to restrain the impatience of five or six children, whose faces still shone from the friction of their morning ablutions; there, an old woman, well-nigh double with age, who, rather than be separated from the two stalwart sons by her side, was going to end her days in a strange land. Here was a group of bright, chatty little French Canadians, with the usual superabundance of earrings and gay ribbons decorating their persons; there, a great raw-boned Scotchwoman, inwardly lamenting the porridge of her native land, frowned upon the company.

The bell ceased, and–“Presto!” all were seated, and turning over their plates as if for a wager. Then came a confused jumble of tongues, all talking at once; the rattle of dishes, the clatter of knives and forks, and the rushing about of the boy-waiters. It required quick wit to choose a breakfast dish, from the “White-fish–finanhaddy–beefsteak–cold roastbeef–muttonchop–bacon–potatoes–toast–roll–brown-bread-or- white–tea-or-coffee,” shouted breathlessly by a youth on one side, while his comrade screamed the same, in a shrill falsetto, to one’s neighbour on the other; their not starting simultaneously making the confusion worse confounded. Such was the economical mode of setting forth the bill of fare on the _Manitoba_. There were three hundred and fifty people on hoard; more than one-third of whom were cabin, or would-be cabin, passengers. The accommodation being insufficient, some were camping on the upper deck, some in the saloon, many on the stairs, and others wherever elbow-room could be found. Breakfast began at half-past seven, and at half-past nine the late risers were still at it; and it was not long before the same thing (only more so!), in the shape of dinner, had to be gone through.

As Lake Huron was calm and our boat steady, we had more “God save the Queen” after dinner, besides “Rule, Britannia” and other patriotic songs, several of the passengers playing the piano very well. Some one also played a violin, and the men, clearing the saloon of sofas and superfluous chairs, danced a double set of quadrilles, after having tried in vain to persuade some of the emigrant girls to become their partners. They were an amusing group–from the grinning steward, who, cap on head, figured away through all the steps he could recollect or invent (some of them marvels of skill and agility in their way), to the solemn young man, only anxious to do his duty creditably. But alas for the short-lived joviality of the multitude! After touching at Southampton the boat altered her course, and the effect of her occasional rolls in the trough of the waves soon became manifest.

One by one the less courageous of the crowd crept away. Every face soon blanched with terror at the common enemy. Wretched women feebly tried to help crying children, though too ill to move themselves; others threw them down anywhere, to be able to escape in time for the threatened paroxysm; all were groaning, wan and miserable, railing at the poor, wearied stewardess, calling her here, there, and everywhere at the same time, and threatening her as if she were the sole cause of their woe. About midnight, our course being altered, “Richard was himself again.”


Saulte Ste. Marie–Indian Embroidery–Lake Superior–Preaching, Singing, and Card-playing–Silver Islet–Thunder Bay–The Dog River–Flowers at Fort William–“Forty Miles of Ice”–Icebergs and Warm Breezes–Duluth–Hotel Belles–Bump of Destructiveness in Porters.

The scenery just before entering the St. Mary River, which unites Lake Huron and Lake Superior, is very fine. As the steamer threaded the group of islands with their high, rocky, picturesquely wooded shores, we were sometimes near enough to distinguish the many varieties of mosses and ferns just springing into life; then, steaming across the rippling water, we reached some point whose distant beauty had made us long to carry away more than a memory of its outlines; and so, winding in and out amongst the islands of this North American archipelago, we “fetched” the Saulte Ste. Marie about sunset. [Footnote: The island-studded northern expanse of Lake Huron is known as Georgian Bay. As the level of Lake Superior is between thirty and forty feet higher than that of Lake Huron, there is a corresponding fall at the head of the St. Mary River. This difference of level prevents direct navigation between the two lakes; consequently, the Americans have constructed across the extreme north-eastern point of the State of Michigan a fine canal, which gives them exclusive possession of the entrance by water to the great inland sea of Lake Superior. When, in 1870, the Red River Expedition, under Colonel (now General Sir) Garnet Wolseley, sought to make the passage in several steamboats _en route_ for Thunder Bay, the State authorities of Michigan issued a prohibition against it. Fortunately, the Cabinet of Washington overruled this prohibition, and the Expedition was permitted to pass; not, however, until valuable time had been lost. Considering the importance of this canal to the Dominion Government, and that at a crisis the United States’ Cabinet could close Lake Superior to our vessels of war, I think some steps should be taken by which the Imperial Government would become joint proprietors of the canal, with an equal share in its management at all times.] The “Saulte,” as it is generally called, is a pretty little village, situated at the foot of a hill on the north shore of the canal. Having to remain an hour there, we went ashore, up the long straight street, to a frame-house, or store, where there was an extensive display of Indian work. The Lake Superior and Huron Red Indians are particularly noted for the beauty of their embroidery on skins, silk, birch bark, and cloth, in beads, porcupine quills, or silk. Their imitative genius is so great that the squaws can copy anything, and I know people who have had their crests and coats-of-arms embroidered upon their tobacco-pouches and belts, from an impression on paper or sealing-wax. Generally they copy flowers and ferns, invent their own patterns, or, what seems even more wonderful, make them by chewing a piece of bark into the form they require–the bark assuming the appearance of a stamped braiding pattern. As the white people put an exorbitant price on the flour and trinkets they give in exchange for the Indians’ work, the latter ask, when selling for money, what seems more than its full value; but many who travel that way, provided with cheap trinkets and gaudy ribbons, get the work cheaply enough.

There is quite a large Roman Catholic church in the village; but we had to be content with a tiptoe peep through its windows, as after the “angelus” the door is locked. There are some small trading stores, a few scattered houses, long, pretty winding roads up the hills, skirted by cozy little farmhouses and wheat-fields, and one or two dwellings of more pretension occupied as summer residences by Americans. A little higher up, on the other side of the canal, lie the low white buildings of the American fort. That fortification, with its sentries and the national flag floating over the chief bastion, looked gay enough in the rays of the fast-setting sun. After remaining several hours to coal, we left the little village in the darkness, and when day dawned again found ourselves out in the broad waters of Lake Superior–called by the Indians “the Great Sea” (_Kichee Kumma_). For hours no land was to be seen on either side, but we were visited by two little birds, quivering with cold, weary from their long flight, almost too timid to alight upon our boat, yet too tired to resist the resting-place. Poor little wanderers! many a lonely emigrant, who had left all he loved behind to try his fortune in an unknown land, felt sympathy for them.

Seeing nothing but water and sky to interest us without, we turned our attention to our fellow-passengers within. At one end of the long saloon a zealous Cecilite, the centre of a mixed group, was “improving the occasion,” Bible in hand–exhorting his hearers to turn from the error of their ways, and denouncing the world and its wickedness, as exemplified in the group of card-players close by. Their “I’ll order it up!” “Pass!” “I’ll play it alone!” mingled with the grave accents of the preacher, whose exhortations were answered by shouts of laughter and ringing glees from the other end of the boat, where stood the piano and its satellites. In vain the poor Cecilite tried “to stem the torrent” of what he considered “Satan’s doings;” his obstinacy and want of tact only increased the mischievous delight of his enemies. At the sides of the saloon small knots of French Canadians chattered merrily; at the top of the stairs an emigrant or two were allowed to infringe the rule of “no deck passengers,” because of the crowd on board. Poor things! One did not wonder that they escaped gladly from the jarring sounds and offensive smells below.

Early on Saturday morning we passed Silver Islet, that mine of wealth to our neighbours across the line. It lies in an island-dotted bay, and is so covered with mining works that it looks like a pile of buildings rising out of the water. The crushing-mills are on the mainland close by. Silver Islet first belonged to a Canadian company; but from lack of enterprise or capital it was sold to an American company for a nominal sum, and, as is often the case, the sanguine nature of Cousin Jonathan, acting on the motto, “Nothing venture nothing win,” has been successful, and the company is now (1879) shipping $20,000 worth of silver ore a day. The islet can be visited only by those who have especial permission to see the mines and works, or friends among the officials, neither of which had we.

The adjacent village, at which the _Manitoba_ stopped, did not look as if times were very prosperous with it. Two smoky little tugs lay idly at the small wharf, and the few red wooden houses built against the rocks, their flat roofs piled up with bales of goods and boxes–the ever-present blue barrels of coal-oil being most conspicuous–seemed tenantless. Leaving Silver Islet far behind, we rounded Whitefish Point, with its tall lighthouse, and saw a very distinct mirage–a long stretch of cold blue water, filled with great blocks of ice. It was rather amusing to see the eagerness with which glasses were levelled at the “counterfeit presentment” of a scene, of whose reality we should soon have even too much.

At the entrance of Thunder Bay, we passed Thunder Cape on our right and Pie Island on our left; the former a bold promontory, rising 1300 feet above the sea-level, and wooded with a short stunted growth of bush, principally poplar. Save for its picturesquely situated lighthouse and log hut, where the keeper lives, no other sign of habitation was visible. Thunder Bay and Cape probably take their names from the fierce and frequent storms that rage there; Pie Island from the peculiar formation of its northern end. Passing many rocky islands, with tiny waterfalls zigzaging down their sides, we arrived at “Prince Arthur’s Landing” and walked up the long pier, partly roofed to form a temporary warehouse for a pile of freight, in the teeth of a blistering hot land-breeze, which drove the dust in blinding, choking eddies about us. After looking at some specimens of Lake Superior agate which were on exhibition in a dusty shop, and buying some lemons at what we thought the exorbitant price of a dollar and a half per dozen, we were glad to retrace our steps to the steamer, where we found the captain ready and anxious to start. Half an hour’s steaming brought us to the mouth of the Kaministiquai, or Dog River, and entering it, we were at once in another country. No more dusty roads, baked-looking piers, nor begrimed aborigines; but bright, rippling water, cool green fields, dotted here and there with leafy trees, cattle grazing or lying lazily in their shade, trim fences, long grass-grown country roads, and soon the white walls and flowery garden of Fort William, the Hudson Bay Company’s trading post. The rockery in the centre of the garden would have gladdened the heart of an Ontario gardener. I believe that wealthy people there have had large fragments of Lake Superior rock brought down to adorn their lawns and gardens. We found friends at the fort in the factor and his family, with whom we spent a pleasant half-hour. Mr. McIntyre is well known, and many will owe him gratitude for kindness as long as Fort William or the Canada Pacific Railway remains in their memory.

