SEASONS OF 1795
History is the observation and recording of facts by a historian.
Weather around the world has been unusually unpredictable over the past few years, and the blame for some of it has been placed squarely on weather-altering El Nino and its counterpart La Nina. The former is the name given to a pool of unusually warm Pacific water off the northwest coast of South America. La Nina, which follows El Nino, is a pool of unusually cool, tropical water in the same location. Both appear to have a profound influence on global climate and weather. It may well be that 1795 was an El Nino/La Nina year, for the weather in Upper Canada was extremely erratic with complaints about the weather being as common then as they are now.In Her Own Words
"Heat insufferable, excessive, intense; 95 in the shade."
This lament about the oppressive summer temperatures is taken from the diary of Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. It records the suffering of one citizen during that steamy summer, when daytime temperatures averaged 35 degrees throughout much of July, August and September. Elizabeth sought to beat the heat by whatever means she could and this included "taking tea" and eating two or three watermelons a day. She kept, Francis, her three year old son, cool by dipping him in the Niagara River for ten minutes at a time.
A dip in that day really meant a dip, for that apparently was the closest anyone came to swimming. During the humid nights, Elizabeth found what little relief she could by sleeping on the floor. Once when completely fatigued by the searing heat and heavy humidity, she travelled to the cataract and had a tent pitched near the brink of the Falls. Here she finally fell asleep "in the pleasantest way possible," lulled by the sound and cooled by the soft mist of the cascading waters.
That same year farmers near Newark had high hopes for a bumper harvest of wheat, the staple crop of Upper Canada. As it turned out a quality yield was produced, but its quantity fell far short of expectations and bore little resemblance to the bounteous yields of former years. The reason: the hot, humid summer was also an extremely dry one. In addition to parched fields the province was plagued by a voracious foreigner - the Hessian fly. Thought to have been introduced into the United States by mercenary troops from Hesse, Germany, this destructive insect invaded the province of Upper Canada in 1793.
The larvae of the tiny fly, which infested and fed insatiably on the wheat stalk, was so injurious, there was fear among the farmers it would eventually prove ruinous to the wheat crop. To make matters worse, harvesting the scanty yield was handicapped by the widespread illness of the colony's residents, most of whom were laid low by ague and its violent fevers. "Want of population" also aggravated the situation for the shortage of workers made it difficult to procure farm hands at almost any price. In addition to flour, cured pork was also in short supply since the drought had destroyed nearly all the Indian corn on which the pigs were usually fattened.
Compounding these problems were the heavy autumn rains, which resulted in reduced fall planting of winter wheat, a fact that hinted at hunger and hardships to come the following year. Richard Cartwright, a leading merchant in Upper Canada, informed Governor Simcoe that he was unable to send any flour from Kingston to York becauseIn His Own Words
"There was "not a barrel to be bought."
Cartwright suggested the situation called for the establishment of public granaries.In His Own Words
"The plenty of one year can be made to supply the scarcity of the next and the abundance of one district used to relieve the wants of another."
An immediate consequence of the shortage of wheat as high prices for flour and bread in both Upper and Lower Canada. The latter province was an attractive market for Upper Canadian farmers, who eagerly anticipated receiving higher profits there. As a result they refrained from tendering to supply flour at a lower price for the troops at Kingston. The farmers informed Simcoe that if the government would pay them 15 pence a hundredweight above the Montreal price, they would abstain from sending flour "down the country," that is, to Lower Canada.
Angered at being held to ransom, but fearful of a shortage of flour for "His Majesty's forces and others in the district," Simcoe proposed to Lord Dorchester that an embargo be placed on the sale of flour, wheat and other grains to Lower Canada. Dorchester quickly quashed this proposal, saying that serious consequences would abruptly follow any such unfriendly act of one province towards another. He cautioned that such a solution must be guarded against with great care. He did agree with Simcoe's decision to embargo all shipments of wheat and flour destined for American territory.
Simcoe's fears of famine were well founded, for he received a petition from the province's suffering inhabitants imploring him to give them food. Despite being ordered by Dorchester to desist from using commissary supplies for any but His Majesty's soldiers, Simcoe distributed food to the needy from the King's commissary and hoped to be able to replace it the following year.
In addition to drought, heat, humidity, heavy rains and violent thunderstorms, parts of the province were savaged by a hurricane. Described as "memorable" by awestruck onlookers, its severe winds whipped through the settlements tearing up trees and scattering them over newly cleared land and across the badly rutted roads. In a report to Dundas, Simcoe said he regretted having to inform him that the "promising"settlement of York was "materially injured by the inclemency of the seasons." The Carrying Place [West Landing} on the Niagara frontier across from Lewiston was a beehive of activity. Under the crack of the whip numerous teams of oxen and horses left the village and laboured up the face of the Escarpment with loads of goods for settlements to the west. Now because of the winds and the resultant severe windfall of trees, the trail was rendered impassable.
The closure of this important portage to traffic and trade necessitated holding three hundred barrels of flour at Queenston over the winter. They were finally shipped the following spring, where at Chippawa they were loaded onto the vessel Francis, a newly constructed sloop built at Detroit and christened in honour of Simcoe's son. One visitor was very impressed with the activity at Queenston. "Numerous teams, chiefly oxen, were employed taking up Portage Road bales and boxes and bringing down Packs and pelfries. Fourteen teams were at the wharf (Queenston) waiting to be loaded onto three schooners."
On November 1st there was a light snow fall and then on November 27th about five o'clock in the morning, another of nature's cataclysms struck Niagara. Mrs. Simcoe recorded that the shock of an earthquake was felt "by the Governor and almost everybody in the garrison but me." The unusual weather continued. On December 1st it was like a summer day, but then came frost and frigid weather and with it the disappearance of much of the settlement's sickness.
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