There is a day in the year 1676 which must ever stand out from the murk
of the early centuries as a Red Letter Day in Canadian history.
That is the day whose dawn broke on the first Canadian Public Market in
The scene is laid in _La Place de Notre Dames des Victoires_ in the
shadow of Chateau Saint Louis, in old Quebec.
It takes but little imagination to reconstruct the colourful scene upon
which the first beams of the rising sun, touching with light the gray
and frowning walls of the towering Chateau, lifted the curtain of night.
Here were the market-boats from far and near drawn up on the beach. Here
were the rude stalls and booths laden with the vegetable products of the
little clearings beyond the city walls and at Ile d’Orleans; here were
Quebec’s first Market-women; and hither flowed throughout the morning a
most colourful pageant of patrons.
Viewed from to-day this market-scene is not important on its own
account. Its little turn-over is blotted out. Its significance lies
rather in the fact that here were planted the beginnings of the
market-carts, the stalls and booths, the long line of Market-women, the
wealth of products, “and a’ that” from the finger-like farms of to-day.
Its significance affords the markets of the hour an unbroken retrospect
of nearly two hundred and fifty years.
And of course that first market of Notre Dame des Victoires was herself
but a daughter of the old markets everywhere in vogue in France
transplanted to Quebec. So that if “blood counts” the “’scutcheon” of
the markets now scattered throughout Canada, many of them in the great
out-of-doors literally under the banner of the Maple Leaf, is certainly
that of an “Honourable Company”.
To Quebec then, belongs the title of “Mother of the Canadian Market”. It
was on her foot that the Province children of the Dominion learned to
“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety jig.”
And that they learned it _well_ there is Dominion-wide proof: for not a
city of worth-while size but has its public market. Everybody knows the
Halifax market. Prince Edward Islanders claim that the Charlottetown
market is ne plus ultra! Quebec now has as many as four open-air
markets. In Montreal “Bonsecour” is a word familiar in every household.
Its vegetables and flowers line-up under the very shadow of the Nelson
Column, the Cathedral de Notre Dame and the Chateau de Ramesay.
Kingston, Toronto, Brantford and every other considerable city of
Ontario draw out the line of the market.
Winnipeg magnetizes the products of the truck-farm under the shadow of
her city hall. And here the Market-train, that is Vision, calls “All
aboard for Points West” and so, if you wish, in time you come in to
Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. And when you get to
Vancouver the stalls of colour are grouped about the Post Office just as
they used to be in Halifax.
Each city has its own ideas of a market. And so, although the line of
the market is long, each has its own urban individuality.
The four in Quebec, although they are all of Quebec and all French,
would never be mistaken for each other. The same individuality is
evident in each stall, in each market.
Madame of Saint Roch’s sells from her cart, seated in the middle, with
her vegetable family all grouped around her.
She is packed in, as it were. She never alights, like her sister of the
Montcalm, using the bottom of her cart as a counter, or walks about a
little as do the vendors of Finlay, or spreads her stock out on boxes as
do the saleswomen of Champlain. So it is at Saint Roch’s we come upon
the little Flower-girl seated among her posies and sweet as the flowers
But she is not the only vendor of _les belle fleurs_ even in Saint
Roch’s; here is the old woman from Charlebourg seated behind a jar of
peonies and Saint Joseph lilies, and here another beaming old face
outlined by cauliflowers, bunched like so many nosegays up and down the
roof-supports of her old cart.
Oh, what an air to these old French-markets of Canada! “Bon jour,
madame, bon jour” the same old voice hails patrons year after year. And
the attendant pageant of citizens who come to buy! What a humanly
interesting tide flows back and forth, now here now there, now this way,
now that, through the avenues of colour afforded by the fruits,
vegetables and flowers.
Here is a Sister, face almost lost under the picturesque black bonnet,
in her hands the long basket, from her side depending the Crucifix
silently reminding the pious habitant in whose Name she begs.
In the early morning come the housewives who believe in the old adage of
“the early bird”. These know what they want. They pounce and go.
By and by the stragglers begin to trip in, mothers who have had to see
their children safely off to school, and blow off steam a little in the
colourful atmosphere, before beginning to buy.
But the respite enjoyed by the old women in the carts is not for long.
Their gossip and chat and calling back and forth from cart to cart, is
cut short by a rising-tide of housewives arriving to buy in a heat for
the noon dinner. Ten o’clock sees the tide of trade in flood, with women
behind stepping on the heels of women ahead and tumultuous streams of
purple beets, the chrome of carrots, the spring-green of lettuce, the
pearl of onions, the fruity bloom of peach or plum, cascading into
waiting basket or bag.
Now, mingling with the throng may be seen the rather more sportily
dressed figures of the summer visitors, temporarily domiciled at the
Frontenac and out to “do” the city–Quebec, the Capital-city of Canadian
The Quebec market has filled the pages of two centuries and a half, and
in all that time there, over there, a little to one side away from the
crowd, a little on the outskirts of Food, as it were, has sat and still
sits “the vendor of baskets” (without which no woman can come to
market), and a curious appendage of “simples”–dried herbs, little
squares of Spruce-gum, tiny bunches of wizened roots.
