Immigrants to Canada

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Prince Edward's Island, c1821

This is taken from Emigration to Canada: Narrative of a Voyage to Quebec, and Journey from Thence to new Lanark, in Upper Canada by John M'Donald, published in 1826, pp 28-34. (After going to Lanark, M'Donald travelled to other parts of present day Canada. This is an excerpt of his views on Prince Edward Island.)

I will now proceed to give an account to the reader of Prince Edward's Island, according to information; and I think it is good; and I wish to point out the different bays; to make the reader acquainted with the situation, extent, general appearance, as well as the particular places worth mentioning upon the island. It lies near the southern boundaries of the Gulph of St. Lawrence, between 46 and 47 deg. North latitude, and 61 and 64 west longitude; surrounded by that gulph on all sides, with Newfoundland to the north east, Cape Breton on the east, Nova Scotia on the South, New Brunswick and Mirimachi to the west, and the Bay of Chaleur and Lower Canada to the north west. It is between 117 and 120 miles long; the average breadth may be about 30 miles, but in this respect it is very irregular; it is narrow at both ends. The soil of the whole island has been thrown up by water, it is therefore very fine, and nearly all of one kind and quality, and is laid upon a bottom of red soft freestone, which, in some part on the shores, rises no higher than the level of the sea, and in other parts not so high; but where it does rise to a considerable height on the shores, it is so soft and loose in its contexture, that the frost and tide are wasting it in exposed situations considerably. The soil is 3 or 4 feet deep, to be observed in the banks round the shores, and in many parts it is 10 to 12 feet deep. The land is in general low and level, but here is little of it a dead level, except the marshes on the shores or in the interior; these are all moss, and where the salt water does not come near them, it is believed they will furnish excellent peat or turf for the fire when the wood is all burnt. I said, the land is in general low, yet there are gentle rising grounds, but no high hills-none of it so steep as to render ploughing in convenient, both up bank as well as down. From this you will learn that the whole island might be cultivated if the wood were destroyed. Except the marshes, the land is generally dry, with no rock near the surface, and in few parts even loose stones. On the south-east side of the island the sea has receded from the land a good way, where a large sand ridge is thrown up, and a long lake is formed upon the back of it, where the tide comes and goes by an entrance a considerable way to the south-west. This is called East Lake; another lake to the west of this supplied with the flowing tide at the same inlet, is called West Lake. The land bordering on these lakes is good, and lately settled. From Perthshire the scene is beautiful and romantic, but it lies far from market; the roads are ill opened up, and there is no good harbour for shipping.

After we leave these lakes, the land is thinly settled. The next place is called Colville Bay: the French are settlers here. The next bay to this is Rollo Bay, also settled with French. The next is Fortune Bay, a beautiful settlement with a good deal of clear land on it, and a number of schooners belonging to it that trade to Newfoundland, Halifax, &c. There are several other bays along the coast here, called Eglington Cove, Howe Bay, Spry Cove, Broughton Bay, and River or Grand River. They are mostly settled with Roman Catholics. There is excellent herring fishing in the month of May here, and the people attend from considerable distances with their nets to catch them. The next place we come to is Cardigan Bay or Three Rivers; this is the best harbour upon the island; it has the greatest depth of water, easiest of entrance, the best shelter, earliest, open in the spring, and latest in shutting in the fall or winter. One of the three principal towns projected by Government, called George Town, is intended to stand here, but no man of property and enterprise has yet pitched his tent here, so as to give the town and trade of the port a beginning, although it is certainly the most eligible situation upon the island; a small house or two is all that it can yet boast of. To the west of this, about 12 miles, is Murray Harbour, which may be entered, it is said, by vessels of nearly 300 tuns[sic] burthen, at high water. This is a very pleasant, thriving, and comfortable settlement. We have now arrived at the broadest part of the island, so that from the shore, a little west from Murray Harbour, at a place called White Sands, across the island to Savage Harbour on the north shore, it is about 35 miles wide or more. The next place we arrive at is Wood's Island. There are several miles of excellent front land unsettled. Passing Wood's Island, we come to Belle Creek, Flat River, Jenyn's River or Pinnet, that runs out into the gulph in a westerly direction, called Point Prim. On the north side of this, a large bay, called Oruell Bay, runs into the land a long way. On the south side of it lies the settlement of Belfast, the settlers Highlanders, and mostly protestants. With this Bay, Pounal and Hillsborough Bay, all connect. At the head of Hillsborough Bay, we enter the river of the same name and the harbour of Charlotte Town. The tide flows up this river in a north-easterly direction for nearly twenty four miles. On the north-west side of this river, about four miles above its junction with the bay of the same name, stands the beautiful town of Charlotte Town, with its streets all regularly laid out. The principal streets running from the river side are eighty, and the cross streets forty feet in breadth, there is a large square in the middle of the town, where the court house, the high church, and market house stand with plenty of open ground. The houses are all of wood, and those that are well done up and painted look very elegant. Brick would be much better to build with. Here is an opening for brick-makers, for there is only one on the island. There are few settlers till we come to a place called Disabble, then to Crappo, where small vessels load with timber. These are both new settlements, but likely to improve rapidly, as the proprietor is said to be liberal, and the agent active and anxious to make great improvements. A little to the west of this is Tryon River, a very small river, but the prettiest settlement upon the island. There are excellent marshes on each side of ti; a long way the clearances are large and regular, the arable land rising gently behind the marshes, and both dry and convenient for all the purposes of agriculture,[sic] The island is beginning to narrow much as we proceed a little farther to the west. A large bay, called Halifax Bay, intersects the island on the southern side, and Richmond Bay on the north, so that the island is not more than four or five miles in breadth. West Cape half way down it, and Cape Wolf at the bottom. But it is all unsettled here, as it is all round the west end of the island. We next come to Holland Bay; the next is Richmond Bay, which is very large and spacious, with good anchorage for ships of heavy burthen, but the water is often far from the shore: on the eastern side of this bay lies Malpeque or Prince Town, intended as the third country town on the island, though not a single house of it has hitherto been built. The lands round it were long since settled.

