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On this occasion my visit to Montreal was a very short one, but I have several times been there both in winter and summer. There is but little in the neighboring country to tempt you to explore; the ride round the mountain, indeed, gives some views of much beauty; particularly where you see the Ottawa pouring through its many channels into the northern branch of the St. Lawrence. Generally the country is flat, and has but little character; there are several islands about ; that of St. Helen's is the most picturesque in the group, but unsightly barracks and rough field-works deform its gentle slopes.
A clumsy stage-coach carried me to Lachine, nine miles from Montreal : there it was put on board a steamer, borne through Lake St. Louis, and released again at the cascades, to carry us on sixteen miles further to Coteau du Lac. In a short time the great works will be complete, to bear large steamboats past all the rapids: the Lachine, Beauharnois, St. Lawrence, and Wel. land canals will be the connecting links of this immense chain of communication, from the gulf of St. Lawrence to the furthest of the great lakes—one broad highway. We pass over Lake St. Francis, and through the St. Lawrence canal; opposite to its entrance is the Indian village of St. Regis, close to which is the boundary line between Canada and the United States, where the forty-fifth parallel of latitude strikes the great river.
The most remarkable of the rapids, whose interruption the industry of man is busied to avoid, is called the Cedars. The stream is here pent into several narrow channels among wooded islands, and tumbles fiercely along over its rocky bed. Steamers and other boats constantly venture down this perilous passage, but not unfrequently pay dearly for their temerity. At present they can only return up to the great lakes by the Ottawa river and the Rideau canal, from which they emerge at Kingston, on Lake Ontario; but the works are going on rapidly, and by them this great round will be saved. In the year 1759, when General Amherst entered Canada, his advanced guard, of about three hundred men, was embarked above the Cedars; the intention was to float down and take up a position on the opposite side of the river. Perhaps it was that those dangerous channels were then but little known, or that the pilot played them false—none remained to accuse; the next day the lifeless bodies of the British soldiers, clothed in the well-known red, floating past the town of Montreal, gave the first notice of invasion.
There were many Americans in the steamer ; at this time of the year great numbers, particularly from the sultry south, crowded all the conveyances in Canada and the northern States, in search of the health which their own climate denies them. Amongst them was a taciturn, sallow, austere-looking, middleaged man, whose place at dinner, luncheon, and breakfast, happened to be next to me; he stared at me a good deal, but spoke never a word. Except when at meals, he sat in a particular part of the vessel, smoking without intermission, protected from the sun by the enormously broad brim of a white beaver hat. At Ogdensburgh, the first place on the American side where the steamboat touches, we all went ashore for a few seconds to stretch our limbs ; my silent friend heard me say that I had never before been in the States; when he saw me fairly landed he for a moment removed the cigar from his mouth and spoke—“I reckon, stranger, you have it to say now that you have been in a free country.” We afterwards discovered that he was a planter from Alabama, and that, to the pleasures of his tour, he united the business of inquiring for runaway slaves.
From Ogdensburgh, there is a daily American line of steamers up through the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to Lewiston, near Niagara. The inhabitants on both sides of the frontier are superior to any confined and illiberal feeling of nationality as to their preference for either this or the Canadian line ; in comfort, speed, safety, both are on a level-and a very good level too; therefore as either side abates a few pence in the fare, the human tide
flows certainly to it. In most of the American steamers, here and elsewhere, the fare includes the expenses of the table for the passengers; a bell or gong summons them to the different meals. The table is usually covered with an infinity of very small dishes, containing a great variety of curious animal and vegetable matter, in such proportions that a plate may bear the contents of two or three dishes being emptied into it at once, with impunityThe principal characteristic of the cookery is grease.
It is quite unnecessary for me to add anything to the very numerous and far from flattering descriptions which have been given of the modes of eating these viands, as practised by many of our travelling brethren of the United States : their habits are different from ours; to us they are disagreeable ; there is no use in dwell. ing on the subject. The people you meet in public conveyances in America are of every class; perhaps your neighbor on either hand, whose extraordinary performances have excited your astonishment or disgust, may be a man who but two or three years before was a swineherd in Tipperary, or yesterday a woodsman in Kentucky; and probably he has not found his new school of refinement sufficiently active in example and instruction to cure him immediately of his little eccentricities of manner. I must say that I have seen nearly as many disagreeable peculiarities at ordinaries on the continent of Europe, and indeed in Paris itself, as those of my American fellow-travellers. A Frenchman perhaps excels in the power of enjoying a dinner, and in appreciation of the merits of the cuisine-a German in the quantity he can consume—an Englishman in his manner of eating it—and an American, certainly, is unrivalled in the railroad rapidity with which he goes through the work. There seems a general determination in America to alter and improve upon English customs; the right side of the road is always kept in driving, which can only be adopted for the sake of being different from the mother country, as it is so much more difficult for the coachman to judge of the distance he can afford in passing. Perhaps it is on the. same principle that they reverse, as much as possible, the uses of the knife and fork.
