“A letter from John Arkell,

written in 1831,

 to his brother Thomas in England,

describing life in Puslinch.”







Farnham Plains,

Township of Puslinch,


Upper Canada.


To Mr. Thomas Arkell,

Donnington Mills,


Glos., Old England.


Dear Brother,

I received your note of March last by the hand of James Hewer, who came up from New Jersey in August last, and was sorry you had so little time to write me...  It is my belief that until a reformed parliament have taken off the taxes from the farmers you will not be able to receive much of the money due to me, and as going to law with them is of very little use, I recommend you to wait with patience without entering upon the law at all, unless it be an aggravated case, and even then with great caution, it being my belief that many people will pay if the taxes be taken off and they be enabled to do so by the revival of trade and farming; as to your own concerns, be sure not to be led unto any great speculations, such being the rock that many split on, and for credit be sure to give but little of this, as my own books and mishaps are a lesson to you even if fortune should smile upon you.  Father, in his letter of August last, requests me to inform him what sort of climate generally prevails in Upper Canada in both the winter season and the summer season.


The climate varies much in Upper Canada, the province being situated in many degrees of west longitude and north latitude.  The division line between the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada near Montreal is situated 45 ½ degrees north latitude and 74 degrees west longitude, while Colchester Township between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair is near on the line of 42 degrees north latitude and 83 degrees west longitude.  From a great portion of the best lands being surrounded by lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron, the climate is genial, as changeable as in England, but the heat in summer and the cold in winter are both more intense than with you except for the few days in unusually extreme seasons that sometime happen in England.  The spring is reasonably short; the summer breaks out all at once some time in the latter part of May.  In that month, the mosquitoes and the black flies in the woods begin their havoc among the pale-skinned Englishmen, who dare not venture at that season of the year to chop down wood in the forest.  In open parts of the country where the trees have been cut down for a few years very few nests of these men-tormentors, the mosquitoes and black flies, are to be seen, but on new lands they are a complete pest and torment to the human race, as well as to the poor cattle and horses.  The black flies take their leave in about a month after the summer has set in and at their heels comes a remarkable small fly called in the country a “gnat fly” which settles upon and crawls over the weary labourer in the evening after his day’s toil, just as the sun disappears in the evening, and again in the morning for about an hour just after the sun has risen over the tops of the trees.  The general tormentors, the mosquitoes continue their plunder on the human frame throughout the whole summer.  They are sometimes more troublesome than usual, and their favourite haunts are bog-land and swampy ground, which is generally covered with cedars and balsam fir trees.  On the lands where we have formed our village and selected our farms very fine strawberries grow all over the surface of the earth when it has been bared of timber, and in many places raspberries are to be plucked into baskets with as little trouble as if an Englishman’s farm here was a gentleman’s garden in the old country.  Plums hang overhead as thick on the branches as damsons are with you, but I must tell you if the day be dull and damp the raspberries and the plums shall go on hanging so far as I am concerned, nor will I set out to gather them up for the pleasure of the present enjoyment of eating them for if my face be not well covered all the time I should have the marks of the venomous little beasts’ boring instruments for weeks after.


As to wild animals, we have bears, wolves, foxes, raccoons, squirrels (brown, black and striped), deer, and hares.  We have likewise of the feathered tribes, turkeys (very large ones), pheasants (rather larger than an English partridge), woodpeckers, robins, will-o-wisps, kitadids, and many others.  Bears, foxes, and raccoons are not really common.  Wolves we hear now and then, but do not often see them, although they swiftly make great havoc with the farmer’s sheep if he neglects to bring them up near home at night.  A pig or two is now and then lost when Bruin is pushed for food, as in the fall of the year before he betakes himself to his winter quarters.  Great numbers of deer are shot by the settlers in the course of a year.  Your cousin Thomas and Frederick Stone tell me that within the last few days they have seen a herd of twenty, but although we are in the middle of things we have both of us had bad luck in shooting them, and but little time to spare to ramble after them, as we have been engaged for the most part on our own farms.  We have three haunches at the present time in our chimney, and as it has been salted it remains remarkably firm and good.  The deer are larger than those in England but they do not get so fat.  I believe this is due to the way the flies hunt them about in the summer and to the different food they have to eat in the winter.  The Canadian hare is rather longer than an ordinary rabbit; they change colour in the fall from brown to white.  Their chief haunts are the cedar swamps and their manners are more like those of the rabbit than the English hare.  Turkeys are scarce in this part of the province, but I have heard of several being in the township this winter and of one being shot.  They are generally very fat when taken.  Pheasants are rather numerous and after being followed by the hunter for a few days become wild and fly very rapidly, more so, I think, than the ones used to do at home, even after a disturbed season.  The flocks of the long-tailed pigeons, which arrive here in the spring and leave again in the fall, are beyond description.  Their resort for the winter is the southern region of the continent, which is warmer than here. 


To return to the climate, I know no better way of describing it to you than by telling how we felt ourselves in the work of the settlement, and by recollection from memory, as we have not always the time to keep our journals as we should wish to do.  We arrived at Guelph on the 26th of May in very fine and warm weather, mosquitoes and flies just beginning to move out of the black earth and swampy places.  I believe it was on the 8th of June when we commenced our search for the spot or district, then unsurveyed land, where we hoped to settle.  Exceedingly warm weather then set in and we were pestered very much while cutting our road to the open lands where we have built our houses, and likewise while we were cutting down the trees and digging the foundations in a bank to build this house.  A few days after my second trip to York and back again, made under a parching sun and in spite of the boring implements of thousands of mosquitoes, these having accompanied me for the whole distance of 132 miles, we have the pleasure of a few cooling showers of rain from thundery clouds.  During the first night, Thomas Arkell and James Carter remained on the plain, sheltered by only a few boards.  Very heavy rain fell but it did not injure them, the weather being so warm in the daytime.  We had no continuance of dry time after this enough to injure any crops of hay or grain, but throughout the summer afterwards we had plenty of intervening showers to cool the earth and to push on vegetation in all its natural and violent forms.  After the turn of the days, as we say in England, we had more rain than we wished for although it did not fall in any large quantities.  Through August and September we had much rain and many heavy dull days, but although the latter end of the summer was considered by the natives to be a very cold, wet time, yet there were plenty of drying winds for the industrious farmer to use to the advantage of his harvest crops, and as to haymaking, the former part of the season being dry and fine, it was only for him to cut down grass one day and carry it as hay the next or so after one turn and swath. 


House Building and a Ghost Scare


After building our house and shingling it with shingle made and split out of pine trees, which is the general way of covering houses in North America, we set to and cleared of wood and ploughed up and planted about ten acres of wheat land for ourselves, and by the end of the month the rest of the settlers, our countrymen, had sown about the same amount as ourselves.  Very heavy rain fell three or four days in each week through the end of September and the first half of October, when a very fine time came and lasted about a month.  Rainy weather then followed until the end of November, when we had it very cold while I shingled my new farm hay house, and several heavy falls of snow came on before we had finished it.  On the 3rd of December we moved James Carter and his wife and four children from the cabin we were living in to my new one, by which time winter had set in and the frosty nights began to be rather severe, which occasioned the newly put up lags to pop and bounce as they do when standing in the forest, so that old dame Carter was of the opinion that ghosts came there at night, and that someone had been killed somewhere about there.  However, we laughed at the foolish idea and the ghost disappeared in a few nights, so that they have been tolerably comfortable until about a fortnight ago when one of the oxen licked the door with his rough tongue and frightened their young dog so that he barked out and ran under the bed and howled out, which circumstances all at once, in the old dame’s mind, brought a wolf or bear into the house and she and her young ones shrieked and squalled so much that old Jimmy was half inclined to think that one would take hold of him while he was hunting for the old dame’s wolf or bear.  However, all has been quiet and comfortable since.  The wolf and bear story serves us for a laugh often, as well as the ghost shooting off his cannons, in description of which she said, “Old Lovedam’s cannon were nothing to the noises in my home.”


We had the most severe and intense cold in the month of December and I see by the paper that on December 4th the thermometer stood at 10 degrees below zero.  River navigation was stopped on December 10th and on the 15th the Delaware River was passed over with horses.  Last years as in most other years I understand winter had not set in until Christmas Day and to my knowledge it did not set in last year in New York until the first week of January.  From astronomical observations I once saw made in an inn at Stow, and from the extreme changes made from heat to cold, I believe that all over this continent, as the astronomer called it, the sun is at a much greater distance that it is England and also nearer to us in the daytime than it is to you in England.  But at the same time I believe the earth in this continent to move round the sun in a more oblique direction than in your country.  We had a “spell”, as the Yankees call it, that is a few days, of beautiful weather in the first part of last month, which was followed by several frosts, some of them very severe indeed.  On Wednesday night last it commenced raining and a thaw set in, but last night again we had a tolerably sharp bit, and today it is a very pleasant time.  In fact, the American winter altogether is more preferable to work in than the English one, the ground and air being more dry and steady.  Chopping down the trees in the forest is done principally at this season of the year, and I might say on fine days all the winter long.  The snow was very deep sometimes, but even then the large trees received the woodman’s tap, tap, tap, until great is the fall thereof, and the neighbours immediately shrug their shoulders and say, “ A fine crashing however, Joe, Jack, or Tom is tumbling them down a t a good rate today”. 


Housekeeping Matters


As Mary wished to know how we lived, tell her by the help of good bread, beef, mutton, pork, bacon, venison, tea, coffee, sugar, potatoes, Swedish turnips (excellent), common turnips, carrots, and parsnips.  From the great quantity of rain in the fall, and the getting of the house James Carter and James Hewer live in, we had not time to put our own home in order so well as we would have wished to do, but, thank God, we have now made it rather more comfortable, and as this seems to be a tolerably healthy neighbourhood, I hope we shall get through the winter pretty well.  But in a more polite way, you can tell Polly that we live like two old, long-bearded and grave old bachelors, sometimes laughing and dancing, sometimes grumbling and gurling, and sometimes laughing and joking one another and our fellow settlers.  Thomas has made one stoop and is preparing to make his farm house.  We allow Mrs. Carter to wash our clothes for us, and make our bread.  We cook the food we eat nearly every day, (with the exception of meat which we boil or fry) two, three, or four times a week as occasion may demand.  Being without good beer, and the means of obtaining it at present, we boil our tea-kettle or coffee pot three times a day, at breakfast, dinner, and supper.  Thomas vows that if none of the English girls will return with him to America when he goes home, he will have an Irish, Dutch, or Yankee wife before long.  James Hewer is likewise very impatient to receive his wife and his four children in America. 


Settlers’ Requirements


James has sent to his son William to come over and take a farm by him, and should you hear of, or see, any working farmers or tradesmen likely to come over here, tell them to be sure to bring with them a good boiling pot and many other kinds of brass, copper, and iron household goods, such as fire-irons, tea-kettles, washing and brewing kettles and coppers, in fact all description of goods and implements of husbandry except what is made of wood is useful in the country, and common English and ox plough harness, as what you get here are nearly useless. A good lugging chain is useful enough for American farmers, but as the oxen are in yoke and the horses in pairs with light gig or cart harness, anything heavier is not wanted.  An English farmer coming to Canada should leave all his nice farming behind him, but at the same time must be strong as Hercules in resisting the many idle and extravagant ways which exist among the people of this province.  The everlasting whiskey bottle must not be known at all in his house, even if it be a log one.  I have seen many young married couples from England who bid fair to do well in this country, they being industrious, earnest-looking people from Yorkshire.  But as the colony is so little known to the people of England in general, and from many vicious persecutions of the Borough villains at home and their tools out here in this land, few farmers of capital have come here, although from the information and facts which I have gathered this is a far more preferable country for a farmer to reside in than the United States.


Hoping you are in as good health as we are, I remain your affectionate brother.


John Arkell


P.S.    A Mr. MacKenzie is about to proceed to England for the purpose of exploring several things belonging to the Government, and likewise with petitions to the King and his Parliament.  Should he go into Gloucestershire, you would gain much information if the Radicals behaved well to him.


P.S.S.    If any young, industrious, and persevering farmers’ servants, with a little money, and not given to drink, want to come to Upper Canada, do not dishearten them, as they might bring a good industrious wife with them to this country without their being considered a pest to society and without a dread of their having more children than they can maintain.  When you write to me again, do not send blue bank small note-paper so far with so little information in it, but give us a long description of past and passing events, and likewise tell if James Hewer’s wife and family are coming out here or not.  I should have said more to you but the boy is waiting without for the letter.  Tell the Blacksmith’s Jack that I do not advise him to come to Upper Canada if he is doing well, but if not, tell him also that blacksmith’s work is some of the best paid out here. 


Feb 4th, 12 o’clock,  J. A.,   All’s well in Upper Canada.







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