* * * * *
It is but a step from the Markets of Quebec to the markets of Ontario in
a matter of miles, but in atmosphere you step from Old France to Old
Here in Kingston or Brantford is the old Market Hall that might be in
Nottingham or Newark or any other English market-town. And here the
market-men are of the English type–Old-Country fellows or United Empire
Loyalists. Here is the canvas-covered farm-wagon looking like the
spiritual ancestress of the prairie schooner. There is a change from
women to men as salesmen. There is not the customary tumultuous chatter
of the French. But there is more sunlight, more massed dashes of
cadmium, larger splashes of greens, reds, and purples thrown out by the
Ontario peaches, cucumbers and watermelons, netted baskets of tomatoes,
grapes of the Peninsula Vineyards.
Ontario is so modern, and, to use a popular term, “up-to-date”, that
some years ago we were told by Torontonian after Torontonian that if we
were on the quest of the romantic we would not find it in Ontario.
We did not know what to make of it at the time, having in mind a number
of quaint old field-stone houses which we had seen along the road from
the car window in coming through from Montreal.
About these houses there was that certain unmistakable “something” which
for lack of a better word is called “atmosphere”. “Atmosphere and story”
just seemed to radiate from all their old windows.
I see yet, the picture made by their old, yellow-brown stone sides and
their steep roofs; all, in a clump of Lombardy poplars and smooth,
rolling fields, with here an apple orchard, and here a sprinkling of
sheep grazing on the rounded knolls, and cows standing with feet in the
Then I tried to make my Toronto friends see those old stone-houses.
“U-u-mph,” they said, “but they’re damp.”
Not long after that we came in contact with that other type of
early-Ontario house. The one with the low sides made of wood thinly
stuccoed with white plaster on the outside–the “Roughcast” houses of
Ontario. They of course carry in their now “peeling” plaster an appeal
to remember the Old Pioneers and days–the days when the hardships of
the wilderness rose up as a wall to deter all but the hardiest spirits
from blazing a trail here; here, where the true West had its portal.
Usually a clump of lilac bushes stands by these old doors, the boughs
gnarled and thick with age and the increasing struggle for
existence–the old lilac that strikes the human interest note and tells
plainer than words, of the domesticity that once was the pride of the
little family domiciled here so far away from “Home,” in the Old
Country. And over against these two old types of Provincial houses are
set the really palatial dwellings that represent the newer Ontario. And
yet to prove that no hard line separates Old and New, there is a fine,
old home down Saint Catharine’s way that claims to be one of the
earliest houses in the Province which, under the skilful renovation of
a modern architect, still holds itself proudly with “the best”.
If one had time to go into all the old houses of the Province, the real
old-timers–I am sure one would still find, as in Quebec, many fruits of
the loom. The old, woven carpet and bedspread, the old loom, and here
and there, perhaps, a grandmother to weave and many sitting and sewing
at squares for “pieced-pattern” bed-quilts.
In Empire Loyalist homes, of the country, there is, of course, still to
be found many a handsome and valuable piece of old furniture. Some of
the oldest and daintiest chairs we have ever come across, and one of the
dearest collections of little, old books, we once encountered in British
Columbia, out of Ontario.
Ontario is a sweeping Province of magnificent lakes and waterways. Her
coastline is almost as extensive as that of any Province. If it were not
that certain Atlantic Provinces have almost a monopoly of the word, she
might even be called “Maritime”.
Toronto is even now entering upon an era of a new waterfront with
docking accommodations of the best. For the Lake trade? Yes. And
presently for the Ocean’s.
So, in Ontario the trail of Romance, we soon discovered, led almost as
surely “By the ’longshore road” as down Nova Scotia way.
Ontario being a land of lakes, is, in consequence, a land of campers and
camp-fires; a land of the canoe; a land of fishing and hunting. And in
the North a land of logging, with the picturesque figures of the
lumbermen on snow-shoes.
Out there in the Georgian Bay is the romance of thirty thousand islands.
There are the picturesque figures of the Ojibways in canoes, still
taking the same old fishing and “trade” routes as in the days before the
coming of Champlain. Still there is Manitoulin.
The craft in greatest favour everywhere on lake, river and bay of
Ontario, is the canoe. I do not think anyone can know what an extensive
cult is the “canoe” till they see it in Ontario. In season it creeps on
the bosom of the lake like a leaf dropped silently from the tree. And
Romance rides in more or less every canoe, so that, if anything, the
Romantic may be said to be more difficult to keep up with in Ontario
than any of the Provinces. The trail of the Romantic invariably leads to
a tent somewhere by a stream. And
AN OLD ONTARIO HOMESTEAD.]
ONTARIO, A LAND OF CAMPERS AND
a camper may be just as romantic a figure as one who mows the hay, or
lists to the Angelus out of the Percé fishboat. What can be more
Romantic than a group around a campfire? Here seems to be situated the
very source and fountain-head of “pipe-dreams”, stories of the forest,
legends of the Indians–all interwoven and crossed with traditions of
And these old tales are always having new chapters added, every time an
angler catches a fish; everytime a hunter takes a gun under arm.
Go out anywhere with an Ojibway of the Georgian Bay region, and you will
happen upon a black pot a-sling over a log upheld by two other logs, and
a roaring fire under the pot. Across the log may be several bits of
branches with a forked branch cut to give “beard” to the hook from which
swing a number of smoky tea-kettles and lard-pails, all hard a-boil with
tea, potatoes, or fish, or maybe just pork, suspended in the flame and
the smoke, or above the live coals, toward which a frying-pan is tilted
to bake the dough it holds into a cake of bread.
Do not these pots and kettles call to the cauldrons of Quebec, the
Madeleines and far Newfoundland, as to sisters? Ethnology of people!
Sometimes, it would seem, there is an ethnology of inanimate things.
