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A Lady's Life on a Farm in Manitoba

Mrs. Cecil Hal

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Title: A Lady's Life on a Farm in Manitoba Author: Mrs. Cecil Hal

Release Date: October, 2004 [EBook #6732]

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A LADY'S LIFE ON A FARM IN MANITOBA.

BY MRS. CECIL HALL.

PREFACE.

These letters were never intended for publication, and were only the details written to our family of an every-day life, and now put in the same shape and composition; not as a literary work, but in hopes that the various experiences we underwent may be useful to future colonists intending to emigrate and farm, either in Manitoba or Colorado.

M. G. C. H.

A LADY'S LIFE ON A FARM IN MANITOBA.

* * * * *

Queenstown, April 14th.

What joy! four hours in harbour given us to recruit our emaciated forms and write you a few lines of our experiences and trials. You wished us to keep a diary with every detail, which we will try our best to do, beginning by tel ing of the cheerless journey to Liverpool in rain, the elements even seeming to lament our departure. The bad weather has lasted more or less ever since, just one gleam of sunshine brightening us up on leaving the wharf, but we saw nothing of the Mersey or the surroundings. The only thing that struck us most forcibly was the smal ness of our ship, though it was 6,000 tons. It has just been re-docked and overhauled, and stil smells horribly of paint and ful of workmen, whom, however, we drop here, in exchange for 1,200

emigrants. These, with about sixty first-class passengers and a hold ful of potatoes, form our cargo. We began life bravely last night, enjoying a very good dinner, and after playing a rubber of whist retired to our berths congratulating ourselves on what excellent sailors we were going to be; but alas!... Dressing this morning was too difficult, the ship rolled fearfully, even the friends who came with us thus far, and consider themselves first-class sailors, think that it wil be more prudent to go by train through Ireland home, instead of waiting for the return boat of the same line which calls here on Sunday and is to take them to Liverpool. We almost wish we could turn tail; the prospect of ten days more of the briny ocean is not what at this moment we most fancy. However, in the short time we have been in harbour we have been recruiting to start afresh, and hope for better weather.

* * * * *

Mid Atlantic.

Dearest M.

I sadly fear I must have contributed more paving-stones for a certain region; for many good resolutions did I make in starting, and not one of them has been kept, not even so much as writing daily a portion of a letter to be sent home from New York. And now my long story wil have to be cut short, and the doings of the last fifteen days wil have to be crowded into a very limited space; for we are in sight of land, and our excitement can only be compared to that of school boys the last day of the term. The joy of landing wil not be unmingled with regrets in parting from our fel ow-passengers, with whom we have become fast friends; and we are inclined mutually to believe in transmigration of souls, and that we must have known each other in some prior state. Some are going into Minnesota, three of them having bought 13,000 acres in the Red River valley, which they are going to farm on a large scale, and hope in four years to have made fortunes, another owns mines in Colorado, having been one of the first pioneers of the San Juan district; he is in a fair way to a princely fortune. I fear golden apples wil not be strewn on our paths, even though we are bound the furthest west. Fifteen days have we been out of sight of land; two days out from Queenstown we broke a piston-rod, which obliged us to lay to, in a fearful y rough sea, for five hours. Next day one of our four boilers burst, and again another piston-rod; which accidents, combined with contrary winds and heavy seas, reduced our speed to nearly half for the remainder of the journey. Our spirits have not flagged, as, thanks to various small games such as pitch-and-toss, running races when the ship was rolling, quoits, and cards, we have not found time unbearably long. The last few days we have had big sweepstakes on the run of the ship; but, unfortunately, none of our party have won them. One evening we had a concert; but you may imagine the talent on board was not great when they had to cal upon one of us to accompany the _prima donna_, and the other to sing a second in a duet; another evening we danced--or rather tried to--our band consisting of a concertina and a flute, played by two of the steerage passengers, but the vessel rolled so persistently that we often lost our equilibrium and reeled like drunken men and women.