We left Thunder Bay for Duluth at three o’clock. The day had become cloudy, and showers fell all the evening, but not heavily enough to prevent every man, woman, and child from rushing out to “speak” the down-coming boat _Ontario_, and hear her report on the state of the ice-fields. She had been six days icebound at Duluth and the answer to our captain’s inquiry was–

“Forty miles of ice; only one passage. If you hit that, all right; if not, you won’t get through.”

And wishing us luck and good night, with three hearty cheers from either deck, we parted. Naturally anxious as we were for a speedy journey, the possibility of failure in hitting the one open passage lent the additional charm of uncertainty to our voyage; not charming, however, to the poor emigrants whose stock of provisions was too scanty to admit of a long stay on board, while the commissariat of the steamer was not prepared to supply them. Knowing this, the captain–a pleasant, handsome man–quoting the saying that “Fortune favours the brave,” put on steam.

By eight o’clock on Sunday morning we had met great blocks of ice, and grown accustomed to hearing them bump against the side of the boat; and before noon we were well into the icefields, with loose blocks of ice on every side, and a rough surface of piled-up masses as far as the eye could see. Up a narrow strip of blue water we steamed, the passage closing in our wake. Then the way became blocked ahead, while the vessel heeled to one side with a lurch, as a great block went under her keel. The captain held on steadily but slowly, stopping the machinery until a large berg was passed, and taking advantage of an opening created by the waves as they bore the floes upon their crests. As the ice-blocks closed in behind us the certainty of being unable to return, and the difficulty of going ahead, gave increased excitement to our adventure.

One of its strangest features was the heat. Though clothed in the lightest summer dresses, we were uncomfortably warm–and this with miles of ice around us! The warm land-breeze, and our captain’s promptitude and determination, enabled us to reach Duluth that evening. A change of wind the same night drove the ice back into the bay, and from the hotel windows we saw and commiserated four vessels locked fast, their crews and passengers suffering from cold and short rations for four days. The change of wind made us glad of our fur jackets.

Duluth, situated on the rocky north, or Minnesota, shore of the extreme western end of Lake Superior–otherwise St. Louis Bay–was apparently planned in expectation of its one day becoming the principal centre of commerce between America and Canada–in short, the great capital of the lakes. Everything is on a large scale. The streets are broad; the wharves and warehouses extensive; the hotels immense; the custom-house and other public buildings massive and capacious enough to accommodate any number of extra clerks when the rush of business shall come–a rush which is still in the future. During the day and a half we spent there, the hotel omnibus and one other team were the only locomotives, and a lame man and a water-carrier with a patch over his eye the only dwellers in Duluth we saw; while the people from our boat seemed to be the only visitors who woke the echoes in the sleepy place. It was like a city in a fairy tale, over which a spell had been cast; its very cleanliness was depressing, and so suggestive of disuse, that I think a mass of mud scraped off the road might have given some appearance of traffic and life to the scene.

There _are_ people in Duluth, however, though it is difficult to say where they hide themselves; for some of our party went to service in a little church on a hill, and came back charmed with the eloquence of the clergyman and the sweetness of the voices in the quartette choir, to say nothing of several pretty girls they noticed amongst the congregation. Still, Duluth will always seem to me like a city in a dream. On the opposite, or Wisconsin shore of the lake, is Superior City, a pretty, half-built town, rising slowly into commercial importance. Unfortunately we were unable to cross to it.

I cannot leave Duluth without speaking of the “girls” in the hotel, as they were called, in order not to wound the sensitive democracy of the Yankee nature, which abhors the name of servant. There were three in the great dining-saloon, whose superabundance of empty chairs and tables gave even greater dreariness to the house than its long, empty corridors. Pretty fair girls they were, neat in dress, but so tightly laced that it was painful to look at them. Their slow, stiff, automatic movements were suggestive of machinery, and in keeping with the sleepy spell cast over the town. All the lithe, living gracefulness of their figures was destroyed for the sake of drawing in an inch or two of belt. Watching them, I attacked my breakfast with greater energy, to prove to myself that there was something substantial about the premises.

One word respecting the treatment of luggage in that part of the world by porters and officials, whose organ of destructiveness seems to be abnormally developed. Boxes were thrown pell-mell into the hold, or tossed on end out of high baggage-vans, with such unnecessary violence that nothing less than cases of solid iron or stronger metal could have stood it. Trunks, “stationary” boxes warranted to stand any ill-usage, were cracked and broken; and the poor emigrants’ boxes, of comparatively slight construction, soon became a mass of ruins, with their contents scattered on the ground. It was the same everywhere–at Duluth, at Glyndon, and at Fisher’s Landing, where we took the Red River boat. At Glyndon half the baggage was piled on an open truck, and the heavy rain we passed through that night completed the ruin the officials began. A member of the Hudson Bay Company, who had travelled a great deal over this continent, said he found it best to carry his baggage in a small hand-valise, or in a very large trunk so heavy that it required two men to move it; anything between the two was invariably smashed.


The Mississippi–The Rapids–Aerial Railway Bridges–Breakfast at Braynor–Lynch Law–Card-sharpers–Crowding in the Cars–Woman’s Rights!–The Prairie–“A Sea of Fire”–Crookstown–Fisher’s Landing–Strange Quarters–“The Express-man’s Bed”–Herding like Sheep–On board the _Minnesota_.

After leaving Duluth at four o’clock on Tuesday morning by rail, the country through which we passed was very beautiful. Lake succeeded lake, then came wooded hills and tiny mountain streams, crossed by high bridges. These bridges were without parapets, and so narrow that, looking out of the window of the car, one saw a deep gorge sixty or seventy feet below. One railway bridge across the Mississippi–a narrow enough stream there, at least to eyes accustomed to the broad St. Lawrence–was more than seventy feet high, and so unsafe that trains were allowed only to creep slowly across it. The rapids on the St. Louis River, along the banks of which the Northern Pacific runs, are magnificent. For some miles the high banks occasionally almost shut out the view; then, as the train winds round a sharp curve, a mountain torrent of foaming water bursts upon the gaze. Rocks tower above it, with great trees bending from their heights; in the stream are huge boulders round which the water whirls and hisses, sending its spray high over the rugged banks, in every nook and crevice of which grow long ferns and graceful wild-flowers. Then follows a long smooth stretch of water with grassy wooded shores, and through the trees one catches distant glimpses of yet wider and more beautiful falls than those just passed.

We breakfasted at Braynor at nine o’clock, and heard with pleasure that we had forty-five minutes wherein to satisfy exhausted nature. Everything was delicious, and we should have done the fare even greater justice had we known that it was the last good meal we should obtain for thirty-six hours. When we returned to the car we were greatly amused by an irrepressible fellow-traveller, whose over-politeness and loquacity savoured of a morning dram or two.

He insisted on pointing out the exact spot–marked by a tall, rough-looking post with a cross-tree on it, that stood near the rails–where two Indians had been “lynched” for some crime by the citizens; which exploit being regarded with _pardonable_ pride by them, was boasted of to travellers accordingly. Volumes might be written on Yankee oppression of the poor Red-skins, and yet leave the disgraceful story but half told.

Our train was crowded, and during the morning two rather well-dressed black-eyed men came on board. The conductor told us they were the pests of that part of the road–three card-monté men–and that in spite of being carefully warned many travellers, especially amongst the well-to-do farmer class emigrating to Manitoba, were daily fleeced by them, there being no apparent redress, as they are sharp enough to evade any direct breach of the law. These men succeeded in drawing two boys of eighteen or twenty into their toils, and obtained possession of their watches, as well as all the money they had about them. When the lads protested vehemently, the sharpers offered to return the former upon receipt of five dollars, which they knew their victims did not possess. To our great relief, the men got off at the station where we stopped for dinner.

We changed trains at Glyndon for the branch line, then only recently laid to Fisher’s Landing, but since that time continued to the frontier station of Pembina. There was only one passenger car to hold all those who had comfortably filled three on the other line, and it would be difficult to convey any idea of the crowding and crushing that ensued to obtain seats, and pack away the numerous travelling-bags and provision-baskets brought by the emigrants from Ontario. Having gentlemen with us, we were soon provided for; but just before the train started, a very dirty, fashionably dressed young woman, carrying an equally dirty baby, came in. Looking about her, and not finding a vacant seat, she said in an insolent tone, giving her head a toss–

“No seats? Wall, I guess I ain’t agoin’ to stand and hold this here heavy child!” and sat down in my lap. I had, like most people, often been “sat upon,” figuratively, during my life, but never literally, and it was with some difficulty that I managed to extricate myself. The girl next proceeded, with the assistance of a dirty pocket-handkerchief and the tin drinking-mug belonging to the car, to perform her toilet and that of her infant; her efforts resulting in a streakiness of dirt on both faces, where the colour had been uniform before.

We were on the Prairie–the great rolling prairie, at last; and I was disappointed–nothing but grass and sky, desolate and lonely. These, however, were my first impressions. How fond I grew of the prairie I know now that I am away from it; perhaps for ever. Towards night, black clouds gathered in the sky, and distant thunder heralded the coming of one of those great storms for which the prairie is so famous. The air was so charged with electricity that the train had to be stopped several times, and the wheels of the cars drenched with water to prevent their taking fire. As night closed in, incessant flashes of white sheet lightning almost blinded us. Each white flash was riven by red forks of flame, until, with the horizon one constant blaze, the plain seemed a vast sea of fire. Over our heads, in great zigzag lines, shot the fire fluid, as the thunder rattled, roared, crashed, and broke around us; then, in a momentary lull, came torrents of rain, rushing madly across the sward, and drowning the noise of the fast-flying train, as if some fiend upon a diabolical errand were borne through the warring elements. It seemed as though two or three storms had met, to contend for mastery; flashes of white, yellow, and red lightning outdid each other in brilliancy, and peals of thunder, near and distant, reverberated in quick succession. No one who has not encountered a rain-storm on the prairie can form an idea of its grandeur and force.

