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Title: Tom Hay, Canada, to Mother, Anna Hay, Peterborough, Canada.
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileHay, Tom/19
SenderHay, Tom
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationmanual worker
Sender Religionunknown
OriginRiding Mountain House, Canada
DestinationPeterborough, Ontario, Canada
RecipientHay, Anna
Recipient Genderfemale
SourceD1424/11/4B: Purchased From Mr. John A. Gamble, 44 Taunton Avenue, Belfast 15. #TYPE EMG Letter From Tom Hay at Riding Mountain House, [Location?], Canada, to His Mother [Anna Hay?], [Peterborough?], [Ontario?] [Canada?], 24 July 1879.
ArchivePublic Record Office N. Ireland.
Doc. No.9004004
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
Log11:05:1990 SS created 14:08:1990 CD input 22:08:19
Word Count5061
TranscriptFrom Tom's letter

Riding Mountain House
Thursday July 24th 1879

we left the Little Saskatchewan
on Monday morning & had to coast along
the river shore, for some distance &
came to a place where there was supposed
to lie a ferry, but such a ferry it was!
A few peices [pieces?] of timber tied together
& three or four peices [pieces?] of plank laid
across them, it took us the whole fore noon
[forenoon?] to get across, for these were not
our carts & buggies, but four carts
heavily loaded with our supplies of pork
flour, tea leaves & several other carts
& waggons all of which were at the
ferry before us, so we had to wait
our turn, but in order to hasten
our passage, we all helped it was
pretty hard work, we got over about noon
& travelled till about 2 pm & then stopped
& had dinner. All tuesday & wednesday
till evening we travelled on along the most
dreadful roads it is possible to imagine,
several times getting off the track, but at
long last, we arrived here safely but
wet to the skin & our luggage the same-
The riding Mountain House is situated
on a most beautiful site overlooking
the broad valley of the Little Saskachewan
which we are once more camped beside
This is really the most beautiful valley
I ever saw - the banks are very
high & the side opposite is thickly
grown with trees, the valley below is
about a 1/4 of a mile wide & perfectly
flat, through this the river winds like
a snake, making some tremendous loops
& bends, sometimes running parallel with
itself for nearly 1 mile & then doubling
back - In the 2 miles of the valley in
view from our camp, the river must
run 5 miles there are so many turns
We are still 24 miles from our work
and we cannot find out which is the best
way to go - there is a road running part of
the way & we have to make a boat or
a raft for the rest of the way - uncle
George has been out all day interviewing
the Indians to try & find out the
most expeditious way of getting along -
There is a large camp of Sioux Indians
just below us on a bend in the river
they are genuine wild Indians & cannot
speak a word of English we are camping
on a very high hill overlooking the valley
& we catch all the wind that is going
At present there is a tremendous storm
going on & our tents are flapping about
at a great rate - Still it is more comfortable
to be under them, than out on the
wide prairie which we have had
several days of coming this far while
[?]ing & having to walk knee deep in
prairie mud is no fun I can assure
you - I do wish that we could get a few hours
sunshine to dry our clothes & blankets
the latter have been wet for 3 days &
we have just to lie down in them at night
with all the misery we have gone through
I must say we are all well & in
tolerable good spirits, but we were rather
disappointed when we found
that our post Office is 40 miles from
here, & that we could not get any letter till
sent for them Mr Andy the Hudsons Bay
Company's Agent here is a very nice
young fellow, he comes from Montreal
& is French - When uncle G [George?] arrived
here yesterday - Mr A [Andy?] took him to his house
for tea, while conversing uncle G [George?] found
out that Mrs Andy was cousin to his (uncle
G's [George's?] first wife) & therefore related to Walter
& Louis - we were frightfully hungry
when we arrived here yesterday & we
had no bread baked so Walter (who is
our cook now) had to make some fried
cakes - which we devoured as fast as
he could make them we travelled
about 10 miles before breakfast, but the
roads were so very bad from the constant
rain that it took us from seven till eleven
to go that far & then we had breakfast
& a short rest, then we started off again
& arrived here at 6 o'clock & had dinner
& tea together tho' [although?] we had to wait until
our cakes were fried - then we went
to bed so had only 2 meals yesterday & walked
in all about 20 miles. We did not
drink any of the water on the prairie
till it has been strained through a cloth
boiled and made into tea - because it is
thick of all sorts of horrible things
but it makes first rate tea The
mosquitos are dreadfully teasing they
follow us in clouds except when the
sun is shining bright - then they go to
the deep grass & sometimes a very strong
wind will keep them off - But the Bulldog
flies are more respectable - ther [their?]
"office hours" are from 9 in the morning till
4 in the afternoon - while the mosquitoes
are out at all hours - except as I said when
the sun shines very brightly - there are some
tremendous black snakes in the river
but they are harmless - I hope we
shall sometimes have a chance of
sending & getting letters from the post office
but it will be a great undertaking we
shall have to do it some way or other