I must stop: curiosity bids me go on deck. We shal shortly be in the quarantine harbour, the entrance of which is said to be very fine; though I very much doubt our being able to see anything, as, in spite of being in this much boasted climate of the new world, it is raining and is dul enough to rejoice the hearts of true John Bul s like your daughter's.

* * * * *

NAVY YARD, NEW YORK, April 30th.

I hope you will have got our letters sent off by the ship's boat the night before we were al owed to land, as, though we arrived in the quarantine harbour at 7 o'clock, it was too late for the Custom-house and medical officers to inspect us; we therefore had to lay to, and only moved up to the wharf about 8 o'clock the next morning. We were greeted by a most kind letter of welcome, and the first thing we saw as we got to the dock was the Navy Yard Tug with the Commodore and daughters on board to receive us; and, thanks to them, we had no difficulties or bothers. The Custom-house men went through the form of opening two of our boxes and inquiring into the age of our saddle, which had been used but looked terribly new, hardly as if it had been in wear six months, which is the given period for things to pass in free of duty. We then steamed round New York through much shipping and under a most marvel ous new suspension bridge, which is to join New York and Brooklyn, to the dockyard; where we had another most hearty reception from our hostess. They had all been in a fidget at our being so many days late, and directly the ship was telegraphed off Sandy Hook the last night, in spite of the pouring rain, the Commodore had gone down in the tug to the Quarantine Harbour to try and get us off.

Since our arrival we have been "doing" New York, and are woeful y disappointed in the size of the streets. Fifth Avenue I expected to find a Parisian Boulevard with trees lining the "side walks,"

instead of houses of al shapes and sizes, which are good inside, judging by one of the large ones we went to see, but nothing much from the outside. Day-light in the streets is almost shut out in the "City" part of the town by the endless telegraph wires and advertisements hung across, to say nothing of the elevated railroads built on iron girders, which circulate round at the height of second-floor windows. We have made a good deal of use of the railroad; it is pleasanter than our under-ground, the atmosphere being "rather" clearer, though at first it is startling to see the twists and curves the trains give to get round the corners of the streets, and to watch the moving of objects at about forty feet below you.

I am not at al surprised people do not care to drive much, as tramways pass through every street almost, and al are so badly paved that paint and springs would suffer. The ferry-boats which ply between the cities, starting every five minutes from different wharves, astonished us most; waggons, carriages, &c., all drive on twenty at a time, and three or four hundred foot-passengers, the latter paying two cents per passage.

On the whole I think we have seen almost everything that is to be seen. We spent an afternoon in the Central Park, lunched at both of Delmonico's restaurants, dined at the invitation of our banker at "Pinards," where the roses were lovely, the centre bouquet measuring two feet across, and each lady having different-coloured bunches on her serviette; a play at Walleck's, theatre both pretty and wel -ventilated, and a most splendid exit, the stal s on the same level as the street--the whole place seemed to empty itself in about five minutes; and a day's expedition to Statten Island, from which we had a lovely view of New York, its surroundings, and the whole harbour. To-morrow we are to go for three nights to Washington, returning here to start westwards on Monday, though everybody tel s us we are going too early in the year. The spring in Manitoba has been very late. A----, writing on the 26th of April, says they are just starting work, but cannot do much at present on account of the water from the melted snow not having run off. The rivers have broken up. The Red River carried away one of the two bridges at Winnipeg. He happened to be in town at the time, and although he didn't see the bridge go, saw it afterwards and the jam. The ice was blocked for about a mile above, tumbling all over the place, making the river rise about ten feet an hour, washing out al the neighbouring houses. It lasted about ten hours, then crash it al went, floating quietly down the stream, the water receding at the same time. There has been so much snow this year, which makes everything backward; but it has al gone in a week. It must be quite marvel ous how quickly it disappears, as, going from one farm to the other, distance about seven miles, starting at 4 o'clock A.M. with the thermometer showing twenty degrees of frost, when the sun got up it was so hot he, A----, couldn't get back. Next morning, starting equal y early, he only travel ed two miles; the snow was so soft the horses sank at every step above their knees. He was trying to take a sledge-load of hay over to his "Boyd" farm. The cattle there having run very short lately, they even had to take some of the thatching, which was of hay, off the roof of the stable to feed the animals. We may have difficulty in getting up to Winnipeg, as the railroad is washed away within about eighty miles of the place, and the passengers are transferred to a steamer, which takes them twenty miles to another train. There was a fear of famine in Winnipeg, as no provisions could be got up. Lots of emigrants, when they saw the water, turned back. Good-night, we have packing to do to be off early in the tug which takes us over to Jersey city to catch our train to Washington at 10 o'clock on the Pennsylvanian Railway.

