Life in the 1820s
If you lived in 1820s Colonial Canada, your life would be a constant and ever-present struggle for survival. The land was still wilderness. There were few roads, and those that existed were choked by roots and rocks. Medical care was rudimentary. Goods were expensive. It took months for news to travel from community to community, and years for fashions to catch on. Let’s take a look at colonists’ lives.
The average cabin measured 16 feet by 25 feet. It had a dirt floor, but no foundation, and was a drafty, single-story structure heated by a fireplace. It often was without windows, leaving the interior dark and smoky, and providing no escape from blackflies and mosquitos. Frame houses were five to 10 times more expensive.
A typical house included a table, a bed, chairs, a chest, a sideboard, candlesticks, bowls, a coffeepot, bottles, pots, a frying pan, utensils and plates.
One fifth of incomes was spent on flour.
Land was cheap but labor was scarce. The entire colony of New Brunswick needed cleared. Farmers could clear an average of four acres a year, but weeds and young trees were a constant problem. Crops were sewn by hand around tree stumps.
In the Maritimes, farmers were often in debt because of the weather and poor soil. It was a perilous life.
Although horses are usually associated with pre-mechanized farming, oxen were preferred by Canadian colonists. The most common names given to oxen were Buck and Bright.
Other animals found on the farm include cows, pigs, chicken and ducks.
Women cared for the children and the garden and were in charge of making clothing, washing, feeding animals, milking and butter churning.
Large families were common – eight to 10 children – because people married young. Survival rates were high after the first year, but in the 18th century 25 percent of babies died. This rate declined somewhat during the early 19th century.
Like farmers, fishermen in the 1820s were poor and often on the edge of starvation. The winter of 1816-17 was harsh with a poor catch.
The fishing industry was based primarily in Newfoundland. Boatkeepers owned their boats and equipment and sold their catch to merchants who resided in England or Ireland.
Rising costs and a labor shortage forced boatkeepers down the social ladder and many began to garden.
Fur trading was a profession on the decline during the 1820s. By 1824, only 24 trading posts remained. At the turn of the century, it had been 423.
A once highly competitive industry, it was controlled by a conglomerate comprised of Hudson Bay Co. and North West Co. The industry was concentrated in Montreal, but business was conducted between the St. Lawrence River and Hudson Bay.
Lumberjacking was a winter profession in Colonial Canada. And until the mid-1820s, companies could operate without a license.
The best trees were 150 feet tall. Men cut them with an ax, then moved them by horse or ox to a waterway where logs were floated to sawmills.
Men often drowned or died of injury.
In addition, farmers supplemented their income by selling lumber.
Where to Purchase Journey of Hope
This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s historical fiction novella, Journey of Hope.
Hardship defines Claire’s life. Her husband, Harold, dreams of greater opportunity. A treacherous journey lies ahead.