« AnteriorContinuar »
great fire, especially as to the fearful rapidity with which it hurried on, with the roar of a great sea, before the sweeping hurricane which propelled it. On our way we saw fires burning in the woods in many places, which, in this dry season, only required a little wind to spread in one blaze over the whole forest. Atone spot, wliere the road ran along the edge of the forest, separating it from the cleared land, which lay between the road and the river, we passed six or eight men employed in watching for the fall of sparks, and extinguishing any which might come over from the burning woods, to the imminent danger of their crops.
In a country like this, one learns to look upon trees in a new light. Not only are they an obstacle to cultivation, which must therefore be cut down and burnt; but, so long as natural woods are near, it is dangerous to leave any about the dwelling-house for shelter or ornament. During this summer's tour, I was shown places where the spreading of fire from the forest to a few ornamental trees had caused the destruction of the whole farm buildings, to the almost total ruin of the proprietor. Thus a reason appears for the nakedness which an Englishman almost feels when in the midst of a large clearing. An unsheltered house appears, while the stumps of magnificent trees all around show how well it might have been protected from wind and sun.
Except upon the immediate banks of the river, there are few settlements along this road; and, in general, the upland is very poor until we descend to within twenty or thirty miles of the mouth of the Miramichi. About a dozen miles from Boistown, I had a conversation with a small farmer, Irish by birth, but resident from his infancy in this country. He had been in his farm only three years. By hiring himself as a working lumberer, he had saved £80, and with this he bought his present farm. It contains two hundred acres, and had ten acres cleared
upon it, and a small log-house, but no barn. . He has built a barn and added to his clearing, and if seasons come round, he should do well.
We passed houses and clearings, however, which were altogether deserted. This was partly owing to the failures in the crops, which have ruined so many of all classes in Ireland as well as here; partly to the failure of the lumber-trade, and to the debts and mortgages in which the small farmers, by engaging in this trade, had gradually become involved.
A stranger does not readily comprehend how a depression in the lumber-trade should seriously affect the interests of the rural population in any other way than in lessening the demand for produce, and in lowering prices. And it was not till I had been longer in the country, and conversed with many persons on the subject, that I was enabled clearly to separate, in my own mind, the evils which this trade had brought upon the rural population from those which were necessarily attendant upon the calling of a farmer.
In lumbering, a man goes into the woods in winter, cuts down trees, and hauls them to a brook, down which, when the spring freshets come, he can float them to the main river, and then to the saw-mills of the merchant to whom he sells them. If a man does this upon his own 1 farm, or at no great distance from it, and by the aid of his own family only, all he gets for his wood is pure gain—if, in the mean time, he has been living on the produce of his own farm. .
But if he goes to a distance from his own farm, and has been obliged to hire labourers, or has done so with the view of enlarging his operations, he must apply to the merchant for an advance of stores adequate to the winter's consumption. The cost of these stores, and the wages of his men, are deducted from the value of the
98 HOW LUMBERING INTERFERES WITH FARMING.
wood he has obtained; and if the price of wood be not very low, he may still have a handsome surplus.
Such circumstances lure him on till an unfavourable winter comes, and he is not successful in cutting as good lumber, or in as large a quantity as usual, or in hauling it to the floating place; or a very late spring, or very shallow water, prevents him from getting it to market. Then his debt to the merchant for stores, and for money to pay his men, must stand over to another year; and his farm is mortgaged as security for the payment.
Meanwhile this farm has been more or less neglected, and has been every year growing less produce. His wood must be floated in spring, when his crops ought to be put into the ground. He has been absent in winter, when new land might have been cleared. His mind is occupied with other cares: he does not settle to his agricultural pursuits, and they are therefore badly conducted, even when he is at home to superintend them. And, lastly, while living in the woods, both employer and employed live on the most expensive food. They scorn anything but the fattest pork from the United States, and the finest Genessee flour. The more homely food, therefore, which their own farms produce, becomes distasteful to them; and thus expensive and sometimes immoral habits are introduced into their families, which cause more frequent demands upon the merchant, and a consequent yearly increase of the unpaid bills. : In such a state of things, the foreclosing of mortgages, the sale of farms, and the emigration of ruined families, must necessarily be of occasional occurrence. But if the price of lumber fall very much at any period, they must become more frequent; or, if a merchant who holds many of these mortgages himself fails, a common ruin will involve all. Both of these evils have at once befallen the lumbering farmers on the Miramichi, and much distress has been the result. To this cause was
owing the abandonment of farms by persons who, leaving both debts and mortgages behind, and taking with them any capital they could secure, had moved west to lumber on the Aroostook, or to begin life anew in the far off Wisconsin.
I have been thus detailed in my observations upon this subject, because I felt myself inclined to be unjust in my judgment as to the agricultural capabilities of a district from which so many were emigrating, and in which land was so little esteemed that its owners appeared to be abandoning it, with all their improvements, merely because it refused to support their families. A knowledge of all the circumstances, however, satisfactorily showed that not the land, but the haste of its owners to become rich, and their discontent with the slow but certain gains of agriculture, were the causes of the distress from which so many of the farmers were suffering.
With the view of obtaining a more general body of testimony in regard to the agricultural condition of New Brunswick, I was enabled, through the kind co-operation of the Provincial Government, to circulate a set of queries among the owners of the land in every county of the province. One of these queries referred to the profits of pure farming; and the numerous answers I received were unanimous in declaring—– That, in every part of the province, those who for a series of years had confined their attention to farming alone, had all, without exception, done well.” That prosperity, therefore, may attend the new settler, or may return to the older farmers of the province, it is necessary only that they confine their attention solely to the business of their farms.
On the Miramichi, at present, owing to failures and the foreclosing of mortgages, land is cheaper than it has been for many years. At Bergoris, twenty miles from
100 THE OAT TAKING THE PLACE OF BUCKWHEAT.
Boistown, where we stopped to bait, the landlord told me of a farm on the river, containing 1500 acres, having 60 cleared—and of these 20 were intervale land, producing 30 to 35 tons of hay per acre—which could be obtained for £150 to £200. Five years ago this farm would have brought £400 or £500.
A few miles farther on, after passing the mouth of the Renous river, which comes in from the left, the land became of better quality. Though we were still upon sandstones of the coal measures, and the surface stones were chiefly sandstone boulders, sometimes mixed with frequent masses of granite, yet the soil was more tenacious and clayey; and good crops of wheat and oats were ripening upon many of the wayside farms we passed.
On the Miramichi we looked in vain for the frequent fields of buckwheat, which we had seen upon the St John. The oat here takes its place, and is gradually assuming an important place as an article of ordinary diet among the people. Until lately, the humblest people refused to eat anything but the finest flour. They even thought they could not live upon anything else. But the failure of home wheat, and the want of money to buy that imported from Canada or the United States, has had the salutary effect of compelling the people to try the virtues of their own excellent oats; and it is to be hoped they will every year become more and more attached to this most nutritive grain. The Provincial Legislature have most judiciously aided this alteration by offering bounties for the erection of oat-meal mills throughout the province, the want of which had hitherto been almost a complete bar to the use of the oat as human food—especially in the newly settled districts, where the need was most urgent, and the want most felt. In 1847 the sum of £500 was paid out of the Provincial Treasury for this purpose ; and as such mills