The Commodore's son, who is home on leave, goes with us, and we have many introductions. We are bidden to a reception at the White House, and have been vainly endeavouring to get into some of our hostess's smart gowns; but, alas! they are al too short, so we shal have to be content with our own black foulards.

* * * * *

RIGG'S HOUSE, WASHINGTON, May 2nd.

We had our first experience of drawing-room cars coming down here, with very comfortable arm-chairs, and one seems to do the journey of 200 miles easily, in about six hours, through very pretty country. I never saw such people as Americans for advertising; al along the line, on every available post or rail, you see, "Chew Globe Tobacco," "Sun Stove Polish," &c.

We enjoyed the reception at the White House. Our invitation was from 8 to 10 o'clock P.M.: we arrived before the doors were open, and had to wait some few minutes in the entrance, which is glazed in, and where the drums of our ears were sorely tried by a noisy military band, which when you get into the rooms and at a distance sounded well, but not just alongside. After depositing our cloaks, we filed by two and two past the President, shaking hands with him and the wife of the Secretary of State, who receives when there is no Mrs. President, and then wandered through the six remaining rooms, being introduced to several people as Mrs. H---- of England, and Miss W---- of England, which we thought would not convey much to their minds excepting that we were two very un-smart Englishwomen; though we were much consoled about our clothes which did not look so peculiar, every sort of costume being worn, even to bonnets. No refreshments are given, so that we were glad that supper was included in the "Menu du jour" at our Hotel.

I shal not pretend to describe Washington to you. Any guide-book would give a more satisfactory account, but it is much more my idea of a city of the New World; the streets are well paved, are nice and broad; then the houses are general y standing in their own grounds, with trees and flowers; altogether it may be called an "elegant" city. The people were most kind and civil to us. One afternoon we made two "cabinet" cal s on ministers, but the other afternoon we went for a drive across the Potomac to Arlington, the ancestral place of the Lees, which was confiscated after the war and is now a soldier's burying-ground. It has an exquisite view across the river. The only thing that distressed us was the bearing-reins on the nice little pair of chesnuts in the buggy.

The reins are crossed over their nose, passed between the ears, and fastened tight to the saddle, which forces the head right back and nearly saws the mouth in two. We never rested until we had loosened them, which was supposed to be the reason why the horses broke in their trot afterwards, as they were supposed to require a support.

The weather has been quite delightful, bright sunny days but not hot; and if only the houses and hotels were not kept at such a suffocating temperature, we should be very happy both in and out of doors. The artificial heat has completely knocked us up in Brooklyn. We had a lovely big room with a large bay window besides another window, where we often retired for a blow of fresh air; the result has been that we both have had bad crying colds.

* * * * *

CHICAGO, May 11th.

We are now half way to Manitoba, and have real y done the journey thus far so easily that it seems nothing of a drag; and if it wasn't for the Atlantic, A---- would not seem to be at the end of the world, which we fancied whilst in England.