During a short lull in the storm, we stopped at a place called Crookstown for tea, following a touter for the “_Ho_-tel” there–or rather a railway lantern, as the darkness completely hid the man–through mud and water up to our ankles; over stumps and sticks; through a dilapidated gateway, stoup, and wash-house, to a long, low room, where the table was laid for tea. Seated round it on benches, chairs, three-legged stools–in fact, on anything they could get hold of–were the engine-driver, conductor, express-man, and other officials. The meal consisted of bread and butter, potatoes boiled in their jackets, fried bacon swimming in fat, and scalding tea in handleless cups. Asking for eggs, we were told there was not one to be had in the “town.” Query, what is a town? Crookstown could not boast of half a dozen houses besides the station.

Another hour’s journey brought us to Fisher’s Landing, on Red Lake River, where we were to remain until next morning. Although the boat was at the landing, we were not allowed to go on board until all the freight was shipped. This intelligence was given us by a rakish-looking Yankee, who added that his “_Ho_-tel” was the best in the place, and if we would come “right along” he would give us rooms for the night. Gathering up our traps, and thinking we could not do much worse than remain in the crowded car all night, we followed, paddling through the mud to the much-boasted “_Ho_-tel.” This was a house built of boards, the entrance room or office having a high desk or counter across one corner; a recess under the stairs in the other containing a bench, on which were ranged two or three pails and a basin, while on the wall hung the general towel, looking rather the worse for wear. A room opening from the recess had a table set like the one at Crookstown, apparently for breakfast; the floors were literally covered with mud. What, we surmised, can the bedrooms be like in such a place? Our question was only too soon answered. Presently a shaggy-headed, untidy woman made her appearance, hastily fastening her clothes. She was very cross, and grumbled that there were only two rooms, but that she would take one of us in with her (an offer which was politely declined), and snappishly ordered a man to show the way upstairs. Clambering up a steep flight of steps after our conductor and his lantern, we were ushered into a room containing a bed–which had all the appearance of having been slept in for a week–a rocking-chair, and a bureau; a smaller room opening out of it also contained a very-much-slept-in bed. Throwing open the door of the latter room with a flourish that would have been creditable in a professional showman, he introduced us.

“This, ladies, you can have. Two can sleep here _nicely_. True, the bed has not been made, but I can soon settle that!” and putting his lantern on the floor, he gave the bed a poke or two, and tried to smooth the frowsy-looking coverlet.

“Oh, that’s the express-man’s bed!” he said, in answer to our inquiry as to who was to occupy the outer room. “Must have it, you know; always stops here. The best room in the town!”

Seeing that we did not appear satisfied, he added–

“You can lock your door” (there was a whole board a foot wide out of the partition); “and, after all, it’s only the express-man; you needn’t mind him. Then in the morning you can sit here, for he is off early, and we make it the ladies’ sitting-room.” And drawing the rocking-chair to the window, he set it going.

But as we still _did_ object to the express-man’s proximity, he led the way to another room, about the same size, but with a door that we could latch, a bunk bed, a wooden box, and, for toilet apparatus, a yellow pudding-bowl, and white jug full of water. With some difficulty we succeeded in getting a lamp, and spreading our rugs over the bed, we lay down. When the tramping about downstairs ceased, sometime after midnight, we dozed until morning. I was up first, and, going downstairs in search of water, could not help laughing at the absurd sight of a row of legs and dangling braces under the stairway, the heads belonging to them, being bent over the pails I had noticed there the night before. Seven men had slept on the floor of the express-man’s room that night, for which accommodation they paid three dollars (15s.). During the day some twenty women emigrants, who were obliged to leave the car, taking refuge there from the mud and rain, were charged twenty-five cents (1s. 3d.) a head; and, as a concession, children were taken at half-price.

Breakfast was a repetition of the supper at Crookstown, and although blessed with excellent appetites generally, we lost them completely at Fisher’s Landing. About noon, we smuggled ourselves on board the _Minnesota_, and a few judicious tips enabled us to take up our quarters there at once. How we did enjoy our dinner! Never did fish, flesh, or fowl taste so good, and we felt compelled to apologize to the steward for the emptiness of the dishes he carried away. However, he did not appear astonished, as the bill of fare at the “_Ho_-tel” was well known.

It was Thursday morning before all the freight was stowed away and we could leave the landing–or “Fisher’s,” as _habitués_ of the road call it. The _Minnesota_ is a very comfortable boat, and with the exception of one or two farmers and their families, and an old Frenchwoman, we had her to ourselves. The captain was a genial, large-hearted Yankee, the steward and pretty little maid were very attentive; and, by contrast with the “_Ho_-tel,” we thought ourselves in pleasant quarters.


Red Lake River–Grand Forks–The Ferry–Custom-house Officers at Pembina–Mud and Misery–Winnipeg at last–A Walk through the Town–A Hospitable Welcome–Macadam wanted–Holy Trinity Church–A Picturesque Population–Indians shopping–An “All-sorts” Store–St. Boniface and its Bells–An Evening Scene.

Red Lake River flows into Red River at Grand Forks, some twelve or thirteen miles below Fisher’s Landing. It is much the narrower stream, with so many bends that when we were not running headlong into the left bank we grounded on the right. The boat frequently formed a bridge from one bend to the other, and heads were ducked down or drawn back suddenly to avoid having eyes scratched out by the spreading boughs of beech and hazel which stretched over the stream. It was nothing unusual to find our course impeded by a large branch becoming so entangled in the wheel at the stern, that men had to get down and chop it away before the boat could proceed.

At Grand Forks, where there is a Hudson Bay Company’s trading post, a billiard saloon, hotel, general store, and post-office all in one, and a few smaller houses, the ferry is a large flat-bottomed sort of platform, railed on either side and fastened to a long thick rope stretched across the river. When there is a load to ferry over, this platform is let loose from the shore, and the current carries it across, the rope keeping it from going down stream. The shores of Red River are almost bare; a few miserable poplars here and there, one or two small log-houses and mud-built huts from which wild, dirty Indians emerged to watch the boat pass, were all we saw upon them. The banks are for the most part so high that only from the upper deck could we see inland.

The frontier post, Pembina, is well known as the spot beyond which in 1869 the rebel Louis Riel, the “Little Napoleon” of Red River, would not allow Mr. McDougall, the “lieutenant-governor of Manitoba,” appointed by the Canadian administration, to pass. Here we had a visit from the custom-house officers. They were good specimens of their different countries. The Canadian was a round, fat, jolly, handsome, fair man; the Yankee was tall, slight, and black-eyed, with a cadaverous look, increased by his close-fitting mackintosh and cowl. They did not give us any trouble, and I felt sorry for their lonely life, and the pounds of mud they had to carry with them everywhere.

Such mud! There is no wharf or planking of any kind, and all freight and baggage is landed on (or into) the muddy bank. Barrels rolled through it became unrecognizable, and were doubled in weight before they reached their warehouse. Men worked on bare feet, with trousers rolled to their knees, and the slippery, swashy look of everything was horrible. An Indian (not of the Fenimore Cooper type) leant against an old cooking-stove stranded on the bank, and an old squaw squatted on a heap of dirty straw, watching with lack-lustre eyes the disembarkation. A mile or two above Pembina is the American fort, with its trim barracks, fortifications, mounted guns, sentries, and some military life about it. Near it is the house built by Captain Cameron, when out with the expeditionary force in 1867. The remainder of our journey up the Red River of the North was uninteresting, and we hailed with delight our arrival at Winnipeg, on Saturday morning, the 4th of June.

It took some time to disembark from the _Minnesota_. The emigrants had been up at daylight, and after making haste to get their property together, found that they had to wait the arrival of the custom-house officer. At about eight o’clock, a waggon being procured to take our luggage, we, carrying our travelling-bags and shawls, walked–for there were no cabs nor omnibuses–into Winnipeg.

The _Minnesota_ had stopped at the old custom-house wharf, the bulk of her freight being for that end of the town, and we had to traverse the entire length of Winnipeg to reach Mrs. T—-, who had kindly invited us to remain with her until Mrs. C—- could find a suitable house. Up narrow, rickety planks, through mud and mire, past two log-houses fast falling into ruin–which were pointed out as having been the only houses in Winnipeg, besides the Fort Garry settlement, ten years before, and within three years used as custom-houses–we made our way to the broad main street. This is lined on each side by large, handsome shops, one or two banks, the new post-office in course of erection, and the large square town-hall, also unfinished. Then follow the new custom-house, land office, Canada Pacific Railway offices (square white brick buildings), and the round turret-like bastions of Fort Garry, [Footnote: Fort Garry stands at the confluence of the Assineboine with the Red River.] with its massive wooden palisades, and low log buildings at the extreme end of the street, where it terminates at the mouth of the Assineboine. We had to cross a few yards of prairie in order to reach Mrs. T—-‘s house, formerly the officers’ quarters of the mounted police force, now removed to Battleford and Fort McLeod. We were received very cordially, a welcome being extended to me, although a total stranger.

The first thing that struck me in Winnipeg was the mud. I had heard that Red River mud was the worst in the world, and I now for the first time realized how bad mud could be. Not only was the roadway so soft that every turn of a wheel loaded it inches deep with the sticky compound, and made it so heavy that the driver had frequently to stop and clear his wheels with a stick, but, trodden from the crossings into the side-walks, it covered them with a slimy mixture very difficult to walk on. From the windows I could see people slipping and sliding about so much, that any one ignorant of the cause might, have attributed their unsteadiness to the strength of their morning libations; the absence of women from the streets making that solution appear possible, if not probable.

On Sunday we went to Holy Trinity Church, a pretty little frame building with a full congregation. Part of the church was occupied by the regiment of artillery quartered in Fort Osborne, a neat little barracks to the west of the prairie. The choir was passable, and could boast of one thoroughly good tenor. An energetic clergyman preached an excellent sermon.

