The Englishwoman in America, by Isabella Bird

Chapter 12.

A scene at starting — That dear little Harry — The old lady and the race — Running the Rapids — An aside — Snow and discomfort-A new country — An extemporised ball — Adventure with a madman — Shooting the cataract — First appearance of Montreal — Its characteristics — Quebec in a fog — “Muffins” — Quebec gaieties —— The pestilence — Restlessness — St. Louis and St. Roch — The shady side — Dark dens — External characteristics — Lord Elgin — Mistaking a senator.

The Arabian, by which I left Toronto, was inferior to any American steamer I had travelled in. It was crowded with both saloon and steerage passengers, bound for Cobourg, Port Hope, and Montreal. It was very bustling and dirty, and the carpet was plentifully sprinkled with tobacco-juice. The captain was very much flustered with his unusually large living cargo, but he was a good-hearted man, and very careful, having, to use his own phrase, “climbed in at the hawse-holes, and worked his way aft, instead of creeping in at the cabin window with his gloves on.” The stewards were dirty, and the stewardess too smart to attend to the comforts of the passengers.

As passengers, crates, and boxes poured in at both the fore and aft entrances, I went out on the little slip of deck to look at the prevalent confusion, having previously ascertained that all my effects were secure. The scene was a very amusing one, for, acting out the maxim that “time is money,” comparatively few of the passengers came down to the wharf more than five minutes before the hour of sailing. People, among whom were a number of “unprotected females,” and juveniles who would not move on, were entangled among trucks and carts discharging cargo — hacks, horses, crates, and barrels. These passengers, who would find it difficult to elbow their way unencumbered, find it next to impossible when their hands are burdened with uncut books, baskets of provender, and diminutive carpet-bags. Horses back carts against helpless females, barrels roll upon people’s toes, newspaper hawkers puff their wares, bonbon venders push their plaster of Paris abominations almost at people’s eyes, yet, strange to say, it is very seldom that any accident occurs. Family groups invariably are separated, and distracted mammas are running after children whom everybody wishes out of the way, giving utterance to hopes that they are not on shore. Then the obedient papa is sent on shore to look after “that dear little Harry,” who is probably all the time in the ladies’ saloon on some child-fancier’s lap eating bonbons. The board is drawn in- the moorings are cast off — the wheels revolve — the bell rings — the engine squeals, and away speeds the steamer down the calm waters of Lake Ontario. Little children and inquisitive young ladies are knocked down or blackened in coiling the hawser, by “hands” who, being nothing but hands, evidently cannot say, “I beg your pardon, miss.” There were children, who always will go where they ought not to go, running against people, and taking hold of their clothes with sticky, smeared hands, asking commercial gentlemen to spin their tops, and corpulent ladies to play at hide and seek. I saw one stern-visaged gentleman tormented in this way till he looked ready to give the child its “final quietus.”* There were angry people who had lost their portmanteaus, and were ransacking the state-rooms in quest of them, and indolent people who lay on the sofas reading novels and chewing tobacco. Some gentleman, taking no heed of a printed notice, goes to the ladies’ cabin to see if his wife is safe on board, and meets with a rebuff from the stewardess, who tells him that “gentlemen are not admitted,” and, knowing that the sense, or, as he would say, the nonsense of the community is against him, he beats a reluctant retreat. Everybody seems to have lost somebody or something, but in an hour or two the ladies are deep in novels, the gentlemen in the morning papers, the children have quarrelled themselves to sleep, and the captain has gone to smoke by the funnel.

* [American juveniles are, generally speaking, completely destitute of that agreeable shyness which prevents English and Scotch children from annoying strangers.]

I sat on the slip of deck with a lady from Lake Superior, niece of the accomplished poetess Mrs. Hemans, and she tried to arouse me into admiration of the shore of Lake Ontario; but I confess that I was too much occupied with a race which we were running with the American steamer Maple-leaf, to look at the flat, gloomy, forest-fringed coast. There is an inherent love of the excitement of a race in all human beings — even old ladies are not exempt from it, if we may believe a story which I heard on the Mississippi. An old lady was going down the river for the first time, and expressed to the captain her earnest hope that there would be no racing. Presently another boat neared them, and half the passengers urged the captain to “pile on.” The old lady shrieked and protested, but to no purpose; the skipper “piled on;” and as the race was a very long and doubtful one, she soon became excited. The rival boat shot ahead; the old lady gave a side of bacon, her sole possession, to feed the boiler fires — the boat was left behind — she clapped her hands — it ran ahead again, and, frantic, she seated herself upon the safety-valve! It was again doubtful, but, lo! the antagonist boat was snagged, and the lady gave a yell of perfect delight when she saw it discomfited, and a hundred human beings struggling in the water. Our race, however, was destitute of excitement, for the Maple-leaf was a much better sailer than ourselves.

Dinner constituted an important event in the day, and was despatched very voraciously, though some things were raw, others overdone, and all greasy. But the three hundred people who sat down to dinner were, as some one observed, three hundred reasons against eating anything. I had to endure a severe attack of ague, and about nine o’clock the stewardess gave up her room to me, and, as she faithfully promised to call me half an hour before we changed the boats, I slept very soundly. At five she came in-“Get up, miss, we’re at Guananoque; you’ve only five minutes to dress.” I did dress in five minutes, and, leaving my watch, with some very valuable lockets, under my pillow, hastened across a narrow plank, half blinded by snow, into the clean, light, handsome steamer New Era. I did not allow myself to fall asleep in the very comfortable state-room which was provided for me by the friend with whom I was travelling, but hurried upstairs with the first grey of the chilly wintry dawn of the morning of the 18th of October. The saloon-windows were dimmed with snow, so I went out on deck and braved the driving wind and snow on that inhospitable morning, for we were in the Lake of the Thousand Islands. Travellers have written and spoken so much of the beauty of this celebrated piece of water, that I expected to be disappointed; but, au contraire, I am almost inclined to write a rhapsody myself.

