Travel played such an important part in the migration of the pioneer McCutcheons that included here is a descriptive narrative of how the last jaunt of their long journey from old to new may have happened. Since none of them left a written record of their journey, what follows is a description of a typical journey into the wilderness of Ontario, found in a letter written by an opinionated, albeit well-educated Scotsman who made the journey in 1818 and 1819.
This is an old map showing a small section of the St. Lawrence River from Brockville to St. Louis at the convergence of the Ottawa River. The locations of the early canals are shown.
Circa 1810, irritations between the United States and Britain began developing which so incensed President Madison that he convinced the US Congress to declare war on Great Britain. News had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean by sailing brigs.
War was declared on the 18th June 1812 and came to be called the “War of 1812.”
This war involved serious fighting between the US and Britain taking place along the shores of the Atlantic seaboard and on Lake Ontario. Regular British troops assisted by Canadian volunteers fought in both Lower and Upper Canada. The fortress of Kingston had a naval dockyard and was vital to the success of the British forces.
The Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, which officially ended the war, but fighting continued for another 2 weeks until mid-January, 1815. This again was attributed to the slowness of communications, which had to travel across the Atlantic by sailing brigs.
For a long time after the signing of this treaty, tempers remained hot on both sides of the Canada-US border, with the fear that there was a possibility of fighting to resume. With that in mind, the authorities at Kingston strongly urged for an alternate route between Montreal and Kingston. Everything that was being supplied to the maintenance of the fortress at Kingston was being brought up the St Lawrence River by small bateaux and canoes with navigation difficult through the various rapids. What compounded this issue was that the Americans had no roads on their side and so therefore used the waterways for their method of transportation also.
And so it was within 10 years of this volatile and dubious situation that the first participant in the chain migration of the McCutcheons from Donaghadee first arrived.
It was these continual hostilities that impressed upon the Government of Canada the need to improve communications and transportation between Lower Canada and Upper Canada that accelerated the upgrading of the canal system between Montreal and Kingston and the building of a secondary route between the 2 cities, the Rideau Canal.
There was an alternate route that the aboriginals had used for thousands of years and that was up the Ottawa River instead of the St Lawrence. And so a decision by the Duke of Redmond was made in August of 1818 to develop this route first. There was an urgent need to develop a better method of waterway travel to protect the interests of British North America. The upgrading of the St Lawrence route became secondary after the building of the Rideau Canal.
It became apparent by 1800 that the “La Faucille” and “Trou du Moulin” canals were being damaged severely by ice every winter culminating in the spring thaw, and so with the movement of cargo increasing drastically, the need for improvement became urgent. These two canals were abandoned, replaced by a new one called the “Cascades”. At the same time, the old channel at the Lachine Rapids was lengthened and enlarged, becoming continuous along the full length of the rapids. At this same time, both the “Split Rock” and “Coteau” canals were enlarged with construction done by 1805.
One of the only methods of travel and movement of cargo from Montreal to Kingston was first by the “Bateaux” and by 1810, the “Durham Boat”.
It was the introduction of the much larger Durham Boat that necessitated the upgrading of the canal system from Montreal to Kingston between 1814 and 1832.
Beginning circa 1811, cargo and passenger traffic proceeded up river from Quebec to Montreal by steamer, then continued by Durham Boat to Kingston. Steamer traffic from Montreal to Kingston didn’t fully begin until after 1830 once the canal system was upgraded.
From a book called “Pioneers of Old Ontario” came this description of a journey to Kingston in 1823: “…from Quebec to Montreal the journey was continued by steamer and from Montreal to Prescott in a Durham boat. Passengers who had a few shillings to spare could obtain sleeping quarters forward or aft, while those who could not slept in the open space in the center. When the wind favoured and there was no current, such boats were driven by sails; over shallows they were poled along by the Voyageurs; and up the Long Sault they were hauled by thirteen yoke of
oxen and a team of horses walking on the bank. From Prescott to Cobourg the journey was made by steamer.”
However, even with the dramatic improvement of these older canals, transporting cargo and people was still a major undertaking. The Bateaux and later the Durham boat were taken up-river in brigades of five so that if a boat ran into trouble, there was assistance readily available.
To go up-stream to Prescott, the brigades usually mustered at Lachine with the cargo being brought overland from Montreal by road. Other times, either towed or rowed through the problematic Lachine rapids. Then at Cascade point, all of the passengers and a large portion of the cargo were unloaded and carted by stage coach to the head of the Cedar Rapids, with the boat locked through the Cascade and split Rock canals then dragged by horse or oxen up the Cedar Rapids; then reloaded. This same process was then undertaken at the Long Sault Rapids past Cornwall upon which the boat was reloaded and sailed to Kingston.
