Lanark Society Settlers Letter

Lanark Society Settlers Letter #2

Perth Courier, Jan. 27, 1893

Signed by “Pioneer”

Having arrived at Lanark, the British government having fulfilled their engagement we were now left in the freedom of our own will.  The first thing we had to attend to was the erection of wigwams Indian fashion to shelter the women and children and likewise to get the luggage into a place of safety.  We then had to call at the King’s store or land office and get our names recorded.  I may here mention that the land office was conducted by Colonel Marshall, assisted by two clerks.  Their duty was to direct the settlers, give them their share of government employment and pay them their first installment of the money grant as soon as they were located on the land.  The three gentlemen who were appointed to do the business in the land office were men of the right stamp and transacted the business to the great satisfaction of all parties as I never heard a complaint about them.  One clerk told a witty story about a son of old Erin .  He was wanting to go to a certain place.  The clerk told him to go along a certain road where he would find blazes on the trees.  He should follow the blazes and that would take him to where he wanted to go.  “By jabbers” said he, “the blazes may all be out before I get there.”

The men now formed into parties, got a list of land from the agency that was open for location in the several townships where they wanted to go, engaged a guide and then started out to the woods to select a farm.  As soon as they had made their selection they returned and reported it to the land agent.  They were then duly located, got a location ticket and were then entitled to their share of the government articles and the installment of the government grant.  Now began the tug of war.  The settlers of N. Sherbrooke and on the south of the Mississippi in Dalhousie made scows and boats and took their luggage and supplies by what was called the Mississippi (illegible word) to the head of the Dalhousie Lake on the east side.  It had to all be carried from Lanark Village on our backs when oxen and sleighs were engaged to bring in our luggage and supplies.  Having selected a lot, obtained a location ticket we then had to get to work to carry out some provisions and cooking implements to the farm while the men again formed into parties, hired a boss and commenced operations.  I need not here say what these were like as the same sort of buildings are still to be found in the country today.  I will only add that they were very inferior to the shanties of today.  As there were no cattle to draw the logs they had to be carried on the men’s shoulders drawn with ropes.  They were very miserable structures to pass a Canadian winter in.  After two or three weeks we got a small window and door put in but plenty had nothing but a blanket put up to break the wind but it was no help for us, it was a case of “root hog or die” and although there was a large hole in the roof to let out smoke when the wind blew we often had to run outside to avoid being suffocated.  As our party had got our shanty built we had to all go to work and carry out our blankets and provisions a distance of 12 miles in our case as no teams could be got the swamps were frozen up.  The men were busy fixing up the shanty with clay and moss and cutting down trees preparing for winter chopping.  Now, Mr. Editor, I assure you that everything had a dark aspect at that time.  Some got quite disappointed and left but most stuck with it and were buoyed up with hopes of better times.  Hard frost having set in the men had to go to tramp down the snow in the swamp so that sleighs could get through with provisions and supplies.  A team was then engaged and after great difficulty they got through at last which was a great relief to us at the time.  Our provisions consisted of corn meal, flour and peas; some brought a barrel of pork as they could afford it and now man’s inhumanity to man began to appear the poor emigrant must be robbed.  The flour generally was half corn meal and the pork was just young shoots of pigs with hair about half scratched off and contained generally three and a half heads and sometimes two heads in each barrel.  But, as it was not inspected of course, we had no redress.  At length welcome spring began to appear and the maples began to yield their delicious sweets.  Buckets were made and every dish that could hold a drop were utilized.  The sugar making was a most laborious process as the sap had to be boiled down in small pots and pans and attended to both night and day but notwithstanding the difficulties there was quite a bit made which in the absence of flesh meats was quite an addition to our humble fare.

Sugar making being over, all hands had to go to work to burn off the brush, roll the logs into piles by hand, and rake the leaves into heaps and then burn all off and then spread the ashes over the ground.  Having thus prepared our little fallow of two or three acres, we began to plant our corn and pumpkins, potatoes and turnips along rows with the hoe and spade.  About this time there was quite a rush to the old settlements to buy cows.  They were generally successful and this added very materially to our life as you know Scotchmen can easily live if you give them plenty of milk and meal.

Planting being done, nearly all the men and girls had to start to look for work wherever they could find it as it was quite evident that their little crop would not be sufficient to carry them through another winter.  They generally found employment but the wages were very small, then getting from $10 to $12 per month and girls $3 and that often in trade of some kind.  In the meantime, provisions were getting scarce and could not be had even though you had the money and before the potatoes were ready to dig several families in our neighborhood were entirely out.  One of our neighbors had to live on fish and a little cannel and another neighbor with five or six children was entirely out of food.  They had a cow and wood and boiled basswood leaves and ate them with a little butter.  The husband away working, the mother went to the foot of Dalhousie Lake and gathered the mussels out of the lake and carried them home and boiled them and in this way managed to live for several weeks.  This was no doubt an extreme case but there were many not much better off.  The first relief was the potato and they were soft when we had to begin on them.  By and by the corn began to get plump, it was extensively boiled and formed quite an addition to our humble fare.