Here in Ontario, among the Indians, one finds skilful workers of
sweetgrass, though apparently there is nowhere such a concentration into
a trade as in Pierreville.
But the Ontario squaw shows much delicacy in the use of porcupine
quills. These she dyes, or uses _au naturel_, in combination often with
birch-bark, to make a basket that is of Ontario, and one which would
hold its own everytime with the Quebec basket “pour Madame’s boudoir.”
The Ojibway woman shows an innate taste in design. The “patterns”, as
well as the colours employed in her basket, are frequently exquisite in
Somewhere on the beach or under trees, clinging to life, yet half
decadent, as a thing whose usefulness has been “outclassed”, one happens
here and there on the tribal or community-canoes, long, sinuous lines of
boathood half bizarre by reason of design, simplicity of material and
traditions of the builders; but more than half “bizarre” by reason of
things that cannot be classified yet nevertheless are positive in
suggestion. Was it in such canoes the Iroquois pursued the Hurons
fleeing toward the wilderness and out of it, to the shelter of the
French at Quebec? Was it in such canoes that the old explorers,
Champlain, Frontenac, the old Jesuit Missionaries, Breboeuf, Carron,
pushed along these lakes and water-highways? Was it in such, the
coureurs du bois, the trapper, the pioneer, the soldier, all those
characters of old–romantic characters of Old France, Old England, Old
Scotia–was it in such they took the paddle in hand, metamorphosing it
at a stroke into a “quill” wherewith to write “France” and “England”
across the page of a continent?
Here, too, among the Ojibways is still in use the hollowed stone with
its companion, nicely smooth and rounded for grinding corn. Old squaws
of the Ojibways can, and _do_ still, “turn the trick” easily enough.
Then there is another form of mortar, with a wooden pestle four or five
feet in length, bulky at each end and slender in the middle, so that two
hands may grasp it quite easily.
Thus, by these two instruments, comes the grain to the dough of the
History furnishes Ontario with a dramatic inheritance hardly less
colourful than that of Quebec. In the early part of the seventeenth
century this was the real battleground between conquering Europeans and
the Redmen for the possession of the vast inland stretches of country
about the Great Lakes. It was the sanctuary of thousands of Empire
Loyalists after the war of American Independence. And it was again a
battleground in the war of 1812.
Many great names are written in, many striking figures illumine the
Ontario log. And as one wanders about in present day Ontario as in
Quebec, memories of this fine past are constantly creeping out at
unexpected moments to convince one that the past is ever present.
Great men and great events do not die. To these early days belong many
an old fort and earthwork whose frowning severity is now time-softened
and mellowed by the touchstone of romance.
Such a flambeau of story is old Fort Mississauga, at
Niagara-on-the-Lake. In the clearing about this old tower, where men
under arms drilled a hundred years ago, sporting figures of golfers now
roam, and caddies “present” sticks for this “drive” or that. From the
ramparts–recalling the ramparts at Annapolis Royal–one looks down to
watch the waves playing “Hide-and-Go-Seek” among upstanding timbers that
resemble the weathered and bleached ribs of some old wreck. These were
the old Fort’s seaward-straining palisades.
Across the river is that historic old French fort, Niagara, now
belonging to the United States, and up the river at Fort George, grow
the thorn trees, which a pretty legend says came from slips sent from
France to French officers stationed at Fort Niagara. And while thinking
of the old fort, which is the symbol of history to the people of to-day,
what can be more romantic than the Martello Tower cropping up suddenly
out of the waters of Kingston harbor like some sea-creature come up to
* * * * *
The period of the influx of United Empire Loyalists brought also that
interesting people, the Mohawk Indians, to settle under their chief,
Brant, on their allotment of land at the mouth of the Grand River, and
to give a name to one of Ontario’s most prosperous cities.
The story of the Mohawks’ loyalty to the Crown is one of the longest and
most romantic stories of those romantic times. But the objective peak of
interest is reached in “His Britannic Majesty George III’s Chapel to the
Mohawks”–a few miles out of Brantford. Down in this old wooden church
with the Royal Coat of Arms quaintly set over the door, abides that
atmosphere of tranquility only attained by the old church, old home, or
old person that has lived through great experiences and scenes, but now,
having come out of all these, has reached the detachment of a placid old
age that “regrets little, and would change still less”.
The view from this old “Chapel”, up out of that stormy period, dually
staging Indian warfare and Colonial pioneering, is like a pastoral
benediction bestowed on those white men and red who fought so hard for
Ontario and the unity of the Empire.
And somehow, as you sit in a pew of this quiet church with the spirits
of the great Chief Brant and others, whose graves stand in the
churchyard, hovering in the air of splendid achievement which makes up
the Province’s inheritance, you cannot but feel that there is a great
bond of common experience uniting into one family this church–the
quaint church with the little “House of the Angels” over the altar at
Indian Lorette–the Catholic church at Pierreville, whose forbear went
up in flames during the French and English struggle for supremacy on the
Saint Lawrence, and the old Colonial church at Grand Pré, standing amid
its curtain of Lombardies, and surrounded by memorial gravestones
whereon are cut names now immortally chiselled in the history of Nova
Scotia and of Canada.
Recognition of the fact that this chain of old churches, to which many
another throughout Canada of its own right belongs, has stood for the
fundamental in an age when the very grip of the pioneer on the land was
in a sense uncertain, must tend to reveal the hand of destiny, and
strengthen the Canadian’s national consciousness.
