By : Dennis Stein
Many of us today have not gone hungry for any long period of time. Imagine what it would be like to wake up every day, and not have anything, or very little to eat. Combine that with quickly constructed homes, and a rugged wilderness that was only just beginning to be shaped into land suitable for farming, and you might imagine what the United Empire Loyalists had to contend with in the newly settled Royal Townships in the summer of 1788.
It was only four years since the Loyalists had arrived to settle this part of Ontario, clearing land slowly, and sharing tools to build homes. There were less than twenty cows available the first year or so, and the governor from Quebec sought to secure provisions of livestock and seed for crops from across the border to the south. Tragedy struck in 1788, however, as the fledgling crop that were available failed. Already hard conditions quickly became worse. New settlers coming in to the townships were being given no provisions at all by the government, and were totally unable to provide for themselves. Families were sustained on mostly a porridge of oats, sometimes for long periods. Fish and game when caught were usually cooked and eaten in the woods, and eaten plain. Children would beg from passersby on boats, and people gave up their entire properties in exchange for a few bags of flour. It is recorded that five people starved to death.
One of the more interesting accounts of the famine was the story of a Deacon in Augusta township, who left his wife and children to travel to the western part of the province where he had friends, to secure food and provisions. He left them with a supply that would last them two weeks, if it was rationed. His travels, and the complications thereof delayed him by a further nine days, and his wife, who had rationed their food carefully, saw that she and her children faced certain starvation. She had nothing to do but retire to bed for the night, sure that the next day they would have nothing to eat. In the morning, to her great surprise, the cat had caught a rabbit, which she cleaned and cooked. Each of the next eight days, until the Deacon returned, the cat brought a rabbit for the wife and children to eat. Once her husband had returned with some food and provisions, the cat never caught another rabbit...
Starvation is something that most people don't have to worry about here today, but one can imagine the desperate feeling of hunger from the early settlers of this province, and this country, in a rugged wilderness where the land had to be cultivated before being able to provide much. For more historical articles, visit thefineprints.blogspot.ca.