Going down-stream to Montreal, the boats shot the rapids.
After 1818 a steamboat “tug” came into use in this section. All in all, this undertaking took about 12 days to go up-river from Montreal to Kingston and the cost was, for its epoch, expensive. The cost to transport 800 tons of cargo upriver was about $120.00 USD in today’s currency.
A letter written Montreal, May 1818, a traveller from Scotland states: “…if a traveller going down the St Lawrence River has a choice, let him by all means prefer the “Batteau”; it does not sail so fast as a Durham Boat and he may be a day longer in making the passage, but in ordinary cases he is safer.”
The Bateaux was an open 30-40 footer and about 10 feet wide, flat-bottomed boat that was propelled upriver by sail and oar. The Durham boat was larger, between 60 and 90 feet long, wider, but still flat-bottomed and propelled much in the same fashion as the Bateaux. When not under sail, these boats were propelled by both oar and pole by Voyageurs who sang in a melodious rhythm to the pounding of the oars. The boat songs of the French-Canadian Voyageurs combined with the splashing of the oars in the water were very plaintive and haunting.
Frequent shallows on rivers required boats that drew very little water. The Durham boat displaced a draft of 3.5 inches when light, 28 inches when fully loaded.
Sometimes as many as 100 people would be sandwiched into the Bateaux, placed at the mercy of the outdoor elements for days on end. More yet were crowded into the Durham Boat but those with a few extra pence could secure sleeping quarters to shelter them from the weather.
Following is an example of an advertisement for the Upper Canada Line of MAIL STAGES, 3 times a week:
Expeditious Travelling – 16th April 1825:
“By an arrangement lately made the distance between this city and Prescott can be accomplished by Stages and Steam Boats in the following time and manner. The Stage takes its departure from Montreal at noon and proceeds to Lachine, where the passengers enter the Steam Boat that conveys them to the Cascades, a distance of 25 miles. From the Cascades to Coteau-du-Lac 15 miles they are carried in a Stage; thence to Cornwall, 40 miles by Steam Boat; and from Cornwall to Prescott, 50 miles they are taken by the Stage, at which latter place they arrive before sun set on the evening after the day they left Montreal, the whole distance being computed 140 miles [sic]. The return from Prescott to this place is yet more expeditious; and on Saturdays the Stage will depart at one o’clock A.M. and arrive here the same evening, which will prevent travelling on the Sabbath. To mercantile men this facility must afford particular gratification; and to strangers the alternate jaunts by water, and land, will be a recreation which will greatly enhance the pleasures of the journey both up and down the river.”
Although this 1825 advertisement suggests that the entire journey was stage and steamer that was not entirely true. Durham Boats were still used until about 1832 at certain stages of this journey from Montreal to Kingston.
The French-Canadian Voyagerus inter-married with the aboriginal women, creating the Metis. It was these families that resided along the banks of the river in log cabins hewed into the bush. Neither type of boat travelled by night. Quite often they docked in one of the small villages along the way where passengers could obtain lodging for the night in one of the many Tavern-Inns. However, there were many times when the boats never reached a village and instead simply docked on the shore of the river. And it was these shy families who offered the weary traveller a home cooked meal and a shared bed in their homes.
One traveller described his experience: “About 8 o’clock, a twinkling light by the river’s side broke our view; we haled the cheering spark and urged the conductor in to the bank in the hopes of obtaining lodging. It was a farmers house; a crackling fire of pine logs blazed on the ample hearth, festoons of sliced apples for winter pies hung around it to dry. The inmates made us welcome to their fireside and although not much used to entertain strangers very soon provided for us a most comfortable supper. Hot steaks, fried bacon and potatoes, tea and toast… When the time of retiring came, every bed in the house was surrendered for our use; I could not participate in one unless I accepted a bed-fellow…I preferred my box-coat on the floor…”
At least 2 groups of travelling McCutcheons would have made this treacherous journey between 1821 and 1824 by Durham Boat. By the time Hugh and Mary travelled west circa 1830 they may have had the luxury of the safer steam boat travel all of the way.
While travelling up the river, it must have been an interesting mix of conversationalists; the Voyageurs mixed French-Aboriginal dialect and the Celtic dialect of the Ulster-Scots.
NOTE: Source 58 and 59.