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Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada


"How dear to my heart
Are the scenes of my childhood."

Old Homestead

It is not everyone that has an old home-stead to visit, and those who have enjoy a privilege worth possessing and to be thankful for. In these days of change the majority of people move around continually and travel much in the course of a lifetime, and very few in the new provinces can be said to have a permanent place of absolutely settled home residence, descending from generation to generation. The province of Quebec is an exception where the French-Canadians remain fixtures. But comparatively new as our country is, there are yet some of us Canadians who can lay claim to old homes that have been iii the family for more than a hundred years, and although they may not be as grand as the stately homes of England or New England, many happy memories are associated with them. Every foot of the land is familiar ground. Here, as barefooted boys and girls, romped and played three or four generations of the same family. Every tree and almost every stone were landmarks which had their own story, if trees and stones could speak and tell of the secret meetings, where lovers sat, and walked, and wooed, and won, and how the names, still remaining in evidence, came to be cut into the trees long years ago. The old house still remains, standing nestled in among the trees and shrubbery by which it is surrounded, the tall red brick chimney at the end marking out its location, the big poplars and maples along the roadside making the place conspicuous at quite a distance for miles around. There still was the once fruitful, smiling, large orchard adjoining, in which grew luscious fruit of all kinds, from the early harvest apple to the rich and juicy pear. No fruit seemed to taste so good as grandfather's; there was a peculiar flavor to it which made it taste different from anybody else's; perhaps it was on account of the sense of ownership that was attached to it. You felt that because it was grandfather's it was yours. The garden and yard were full of flowering plants and shrubs, where monster bouquets were to be got, and when we returned to our own home after a visit to grandfather's we always carried some with us. They reminded us for days, by their beauty and fragrance, of the enjoyment, of our recent holiday. How grandfather and grandmother, when they became advanced in years, enjoyed gathering around them their children and grandchildren. The old home was a meeting- place not only for the immediate family, but also for all the relations and friends. They were always sure of a hearty welcome here. Although scattered far and wide, their affections lingered more or less around the old homestead, the early home of their fathers and forefathers. Many relatives came from long distances, and sometimes we had not seen them for years. How pleasant it must be for those who have been successful in life to return, after years spent in business pursuits, to the old homestead! How longingly, when children, we looked forward to summer holiday time when we could visit grandfather's! We had the freedom of the place by birthright. About our only work was to be sent after the cows and to bring in wood and water. The barn and stable, too, were our familiar haunts. We enjoyed riding the horses to water; going with our uncles to the fields; following in the furrow after the plough watching the men at work in harvest time; going with grandfather to feed the pigs, or with our aunts when they went to the barnyard to milk the cows, or to gather the eggs. Although the house was old-fashioned, we all loved it. There was the old fireplace, which had been used for cooking as well as heating before stoves came into use; the garret, full of old books, papers and furniture, old flint-lock muskets, spinning and flax wheels, etc., where we would steal away unnoticed and spend an hour in turning over the old cast-offs. Then there was the old style furniture of the house; the old- fashioned splint-bottomed chairs, and the old box stove, which had been in use for nearly a hundred years (we can, in imagination, still see grandfather stirring up the coals and putting in a big "chunk" of wood before retiring for the night). Nor should the great kitchen table, also in use for a hundred years or more, be forgotten. It was around that hospitable board the children of several generations had met and had grown up. How we did enjoy sitting around it and eating "bread and milk" prepared for us by grandmother! It always seems to me like desecration to see an old building that has stood the storms of years torn down. Imagination pictures the spirits of the men and women who once inhabited the house—now, alas! long since dead—

"Gone to that bourne whence no traveller returns"—

still hovering around its precincts, and that it is only when it is destroyed they leave the locality.

The Orchards and Vineyards.

The old settlers were a thoughtful and far-seeing lot of people. One of the first things they did after locating on their farms was to set out orchards. Some of them even brought apple trees with them. The writer remembers seeing, several summers ago, an apple tree still living and bearing fruit that was brought by an early settler to Canada more than a hundred years ago. 1t is said that one of the early settlers from Pennsylvania brought with him a peck of apple seeds, got from the pulp of a cider press, with which to start an orchard. The trees which grew from these seeds produced what is called "natural fruit," an inferior quality; but superior grades were afterwards got from the parent stock by grafting and budding.

Fruit trees thrived wonderfully in the soil of Canada, and in the Niagara peninsula, as we know, fruit culture is one of the staple industries. Years ago every farmer had a number of grape-vines or a vineyard, a certain part of the fruit being set apart for the making of wine.

