Canada: An Englishman's Impression of its People

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Canada: An Englishman's Impression of its People
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CANADA. An Englishman’s Impressions of Its People. A Visit to New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario - Altogether British — Little Yankee Imps — Niagara and The Thousand Islands. [The following very interesting account of a recent visit to Canada was written by W. Harvey Jones, nephew of Manager Harvey, of the Bank of British North America, St. John.] A visit to the colonies has a double effect on the untravelled Englishman. While reducing his individual conceit, it adds greatly to his pride of race. Though he regards his little country— I don't say wrongly—as the hub of the universe, it strikes him as most significant of England’s power to sail across 3000 miles of ocean and see the Union Jack floating on Canadian shores, to meet Britishers at this distance from home and yet feel that the Empire contains other such colonies at even greater distances. Then what a revelation is the first ocean voyage—of a searching nature, I fear, to many reaching souls—but a genuine delight, if not marred by the puking woe, whose symptoms have been so aptly described: — Afraid you’re going to be sick. Afraid you’re not going to be sick. Afraid you’re going to die. Afraid you’re not going to die. Surprising, too, are the number of good sailors to be found the first day at sea. Good spirits and appetites are quite the order of the day. As the hour approaches for filling the vacuum caused by the sea air the company pace the deck at a pace that is positively frightful, and when at last the dinner-gong sounds the effect is that of an electric spark. What is it that makes us on board ship forget the formality and stiffness of everyday life? No introductions required and such a display of affability as seems incredible in English folks. Probably one and all have in view the ten days that must be passed in that limited spare and in the improbability of again crossing each other’s path think not twice of exchanging the greatest confidence. And, as in the course of mal de mer, some, shall I say the majority, are taken, those that are left are knit together with still stronger ties, and acquaintance waxes so intimate as to elicit details even of pedigrees and prospects. There is a great charm in this lack of restraint, which forms a good, though perhaps inadequate, preparation for the open heartedness of the colonials. And what a variety of individuals thrown together for the first and last time. In a small body of a dozen men can one imagine greater contrasts than, say, a refined scholar and a bankrupt, who had suffered losses in supplying gin to the niggers, a drunken doctor and a Presbyterian minister; all interesting, if only for their divergence of opinion. Then, in the rare event of ennui, a visit forward among the emigrants supplies and lean variety, and occasional comedy. One evening we were much interested in a Polish Jew of uncertain complexion, who, by means of an interpreter and excited gesticulations, complained to the chief steward of the theft from his bunk of a pair of trowsers and four apples! For ten minute s he testified to the pertinacity of his race, and even then seemed dissatisfied with the officer’s promise to take forcible measures on the culprit being caught red handed, i. e., with the trowers on his person or the apples in his mouth. After a voyage a stock of traveller’s tales is taken for granted. Without, however, mentioning sea serpents or flying Dutchmen, such sights as icebergs, Atlantic sunsets, and, above all, the Aurora, would delight the most blase globe-trotter and make the novice marvel. The first impression of the bergs is, of necessity, disappointing - grim, motionless massses, clumsy in form and devoid of all character if you except sullenness. But approach nearer, look more closely for a trace of beauty and given a clear sunset you will find the berg a mirror for such varied and delicate hues as could never be received by the eye direct from the sun. Then try to guage its size and latent power. It is, perhaps, 200 feet above the water, which means 1000 feet in total depth, and many times as long. Think of the cause of its floating. Naught but the simple fact that water, like no other liquid, expands as it freezes, thus giving a larger volume to the same weight of matter. And to this wondrous provision of Nature we actually owe our security of being, for if water, like other liquids, were to contract at freezing point, ice would sink, that is to say, would be removed from the action of heat and light, with the result that in the course of ages the whole planet would be enveloped in ice and rendered uninhabitable. And after icebergs and sunsets, the Aurora! That is the magic word which, to one who has seen it, recalls one of Nature’s finest phenomena; but to those less fortunate has little or no significance. It defies all effort of tongue and camera, and though described as a mere electrical display in a rarefied atmosphere, it is the unparalleled beauty of its kaleidoscopic effects, not its cause, that is fixed on the mind. Having feasted on all these sights, we next look forward to the great St. Lawrence. We have seen it on the map and heard it extolled by Canadians but neither can give the least idea o’ the noble river to one accustomed to English steamers. We sail 800 miles from Belle Isle to Quebec, and then learn that is the mouth. What size is the body, them? Why! such a river would submerge the whole of our little country. UNIQUE QUEBEC. Arrived at Quebec and given a clear day, one’s first impression of Canada is ineffaceable. Quebec