CHAPTER IV. LOWER CANADA.
But there is another very worthy lion near Quebec - the Falls, namely, of Montmorency. They are eight miles from the town, and the road lies through the suburb of St. Roch, and the long, straggling French village of Beauport. These are in themselves very interesting, as showing the quiet, orderly, unimpulsive manner in which the French Canadians live. Such is their character, although there have been such men as Papineau, and although there have been times in which English rule has been unpopular with the French settlers. As far as I could learn there is no such feeling now. These people are quiet, contented; and, as regards a sufficiency of the simple staples of living, sufficiently well to do. They are thrifty, but they do not thrive. They do not advance, and push ahead, and become a bigger people from year to year, as settlers in a new country should do. They do not even hold their own in comparison with those around them. But has not this always been the case with colonists out of France; and has it not always been the case with Roman Catholics when they have been forced to measure themselves against Protestants? As to the ultimate fate in the world of this people, one can hardly form a speculation. There are, as nearly as I could learn, about 800,000 of them in Lower Canada; but it seems that the wealth and commercial enterprise of the country is passing out of their hands. Montreal, and even Quebec, are, I think, becoming less and less French every day; but in the villages and on the small farms the French still remain, keeping up their language, their habits, and their religion. In the cities they are becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water. I am inclined to think that the same will ultimately be their fate in the country. Surely one may declare as a fact that a Roman Catholic population can never hold its ground against one that is Protestant. I do not speak of numbers; for the Roman Catholics will increase and multiply, and stick by their religion, although their religion entails poverty and dependence, as they have done and still do in Ireland. But in progress and wealth the Romanists have always gone to the wall when the two have been made to compete together. And yet I love their religion. There is something beautiful, and almost divine, in the faith and obedience of a true son of the Holy Mother. I sometimes fancy that I would fain be a Roman Catholic - if I could; as also I would often wish to be still a child - if that were possible.
All this is on the way to the Falls of Montmorency. These falls are placed exactly at the mouth of the little river of the same name, so that it may be said absolutely to fall into the St. Lawrence. The people of the country, however, declare that the river into which the waters of the Montmorency fall is not the St. Lawrence, but the Charles. Without a map I do not know that I can explain this. The River Charles appears to, and in fact does, run into the St. Lawrence just below Quebec. But the waters do not mix. The thicker, browner stream of the lesser river still keeps the northeastern bank till it comes to the Island of Orleans, which lies in the river five or six miles below Quebec. Here or hereabouts are the Falls of the Montmorency, and then the great river is divided for twenty-five miles by the Isle of Orleans. It is said that the waters of the Charles and the St. Lawrence do not mix till they meet each other at the foot of this island.
I do not know that I am particularly happy at describing a waterfall, and what little capacity I may have in this way I would wish to keep for Niagara. One thing I can say very positively about Montmorency, and one piece of advice I can give to those who visit the falls. The place from which to see them is not the horrible little wooden temple which has been built immediately over them on that side which lies nearest to Quebec. The stranger is put down at a gate through which a path leads to this temple, and at which a woman demands from him twenty-five cents for the privilege of entrance. Let him by all means pay the twenty-five cents. Why should he attempt to see the falls for nothing, seeing that this woman has a vested interest in the showing of them? I declare that if I thought that I should hinder this woman from her perquisites by what I write, I would leave it unwritten, and let my readers pursue their course to the temple - to their manifest injury. But they will pay the twenty-five cents. Then let them cross over the bridge, eschewing the temple, and wander round on the open field till they get the view of the falls, and the view of Quebec also, from the other side. It is worth the twenty-five cents and the hire of the carriage also. Immediately over the falls there was a suspension bridge, of which the supporting, or rather non-supporting, pillars are still to be seen. But the bridge fell down, one day, into the river; and - alas! alas! - with the bridge fell down an old woman, and a boy, and a cart - a cart and horse - and all found a watery grave together in the spray. No attempt has been made since that to renew the suspension bridge; but the present wooden bridge has been built higher up in lieu of it.
Strangers naturally visit Quebec in summer or autumn, seeing that a Canada winter is a season with which a man cannot trifle; but I imagine that the mid-winter is the best time for seeing the Falls of Montmorency. The water in its fall is dashed into spray, and that spray becomes frozen, till a cone of ice is formed immediately under the cataract, which gradually rises till the temporary glacier reaches nearly half way to the level of the higher river. Up this men climb - and ladies also, I am told - and then descend, with pleasant rapidity, on sledges of wood, sometimes not without an innocent tumble in the descent. As we were at Quebec in September, we did not experience the delights of this pastime.