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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter I
Childhood - Indians - Canoes - "Old Isaiah " - Father goes to college.


My parents were pioneers. I was born on the banks of the Sydenham River in a log-house, one of the first dwellings, a very few of which made up the frontier village of Owen Sound. This was in the year 1842.

My earliest recollections are of stumps, log heaps, great forests, corduroy roads, Indians, log and birch-bark canoes, bateaux, Mackinaw boats, etc. I have also a very vivid recollection of deep snow in winter, and very hot weather and myriad mosquitoes in summer.

My father was first settler, trapper, trader, sailor, and local preacher. He was one of the grand army of pioneers who took possession of the wilderness of Ontario, and in the name of God and country began the work of reclamation which has ever since gone gloriously on, until to-day Ontario is one of the most comfortable and prosperous parts of our great country.

God fitted those early settlers for their work, and they did it like heroes. Mother was a strong Christian woman, content, patient, plodding, full of quiet, restful assurance, pre-eminently qualified to be the companion and helper of one who had to hew his way from the start out of the wildness of this new world. My mother says I spoke Indian before I spoke English.

My first memories are of these original dwellers in the land. I grew up amongst them, ate corn-soup out of their wooden bowls, roasted green ears at their camp-fires, feasted with them on deer and bear's meat, went with them to set their nets and to spear fish at nights by the light of birch-bark flambeaux, and, later on, fat pine light-jack torches. Bows and arrows, paddles and canoes were my playthings, and the dusky forest children were my playmates.

Father, very early in my childhood, taught me how to swim, and, later on, to shoot and skate and sail. Many a trip I had with my father on his trading voyages to the Manitoulin and other islands of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, where he would obtain his loads of fish, furs and maple sugar, and sail with these to Detroit and other eastern and southern ports. Father had for cook and general servant a colored man, Isaiah by name. Isaiah was my special friend; I was his particular charge. His bigness and blackness and great kindness made him a hero in my boyish mind. My contact with Isaiah, and my association with the Indians, very early made a real democrat of me. I never could bear to hear a black man called a "nigger," nor yet an Indian a "buck." Isaiah was an expert sailor, as also a good cook, but it was his great big heart that won me to him, and which to-day, though nearly fifty years have passed since then, brings a dampness to my eye as I remember my "big black friend."

On some of his voyages father had a tame bear with him. This bear was a source of great annoyance to Isaiah, for Bruin would be constantly smelling around the caboose in which the stove and cooking apparatus were placed, and where Isaiah would fain reign supreme. One evening Isaiah was cooking pancakes, and was, while doing so, absent-minded—perhaps thinking of those old slavery days when he had undergone terrible hardships and great cruelty from his ignorant and selfish brothers, who claimed to own him," soul and body." Whatever it was, he forgot to watch his cakes sufficiently, for Mr. Bear was whipping them off the plate as fast as Isaiah was putting them on. Father and a fellow-passenger were looking on and enjoying the fun. By and by Isaiah was heard to say. "Guess he had enough for the gentlemans to begin with;" but, lo! to his wonderment when he went to take the cakes, they were gone; and in his surprise he looked around, but there was no one near but the bear, and he looked very innocent. So Isaiah seemed to conclude that he had not made any cakes, and accordingly went to work in earnest, but, at the same time, determined that there should be no mistake in the matter. Presently he caught the thief in the act of taking the cake from the plate, and then he went for the bear with the big spoon in his hand, with which he was dipping and beating the batter. The chase became exciting. Around the caboose, across the deck, up the rigging flew the bear. Isaiah was close after him, but finally found that the bear was too agile for him, for presently he came back, a wiser and, for the time, a more watchful man.

When I was six years of age I had two little brothers, one between three and four, and the other a baby boy, about a year old—the older one named David, who is still living, and is now my nearest neighbor. The other we called Moses; he was a beautiful little fellow, and father almost idolized him. Once we lost him. What excitement we had, and also great alarm! By and by I found him in a sort of store-room behind the door, digging into a "mo-kuk," or bark vessel of maple sugar, face and hands smeared with it. What joy there was over the little innocent!

But one summer, while father was away on one of his fishing and trading trips, our baby boy "sickened and died." This was my first contact with death ; it was terrible to witness baby's pain and mother's grief. We buried our loved one in the Indian burying-ground at Newash (now Brook).

Two years ago I looked in vain for the grave; it is lost to view, but I never will forget those sad, sad days and nights during little brother's sickness. Our Indian neighbors did all they could to help and comfort. Neither will I forget the hard time of meeting father at the beach, when he came ashore and found that his darling boy was dead and buried. Often since then have I come into contact with death in many shapes, but this first experience stamped itself on my brain.

Sometimes I went with father to his appointments to preach in the homes of the new settlers. What deep snow, what narrow roads, what great, dark, sombre woods we drove through. How solemn the meetings in those humble homes. How poor some of the people were—little clearings in great forests; rough, unhewn logs, with trough roofs. How those people did sing! What loud amens! I almost seem to hear them now.

I had an uncle settled in the bush not far from Owen Sound. I remember distinctly going with him and his family to meeting one winter's day. We had a yoke of oxen and a big sleigh. Whoa! Haw! Gee!" and the old woods rang as we drove slowly to that "Gospel meeting" through the deep, deep snow in those early days. Then as now, the cursed liquor traffic was to the front, and many a white man went by the board and ruined himself and family under its baneful influence. Many a poor Indian was either burned, or drowned, or killed in some other way, because of the trade which was carried on through this death-dealing stuff. The white man's cupidity, and selfishness, and gross brutality too often found a victim in his weaker red brother.

Very early in my childhood I was made to witness scenes and listen to sounds which were more of "hell than earth," and which made me, even then, a profound hater of the vile stuff, as also of the viler traffic.

My father, who was a strong temperance man, had many a "close call" in his endeavors to stop this trade, and to save the Indians from its influence he incurred the hatred of both white and red men of the vilest class.

Once when I was walking with him through the Indian village of Newash, I saw an Indian under the influence of liquor come at us with his gun pointed. I was greatly startled, and wondered what father would do; but he merely stood to face him, and, unbuttoning his coat, dared the Indian to shoot him; and this bold conduct on father's part made the drunken fellow slink away, muttering as he went. Ah! thought I, what a brave man father is; and this early learned object-lesson was not lost on the little boy who saw it all.

Whiskey, wickedness and cowardice were on one side, and on the other, manliness, pluck and righteousness.

About this time, when I was between six and seven years of age, my father arranged to go to college. He left my brother David with our uncle, who lived up in the bush, and myself with a Mr. Cathey, who taught the Mission School at Newash.

I well remember the stormy winter's morn, when father and mother started for the long journey, as it seemed to me, through the forests of Ontario, from Owen Sound to Cobourg. I thought my little heart would break, and mother was quite broken up with grief with the parting from her boys, and, no doubt, father felt it keenly; but his strong will was master, and believing in Providence, he took this step, as he thought, in the path of duty and in the interest of each one of us.


 


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