For three hours we were sailing among these beautiful irregularly-formed islands. There are 1692 of them, and they vary in size from mere rocks to several acres in extent. Some of them are perfect paradises of beauty. They form a complete labyrinth, through which the pilot finds his way, guided by numerous beacons. Sometimes it appeared as if there were no egress, and as if we were running straight upon a rock, and the water is everywhere so deep, that from the deck of the steamer people can pull the leaves from the trees. A hundred varieties of trees and shrubs grow out of the grey lichen-covered rocks — it seems barbarous that the paddles of a steamer should disturb their delicate shadows. If I found this lake so beautiful on a day in the middle of October, when the bright autumn tints had changed into a russet brown, and when a chill north-east wind was blowing about the withered leaves, and the snow against the ship — and when, more than all, I was only just recovering from ague — what would it be on a bright summer-day, when the blue of heaven would be reflected in the clear waters of the St. Lawrence!

By nine a furious snow-storm rendered all objects indistinct, and the fog had thickened to such an extent that we could not see five feet ahead, so we came to anchor for an hour. A very excellent breakfast was despatched during this time, and at ten we steamed off again, steering by compass on a river barely a mile wide! The New Era was a boat of a remarkably light draught of water. The saloon, or deck-house, came to within fifteen feet of the bow, and on the hurricane-deck above there was a tower containing a double wheel, with which the ship is steered by chains one hundred feet long. There is a look-out place in front of this tower, generally occupied by the pilot, a handsome, ruffian-looking French voyageur, with earrings in his ears. Captain Chrysler, whose caution, urbanity, and kindness render him deservedly popular, seldom leaves this post of observation, and personally pays very great attention to his ship; for the river St. Lawrence has as bad a reputation for destroying the vessels which navigate it as the Mississippi.

The snow was now several inches deep on deck, and, melting near the deck-house, trickled under the doors into the saloon. The moisture inside, also, condensed upon the ceiling, and produced a constant shower-bath for the whole day. Sofas and carpets were alike wet, everybody sat in goloshes — the ladies in cloaks, the gentlemen in oilskins; the smell of the latter, and of so many wet woollen clothes, in an apartment heated by stove-heat, being almost unbearable. At twelve the fog and snow cleared away, and revealed to view the mighty St. Lawrence — a rapid stream whirling along in small eddies between slightly elevated banks dotted with white homesteads. We passed a gigantic raft, with five log shanties upon it, near Prescott. These rafts go slowly and safely down the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa, till they come to La Chine, where frequent catastrophes happen, if one may judge from the timber which strews the rocks. A gentleman read from a newspaper these terrible statistics, “horrible if true,” — “Forty-four murders and seven hundred murderous assaults have been committed at New York within the last six months.” (Sensation.) We stopped at Prescott, one of the oldest towns in Canada, and shortly afterwards passed the blackened ruins of a windmill, and some houses held by a band of American “sympathisers” during the rebellion in 1838, but from which they were dislodged by the cannon of the royal troops. Five hundred American sympathisers, with several pieces of cannon, under cover of darkness, on a lovely night in May, landed at this place. Soon after, they were attacked by a party of English regulars and militiamen, who drove them into a windmill and two strong stone houses, which they loopholed, and defended themselves with a pertinacity which one would have called heroism, had it been in a better cause. They finally surrendered, and were carried prisoners to Kingston, where six of them were hanged. Their leader, a military adventurer, a Pole of the name of Von Schoultz, was the first to be executed. He fought with a skill and bravery worthy of the nation from whence he sprung, and died without complaint, except of those who had enticed him to fight for a godless cause, under the name of liberty. Brighter days have since dawned upon Canada, and at this time the most discontented can scarcely find the shadow of a grievance to lay hold of.

As an instance of the way in which the utilitarian essentials of a high state of civilisation are diffused throughout Canada, I may mention that when we arrived at Cornwall I was able to telegraph to Kingston for my lost watch, and received a satisfactory answer in half an hour.

After sailing down this mighty river at a rapid rate for some hours, we ran the Galouse Rapids. Running the rapids is a favourite, and, I must add, a charming diversion of adventurous travellers. There is just that slight sense of danger which lends a zest to novelty, and it is furnished by the facts that some timid persons land before coming to the rapids, and that many vessels have come to an untimely end in descending them. There is a favourite story of General Amherst, who during the war was sent down by the river to attack Montreal, with three hundred and fifty men, and the first intimation which the inhabitants received of the intended surprise was through the bodies of the ill-fated detachment, clothed in the well-known scarlet, floating by their city, the victims of the ignorance or treachery of the pilot.

One of the great pleasures which I promised myself in my visit to Canada was from running these rapids, and I was not disappointed. At the Galouse, the river expands into a wide shallow stream, containing beautiful islands, among which the water rushes furiously, being broken into large waves, boiling, foaming, and whirling round. The steamer neared the rapids — half her steam was shut off — six men appeared at the wheel — we glided noiselessly along in smooth, green, deep water — the furious waves were before us — the steamer gave one perceptible downward plunge — the spray dashed over the bows — and at a speed of twenty-five miles an hour we hurried down the turbulent hill of waters, running so near the islands often that escape seemed hopeless — then guided safely away by the skill of the pilot.

The next rapid was the Longue Sault, above a mile in length. The St. Lawrence is here divided into two channels. The one we took is called the Lost Passage; the Indian pilot who knew it died, and it has only been recovered within the last five years. It is a very fine rapid, the islands being extremely picturesque. We went down it at dizzy speed, with all our steam on. I suppose that soon after this we entered the Lower Province, for the aspect of things totally changed. The villages bore French names; there were high wooden crosses by the water-side; the houses were many-gabled and many-windowed, with tiers of balconies; and the setting sun flashed upon Romish churches with spires of glittering tin. Everything was marked by stagnation and retrogression: the people are habitans, the clergy curés.

