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Introductory Chapter to the First Canadian Edition (1871)

In the year 1832 I landed with my husband, J.W. Dunbar Moodie, in Canada. Mr. Moodie was the youngest son of Major Moodie, of Mellsetter, in the Orkney Islands; he was a lieutenant in the 21st Regiment of Fusileers, and had been severely wounded in the night-attack upon Bergen-op-Zoom, in Holland.

Not being overgifted with the good things of this world—the younger sons of old British families seldom are—he had, after mature deliberation, determined to try his fortunes in Canada, and settle upon the grant of 400 acres of land ceded by the Government to officers upon half-pay.

Emigration, in most cases—and ours was no exception to the general rule—is a matter of necessity, not of choice. It may, indeed, generally be regarded as an act of duty performed at the expense of personal enjoyment, and at the sacrifice of all those local attachments which stamp the scenes in which our childhood grew in imperishable characters upon the heart.

Nor is it, until adversity has pressed hard upon the wounded spirit of the sons and daughters of old, but impoverished, families, that they can subdue their proud and rebellious feelings, and submit to make the trial.

This was our case, and our motive for emigrating to one of the British colonies can be summed up in a few words.

The emigrant's hope of bettering his condition, and securing a sufficient competence to support his family, to free himself from the slighting remarks too often hurled at the poor gentleman by the practical people of the world, which is always galling to a proud man, but doubly so when he knows that the want of wealth constitues the sole difference between him and the more favoured offspring of the same parent stock.

In 1830 the tide of emigration flowed westward, and Canada became the great landmark for the rich in hope and poor in purse. Public newspapers and private letters teemed with the almost fabulous advantages to be derived from a settlement in this highly favoured region. Men, who had been doubtful of supporting their families in comfort at home, thought that they had only to land in Canada to realize a fortune. The infection became general. Thousands and tens of thousands from the middle ranks of British society, for the space of three or four years, landed upon these shores. A large majority of these emigrants were officers of the army and navy, with their families: a class perfectly unfitted, by their previous habits and standing in society, for contending with the stern realities of emigrant life in the backwoods. A class formed mainly from the younger scions of great families, naturally proud, and not only accustomed to command, but to recieve implicit obedience from the people under them, are not men adapted to the hard toil of the woodman's life. Nor will such persons submit cheerfully to the saucy familiarity of servants, who, republicans at heart, think themselves quite as good as their employers.

Too many of these brave and honest men took up their grants of wild land in remote and unfavourable localities, far from churches, schools, and markets, and fell an easy prey to the land speculators that swarmed in every rising village on the boarders of civilization.

It was to warn such settlers as these last mentioned, not to take up grants and pitch their tents in the wilderness, and by so doing reduce themselves and their families to hopeless poverty, that my work "Roughing it in the Bush" was written.

I gave the experience of the first seven years we passed in the woods, attempting to clear a bush farm, as a warning to others, and the number of persons who have since told me, that my book "told the history" of their own life in the woods, ought to be the best proof to every candid mind that I spoke the truth. It it not by such feeble instruments as the above that Providence works when it seeks to reclaim the waste places of the earth, and make them subservient to the wants and happiness of its creatures. The great Father of the souls and bodies of men knows the arm which wholesome labour from the infancy has made strong, the nerves that have become iron by patient endurance, and He chooses such to send forth into the forest to hew out the rough paths for the advance of civilization.

These men became wealthy and prosperous, and are the bones and sinews of a great and rising country. Their labour is wealth, not exhaustion; it produces content, not home-sickness and despair.

What the backwoods of Canada are to the industrious and ever-to-be-honoured sons of honest poverty, and what they are to the refined and polished gentleman, these sketches have endeavoured to show.

The poor man is in his native element; the poor gentleman totally unfitted, by his previous habits and education, to be a hewer of the forest and a tiller of the soil. What money he brought out with him is lavishly expended during the first two years in paying for labour to clear and fence lands which, from his ignorance of agricultural pursuits, will never make him the least profitable return and barely find coarse food for his family. Of clothing we say nothing. Bare feet and rags are too common in the bush.

Now, had the same means and the same labour been employed in the cultivation of a leased farm, or one purchased for a few hundred dollars, near a village, how different would have been the results, not only to the settler, but it would have added greatly to the wealth and social improvement of the country.

I am well aware that a great and, I must think, a most unjust prejudice has been felt against my book in Canada because I dared to give my opinion freely on a subject which had engrossed a great deal of my attention; nor do I believe that the account of our failure in the bush ever deterred a single emigrant from coming to the country, as the only circulation it ever had in the colony was chiefly through the volumes that often formed a portion of their baggage. The many who have condemned the work without reading it will be surprised to find that not one word has been said to prejudice intending emigrants from making Canada their home. Unless, indeed, they ascribe the regret expressed at having to leave my native land, so natural in the painful home-sickness which, for several months, preys upon the health and spirits of the dejected exile, to a deep-rooted dislike to the country.

