A Chilly Night

canada snowSnippets 126. In 1815 George Head, the assistant commissary-general of the commissariat of the 3rd division of the Spanish army, undertook a journey across North America, snappily titled Forest Scenes and Incidents in the Wilds of North America, Being a Diary of a Winter’s Route from Halifax to the Canadas. His diary was published in 1829. Finding accommodation during his journey was not a simple matter, and often involved relying on the kindness of strangers who allowed him to stay in their homes. Sometimes this involved severe hardship:

I had been indebted to Miss Turner for my supper, and she had made arrangements to prepare an apartment for me in the house, to which when I retired I found I had made an exchange very much for the worse. The house was ill-built, and my room so miserably cold, that to sleep in it seemed a forlorn undertaking. Several panes of glass were cracked, and others were entirely out of the windows, while the ceiling and walls were also out of repair. They had no bed to offer me, and a hay paillasse was the substitute. This I drew as near to the chimney as I could as soon as Miss Turner had consigned me to my meditations. Wrapping myself in my buffalo skin I attempted to go to sleep; but that was quite impossible and I never remember to have suffered so severely from the cold, while I was in the country as on that night. I had no thermometer; but the temperature, I am sure, was some degrees below zero. On getting up in the night to mend the fire with the tongs, the iron froze to my fingers, so as to feel quite sticky, — an effect of cold I have subsequently experienced on several occasions. I passed a very miserable night, sometimes walking about the room and beating my sides with my arms, and then trying in vain to sleep by the fire.

However, at other times Head received a much warmer welcome:

Although the dwelling of a Canadian peasant may not deserve much praise, too much cannot be said of his fire. An enormous log, so big as to require the strength of two or three men with levers to bring it in, is laid at the back of the hearth, and this the Canadians call the ”buche”: a large one lasts full forty-eight hours, and ours this night was a brilliant specimen. So that my lodging was at least good, and I slept soundly on the boards, wrapped up in my buffalo skin.


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