Roughing It In The Bush

When I was in school I remember reading excerpts of Susanna Moodie's book, Roughing It In The Bush and passages by her sister, Catherine Parr Trail in a Social Studies text. Both depicted pioneer life in Canada from the perspectives of female British immigrants. Catherine wrote about the beauty of her new wilderness home while her sister, Susanna, held nothing back in her description of the hardships of making a go of it in the woods of Southern Ontario in the 1830's. If anyone would have suggested that I read Roughing In In The Bush this time last year, I would have said that I'd rather poke my eye out with a stick! And, needless to say, the idea of reading it when I was in school was definitely out.

Illustration from Roughing It

My recent discovery of specific ancestors who arrived in a part of Ontario, not that far from the Moodie's home in the bush, just a year before the arrival of Susanna and her family, motivated me to pick up this thick book, first published in1913. Mrs. Moodie was an experienced writer before she and her husband decided to immigrate to Canada to seek a prosperous life. Thus her descriptions of sailing up the Saint Lawrence past Grosse Isle and Quebec City and eventually to the "back woods" of Southern Ontario are vivid. While her passage on the ship was more comfortable than most, being upper class, the journey was rough and dreaded Cholera was rampant. Her arrival among the hordes of immigrants in these eastern Canadian ports disgusted her and she describes these lower class newcomers as,"uneducated barbarians, who form the surplus of overpopulated European countries".  (Surely she can't be referring to MY ancestors?!!) In fact she describes in vivid detail her experience with many of the "lower class" neighbors she encounters in her back woods home. The "Indians", however, she refers to as "Nature's gentlemen".

"There never was a people more sensible of kindness, or more grateful of any little act of benevolence exercised towards them. We met them with confidence; our dealings with them were conducted with the strictest integrity;"

While the book was long, it was an easy and entertaining read. The author describes an interesting character who attended their family's "logging-bee" (similar to a barn-raising that included lots of whiskey). She describes his attempt to entertain the attendees like this:

"Arrah. ladies and jintlemen, do jist turn your swate little eyes upon me whilst I play for your iddifications the last illigant tune which my owld  grandmother taught me.

I learned a lot about the tough life of pioneers in the late 19th century in Canada. And, of course what my ancestors, who lost two children on the passage over must have went through. The author and her family suffered greatly in an attempt to create a successful farm in the back woods, and eventually left the bush for a more prosperous life in another part of Ontario.

So, if you are interested in the "unromantic" struggles of a pioneer woman .... check out Roughing It In The Bush by Susanna Moodie at your local library  917.13042 MOO !


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