The Canada I Knew
This is the concluding instalment of Miss Seymour's remarkable reminiscences of early Canada. Since the first appeared the editor of MacLean's has received many letters expressing the appreciation of readers. The author's life has been full indeed, but her declining years will be warmed by the thought that her kindly wit and gentle tolerance have made her thousands of new friends.
No. 4—Linking Two Centuries
SOON after we went to live in otawa the Canadian Pacific Railway was being talked about. I was at a dinner party at which five of the guests were civil engineers, Sir Sanford Fleming (then Mr.) Sir Charles Tupper then Dr.) a Mr. Trimaine, and Mr. David Stark, I forget the name of the fifth.
Of course the proposed railway, was one of the subjects discussed, and most : ; gentlemen laughed the idea to scorn, saying that climatic difficulties would be enough to prevent such a scheme being carried out, instancing the snow sweeping across the vast prairies, which would cover any track, and also pointing out the impossibility of running a line through the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains. And now w hat have we? Daily trains across the continent, télégraphié and telephonic connection, and motors innumerable.
Before long we were fortunate in winning as friends the librarian of the Parliamentary Library, Dr. and Mrs.
Alphaeus Todd; she so -weet and dainty and charming, whilst as for the doctor his personality. apart from his brilliant intellect and charming manner, marked him as one, whom to know was of itself an education.
Physically undersized, and shortsighted—spiritually, morally and intellectually' he was a giant.
What gained him his position in the Parliamentary Library was a map he drew before he was fifteen years of age, of York (Toronto) which he did by pacing the streets and noting their dimensions, then publishing them on a card, about eighteen inches square. Showing this production to the member of the legislature who had the library' under his special direction, that gentleman was so pleased with the accuracy of the work, and also of the proof it gave of the boy’s intellect, that he had him appointed his assistant in looking after the books, there being at that time no librarian in charge.
Dear noble friend, in addition to his public work, his private character was what endeared him to all; his gift of sympathy surpassed that of almost every other mortal I ever met. He was a genius for seeing the good side of every one’s character. I can call to mind him sending me home one evening with a very happy heart. It was one New "i ear’s Eve party at his own house. My brother and I were there, also a neighbor with whom there had been friction. Disliking to begin a New Year with unpleasantness. when the clock struck twelve, and the New Year’s bells began to ring, I turned to this lady and said, “Happy New A ear.” She greeted me very w'armly, and turning to my brother held out her hand to him. We thought that no one had noticed the incident, but dear Dr. Todd came over to me and said, “Thank you, my dear.”
“The lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime,”
and surely every now and then w'e meet men and women we would wish to give thanks for.
I do not know' when Dr. Todd was appointed librarian but think it was after the death of the Rev. Dr. Adamson, who was a personality such as is seldom met with.
The doctor belonged to a class of parsons who are now almost as extinct as Great Auk’s eggs. Tall, remarkably handsome, and belonging to the best type of Irish gentlemen, he was one, who if he had $5,000 a year would spend $5,500. A very keen sportsman, especially of fishing, but, alas, was everlastingly getting into debt, and being visited by the bailiff; and there is a story about them, that after one of the bailiff’s visits, Mrs. Adamson, who was as beautiful and witty as he, taking him by the arm, and walking round their dismantled rooms without saying one word until their peregrination was ended, turned to
him and said: “Well, Billy, my boy, how much do you think your salmon cost you a head this year?”
Everyone loved the Adamsons, but realized that they had stepped out of one of Lever’s novels, and the stories about that family are unending, for their children inherited their wit and uncommonness.
Dr. Adamson died the night Mr. D’Arcy McGee was shot, and Mrs. Walcot, his daughter told me that she heard the shot, and saw the man run away.
Mrs. Walcot did not belie her ancestry; she used to have most glorious hair, and when her husband died, plaited it in two long plaits, cut them off, and put them in his coffin; she said he had admired her hair so much, no one else should ever see it.
One thing strikes me frequently, and that is, the many wonderful things that I have seen, one invention following another until the past outlook onto the world seems changed.
