“Lost in the Bush” in Vespra township

George Sneath’s curiosity almost costs him his life.

From Barrie to Georgian Bay, the lands were still wild although Oliver’s mill at Midhurst was almost two decades old.

PIONEER LIFE IN VESPRA.

By Geo. Sneath, Esq.

Another danger which the settler had to dread was getting lost in the bush. It was a very serious matter at that time to find oneself astray in a wilderness extending to Lake Huron…

I had a not very pleasant experience myself of being lost in the bush:

In the year 1843 the country lying between Lake Simcoe and the Nottawasaga Bay, with the exception of two small settlements in Vespra, was an unbroken wilderness, inhabited only by wild animals. The lumberman had not yet found his way into it to strip it of its noble pine and oak trees with which the greater part of it was covered.

To the white man it was an unknown and unexplored land almost as much so as the then “Great Lone Land” of the Northwest.

The dense swamps and thickly timbered pine woods of this great valley of the Nottawasaga, which is now a fertile country covered with hundreds of homesteads, harbored wolves and other savage animals which roamed through its fastnesses seeking their prey unmolested, which made it dangerous for one, unless well armed, to venture into it and still more dangerous that he might get lost in its labyrinths.

I, along with a friend, in the fall of the year mentioned, just when the trees had got their autumn tints, left our homes not far from Barrie, for a stroll into the bush, without any particular end in view, unless it was to see nature in its pristine grandeur. We were just out from the Old Country, and knew nothing of bush life; everything we saw was a novelty to us. We carried no weapons with us, and, being cautioned, had no intention of leaving the blazed line on which we were travelling; but both of us being enthusiastic lovers of nature and amateur botanists, and finding something new to admire and wonder at, at nearly every step we took, it was little wonder that we lost the track of the blazed trees which had guided us out, and which we depended on to guide us home again. But lost them we had, nor could we get trace of them again, the more we searched the more bewildered we became. Our enthusiasm for the wonders of the bush was gone.

We were “Lost in the Bush.” After travelling for some time, to make matters worse we got into a cedar swamp so dense that we could scarcely see a rod before us. After tramping about for hours to no purpose and most likely getting farther away from home, we came to the conclusion that we had to pass the night, which was now fast closing upon us, in the bush, and hope for better luck to get out of it the next morning. A search would be made for us by our friends and by travelling we were only making it harder for them to find us…

Hunger, rain, tired and now wolves?

Just as darkness came on, between the claps of thunder we heard the howlings of a pack of wolves apparently not a mile distant. What were we to do? Fly we could not; we could only wait and Tremble. Of course sleep or even lying down was out of the question. Every hour seemed to us an age. At different times in the night we heard the tramp of some animals among the bushes and expected the wolves down upon us every minute, but we were not molested.

That long night at last came to an end. The dawn of morning was never more welcomed than by us. Drenched with rain, faint with hunger and tired out we commenced our tramp to try and find our way out. After travelling for hours through swamps and over wind-falls and apparently getting farther into the labyrinths of the bush, oh, joy! we heard the report of a gun at a great distance away in the opposite direction to that we were tramping in. We at once faced about and quickened our steps for the direction the sound came from; more shots and the sound of horns blowing gladdened our ears. We were sure now that our friends were looking for us and that our trouble was over. Shortly we heard the shouts of our friends which we answered with a will. We forgot all about our wretched condition. We were found.

Our friends welcomed us as though we had risen from the dead.

We had travelled a good many miles, and the wonder was that we had not a more serious experience of being lost in the bush. A party of a dozen or more men of the settlement had been out all night firing off guns and blowing horns but we were too far away to hear them. On our way home we found that the wolves had run down a cow, killed and partly eaten it. Old settlers told us only for the cow we would have been doomed men.

Pioneer Papers – No. 2, Simcoe County Pioneer and Historical Society, Barrie, 1908. or here. p. 18-21

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