Towards the end of June, Mr. C—- and his party left for the line; and we, having taken the house vacated by the T—-s the week before, were busy getting comfortably settled. Numbers of people called; many of them old friends whom we had lost sight of for years; and every one was so cordial and friendly, that we anticipated great pleasure during our stay in Winnipeg.

It is a strange place, peopled with a strange variety from all quarters of the globe. Tall Indians stand in groups at the street corners, wrapped in long dirty-white, dark-blue, or scarlet blankets, held well about their shoulders, and hanging below their knees. They wear beaded or embroidered cloth leggings, blue, scarlet, or black, tied with gay ribbons. Their feet are in mocassins, their long black hair is braided with beads or ribbons, and a black silk handkerchief, in which either feathers or a bunch of ribbons are fastened, is folded and knotted round their foreheads. Young squaws with shaggy, flowing hair, short, coloured merino skirts, and shawls over their heads, sit on the side-walks, chattering in their guttural tongue, and laughing over some joke; fat, glossy, half-breed ponies, in gorgeously beaded saddle-cloths, stand at the edge of the road awaiting their masters–short, lithe, dark men, who seem to touch the reins, vault into the saddle, and reach the end of the street in the same instant. The speed and strength of these small horses is wonderful; their glossy coats and well-kept manes testify to the care taken of them. An Indian never beats his horse, nor drags at the reins in the cruel way so common among more “civilized” riders, but sits his horse as though it were part of himself. A long train of ox-carts is waiting to be loaded for the distant prairie hamlets. The half-breed driver stands by in trousers and checked shirt, a loosely knotted handkerchief about his neck. He sometimes wears a hat, but oftener his short, shaggy black hair is his only head-covering. His squaw sits in the bottom of the waggon; his little brown papooses are peeping out from between the bars at the side. Other children, laced up in queer, birch-bark cradles or moss bags, leaving only their arms free, and the upper part of their bodies visible, lean against shop-doors or scattered bales of goods.

I watched some Indians shopping, and was astonished to see how invariably they waived aside inferior goods and chose such materials as merinos at a dollar and a half to two dollars (7s. 6d. to 10s.) a yard. One of the merchants told me it was useless to offer them anything but the best. An Indian who could not speak English or French, and wanted five things, divided his money according to his idea of their relative cost in little piles on the counter, and going through a pantomime descriptive of his wants, was handed first some silk handkerchiefs. Taking one up, he felt it, held it up to the light, and throwing it aside, shook his head vigorously, uttering an “Ugh!” of disgust. When shown a better one he was doubtful, but upon a much superior article being produced he took it, and willingly handed over one pile for it. This, however, was too much, and when given the change, he put it on one of the other piles, and proceeded in the same way to make the rest of his purchases.

“How easily they could be cheated!” I said to the clerk after the Indian had left.

“No,” he replied, “not so easily as would appear. They generally come in from their camps in great numbers about once a year to sell their furs and make purchases. They go to different shops, and on their return compare notes as to the quality and cost of their goods. Then, if one has paid more than another, or has been cheated in quality, he will never enter the shop again, and the firm that gives the greatest bargains is most patronized on their return.”

A few minutes afterwards another Indian came to buy a blanket, and was told to go upstairs where they were kept. Slowly and doubtfully he ascended, feeling his way step by step, and holding closely to the banisters till he reached the top; then he turned to look back and express his astonishment in the “Ugh!” which, in different accents, means so many different things.

The Mennonites and Icelanders interested me very much. The former, who are all thrifty and energetic, make excellent settlers. They have a large settlement some twenty miles south-east of Winnipeg. The dress of the women is quaint, yet neat. They wear short, full skirts, just showing their small feet; jackets, and becoming white caps, from under which their round black eyes, small straight features, and intelligent expression, greet one pleasantly. The men are taller, with a quiet, unconscious air of superiority which is refreshing. The dress of the Icelanders is somewhat similar, but they are more lethargic-looking. They have bright “milk and roses” complexions, great opaque blue eyes, and a heavy gait that gives them an appearance of stupidity, which is not a true index of their character; they learn English rapidly, and are teachable servants, neat, clean, and careful, but have not constitutional strength to endure hard work, and when separated from their friends become lonely and dispirited. There is a large settlement of them at Gimli, about sixty miles from Winnipeg, on Lake Winnipeg. Some of the authorities in Winnipeg told me that, as an emigration speculation, they were not a success. The grasshopper plague which visited Manitoba during two consecutive seasons destroyed their crops, and the ravages of smallpox during the fall of ’76 and spring of ’77 told upon them so severely that they have so far only been an expense to the Canadian Government.

The Hudson Bay Company’s store had a great attraction for me. It was a long, low building within the precincts of Fort Garry, stocked with everything either useful or ornamental, from a ship’s anchor to a lace pocket-handkerchief; a sort of curiosity shop of all the necessaries and luxuries of life; an outfitting establishment where one could not only clothe oneself from head to foot, but furnish one’s house from attic to cellar, at very reasonable prices. Whatever the charges may be at the outlying posts, competition keeps them within bounds in Winnipeg. As a rule the goods are excellent in quality, and to judge by the number of carts, carriages, and saddle-horses always grouped about the door of the store, a thriving business is done there.

The Red River at Winnipeg is much wider than at any other point, yet so high are the banks, that until quite close to it one cannot see the water. On the opposite or western shore is St. Boniface, the terminus of the branch line from Selkirk, and the site of the Roman Catholic cathedral, convents, and schools. The cathedral, a large square building, has a musical chime of bells, and the ringing of the “angelus,” whose sound floated over the prairie unmarred by steam whistles, factory bells, or any other of the multitudinous sounds of a large city, was always welcome. Nowhere is evening more beautiful than in Manitoba. One instance in particular I noticed. The sun was setting low down in the heavens as in a sea of gold, one long flame-coloured line alone marking the horizon. In the south-west rose cloud upon cloud of crimson and gold, crossed by rapid flashes of pale yellow and white lightning, which momentarily obliterated their rich colours. To the south was a great bank of black thunder-cloud crested with crimson, reft to its deepest darkness by successive flashes of forked lightning. Immediately overhead a narrow curtain of leaden clouds was driven hither and thither by uncertain winds; while below, the prairie and all its varied life lay bathed in the warmth and light of the departing sun, throwing into bold relief the Indian wigwam, with its ragged sides and cross-poles.

Squaws were seated round the camp fires, or dipping water from a pool hard by; Indians were standing idly about; droves of cattle were being driven in for milking; groups of horses, their fore feet tied loosely together, were hobbling awkwardly as they grazed; tired oxen were tethered near, feeding after their day’s work, while their driver lay under his cart and smoked. Above the low squat tent of the half-breed, there rose the brown-roofed barracks, its lazy flag clinging to the staff. Through the surrounding bushes, water gleamed here and there. In the distance could be seen long trains of ox-carts, coming from remote settlements, the low monotonous moan of their ungreased wheels making a weird accompaniment to the muttering thunder; or a black-robed procession of nuns, on their way to the small chapel on the prairie, whose tinkling bell was calling them to prayers. An Indian on his fiery little steed, his beaded saddle-cloth glistening in the sun, was galloping in mad haste over the grass, away to the low hills to the north, which deserved their name of Silver Heights as they received the sun’s good-night kiss.

Then the clouds, losing their borrowed tints, closed in like a pall; the low wail of the wind grew louder as it approached and swept them away to the south, leaving night to settle down upon the dwellers of the prairie city, starlit and calm, while the distant glow of the prairie fires rose luridly against the eastern sky. But all night long the creaking moan of the ox-carts went on, giving the prairie a yet closer resemblance to “an inland sea.”


Summer Days–The English Cathedral–Icelandic Emigrants–_Tableaux_–In chase of our Dinner–The Indian Summer–Blocked up–Gigantic Vegetables–Fruitfulness of the Country–Iceland Maidens–Rates of Wages–Society at Winnipeg–Half-castes–Magic of the Red River Water–A Happy Hunting-ground–Where is Manitoba?

The summer passed uneventfully. Day after day we watched for the white-covered mail-waggon, pails dangling underneath it, dogs trotting behind, rousing as they passed countless wild brethren from every quarter of the prairie. At sight of the waggon, we put on our hats and went to the post-office for letters from home; then drove across the prairie to Silver Heights, or down to the English cathedral, which stood on the fairest bend of the river, and in a pretty, wooded dell–but, alas, it was encircled by a tangled, uncared-for churchyard, overgrown with weeds and thistles, the tombstones broken and prostrate, the fences so dilapidated that stray cattle leaped over them and grazed amongst the unrecognized graves. I was told that arrangements had been made for a city cemetery on the prairie, but the ground was merely staked off. A man who asked his way there was directed to go straight across the prairie to the east, until he came to where grass and sky met. Forgetting that as he advanced the horizon receded, he thanked his informant, and went on his fruitless search; but after wandering many hours, like the boy after the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, he returned weary and unsuccessful.

At the cathedral we heard the chorister boys chant the evening psalms; then went on to the little village of Kildonan, standing among green fields and thriving farms; or turned in another direction across the Assineboine, up a lovely road leading for miles through the woods. One morning we went to the emigrant sheds to see several hundred Icelanders embark in their flat-bottomed boats, with their quaint wooden chests, on their way to Gimli. On another occasion we helped to organize a Sunday-school festival, and after giving the children an unlimited supply of cake, strawberries, and lemonade, we amused them with some _tableaux_. Taking possession of a disused old church, we made an _impromptu_ stage; by laying boards across the chancel railings; and the effect was so good, that some play-loving people enlarged on our idea by putting up rough side-scenes, and giving a series of entertainments there during the following winter, with the average amount of amateur skill.

One very hot Sunday, when we were without a servant, I rashly left our joint of roast beef on the kitchen table, while we discussed the pudding. Suddenly an ominous noise was heard. “Oh, Miss F—-!” exclaimed my hostess, starting up, “Do stop that dog! The wretch has stolen the beef–_all_ to-morrow’s dinner!”

To rush out of the house and over the prairie after the brute was the work of an instant; not so to catch him. On I ran, urged to redoubled exertions by Mrs. C—-, who pursued me, excitedly flourishing her table napkin, while her little girl scrambled after her, screaming at being left behind. Every now and then the dog would stop to take breath, sitting still with aggravating coolness till I almost touched him, when off he would start again, at redoubled speed. At last, after wildly throwing two or three handfuls of stones at him and all the sticks I could pick up as I passed, I aimed furiously at the barracks and hit the dog on the head, when he dropped the beef, and I returned, hot and breathless, but triumphant.

The days were sultry, but the nights cool enough to make a blanket necessary, except just before the frequent thunderstorms. Well might the Indians call the province “Manitoba” (God speaking), in their awe of the Great Spirit whose voice alone is so terrible. October is the most beautiful month in that region, bright, clear, and balmy–the true Indian summer, with cool, dewy nights, when the aurora sent its long streaks of white and red light from the horizon to the zenith, to fall again in a shower of sparks, each night more beautiful than the last. Till, early in November, a storm of rain, succeeded by snow and frost, ended our Indian summer, and in forty-eight hours we had winter. Not weeks of slushy snow, changeable temperature, chilling rains, and foggy skies, as in Ontario, but cold, frosty, bracing winter at once. By the end of November the river was blocked, the boats had stopped running, and our only communication with the outside world was by means of the daily stage. But the wretchedness of a journey over the prairie to the nearest railway station was only encountered by those whose business made it unavoidable.

Before navigation had quite ceased, a provincial exhibition of the agricultural and other products of the country was held in the town-hall. Many of the vegetables were so large, that a description of them was treated with incredulity until some specimens were sent to Ottawa, to be modelled for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. One Swedish turnip weighed over thirty-six pounds; some potatoes (early roses and white) measured nine inches long and seven in circumference; radishes were a foot and a half long and four inches ’round; kail branched out to the size of a currant bush; cabbages, hard, white, and good, grew to a foot and a half in diameter, and there were cauliflowers as large. Neither Indian corn, melons, nor tomatos were exhibited, chiefly because most of the farmers in Manitoba have cultivated wheat-growing rather than market-gardening, as the former brings in the largest returns for the least labour.

Corn is grown in Manitoba larger and far taller than any I saw in Ontario. Tomatos will grow in profusion in a dry spot, especially where, as in Kuwatin, a hundred miles from Winnipeg, a southern exposure on sandy soil can be found; the same may he said of melons. Fruit trees are most difficult to cultivate, the frosts being so severe. Yet with care that obstacle may be overcome, and a few apples, grown and ripened in Mr. Bannatyne’s garden, in Winnipeg, were exhibited. Every other kind of garden and farm produce was shown in abundance. The prairie soil is so rich that it yields a hundredfold, and the absence of the great preliminary labour of “clearing,” which the early settlers in Ontario had to contend with, renders it a most advantageous country for emigrants. The chief difficulty is the scarcity of labour. All men not going out to take up land for themselves are employed on the railway; and women either are married and obliged to work on the farms with their husbands, or get married before they have been long in Manitoba. Many were the complaints I heard from people who had taken out female servants, paying their expenses and giving them high wages, only to lose them before they had been a month in the province. Their sole resource then was to employ Icelanders, who often could not speak a word of English, so that all directions had to be given by pantomime. Any one seeing the strange gesticulations and frantic efforts of some of the more energetic mistresses might be excused for thinking himself let loose in a city of lunatics.

Mrs. C—- had one of these Icelanders as nursemaid, and she did very well, picking up enough English in a few weeks to understand all we wanted. But I noticed that, however quickly she walked about the rest of the house, the stairs were as carefully traversed as though she had been an Indian. One day, hearing her in great distress on the kitchen stairs, I went to see what was the matter. The staircase was a narrow one between two walls, but without banisters; on the third or fourth step from the top sat one of the children, aged four years, and a few steps below stood the maid clinging to the smooth wall, her face white with terror as, whenever she attempted to advance, the child made a feint to oppose her passage and push her back. Afraid either to turn round or retreat backwards, she stood trembling and calling for help, and it was impossible to avoid feeling amused at the absurdity of that big girl being intimidated by such a mite–who, with the original depravity of human nature, was enjoying the fun.

A friend of mine went through some odd experiences with these Iceland maids. Upon the arrival of a fresh domestic she was ordered to wash down the hall and door-steps. Next day, at the same hour, while a party of visitors were in the drawing-room, the door burst open, and Christian, scrubbing-pail and brush in hand, plumped down on her knees in the middle of the floor, and went through a vigorous pantomime of scrubbing. Her mistress was too astonished to speak for a moment or two, until the girl, surprised at her silence, looked up, uttering an indescribable “Eh?” of anxious inquiry, which was well-nigh too much for the gravity of her listeners.

Often, after ten minutes’ patient endeavour to explain something, one was rewarded by a long drawn out “Ma’arum?” infinitely trying to one’s patience. Yet, in time, they often make excellent servants, and many people prefer them to Ontario or English emigrants. And certainly in point of economy they are infinitely superior to both; for not only will an Iceland maid waste nothing, but she is content with five or six dollars a month in wages (£1 5s. or £1 10s.), while girls from Ontario or England expect nine or ten dollars. Servants taken out on the line of railway demand and receive from fifteen to thirty dollars (£3 15s. to £7 10s.) a month. These exorbitant wages are, however, lessening as immigration increases.

Society at Winnipeg is very pleasant; composed chiefly of the old families who formed the Hudson Bay Company and their descendants, many of whom have Indian blood in their veins. Their education, carefully begun by their parents, is often completed in Scotland, and they are well-read, intelligent people, as proud of their Indian as of their European descent. Many of them are handsome and _distingué_-looking. Their elegant appearance sometimes leads to awkward mistakes. One of these ladies, meeting a young Englishman fresh from the old country, and full of its prejudices, was entertained by him with reflections on race, and condolences at having to associate with half-castes. At last he inquired how long she had been in the country? Making him a stately curtsy, she answered–

“All my life! _I_ am one of these despised half-breeds,” and instantly left him. She said afterwards she was sorry for the poor fellow’s discomfiture; but he brought it upon himself by disregarding all her efforts to change the conversation.

When younger sons of good families are sent to seek their fortunes in the New World, their social standing is not fixed by their occupation, and a man who has served behind a counter all day is as well received in a drawing-room as one who has sat on the bench or pleaded a case in court. Of course in such a state of society impostors often effect an entrance, and their detection makes their entertainers chary of strangers afterwards. But so long as a man behaves himself like a gentleman he is treated as one. Many officials, sent by the Canadian Government temporarily to fill responsible posts, and officers whose regiments have been disbanded, remain in Winnipeg, preferring it to any other part of Canada, and illustrating the adage, “He who once drinks of the Red River water cannot live without it.” It is a very muddy stream, however, and not at all inviting as a beverage.

A great many visitors, chiefly Englishmen, go to Manitoba for the shooting and fishing, which are excellent. A friend of mine last year bagged four hundred ducks, several geese, great numbers of partridges, loons, and as many hares as he would waste shot on in a fortnight’s holiday. No doubt, when Manitoba and its capabilities become better understood, and the line of railway is completed, the number of tourists in search of sport will much increase.

How little the new province has been known hitherto the following fact will show. A letter for me, mailed in a county town in England, in September, and merely addressed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, omitting Canada, travelled to France, where it received sundry postmarks, and such sensible hints by the post-office officials as, “Try Calcutta.” At last, some one better acquainted with the geography of this side of the globe added, “Nouvelle Amerique,” and my letter reached me, _viâ_ New York, in Christmas week, richly ornamented with postmarks, and protests from officials that it “came to them in that condition,” tied together with two varieties of string, and frankly exhibiting its contents–a pair of lace sleeves, which, but for the honesty of the mail service, might easily have been abstracted.


Winter Amusements–A Winnipeg Ball–Forty Degrees below Zero–New Year’s Day–Saskatchewan Taylor–Indian Compliments–A Dog train–Lost in the Snow–Amateur Theatricals–Sir Walter Raleigh’s Hat–A Race with the Freshets–The Ice moves–The First Steamer of the Season–Good-bye to Winnipeg.

Snow lay several inches thick on the ground at Christmas, and we had sleigh drives over the smooth white prairie, one great advantage of Manitoban winters being that when once the ground is covered with snow, if only to the depth of five or six inches, it remains, and there is good sleighing until the frost breaks up in March or April. Sleighing parties are varied by skating at the rink and assemblies in the town-hall, where we meet a medley of ball goers and givers, each indulging his or her favourite style of dancing–from the old fashioned “three-step” waltz preferred by the elders, to the breathless “German,” the simple _deux temps_, and the graceful “Boston” dance, peculiar as yet to Americans and Canadians. The band was composed of trained musicians who had belonged to various regiments, and, on receiving their discharge, remained in Canada. The hall was well lighted, the floor in good condition, and we enjoyed taking a turn upon it, as well as watching the Scotch reels, country dances, and Red River jigs performed by the others.

It was a gay and amusing scene, but the heavy winter dresses–many of them short walking costumes–worn by the Manitoban belles, looked less pretty than the light materials, bright colours, and floating trains of an ordinary ball-room. The absence of carriages and cabs, and the intensity of the cold, compelled ladies to adopt this sombre attire. The mercury averaged from ten to twenty degrees below zero, frequently going as low as thirty-three, and occasionally into the forties; yet the air is so dry and still, that I felt the cold less when it was thirty-three degrees below zero in Winnipeg than when only five degrees below in Ottawa, and did not require any additional wraps.

On New Year’s Day the now old-fashioned custom of gentlemen calling was kept up, and we had many visitors, among them the American Consul, Mr. Taylor, known in the Consulate as “Saskatchewan Taylor,” from his interest in the North-West and anxiety upon all occasions to bring its capabilities before the public. He came in the evening, and, following the American style, remained more than an hour, so that we were able to get beyond the conventional topics of health and weather, and found him very pleasant and entertaining.