Within a mile of the thriving town of Prescott is Windmill Point, on the Canadian side, the scene of the 'sharp combat which ended in the surrender of the unfortunate Von Shoultz: it is a bare, black place, not enlivened by its associations with piracy and scaffolds. On both banks of the river there are many towns and villages, most of them prosperous, all increasing. The general appearance of advancement and cultivation is superior on the American side ; within the last three years, however, the steady progress of the northern bank begins to bear comparison better with the rather hectic prosperity of the southern. Now we are among the mazes of the “ thousand islands,” and pass so close to some of them that we can pull the leaves from the graceful bending boughs of the trees, as the merciless wheels of the steamer dash to atoms their beautiful reflections in the mirror of the calm blue water. The eye does not weary to see, but the hand aches, in ever writing the one word—beauty ; wherever you steer over this great river_beauty, beauty still.
The impression is not pleasant on landing at Kingston : it is an uncomfortable-looking place, and the public buildings are out of proportion to the size of the town ; some of the streets are drearily wide, and rank grass grows on their sides. The inhabitants are about twelve thousand; their numbers still increase, but since the removal of the seat of government from the place, it has a deserted look; it is however of some importance in trade, being the port of the Rideau canal, which, with the Ottawa, opens up so much of the back country, and is a means of communication with Montreal. In case of war this line would be of great value, as for a long distance only one bank of the St. Lawrence is in our possession. The now useless government house is about a mile from the town, on the shore of the lake : the town hall and market are very handsome, and the custom-house, Penitentiary, jail, court-house and bank, are all large but rather unsightly buildings. Mineral springs of great strength have lately been discovered, one a hundred and fifty feet from the surface; a large bath-house is built beside them. Kingston possesses thirty or forty steamers ; during the summer they buzz about with wonderful activity. Fort Henry, on a hill to the eastern side of the entrance of the Rideau canal, is a strong place, but rather too far from the town for efficient defence; it throws, however, its protection effectually over a dockyard of some importance, which lies beneath it. A detachment of artillery and two regiments garrison the fort and town.
The society of Kingston received a fatal blow in the removal of the seat of government; it also wants the mixture of French Canadian grace and liveliness which gives such a charm to that of the Lower Province. From the constant intercourse with the United States, the tone of manners of all classes savors not a little of these neighbors, and a slight nasal twang and a “guess" or two are by no means uncommon. Many retired officers of the army and navy have settled here, and live in great comfort. The necessaries of life are very cheap, and the shooting and fishing in the neighborhood offer many inducements. For those who love yachting, the great Ontario opens out like an ocean from their doors, with islands sufficiently numerous to supply a variety of excursions every day for years.
I do not like these great lakes; the waters are blue, pure, and clear, but they look dead. There was a great calm when I was there, and there are no tides; the stillness was oppressive; the leaves of the trees in some parts of the beach dipped in the water below, motionless as the air above. The shores are low and flat, on this side; the eye wearied as it followed the long, even lines in the far perspective, mingling with those of the surface of the lake ; on the other side the broad expanse lay like polished lead, backed by the cloudless sky. During the last American war, in 1813, the whole of the English squadron of this lake was taken or destroyed by the Americans under Commodore Chauncey. The balance of successes on the inland waters was decidedly in their favor at that time; they had the great advantages of being near their resources, and having plenty of their best seamen disposable, from the Atlantic coast being sealed to their commerce and adventure ; while the attention of England was too much occupied with her enormous efforts and magnificent success in Europe, to pay much attention to the comparatively unimportant struggle in the West.
At the same time I freely and willingly give to the Americans, my humble tribute of praise for the skill and gallantry of their officers and sailors; of these any country might be proud, as for many high-minded and chivalrous acts, worthy of a great and free PART I.