is unique both in natural position and historical associations. Surely, there can be no second Dufferin Terrace in the world. As we stood 200 feet above the water, looking over the town and the junction of four arms of the river to the Isle of Orleans and Montmorency Falls, we could clearly follow, with the aid of the Quebeccers of the party, the tactics of Wolfe, and trace the footsteps of his Highlanders up the cliffs to the Plains of Abraham. With the mind thus engrossed in the past, not an object is out of harmony with one’s thoughts. The surroundings appear to be so impressed with the importance of their history that they have remained at a standstill ever since those events, and offer a realistic glimpse into the past 130 years ago. None of the signs of commercial advance, to which we are so accustomed; simply the cottages and farmsteads of the original Acadian settlers, and an impression of restfulness that nature, unadorned, alone can bestow. To this, the first and last stronghold of the French settler, Canada could not, perhaps, have offered a greater contrast than a visit to the Maritime—or what might be called the English Provinces. The long railway journey to St. John afforded the first good chance of observing the people. A few French-Canadians made themselves very entertaining en route, and I was amazed at their brood-minded and imperialistic ideas, at their good nature, too, in hearing their mother-tongue murdered without protest. BUT THE NEW BRUNSWICKERS actually make one feel at home again. Their genial interest and inquiries would be considered impertinent in an English car, but as a first impression in a strange country form a welcome contrast to the frigidity, which must repel a colonial arriving in England. Such enquiries, too, if endured patiently, often have good results, for, having obtained the outlines of one’s plans, people are ready with most useful hints and items likely to interest. In the some way, the hotel touts, who infest every train and steamer, compel one’s attention by their store of information. Without question, the mode of travelling conduces largely to this free intercourse. Distances are greater and travelling, therefore, luxurious. A journey of twenty-four hours brings people into close contact, and often results in avowals of friendship that are unheard of in the “two hours” English journeys. And what a feast for the eye in the views of New Brunswick lakes and rivers—miles in extent and countless in number—and the forests that stretch away on all sides to the horizon. The first sight of such, a country suggests good sport, and after spending a fortnight there, one smiles at the thought of the Englishman’s excitement over minnow-catching and game preserves. At the first hearing, one makes allowance for the boast that New Brunswick sport is the finest in the world, but before long such tales as 80 dozen fish being hooked by four men in a week: and one fly proving fatal to half a dozen salmon, the moose being seen fourteen in a herd, etc., lead to the conviction that it is no idle boast. Moreover the Canadians never tire of showing their hospitality and the advantages of their summer country life. In visiting their cottages, built in the woods or amid the choicest river scenery, one feels that, money is far from being their object. With such natural advantages they unconsciously take a keen pleasure in nature and lead a healthy out-door life, which under ordinary conditions, must tend to long life and an even temperament. One feels here how much of her beauty Canada owes to the abundance of water. Streams like the St. John river, and its tributaries, hardly known outside of their own province, afford pleasure that make one ashamed of one’s former ignorance. Without them and in an English atmosphere, Canadian scenery would be but a vast expanse of timber, but the river lends to the scope the life which, in nature, is the effect peculiar to water. There is also a clear sparkle in the air that enables the eye to reach many times farther than in a climate ruled by the Gulf Stream, and the result more than realizes one’s dreams of the majesty of the far West. At the very mouth of the St. John river the “reversible falls” give proof of its being no ordinary stream; not falls in the actual sense of the word, but rather a good half mile of swirling cataract, that rushes through a rocky gorge in opposite direction, according to the tide. And, as with most of the freaks of nature, the cause is simple. In the first place the ridge of rock that runs along the coast has only permitted a very narrow, though deep channel for the outflow of this great stream, thus the high and swift tides from the Bay of Fundy are sufficient to stem its flow and rush inland through the gorge in the form of a cataract. With the receding tide, this gradually loses strength till the pent-up waters of the river obtaining the mastery, turn the current in the opposite direction, and for the space of five or six hours surge and boil in revenge for the temporary check of the sea. Twice a day ad infinitum does the struggle rage, and thus nature works out its end—regardless of tourists and their puny interests. The eighty-mile UP STREAM TO FREDERICTON. reveals still fresh beauties. The "riveral" land, flooded and fertilized by the spring freshet, is easily distinguished by the abundance of its crops. In the low water of autumn, islands make make their appearance here and there in mid stream, and the farmers take good care to avail themselves of the rich hay which is there for the cutting, and requires no treatment but that of nature. Along the banks are the settlements of loggers and lumbermen, and behind them the great tracts of forest, the origin and mainstay of Canada’s