When I was a child, a trip from Toronto to Montreal was a serious thing, one not lightly to be undertaken. I think I remember our first railway train, in connection with some marvellous fireworks, which I was taken to see, but in those days, the opening up of the country would take a very secondary place in my mind to that of St. Catherine wheels.
I distinctly remember the glory of our first sperm oil lamp, as up to that time the family used wax, or sperm candles, the domestics being quite content with tallow dips. There was one daily passenger steam boat to Niagara during the summer, but when navigation closed, it was necessary to drive to Hamilton, and from there to Niagara.
After we went to Ottawa Mr.
Bell gave a lecture there to explain his wonderful telephone discovery. I forget when telegraphy was introduced; some years earlier, I think.
Well can I remember the first time I came in personal contact with a telephone. I was spending the morning with the daughters of the general manager of the Ottawa and Prescott Railway.
Suddenly, for no reason that I could see, one of the girls went to one corner of the room and began a conversation; knowing that we were alone in the room, I thought she had gone crazy and said,
“Clara, dear, what is the matter with you?”
“I am just talking to Arthur,” was her reply.
As we were about one and a half miles from where her brother’s office was, I was more mystified than ever, and could hardly understand, even after explanations.
My brother went one day to pay his water rates, and found a countryman there who had some complaint to make about his tax.
At last the clerk looked up and said, “I can’t get this
thing right, I will have to ask about it at the Head Office.”
Going to the telephone, he asked to speak to one of the senior officials.
That was more than the countryman could stand. He flew into a violent rage, and told the clerk in very strong language, that he need not give himself such airs, and think that because he lived in the country he was a fool. The clerk knew as well as he did, he said, that the Head Office was in an adjoining block, and that it was useless pretending and asking questions, when there was no possibility of receiving a reply to them.
Now we have submarines, even greater than those Jules Verne wrote about, and aeroplanes—the latter I am sure being yet in their infancy; and marching steadily, unwaveringly, along with it all, the old Bible story being unfolded step by step.
Apropos aeroplanes, I was intensely interested in reading that, for years, that text from 60th. Chap. Isaiah, “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as doves to their windows?” has puzzled every commentator. Now this twentieth century tells us they are the aeroplanes surely. Dearly would I love to go up in one. It would be an added experience.
Although for many years prior to her death, my mother’s health was such that I gave up all social gatherings, outside of my own home, the dear Ottawa young people never let me feel that I was forgotten. When one is young, one expects attention, and when old appreciates it, and I never felt that I was a social outsider.
My brother disliked evening parties, but used to gather round him at home, clever, highly educated men, and most fascinating our “Noctes Ambrosianae” used to be.
Although I could never persuade my brother to accept an invitation, he loved meeting all the bright faces when the girls came, as they.frequently did, to see us.
My dear brother died in 1892, after a three years’ illness, during which I am grateful to say I was able to take entire care of him. His loss is still felt as a blank in my life, and during his long illness, through the whole of which I can never remember his saying one impatient word, I hated even to let another get him a glass of water.
After my brother’s death, I never left my mother, who was very old and frail. I used to take her in her Bath chair to spend the day, either at my uncle’s, or out to Mr. (Sir) Collingwood Schreiber’s.
Those terrible hard times! We went through another in 1896 ; it makes one’s heart ache to think of the suffering of the poor at such times. One very cold February day, a man snatched a leg of beef from a farmer’s wagon and ran
off with it. Of course he was follow'ed, and it was seen that on entering his poor home, he had thrown the meat on the floor, and his poor, starving children w7ere devouring it, raw and frozen as it was. Of course he was given the meat and helped.
One Saturday evening, my laundry did not come home. I felt annoyed with the laundress, but during service the next morning, the idea flashed through my mind, “1 wonder if those people have food or any fuel,” so I sent our man over to see, and sure enough, in all that bitter weather, the man and his wife and child had neither food nor fuel. Of course that was soon remedied, and kind friends found that poor fellow7 employment.