We left Brooklyn on Wednesday morning, very sorry to part from the Commodore and his family, who have been most kind and friendly, trying their best to make us feel at home. Unfortunately, having only just got the appointment and lately taken up their residence at the Navy Yard, they could do no entertaining. Anyhow, we have had a very pleasant insight into the home life of America, which differs in smal ways a good deal from ours, and in character, habits, and everything there is a widish gulf between the two races.

Our train here was a splendid one, stopping only about sixteen times, and doing the nine hundred miles in thirty-six hours. We had a section in the Pullman, which makes a double seat facing each other by day, and at night the two seats are converted into a bed, with the second bed pulled down from the roof, on which mattresses, blankets, and sheets are al arranged with a projecting board at the head and foot, and a curtain in front, so that one is quite private, and we slept like tops. We had also a dining-car on, where every luxury of the season, to strawberries and cream, were served by the blackest of niggers in the whitest of garments, for the sum of a dol ar a head per meal.

Only fancy our delight, after leaving Harrisburgh about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, to find friends in the train, people from an adjoining county in England who knew al our friends, and with whom we had much in common. I need hardly tell you that we did

"chin" it until our ways parted at this station, they going to the Grand Pacific, we to the Treemont which had been recommended to us as being a quieter hotel for ladies alone.

Men make these hotels their club, where they smoke and lounge all day; but as there is a second door for ladies, one is not bothered in any way unless you want to go to the office for information.

We are astonished at the enormous piles of buildings in this city; land, one would think, must be cheap. Al the shops cover an equal y large area, though, in many, several offices are on one floor. It is too marvellous to think, when one looks at this place, that three and a half square miles in the centre of the town, which is now in regular handsome broad streets, the fire of eleven years ago should have so completely burnt everything to the ground, though now not a vestige of the conflagration is left. The houses have even had time to get quite blackened with the smoke of the soft coal they use, which is found in great quantities al through Pennsylvania; the mines and furnaces we passed on our way up.

The country the whole way was very pretty. We crossed the Susquehana river, which is grand in width and scenery, and started the Juanita through a chain of mountains turning in and out with every bend of the river, so that one felt always on the slant and could generally see either end of the train. Unfortunately it poured with rain the whole way, so any distant views or tops of mountains were invisible. Some of the country is like England, undulating, rol ing, well-cultivated fields, enclosed with pailings which overlap each other and would be awkwardish obstacles in a hunting country; but one misses, like abroad, the cattle--we saw one or two stray cows, but little else. Around Chicago it is a flat plain, and, as there has been a good deal of rain lately, water is out everywhere. For the last hour of our journey we came through the suburbs, and, as there is no protection whatsoever to the line, we had to come very slowly (about seven miles an hour), ringing a great bell attached to the engine to announce our arrival, as children, cows, vans, &c. go along the line in the most promiscuous way; it is extraordinary that more accidents do not happen. By law, I believe, the train ought to go very slowly wherever lines cross each other; anyhow they must ring the bel , the result being that the bells seem going all day when you are anywhere near the station. We were given introductions to one or two people here, one gentleman putting himself at our disposal to show us "around straight away;"

and we visited the principal shops, streets, park, which is land reclaimed from the lake, and the tramways, which are worked with a pul ey from a centre about six miles off. A Chinaman in San Francisco was once heard to describe the said tramways as "No horsey, no steamy, go helly."

The weather has, unfortunately, been wet and much against sight-seeing, the streets in consequence are too indescribably dirty, mud inches deep, and everyone is so busy making money that they have not time to pul up those who are responsible and insist on the streets being cleaned, though the money is yearly voted by the municipality, and general y supposed to be pocketed by the authorities. We leave this to-night for St. Paul, much impressed on the whole with Chicago. There are one or two more sights I should like to have seen, such as the two tunnels under the river, but I fancy one leaks and the other is unusable for some other reason. I should also have liked to have been to one of the Niggers' revival meetings; but not to the pork manufactory, where pigs go in alive, are kil ed and cured ready for exportation in less than twenty minutes. Our friends went there this morning, and the descriptions they gave were not particularly inviting. The lady hadn't been able to touch a mouthful of food al day afterwards, and declared it would be years before she could eat pork. I also have been dying to see a house on the move, but had to content myself with looking at a large brick house, which not three years ago had been moved back 150 yards bodily. Chicago is getting too old a city, and ground is too expensive, for people to be able to change the sites of their houses when the fancy takes them; in St. Paul or Winnipeg we may have the satisfaction of meeting one coming down the street.