We ran the Cedars, a magnificent rapid, superior in beauty to the Grand Rapids at Niagara, and afterwards those of the Côteau du Lac and the Split Rock, but were obliged to anchor at La Chine, as its celebrated cataract can only be shot by daylight. It was cold and dark, and nearly all the passengers left La Chine by the cars for Montreal, to avoid what some people consider the perilous descent of this rapid. As both means of reaching Montreal were probably equally safe, I decided on remaining on board, having secured a state-room. My companions in the saloon were the captain’s wife and a lady who seemed decidedly flighty, and totally occupied in waiting upon a poodle lapdog. After the captain left, the stokers and pokers, and stewards and cooks, extemporised a ball, with the assistance of a blind Scotch fiddler, and invited numerous lassies, who appeared as if by magic from a wharf to which we were moored. I cannot say that they tripped it “on the light fantastic toe,” for brogues and highlows stumped heavily on the floor; but what was wanting in elegance was amply compensated for by merriment and vivacity. The conversation was rather of a polyglot character, being carried on in French, Gaelic, and English.

Throughout the night I was occupied in incessant attempts to keep up vital warmth, and when the steward called me at five o’clock, I found that I had been sleeping with the window open, and that the water in the jug was frozen. Wintry-looking stars were twinkling through a frosty fog; the wet hawsers were frozen stiff on deck; six came, the hour of starting, but still there were no signs of moving. Railroads have not yet taught punctuality to the Canadians, but better things are in store for them. Cold to the very bone, I walked up and down the saloon to warm myself. The floor was wet, and covered with saturated rugs; there were no fires in the stoves, and my only resource was to lean against the engine-enclosure, and warm my frozen hands on the hot wood. I was joined by a very old gentleman, who, amid many complaints, informed me that he had had an attack of apoplexy during the night, and some one, finding him insensible, had opened the jugular vein. His lank white hair flowed over his shoulders, and his neckcloth and shirt-front were smeared with blood. He said he had cut his wife’s throat, and that her ghost was after him. “There, there!” he said, pointing to a corner. I looked at his eyes, and saw at once that I was in the company of a madman. He then said that he was king of the island of Montreal, and that he had murdered his wife because she was going to betray him to the Queen of England. He was now, he declared, going down to make a public entrance into Montreal. After this avowal I treated him with the respect due to his fancied rank, till I could call the stewards without exciting his suspicions. They said that he was a confirmed lunatic, and had several times attempted to lay violent hands upon himself. They thought he must have escaped from his keeper at Brockville, and, with true madman’s cunning, he had secreted himself in the steamer. They kept him under strict surveillance till we arrived at Montreal, and frustrated an attempt which he made to throw himself into the rapid as we were descending it.

At seven we unmoored from the pier at La Chine, and steamed over the calm waters of the Lac St. Louis, under the care of a Canadian voyageur, who acted as a subordinate to an Indian pilot, who is said to be the only person acquainted with the passage, and whom the boats are obliged under penalty to take. The lake narrows at La Chine, and becomes again the St. Lawrence, which presents a most extraordinary appearance, being a hill of shallow rushing water about a mile wide, chafing a few islands which look ready to be carried away by it. The large river Ottawa joins the St. Lawrence a short distance from this, and mingles its turbid waters with that mighty flood. The river became more and more rapid till we entered what might be termed a sea of large, cross, leaping waves, and raging waters, enough to engulf a small boat. The idea of descending it in a steamer was an extraordinary one. It is said that from the shore a vessel looks as if it were hurrying to certain destruction. Still we hurry on, with eight men at the wheel — rocks appear like snags in the middle of the stream — we dash straight down upon rocky islets, strewn with the wrecks of rafts; but a turn of the wheel, and we rush by them in safety at a speed (’tis said) of thirty miles an hour, till a ragged ledge of rock stretches across the whirling stream. Still on we go — louder roars the flood — steeper appears the descent — earth, sky, and water seem mingled together. I involuntarily took hold of the rail — the madman attempted to jump over — the flighty lady screamed and embraced more closely her poodle-dog; we reached the ledge — one narrow space free from rocks appeared — down with one plunge went the bow into a turmoil of foam — and we had “shot the cataract” of La Chine.

The exploit is one of the most agreeable which the traveller can perform, and the thick morning mist added to the apparent danger. We steamed for four or five miles farther down the river, when suddenly the great curtain of mist was rolled up as by an invisible hand, and the scene which it revealed was Montreal. I never saw a city which looked so magnificent from the water. It covers a very large extent of ground, which gently slopes upwards from the lake-like river, and is backed by the Mountain, a precipitous hill, 700 feet in height. It is decidedly foreign in appearance, even from a distance. When the fog cleared away it revealed this mountain, with the forest which covers it, all scarlet and purple; the blue waters of the river hurried joyously along; the Green and Belleisle mountains wore the rosy tints of dawn; the distances were bathed in a purple glow; and the tin roofs, lofty spires, and cupolas of Montreal flashed back the beams of the rising sun.

A lofty Gothic edifice, something from a distance like Westminster Abbey, and handsome public buildings, with a superb wharf a mile long, of hewn stone, present a very imposing appearance from the water. We landed from the first lock of a ship-canal, and I immediately drove to the residence of the Bishop of Montreal, a house near the mountain, in a very elevated situation, and commanding a magnificent view. From the Bishop and his family I received the greatest kindness, and have very agreeable recollections of Montreal.

It was a most curious and startling change from the wooden erections, wide streets, and the impress of novelty which pervaded everything I had seen in the New World, to the old stone edifices, lofty houses, narrow streets, and tin roofs of the city of Montreal. There are iron window-shutters, convents with grated windows and long dead walls; there are narrow thoroughfares, crowded with strangely-dressed habitans, and long processions of priests. Then the French origin of the town contrasts everywhere with the English occupation of it. There are streets — the Rue St. Geneviève, the Rue St. Antoine, and the Rue St. François Xavier; there are ancient customs and feudal privileges; Jesuit seminaries, and convents of the Soeurs Gris and the Sulpicians; priests in long black dresses; native carters in coats with hoods, woollen nightcaps, and coloured sashes; and barristers pleading in the French language. Then there are Manchester goods, in stores kept by bustling Yankees; soldiers lounge about in the scarlet and rifle uniforms of England; Presbyterian tunes sound from plain bald churches; the institutions are drawn alike from Paris and Westminster; and the public vehicles partake of the fashions of Lisbon and Long Acre. You hear “Place aux dames” on one side of the street, and “g’lang” on the other; and the United States have contributed their hotel system and their slang.