About that time the roof of the western block of the Parliament Buildings wras destroyed by fire. A few7 days later Sir Henri de Lotbiniere said to me, “We have just been voting aw7ay such a dreadful lot of money.” “What for?” I asked.
“We had to vote $100.000 for the repair of the Western Block,” was the reply. 1 then asked to whom that money
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The Canada I Knew
Continued from page 24
would go, and on learning it would go to Ottawa tradesmen and artisans, said, “Thank God.” Like Lord Dufferin’s Fancy Dress Ball, that fire turned the tide, and ended the suffering.
My dear brother died as I said in 1892, surviving by about fifteen months his much loved chief, Sir John A. Macdonald, who died in 1891. “The Heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes,” and the day of Sir John’s funeral was a case in point, as we had then the most severe thunder storm I ever witnessed in Ottawa, with lightning, rain, and wind. The funeral procession seemed unending, and alas, a dear young friend of mine who was married that same day, had her wedding party, whilst en route home after the ceremony, encounter the funeral procession, and for threequarters of an hour, the bride, and groom, and their friends had to sit, the sport of the raging elements, ere they could move on.
That dear girl had many another storm to wait through, and after being left a
widow, was one of the many mothers who gave their only sons to God, during the past awful war.
By this time my dear mother, whohad been for many years crippled, had become almost entirely helpless, and her mind began to fail to a certain extent, but certainly not her courage.
On one occasion Sir Charles Tupper’s many friends and admirers, contributed and had an oil painting of that gentleman done and handsomely framed to give him. and Sir John was asked to make that presentation and deliver an address.
Of course the hail was crowded to overflowing on that occasion ; the picture, covered, stood by the table. After saying a few words Sir John removed the cover, and stood for a time looking intently at the portrait, with a very dissatisfied expression. At last turning to the audience he said, “Gentlemen, I am net an artist, and for the value of the artistic work, I can say nothing, but as a likeness, I must say I am sadly disappointed, for two reasons; in the first place, no likeness of Sir Charles Tupper can be considered true, unless it is speaking—secondly, it is far too handsome, there is but one really handsome man in the present Cabinet, and that is its Premier”— himself!
Ottawa is so beautifully situated that it lends itself to enhance the beauty of decorations, and it was like fairyland, when our dear King and Queen, then Prince and Princess of Wales, visaed it. Those beautiful Parliament Buildings, with every door, window, and spire outlined in tiny electric bulbs, like so many stars, all surmounted by the Crown and Royal Arms in colored electric lights like jewels.
When their Royal Highnesses came to Ottawa, wishing my dear old mother to see them, I took her up in her bath chair to the house of my cousin, Mrs. J. J. Gormully. The Royal Party whilst mak-
ing a detour of the city, were to pass there, and there was a large elevated verandah from which she could have a good view of the procession. Just as they were passing the house, the Princesfe looked up, and catching sight of the very old woman seated, whilst all around were standing, touched His Royal Highness on the arm, directed his attention to my mother, and they both gave her a charming smile and bow. This seems a little thing to mention, but it did make such a happy old woman, and to me seems typical of their character.
I remember going one evening to the House with Lady Macdonald, to hear a debate on one of the burning questions of the day, and Sir John and one of the Opposition Members were at it, “hammer and tongs,” accusing each other in strict parliamentary language, of deception, untruths, frauds, and so on.
Presently the two, having vilified the party to which the other belonged, to their hearts’ content, took their seats, and a new man rose to speak. In less than five minutes, to my amazement, there were Sir John and his late opponent, standing on one side of the speaker’s chair, laughing and talking, apparently the best of friends.
I touched Lady Macdonald on the arm and said, “Do look at those two men! If any one had accused me of lying and treachery, I would have thrown an ink bottle at his head, would not you?” and she agreed that we were better out of it.
I am quite convinced that wit and humor are as keen to-day as they were of old, and realize that it is I, who am not in touch with the pressing passing events, but one amusing anecdote after another passes through my brain.