* * * * *

THE MERCHANT'S HOTEL, ST. PAUL, May 16.

We left Chicago Friday night for this place at about 9 o'clock, and, thanks to a letter of recommendation to the conductor, two lower berths were assigned to us, and we even had the privilege of not having the uppers pulled down. It is a curious regulation in the Pullman cars, that should the upper not be tenanted it must be opened or else paid for by the occupant of the lower; so unless one takes a whole section one is bound to have a great board just above one's head, which in nine cases out of ten prevents our sitting up in bed, and one never can have much ventilation.

We were awoke earlier on Saturday morning than we either of us quite appreciated, to be in time for breakfast at La Crosse at 7

o'clock. La Crosse is a large settlement of sawmills on the banks of the Mississippi, for cutting up the wood brought down by the curiously flat-bottomed steamers worked by a paddle in stern the same width as the boat, and which push innumerable rafts of wood before them. We saw several of these steamers, and were detained for a long time on the bridge which crosses the Mississippi, said to be a mile and a quarter long, whilst the farther end of it was drawn aside to allow of two steamers passing through. Our railroad skirted the banks of the river, and we were very excited at seeing an Indian and his squaw in a canoe going down stream. The conductor of the car conversed with us a good deal the whole way, was most anxious to know al about our comings and goings, and told us he would be glad to "learn the train by which we returned, as no ladies would ever be allowed to leave Manitoba."

Unfortunately we took his advice about the hotels in this place, and on arriving came to the wrong inn. This one is the most frequented, being close to the station, but certainly is not as pleasant, either as regards company or situation, as the other, the Metropolitan. We found one of our fellow Atlantic passengers at the last-named, and I never saw anyone so genuinely glad to see friends. He is one of the three men we told you about, who have invested in thirteen thousand acres in Minnesota. He is down here trying to hurry the contractors who are to build their houses and stables at Warren; also to buy farming implements and lumber. His horses and mules he intends buying at St. Louis. He gives a most vivid account of al the roughing they have under gone. They are living in a small way-side inn, nine men in one room with no furniture. One of them managed one night to get hold of a stretcher in lieu of a bed, and just as he was settling down to his first beauty-sleep a carter came and told him to move on, as the stretcher was his. He suggested that as we are to pass Warren we should pay them a visit on our way up; that he would take up a tent and furniture, besides provisions; but I do not think it sounds inviting enough, as, though I do believe we should do the community a good turn, besides the pleasure of our company, they would have a tent and a few luxuries after our departure, instead of feeding, as they daily do, on beans and bacon, living in a filthy hotel and having had nothing to wash in until they bought themselves a bucket. Last night, just after we had gone to bed, a loud knock was made at our door, and a man asked "if we intended getting up to-night," at which we were furious; but he persisted in the most determined way in questioning us as to whether "it wasn't Mrs. H----'s room," and we had time to get more than angry before we recognised A----'s voice and simultaneously both jumped out of bed to receive him, _en deshabil e_. It is very nice of him coming all this way, four hundred miles, to meet us. He looks much the same as ever, only as brown as a berry from the reflection of a fortnight's sun on the snow. He is wonderful y cheery, seems glad to see us, has so many questions to ask of you all, and swears by the healthiness of the Canadian climate and the life they lead at the farm. We are none of us ever to be sick or sorry again!