Montreal is an extraordinary place. It is alive with business and enterprising traders, with soldiers, carters, and equipages. Through the kindness of the Bishop, I saw everything of any interest in the town. The first thing which attracted my attention was the magnificent view from the windows of the See-house, over the wide St. Lawrence and the green mountains of Vermont; the next, an immense pair of elaborately-worked bronze gates, at a villa opposite, large enough for a royal residence. The side-walks in the outskirts of the town were still of the villanous wood, but in the streets they were very substantial, and, like the massive stone houses, look as if they had lasted for two hundred years, and might last for a thousand more. We visited, among other things, some schools — one, the Normal School, an extremely interesting one, where it is intended to train teachers, on Church-of-England principles. I was very much surprised and pleased with the amount of solid information and high attainments of the children, as evidenced by their composition, and answers to the Bishop of Montreal’s very difficult questions. They looked sallow and emaciated, and, contrary to what I have observed in England, the girls seemed the most intelligent. The Bishop has also established a library, where, for the small sum of four shillings a year, people can regale themselves upon a variety of works, from the volumes of Alison, not more ponderous in appearance than matter, to the newspaper literature of the day.

The furriers’ shops are by no means to be overlooked. There were sleigh-robes of buffalo, bear, fox, wolf, and racoon, varying in price from six to thirty guineas; and coats, leggings, gloves, and caps, rendered necessary by the severity of a winter in which the thermometer often stands at thirty degrees below zero. People vie with each other in the costliness of their furs and sleigh equipments; a complete set sometimes costing as much as a hundred guineas.

I went into the Romish cathedral, which is the largest Gothic building in the New World. It was intended to be very imposing — it has succeeded in being very extravagant; and if the architects intended that their work should live in the admiration of succeeding generations, like York Minster, Cologne, or Rouen, they have signally failed. Internally, the effect of its vast size is totally destroyed by pews and galleries which accommodate ten thousand people. There are some very large and very hideous paintings in it, in a very inferior style of sign-painting. The ceiling is painted bright blue, and the high altar was one mass of gaudy tinsel decoration. In one corner there was a picture of babies being devoured by pigs, and trampled upon by horses, and underneath it was a box for offerings, with “This is the fate of the children of China” upon it. By it was a wooden box, hung with faded pink calico, containing small wooden representations, in the Noah’s-ark style, of dogs, horses, and pigs, and a tall man holding up a little dog by its hind legs. This peep-show (for I can call it nothing else) was at the same time so inexplicable and so ludicrous, that, to avoid shocking the feelings of a devout-looking woman who was praying near it by an “éclat de rire,” we hurried from the church.

I met with many sincere and devout Romanists among the upper classes in Canada; I know that there are thousands among the simple habitans; and though, in a thoughtless moment, the fooleries and puerilities of their churches may excite a smile, it is a matter for the deepest regret that so many of our fellow-subjects should be the dupes of a despotic priesthood, and of a religion which cannot save.

Close to the cathedral is the convent of the Grey Sisters, who, with the most untiring zeal and kindness, fulfil the vocations of the Sisters of Charity. There are several other convents, some of them very strict; and their high walls and grated windows give Montreal a very Continental appearance. On a lady remarking to a sister in one of these, that the view from the windows was very beautiful, she replied, with a suppressed sigh, that she had never seen it. There are some very fine public buildings and banks; but as I am not writing a guide-book, I will not dilate upon their merits.

We walked round Le Champ de Mars, formerly the great resort of the Montreal young ladies, and along the Rue Notre Dame, to the market-place, which is said to be the second finest in the world, and, with its handsome façade and bright tin dome, forms one of the most prominent objects from the water. As those disgusting disfigurements of our English streets, butchers’ shops, are not to be seen in the Canadian towns, nor, I believe I may say, in those in the States, there is an enormous display of meat in the Montreal market, of an appearance by no means tempting. The scene outside was extremely picturesque; there were hundreds of carts with shaggy, patient little horses in rows, with very miscellaneous tents — cabbages and butter jostling pork and hides. You may see here hundreds of habitans, who look as if they ought to have lived a century ago — shaggy men in fur caps and loose blue frieze coats with hoods, and with bright sashes of coloured wool round their waists; women also, with hard features and bronzed complexions, in large straw hats, high white caps, and noisy sabots. On all sides a jargon of Irish, English, and French is to be heard, the latter generally the broadest patois.

We went into the Council Chamber, the richly cushioned seats of which looked more fitted for sleep than deliberation; and I caught a glimpse of the ex-mayor, whose timidity during a time of popular ferment occasioned a great loss of human life. That popular Italian orator, “Father Gavazzi” was engaged in denouncing the superstitions and impositions of Rome; and on a mob evincing symptoms of turbulence, this mayor gave the order to fire to the troops who were drawn up in the streets. Scarcely had the words passed his lips, when by one volley seventeen peaceful citizens (if I recollect rightly), coming out of the Unitarian chapel, were laid low.

Montreal is a turbulent place. It is not very many years since a mob assembled and burned down the Parliament House, for which exercise of the popular will the city is disqualified from being the seat of government. I saw something of Montreal society, which seemed to me to be quite on a par with that in our English provincial towns.

I left this ancient city at seven o’clock on a very dark, foggy evening for Quebec, the boats between the two cities running by night, in order that the merchants, by a happy combination of travelling with sleep, may not lose that time which to them is money. This mode of proceeding is very annoying to tourists, who thereby lose the far-famed beauties of the St. Lawrence. It is very obnoxious likewise to timid travellers, of whom there are a large number both male and female: for collisions and striking on rocks or shoals are accidents of such frequent occurrence, that, out of eight steamers which began the season, two only concluded it, two being disabled during my visit to Quebec.

Scarcely had we left the wharf at Montreal when we came into collision with a brig, and hooked her anchor into our woodwork, which event caused a chorus of screams from some ladies whose voices were rather stronger than their nerves, and its remedy a great deal of bad language in French, German, and English, from the crews of both vessels. After this we ran down to Quebec at the rate of seventeen miles an hour, and the contretemps did not prevent even those who had screamed the loudest from partaking of a most substantial supper, which was served at eight o’clock in the lowest story of the ship. The John Munn was a very fine boat, not at all the worse for having sunk in the river in the summer.