Temperance sentiment not being the fashion seventy- five years ago, the thrifty farmer prided himself on the quality of the wine lie could produce. When his friends came to visit him it was the custom for him to bring out a bottle of his choicest brand to treat them with.

The Old-Time Garden.

The gardens of our forefathers were models of neatness and order as well as pictures of beauty. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch settled in Canada, the garden plot stood close by the house and was surrounded by a picket or board fence to keep out the poultry, pigs and other animals that would soon make havoc of the flower and vegetable beds, if accidentally allowed to enter. A path ran round the sides of the garden and one or two paths through the centre. The bed enclosed by the centre-walks was usually devoted to flowers and the rest of the garden to vegetables, herbs, etc. One could not help wondering how our busy grandmothers found time to devote to such work, but their gardens were apparently their pride, and they spent a good deal of time working in them. It was the custom always to take visitors out and show them through the garden before leaving. We can see the women now, with perhaps a white handkerchief or an apron tied over their heads, strolling through the garden and yard, interested in looking at the flowers. In the spring of the year our grandmothers would bring out the boxes in which were stored the seeds collected the previous fall, each kind of seed being wrapped up in a separate parcel, some in folds of newspaper, some in pieces of brown paper, some in cloth, some in paper bags, all carefully marked and pinned up or tied with a piece of string or tape. Together with the flower seeds there were also all the common vegetable seeds, as lettuce, cabbage, onions, beets, beans and cucumbers. In the flower-beds plants were to be seen blooming the whole summer through, commencing early in the spring with the crocuses, tulips and daffodils, and ending in the fall with the dahlias, phlox and asters. There was generally a border of daisies and amaranthus (called in German Schissel Blume, because the shape of a dish, or rather cup and saucer) and in the centre hyacinths, marigolds, Osar's crowns, bachelor's buttons, carnations (called pinks in the early days), primroses, sweet Williams, four o'clocks, pansies, sweet peas, mignonette, a choice rose bush here and there, peony, white-scented and red (called Gichter rose by the Germans, because its roots were supposed to be a cure for fits), and a tomato stalk with its red fruit, called love apples sixty years ago, and cultivated only as an ornament, as its fruit was not thought to be fit to eat. In a corner of the garden was to be found a bush of "Old Man" and one of live-forever, used in bouquets. A grape arbor or trellis was to be seen in the garden or yard and a hop-pole or two in one of the corners. Then there were beds for vegetables of all kinds and a bed for the herbs used for medicinal and culinary purposes, such as rue, thyme, sage (Ger., solvein), sweet savory, fennel, darraway, loveage (Ger., Liebsteekley), wormwood, pennyroyal and catnip. In the fall of the year these herbs were collected and dried for winter use. Along the garden fence, on the inside, were to be seen holly hocks and gooseberry and currant bushes, and on the outside, in the yard or lawn, a few beds of daffodils (smoke pipes), always yellow and white, peony and fleur-de-lis. Scattered through the yard were to be found a variety of shrubbery, such as rose bushes, lilacs, syringias and snow balls; against a lattice near the house a honeysuckle vine, and around the back door the familiar sunflower.

Oaken Bucket and the Homestead

The Old-Time Wells.

Many of the people living along the old Niagara River, with their houses in close proximity to the bank, got their drinking water out of the river. This custom still prevails. The farmers build wharves extending out into time stream,, so that they can dip up the clear running water, but on a windy day it is all riley enough. Any one who has been in the habit of drinking this water can never forget its peculiar flavor, although it tastes good when you are thirsty. Further back from the river they have always had wells, only they have had different ways of drawing the water. Before the days of the pump, and even since, if the water was close to the surface, a well, say ten or twelve feet deep, was dug in the ground and lined with stone. A curbing or box arrangement was put around the top to prevent any one from falling in. A pole, with a crook at one end for hanging the pail on, was used for pressing the pail down into the water and then drawing it up. Deep wells had a rope and windlass, with a heavy pail, usually left hanging to the rope, for drawing up the water. This is the kind of well which has been immortalized by that old song, "The Old Oaken Bucket that hangs in the Well." Another kind of well was generally called a "sweep." A post with a crotch in the top was placed near the well; in this swung a pole with one end much heavier than the other; the light or upper end had a pole attached to it long enough to reach down into the well. On the end of this was placed the bucket, which after being filled, was lifted by the weight of the heavy end of the pole which extended over the top of the post. Most of these wells, although still to be seen in remote places, have been supplanted by the more modern pump. The first pump to be 'used was the sucker pump. This was made by boring a hole lengthwise through a tamarac or pine log. A rod ran down through this, at the lower end of which was a sucker made of leather, in which was a valve which opened as the pump handle was raised and allowed the water to flow through, and closed as the handle was lowered, bringing the water up. Another kind of pump, which is very common in some localities, is the chain pump. It is not as ancient a pump as the sucker pump. A chain runs down and up through a pipe, and as the crank is turned the buttons, placed here and there along the chain, bring the water up. In connection with wells it might not be out-of-place to mention the "divining rod," which was used, and is still used in some places, for locating a place to dig a well. Whether there is any real virtue in it is a question, although there are intelligent people even now who have great faith in its efficacy. In the opinion of the writer it is one of the myths which future developments in science and psychology will explain away. The operator, or "dowser," with a forked stick made of witch hazel, holding a prong in each hand, and with the crotch pointing upwards, walks over the ground until he reaches a point where water is - to be found, when the crotch turns in his hand and points downwards. A recent paper states that in parts of Pennsylvania, where the practice was quite common, and in consequence of which many wells were dug in out-of-the-way places on the farm, it has been entirely abandoned, as water can be found just as well without it. The following memoranda, showing the antiquity of the sucker pump, was found in an old account book:

