“The day was warm, and the cloudless heavens of that peculiar azure tint which gives to the Canadian skies and waters a brilliancy unknown in more northern latitudes. The air was pure and elastic, the sun shone out with uncommon splendour, lighting up the changing woods with a rich mellow colouring, composed of a thousand brilliant and vivid dyes. The mighty river rolled flashing and sparkling onward, impelled by a strong breeze that tipped its short rolling surges with a crest of snowy foam.”
Susanna Strickland Moodie, September 2, 1832, First Impressions of Canada
Roughing it in the Bush
Susanna and her husband John, set said from Edinburgh to Canada on July 1, 1832, a date, which in itself, is significant. July 1st is the national day of Canada celebrating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the British North America Act. When the Moodies purchased a cleared farm near Cobourg in Hamilton township, Upper Canada (present day Ontario – see map) Canada was still a British Colony. After a year and a half they moved to the backwoods north of Peterborough to be closer to Susanna’s sister, Catharine Parr Traill and brother, Samuel Strickland. Those who have had any experience with the Canadian wilderness, especially in winter, would understand why the Moodies considered life in the ‘backwoods’ to be inhospitable. Even so, it made for good subject matter.
Susanna Strickland Moodie
‘Tis merry to hear, at evening time,
By the blazing hearth the sleigh-bells chime;
To know the bounding steeds bring near
The loved one to our bosoms dear.
Ah, lightly we spring the fire to raise,
Till the rafters glow with the ruddy blaze;
Those merry sleigh-bells, our hearts keep time
Responsive to their fairy chime.
Ding-dong, ding-dong, o’er vale and hill,
Their welcome notes are trembling still.
‘Tis he, and blithely the gay bells sound,
As his sleigh glides over the frozen ground;
Hark! He has pass’d the dark pine wood,
He crosses now the ice-bound flood,
And hails the light at the open door
That tells his toilsome journey’s o’er.
The merry sleigh-bells! My fond heart swells
And trobs to hear the welcome bells;
Ding-dong, ding-dong, o’er ice and snow,
A voice of gladness, on they go.
Our hut is small, and rude our cheer,
But love has spread the banquet here;
And childhood springs to be caress’d
By our beloved and welcome guest.
With a smiling brow his tale he tells,
The urchins ring the merry sleigh-bells;
The merry sleigh-bells, with shout and song
They drag the noisy string along;
Ding-dong, ding-dong, the father’s come
The gay bells ring his welcome home.
From the cedar swamp the gaunt wolves howl,
From the oak loud whoops the felon owl;
The snow-storm sweeps in thunder past,
The forest creaks beneath the blast;
No more I list, with boding fear,
The sleigh-bells distant chime to hear.
The merry sleigh-bells with soothing power
Shed gladness on the evening hour.
Ding-dong, ding-dong, what rapture swells
The music of those joyous bells!