Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Romantic Canada
Chapter XXIII Ontario Continued

HISTORY furnishes Ontario with a dramatic inheritance hardly less colourful than that of Quebec. In the early part of the seventeenth century this was the real battleground between conquering Europeans and the Redmen for the possession of the vast inland stretches of country about the Great Lakes. It was the sanctuary of thousands of Empire Loyalists after the war of American Independence. And it was again a battleground in the war of 1812.

Many great names are written in, many striking figures illumine the Ontario log. And as one wanders about in present day Ontario as in Quebec, memories of this fine past are constantly creeping out at unexpected moments to convince one that the past is ever present.

Great men and great events do not die. To these early days belong many an old fort and earthwork whose frowning severity is now time-softened and mellowed by the touchstone of romance.

Such a flambeau of story is old Fort Mississauga, at Niagara-on-thc-Lake. In the clearing about this old tower, where men under arms drilled a hundred years ago, sporting figures of golfers now roam, and caddies "present" sticks for this "drive" or that. From the ramparts—recalling the ramparts at Annapolis Royalone looks down to watch the waves playing "Hide-and-Go-Seek" among upstanding timbers that resemble the weathered and bleached ribs of some old wreck. These were the old Fort's seaward-straining palisades.

Across the river is that historic old French fort, Niagara, now belonging to the United States, and up the river at Fort George, grow the thorn trees, which a pretty legend says came from slips sent from France to French officers stationed at Fort Niagara. And while thinking of the old fort, which is the symbol of history to the people ot to-day, what can be more romantic than the Martello Tower cropping up suddenly out of the waters of Kingston harbour like some sea-creature come up to breathe?

The period of the influx of United Empire Loyalists brought also that interesting people, the Mohawk Indians, to settle under their chief, Brant, on their allotment of land at the mouth of the Grand River, and to give a name to one of Ontario's most prosperous cities.

The story of the Mohawks' loyalty to the Crown is one of the longest and most romantic stories of those romantic times. But the objective peak of interest is reached in "His Britannic Majesty George Ill's Chapel to the Mohawks"—a few miles out of Brantford. Down in this old wooden church with the Royal Coat of Arms quaintly set over the door, abides that atmosphere of tranquility only attained by the old church, old home, or old person that has lived through great experiences and scenes, but now, having come out of all these, has reached the detachment of a placid old age that "regrets little, and would change still less".

The view from this old "Chapel", up out of that stormy period, dually staging Indian warfare and Colonial pioneering, is like a pastoral benediction bestowed on those white men and red who fought so hard for Ontario and the unity of the Empire.

And somehow, as you sit in a pew of this quiet church with the spirits of the great Chief Brant and others, whose graves stand in the churchyard, hovering in the air of splendid achievement which makes up the Province's inheritance, you cannot but feel that there is a great bond of common experience uniting into one family this church—the quaint church with the little "House of the Angels" over the altar at Indian Lorette—the Catholic church at Pierreville, whose forbear went up in flames during the French and English struggle for supremacy on the Saint Lawrence, and the old Colonial church at Grand Pre, standing amid its curtain of Lombardies, and surrounded by memorial gravestones whereon are cut names now immortally chiselled in the history of Nova Scotia and of Canada.

Recognition of the fact that this chain of old churches, to which many another throughout Canada of its own right belongs, has stood for the fundamental in an age when the very grip of the pioneer on the land was in a sense uncertain, must tend to reveal the hand of destiny, and strengthen the Canadian's national consciousness.

That, it seems to me, is the first lesson Romance reads to the people of Canada from the doorway of these old churches, happened upon here and there from the Atlantic to the Pacific and striking northward with the great rivers running toward Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. The very name of this old Mohawk church is national.

In the city of Brantford, in addition to the fine bronze memorial of Brant, supported by the figures of other Mohawk warriors, there is an unique monument marking an event of world-wide interest—the invention of the telephone by the late Alexander Graham Bell. The early home of Bell, where he perfected the marvellous invention which was to render such signal service to mankind, and which by virtue of that invention is more than a Provincial landmark, stands a few miles out of town on a high bluff above the Tugela. It is a quiet spot, and one of those ample old houses whose very atmosphere must have been conducive to research and experiment. Canada not only possesses the distinction of this homestead and all that it stands for, but for years Mr. Bell came back every summer to his chosen home near Baddeck on the Bras D'Or Lake to carry on further researches and experiments; and it seems in keeping with his deep love for his home here that when the Great Voice rang him up, it should find him in Canada; and that he should be buried, as he is, in Canadian soil.