During the afternoon the maid came in, looking rather flurried, and said that visitors in the kitchen wished to see us. Going there, we were greeted by seven Indians and their squaws, come to pay a New Year’s visit. As I looked at their brown faces and long, loose hair, memories of stories told by cousins in the Hudson Bay Company’s service, of having to kiss all the squaws on New Year’s Day, sent the blood with a rush back to my heart; but, happily, this ceremony was dispensed with. Only one of the party could speak English–a handsome, clear-skinned, straight-featured Indian, in blue blanket coat, red sash, leggings, and gaily-decorated hat. He stepped forward and made a little speech, wishing us “A long life of many moons, sunshine, health, and rich possessions, and the smile of the Good Spirit upon the blue-eyed papoose;” finishing by shaking hands all round. The others, with an “Ugh!” of acquiescence, and smiling faces, followed his example. Our hostess was unable to give them wine or whisky, because of the stringent prohibitory laws, but she regaled them on great slices of cake, with which they were much pleased. When Mr. C—- came in from the line with his dog-train–four strong beasts drawing a light cariole or covered tobogan, more like a great shoe than anything else–the blue and red coat of his Indian runner, Tommy Harper, was much admired by our visitors; and he told us afterwards of their admiration for everything they saw in the house. This Tommy was a good-tempered old fellow, but, when not running, was invariably asleep or smoking over the kitchen fire.

About the middle of January (1877) we had a terrible snow-storm, the worst that had been known in Manitoba for years. At five o’clock in the evening the wind rose suddenly, and in half an hour was blowing a gale, sending the snow whirling through the air in such blinding volume, that it was impossible to distinguish anything twenty yards off. As night closed in, which it does early at that season, the storm increased in violence, and although there was then little snow falling, the wind drove in all directions the dry snow lying upon the ground.

Many people lost their way. A shop-boy running home to tea, only round the corner of the block, missed the turning into the gateway, and wandered till daylight on the prairie, knowing it was certain death to lie down. A family crossing the prairie, and seeing the storm approaching, hastened to reach a wayside inn four or five hundred yards distant, but before they could do so lost sight of it. After driving several hours they were obliged to stop; and digging a hole in the snow with their hands, covered themselves with robes and sleigh-rugs, and drawing the sleigh over them as a little protection from the wind, they waited until daylight–to find themselves within a hundred yards of the inn! All next day stories were continually reaching us of narrow escapes, of frozen feet and hands, of lost horses, frozen oxen, and travellers’ miseries in general. But this certainly was an exceptional storm, or “blizzard,” as the natives say.

Towards the end of winter it was proposed that some _tableaux_ should be exhibited in the town-hall for the benefit of a local charity. The suggestion was hailed with delight, and every one likely to be useful was invited to “talk it over” with Mrs. C—-. And talk they did, at such length and with such vivacity, that I wondered how the two stage-managers, Captain H—- and Miss P—-, could ever evolve order from such a chaos. The great clatter of tongues in that small room reminded me of an old Scotch nurse of ours, who, being summoned to keep house for a minister cousin, was anxious first to learn how to play the lady and entertain her guests. The cook advised her to listen at the drawing-room door when we had a party: but she quitted her post in disgust, having heard nothing but “a muckle clackit.”

At last it was settled that the _tableaux_ were to represent the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Elizabeth knighting Raleigh,” scenes from “Hamlet” and “The Bohemian Girl,” an emblematic group of the nations included in the British Empire, surrounded by representatives of the army and navy, and some well-known statues. Assuredly there was variety enough in our programme to suit all tastes!

Our dress rehearsal, held in the old church before mentioned, was more amusing–to the actors, at all events–than the performance itself. The “sides,” which looked well enough to those without, proved a delusion and a snare to those within. They were used as dressing-rooms, but their partition from the stage being only partial, and their flooring stopping far short of the front, a great gap was left–a pitfall down which everything tumbled. Their appointments were primitive, consisting of a small looking-glass, a pincushion, and a piece of comb in each room. The “properties” on the ladies’ side were an old straw bonnet wreathed with artificial flowers, and a gaudy overskirt; and on that of the gentlemen, two hats, and a pistol and tin mug–which had probably done duty for the “dagger and the bowl,” in the last scene of a dreadful tragedy. Some of our amateurs were fortunate enough to get complete costumes made, but others appeared in a fragmentary condition, with a bodice of the time of Elizabeth, and a petticoat of that of Victoria. Sir Walter Raleigh wore the old felt hat belonging to his dressing-room, and pathetically appealed to the spectators to imagine it adorned with a white feather and jewelled clasp.

The girls who appeared in more than one scene had to change their dresses, and it is impossible to describe the confusion of belongings then thrown in a vast heap on the floor, or the despair of one young performer whose polonaise had disappeared in the gulf. As all were in different stages of _déshabille_, no gentleman could be called to the rescue; so I lay down on my face and groped about with my hands till I fished it up. But before I succeeded, two or three people were standing on my skirts, and a pile of gipsy costumes was deposited on my legs. My rising sent dismay to the owners’ hearts, and they wailed that they would “never be able to find their things again!”

When the great night arrived we, by means of jewellery constructed of gold paper and glass buttons, and other ingenious devices, made a brilliant show, and the general effect was pronounced excellent. We had crowded houses for _two_ consecutive nights, and the only drawback to the pleasure of our _tableaux_ was the sad and sudden death of one of Captain H—-‘s children, which took place on the first night, and aroused general sympathy.

Soon after our theatrical entertainments the snow almost entirely disappeared, cricket was played on the prairie, and people began to look forward to the reopening of navigation, and to bet actively on the day and hour when the first steamboat would arrive; though the ice was still so solid that horse-races were held on the river.

The 20th of April was a warm day, succeeding heavy rains, and it was hoped that the ice would move next day. In the evening we were at our assembly in the town-hall, which is built on the side of a broad, shallow _coolé_, or gully. About ten o’clock, seeing several people look anxiously from the windows, we went to inquire the cause, and found the “water was out.” Freshets from the prairies were rushing down the _coolé_ beneath, carrying everything before them–dog-kennels, logs, broken furniture, boxes, and all the usual _débris_ found scattered about the houses on the prairie. The freshets increased so rapidly, that it was feared if we did not leave at once we should never get home, the water being level with the bridge, which was in imminent danger of being carried away. The lower story of the hall was also flooded, and considered scarcely safe. So there was cloaking in hot haste, and the gentlemen who lived near brought all the top-boots and goloshes they could collect for the benefit of those who had to cross the partially submerged roads.

The ice did move next day, and on the 27th, at the sound of the steamboat whistle, I ran to the window. As if by one impulse, every door on the main street opened, and the inmates poured forth, men putting on their coats, women their bonnets, while holding the kicking, struggling bare-headed babies they had snatched up in their haste to reach the landing as soon as the boat; boys of all sizes, ages, and descriptions, gentle and simple, rich and poor, mustered as though by magic. In five minutes the streets and banks of the river were black with people rushing to meet the steamer, and the shout that greeted her at the wharf was loud and genuine. It was the last time her arrival caused such excitement, as before another season the railway was running to St. Boniface, and freight and passengers could get to Winnipeg all through the winter.

The spring of 1877 was wet and backward, and we looked forward to our journey out to the contract, where a house was nearly ready for us, with anything but unmixed pleasure. In the hope that the state of the roads might improve, we delayed our departure until the first week in June. For my own part, I rejoiced over every additional delay, as I was loth to leave Winnipeg, and the many kind friends I had made there.


A Manitoban Travelling-carriage–The Perils of Short Cuts–The Slough of Despond–Paddy to the Rescue!–“Stick-in-the-Mud” and his Troubles–McQuade’s–An Irish Welcome–Wretched Wanderers.

After many days of packing, general confusion, and disturbing dust, culminating in breakfast in the kitchen, dinner on a packing-case in the parlour, high tea at a neighbour’s in our travelling-gear, and a night at the hotel, we rose at five o’clock on the morning of the 5th of June to be ready for our journey to Clear Water Bay. All the teams, with the household goods and chattels, had started the day before, except two for personal baggage, and the one we were to occupy.

Of course we were ready too soon, and hours were spent in standing idly about, and going to the gate to see if the trams were coming. When they were at last packed and off, it was decided to be altogether too late for us to follow until after luncheon which with only an uncertain prospect of a heavier meal later, we turned into dinner. Then some one remembered half a dozen forgotten things which it was impossible to do without, and it was nearly four o clock when our waggon arrived–a springless vehicle with three narrow seats, and drawn by two broken winded steeds.

After packing all our _impedimenta_ in the waggon there was literally no room for us. What was to be done? Between our efforts to make the driver, a stupid, tipsy French half-breed, understand English by screaming it as loud as we could, the variety of our baggage, and the curiosity of the passers by, we soon had a small crowd of interested listeners and apparently sympathizing friends. Finally the livery stable keeper made his appearance, and after some discussion agreed to exchange that waggon for a larger one. Jumping into it, he lashed the horses, who went at a furious pace down the street, proving their powers, but, alas, scattering the half packed contents of the waggon–rugs, cushions, blankets, tin kettles, and pails–at irregular intervals over the road. In half an hour a larger vehicle was brought, and we hastily repacked, receiving contributions of our property from every one who passed while the operation was going on, so that it was late in the afternoon before we left Winnipeg. When we arrived at the river, of course the ferry-boat was on the opposite side, and we had to wait for its return, which seemed the climax to the day’s worries. We growled audibly, feeling that we were entitled to do so, having had enough provocation to ruffle the most angelic tempers. With scarcely room to sit, and nowhere, to speak of, to put our feet, bodily discomfort helped to put us out of humour.

Can you imagine a three-seated waggon, containing a load of valises, travelling-bags, a tin box of edibles for a week’s journey, tents, blankets, pans, kettles, pails, a box of earth filled with bedding plants, a bundle of currant bush slips, a box of cats–being _the_ cat and five kittens–a box of family silver, engineers’ instruments, wraps of every description, provender for the horses, a bag of bread, the driver’s own provisions (it was part of the bargain that he was to “find” himself), loose articles of all kinds, thrown in at the last moment, five adults, two children, one small dog and an unhappy-looking canary? This motley assemblage was stowed away as well as possible, the kettles and pails being hung at the back and sides, after the fashion of the travelling tinkers’ carts. There certainly was a very emigrant-like appearance about the whole thing, in spite of the tasteful trimming of our shade hats.

