IMMIGRATION: Voyage to Quebec 1821

This article is from Emigration to Canada: Narrative of A Voyage to Quebec and Journey from Thence to New Lanark, in Upper Canada, by John McDonald, published in 1826

Having, with many of my countrymen determined to embark for Canada, little dreaming from the flattering accounts which had been so industriously published respecting that country, of the hardships attending such an undertaking, I left Glasgow for Greenock, to embark on board the ship David of London for Quebec, along with nearly 400 other passengers, where, having gone through the necessary steps at the custom-house, we left the quay on the 19th of May, 1821.

A steam boat dragged the ship to the tail of the bank, and the wind being favourable, we immediately sailed. In 28 hours we lost sight of land.  Having a fair wind for this space of time, with fine agreeable weather, we enjoyed the pleasure of walking on deck, and beholding the calm, unruffled face of the deep, which, combined with bold, rugged and romantic appearance of the coasts bordering on both sides of the firth, presented scenes that were truly delightful.

But, alas the picture was reversed.  The wind rose, a heavy gale commenced, and the waves rolled mountains high, and made a mighty noise. To see a ship making her way in the midst of a storm over these lofty billows, is both grand and awful.  We now became like drunken men, reeling and staggering to and fro. To walk the deck was impossible, and the places where the pots were erected for cooking, tumbled down, so that we could not get any victuals made ready. Some of our associates were compelled to mix a little meal and molasses, and use this composition as a substitute for finer fare. The comparative want of food, and the storm together, rendered us very weak.

The storm continued nine days. The captain affirmed that he had never witnessed a tempest of such long continuance at that season of the year. During the rest of the voyage, we had stormy days now and then, but none compared to the former, either in degree or duration.

Several times many of our company got themselves drenched with the waves of a heavy rolling sea breaking over the deck, and also which entered the hatch hole, wetted us very much. On this account, we were shut up completely in the hold.

At the commencement of the storm the weather became very cold. The circumstance was greatly in our favour, from our being so much crowded together, which in several respects was very disagreeable to our feelings. This cold state of the weather continued till we approached the mouth of the St Lawrence, when it became so warm, that I was nearly suffocated from the smell and the heat below deck.  I was consequently compelled to sleep on deck together with  many others, who were in a similar situation.

Every favourable day the Captain ordered all his passengers to bring up their clothes and air them.  The sick passengers were also ordered above, those who were unable being assisted.  The Captain was much afraid lest an infectious fever should get in amongst us. He himself was confined for some time by severe indisposition.

Four births took place during our passage, but three of the children died, and a boy of four years old. Another fell from the deck into the hold, and broke his arm. Had he not fallen upon some persons who were providentially at that time in that place, the event would probably been more serious.

Image result for Early photos of the St Lawrence River

Having entered the Gulf of St Lawence, we found it necessary to obtain a Pilot. The weather had become warmer, and the wind was a head of us, so our rate of sailing become slower, and we had to cast anchor several times. This  slower pace really helped those who were sick.  Having anchored, the Captain and several of the passengers went ashore. Some of the passengers returned with some rum, which was taken from them and thrown overboard, and produced blows between the sailors and the passengers, a small disturbance. A very disorderly night.

We arrived at Quebec on June 25th, when we were all inspected by the surgeon, and then passed through the custom house. We all slept that night on board, and by 6 oclock in the morning, the steam boat was laid alongside us, when we all set to work to get our luggage on board of it.  We continued all day at Quebec, and then went off in the steam boat at 11 oclock at night.

As we were setting out, a tremendous storm of thunder and lightening came on, the most dreadful that ever I saw or heard; the rain was also uncommonly heavy. There were nearly 400 people on board, the greater part of which were obligated to sit on deck all that night. Reader, you may easily guess our situation.  I can assure you, I myself and the greater part of all who were on deck were as thoroughly drenched as water could make us, and we all had to remain that way in our wet clothes till they dried on our backs.  Our chests were locked up in the hold, so we had no access to them, until we reached Montreal.

Here we arrived in 24 hours, a distance of 190 miles. This was the first of our trials going up country. The beds of the passengers who were stationed on the lee side of the boat, between the engine house and the paddles, were made literally to swim with the rain water. Every thing was spoiled, our very meal and bread being reduced to a state of dough. We now began to carry our luggage from the steam boat. Government provided waggons in abundance. We mutally assisted each other in loading them while women and children, and all who were unable to walk, got on the top of them as far as the village of La Chine, nine miles up the St Lawrence from Montreal.

Here we arrived on the 28th of June, and remained 4 days, till we got as many boats as we required. We then set out all together in 15 flat bottomed boats. Our number amounted to 366 persons.   This was a very difficult part of our journey, passing the rapids of the St Lawrence. Some of these have a very strong current.