I considered Quebec quite the goal of my journey, for books, tongues, and poetry alike celebrate its beauty. Indeed, there seems to be only one opinion about it. From the lavish praise bestowed upon it by the eloquent and gifted author of ‘Hochelaga’ down to the homely encomiums pronounced by bluff sea captains, there seems a unanimity of admiration which is rarely met with. Even commercial travellers, absorbed in intricate calculations of dollars and cents, have been known to look up from their books to give it an enthusiastic expression of approval. I expected to be more pleased with it than with anything I had seen or was to see, and was insensate enough to rise at five o’clock and proceed into the saloon, when of course it was too dark for another hour to see anything. Daylight came, and from my corner by the fire I asked the stewardess when we should be in sight of Quebec? She replied that we were close to it. I went to the window, expecting that a vision of beauty would burst upon my eyes. All that I saw might be summed up in very few words — a few sticks placed vertically, which might be masts, and some tin spires looming through a very yellow, opaque medium. This was my first view of Quebec; happily, on my last the elements did full justice to its beauty. Other objects developed themselves as we steamed down to the wharf. There were huge rafts, some three or four acres in extent, which, having survived the perils which had beset them on their journey from the forests of the Ottawa, were now moored along the base of the lofty cliffs which, under the name of the Heights of Abraham, have a world-wide celebrity. There were huge, square-sided, bluff-bowed, low-masted ships, lying at anchor in interminable lines, and little, dirty, vicious-looking steam-tugs twirling in and out among them; and there were grim-looking muzzles of guns protruding through embrasures, and peripatetic fur caps and bayonets behind parapets of very solid masonry.

Above all, shadowing all, and steeping all, was the thickest fog ever seen beyond the sound of Bow-bells. It lay thick and heavy on Point Diamond, dimming the lustre of the bayonets of the sentinels as they paced the lofty bastions, and looked down into the abyss of fog below. It lay yet heavier on the rapid St. Lawrence, and dripped from the spars and rigging of ships. It hung over and enveloped the town, where, combined with smoke, it formed a yellow canopy; and damp and chill it penetrated the flag of England, weighing it down in heavy folds, as though ominous of impending calamity.

Slowly winding our tortuous way among multitudinous ships, all vamped in drizzling mist, we were warped to the wharf, which was covered with a mixture of mud and coal-dust, permeated by the universal fog. Here vehicles of a most extraordinary nature awaited us, and, to my great surprise, they were all open. They were called calashes, and looked something like very high gigs with hoods and C springs. Where the dash-board was not, there was a little seat or perch for the driver, who with a foot on each shaft looked in a very precarious position. These conveyances have the most absurd appearance; there are, however, a few closed vehicles, both at Montreal and Quebec, which I believe are not to be found in the civilized world elsewhere, except in a few back streets of Lisbon. These consist of a square box on two wheels. This box has a top, back, and front, but where the sides ought to be there are curtains of deer-hide, which are a very imperfect protection from wind and rain. The driver sits on the roof, and the conveyance has a constant tendency backwards, which is partially counteracted by a band under the horse’s body, but only partially, and the inexperienced denizen of the box fancies himself in a state of constant jeopardy.

In an open calash I drove to Russell’s Hotel, along streets steeper, narrower, and dirtier than any I had ever seen. Arrived within two hundred yards of the hotel, we were set down in the mud. On alighting, a gentleman who had been my fellow-traveller politely offered to guide me, and soon after addressed me by name. “Who can you possibly be?” I asked — so completely had a beard metamorphosed an acquaintance of five years’ standing.

Once within the hotel, I had the greatest difficulty in finding my way about. It is composed of three of the oldest houses in Quebec, and has no end of long passages, dark winding staircases, and queer little rooms. It is haunted to a fearful extent by rats; and direful stories, “horrible, if true,” were related in the parlour of personal mutilations sustained by visitors. My room was by no means in the oldest part of the house, yet I used to hear nightly sorties made in a very systematic manner by these quadruped intruders. The waiters at Russell’s are complained of for their incivility, but we thought them most profuse both in their civility and attentions. Nevertheless, with all its disagreeables, Russell’s is the best hotel in Quebec; and, as a number of the members of the Legislative Assembly live there while Parliament meets in that city, it is very lively and amusing.

When my English friends Mr. and Mrs. Alderson arrived, we saw a good deal of the town; but it has been so often described, that I may as well pass on to other subjects. The glowing descriptions given of it by the author of ‘Hochelaga’ must be familiar to many of my readers. They leave nothing to be desired, except the genial glow of enthusiasm and kindliness of heart which threw a couleur de rose over everything he saw.

There are some notions which must be unlearned in Canada, or temporarily laid aside. At the beginning of winter, which is the gay season in this Paris of the New World, every unmarried gentleman, who chooses to do so, selects a young lady to be his companion in the numerous amusements of the time. It does not seem that anything more is needed than the consent of the maiden, who, when she acquiesces in the arrangement, is called a “muffin” — for the mammas were “muffins” themselves in their day, and cannot refuse their daughters the same privilege. The gentleman is privileged to take the young lady about in his sleigh, to ride with her, to walk with her, to dance with her a whole evening without any remark, to escort her to parties, and be her attendant on all occasions. When the spring arrives, the arrangement is at an end, and I did not hear that an engagement is frequently the result, or that the same couple enter into this agreement for two successive winters. Probably the reason may be, that they see too much of each other.

This practice is almost universal at Montreal and Quebec. On the fine, frosty, moonlight nights, when the sleigh-bells ring merrily and the crisp snow crackles under the horse’s feet, the gentlemen call to take their “muffins” to meetings of the sleighing-clubs, or to snow-shoe picnics, or to champagne-suppers on the ice, from which they do not return till two in the morning; yet, with all this apparent freedom of manner, the Canadian ladies are perfectly modest, feminine, and ladylike; their simplicity of manners is great, and probably there is no country in the world where there is a larger amount of domestic felicity.

