Canada and the Canadians, Vol. 2

#Travel #Canada
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Excerpt After a ramble in this very desultory manner, which the reader has, no doubt, now become accustomed to, I returned to Toronto, having first observed that the harvest looked very ill on the Niagara frontier; that the peaches had entirely failed, and that the grass was destroyed by a long drought; that the Indian corn was sickly, and the potatoes very bad. Cherries alone seemed plentiful; the caterpillars had destroyed the apples—nay, to such an extent had these insects ravaged the whole province, that many fruit-trees had few or no leaves upon them. A remarkable frost on the 30th of May had also passed over all Upper Canada, and had so injured the woods and orchards, that, in July, the trees in exposed places, instead of being in full vigour, were crisped, brown, and blasted, and getting a renewal of foliage very slowly. My return to Toronto was caused by duty, as well as by a desire to visit as many of the districts as I possibly could, in order to observe the progress they had made since 1837, as well as to employ the mind actively, to prevent the reaction which threatened to assail it from the occurrence of a severe dispensation. I heard a very curious fact in natural history, whilst at Niagara, in company with a medical friend, who took much interest in such matters. I had often remarked, when in the habit of shooting, the very great length of time that the loon, or northern diver, (colymbus glacialis,) remained under water after being fired at, and fancied he must be a living diving-bell, endued with some peculiar functions which enabled him to obtain a supply of air at great depth; but I was not prepared for the circumstance that the fishermen actually catch them on the hooks of their deepest lines in the Niagara river, when fishing at the bottom for salmon-trout, &c. Such is, however, the fact. An affecting incident at Queenston, whilst we were waiting for the Transit to take us to Toronto, must be related. I have mentioned that, in the spring of 1845, an ice-jam, as it is called here, occurred, which suddenly raised the level of the Niagara between thirty and forty feet above its ordinary floods, and overset or beat down, by the grinding of mountain masses of ice, all the wharfs and buildings on the adjacent banks. The barrack of the Royal Canadian Rifles at Queenston was thus assailed in the darkest hours of the night, and the soldiers had barely time to escape, before the strong stone building they inhabited was crushed. The next to it, but on higher ground, more than thirty feet above the natural level of the river, was a neat wooden cottage, inhabited by a very aged man and his helpless imbecile wife, equally aged with himself. This man, formerly a soldier, was a cabinet-maker, and amused his declining years by forming very ingenious articles in his line of business; his house was a model of curious nick-nackeries, and thus he picked up just barely enough in the retrograding village to keep the wolf from the door; whilst the soldiers helped him out, by sparing from their messes occasionally a little nourishing food. That night, the dreadful darkness, the elemental warnings, the soul-sickening rush of the river, the groaning and grinding of the ice, piling itself, layer after layer, upon the banks of the river, assailed the old man with horrors, to which all his ancient campaigns had afforded no parallel. He heard the irresistible enemy, slowly, deliberately, and determinedly advancing to bury his house in its cold embrace. He hurried the unmindful sharer of his destiny from her bed, gathered the most precious of his household goods, and knew not how or where to fly. Loudly and oft the angry spirit of the water shrieked: Niagara was mounting the hill. The soldiers, perceiving his imminent peril, ventured down the bank, and shouted to him to fly to them....
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