importance. The boundless expanse of timber is a striking reminder of the toil spent by the pioneers in “clearing” ere they gave a thought to cultivation or building. And still, the work continues steadily —felling the timber, cutting into logs, hauling to the water and floating it down to the saw mill—this is essential Canada—the life that is as important now as in the days of the first settlers—the labor that is the foundation of the affluence and comfort of moot of the cities of the Dominion. The little town of Fredericton nestles in the heart of these woods, and though far less in size and importance than St. John, is the capital of the province, and borrows a dignity from its riverside position and fine buildings which the larger town might well envy. After a blissful fortnight of outdoor life in this country, it is only with a wrench that one takes leave of its many great attractions for the stereotyped tour of sight seeing. The bare idea of the 26 hours journey to Toronto is startling enough, but is as nothing compared to the reality. Unfortunately we, at any rate most of us, cannot definitely fix the length of time spent in the arms of Morpheus, and this especially applies to the first night in a “sleeper.” You are first turned out of your seat by the nigger attendant, and return to find it transformed into a box-shaped bunk, with a curtain in front. Then comes the question how to undress. Taking observations from neighbours who appear to be old hands at the game, you appreciate the advantage of being small, for it is next to impossible for a six-footer to be quite obscured by the little curtain that hangs from the bunk. At last the tangle is over. You sort clothing from bed-clothes and eventually fall asleep with the consciousness of a great rushing noise far away, and voices and footsteps passing uncommonly near your person and property. The next event is the sight of a grinning black face, whose owner tells you with a southern twang that breakfast is being served "right there," in the next car. You try to remember in which corner your garments repose, and perhaps find a portion of them, when suddenly the vision of some one, of whose presence you had never dreamed, descending from the first floor, sends you back with a dive into your bunk. This experience makes you wary. You enquire if the lavatory is occupied, and by whom, and decide on that as a safer place to complete the toilet. But there you are not much better off. The car oscillates like a fire-engine, and as you stand, razor in hand, before the glass, your face grows longer and longer as you think of the possible consequence of putting it - the razor - to your chin. Finally you make a feeble attempt to wash in a few inches of water, it is a precious commodity on a railway journey, and reach the breakfast table with a, sigh of relief at something desperately attempted, though with a result not too satisfactory. Nowhere is there a better chance of observing American life and ways than on the railway cars. The number of Americans on this journey was an evidence of the approach of the Dewey celebrations and yacht races across the border. By good fortune (?) too, I had the opportunity of seeing the vagaries of REAL YANKEE CHILDREN. Yes, real Yanks, for having once seen them, one could not imagine such imps to be of any other nationality, and certainly no other nation would endure them. Their will is also the law. They speak their views in fearless contradiction of parents or any one they happen to victimise, and are perfectly indifferent to correction or advice. To a stranger they appear to lack every trait that is attractive, and yet - strangest of all - as they grow older there springs up a great attachment to the parents. Between father and son, as I noticed repeatedly, friendship and confidence are far stronger ties than we are accustomed to see at home. Toronto, at last. And with it another taste of that great hospitality which can only be classed as Canadian, and dispels all thought of the tedium of the journey. It is at once apparent that Toronto is one of Canadas oldest cities. The bustle of its fine streets is bewildering after the quiet New Brunswick life, and the number and pace of the electric cars, remind one at once of the nearness of the States border. Torontonians have, indeed, good reason for their city-pride. Great colleges, cathedrals and government buildings, standing for the most part in tastefully laid-out parks, all point to a high standard of culture in the inhabitants, and in this one is not disappointed. If not richest in wealth, on account of its inland position, yet in thought and enlightment the city is very near the top of the Canadian tree, as witness the list of her famous sons. And for an example of public spirit one has only to remember Canada’s contribution to our anti-Boer forces of 1,000 men, to fill whose places there were enough volunteers in Toronto alone. But I fear these are not the things that attract the tourist; after all Niagara is the quest which dwarfs any of the town sights which even Toronto can offer. The thirty miles sail in early morning across the corner of Lake Ontario and UP THE NIAGARA RIVER is a fitting preparation for what is to follow. It brings home an idea of the work done at the falls in draining four inland seas, each greater than Ontario. At the mouth of the gorge that leads to the foot of the falls one exclaims at the narrowness of the channel, a mere hundred yards across. Surely Niagara would scorn such a meagre outlet. If it were an ordinary cataract, yes, but in proof of its limitless power it has worn this chasm to a depth of 400 feet in the rock, and through it the great body of water rushes, 200 feet deep, at a speed which only the impetus