AFTER six years of great
toil, and a good deal of privation, father was moved to Rama, and now a
bright new field was opening before me, for father had determined to send me
to Victoria College. I was now nearly fourteen years old, and would have
been better suited at some good public school, but father had great faith in
"Old Victoria," and at that time there was a preparatory department in
connection with the college. So, soon after we were settled at Rama, I went
on to Cobourg.
I was early, and it was
several days before college opened. Oh, how lonesome I was, completely lost
in those strange surroundings. I had a letter to Dr. Nelles, and because of
my father he received me graciously, and I felt it was something to have a
grand, good father, such as I had; but it was days before I became in any
way acquainted with the boys.
I was looked upon as an
Indian; in fact, I was pointed out by one boy to another as the "Indian
fellow." " Oh," said the other boy, "where does he come from?" and to my
amazement and also comfort, for it revealed to me that these very superior
young gentlemen did not know as much as I gave them credit for, the other
said, "Why, he comes from Lake Superior at the foot of the Rocky Mountains;"
and yet this boy was about voicing the extent of general knowledge of our
country in those days.
I was given a chum, and he
was as full of mischief and conceit as boys generally are in the presence of
one not so experienced as they are.
My father thought I might be
able to go through to graduation, and therefore wanted me to take up studies
Latin was one of the first I
was down for; this was in Professor Campbell's room.
We filed in the first
morning, and he took our names, and said he was glad to see us, hoped we
would have a pleasant time together, etc., and then said, "Gentlemen, you
can take the first declension for to-morrow."
What was the first
declension, what did you do with it, how learn it, how recite it? My, how
these questions bothered me the rest of the day! I finally found the first
declension. I made up my mind that I would be the first to be called on
to-morrow. Oh, what a stew I was in! I dared not ask anybody for fear of
"ridicule," and thus I was alone. I staid in my room, I pored over that page
of my Latin gram- mar, I memorized the whole page. I could have repeated it
backwards. It troubled me all night, and next day I went to my class
trembling and troubled; but, to my great joy, I was not called upon, and
without having asked anyone, I saw through the lesson, and a load went off
After that first hour in the
class-room, I saw then that after all I was as capable as many others around
me, and was greatly comforted. But my rascal of a chum, noticing that I
stuck to my Latin grammar a great deal, one day when I was out of the room,
took and smeared the pages of my lesson with mucilage and shut the book, and
destroyed that part for me, and put me in another quandary.
However, I got over that, and
"laid low" for my chum, for soon he was again at his tricks. This time he
knotted and twisted my Sunday clothes, as they hung in the room.
And now my temper was up, and
I went out on to the playground, and found him among a crowd, and caught him
by the throat and tripped him up and got on him, and said, "You villain You
call me an Indian; I will Indian you, I will—scalp you!" And with this, with
one hand on his throat, I felt for my knife with the other, when he began to
call "Murder!" The boys took me off, and I laid my case before them, and
showed them how the young rascal had treated me. And now the crowd took my
part, and I was introduced.
After that everybody knew me,
and I had lots of friends.
Before long I cleaned out the
crowd in running foot-races, and was no slouch, as the boys said, at "long
jump" and "hop, step and jump." This made me one of the boys, and even my
chum began to be proud of me.
But my greatest hardship was
lack of funds, even enough to obtain books, or paper and pencils. Once I
borrowed twenty-five cents from one of the boys, and after a few days he
badgered inc for it, and kept it up until I was in despair and felt like
killing him. Then I went to one of the "Conference students" and borrowed
the twenty-five cents to give to my persecutor; and then daily I wended my
way to the post-office, hoping for a remittance, but none came for weeks,
and when one came, it had the great sum of "one dollar" in it. How gladly I
paid my twenty-five cents debt, and carefully hoarded the balance of my
dollar. Christmas came, and most of the boys went home; but though I wanted
to go home and my parents wanted inc very much, and though it took but a few
dollars to go from Cobourg to Barrie, the few were not forthcoming, and my
holidays were to go back to Alan-wick amongst my fathers old friends, those
with whom he had worked during his time under Elder Case, and who received
me kindly for my father's sake.
Soon the busy months passed,
and then convocation and holidays, and I went back to Rama and enjoyed a
short holiday by canoeing down to Muskoka, having as my companions my cousin
Charles and my brother David.
We had a good time, and when
we came home I engaged to work for Thomas Moffatt, of Orillia, for one year,
for $5.00 per month and my board.
My work was attending shop,
and one part especially was trading with the Indians.
Of these we had two
classes—those who belonged to the reserve at Rama, and the pagans who roamed
the "Muskoka country." Having the language and intimate acquaintance with
the life and habits of these people, I was as "to the manner born," and thus
had the advantage over many others.
Many a wild ride I have had
with those "Muskoka fellows." If we heard of them coming, I would go to meet
them with a big team and sleigh, and bring them and their furs to town, and
after they had traded would take them for miles on their way.
While in town we would try
and keep them from whiskey, but sometimes after we got started out some sly
fellow would produce his bottle, and the drinking would begin, and with it
the noise and bluster; and I would be very glad when I got them out of my
sleigh and had put some distance between us.
Right across from us was
another store, the owner of which had been a "whiskey trader" the greater
part of his life.