Then all of the men who were able were necessitated to jump into the river to haul the boats, wading up the middle of their bodies, and sometimes deeper.

At the rapids the women and children were obliged to come out and walk. At very difficult places we were compelled to get two horses to haul every boat. Many suffered extremely from these hardships. Being destitute of dry clothes we were obliged to continue in this uncomfortable situation night and day.  Some took badly, and had to remain behind their families many days. Sometimes we had access to farm houses, and sometimes not. Others lay in the woods all night, and having kindled a fire, they would have cooked their supper in the best way they could, and spread such clothes under them that they had for a bed. I found in the morning my night-cap, blankets and mat so soaked with dew that they might have been rung. Some found shelter in barns. We made our journey from La Chine to Prescott, which is 120 miles. There we had to pitch our tents in the best way we could in the open field. The water ran below our beds most nights. The situation was now alarming. I continued here three weeks. This was the end of our water conveyance.

Here we found one half of the passengers of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, all those of the ship Commerce, and including us, the passengers of the David of London, the whole exceeded 1000 people. It took a long time to carry their luggage along the road of 74 miles to New Lanark, our destination.  We all had, each society, to wait our turn in getting away. Many died, and many were sick.  Two families were left orphans, whose mother had died on the ship Commerce. One man was bathing in the St Lawrence when he first stopped at La Chine. He had gone beyond his depth into the stream, and the velocity of the current swept him away. He left 9 or 10 children.

Image result for pioneer cabin Upper Canada

Prescott is a fine little town, and daily increasing–it is a military station. Two churches are building here. The only place of worship before this was a school house. We met here three Sabbath days, and those days were the most pleasant of all our days we spent in this foreign land. The majority of the inhabitants are Irish and French, and increasing  fast. Here the mail coach stops, this being the only road to Kingson, which is 62 miles straight up the river.

We left Prescott on July 30th at 9 o’clock, and travelled six miles that night and stopped at an inn. Here we took in our clothes and slept all night on the floor. Got up next morning by break of day, and arrived at Brockville, 9 miles distant and breakfasted there. This is another neat little town on the river side, and said to be advancing in population.  It contains several fine buildings, some of wood and others of brick. We stopped one hour only at this place. We went no further up the river, but struck back through the country. The next night we stopped at a farmer’s house, where we slept in his barn, amongst new hay, in which we felt some reptiles. We were afraid of snakes, having seen many of them on the road.

Image result for pioneer cabin Upper Canada

Here we tarried for our driver, waiting three hours for him. At last he came with a fresh horse, one of his own horses being knocked up the preceding night. We then set forward, but as we did the road became worse. Towards night it became so rough the horse was unfit to proceed. We got another waggoner to take the load, under the cloud of night, when we arrived at the driver’s house. We took in our bed clothes and got some supper made ready for us, as we stood very much in need of it. We were allowed to sleep on the floor.

We got up early the next morning, expected to have departed directly, but were detained till breakfast, so set off with the same horse, but a different driver. This wagon never overturned because the driver was very careful. One boy was killed on the spot, several were very much hurt, one man had his arm broken, and suddenly our horse was mired down, where he stuck fast. We were forced to remove the yoke from the poor animal and disengage his feet from the clay mud with hand spokes, before we got him freed. We got on. Not long after this, rain began to fall. We crept into the first farm house that we met. We lay by a fire all night so our clothes could dry.

Next morning, we hastened to end our journey. We could see no way to continue on the road. So we pulled up the farmer’s fences in two places to get through. There was an immense forest around us.  As we approached New Perth the road gradually improved, and the driver had us get on the waggon again, as we very much fatiqued. The horse took a step as I got on, and I fell out of the wagon on my back, and broke one of my ribs by lighting on a small stone. I was very bruised and so in a piteous plight I arrived at Perth.

I applied to a surgeon for medical aid, who advised me to bathe the injured part with vinegar, and bind it close and hard, which I did. I slept all night in a stable. A great many of my fellow travellers to this land of promise remained here, some on account of sickness and fatique, but others because the horse was knocked up and could go no further.

 Having advanced within two miles of New Lanark on the 4th of August, we were informed that no less than a four of a family were sick at the same times. I have known a whole family afflicted with a fever before it left them. The reason for this is clear and obvious, namely the immensity and closeness of the woods which surround us. No wind can penetrate and there is no circulation. The people live in a stagnant atmosphere. Think for a moment of the deplorable state of our unhappy, unthinking and deluded countrymen who are exposed for eight weeks to the noisesome immense woods, the excessive and rapid variations of a Canadian climate, the excessive humidity of an American atmosphere, without any shelter from the inclement weather, unable to stop the drenching showers. We saw a number of squirrels running about our beds, and we were frequently deprived of sleep from the unwelcome intrusion of oxen and cows. The swine will come to our heads to take away anything they could find or see, seizing what meat we had and running away with it in their mouths.