The ferry-boat came for us at last, and as we drove over the prairie at a moderate rate, delays having become things of the past, we were for the next hour almost merry. This transient joy was soon dispelled by our driver, who, without any warning, turned off the road through some swampy ground. Pulling up suddenly before an apparently unbroken line of trees, he craned his neck first one way and then the other in search of an opening, unheeding the expostulations in French and English with which he was assailed, until, finding what he sought, and nicking his whip over the horses’ ears, he condescended to reply, “_Je fais le detour!_ Bad, _voila!_” Then, urging his horses on, he charged into the bushes, and drove along what had been once a cart trail (one could hardly call it a road), overgrown with underbrush. Long branches met overhead, and we were kept busy, alternately warding them, off our faces and holding on to our seats–for the track was a succession of uneven hills, hollows, and short turns, with which our driver seemed as unacquainted as ourselves.

About six o’clock we came to the high-road, which crossed the end of our track–the highroad that has cost our country over thirteen million dollars–the far-famed and much-talked-of Dawson road. It was some two feet higher than our rough track, and separated from it by a large mud puddle, in which, after a lurch to one side and a violent jerk from the horses, the waggon-wheels sank on the other. A volley of oaths was discharged by our half-breed, followed by a crack of his long whip, and a sharp struggle, and then the near horse fell back on his haunches and we stuck fast. Down rolled the best valise, out sprang Jehu, carrying with him into the mud our biggest blanket. Mr. C—-, in slippers, sat on the top of the waggon demanding his boots, which where _somewhere_ at the bottom; somebody else was searching wildly for a rope and axe, which proved to be _nowhere_; everybody was giving a different opinion on the best means of extricating ourselves, only uniting in one thing, namely, abuse of the driver, who stood knee-deep in mud, hitching up his trousers and muttering something about _le détour_. We women, meantime, tried to quiet the screaming children, and prevent the “unconsidered trifles” which filled the corners of the waggon from falling out–a duty not unattended with danger, as pussy, on guard over her nursery, and excited by the general _bouleversement_, gave a spiteful claw to any foot or hand which approached too near her box.

No rope, axe, nor chain, could be found; there was nothing but mud on every side to unload in, and not a house for miles to shelter us for the night. Fortunately, before very long a waggon passed on the high-road, whose occupants were a kindly Irishman, his wife, and child.

“Faith, is it help ye want, yer honour? It’s meself never refused help to any man,” said Paddy; and jumping down, he produced a chain. Fastening the tongue of the waggon to one end, and the horses to the other, he drove them up to the high-road, where, having firmer foothold, a few pulls drew us out of the mud-hole. We thanked the old man for his help, but saw him and his chain depart with regret. Having better horses and a lighter load, he soon left us far behind.

On we jogged, sometimes on the road, but more often off it, driving through every clump of trees that grew in our way, as the roots gave some firmness to the swampy ground. Now and then, when returning to the road, the waggon would almost stick, but, after a lunge, pull, and struggle, attended by a volley of French from our Jehu and a screech from the women, it righted itself again. A little later we passed the teams that had left Winnipeg so long before us in the morning; one of them was stuck deep in the mud, and the drivers were just parting company–the first, a French Canadian, declining to help the second, an Irish Canadian boy, whose good-natured face was a picture of dismay, as he stood contemplating the scene of disaster. The Frenchman declared that he had stuck three times, and had to unload both teams twice, and he wasn’t going to do it again; so he whipped up his horse and left poor young “Stick-in-the-Mud,” as we dubbed him, to his fate. Promising to send a yoke of oxen from McQuade’s, five miles further on, where we intended putting up for the night, we also left him, but not without regret. I could not help feeling sorry for the poor boy out there alone on the prairie, perhaps for the whole night, as it was by no means certain that the hoped-for yoke of oxen would be forthcoming. But the lad was so civil, and evidently so determined to make the best of things, that fortune favoured him. A mile further on we met a long train of carts, and Mr. C—- shouted to the driver of the first to go and help “Stick-in-the-Mud,” promising to pay him for his services. By this time it was getting dark, the mosquitoes were troublesome, and the children were hungry and cross, and we joyfully hailed the first glimmer of the lights at McQuade’s. But though in sight of the haven where we would be, our troubles were not yet over. Crossing a broken culvert not half a mile from the house, one of the horses fell in, and we all had to get out and walk, an annoyance which we felt to be the “last straw” on our much-enduring backs.

McQuade’s is merely a farmhouse on the main road. But in the usual condition of those roads it is the first stopping-place from Winnipeg, and McQuade’s, or “Little Pointe du Chêne,” as it is sometimes called, is familiar to all the engineers on the staff of that part of the Canada Pacific Railway. The yard was full of the teams which had left Winnipeg the day before, and the kitchen, or general living room, was crowded with teamsters, who, however, when we appeared, withdrew to a dark little cook-house a few yards from the door.

The room vacated for us was low-roofed, with unplastered ceiling, whose rafters were hung with bunches of garden herbs. Two narrow windows were set sideways in the wall, their deep window-seats serving as bookcase and sideboard: holding the Bible and almanac, the old lady’s best bonnet, a pot or two of preserves, a nosegay of spring flowers, and a tea-caddy. An old-fashioned four-post bedstead stood in one corner, covered with a patchwork quilt; in another was an impromptu bed, spread on the floor, and occupied by a woman and two children, apparently asleep. A table, covered with oil-cloth, with some cups and saucers on it, stood between the bed and a dresser cupboard, containing rows of shining milk-pans, piled one on the top of the other and separated by a board. Behind the house door a flight of narrow steps led “up ter chamber,” as the old woman in the rocking-chair informed us; and underneath these stairs was a primitive washing apparatus, consisting of a bench holding a basin and two wooden pails, with a long towel hanging from a stick.

The farmer bustled in and out, greeting some of us as old friends, summoning Alice, the maid-of-all-work–a down-trodden, stupid-looking girl of fourteen–to make up the fire and get the kettle boiling, and putting his head into the doorway, “just to tell the missus,” as he ushered us in. “The missus,” a kindly-looking old Irishwoman in a white cap and kerchief, wriggled over in her chair to greet us, for she was “set fast by the rheumatism,” and could not rise. But from long confinement to her chair she had learnt to get about in it very well; her natural energy expending itself on shuffling all over the room, screaming to Alice to know “why that there kettle didn’t boil?” and generally making us welcome in her way.

“There’s lots of milk–plenty; you’re welcome to it; and there’ll be boilin’ water presently. If I could only get a holt of that Alice, I’d make things lively for her! I’m wore out with her entirely. If you’ve brought your own provisions all right; but there have been so many travellers by lately, there isn’t a bite in the house, till me eldest darter comes and bakes for me to-morrow.” Yes, she had seven darters, all well married round about, blessed be God! and they came turn and turn about to look after the old people, do the work, and see after things, while she just kept the bit thing Alice to do the chores and wait on her; but she warn’t much good.

Thus our hostess ran on, until the horse was extricated, and we got possession of our rugs and provisions. The boiling water appearing at the same time, we soon sat down to tea; and, as it was too late to pitch our tent that night, we spread our rugs and blankets on the two bedsteads “up ter chamber”–a mere unfurnished garret–and were soon in bed.

Not long afterwards, hearing a great deal of laughter downstairs, I listened, and gathered that “Stick-in-the-Mud” had arrived, and the men were chaffing him for having paid the half-breed two dollars for lending him two oxen for five minutes to extricate his train.

Tired as I was, the mosquitoes were so attentive that I found it impossible to sleep. About midnight “that wretched Alice” crept up the stairs, and lay down in a corner, partitioned off from the rest of the garret by a grey blanket nailed to the rafters. I am sure she did not undress much, nor could she have slept long, as she was downstairs again before three o’clock, and I heard the old woman rating her from her bed.

When we descended at about six, the men and teams were all gone, and the tenants of the floor bed had taken advantage of an offered ride to help them on their way. Poor woman! she was journeying from Detroit, to the work on “15,” to join her brother. She had been a month on the road, and had still another week or ten days of walking before her.


Faithless Jehu–The “Blarney Stone”–Mennonites in search of News–“Water, Water everywhere”–A Herd of Buffaloes–A Mud Village–Pointe du Chêne and Old Nile–At Dawson Route–A Cheerful Party–_Toujours perdrix_–The “Best Room”–A Government Shanty–Cats and Dogs–Birch River–Mushroom-picking–The Mosquito Plague–A Corduroy Road–The Cariboo Muskeg.

When we resumed our journey, the weather was hazy and seemed to threaten a thunderstorm. Accordingly, we made great haste, in the hope of reaching “Pointe du Chêne” proper before the storm broke. But when all else was ready, neither our Jehu nor his steeds could be found; he had taken them about a mile further on, to spend the night at a friend’s, and did not make his appearance until eight o’clock. As I bade our old hostess good-bye, she seized hold of my ulster, and feeling its texture, said–

“Are ye warm enough, child, in that thing? Ye’ll feel the cold drivin’. Ye’d better have a shawl.”

Thanking her for her inquiries, I assured her that I was quite warm.

“Ah, well,” she said, patting me on the arm, “take care of yourself. Good people are scarce.”

Poor old creature! her good nature made me glad she was my countrywoman. A kind thought expressed in the familiar accents of “Ould Oireland” is welcome to the wayfarer in strange lands, even though it may often be “only blarney” after all.

Reaching a bend in the little river Seine at noon, we halted for dinner, and lighted a fire. But not daring to waste much time in unpacking, we took what we could eat in our fingers, and fed the children. Before we had finished, we were joined by a party of Mennonites, in a comfortable covered waggon drawn by two powerful horses. The family consisted of an elderly man; his wife, a pretty, quaint-looking little woman; a daughter, apparently sixteen; a boy of twelve; and two little girls of about six, looking like twins. They were well dressed, in the quaint costume of their country. The man, who alone could speak English, told us they were going to Winnipeg to hear the war news, and gave a look of utter astonishment at our ignorance of the latest telegrams. It made me feel quite ashamed of not having taken more interest in the progress of current events, to meet a party of emigrants driving miles through these solitudes to hear what I had passed heedlessly by when close under my hand. The Mennonite elder was very polite; but, judging from the shrugs indulged in by the family after a remark uttered in their own language, they did not think highly of our intelligence.