of Niagara could impart. This gorge contains sights that for the time being drive away all thought of the great object of the journey. On the electric railway cut out of the rock on the American side, the car creeps along, right at the water’s edge, till the roar of the torrent and showers of spray warn you that the whirlpool is near. Here it is at a sharp bend in the ravine, a huge amphitheatre, with its sides, 200 feet high, wooded to the sky-line with all the varied, foliage of Canada. And the arena a seething mass of circling eddies that wrestle with such force as to raise the surface of the water many feet higher in some places than in others. Looking up the stream you see the rapid lashing itself into fury at the narrowest part of the gorge, on the surface it hisses with angry foam and gathers speed till it is hurled irresistibly into the great whirlpool. Here the water loses its excited appearance - in grim earnest it settles down to the struggle to get once more out into the stream and assumes a black, sullen air that completes one of the weirdest pictures nature can offer. You are spellbound in watching this tumult, but the car now winds its way up the cliffs and you suddenly forget all in the first glimpse of Niagara. Now, everyone is told before the first visit: “Oh, you will be disappointed.” Well, perhaps so, in the first view of the fall, but only to have one’s expectations far more than realised at close quarters. Above the falls, you cross the bridges connecting the pretty islands right amid the American Rapids. You stand on the ledge of rock above the American fall, and imagine the feelings of any poor fish that may be taking the leap to the bottom. Then retracing steps, you cross the great steel bridge to the Canadian side for a good look at the Horseshoe Fall. It will bear it, and a long look, too, indeed, a thousand glimpses from different points would, each give a separate result. So great is the volume of water in the centre of the Horseshoe that its color is a deep green, and the force with which it falls causes air explosions that at regular intervals disturb the great cloud of spray in sharp puffs. Below the falls, donning the oilskin and sou’wester, you board the steamer, "Maid of the Mist," which charges at full steam to within a few yards of the Fall, and then, perhaps most impressive of all, you scramble in the same amphibious costume over the slippery boulders to a tunnel cut right through the rock. Creeping gingerly through this in pitch darkness you suddenly reach the end and find yourself on a narrow ledge with your back to the rock and in front the great sheet of water that dives with an ear-splitting roar into the pit below. Before such awful grandeur you sink to the size of a worm. The blinding spray baffles all attempts to get more than a momentary glimpse of the summit. Never could the sun find a fairer medium for its light which glistens through this transparent sheet with the colors of a thousand rainbows. You take leave with the knowledge that it is utterly impossible to conceive the force and power of this great world’s wonder, and are further convinced of this by seeing the power house above the falls, a little town in itself, where electrical power is generated and transmitted for many miles around. To drive this great concern, you are told 50,000 horse power is harnessed from the rapids. A large amount, and all without cost, you think, but a mere fraction of Niagara’s potentian energy, which those who claim to know, compute to be seventeen million horse power. And this has been going on for 40,000 years. Small wonder that, under its influence the rock recedes nearly three foot per annum. But daylight begins to fail even at Niagara; you turn away to the electric car that runs along the cliffs on the Canadian side and take in a last view of the mighty fall that, whether visited again or not, will go on its way unheeding. And on the way down the gorge, while trying to digest the crowd of events of the day, you are conscious of a feeling of shame at having attempted a l’Americaine to rush all the great sights of Niagara one day. IT IS WELL TO SEE NIAGARA. As near the end of a tour of possible, the memory of it dwarfs the interest of all subsequent expeditions. Even the sail across Ontario and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal seem comparatively tame, though at ordinary times a trip full of variety; for after a night spent on the lake, one rises early to find the boat in the maze of the “Thousand Islands,” surely some of the fairest spots on this earth. Well situated for sport of the first order, and clothed with Canada’s finest woods, they have attracted a colony of wealthy Canadians and Americans, who have dotted their summer residences on almost every island. After winding for an hour among these signs of “revolting prosperity” the steamer enters the St. Lawrence proper and prepares for battle with the five sets of rapids which have to be "shot" ere Montreal is reached. This is great sport, and the excitement reaches concert pitch at the La Chine cataract— the swiftest of the five. Though the river is many miles wide here the little boat channel is unmarked. As one stands at the stern of the boat on entering the rapid it is felt to quiver from end to end with the force of the current, and through the white foam ledges of rock gleam but a few feet away from both sides. We gradually gathered a speed that would seem to make steering quite impossible; but no, the rudder did its work - not for the first time - and safely brought us into smooth water a few miles above Montreal. Montreal, with its advanced civilization and gay French life, at once brings back the senses from the romance of country life. It has an air of