That, it seems to me, is the first lesson Romance reads to the people of
Canada from the doorway of these old churches, happened upon here and
there from the Atlantic to the Pacific and striking northward with the
great rivers running toward Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. The very
name of this old Mohawk church is national.
In the city of Brantford, in addition to the fine bronze memorial of
Brant, supported by the figures of other Mohawk warriors, there is an
unique monument marking an event of world-wide interest–the invention
of the telephone by the late Alexander Graham Bell. The early home of
Bell, where he perfected the marvellous invention which was to render
such signal service to mankind, and which by virtue of that invention is
more than a Provincial landmark, stands a few miles out of town on a
high bluff above the Tugela. It is a quiet spot, and one of those ample
old houses whose very atmosphere must have been conducive to research
and experiment. Canada not only possesses the distinction of this
homestead and all that it stands for, but for years Mr. Bell came back
every summer to his chosen home near Baddeck on the Bras D’Or Lake to
carry on further researches and experiments; and it seems in keeping
with his deep love for his home here that when the Great Voice rang him
up, it should find him in Canada; and that he should be buried, as he
is, in Canadian soil.
* * * * *
A great deal of story and romance is bound up with _the canals_ of
Ontario. The building of canals at so early a date proves the practical
attitude of the early settlers of this section toward the importance of
good water-highways for craft and commerce. The canals seem to ante-date
the roads in some places. In all cases, they supplement the great lakes
and rivers, amplifying the span of Provincial and National waterways.
The canals of Ontario are pivotal as the Province is pivotal. Without
them the Great Lakes would never come to the sea or the sea to the Great
Romance gets aboard the canal-boat of Ontario no less than aboard her
sisters of the Richelieu. Nor does she stop to question whether it be a
thousand-ton freighter, or a mere barge with picturesque windmill-sails
to the pump and a line of family wash strung out from the caboose; or a
blackened line of hulks with coal, “bound up”, or “bound down”, she
steps aboard. Romance is true blue. She rides with the humblest, or on
the white-and-gold pleasure boat to view the majesty of Capes Trinity
and Eternity on the Saguenay, with equal ease.
What wonder then, that the canals of Canada have their
individualities–individualities no less romantic than those of the
lakes, the sea, or the rivers. The largest and most imposing of these
is of course the Canal-town. The very presence of the canal gives one of
these town the right to reach out understandingly, and with a certain
degree of similarity, to any of the old river-towns of the Saint
Lawrence, and to claim relation with any town of the coast whose harbour
and trade-interests have given it the distinctive name of “sea-port”.
Canal-towns have just a little more atmosphere than a town minus a
“water-gate” and a “water-street”. Craft of one kind or another seek out
these towns, coming to them, not in the usual marine settings, but
apparently upon the bosom of agriculture. Everyone knows what a shock it
is to look across what is apparently a solid field of grain or potatoes
and to see sailing through the vegetation a steamer’s red funnel, capped
by a plume of black smoke. Yet this is a “headless horseman” effect
which the inhabitants of some of the canal regions of Ontario know well.
Another feature, purely the canal’s own, is the lock. What pictures are
afforded of the different types of traders which without any orderings
except those of chance and circumstance, assemble here from time to
time, forming little groups which are as a collective voice asking the
lock-master to open the gates! And when later they string out one behind
the other through the lock, what are they but so many carriers of
Canadian trade? Here is one with paper-pulp, one with lumber, another
with coal. And so the list could be drawn out indefinitely.
At the locks, pictures are made by the power-buildings in well-kept
lawns and gardens; gardens with their riotous splashes of bloom waved
over by that world-known dash of colour which is the British Flag.
Across the ship-canals land-traffic must needs throw its turnbridge. The
opening of the lock-gate is the signal to the bridge attendant to give
the dusty old viaduct its swing. And so the “locking” of a vessel calls
into being many interesting facets of life, which would not exist except
for the canal. One of these facets is the collection of country teams
which drive up and are called upon to wait while the ships go through.
It is a pretty illustration of land-trade waiting on sea-movement–which
has been the law since the world began. Another, and more individual
feature etched by the Canal is the old-time fisherman. All the canals of
the world must know this type of Isaak Walton. Mrs. MacRobie of Iroquois
is an authority on this kind of fishing. Her favourite fishing-ground is
the Galops Canal at Iroquois just where
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL.]
ON THE CANAL.]
the clean ribbon of water crosses the foot of her back-yard. For thirty
years she and her husband sat beside each other daily on the canal-bank.
Now, her husband having died, she is left to fish alone, except when the
neighbours’ barefooted boys come along with their poles and cans of
wriggling earthworms and drop their cork-bobs on the water next to hers.
Mrs. MacRobie has a store of local history from which she draws, on the
evening we join her at the fishing. Her father and grandfather have
handed down to her medals which show the part the family took in the
Battle of Windmill Point, in the war of 1812. On another evening she
invites us into the house to see these treasures. And then it is she
brings out what seems to be an old-fashioned prayer or hymn book, in a
calf binding, but turns out to be a clever earthen receptacle for
“spirits”. This “book” is very old; and the story that goes with it is
to the effect that a man could take it into church when he had had a
long cold journey to get there and not be suspected of having reached
the church largely by the aid of John Barleycorn. It is said of it, too,
that its ancient owner found it of great convenience in his campaigns.
