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The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie
Chapter X. Modes of Travelling

As to travelling expedita, from place to place, there were just two means of transit for the early settler, namely, on foot or by canoe. Of course the latter was used wherever there was water communication. The canoe, weighing less, as a usual thing, than fifty pounds, could, when necessary, be taken out of the water and carried over the necessary portages. Besides, it was swift. A speed of ten miles an hour could be reached by practised hands, and so it continued to be used well into this century; for we are told that Sir Isaac Brock travelled in a birch-bark canoe all the way from Lower Canada to \ork on the outbreak of the war of 1812. But the purpose of this chapter is to deal with the methods of conveyance used by the Loyalists and their families for themselves and goods in the long migrations to Upper Canada.

First and chiefly—Batteaux. These were long birch canoes, each capable of holding about eight persons and two tons of goods. The standard size was thirty feet in length and six in width, diminishing to a short point at either end, bow and stern being alike. The frame is made by bending in hot water or steam long strips of elm. This, when fitted together, is covered with birch bark not more than an eighth of an inch in thickness. These strips of bark are sewn together by the twisted fibres of the root of a particular tree, and the joints made water-tight by the application of a gum obtained from the fir tree, which becomes perfectly hard. These fibre ropes or cords also bind the parts of the frame together, and the bark to the frame, for no iron work of any description whatever is used. The result is a vessel of wonderful lightness, resonance and strength, and capable of standing the impetuous torrent of any rapid. Boats of this description are still used by the Indians in taking tourists down the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie. For convenience in transportation over the numerous portages, the cargo was done up in portable packages of about a hundred weight each.

The settlers usually came in companies, the different batteaux forming a kind of caravan. About a dozen boats would constitute a brigade, and an experienced man was always appointed conductor, who gave directions for the safe management of the boats. When they came to a rapid the boats were doubly manned. A rope was attached to the bow, and about three-quarters of the crew walked along the shore hauling the boat, enough men being left in it to keep it off logs and rocks by the use of pike poles. The men on shore had to walk along the bank, or sometimes in the shallow water, occasionally stopping to open a path for themselves through the underbrush by the use of the ever-necessary axe. When the top of the rapids was reached the boats which had been brought up were left in charge of one man, while the others returned to assist in the navigation of the remaining boats, or to carry up the cargo. The progress was certainly slow. Sometimes several days would be consumed in transporting the cargo past the rapid, and the labor was hard and often dangerous. Day by day they would make their few miles, and at night lie down to sleep under the stars, and around the blazing camp-fire gain strength for the labor of the morrow. By such trials was the bone and sinew and muscle of our forefathers developed, in a way they little expected twenty-five years before, when in their manor houses on the Hudson, they lived in the enjoyment of the luxuries of civilized life.

Still another kind of water transportation was in curious fiat-bottom boats, called “Schenectady.” This was of wood, not of birch bark, and was rigged with a triangular sail. The difficulty with this was that its weight made it almost impossible to be carried across the portages, and though it would bear a tremendous load, it could only be used along the lakes or where there was clear transit for many miles.

Another variety still less used was called the “Durham” boat. This resembled the Schenectady to a large extent, but was not quite so flat bottomed, and was propelled in shallow places by poles about ten feet long, and by oars when the depth of the water necessitated it.

So much for summer travelling. But many families of refugees came in the winter. These followed as nearly as possible some one of the recognized routes. Several of the families would join to form a train of sleighs, which were often nothing more than rude jumpers, the runners being often not even shod with iron. On these rude sleds would be placed their bedding, clothes, and what they deemed most precious. The favorite route for these winter travellers was the old military road along lakes George and Champlain, and then north to the St. Lawrence. Provisions had to be taken with them sufficient for the long journey, for none was to be had en route.

For winter travelling the “French train” was often used, which simply consisted of a long narrow jumper, drawn by several horses in tandem style. Arranged in this way the passage around the trees and through the underbrush was more expeditiously made. Yet the number of Loyalists who came in the winter was but few in comparison with those who made their way west in the swift and silent batteaux.

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