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Romantic Canada
Chapter XVII Bubble, Bubble, Bubble

FROM early spring until late in the fall, by every highway and by-path of rural Quebec, and almost as generally in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, the visitor happens upon many a housewife turning into multitudinous service a great iron pot or cauldron, neatly suspended from a log, or perched skilfully between two heaps of field-stones.

These wayside cauldrons of eastern Canada, with their constant fires, and their contents always "a-bubble, bubble, bubble", unlike the witches' pot on the heath of auld Scotia with its song of "trouble", are to the countryside emblematical not of disaster but of a wonderful domestic prowess that is far-reaching indeed in its scope and effect upon national life.

For although many of these wayside pots look common-place affairs in themselves, the crudest and least artistic of them represents the individuality and the effort of some man or woman who stands behind it, who fathers the thought of it and the work it is intended to aid in accomplishing.

Even when you pass one of these out-of-doors pots, whose fires are extinct until wash-day or dyeing day comes round again, you unconsciously feel at once through the pot's suggestion that in that little farm-house, over there by the barn, dwells a woman with initiative; some strong capable soul—some mother of invention—who turns every simple object at her command into a tool of service.

Investigation of the pots in active service reveals a long list of different works which this one utensil is able to accomplish. The Quebec habitant woman graciously informs madame, that by means of the pot she accomplishes the great wash for her "grande famille", and that in it she dyes her home-grown wool clipped from the sheep grazing over there on the Laurentian hillsides. After every operation she scrubs the interior of the pot thoroughly, so that though one day it accomplishes the dyeing, the next it may be used to heat the water for M'sieu to convert the big porker into winter meat for the family, etc.

Madame's faith in the great pot is expressed in her tones. To her mind the pot is indispensable on every well-regulated farm, an absolute necessity in every household. The very children take it for granted. The wood-pile and the pot-by-the-running-brook
are to them as natural objects of the landscape as the blue mountains or La Chute de Montmorenei.

Moreover, the pots are more than this in their enfant days. The youngest child of Old Quebec looks upon work avec plaisir. To little French Canadian children, what we are pleased to call "work", is the highest form of play. Every child, and nearly every grown-up, loves to build and keep going, a wood-fire out-of-doors. The great pots of Quebec and Nova Scotia give children an opportunity to serve at a fire and to serve with pleasure. They run about and gather the chips and the flotsam and jetsam yielded by the nearby stream, or fallen branches from the trees, while an older girl pushes the various contributions of wood into the bright and cheery bonfire under the pot that, with the strange faculty of inanimate things, often takes on a look of enjoying it all as much as the children. Thus, wash-day or soap-making day becomes to these eastern households a sort of picnic. Many hands make light work, and madame of the famille of sixteen or eighteen children accomplishes her wash of seventy-five to a hundred pieces with signal ease and entirely without complaint through the pot's assistance — the pot that hangs under the blue skies above the glowing coals — the out-of-door pot that magnetizes the willing hands of normal children.

Dye-pots, wash-pots, soap-pots are essentially and quite naturally enough presided over by women. These things come under "women's work". Such pots, as I have hinted above, have their positions determined by the presence of some small brook that runs through the farm. The place of the pot, of necessity, follows the vagaries of the brook. ("If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain".) Thus it follows that the eastern Canadian wayside pot may be situated near the house or several hundred yards away, in some pasture through which the brook flows. The pot is carried to the water, but the water is never brought to the pot, which is a thing to re- member. Canadian women are canny! And, the farther away from home the pot stands, the more of a picnic soap-making day becomes for both mother and children. The ways of these way- side pots are past finding out to the casual man or woman driving over these rural ribbon-roads of the Laurentides, unless this is remembered. For one pot may be so close to the road as to cause his horse to shy, while the next may be off in a field with no house in sight, and still another may be lost to sight down some stony river-gorge, the ascending smoke alone telling the tale. But, apart from the dye-pots and their sisters, there is yet another class of pot found near the coast regions, pots that play an equally important part in the upbuilding of Canadian life. These are the tar-pots, the lead-pots, the seal-oil pots, etc., necessary to the fishing industry of our extensive Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic coast. These pots differ, too, from the first class, in that these are presided over by men and boys. From Perce to Digby, the shore-road throughout its many hundreds of miles via Cape North and Halifax is "the way of the out-of-door pot" no less than "the road of fish".

When the magnitude and the significance of this is realized, it is easily seen that these out-of-doors pots hold in their iron sides considerable power over national industries and national life.

The sea-side pot is a sort of freelance. It is a man's affair, often wearing a sort of devil-may-care expression, no doubt produced by environment. When the Nor'easter freshens to a gale it may strike the old pot abeam, just as at sea it strikes his master's schooner. But the pot never capsizes any more than the schooner's seams, which the tar-pot tarred, open. So the old pot squints an eye to windward and laughs in the face of the dun cloud and the freezing spume, knowing the dory will come again to him for tar.

What fisherman can go after King Cod or any other fish without "a sinker," and a heavy one, for his deep-water lines?

So the beach-pot is also a lead-pot. Any bit of lead, sheet-lead that lines tea-boxes, any old scrap however small, the old-timer saves and consigns to the magic pot.

The king of the sea-board pots, in point of size is the dye-pot, in use for cooking the concoction of spruce-bark employed to dye the seines the pretty art-brown, which coast-fishermen consider the perfection of camouflage against the piercing "submarine eye" of the silver herring — so necessary as bait.

A pot of net a-soak, or men and boys spreading the wet net from the pot on the beach-stones to dry, is a common sight on any fishing-beach of the Maritime Provinces.

These pots presided over by the men are never kept as neat as the inland out-of-door pot presided over by the women and children of the family, but their usefulness is by no means inferior.

Up in the Bay of Fundy, nature in the great tides of that region aids the work of the tar-pot. When the tide goes out, leaving the bottoms of the plaster-carriers bound New Yorkward hard-and-dry, then the tar-pot, aiding the indispensable oakum of the caulker, closes once for all and to a certainty, the seams that open, insuring the delivery of the cargo, aiding in its humble way the success of Canadian trade, no less than the tar-pot of the Atlantic coast and its brother-worker the lead-pot aid Canadian production.

The seal-oil pot of Les lies des Madeleines approaches nearest to our idea of the witches' cauldron. Standing on a narrow sandpit by the road to Havre Aubert, the black-smoke and the dancing figure of the man stirring the oil, the odour, and the gray sea, a stone's throw away on either hand, make a dramatic picture such as, I am sure, would be encountered on no other highway in the world.

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