This little “Treasury of Devotion” is now of increased interest in view
of present day Prohibition, and it is also of interest in showing that
indulgence was not without artistic and literary camouflage even in days
The Canadian Prairie may be compared to a vast stage set through the
length of three entire provinces for the enactment of one great epic
Wheat is the greatest piece of realism staged in Canada. And its
companion-piece, in point of size and importance, is “Fish”–The
Maritime. Taken together they seem to point to Canada as the living
parable of “the loaves and the fishes.” The ovens of Quebec as well as
the ovens of all the other Provinces look to the Prairies for
But the wheat of the Prairie Provinces does not confine itself to, nor
is it used up by these home ovens! rather it overflows to other ovens
overseas, converting Canada by a sweet yet subtle power into a symbolic
character–the bread-mother of the world. The thousand-mile wave of
tawny grain from Thunder Bay to the foothills of the Rockies is a
rippling voice; the voice of a most pleasing personality; a voice that
carries across the stage in accents at once assured and winning,
speaking to the world at large, so that it penetrates to remotest nooks
and corners of the earth, speaking as the finest voices do, to the heart
and the individual. One has only to follow the long Prairie trail to see
how many and varied are the ears that have heard the magic call of
On the Prairie, Englishman, Scotchman, Irishman, American, have one and
all hit the trail in the train of wheat. On the Prairie, too, are to be
found other followers in that train, men from the wheat-lands of Old
Europe and men who never saw a field of wheat until coming
here–Icelanders, Poles, Ukrainians, Austrians, Finlanders, Swedes,
Bukowinians; and how many others? Talking with the old-timers, the
pioneers, the prairie schooner, the ox-cart, the buffalo herd, are still
vividly within the memory of men now living beside the main highway of
railway tracks with fast fliers from Halifax to Vancouver passing and
re-passing several times a day.
Nowhere is the quick development of Canada so evident as here on the
plains. Yet the steady voice of wheat is still calling; and to her voice
are now added other important voices, and still others. Men and women
with families are still coming and will come. The Prairie is big and
generous and it _gives_. At the same time it admits that what it needs
is more people; on the principle that the bigger the stage the more
people are on demand in the chorus. The individuals who have listened to
the call of the Prairie and followed its pipe have one and all brought
with them their own individuality as well as some of the fundamental
things which were theirs by reason of the old life back in the rural
parts of Europe.
They are now giving these, the best of themselves and of the old lands,
to the Prairie Provinces. As a class the foreigners are now known as
“New Canadians”. The tiny homes which these built when they first came
to Canada out of saplings and such wood as the country roundabout
afforded, are in many instances little gems of architecture. The sides
of these houses outside the framework of wood are plastered–usually by
the women of the household–a yard or two at a time, each yard of
plaster being scrupulously whitewashed as it goes along. Sometimes the
roofs are sodded and masses of wild-flowers not infrequently bloom
thereon. But more frequently the steep little roof is built of
split-by-hand shingles, rough and artistic.
Inside these little houses, so strongly resembling their quaint cousins
of Quebec, are all the handmade things and furnishings which mark the
century-old French homes of Eastern Canada. There are, first of all, the
same little windows flung open to the breeze, the same manifestations of
art-reds and blues in paint over doors and windows. Inside, in the
living room are handmade wooden benches, many with lines distinctly
Russian; on the floor, hand-loom carpets and about the walls, a bit of
the same home-weaving in tapestry effect, lined, perhaps by a frieze of
empty egg-shells with bizarre patterns in red and black, almost
Egyptian. So fragile are some of these simple things, so passing their
reign in the rapid prosperity overtaking the children of the older
generation that it seems to be a question as to whether these abilities
to create a house and artistic furnishings out of almost nothing will
survive to enrich the national life as in Quebec.
In the dooryard of these houses there are strange contraptions of wood
for holding a log in place while it is being sawn. So easily manipulated
are these things, that stepped into Canada as an idea from somewhere in
the Carpathians, that even a small boy operates them successfully.
In these yards, too, are _wells_ with big wheels and artistic roofs of
hand-split shingles of a foreign steepness–wells, whence women with
plotoks on their heads, call as sisters, to the women at the wells in
Nova Scotia, in Cape Breton, in the Madeleines.
Here in many instances are to be seen the same rodded fences as occur in
Newfoundland, each of course, with its touch of individuality, some
fairly straight and others serpentining about the little garden of
flowers which the old-timers love. In many cases too there is the same
little patch of tobacco, as that met with in the _jardins_ along the
Saint Lawrence. In the kitchens of these houses are homemade wooden
spoons, stirring-sticks and wooden forks. Some of these are given a coat
of red or blue paint. Lemon yellow is a favourite colour for the wooden
benches that stand against the walls.
It speaks well for the sturdy character of many of these oldtime places
that some of them have been able to hold their own within thirty miles
of Winnipeg–not being obliterated by the wave of modernism of which the
great capital city is the crest.
The New Canadians, representing many lands and widely separated sections
of Old Europe, have contributed to the Prairie Provinces a variety in
the way of Church architecture. Cupolas and domes distinctly Eastern,
almost Turkish, startle one above the tops of Manitoba maples or the
bush of the river-banks. These architectural figures of the landscape,
apart altogether from their religious significance, are centres where,
crossing the threshold on Sundays, one has an opportunity of hearing
Swedish music or the rich, deep chanting of the Russian responses; and
of viewing at close hand the artistry that goes to make up the interior
appointments of these churches transplanted from the East to the West.
Here, too, silhouetted against the sky, is the little separate
bell-tower and perhaps the three-barred Cross of the Eastern Christian
Church. Here and there in the corner of a wheat-field, at the
cross-section of a Prairie highway, one sees, as in Quebec, the tall,
uplifted Crucifix set up. It is indeed a mosaic of vast dimensions and
great breadth, essayed of the Prairie.