We have been a long drive to-day, starting at 11 o'clock, and only back just in time to do our last packing, send off this letter, and dine before we go on to Winnipeg at about 7 o'clock. We drove across a bridge on the Missouri to Fort Snel don, a miniature Aldershot, with huts and tents, and a beautiful stretch of grass for manoeuvres or gal oping, on to the Minhaha Fal s, where, we stayed some time gazing and admiring and even walking under the fal s. The volume of water fal ing seemed extraordinary, but was completely eclipsed by the fal s of St. Anthony at Minneopolis, which we saw later. The latter original y fel perpendicularly; but to utilise them for the enormous saw-mil s built at the water's edge they have been under-planked, so that the water goes down in a slant. We were most fascinated by the sight, and watched the torrent from various points of view.

Minneopolis is much like other Western towns we have seen, semi-detached houses standing in their own grounds, the grass in many instances wel kept, but utterly destitute of flowers, which one misses so much. This place, St. Paul's, is beautiful y situated, built on both sides of the river, the banks of which are very steep. Good-night; in twenty-four hours more we hope to be at our destination in the far North-west. But we are not to go out immediately to the farm, as we are arriving rather earlier than A---- expected, and the men who have been living with him all the winter cannot turn out before Friday to make room for us; so we are to stay in Winnipeg for a day or two.

* * * * *

WINNIPEG, May 18th.

Here we are, and we do feel ourselves real y landed in the far North, after a most prosperous journey the whole way. We arrived

"quite on time" last night, rather an unusual thing with these trains, particularly since the floods, when the passengers were dependent on the steamer, we saw yesterday as we passed high and dry on the prairie, which had to convey them from one train to another across the floods close to St. Vincent.

O the prairie! I cannot describe to you our first impression. Its vastness, dreariness, and loneliness is appal ing. Very little is under cultivation between this and St. Paul, so that only a house here and there breaks the line of horizon. There are a few cotton and aspen trees along the Red River Val ey, but with that exception the landscape for the last fifteen hours' travel ing has been like the sea on a very smooth day, without a beginning or an end.

We were met at the station here by one of A----'s friends, who drove us out about a mile and a half from the town across the Assiniboine over a suspension bridge built exactly opposite the old Fort Garry, and somewhere close to the spot where our first English pioneers must have landed from the river steamer some twelve years ago to a very comfortable house belonging to another mutual friend, a dear kind old gentleman whose wife and daughter being away has placed the whole house at our disposal until we can get out to the farm, which we find is sixteen miles off.

It wil be very difficult to describe everything to you. To begin with, the depot or station presented a curious appearance, such crowds of men loafing about with apparently no other object but to watch the new arrivals; so different to English stations where everyone seems in a hurry either coming or going. And then the roads we had to drive along defy description. The inches (no other word) of mud, and the holes which nearly capsize one at every turn. Even down Main Street the roads are not stoned or paved in any way. We bumped a good deal in our carriage, and for consolation at any worse bumping than usual were told, "This is nothing, wait until you get stuck in a mud-hole out west." Then our route, thanks to the floods which have been very bad this year and are stil out enormously--the upper floors of two-storied houses only being visible in many places,--was most intricate. We had to be pioneered over a ditch into a wood, supposed to be cleared, with the stumps of trees left sticking about six inches out of the ground for your wheels to pass over, on to a track, and then through a potato garden to the house.

We were quite ready for our supper, it being about 8 o'clock when we got here; and the food at Glyndon, where we stopped twenty minutes in the middle of the day to "put away" the contents of sixteen dishes of some various mess or another, had not been of the most inviting of meals; and though the chops here were the size of a smal leg of mutton and had the longest bones I ever saw, hunger was the best of appetisers, and we did credit to our meal, which had been cooked by our host.

This morning we were awoke by the same kind person depositing a can of water at our door for our baths. He gets up very early, as he has to fetch the water, milk the cow, feed the calf, etc., al before breakfast and starting off for his office.

There is a m