The beauty of the young ladies of Canada is celebrated, and, though on going into a large party one may not see more than two or three who are strikingly or regularly beautiful, the tout ensemble is most attractive; the eyes are invariably large and lustrous, dark and pensive, or blue and sparkling with vivacity. Their manners and movements are unaffected and elegant; they dress in exquisite taste; and with a grace peculiarly their own, their manners have a fascination and witchery which is perfectly irresistible. They generally receive their education at the convents, and go into society at a very early age, very frequently before they have seen sixteen summers, and after this time the whirl of amusement precludes them from giving much time to literary employments. They are by no means deeply read, and few of them play anything more than modern dance music. They dance beautifully, and so great is their passion for this amusement, probably derived from their French ancestors, that married ladies frequently attend the same dancing classes with their children, in order to keep themselves in constant practice.

At the time of my visit to Quebec there were large parties every night, most of which were honoured with the presence of Lord Elgin and his suite. One of his aides-decamp was Lord Bury, Lord Albemarle’s son, who, on a tour through North America, became enamoured of Quebec. Lord Elgin’s secretary was Mr. Oliphant, the talented author of the ‘Russian Shores of the Black Sea,’ who had also yielded to the fascinations of this northern capital. And no wonder! for there is not a friendlier place in the whole world. I went armed with but two letters of introduction, and received hospitality and kindness for which I can never be sufficiently grateful.

The cholera, which in America assumes nearly the fatality and rapidity of the plague, had during the summer ravaged Quebec. It had entered and desolated happy homes, and, not confining itself to the abodes of the poor and miserable, had attacked the rich, the gifted, and the beautiful. For long the Destroying Angel hovered over the devoted city — neither age nor infancy was spared, and numbers were daily hurried from the vigour of living manhood into the silence and oblivion of the grave. Vigorous people, walking along the streets, were suddenly seized with shiverings and cramp, and sank down on the pavement to rise no more, sometimes actually expiring on the cold, hard stones. Pleasure was forgotten, business was partially suspended; all who could, fled; the gloom upon the souls of the inhabitants was heavier than the brown cloud which was supposed to brood over the city; and the steamers which conveyed those who fled from the terrible pestilence arrived at Toronto freighted with the living and the dead. Among the terror-stricken, the dying, and the dead, the ministers of religion pursued their holy calling, undaunted by the terrible sights which met them everywhere — the clergy of the different denominations vied with each other in their kindness and devotedness. The priests of Rome then gained a double influence. Armed with what appeared in the eyes of the people supernatural powers, they knew no rest either by night or day; they held the cross before many a darkening eye, and spoke to the bereaved, in the plenitude of their anguish, of a world where sorrow and separation are alike unknown. The heavy clang of tolling bells was hourly heard, as the pestilence-stricken were carried to their last homes. Medical skill availed nothing; the “pestilence which walketh in darkness” was only removed by Him in whose hand are the issues of life and death.

Quebec had been free from disease for about six weeks before I visited it; the victims of the pestilence were cold in their untimely graves; the sun of prosperity smiled upon the fortress-city, and its light-hearted inhabitants had just begun their nightly round of pleasure and gaiety. The viceroyalty of Lord Elgin was drawing rapidly to a close, and two parties, given every week at Government House, afforded an example which the good people of Quebec were not slow to follow. There were musical parties, conversaziones, and picnics to the Chaudière and Lorette; and people who were dancing till four or five o’clock in the morning were vigorous enough after ten for a gallop to Montmorenci.

The absolute restlessness of the city astonished me very much. The morning seemed to begin, with fashionable people, with a desultory breakfast at nine o’clock, after which some received callers, others paid visits, or walked into the town to make trifling purchases at the stores; while not a few of the young ladies promenaded St. Louis Street or the ramparts, where they were generally joined by the officers. Several officers said to me that no quarters in the world were so delightful as those at Quebec. A scarlet coat finds great favour with the fair sex at Quebec — civilians, however great their mental qualifications, are decidedly in the background; and I was amused to see young ensigns, with budding moustaches, who had just joined their regiments, preferred before men of high literary attainments. With balls, and moose-hunting, and sleigh-driving, and “tarboggining,” and, last but not least, “muffins,” the time passes rapidly by to them. A gentleman, who had just arrived from England, declared that “Quebec was a horrid place, not fit to live in.” A few days after he met the same individual to whom he had made this uncomplimentary observation, and confided to him that he thought Quebec “the most delightful place in the whole world; for, do you know,” he said, “I have got a muffin.”

With the afternoon numerous riding parties are formed, for you cannot go three miles out of Quebec without coming to something beautiful; and calls of a more formal nature are paid; a military band performs on Durham Terrace or the Garden, which then assume the appearance of most fashionable promenades. The evening is spent in the ball-room, or at small social dancing parties, or during the winter, before ten at night, in the galleries of the House of Assembly; and the morning is well advanced before the world of Quebec is hushed in sleep.

Society is contained in very small limits at Quebec. Its élite are grouped round the ramparts and in the suburb of St. Louis. The city until recently has occupied a very isolated position, and has depended upon itself for society. It is therefore sociable, friendly, and hospitable; and though there is gossip — for where is it not to be found? — I never knew any in which there was so little of ill-nature. The little world in the upper part of the city is probably the most brilliant to be found anywhere in so small a compass. But there is a world below, another nation, seldom mentioned in the aristocratic quarter of St. Louis, where vice, crime, poverty, and misery jostle each other, as pleasure and politics do in the upper town. This is the suburb of St. Roch, in whose tall dark houses and fetid alleys those are to be found whose birthright is toil, who spend life in supplying the necessities of today, while indulging in gloomy apprehensions for tomorrow — who have not one comfort in the past to cling to, or one hope for the future to cheer.

