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
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 gran.de 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.
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
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
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
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.