So far from this being the case, my love for the country has steadily increased from year to year, and my attachment to Canada is now so strong that I cannot imagine any inducement, short of absolute necessity, which could induce me to leave the colony where as a wife and mother, some of the happiest years of my life have been spent.

Contrasting the first years of my life in the bush with Canada as she now is, my mind is filled with wonder and gratitude at the rapid strides she has made towards the fulfilment of a great and glorious destiny.

What important events have been brought to pass within the narrow circle of less than forty years! What a difference since NOW and THEN. The country is the same only in name. Its aspect is wholly changed. The rough has become smooth, the crooked has been made straight, the forests have been converted into fruitful fields, the rude log cabin of the woodsman has been replaced by the handsome, well-appointed homestead, and large populous cities have pushed the small clap-boarded village into the shade.

The solitary stroke of the axe that once broke the uniform silence of the vast woods is only heard in remote districts, and is superseded by the thundering tread of the iron horse and the ceaseless panting of the steam-engine in our sawmills and factories.

Canada is no longer a child, sleeping in the arms of nature, dependant for her very existence on the fostering care of her illustrious mother. She has outstepped infancy, and is in the full enjoyment of a strong and vigorous youth. What may not we hope for her maturity ere another forty summers have glided down the stream of time! Already she holds in her hand the crown of one of the mightiest empires that the world has seen, or is yet to see.

Look at her vast resources—her fine healthy climate—her fruitful soil—the inexhaustible wealth of her pine forests—the untold treasures hidden in her unexplored mines. What other country possesses such an internal navigation for transporting its products from distant Manitoba to the sea, and from thence to every port in the world!

If an excellent Government, defended by wise laws, a loyal people, and a free Church, can make people happy and proud of their country, surely we have every reason to rejoice in our new Dominion.

When we first came to the country it was a mere struggle for bread to the many, while all the offices of emolument and power were held by a favoured few. The country was rent to pieces by political factions, and a fierce hostility existed between the native born Canadians—the first pioneers of the forest—and the British emigrants, who looked upon each other as mutual enemies, who were seeking to appropriate the larger share of the new country.

Those who had settled down in the woods were happily unconscious that these quarrels threatened to destroy the peace of the colony.

The insurrection of 1837 came upon them like a thunder clap; they could hardly believe such an incredible tale. Intensely loyal, the emigrant officers rose to a man to defend the British flag and chastise the rebels and their rash leader.

In their zeal to uphold British authority, they made no excuse for the wrongs that the dominant party had heaped upon a clever and high-spirited man. To them he was a traitor, and, as such, a public enemy. Yet the blow struck by that injured man, weak as it was, without money, arms, or the necessary munitions of war, and defeated and broken in its first effort, gave freedom to Canada, and laid the foundation of the excellent constitution that we now enjoy. It drew the attention of the Home Government to the many abuses then practised in the colony, and made them aware of its vast importance in a political point of view, and ultimately led to all our great national improvements.

The settlement of the long-vexed clergy reserves question, and the establishment of common schools was a great boon to the colony. The opening up of new townships, the making of roads, the establishments of municipal councils in all the old districts, leaving to the citizens the free choice of their own members in the council for the management of their affairs, followed in rapid succession.

These changes of course took some years to accomplish, and led to others equally important. The Provincial Exhibitions have done much to improve the agricultural interests, and have led to better and more productive methods of cultivation than were formerly practiced in the Province. The farmer gradually became a wealthy and intelligent landowner, proud of his improved flocks and herds, of his fine horses and handsome homestead. He was able to send his sons to college and his daughters to boarding school, and not uncommonly became an honourable member of the Legislative Council.

While the sons of poor gentlemen have generally lost caste and sunk into useless sots, the children of these honest tillers of the soil have steadily risen to the highest class, and have given to Canada some of her best and wisest legislators.

Men who rest satisfied with the mere accident of birth for their claims to distinction, without energy and industry to maintain their position in society, are sadly at discount in a country which amply rewards the worker, but leaves the indolent loafer to die in indigence and obscurity.

Honest poverty is encouraged, not despised, in Canada. Few of her prosperous men have risen from obscurity to affluence without going through the mill, and therefore have a fellow-feeling for those who are struggling to gain the first rung on the ladder.

Men are allowed in this country a freedom enjoyed by few of the more polished countries in Europe—freedom in religion, politics, and speech; freedom to select their own friends and to visit with whom they please without consulting the Mrs. Grundys of society—and they can lead a more independent social life than in the mother country, because less restricted by the conventional prejudices that govern older communities.

Few people who have lived many years in Canada and return to England to spend the remainder of their days, accomplish the fact. They almost invariably come back, and why? They feel more independent and happier here; they have no idea what a blessed country it is to live in until they go back and realize the want of social freedom. I have heard this from so many educated people, persons of taste and refinement, that I cannot doubt the truth of their statements.

