Selected Perceptions of the Land by John Galt and Tiger Dunlop

The following is from pages 249-250, in the Notes section, of The Canada Company and the Huron Tract, 1826-1853: Personalities, Profits and Politics by Robert C. Lee. Published in 2004 by Natural Heritage / Natural History Inc., Toronto. This is an excellent book for those who want a good understanding of the people involved in the settling of the southwestern Ontario.

This British Fraser’s Magazine of November 1830 carried a description of the founding of Guelph “this second Rome or Babylon” based on a letter Galt had written to a friend on June 2, 1827: “The site chosen was on ‘a nameless stream’s untrodden banks,’ about eighteen miles in the forest from GALT …. Early on in the morning of St. George’s Day, I proceeded on foot towards the spot, having sent forward a band of woodsmen with axes on their shoulders to prepare a shanty for the night — a shed made of boughs and bark, with a great fire at the door. I was accompanied by my friend Dunlop, a large fat, facetious fellow of infinite jest and eccentricity, but he forgot his compass, and we lost our way in the forest. After wandering up and down like babes in the woods — the rain raining in jubilee — … we came to a hut of a Dutch settler .. We hired him for our guide.
It was almost sunset when we arrived at the rendezvous; my companion, being wet to the skin, unclothed and dressed himself in two blankets, one in the Celtic and the other in the Roman fashion — the kilt and the toga … “I kept my state” (as MacBeth says of his wife at the banquet) of dripping drapery. We then with surveyors and woodmen … proceeded to a superb maple tree, and I had the honour and glory of laying the axe to the root thereof, and is soon fell “beneath our sturdy strokes” with the noise of an avalanche. It was the genius of the forest unfurling its wings and departing forever. Being the king’s name-day, I called the town Guelph — the smaller fry of the office having monopolized every other I could think of; and my friend drawing a bottle of whiskey from his bosom, we drank prosperity to the unbuilt metropolis of the new world.” Robina and Kathleen Macfarlane Lizars, In the Days of the Canada Company 1825-1850 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1896) Appendix, 481-82.

And, from page 32 of The Canada Company by Thelma Coleman with supplement by James Anderson published in 1978 by the Perth County Historical Board, Stratford comes another description of the founding of Guelph:

“I took an axe from one of the woodmen and struck the first stroke, ” John Galt states. “To me at least, the moment was impressive, and the silence of the woods that echoed to the sound was as the sigh of the solemn genius of the woods departing for ever. The Doctor followed me, and then Mr. Pryor, and the woodmen finished the work. the tree fell with a crash of accumulated thunder, as if ancient nature were alarmed at the entrance of social man into her innocent solitudes with his sorrows, his follies and his crimes.”

John Galt was a writer and you can see that he was sensitive to the changes he was causing in his capacity as Superintendent of the Canada Company. It is too bad that he wasn’t forward thinking enough to set aside a small section, even a few acres, of forest as a reserve. The forest was everywhere, like passenger pigeons, and perhaps everyone thought there would always be some left.

And here’s another quote from Appendix D of Lee’s book. This is a quote from a verbatim description of the Huron Tract by Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop, ‘Warden of the Company’s Woods and Forests in Upper Canada’, in 1841 as he was preparing to run in the election as representative in the new legislature of the united Canadas.

The land generally, is of a loamy description; sandy loam with limestone gravel on the verge of the lakes, and clay loam towards the interior, and everywhere covered with a considerable depth of vegetable mold…
The whole of the land is of excellent quality. There is an extensive cedar swamp, which commences in the township of Ellice, and running through Logan, Mackillop [and] terminates in Hullett. This, to be made available, would require to be drained, but that would be no difficult matter, as it is the summit level of the whole country, and from the springs in this swamp arise many of the rivers which fall into Lakes Erie, St. Clair and Huron. Once drained it will be the richest land in the country. …
The principal timber is maple, elm, beech and bass, and in lesser quantity cherry, hickory, ash, oak, hemlock, and pine, the latter however being very scarce. Black Walnut grows in the South part of the tract. The rivers and lake abound in fish, among which may be enumerated the sturgeon, river trout, pickerel, pike, muskellunge, mullet, carpe etc. …

Dunlop, for all his eccentricities (for more on this see Chapters XV and XVI of Volume I of Twenty-seven Years in Canada West or The Experience of an Early Settler by Samuel Strickland and Edited by Agnes Strickland. M. G. Hurtig Ltd., Edmonton. 1970 (Originally published in 1853). You may recognize this book as one I quoted from in an earlier blog posting), was considered a very capable man and


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