Saturday, January 01, 2005

A description of the Canadian forests in 1820's

John MacTaggart authored a book entitled: “Three years in Canada: an account of the actual state of the country in 1826-7-8, comprehending its resources, productions, improvements and capabilities, and including sketches of the state of society, advice to emigrants, &c.”
The publisher was H. Colburn, out of London and the book was published in 1829.

John MacTaggart was an engineer engaged by Lt-Col By to do an engineering survey of the proposed route of the Rideau Canal. Mr. MacTaggart was a man who tended to "think out of the box". He was very concerned about preserving the natural environment. He is also observant in that he noticed the impact of clearing land – as was by this time of writing already done extensively in the Eastern Townships of Quebec – and compared it to the still forested and untouched lands.

The author devotes one chapter to forests. I offer the following pertinent excerpts from the chapter and decided to confine the excerpts to the descriptions of the trees and bushes that he provides.


. . . The oak is not so endurable a wood as that of Britain; the fibre is not so compact and strong. It grows in extensive groves near the banks of some of the large lakes and rivers.


There is another kind of oak, called scrubby oak, which grows on rocky hills:-the wood of this is much like the British gnarly oak; it is difficult to work with the hatchet, but of a very durable nature, . . . The worst species for art or commerce seems to be the swamp oak: it grows in marshy places, is full of branches, soft to work, and irregular in form: the butts are often found very thick, and when water-soaked, that is in certain state of decay, . . .

p. 96.

The quantity of good oak in Canada is great, and might furnish navies for Britain as often as she requires them; ...

The pine grows on sandy soils, which are considered not good for agricultural purposes; ...

White Pine is the most common timber in Canada for Mercantile purposes; it is found chiefly in large quantities growing together, called Pineries.

p. 97.

The pitch-pine is the same with that well-known tree called the scotch-fir: it has much resin, . . . Sometimes in Canada, this wood goes under the name of the Norway-pine: it is seldom wrought into any thing. Besides all these pines, there are various firs and larches of small growth met with, according to their soils. The spruce-fir is very common, and furnishes materials for spruce-beer, a beverage in high request amongst the Canadians; and spruce knees, which are the roots of this tree, are found to be a good substitute for crooked oak, in ship-building.

The pine is the loftiest tree that grows in the forest; it looks down on the oak, and is often to be seen nearly a hundred feet high before a branch appears. I have seen it tower to near two hundred feet in height. . .


The fir species is more numerous than that of any other tree.

There are many kinds of ash-the swamp ash, white ash, and prickly ash, all varying according to soil: it is not a very serviceable wood. The prickly ash is ornamental, of a wavy nature; tables and furniture made of it . . . look very well; . . .

Black and white birch are very useful timber, and tolerably plentiful. It is the bark of the white birch that the Indians make their beautiful canoes.
The beech, elm, sleek-skinned and shaggy hickory, are very common on the fertile soils, along with maple, curly and sugar maple.
The curly or bird's-eye maple makes beautiful house furniture, . . . highly prized . . .

Butter-nut is also a tree which furnishes ornamental wood: it is not a large tree, and has many


branches, knots, and holes, in which squirrels lodge. The nuts are as large as hen-eggs, rough skinned, of an olive colour, and taste something like butter. Iron-wood may also be accounted one of those which grow on what is called hard-wood land: it is neither a thick nor a tall tree, about the size of hickory, and may be converted into a useful wood for many purposes.
In the deep gullies we meet with the white sycamore and button-wood tree. In the marshes, alder, spotted, alder, willow shrub, and a variety of thorn appears; and in the swamps, red cedar, tamarack, hemlock of many shades. . . . the hemlock grows large, but with a hollow heart; . . .

There are great many varieties of shrubs; the shumack may be accounted one, and also the leatherwood tree, of which beautiful hats are manufactured. The briars are of numerous kinds, as wild raspberries, black-current and gooseberry.

Wild plumb, apple, hazel, walnut, and cherry trees are in abundance; while the vines, like the ivy twine luxuriantly round the aged cedar of the loamy marsh.

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