Sir George Etienne Cartier was one of Sir John Macdonald’s ablest and truest supporters, a French-Canadian loyal gentleman, but he always found the English language a stiff fence to get over.
One day whilst making a very scathing speech against something the Opposition (of which the Hon. Edward Blake was then leader) was doing, or hindering, he tried to use the word irrefragable. Now irrefragable is neither a common nor an easy word for the average Englishman, so it can be seen what it was for Sir George. But the gallant little Frenchman, after one failure, got it out so as to make his meaning clear, but Mr. Blake who had a caustic and sneering manner when he wished to use it, leaned forward in his seat, and putting his hand behind his ear said, “Excuse me, may I ask the honorable gentleman to repeat that word? I did not catch it.” Sir George looked across at him, laughed and nodded, and continued his speech to its conclusion, then sat down.
Then Mr. Blake rose to make his reply. Although a very clever man, and one of great weight to his party, he had one great weakness, an inability to control his temper, or his voice, when excited, a weakness that gained him the sobriquet of “The Durham Bull” (Durham being his constituency).
When replying to Sr George, he grew more and more excited, his voice grew louder and louder, and the more he bellowed, the more Sir George kept on saying “Spik out!—Spik out!”
At last Mr. Blake turned to him and said, “Yes, I will speak out. I will speak out until my words ring from the Atlantic to the Pacific!”
“Ah!” was Sir George’s reply. “Dat’s right, spik out, spik out! Dat is good.”
Another amusing thing was when Sir John Macdonald, in finding fault with what he considered the obstruction policy of the Opposition, of which at that time, Mr. Alexander MacKenzie was the leader, pointing to that gentleman, said, “Behold the prophet that troubleth Israel.”
Mr. MacKenzie, who was sitting grim and calmly listening to the charges, replied, “It is not I, that trouble Israel, but thou and thy House,” a retort that no one enjoyed more than Sir John.
After the death of Sir John Macdonald, the Conservative party fell to pieces. One of the accusations frequently brought against Sir John and his Ministry was that it was a “one-man administration,” a style of Government that worked admirably, as long as the right man held
the reins; it was said that when he and his Cabinet differed, “the Old Man” would say, “Well gentlemen, these are my views; it is up to you to choose a new leader should you disagree with them,” and then go off to his private office, take up a pack of cards and play Patience. Invariably the knowledge that there was no one who could fill his place would cause his views to be accepted. When he went, squabbling, jealousy, and one cause or another broke up the party, and little of great interest except the separate school question came up.
I have always heard that self-praise is no recommendation, but I do think I may be praised for the broadness of my views on that subject, as I read every word Sir John Thompson said in favor of the separate schools, and every word Mr. D’Alton McCarthy said against it, and agreed with both sides thoroughly.
1896 was destined to be a marked year, by very important occurrences to me. First—the Conservative Government was put out of office, and the Liberals, under Sir Wilfrid Laurier came into power.
Then, I broke my leg, and, for the only time in my life, realized what “enjoying ill health” meant, as after my broken bones were spliced, I had little or no pain, and had a good trained nurse, who looked well after my dear little mother. One good man with whom I had had decided friction, when he heard of my accident, called to enquire after me, bringing me eleven new novels, and a bottle of the best port wine, and I used to lie quietly in my bed, receiving my friends, who kept me more than well supplied with creature comforts. What I think was the most enjoyable part of all was the daily, even sometimes twice daily, visits of my beloved cousin, Dr. R. W. Powell, the very sound of whose cheery voice on the stairs was a comfort, and just then I needed comfort, as I had a big sorrow, having heard of the serious and hopeless illness of my cousin Bertie Stuart, who had been brought up with us and was as dear to me as my own brother.
One hears and reads a great deal about the selfishness of this world, especially of that of “society” people. My experience is, that I never cease wondering at the love and unselfishness wherewith we are encompassed. Bertie’s illness brought me another proof of that, as one of his friends, a woman hater, and one I am sure who would have preferred going without a meal to entertaining me an hour, during the months my cousin was ill whilst in Texas, wrote to me regularly every week, giving the latest accounts of his health.