J- C-, Esq., Dr. to
J- B- and J- G-.

To one pump auger and apparatus you borrowed several years ago and did not return. Said apparatus cost when new twelve and a half dollars (currency, £3 2s. 6d.).

Willoughby, April 10th, 1837.

The Family Cemetery.

There being few public cemeteries, many of the old settlers had burying-grounds of their own on their farms. here are to be found now head-stones marking the last resting-places of three or four generations of the family. When possible, some secluded place on the farm was usually selected as the place of interment, perhaps on the side of a hill, or near a creek or gully, and surrounded by willow trees and a picket, stone or board fence, to keep out intruders in the shape of cattle which might be grazing in the adjacent fields. After the people commenced to build churches they usually had cemeteries, or graveyards, as they were then called, in connection.

It is to be regretted that many of these old cemeteries have been allowed to go to ruin. The fences in many cases have fallen down and the tombstones been broken and scattered by the cattle. This has been due, in most cases, to the land passing into the hands of strangers, who take no interest in these resting-places of the dead, with whom they are not connected by any blood relationship.

The Rail Fence.

The picturesque old rail, snake, worm or stake and rider fence, on account of the scarcity of timber, is gradually being done away with. In a very few years it will be a thing of the past. It is fast being super- seeded by the barb-wire fence, and in localities where municipal laws have been framed to prevent animals running at large, many farmers do not build any fences at all after their old rail fences have been taken down. It required considerable time and labor to fence off a farm and divide it up into fields, but it was done, little by little, as the farmer cleared his land. Some of the farmers, after their fences commenced to rot away would take out the poorer rails and use them for summer firewood. They often supplied him with this kind of wood for years, until all the old fences were torn down. It was a familiar sight to see a pile of rails in the back yard, and it was the farmer's. job at meal time, while waiting for his dinner, to cut up the wood. If. he did not get enough cut you might often see his wife out breaking up rails, gathering the small pieces into her apron and carrying them into the house to make afire with which to cook her husband's supper.

The following anecdote is related of the late President Lincoln.—A wag once accosted him with: "Mr. Lincoln, I understand you were once a rail-splitter." "Yes," said Mr. Lincoln, "and if you had been a rail-splitter, you would be one still." Some of the old settlers were expert rail-splitters and could cut and split as many as one thousand rails in a day.

The tools used were the axe, maul or beetle and wedges, both iron and wooden. The timber chiefly used for this purpose was cedar, oak, ash, chestnut, although other woods, as basswood, elm, hickory and even walnut, were sometimes made use of. The old rail fences, if properly taken care of, lasted many years.

An old family cemetary

In later years a rail fence was a very expensive fence to build. At one time it was reckoned that it cost sixty dollars to fence off an acre of ground. The usual length of the rails was eleven or twelve feet. Two lengths of eleven-foot rails when laid were said to make a rod of fence. It served as a measure for the land, however, and was very convenient for the farmer when putting in his crops.

The fences were generally eight or nine rails high (seven or eight feet), the municipal by-laws, as a rule, requiring a certain height. In fact one of the municipal offices at one time was that of fence viewer. The rail placed above where the stakes were crossed was called the "rider."

When clearing off their land the settlers, to keep out the cattle, would temporarilly build fences of brush, stumps or logs. They would chop down trees, so that they fell in a line. Around those they would pile brush when they were ready to build a rail fence they would set fire to the brush fence and burn it up.

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