_Genre_ of wheat is no less distinct than _genre_ of the
’longshore road. Here is the Sower, here the Reaper, here the
Stacker-of-the-big-Sheaves–_the Stooker_ as the Prairie calls him. He
may be a man from the East, a Sioux, or a townsman out to lend a hand.
With his brown water-jug and his bronzed face, he is almost a symbolic
figure, building the golden sheaves in stacks of five for the playing
breeze and warm sun to give the ripening touches to the _grain_ that
makes Canada–the bread-giver of the world.
An extended sojourn in Winnipeg is in the nature of a revelation. One
goes to Winnipeg expecting and finding it as a city–the Colossus of the
Plains–modern, business-like, a pattern-builder in wide streets, with
everything else in keeping on a big scale, but just a little crude and
bare along certain lines, as every _new_ city, or even house, is bound
to be. That is the picture one draws aforetime. But the fact is that a
few weeks in Winnipeg reveal it–and the revelation is almost sharp
enough to be a shock–as a centre of the Romantic–itself a personality,
involving the life of the entire West and especially the
Prairie–combining the east and the west, the great north and trailing
south, the old and the new, the Indian, the French and the English–the
great epic of fur and afterwards that of wheat. No city of the Dominion
is more closely of the same Romantic blood as Quebec, than Winnipeg, and
strangely enough, one conceives this western city of Canada, from the
viewpoint of a sculptor, not as “a strong man” but as _a woman_,
eternally feminine, with trailing garments, with the immediately
surrounding country out and beyond as far to the north and west as
Canada goes, extending the hands of Romance, to cling fast to her
skirts; as the figure of a mother held in leash and hardly able to step
for the many loving hands of clinging children.
Romance is a free spirit of the air. One cannot tell where she will
alight, or what she sees that makes her choose some one spot and reject
others. But when you recall the many characters of history who have
written their sign manual across the Winnipeg page, these mellow and
tone the sharp edges of big business until you regard it not as the
growth of a day, but as the attainment, the reward, for which all the
fine personalities stepping up to recognition out of the colourful
pageant of the Past gave their best efforts and their lives. These
towering buildings, these wide streets, are the fulfillment of the
dreams of men who looked forward.
When Romance takes your hand in Winnipeg she leads you first to, and
then out on her favorite trails, via the Fort Garry Gate. And there she
conjures up vast companies, organizations and individuals, enough to
fill a library and to cover every canvas in the largest gallery. Book on
book has been written on these old forts and their occupiers, and still
there remains material galore–a store which will never suffer
exhaustion. But the fact to be dwelt on in stepping here with Romance,
is that they were touchstones drawing together men from enormous
distances, obliterating distances and difficulties, creating
Cartographers of Canada, soldiers who subdued the part to the whole;
that in the gatherings around their hearth-fires, Hudson Bay, the
Northwest, the region of the Mackenzie, the Saskatchewan, the names of
the Fort-posts of the then almost unknown new North, tripped from men’s
tongues as if they were out there just a little way beyond the Gate. It
was the love of the Romantic, the love of adventure, and the love of
action, in the hearts of the listener and the stay-at-home to which the
story-teller, arriving from who-knows-where in the wilderness, appealed.
It was the human interest that centred around Winnipeg and radiated
thence, that, trickling back to the Old Country, determined new spirits
to leave behind the old lands and step out boldly into the new country,
though it were becurtained of hardship, cold, hunger and promise. One
cannot very well hang back when Romance takes one’s hand. So you think,
when some bright summer morning you motor down to Lower Fort Garry with
your clubs, “Here is another old Fort given up to Golf.” And at once you
recall the morning you tramped the Fort Mississauga links, fanned by the
breezes of Lake Ontario. Strange, the eternal kinship of the Romantic in
It is a far cry from an Old Fort to truck farms. Yet Winnipeg changes
from one to the other with the ease of a dancer of the minuet coping
with the jazz of the moment. The big thousand acre wheat land represents
the loaf, but the vitamine of the vegetable is as necessary as bread to
the modern table, keen on the chemistry of foods. The truck farms
encompassing Winnipeg and doubly upheld by her home-tables and her
pickle factories, stage an army of picturesque foreign-folk–Galicians,
Russians, Ruthenians, Mennonites, Dutch–who have the art of
truck-farming at their finger tips. This is no mere figure of speech but
a simple fact. And this knowledge they have employed to make Winnipeg
one of the richest cities in the Dominion in this matter of fresh
But the human interest centres in the picture made by these cauliflower,
cucumber and rhubarb stretches. Especially since the laborers in these
field-gardens are mostly women, one of the farms, if no more, being
owned by a woman and personally operated by
AT THE WINDOW.]
“… AND THERE IN THE CUCUMBER FIELD,
IS OLD KITTY.”]
herself, with the aid of skillful woman employees. These women in the
beans make picturesque figures with heads in white kerchiefs, full
skirts tucked in gracefully at the waist and the big bushel basket in
hand. Chatting with a motherly soul, broad and short with blue eyes it
is revealed that she is a Mennonite, straight from Holland. Talking with
a tall, thin young woman she tells that she came from the borderland of
Poland and Russia, and that she speaks seven languages, but that she has
always worked on the farm. And she touches the beans with a sort of
stroking tenderness, as if she loved all things that grew.