The next harbour we arrive at is New London, where schooners can enter. The land here is good and there are large clearances. The next is Great Rastico, or Harris Bay, which is said to admit only small fishing schooners. The next settlements are Brackly Point, and little Rastico, or Cove Head, which are old settlements. The harbour will admit only small schooners. To the east of this a little way we come to Tracady, or Bedford Bay. This is also an old settlement, mostly peopled with Roman Catholics. No large vessels can enter here, and the bay runs so far in land as to reach within three or four miles of Hillsborough river, which empties itself below Charlotte Town on the south side of the island.

We have now arrived at the broadest part of the island. On the northern shore, a little to the west, we come to the bottom of St. Peter's Bay, which runs in a slanting easterly direction, about ten miles into the country. This was the principal sea-port at the time the French were masters of the island; but the entrance has now become shallow and difficult, and will only admit small craft. From the entrance of this bay, to Surveyor's Inlet, or North Lake, it is very near East Point, a distance of from 35 to 40 miles.-There is no place of shelter for vessels of any kind whatever. The shore is settled all the way, and the land cleared back to a considerable distance. The settlers here are Highlanders, from Long Island, Roman Catholics. This quarter of the island has no market near it in the interior, and no harbour to load their produce for exportation.

I have now given to the reader a glance round the whole island. The above inlet is very near East Point, from whence I set out round its shores. It may be useful to intending emigrants, in enabling them to take their passage to the right port, when they have previously fixed on the spot where they intend to settle. To be well advised in this point may save much expence and trouble, after landing upon the island.

They have no green feeding for their cattle in winter, for they never think of giving them a service of potatoes; and from the poor way in which their cattle are fed during winter some of them die of weakness. New settlers, unless they get marsh bay along with their farms at first, get slowly on, in keeping stock. The only next is upland hay, and mown till it is entirely done out. It may be asked, how shall we get clothing? Those who bring a bad supply with them, find this a very difficult matter for several years after settling here. They may have plenty of flax immediately, but wool they cannot command. They must have upland hay to feed their sheep over winter, before they can keep any; and the old settlers are wearing home-spun cloth, both men and women, and excellent cloth it is. The rents in general are only from five pounds to seven pounds ten shillings per hundred acres and it is only at the end of six or seven years after entry that they arrive at so much.-About the first of November drizzling rains come on, and then the cold winds begin to blow, with sleety showers. About the beginning of December the frost becomes more serious, very cold and penetrating-the snow now begins to descend until it measures 3 and 3 feet in depth. The atmosphere then become clear and calm, but on the calmest day the trees were cracking with the strength of the frost. The ears are in danger of being frost-bitten, if not covered over, and even sometimes the nose and cheeks. Persons have been known to loose their toes, by riding on horseback, or walking through the snow with wet feet. The frost here strikes upon the skin like fire, and causes a painful sensation, like that felt upon application of a blistering plaster,-yet it does not go through the body nor affect the lungs like the cold in Britain. The air is so pure, so dry, and bracing, that if the body is kept in motion, the skin covered, and the feet dry, there is little to be dreaded from the greatest frost here.


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