One morning I was taking the
shutters off our windows, when a man galloped up in great haste and told me
he was after a doctor, that there was someone either freezing or frozen out
on the ice in the bay, a little below the village; and away he flew on his
"The old whiskey trader"
happened just then to come to the door of his store, and I told him what I
had heard. With a laugh and an oath he said, "John, I'll bet that is old
Torn Bigwind, the old rascal. (Poor Tom, an Indian, was the victim of
drunkenness, and this man had helped to make him so.) He owes me, and I
suppose he owes you also. Well, I will tell you what we will do; you shall
take his old squaw, and I will take his traps."
My boyish blood was all
ablaze at this, but as he was a "white-headed old man," I turned away in
I then went in to breakfast,
and when I came out I had an errand down the street, and presently met the
"Old Trader," all broken up and crying like a child. I said," What is the
matter?" and he burst out, "Oh, it is George! Poor George!" "What George?"
said I; and he said, "My son! my son!" And then it flashed upon me—for I
knew his son, like "Old Torn," the Indian, had become a victim of the same
Ah! thought I, this is
retribution quick and now.
I went on down to the town
hail, into which the lifeless body had been brought, and there, sure enough,
was poor George's body, chilled to death out on the ice while drunk!
One of the gentlemen present
said to me, "John, you must go and break this sad event to his wife."
I pleaded for someone else to
go, but it was no use. I was acquainted with the family, had often received
kind notice from this poor woman who now in this terrible manner was
widowed, and with a troubled heart I went on my sad errand.
What had spoken to her? No
human being had been near the house that morning, and yet, with blanched
face, as if in anticipation of woe, she met me at the door.
I said, "Be calm, madam, and
gather your strength," and I told her what had happened. It seemed to age me
to do this; what must it have been to this loving wife to listen to my tale!
She sat as dead for a minute, and then she spoke. "John, I will go with you
to my husband;" and, leaning and tottering on my arm, I took her to where
her dead husband lay.
It is awful to stand by the
honorable dead when suddenly taken from us while in the prime and vigor of
life, but this seemed beyond human endurance. No wonder I hate this accursed
I was very busy and happy
during my stay in Orillia. My employer and his good wife were exceedingly
kind, and I became acquainted with many whose friendship I value and esteem
today. At the end of the year I had saved all but $10 of my $60 salary, and
with this to the good and with father's hearty encouragement, I stared for
college once more.
This time I was at borne at
once. Even the old halls and class-rooms seemed to welcome me. Dr. Nelles
took me by the hand in a way which, in turn, took my heart. I received great
kindness from Dr. Harris and Dr. Whitlocke, Mr. (now Dr.) Burwash and Mr.
(now Dr.) Burns. I had these grand men before me as ideals, and I strove to
hold their friendship.
That year at college,
1859-60, is a green spot in my memory. It opened to me a new life; it gave
me the beginnings of a grip of things; it originated, or helped to, within
me a desire to think for myself. Everywhere—on the play- ground, in the
class-rooms, in the college halls, in the students' room—I had a good time.
I was strong and healthy, and, for my age, a more than average athlete. I
could run faster and jump farther than most of the students or town- boys. I
knew my parents were making sacrifices to keep me at college, and I studied
hard to make the most of my grand opportunity.
Thus the months flew almost
too quickly, and college closed and I went home; and, being still but a
young boy, was glad to see my mother and brothers and sisters, and to launch
the canoe and fish by the hour for bass and catfish, and even occasionally a
Why, even now I seem to feel
the thrill of a big black bass's bite and pull.
What excitement, what intense
anxiety, and what pride when a big fellow was safely landed in my canoe.
One day I was lazily paddling
around Limestone Point. The lake was like a mirror. I was looking into the
depths of water, when presently I saw some dark objects. I slowly moved my
canoe to obtain a right light, so as to see what this was, when to my
surprise I made out the dark things to be three large catfish.
Quietly I baited my hook and
dropped it down, down, near the mouth of one. They seemed to be sleeping. I
gently moved my baited hook, until I tickled the fellow's moustache. Then he
slowly awoke and swallowed my hook. I pulled easily, and without disturbing
the others put him in my canoe, and repeated this until the trio were again
side by side.
This was great sport—this was
great luck for our table at home.
In a little while Conference
sat, and my father was appointed to Norway House, Hudson's Bay.
This news came like a clap of
thunder into our quiet home at Rama. Hudson's Bay—we had a very vague idea
where that was; but Norway House, who could tell us about this?
Now, it so happened that we
were very fortunate, for right beside us lived Peter Jacobs. Peter had once
been a missionary, and had been stationed at Norway House and Lac-la-Pliue;
therefore to Peter I went for information. He told me Norway House was north
of Lake Winnipeg, on one of the rivers which flow into the Nelson; that it
was a large Hudson's Bay Company's fort, the head post of a large isict;
that our mission was within two miles of the fort; that the Indians were
quiet, industrious, peaceable people; "in fact," said he, "the Indians at
Norway House are the best I ever saw."—
All this was comforting,
especially to mother. But as to the route to be travelled, Peter could give
but little information.
He had come and gone by the
old canoe route, up the Kaministiqua and so on, across the height of land
down to Lake Winnipeg.
We were to go out by another
way altogether. I began to study the maps. This was somewhere I had not been
told anything about at school.
In the meantime father came
home. And though I did hope to work my way through college, when my father
sail, "My son, I want you to go with me," that settled it, and we began to
make ready for our big translation.