My brother died in 1L92, and my dear mother in 1902. I had been so all important to them, for so many years, that when they were both taken from me, the feeling of my utter unimportance to any one in the world, intensified my sense of loneliness. One by one, all those most dear to me had been taken, but again comfort was sent.
On Ascension day, after the early morning service, the organist in the Cathedral played as a voluntary, “Love’s Last Greeting.” Instead of going to the eleven o’clock service, I took some work and went out to Beechwood Cemetery. It was a beautiful bright day, and I thought to spend that morning beside my two graves; soon after I sat down on the grass, the band of the Jesuit College,who were in the adjoining Cemetery, played the same “Love’s Last Greeting,” which seemed as if it had been especially sent to tell me on that Great Feast that there was one to whom I was important, and I was able to go back home, refreshed and cheerful.
I quite realized that all my people thought I should give up my house, and go into some “nice little flat,” but I could not nerve myself up to giving up my old home and its memories. I had a horrible sensation that if I did so, I would become a homeless wanderer. I think I was worn out, mentally and
physically, and I needed the refreshment of the dear, bright young people who never left me uncared for.
Twice I tried sharing my home with friends, then I rented it for the Session, and went to Toronto. After that I I rented it to Lady Maude’s governess, who wanted to take boarders, with an agreement that I kept my own room there, and it was from that lady that I heard an amusing story about the two little Maude children. I think she said their names were Beryl and Sybil.
One day she heard one child say to the other, “I wonder how Mother married Father?”
“I will tell you,” was the reply. “Father saw Mother walking in the street one day, and he went up to her and said, ‘Madame, may I have the pleasure of a marriage with you?’ and Mother said ‘Delighted!’ ”
After being left with no home ties, I thought I would close up my house for a time and pay some visits. For fifteen years prior to my mother’s death, I had never once slept out of my own bedroom, so it is little wonder that I felt as though the world had turned upside down.
For some time I wavered as to whether I would accept some kind invitations to go to England, or whether I would come up here to the great unknown land of the west, but my great desire to see my cousin, Mrs. Wyndham, and her family in Alberta, made me decide on the latter. So in 1910 I left Ottawa.
But at last my early Canadian and early A^ictorian memories must close. Our beloved Queen Victoria died before I left Ottawa, and Edward ATI soon after I came here. I came intending to pay a three months’ visit, but my dear cousin and her kind husband were so insistent on my making this my home, that I most gratefully accepted their loving offer, and has ever a lone mortal found herself more in the haven where she would be than I have? I went back to my old home, sold off most of my belongings, and here I am waiting until I am called to my long Home—the only real Home, for life is only like stopping at an inn; we know we have to move on.
Every one has one’s special “bogie” and mine is the dread of the helplessness of old age, but experience has shown me that help is sent with trouble, and that He who has guided and cared for me will continue to do so, now that I have arrived at “the last of life, the best, for which the first was made.” I most certainly have been led through a wondrous history-making epoch, of which apparently the end is not yet.
There is a little poem, called “Comrades” (the author of which is unknown to me) which I long have treasured, and the truth of which, in my eighty-seventh year, I full know. Here are three of the verses. How much they mean!
She follows me about my house of Life (This happy little ghost of my dead youth!)
She has no part in Time’s relentless strife; She keeps her old simplicity and Truth, And laughs at grim mortality:
This deathless child that stays with me, This happy little ghost of my dead youth.
My house of life is weather stained with years,
(Oh, child in me, I wonder why you stay?) Its windows are bedimmed with rain of tears,
Its walls have lost their rose, its thatch is grey ;
One after one its guests depart,
So dull a host is my old heart
(Oh, child in me, I wonder why you stay?)
Oh, child in me, leave not my house of clay Until we pass together through its door AVhen lights are out, and Life has gone away,
And we depart to come again, no more; AV'e comrades, who have traveled far AA’ill hail the twilight and the star.
And gladly pass together through the Door.