wealth and solidity possessed by no other city in the Dominion, and derives a beauty, all its own, from its street-avenues of trees and the mountain in the background. It is cosmopolitan to a degree. Canadians and Americans, English and French, all are there, engaged in furthering the rapid advancement of this nerve-centre of Canadian commerce, and on embarking at its quays one takes leave of Canada with a lasting impression of the greatness of the colony. Then steaming once more out to sea, richer by many good friends for the tour, one tries to collect one’s ideas of Canadian men and women. In the first place, does a visit of a month’s duration qualify one to give a worthy opinion? that is the question that refuses to be evaded on first tackling such a subject, to which you obviously reply, 'That depends on one’s power of observation.' True, but would Canadians accept an opinion based on an Englishman's observation? I venture to think so, and willingly, if given from an English point of view. Their great idea is to be and appear British. Independent, but British to the core— and in any case not American—-indeed it is hardly possible to give greater offence than to suggest comparisons with the people of that land of contrasts and superlatives across the border. For the English Canadians, that they are British goes without saying—but without British snobbery! Had Thackeray been born and bred among Canadians, his society-satires could never have appeared to charm and humiliate us. Among such democrats it is sufficient that a man is a man, and as such worth knowing, without a thought as to birth or so-called social standing. How general and strongly developed is this trait can only be known by experience of the amazing hospitality of all classes. Nothing is too much trouble for a friend, or even a friend of a friend—there are no pessimists, and to one who is used to the conventionality and follow-my-leader life of crowded English cities there is a great attraction in the frankness and enthusiasm of the men. They have, in addition, a strong individuality and self-reliance, which can only be attributed to the comparatively solitary life of the colonies and the necessity for genuine hard work in an invigorating climate. Their interest in British affairs is of the keenest—in fact the utter absence of foreign element makes it hard to believe one’s self 3,000 miles from home. FOR THE FRENCH CANADIANS. Descendants of the first European settlers, it is surprising to note the strength of their allegiance to the Empire of adoption. They appear to cultivate a British demeanour, cool and deliberate, which is in marked contrast to that of their chattering friends on the Paris boulevards. Apparently they recognise that, whatever be our shortcomings, we have saved them from the terrors of the Revolution and the other upheavals in which under France, they would have had to take part; we grant them equal rights and privileges with our own people, rid last, but not least, absolute freedom in their religion. To this last is due more of England’s success in administrating on good terms this large body of French subjects than perhaps appears at first sight. Speaking of the Quebec province, the influence and in sources of the Roman Catholic church are not prominent in the number of workers and the abundance of fine buildings, which, as in reply to queries one is so often told, “belong to the church.” And this, without a degree of molestation from her Protestant neighbors. Indeed the good feeling between the churches, in striking rebuke to the bickerings that are so rife at home, is as remarkable as the loyalty of the two races. These impressions were confirmed by the nine days’ sojourn with Canadians en the return voyage, and here I must pay a passing tribute to the Canadian ladies who are by no means the least important of the many attractions of their country. It was with quite a heart-sinking that we waved farewell to the last bit of land and the sight, on the third-day of the voyage, of the “Scotsman” ashore on Belle Isle did not tend to raise our spirits. No more pitiable sight can be imagined than this fine steamer bumping on the rocks, absolutely abandoned, and at the mercy of every wave that broke over her. Two Newfoundland schooners swooping down on her for plunder, added a last degree of helplessness to the scene. A touch of irony, too, arose from the fact that but a few hours after the mishap the sun rose laughingly o’er the distressful sight and a change in the wind sent the fog, the cause of the wreck, scurrying back to its birthplace, the Newfoundland Banks; the sea, as though ashamed of its work, subsided into a sudden calm, but could not refrain from chuckling, in an occasional breaker or two, at the effect of its own caprice. The same line might, quite us truly be applied to the sea as to Shakspeare’s Cleopatra:—“Age cannot wither, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” It is indeed the very changefulness that is its greatest fascination. Regret for Canada, however genuine, was yet outweighed by eagerness for the fog and wet of the Old Country. Only as we neared it did we realise the strength of England’s magnet. The decks were crowded and all eyes were strained for the first sight of land; in the excitement each bit of haze on the horizon deluded us into cheering, and, when, having larded at last, we were actually bowling along in the London train I fear the staid English folks must have thought us bereft of senses, as well as money. Paddington at last, and with it the scattering of our fifty jolly passengers —the last links with Canada—and the conclusion of my first tour out of Britian, a holiday, which for novelty and pure enjoyment, I shall probably never surpass.