St. Roch is as crowded as the upper town, but with a very different population — the poor, the degraded, and the vicious. Here fever destroys its tens, and cholera its hundreds. Here people stab each other, and think little of it. Here are narrow alleys, with high, black-looking, stone houses, with broken windows pasted over with paper in the lower stories, and stuffed with rags in the upper — gradations of wretchedness which I have observed in the Cowgate and West Port at Edinburgh. Here are shoeless women, who quiet their children with ardent spirits, and brutal men, who would kill both wives and children if they dared. Here are dust-heaps in which pigs with long snouts are ever routing — here are lean curs, wrangling with each other for leaner bones — here are ditches and puddles, and heaps of oyster-shells, and broken crockery, and cabbage-stalks, and fragments of hats and shoes. Here are torn notices on the walls offering rewards for the apprehension of thieves and murderers, painfully suggestive of dark deeds. A little further are lumber-yards and wharfs, and mud and sawdust, and dealers in old nails and rags and bones, and rotten posts and rails, and attempts at grass. Here are old barrel-hoops, and patches of old sails, and dead bushes and dead dogs, and old saucepans, and little plots of ground where cabbages and pumpkins drag on a pining existence. And then there is the river Charles, no longer clear and bright, as when trees and hills and flowers were mirrored on its surface, but foul, turbid, and polluted, with ship-yards and steam-engines and cranes and windlasses on its margin; and here Quebec ends.

From the rich, the fashionable, and the pleasure-seeking suburb of St. Louis few venture down into the quarter of St. Roch, save those who, at the risk of drawing in pestilence with every breath, mindful of their duty to God and man, enter those hideous dwellings, ministering to minds and bodies alike diseased. My first visit to St. Roch was on a Sunday afternoon. I had attended our own simple and beautiful service in the morning, and had seen the celebration of vespers in the Romish cathedral in the afternoon. Each church was thronged with well-dressed persons. It was a glorious day. The fashionable promenades were all crowded; gay uniforms and brilliant parasols thronged the ramparts; horsemen were cantering along St. Louis Street; priestly processions passed to and from the different churches; numbers of calashes containing pleasure-parties were dashing about; picnic parties were returning from Montmorenci and Lake Charles; groups of vivacious talkers, speaking in the language of France, were at every street-corner; Quebec had all the appearance, so painful to an English or Scottish eye, of a Continental sabbath.

Mr. and Mrs. Alderson and myself left this gay scene, and the constant toll of Romish bells, for St. Roch. They had lived peacefully in a rural part of Devonshire, and more recently in one of the prettiest and most thriving of the American cities; and when they first breathed the polluted air, they were desirous to return from what promised to be so peculiarly unpleasant, but kindly yielded to my desire to see something of the shady as well as the sunny side of Quebec.

No Sabbath-day with its hallowed accompaniments seemed to have dawned upon the inhabitants of St. Roch. We saw women with tangled hair standing in the streets, and men with pallid countenances and bloodshot eyes were reeling about, or sitting with their heads resting on their hands, looking out from windows stuffed with rags. There were children too, children in nothing but the name and stature — infancy without innocence, learning to take God’s name in vain with its first lisping accents, preparing for a maturity of suffering and shame. I looked at these hideous houses, and hideous men and women too, and at their still more repulsive progeny, with sallow faces, dwarfed forms, and countenances precocious in the intelligence of villany; and contrasted them with the blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked infants of my English home, who chase butterflies and weave May garlands, and gather cowslips and buttercups; or the sallow children of a Highland shantie, who devour instruction in mud-floored huts, and con their tasks on the heathery sides of hills.

Yet, when you breathe the poisoned air, laden with everything noxious to health, and have the physical and moral senses alike met with everything that can disgust and offend, it ceases to be a matter of wonder that the fair tender plant of beautiful childhood refuses to grow in such a vitiated atmosphere. Here all distinctions between good and evil are speedily lost, if they were ever known; and men, women, and children become unnatural in vice, in irreligion, in manners and appearance. Such spots as these act like cankers, yearly spreading further and further their vitiating influences, preparing for all those fearful retributions in the shape of fever and pestilence which continually come down. Yet, lamentable as the state of such a population is, considered merely with regard to this world, it becomes fearful when we recollect that the wheels of Time are ceaselessly rolling on, bearing how few, alas! to heaven — what myriads to hell; and that, when “this trembling consciousness of being, which clings enamoured to its anguish,” not because life is sweet, but because death is bitter, is over, there remains, for those who have known nothing on earth but misery and vice, “a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation,” when they that have done evil “shall rise to the resurrection of damnation.”

It was not that the miserable degraded appearance of St. Roch was anything new to me; unfortunately the same state of things exists in a far greater degree in our large towns at home; what did surprise me was, to find it in the New World, and that such a gigantic evil should have required only two hundred years for its growth. It seemed to me also that at Quebec the gulf which separates the two worlds is greater even than that which lies between Belgravia and Bethnal Green or St. Giles’s. The people who live in the lower town are principally employed on the wharfs, and in the lumber trade. But my readers will, not thank me for detaining them in a pestiferous atmosphere, among such unpleasing scenes; we will therefore ascend into the High-street of the city, resplendent with gorgeous mercers’ stores, and articles of luxury of every description. This street and several others were at this period impassable for carriages, the roadways being tunnelled, and heaped, and barricaded; which curious and highly disagreeable state of things was stated to arise from the laying down of water-pipes. At night, when fires were lighted in the narrow streets, and groups of roughly dressed Frenchmen were standing round them, Quebec presented the appearance of the Faubourg St. Antoine after a revolution.

Quebec is a most picturesque city externally and internally. From the citadel, which stands on a rock more than three hundred feet high, down to the crowded water-side, bustling with merchants, porters, and lumbermen, all is novel and original. Massive fortifications, with guns grinning from the embrasures, form a very prominent feature; a broad glacis looks peaceful in its greenness; ramparts line the Plains of Abraham; guards and sentries appear in all directions; nightfall brings with it the challenge — “Who goes there?” and narrow gateways form inconvenient entrances to streets so steep that I wondered how mortal horses could ever toil up them. The streets are ever thronged with vehicles, particularly with rude carts drawn by rough horses, driven by French peasants, who move stolidly along, indifferent to the continual cry “Place aux dames.” The stores generally have French designations above them, the shop men often speak very imperfect English; the names of the streets are French; Romish churches and convents abound, and Sisters of Charity, unwearied in their benevolence, are to be seen visiting the afflicted.