Forty years has accomplished as great a change in the habits and tastes of the Canadian people as it has in the architecture of their fine cities and the appearance of the country. A young Canadian gentleman is as well educated as any of his compeers across the big water, and contrasts very favourably with them. Social and unaffected, he puts on no airs of offensive superiority, but meets a stranger with the courtesy and frankness best calculated to shorten the distance between them and to make his guest feel perfectly at home.

Few countries possess a more beautiful female population. The women are elegant in their tastes, graceful in their manners, and naturally kind and affectionate in their dispositions. Good housekeepers, sociable neighbours, and lively and active in speech and movement, they are capital companions and make excellent wives and mothers. Of course there must be exceptions to every rule; but cases of divorce, or desertion of their homes, are so rare an occurrence that it speaks volumes for their domestic worth. Numbers of British officers have chosen their wives in Canada, and I never heard that they had cause to repent of their choice. In common with our American neighbours, we find that the worst members of our community are not Canadian born, but importations from other countries.

The Dominion and Local Governments are now doing much to open up the resources of Canada by the Intercolonial and projected Pacific Railways and other Public Works, which, in time, will make a vast tract of land available for cultivation, and furnish homes for multitudes of the starving populations of Europe.

And again, the Government of the flourishing Province of Ontario—of which the Hon. J. Sandfield Macdonald is premier—has done wonders during the last four years by means of its Immigration policy, which has been most successfully carried out by the Hon. John Carling, the Commissioner, and greatly tended to the development of the country. By this policy liberal provision is made for free grants of land to actual settlers, for general education, and for the encouragement of the industrial Arts and Agriculture; by the construction of public roads and the improvement of the internal navigable waters of the province; and by the assistance now given to an economical system of railways connecting these interior waters with the leading railroads and ports on the frontier; and not only are free grants of land given in the districts extending from the eastern to the western extremity of the Province, but one of the best of the new townships has been selected in which the Government is now making roads, and upon each lot is clearing five acres and erecting thereon a small house, which will be granted to heads of families, who, by six annual instalments, will be required to pay back to the Government the cost of these improvements—not exceeding $200, or 40 pounds sterling—when a free patent (or deed) of the land will be given, without any charge whatever, under a protective Homestead Act. This wise and liberal policy would have astonished the Colonial Legislature of 1832, but will, no doubt, speedily give to the Province a noble and progressive back country, and add much to its strength and prosperity.

Our busy factories and foundries—our copper, silver, and plumbago mines—our salt and petroleum—the increasing exports of native produce—speak volumes for the prosperity of the Dominion and for the government of those who are at the head of affairs. It only requires the loyal co-operation of an intelligent and enlightened people to render this beautiful and free country the greatest and the happiest upon the face of the earth.

When we contrast forest life in Canada forty years ago with the present state of the country, my book will not be without interest and significance. We may truly say, old things have passed away, all things have become new.

What an advance in the arts and sciences and in the literature of the country has been made during the last few years. Canada can boast of many good and even distinguished authors, and the love of books and booklore is daily increasing.

Institues and literary associations for the encouragement of learning are now to be found in all the cities and large towns in the Dominion. We are no longer dependent upon the States for the reproduction of the works of celebrated authors; our own publishers, both in Toronto and Montreal, are furnishing our handsome bookstores with volumes that rival, in cheapness and typographical excellence, the best issues from the large printing establishments in America. We have no lack of native talent or books, or of intelligent readers to appreciate them.

Our print shops are full of the well-educated designs of native artists. And the grand scenery of our lakes and forests, transferred to canvas, adorns the homes of our wealthy citizens.

We must not omit in this slight sketch to refer to the number of fine public buildings which meet us at every turn, most of which have been designed and executed by native architects. Montreal can point to her Victoria Bridge, and challenge the world to produce its equal. This prodigy of mechanical skill should be a sufficient inducement to strangers from other lands to visit our shores, and though designed by the son of the immortal George Stephenson, it was Canadian hands that helped him to execute his great project—to raise that glorious monument to his fame, which we hope, will outlast a thousand years.

Our new Houses of Parliment, our churches, banks, public halls, asylums for the insane, the blind, and the deaf and dumb are buildings which must attract the attention of every intelligent traveller; and when we consider the few brief years that have elapsed since the Upper Province was reclaimed from the wilderness, our progress in mechanical arts, and all the comforts which pertain to modern civilization, is unprecedented in the history of older nations.

If the Canadian people will honestly unite in carrying out measures proposed by the Government for the good of the country, irrespective of self-interest and party prejudices, they must, before the close of the present century, become a great and prosperous nationality. May the blessing of God rest upon Canada and the Canadian people!

Susanna Moodie

Belleville, 1871