Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 7

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

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.

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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.

Friday. 8th. CFA Friday. 8th. CFA
Friday. 8th.

Montreal is rather prettily situated at the foot of a high hill which by its shape has the appearance of three joining each other. It contains 37more inhabitants than any other place, in Canada, numbering over thirty thousand and is built entirely of stone. And yet the land upon which it stands is a seignory of the Catholic Seminary of that place. The morning was exceedingly hot and yet we determined to go out and take a look at what was to be seen. The streets are very narrow and irregular but the place looks rather flourishing, a good many houses building and the old ones in good condition.

In consequence of some representations that were made to us respecting the importance of being at Quebec on Sunday to see the military parade, we decided to go tonight so that it was important to make the best of our time today. Accordingly, we visited the Cathedral, which is the largest building of the kind probably in North America. The exterior is in the Gothic style and very handsome although the two steeples upon the front are not yet erected, which takes off all the effect. The interior is also unfinished and presents a very indifferent appearance. We went in although there was no service. A single Priest at the altar apparently engaged in deep meditation, and here and there a person who came in to say his prayers.

From the Cathedral we went to the Convent of Grey Nuns, a large building which has enjoyed some notoriety of late from being the spot selected for the stories of Maria Monk a woman who is making money out of the public credulity.1 We visited many of the rooms and the chapel. In one of them were the old and infirm. In another foundling girls of two or three years, in a third, the boys, and in a fourth, the infants and so forth. It seems to be a Charity foundation of no very agreeable class of occupations and I confess I was puzzled to perceive the wickedness. The women were only busy in bringing out their little boxes to make us buy their trifling bits of work and thus pay for our intrusion. The Chapel was very clean and was ornamented with pictures and figures according to the Catholic fancy. How they can admire such personations of their objects of worship I do not understand. The religion is a species of idolatry which requires the interference of the senses, it is made for an ordinary class of minds.

We returned home to dine, it being then five o’clock, after which we had not much time to get ready our things for the next move to Quebec. At eight o’clock we went down to the Steamer Canada and found ourselves again in a crowd going from Montreal.

1.

On the fanciful “autobiography” of Maria Monk, written by anti-Catholic agitators and published as Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, N.Y., 1836, see Notable American Women , 2:560.