ONTARIO is so modern,
and, to use a popular term, "up-to-date", that some years ago we were
told by Torontonian after Torontonian that if we were on the quest of
the romantic we would not find it in Ontario.
We did not know what to
make of it at the time, having in mind a number of quaint old
field-stone houses which we had seen along the road from the car window
in coming through from Montreal.
About these houses
there was that certain unmistakable "something" which for lack of a
better word is called "atmosphere". "Atmosphere and story" just seemed
to radiate from all their old windows.
I see yet, the picture
made by their old, yellow-brown stone sides and their steep roofs; all,
in a clump of Lombardy poplars and smooth, rolling fields, with here an
apple orchard, and here a sprinkling of sheep grazing on the rounded
knolls, and cows standing with feet in the brook.
Then I tried to make my
Toronto friends see those old stone-houses. "U-u-mph," they said, "but
Not long after that we
came in contact with that other type of early-Ontario house. The one
with the low sides made of wood thinly stuccoed with white plaster on
the outside—the "Roughcast" houses of Ontario. They of course carry in
their now "peel- ing" plaster an appeal to remember the Old Pioneers and
days—the days when the hardships of the wilderness rose up as a wall to
deter all but the hardiest spirits from blazing a trail here; here,
where the true West had its portal.
Usually a clump of
lilac bushes stands by these old doors, the boughs gnarled and thick
with age and the increasing struggle for existence—the old lilac that
strikes the human interest note and tells plainer than words, of the
domesticity that once was the pride of the little family domiciled here
so far away from "Home," in the Old Country. And over against these two
old types of Provincial houses are set the really palatial dwellings
that represent the newer Ontario. And yet to prove that no hard line
separates Old and New, there is a fine, old home down Saint Catharine's
way that claims to be one of the earliest houses in the Province which,
under the skilful renovation of a modern architect, still holds itself
proudly with "the best".
If one had time to go
into all the old houses of the Province, the real old-timers—I am sure
one would still find, as in Quebec, many fruits of the loom. The old,
woven carpet and bedspread, the old loom, and here and there, perhaps, a
grandmother to weave and many sitting and sewing at squares for
In Empire Loyalist
homes, of the country, there is, of course, still to be found many a
handsome and valuable piece of old furniture. Some of the oldest and
daintiest chairs we have ever come across, and one of the dearest
collections of little, old books, we once encountered in British
Columbia, out of Ontario.
Ontario is a sweeping
Province of magnificent lakes and waterways. Her coastline is almost as
extensive as that of any Province. If it were not that certain Atlantic
Provinces have al- most a monopoly of the word, she might even be called
Toronto is even now
entering upon an era of a new waterfront with docking accommodations of
the best. For the Lake trade? Yes. And presently for the Ocean's.
So, in Ontario the
trail of Romance, we soon discovered, led almost as surely "By the 'longshore
road" as down Nova Scotia way.
Ontario being a land of
lakes, is, in consequence, a land of campers and camp-fires; a land of
the canoe; a land of fishing and hunting. And in the North a land of
logging, with the picturesque figures of the lumbermen on snow-shoes.
Out there in the
Georgian Bay is the romance of thirty thousand islands. There are the
picturesque figures of the Ojibways in canoes, still taking the same old
fishing and "trade" routes as in the days before the coming of
Champlain. Still there is Manitoulin.
The craft in greatest
favour everywhere on lake, river and bay of Ontario, is the canoe. I do
not think anyone can know what an extensive cult is the "canoe" till
they see it in Ontario. In season it creeps on the bosom of the lake
like a leaf dropped silently from the tree. And Romance rides in more or
less every canoe, so that, if anything, the Romantic may be said to be
more difficult to keep up with in Ontario than any of the Provinces. The
trail of the Romantic invariably leads to a tent somewhere by a stream.
And a camper may be just as romantic a figure as one who mows the hay,
or lists to the Angelus out of the Perce fishboat. What can be more
Romantic than a group around a campfire? Here seems to be situated the
very source and fountain-head of "pipe-dreams", stories of the forest,
legends of the Indians—all interwoven and crossed with traditions of
And these old tales are
always having new chapters added, every time an angler catches a fish;
every time a hunter takes a gun under arm.
Go out anywhere with an
Ojibway of the Georgian Bay region, and you will happen upon a black pot
a-sling over a log upheld by two other logs, and a roaring fire under
the pot. Across the log may be several bits of branches with a forked
branch cut to give "beard" to the hook from which swing a number of
smoky tea-kettles and lard-pails, all hard a-boil with tea, potatoes, or
fish, or maybe just pork, suspended in the flame and the smoke, or above
the live coals, toward which a frying-pan is tilted to bake the dough it
holds into a cake of bread.
Do not these pots and
kettles call to the cauldrons of Quebec, the Madeleines and far
Newfoundland, as to sisters? Ethnology of people! Sometimes, it would
seem, there is an ethnology of in- animate things.
Here in Ontario, among
the Indians, one finds skilful workers of sweetgrass, though apparently
there is nowhere such a concentration into a trade as in Pierreville.
But the Ontario squaw
shows much delicacy in the use of porcupine quills. These she dyes, or
uses an imturel, in combination often with birch-bark, to make a basket
that is of Ontario, and one which would hold its own every time with the
Quebec basket "pour Madame's boudoir." The Ojibway woman shows an innate
taste in design. The "patterns", as well as the colours employed in her
basket, are frequently exquisite in their harmony.
Somewhere on the beach
or under trees, clinging to life, yet half decadent, as a thing whose
usefulness has been "outclassed", one happens here and there on the
tribal or community-canoes, long, sinuous lines of boathood half bizarre
by reason of design, simplicity of material and traditions of the
builders; but more than half "bizarre" by reason of things that cannot
be classified yet nevertheless are positive in suggestion. Was it in
such canoes the Iroquois pursued the Hurons fleeing toward the
wilderness and out of it, to the shelter of the French at Quebec? Was it
in such canoes that the old explorers, Champlain, Frontenac, the old
Jesuit Missionaries, Breboeuf, Carron, pushed along these lakes and
water-highways? Was it in such, the coureurs du bois, the trapper, the
pioneer, the soldier, all those characters of old—romantic characters of
Old France, Old England, Old Scotia—was it in such they took the paddle
in hand, metamorphosing it at a stroke into a "quill" wherewith to write
"France" and "England" across the page of a continent?
Here, too, among the
Ojibways is still in use the hollowed stone with its companion, nicely
smooth and rounded for grinding com. Old squaws of the Ojibiways can,
and do still, "turn the trick" easily enough. Then there is another form
of mortar, with a wooden pestle four or five feet in length, bulky at
each end and slender in the middle, so that two hands may grasp it quite
easily. Thus, by these two instruments, comes the grain to the dough of
the frying-pan loaf.