Notices and cautions are posted up both in French and English; the light vivacious tones of the French Canadians are everywhere heard, and from the pillar sacred to the memory of Wolfe upon the Plains of Abraham, down to the red-coated sentry who challenges you upon the ramparts, everything tells of a conquered province, and of the time, not so very far distant either, when the lilies of France occupied the place from which the flag of England now so proudly waves.

I spent a few days at Russell’s Hotel, which was very full, in spite of the rats. In Canadian hotels people are very sociable, and, as many during the season make Russell’s their abode, the conversation was tolerably general at dinner. Many of the members of parliament lived there, and they used to tell very racy and amusing stories against each other. I heard one which was considered a proof of the truth of the saying, that “the tailor makes the gentleman.” A gentleman called on a Mr. M—— who had been appointed to a place in the government, and in due time he went to return the visit. Meeting an Irishman in the street, he asked, “Where does Mr. ‘Smith’ live?” — “It’s no use your going there.” “I want to know where he lives, do you know?” — “Faith, I do; but it’s no use your going there.” Mr. M—— now getting angry, said, “I don’t ask you for your advice, I simply want to know where Mr. ‘Smith’ lives.” — “Well, spalpeen, he lives down that court; but I tell ye it’s no use your going there, for I’ve just been there myself, and he’s got a man.” It is said that the discomfited senator returned home and bought a new hat!

Passing out by the citadel, the Plains of Abraham, now a race-course, are entered upon; the battle-field being denoted by a simple monument bearing the inscription “Here died Wolfe victorious.” Beyond this, three miles from the city, is Spencer–Wood, the residence of the Governor–General. It is beautifully situated, though the house is not spacious, and is rather old-fashioned. The ball-room, however, built by Lord Elgin, is a beautiful room, very large, admirably proportioned, and chastely decorated. Here a kind of vice-regal court is held; and during the latter months of Lord Elgin’s tenure of office, Spencer–Wood was the scene of a continued round of gaiety and hospitality. Lord Elgin was considered extremely popular; the Reciprocity Treaty, supposed to confer great benefits on the country, was passed during his administration, and the resources of Canada were prodigiously developed, and its revenue greatly increased. Of his popularity at Quebec there could be no question. He was attached to the Canadians, with whom he mixed with the greatest kindness and affability. Far from his presence being considered a restraint at an evening party, the entrance of the Governor and his suite was always the signal for increased animation and liveliness.

The stiffness which was said to pervade in former times the parties at Spencer–Wood was entirely removed by him; and in addition to large balls and dinner-parties, at the time I was at Quebec he gave evening parties to eighty or a hundred persons twice a-week, when the greatest sociability prevailed; and in addition to dancing, which was kept up on these occasions till two or three in the morning, games such as French blindman’s-buff were introduced, to the great delight of both old and young. The pleasure with which this innovation was received by the lively and mirth-loving Canadians showed the difference in character between themselves and the American ladies. I was afterwards at a party at New York, where a gentleman who had been at Spencer–Wood attempted to introduce one of these games, but it was received with gravity, and proved a signal failure. Lord Elgin certainly attained that end which is too frequently lost sight of in society — making people enjoy themselves. Personally, I may speak with much gratitude of his kindness during a short but very severe illness with which I was attacked while at Spencer–Wood. Glittering epaulettes, scarlet uniforms, and muslin dresses whirled before my dizzy eyes — I lost for a moment the power to articulate — a deathly chill came over me — I shivered, staggered, and would have fallen had I not been supported. I was carried upstairs, feeling sure that the terrible pestilence which I had so carefully avoided had at length seized me. The medical man arrived at two in the morning, and ordered the remedies which were usually employed at Quebec, a complete envelope of mustard plasters, a profusion of blankets, and as much ice as I could possibly eat. The physician told me that cholera had again appeared in St. Roch, where I, strangely enough, had been on two successive afternoons. So great was the panic caused by the cholera, that, wherever it was necessary to account for my disappearance, Lord Elgin did so by saying that I was attacked with ague. The means used were blessed by a kind Providence to the removal of the malady, and in two or three days I was able to go about again, though I suffered severely for several subsequent weeks.

From Spencer–Wood I went to the house of the Hon. John Ross, from whom and from Mrs. Ross I received the greatest kindness — kindness which should make my recollections of Quebec lastingly agreeable. Mr. Ross’s public situation as President of the Legislative Council gave me an opportunity of seeing many persons whose acquaintance I should not have made under other circumstances; and as parties were given every evening but one while I was at Quebec, to which I was invited with my hosts, I saw as much of its society as under ordinary circumstances I should have seen in a year. No position is pleasanter than that of an English stranger in Canada, with good introductions.

I received much kindness also from Dr. Mountain, the venerable Protestant Bishop of Quebec. He is well known as having, when Bishop of Montreal, undertaken an adventurous journey to the Red River settlements, for the purposes of ordination and confirmation. He performed the journey in an open canoe managed by French voyageurs and Indians. They went up the Ottawa, then by wild lakes and rivers into Lake Huron, through the labyrinth of islands in the Georgian Bay, and by the Sault Sainte Marie into Lake Superior, then an almost untraversed sheet of deep, dreary water. Thence they went up the Rainy River, and by almost unknown streams and lakes to their journey’s end. They generally rested at night, lighting large fires by their tents, and were tormented by venomous insects. At the Mission settlements on the Red River the Bishop was received with great delight by the Christianized Indians, who, in neat clothing and with books in their hands, assembled at the little church. The number of persons confirmed was 846, and there were likewise two ordinations. The stay of the Bishop at the Red River was only three weeks, and he accomplished his enterprising journey of two thousand miles in six weeks. He is one of the most unostentatious persons possible; it was not until he presented me with a volume containing an account of his visitation that I was aware that he was the prelate with the account of whose zeal and Christian devotedness I had long been familiar. He is now an aged man, and his countenance tells of the “love which looks kindly, and the wisdom which looks soberly, on all things.”

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