Before we were packed into the waggon again the rain came down in earnest, and the whole afternoon was spent in vain endeavours to keep ourselves dry. Waterproofs, blankets, umbrellas, all were soaked, as hour after hour we were dragged slowly through the muskeg, or marsh, following no apparent track, and with the water often up to the “hubs” of the wheels. No sooner were our umbrellas placed in a suitable position to keep off the rain, than Jehu would make one of his _détours_, and the wind and rain meeting us on the other side, away flew our wraps, and all the umbrellas had to be rearranged. The difficulty of doing this, and yet keeping them from dripping down some one’s neck, was almost insuperable. Mosquitoes, too, flying about in swarms, added their quota to our discomfort. The poor canary had a hard time of it, for in spite of all our care the cage repeatedly filled with water, which I had to empty over the side of the waggon. Luckily, the cats kept quiet, and no one was anxious to know whose feet were in the box of plants!

About three miles from Pointe du Chêne, a herd of buffalo feeding in the distance made us forget our misery for a moment. They had not been met with so near a civilized neighbourhood for years; the wet and stormy weather was the cause of their approach. I was disappointed in their appearance; they looked to me very like a herd of farm cattle, but seemed to feed closer together. I had, however, not much chance to study their peculiarities; another _détour_ speedily requiring my attention. On looking for the buffaloes when again at leisure, they were nowhere to be seen.

Pointe du Chêne is, without exception, the muddiest village I ever was in. We drove through streams of mud; fences were built in mud, mud extended on every side for acres. The houses were so surrounded with mud, ankle-deep, nay, knee-deep, that one wondered how the inmates ever got out. Yet they told us that in a few weeks all would be quite dry; that what were now some of the largest mud-lakes would then be the finest wheat-fields; and it is possible that mud here may have the same fertilizing properties as it has on the banks of the Nile, and that agriculture may be carried on upon the same principles in this part of Canada as in Egypt.

At the Dawson route way-house we were received by a white-haired old man _en route_ to take a situation as cook in one of the houses on the line–though certainly no one ever looked less like a cook. He ushered us into the kitchen, the only room boasting a fire, and we were there met by the proprietor, a depressed and apologetic sort of person. After several whispered consultations with a hopeless wife, who moved in melancholy protest, or sat with her head leaning against the wall, applying the corner of her apron to her eyes so constantly, that that particular corner would not lie flat when allowed to drop, he put up a stove in the front room, which was soon festooned in every direction with our drenched garments.

Two rooms upstairs, clean-looking, but almost devoid of furniture, were allotted to us, and finding that we should be unable to continue our journey for at least thirty-six hours, we tried to make the best of them. Fearing that we might encounter further delays where it would be impossible to get food, we decided to husband what we had, especially as we discovered that our Jehu, whenever he got into the waggon from the wet muskeg, had sat on the bag of bread, which still further reduced our supplies. Accordingly we determined to content ourselves with whatever might be set before us, which proved to be pork, bread, and tea for breakfast; bread, tea, and pork for dinner; and tea, pork, and bread for supper. As we ventured to make a mild remark upon the monotony of the bill of fare, a bottle of pickles was produced next morning, our dejected hostess informing us, in a sepulchral tone, that it cost “one dollar, Hudson Bay Company store prices.”

Towards nightfall the French teamster arrived, with his load rather mixed. He had been compelled to unload and reload so often, that everything was where it should not be. Stove-pipes, down which the rain poured in rusty streams, were lying on the top of the best mattresses; and, generally speaking, all the light things were underneath, and all the heavy ones on the top. Soon after the Frenchman, “Stick-in-the-Mud” arrived alone, drenched and miserable. _His_ load was again “stuck in the muskeg, a matter of two mile off, he guessed.” If left there all night, it would sink so deep in that quicksand-like marsh that there would be little hope of ever extracting it. The poor lad said his team was too done up to be of any use, and he was so “dead tired, he hadn’t a leg to stand on.” Still, he didn’t object to go back if men and teams were sent with him. And after a great deal of tramping through the muddy village, our people succeeded in getting a yoke of oxen to send to the rescue of our Saratogas.

Meantime the best room of the inn had been “tidied up”–I suppose in our honour, for next day our meals were served there instead of in the kitchen as at first. It resembled the “best room” of most Canadian farmhouses. A four-post bedstead stood in one corner, covered with a patchwork quilt, generally the work of the wife when a girl; a bureau was decorated with the few books possessed by the family–usually a Bible, almanac, and photograph album–the best cups and saucers, a looking-glass and a pin-cushion; an old-fashioned roomy sofa filled another corner. The dining-table in the centre had extension leaves, very far from level; the wall was decorated with a big clock, a couple of bright-coloured prints, a portrait or two and a sampler; and the floor was covered in patches with rag mats.

If we flattered ourselves that promotion into the “best room” would ensure privacy, we were doomed to disappointment. The whole family, from the doleful mamma to the youngest olive-branch, favoured us with their presence, sat on the sofa, and, looking through the album, were kind enough to discuss their relations and friends _pro bono publico_. The youngest child, aged five, having an occasional inclination to lay violent hands upon portions of our dinner, was pounced upon by one or other of her family, roughly shaken or thumped, and banged down upon a hard wooden chair; while from some other loving relative came the remark, made between set teeth, “I’d slap her, I would!” Poor little thing! she did not seem “a’ there,” as the Scotch say; the frequent boxing and banging her poor head underwent probably increasing, if it did not occasion, her stupidity.

Early on Friday morning we set out again, under more favourable auspices, though the day was cold and cloudy. One of the division superintendents, or “walking bosses” as they are called, employed by the contractors, had arrived at our resting-place the day before, _en route_ for the “Angle,” and he offered to exchange teams with us, if we would allow him to accompany his good horses. This proposal was gladly accepted, and with the utmost satisfaction we saw our French-Indian Jehu depart with his ill-conditioned brutes.

After leaving Pointe du Chêne, the road for some distance lies up a long rocky hill, and then passes through a comparatively well-wooded country. But we thought little of surrounding scenery. The wind was so cold, and the frequent snow-storms during the day were so disagreeable, that we had quite enough to do to keep ourselves and the children warm.

We had our dinner near a dismantled log-house on the bank of a narrow creek, and reaching Whitemouth River about seven, put up at a shanty built by Government to shelter travellers on the Dawson road. It is kept by a Norwegian named Nord and his wife, and can only boast of three small rooms and a kitchen. It was too cold to camp out, so, spreading our rugs and blankets on the floor, we lay down and slept, too tired to heed the hardness of the boards.

On Saturday the air was warmer, and the road comparatively good, and we were sufficiently at ease to look out for and admire the wild-flowers that grew on every side (Mr. R—- good-naturedly stopping to gather some for us), and watch for the young rabbits started by the dogs, who yelped loudly when in full chase after them. We had two dogs when we left Winnipeg, but now our pack numbered eight, some joining us at every halting-place. But in the same proportion that the dogs increased, the cats decreased, a kitten being begged at every house, as they were overrun with mice; and our cats were received with almost as much delight as Dick Whittington’s historical speculation. Unfortunately, however, the recipients were too poor to make our fortunes in return. At noon we passed our teamsters, and Mr. R—-‘s gang of navvies, rather picturesquely grouped round their camp fire, where tea was boiling and pork frying. The untethered horses were feeding by the roadside, and “Stick-in-the-Mud,” for once superior to his name, was alone plodding steadily on. This was our easiest day’s journey, and it was scarcely four o’clock when we reached Birch river, a dry sandy hill round which a tiny creek wound. We were glad of a few hours’ respite to run about and stretch our weary limbs. One of our party discovering that the banking of the shanty was full of mushrooms, we gathered a great many, and took them to the kitchen to be cooked.

This way-house is kept by two brothers, who have literally nothing to do but cook, eat, and sleep, bare shelter being all that the Government supplies to travellers. One of the brothers was making dough-nuts and boiling them in a pot of fat, and although they did not look tempting I had the greatest curiosity to taste them. However, as he did not give me any encouragement to ask for one, my curiosity remained unsatisfied, and I had to content myself with the mushrooms, which had full justice done to them. As night came on, the mosquitoes were terrible; smoke was of no avail to keep them away. The cook told me that the season for them was only just beginning, and that they were nothing to what they would be in a month. The previous summer their cow had literally been tortured to death, between the mosquitoes and deer-flies. Mr. C—- had a mosquito netting tent which was put up in the room we slept in, so that we had comparative exemption from their torments; but it was too hot to sleep, and all night long I heard the men outside fighting with and swearing at their winged enemies.

We set out early on Sunday, as we had a long day’s drive before us, and were to have our first experience of a corduroy road. The one in question was a very bad specimen, a succession of deep mud-holes, round some of which we skirted cautiously, wondering how “Stick-in-the-Mud” would get through, and plunging into some swamps, which seemed to tax all the strength our team could exert to lug us out again. We soon arrived at the great Cariboo muskeg, on the smooth squared-timber road. This muskeg must, at some earlier stage of the world’s existence, have been a great lake full of islands; now it is a grassy swamp, the water clear as spring water, studded with groups of high rocks of varied size and shape, overgrown by tall pines, birch, scrubby underbrush, ferns, and moss. We had been getting on with such comparative ease that we began to think our fears of the “corduroy road” had been groundless; but before night we experienced the wisdom of the warning not to “halloo before we were out of the bush.” We took our lunch on some flat rocks, near a place known on the road as “six-mile shanty;” not without difficulty, as the dogs, like ourselves, were hungry, and, while we were in chase of a refractory umbrella carried away by the wind, one dog demolished the butter and another ran off with our roast beef; and when we reflected that it was the last fresh meat we were likely to taste for months, we saw it depart with regret, even though the ham had been left us.