Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sutherland’s: A “Truly Happy Community”

Upper Canada Militiaman 1837-1838

The Upper Canada rebellion had consequences for Thomas Sutherland and his community. While it was a time of significant stress, he also profited financially, renting at least two properties to Her Majesty’s Troops (who later had to pay repairs to the tune of 14 pounds, 5 shillings). It also seems likely he made money feeding and watering (or wining) the troops. In exchange, they enhanced the community’s lively social life. From a letter dated Sutherland, Moore, River St. Clair, 5th March, 1839:

…I was told, in Toronto, “you are going to the land of Swamps and Indians”—I found it that of smiling Farms, good old English faces, and good old English hospitality….. The River St. Clair with a rapid current and clear green waters, winds through high and picturesque banks from Port Sarnia to its entrance into the Lake. The whole distance, with the exception of a reserve of 4 miles for the Indians, consists of flourishing farms, with here and there a pretty English cottage, breaking the uniformity of the rude but comfortable log house…..

….Most truly does the motto of the Albion, “caelum, non animum mutant,” &c. [those who run across the sea change their sky but not their state of mind] apply to the English part of Canada; loyalty burns in every heart, hospitality reigns in every family, and now that little temporary quiet has again revisited it, happiness beams in every face.

The officers of the Volunteer Corps assembled under Col. Wright, hastened to take advantage of the opportunity to give a Ball and supper. I was really surprized [sic] on entering the room to find it tastefully decorated with evergreens, and with the Union Jack and the Ensign of Old England hanging in graceful folds around it; much less did I expect to see such a numerous assembly of pretty and well dressed women; I had seen nothing of the kind since I had left home and fancied myself once more in merry old England, enjoying her winter revels. The dance was gaily kept up till daylight, when we all entered our sleighs and drove home.

The week after, a wedding took place near us, and after the pretty blushing bride had received the nuptial benediction, we sat down to an excellent dinner where, as on similar occasions, the glass and joke passed merrily round, until we were summoned to the ballroom, where we were soon engaged in threading the mazes of the gay quadrille; then came the supper—that glorious termination of a well spent day—and with it the song and blessings on the twain that day made one, and then the heartfelt “Hip, hip hurrah,” and then to bed and they to bliss.

Hardly had we resented from our previous pleasures when the gallant Colonel who commands the frontier gave a dinner party to the officers of his corps, followed in the evening by a ball; and here let me pause to expatiate on the feed; the cooking was worthy of an artiste; and long shall I revel in memory on the inimitable curry, the fish and venison.—The ball was delightful; the music good; all gay and goo humored; and until three o’clock, with the pleasing interruption of an excellent supper, we danced and sang and sang and danced.

Capt. Fisher, the worthy adjutant of the regiment, then took up the ball; and as he excels in the field, so was he found a “trump” in the ball-room. All his anxiety was to promote the hilarity of the evening, and what with his good music, good wine, and hearty welcome, not to omit excellent supper, he amply succeeded. At three o’clock we separated, to wish to return again.

Several more parties are, I understand, talked of, though not yet decided upon; and thus, in enjoying themselves in causing enjoyment to others, does this truly happy community pass its winter. There is none of the cold formality or starched ceremony of would-be great people; a hearty welcome a spare bed, and a set at the mahogany, or, rather, black walnut, await you wherever you go: and for myself, I can only say, that I came here a stranger, and was received as a friend.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Heather Club

I’ve come across a reference to Thomas Sutherland’s involvement in local civic life. Namely, in 1823, “Thomas Sutherland, a merchant tailor […] was the founder of a club still existing in the city, known as the ‘Heather Club’…. The Heather Club was instituted by him to foster a taste for rustic sports and good fellowship, and it still exists on the lines of its original constitution.” The history of the Heather Club supports Sutherland’s role, though it does get his name slightly wrong:

“It fell to the lot of a Mr. Joseph Sutherland, a merchant in Edinburgh, to conceive the idea of founding an association, which, then its embryo state, ultimately became in the year 1823 the ‘Edinburgh Heather Club’. At a later date we find from authenticated data that this Mr Sutherland emigrated to Upper Canada and there formed a colony, which was named after him – viz the district of Sutherland, on the river St. Clair.”

Another writer claimed it was intended to “encourage traditional Scottish games,” and certainly they were known for an annual excursion to the Pentlands accompanied by a piper. The rest of the time they appeared to have functioned as a dinner club for Jacobites.

Of everything I have read, however, it is the fact that a young Muriel Spark once won their poetry prize that amuses me most. By her own account:

“A poetry competition was launched among the schools of Edinburgh by the Heather Club, a men's club founded in 1823 (for what purpose I do not know, except that it was very Scottish). I won first prize with my poem about Sir Walter Scott, and another girl at Gillespie's got third prize. The school was doubly jubilant; everyone was delighted. So delighted that I hadn't the heart, I couldn't possibly explain how I felt about the prize itself. Partly, it was a number of books, and that pleased me. But partly it was a coronet, with which I was to be crowned Queen of Poetry at some public Scott-centenary celebration. My mother was overjoyed, as was nearly everyone else, in school and out of school. I felt like the Dairy Queen of Dumfries, but I endured the experience and survived it. A star actress, Esther Ralston, did the crowning. It was a mystery to me what she had to do with poetry or Sir Walter Scott. The coronet itself was cheap-looking, I thought. The only person who openly agreed with my point of view was our reserved and usually silent headmaster, T J Burnett. He knew I had to go through with it now that I had won the prize, but he showed a sense of the unsuitable nature of this coronet affair. He was essentially an administrator, a man of very few words. '’Tinsel,’' he said quietly to me, and then made a congratulatory speech in front of the school. According to his daughter, Maida, he remarked at home, '’That lassie can write.'”

…thus extending Sutherland’s literary associations in ways not previously anticipated.