A great deal of story and romance is bound up with the canals of Ontario. The building of canals at so early a date proves the practical attitude of the early settlers of this section toward the importance of good water-highways for craft and commerce. The canals seem to ante-date the roads in some places. In all cases, they supplement the great lakes and rivers, amplifying the span of Provincial and National waterways.

The canals of Ontario are pivotal as the Province is pivotal. Without them the Great Lakes would never come to the sea or the sea to the Great Lakes.

Romance gets aboard the canal-boat of Ontario no less than aboard her sisters of the Richelieu. Nor does she stop to question whether it be a thousand-ton freighter, or a mere barge with picturesque windmill-sails to the pump and a line of family wash strung out from the caboose; or a blackened line of hulks with coal, "bound up", or "bound down", she steps aboard. Romance is true blue. She rides with the humblest, or on the white-and- gold pleasure boat to view the majesty of Capes Trinity and Eternity on the Saguenay, with equal ease.

What wonder then, that the canals of Canada have their individualities—individualities no less romantic than those of the lakes, the sea, or the rivers. The largest and most imposing of these is of course the Canal-town. The very presence of the canal gives one of these town the right to reach out understanding, and with a certain degree of similarity, to any of the old river-towns of the Saint Lawrence, and to claim relation with any town of the coast whose harbour and trade-interests have given it the distinctive name of "sea-port".

Canal-towns have just a little more atmosphere than a town minus a "water-gate" and a "water-street". Craft of one kind or another seek out these towns, coming to them, not in the usual marine settings, but apparently upon the bosom of agriculture. Everyone knows what a shock it is to look across what is apparently a solid field of grain or potatoes and to see sailing through the vegetation a steamer's red funnel, capped by a plume of black smoke. Yet this is a "headless horseman" effect which the inhabitants of some of the canal regions of Ontario know well.

Another feature, purely the canal's own, is the lock. What pictures are afforded of the different types of traders which without any orderings except those of chance and circumstance, assemble here from time to time, forming little groups which are as a collective voice asking the lock-master to open the gates! And when later they string out one behind the other through the lock, what are they but so many carriers of Canadian trade? Here is one with paper-pulp, one with lumber, another with coal. And so the list could be drawn out indefinitely.

At the locks, pictures are made by the power-buildings in well-kept lawns and gardens; gardens with their riotous splashes of bloom waved over by that world-known dash of colour which is the British Flag.

Across the ship-canals land-traffic must needs throw its turnbridge. The opening of the lock-gate is the signal to the bridge attendant to give the dusty old viaduct its swing. And so the "locking" of a vessel calls into being many interesting facets of life, which would not exist except for the canal. One of these facets is the collection of country teams which drive up and are called upon to wait while the ships go through. It is a pretty illustration of land-trade waiting on sea-movement—which has been the law since the world began. Another, and more individual feature etched by the Canal is the old-time fisherman. All the canals of the world must know this type of Isaak Walton. Mrs. MacRobie of Iroquois is an authority on this kind of fishing. Her favourite fishing-ground is the Galops Canal at Iroquois just where the clean ribbon of water crosses the foot of her back-yard. For thirty years she and her husband sat beside each other daily on the canal-bank. Now, her husband having died, she is left to fish alone, except when the neighbours' barefooted boys come along with their poles and cans of wriggling earthworms and drop their cork-bobs on the water next to hers. Mrs. MacRobie has a store of local history from which she draws, on the evening we join her at the fishing. Her father and grandfather have handed down to her medals which show the part the family took in the Battle of Windmill Point, in the war of 1812. On another evening she invites us into the house to see these treasures. And then it is she brings out what seems to be an old-fashioned prayer or hymn book, in a calf binding, but turns out to be a clever earthen receptacle for "spirits". This "book"' is very old; and the story that goes with it is to the effect that a man could take it into church when he had had a long cold journey to get there and not be suspected of having reached the church largely by the aid of John Barleycorn. It is said of it, too, that its ancient owner found it of great convenience in his campaigns. This little "Treasury of Devotion" is now of increased interest in view of present day Prohibition, and it is also of interest in showing that indulgence was not without artistic and literary camouflage even in days of yore.

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus