Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 7

Wednesday. 6th. CFA Wednesday. 6th. CFA
Wednesday. 6th.
Kingston, U.C. — Prescott

Upon rising this morning we found ourselves within a few miles of the harbour of Kingston, where we arrived before breakfast, and the Captain politely volunteered to stop while we should be able to exam-34ine the Fortifications. I did not feel very well, having suffered a little from the limestone water of the Country, but I determined to walk with the rest. Kingston is the British Naval Depot for the Lake and is also defended by a fortification commanding the foot of the Lake upon which the British Government have been and are now expending considerable sums. The Officer who was there was exceedingly civil and showed us every thing that could be shown in the present unfinished condition of the works. The redoubt as the Officer called it is not large but it is very strong and very thoroughly built. I suppose it would require a thousand men. But it seems hardly probable that the relations between the Countries will ever be such as to require all this arming. Canada will contend with England sooner than the United States are likely to.

We returned to the boat and set out on our progress down what I should be apt to consider the head of the St. Lawrence, although it is more commonly included in the Lake — I mean the passage of the thousand Islands. It unfortunately came on to rain so that we were deprived of an opportunity to see these by sunlight. But there is something more charming in the idea than in the reality. The imagination loves to picture them all as cultivated and the residence of persons living for pleasure, while the waters between them were alive with boats and vessels changing to all appearance as fast as the Islands themselves. Instead of this the Solitude is complete. The Islands which are said in number to exceed thirteen hundred are with very few exceptions barren and rocky and not fit for habitation. They are overgrown with wood, principally pines, and birch and present little that is striking in their formation. The stream is hardly vexed by a vessel so that the effect is loneliness. There is notwithstanding great beauty in the combinations which are constantly making anew and in the vistas which are perpetually occurring here and there as you pass along.

All day was consumed in this manner, and as we went on the river grew narrower and we had an opportunity of contrasting the appearance of the English and American side. I thought that the farms of the former were the best looking, but the inhabited places very far inferior. The largest place we passed was called Brockville where we stopped, and we reached our point of destination, Prescott, the termination of the deep water navigation at about five o’clock. Opposite to Prescott is the flourishing town of Ogdensburg in New York, which as we had some hours to spare we determined upon visiting. The distance is something over a mile which is passed in a Steamferry boat. Ogdensburg is a very neat, pretty place and has after being for some years 35stationary lately taken a start in consequence of the projecting spirit which is so rife among us. There is water power here which they propose to make very extensive use of. We rambled about until sunset when it became time to take advantage of the last trip of the ferryboat.

I have tried to account in my own mind for the striking difference which is certainly visible between the two banks of this river. On one, there is activity and an appearance of prosperity which is not so clear on the other. Our Institutions no doubt produce the effect but how? Is it by leaving every thing open to private enterprize. I imagine so, for Canada has fewer taxes than we have and is more cheaply supplied with the necessaries of life. It must be the want of that sort of popular energy which our Institutions foster even to excess.

We returned by invitation of the Captain Colcleugh, a Scotchman who has been here only five years, to the Cobourg where he gave us tea and refused to accept any compensation for it, after which he saw us safely transferred to the Dolphin Steamer which at two in the morning was to go on down the River. We regretted much our old Boat, in which we had so much enjoyed ourselves, and the more because the new one did not promise well. I laid down without undressing in my berth and soon went to sleep.

Thursday. 7th. CFA Thursday. 7th. CFA
Thursday. 7th.

The boat started from the Wharf shortly after three and when I arose at sunrise we were dancing along with great rapidity down the current. This Steamer is the first which has been made with the design of trying the rapids of the St. Lawrence, and is therefore necessarily built light and small. Her trip is of about thirty eight miles to a place which takes its name from the rapid near it called by the French the long Sault, which they do not attempt to pass. The transportation is here made by horses and stages for the distance of twelve miles to a place called Cornwall. From thence a new Steamer, the Neptune carried us a distance of forty one miles over what is called the Lake St. Francis to a place called Coteau du Lac, where we again took Stages for sixteen miles to get by the Rapids of the Cedars and the Cascades. From the cascades, the Henry Brougham took us eighteen miles to Lachine, from whence nine miles to Montreal in Stages. In the whole a fatiguing trip of one hundred and forty miles in one day. The course of the Stream does it for the most part.


We came today into Lower Canada, a different Country from what we had been observing with very different manners. Here it is that the French made their settlements and that their descendants still remain but very little altered from what they were. Here it is that the Catholic faith makes her appearance and the rights of the Feudal ages. As we passed along we observed a religious assemblage in the little town called the Cedars which it was very well to have the opportunity to witnessed. The Church was open, and the little green square before it was surrounded with little booths for the sale of all sorts of things. The Tavern on the opposite side, at which we stopped was crowded and it’s yards filled with horses and waggons while Country people were every moment coming up in their Calèches, which are so peculiar to Canada. Every thing even to the dress of the Canadian batteau men is peculiar and much of it strikingly French.

The appearance of the Country is very stationary. Although the land is rich, the people are a careless race and take no pains to cultivate it. They live without care excepting for the mere necessaries to keep them through their long winters. They clan very much in their settlements being generally close upon the border of the River. Subject to seignoral rights, they have no inducements to make improvements a large portion of which go to the share of the Lord. Upon every transfer, he claims one twelfth part. So that land remains in families and is subdivided until too little is left to any one portion to support its owner. With all this the people seem ignorant and contented.

Our journey today is along the most interesting portion of the St. Lawrence, a wonderful stream, widening and narrowing, now large enough to form a lake and then so small as to pass through a gorge with tremendous rapidity. Of all the rapids that of the Cedars appears to me the most fearful. It was here that by an error of the guide a large number of men under the command of General Amherst during the French War were lost, and it occasionally happens now that boats and rafts get by mistake into that channel from which neither boat nor man ever came out safe. The other rapids are all passable, and there is a class of Canadians who understand the management of boats through. We reached Montreal at about nine, pretty nearly tired out with the fatigue of this long day.