In the onion field seven or more women working together make the weeds
fly. They, too, cling to the kerchief of the Old World rather than to
the hat of the New, as a protection against sun and the weather in the
Here are women with bundles of rhubarb in their arms, loaded up to and
steadied by their chins. These are assisted in the bundling by a
homemade wooden contrivance for holding the refractory stalks together,
while the strong fingers of the women gather and jam into a slipless
knot the coarse cord which enables the bundle of pie-plant to come
invitingly to the Winnipeg market. And here are cabbages fit for kings,
whose heads, though they look solid and heavy enough, are evidently
touched with the wand of wanderlust, since the farm-superintendent
explains while we stand looking at them, lost in amazement, that these
same cabbages charter whole cars to themselves and go off some fine
morning east and west and even over the border to points South, he knows
And there, in the cucumber fields, is Old Kitty wearing her bag apron,
her old face cobwebbed with the fine lines etched by a long life spent
beneath the Manitoba sun that ripens the wheat. Kitty belongs indeed to
old times. She must have been among the first of the women emigrants to
these parts. She speaks little English. Schools were not for her. In her
youth it was not “Kitty against a Textbook”, but “Kitty against the
Wilderness”, and the prize was Existence. And Kitty won; so that her
aged dumbness before you, is the most eloquent oratory. And her smile is
like a benediction.
While you watch Kitty with her stick carefully turning aside the leaves
to discover thereunder the cool-green cucumbers, and wait for the moment
when she straightens her back to rest and give you that whimsical, sweet
smile that bids you stay though no word is exchanged, the man who
partly owns this farm, with his sister, comes up, and as you move away
with him to watch the carts loading ready for the early morning start to
market, you speak of Kitty and he amazes you with the intelligence that
he and his sister called her “Mother”.
“Our own mother died when we were children and perhaps we would have
died too if it had not been for that old woman. Those were hard times,
and life was difficult enough for grown-ups on the Prairie in those
days, let alone children. But she pulled us through. And she still
orders me around and tells me what to do,” he added, laughingly.
So that was old Kitty’s “bit”–her contribution to the life-line of
Prairie settlement! Yet if Kitty had to come over now she might be
debarred on the score of illiteracy.
* * * * *
At Selkirk, before you have forgotten the towering offices and the
bustle of Winnipeg not an hour behind you by trolley, there is the same
little scow ferry on a wire, by which to cross the Red River, as that by
which you crossed the Saint Francis at Pierreville. It would seem, too,
as if this calm water and its wet reflections of grass and trees, were a
re-cast of the pastoral streams meandering to the Saint Lawrence. And,
having hailed the ferry, turning toward the city again, following the
road of the East bank, one comes upon Gonor, a village that follows the
highway for several miles. This village, which might have been lifted up
root and branch from somewhere in the Carpathians and set down here in
the heart of the Canadian West is made up of row on row of little
foreign houses with quaint, whitewashed sides and the steep hand-split
shingle roofs, set about by little farm-buildings, with overhanging
Swiss log-roofs and everywhere, farmyard chickens, ducks and tiny
porkers! And here and there down the long street a little church peeps
out, each with its own distinctive architecture, the straight, almost
Puritanical lines of the Swedish, the breath of Asia in the minaret of
the Russian, the voice of poverty and hard struggle in the low unpainted
Back from this village and the River stretches mile after mile of sparse
settlement and pioneer farm, some well on the road to prosperity and
others still rough-cast; and here and there the neat little cottages of
the Manitoba Department of Education–the little cottages that are a
part of the new scheme for having the teacher reside among the people,
maintaining in these home-like, modern houses an example of the kind of
comfort to which the foreigner on the land can aspire. The school is a
centre for drawing the parents as well as the children together. It is a
very practical idea, but compared with notions only lately prevalent,
there is certainly a touch of Romance in the determination of Manitoba
to bring the school to the child rather than the child to the school.
Here on these roads and others in the vicinity of Winnipeg, and in fact
everywhere throughout this Province, on the small farms just hacking
their way out of the bush with rows of wheat–rows every year planting
their feet to a longer stride–the _Scarecrow_ is a character not to be
despised. In fact, he plays the important role of a Knight of the
Fields, defending the defenceless wheat from the piratical incursions of
crows and small birds. The Scarecrow is a substitute for a man. And
wherever one defying the battle and the breeze is spied, it unfolds the
story of some man who has planted his foot on a portion of land and is
tenaciously hanging on by the aid of any invention or device which he
can bring to his assistance.
It must feel less lonesome for the man, toiling alone in these fields
out of sight of any neighbour, and sometimes of his own little cottage,
to look up and see that “the other fellow” is still on the job and means
to stick it. O, there is no doubt about it that even the Scarecrow has
its psychology! Why else has it stood the test of Time, come up
simultaneously from the fields of all lands, crossed the ocean and
surmounted every difficulty in its path across the continent, arriving
here to hold its own as “Knight of these Western Plains”? Oh no, you
cannot take the scarecrow from these old-timers–these old flotsam and
jetsam farms and gardens, East and West, without a distinct loss in
Romance to all Canada. For this old man of the fields speaks a universal
language which appeals to all hearts, young and old. In fact, he seems
to be the very fountainhead of youth. For whenever one happens upon him
unexpectedly, instantly, swift as light, there is an outburst of
laughter–“The Scarecrow! The Scarecrow!”
In the early days of the Northwest, the days when the Garrys and sister
forts were in their heyday, before the city was; in the days when dog
teams and sleds furrowed their paths along the big trails north and
south, when the patient ox-teams motored the would-be settlers from Auld
Scotia and elsewhere, from Winnipeg to some land-grant along the Buffalo
Trail; in the days when the farmer hauled his wheat in the creaking
ox-cart back to Winnipeg to be ground into flour by the one gristmill
that then served this now elevator-dotted land; in other words, in the
days when red men and furs held revelry, and agriculture was yet hidden
in the womb of Time, the wander-loving French-Canadian came here in the
character of settler, trapper, canoeist, fur-dealer, boatman and
_coureur de bois_ out of Old Quebec, much as he is now pushing out to
settle his own Provincial north.
In such suburban towns as Saint Boniface and Saint Norbert, and in their
citizens, present-day Winnipeg traces her French strain back to Quebec
and through Quebec to Normandy and Brittany, whence came many of the
customs and touches met with here, clinging so curiously to the skirts
of the West.
These little French “Bluffs” loom on the landscape not only in the
vicinity of Winnipeg, but are happened upon here and there throughout
all the Province, especially in the North.
At Saint Norbert one steps down out of the car to be met by a colourful
wayside sign of the Jefferson Highway, “From New Orleans to Winnipeg”,
with “Palm to Pine” illustrations in colour. The Romance covered by this
sign, cosmopolitan as any on the continent, lies in the complete
metamorphosis suffered by Winnipeg and the middle west for which it
stands, in the matter of distance. Distance with a big “D” has been
wiped out. You are as near to the world, in touch with it as intimately
in Winnipeg as anywhere else in Canada or over the American border.
This elimination of distance, owes its being to distance-created needs.
In this, Winnipeg was a pathfinder, an urge. The things which she stood
for in the North led Prince Rupert and navigation to conquer Hudson Bay.
Raw trails were broken and river-boats built to reach her fur-preserves
and fur-market. She shod the ox and designed the big wheels of the
prairie-cart to recover the waste lands of the Prairie from the heel of
the Buffalo. The Prairie and the Pacific called for the railroad that
primarily grouped Canada into one whole, with a united morale. It was
the _remoteness_, once for all definitely broken by the railroad, which
hatched the modern passion for “close connections”. The voice of the
West is passionate in its demand for great highways like this, bringing
within hail the sunny seaports of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on the
one hand, and the equally individual climate-and-trade-romanticism of
the New North, practical Hudson Bay ports with navigation and ships
coming and going, piloted hither by the wraiths of the Elizabethan
Galleons, pioneers in sea-adventure, on
A “KNIGHT OF THE FIELD”
DEFENDING THE WHEAT.]
FOOT BRIDGE TO TRAPPIST MONASTERY,
the other. Distance, for which this section of Canada once stood,
sponsored the automobile, the airship, the telephone, the radio–the
things that are drawing individuals and families together, co-relating
separate businesses into one great co-ordinated momentum, called Trade,
making every city suburban to all the others, and uniting, supporting
and developing the National consciousness. Transportation, good roads!
They introduce the man in Vancouver to his brother in Winnipeg and
Halifax. Canada is a unit. There is psychology and powerful suggestion
in linking up the fronded palm, fanning beside the Gulf, with the sturdy
evergreen of the North.
At Saint Norbert there are touches of Quebec, in a little altar-chapel
in the woods, to which small pilgrimages are made. There is the Church
and Convent and a most picturesque group of Holy figures about _La
Crucifie_ in the cemetery.
The French language commingles everywhere with the English. In the
little shops here, as well as in the big shops of Winnipeg, two
delicacies are offered for sale–_Fromage de Trappe_ and _Miel de
Trappe_–Trappist Cheese and Trappist Honey. And here, within a stone’s
throw of Saint Norbert, is situated the Trappist Monastery whence these
products hail. This Trappist Monastery is the only door we have ever
found closed to us in Canada! But that makes it the more romantic.
Nevertheless, we have ridden in their empty wheat-cart, driven by a
Trappist brother in his flowing habit, the reins in one hand and huge
rosary with individual beads, comparable in size with small crab-apples,
in the other. We passed on this ride other brothers swinging down the
beautiful tree-line approach to the Monastery, driving spans of horses
with full cartloads of “No. 1 Northern”, and saying their Rosaries at
the same time–a rare subject even in Canada’s immense gallery. Surely,
Prairie wheat rides to the elevator in a variety of carts, and many
languages urge the horses to their task. A little office at the gate was
as far as our driver dared take us. The Brother in the office takes
orders for the cheese and honey, and entertains us with a book of
photographs showing the chief Trappist Monasteries of the world. We
returned by a little foot-bridge over a stream, and by a woodland path
edged with blueberry-bushes and other attractive undergrowth of the cool
* * * * *
Although the immediate vicinity of Winnipeg is able to show such a
profusion and variety of colour, the entire Province of Manitoba,
together with Saskatchewan and Alberta, produces a riotous line of
romance equal to these nearer roads or any of the older Canadian
Provincial gardens. The little Russian boy standing by a window blowing
soap bubbles, through a wheat-straw, unconsciously presents a symbolic
picture of the romantic dream both projected and fulfilled by the
Prairie. To all those with vision, its Voice called. It called above all
to the home-hungry children of the Old World to come and settle here.
Called them to visualize their dreams, and, is still calling. But its
call reached only those with initiative, for it offered on the surface
only tasks and difficulties–put the wheat-straw in their fingers and
said “Build your own dream-castle. Here is land without boundary. But
the vision, the dream,–is yours.”