August 3d I hope you are all well at home
it seems like a year since I left home
on the 30th of June just 5 weeks ago tomorrow
we have not had one letter yet nor paper
Our nearest P.O. is Shoal Lake 40 miles off
Mr Andy sends down there whenever
the mail arrives & very kindly said
that he would bring up our letters to the
riding Mountain House for us - I never
felt so home sick [homesick?] in my life as I have
done this week - but we have the satisfaction
that every day brings us nearer to the
cold weather & also to Home - It is
almost maddening to work in the
woods with the flies & in the marshes
the mosquitoes & Bulldogs and the
woods are full of wasps nests & every
few minutes some one gets stung by
them - the whole country seems made
up of woods & marshes with here & there
a small prairie or lake - I would
not like to back out if I could but I do
wish we were home again or that
the cold weather had commenced
we cannot sleep at night with those
terrible mosquitoes & flies & have to walk
all next day - But in spite of all these
troubles we are all well so far I am
very thankful to say Our great trouble
being the flies - I am now writing
with one hand and & banging the flies off
with the other - when they settle on
the grass it has the look all round
as if covered with crape [crepe?] - from the dense
clouds of them - unless I change
my mind very much nothing will
ever make me live in this part of
the country - It is much better nearer
to Winnipeg. But here is only fit for a
Hermit wishing to do pennance [penance?] and shut
himself from the world

Andy Lake August 10 79 [1879?]
You cannot think how delighted I
was to get your welcome letter on Thursday
last & to find that you are all well
I was the happy recipient of 11 letters
the first I have had since leaving
home and each of the party got at least
one - I was the only one who got a paper
out of all that had been sent to each
of us - but the mails all caried [carried?] so
promiscuously in this country that it
is a wonder we get out letters right - tho' [although?]
some may have gone astray I read the
whole of my letters by the light of the
fire as it was dark when we got home
from our work - I could not eat my tea
untill [until?] I had read them to know how you
all were at Home - I have seen enough
of this country to cause me to take
a great hatred of it. I cannot tell you of
all the annoyances we have just had
but when we return home - we shall
give full particulars - Joss should feel
most thankful that he did not come
We have one comfort to look forward to
& that is the cold weather coming on
which will destroy these dreadful
flies & mosquitoes & freeze up the marshes
& in every way make life more pleasant
here - we have often to wade
up to our waists in these marshes or (sloughs
as they are called here) & at night when
we return to camp wet & muddy & take
off our wet things - at the waists are[?] with horrid things - such as
small toads - tadpoles, worms & I dont
know what disgusting creatures - & this is
every day work you will see about the
Indians troubles brewing at Battleford, but
dont feel too anxious dear Mother - for is
not much danger here - There are
very few Indians here & what are been are
quiet & seem to have all they want to eat
There is a pretty bird here about the
size of our [Robin?] & an old blackbird they are very tame & come
into our tents & feed on our tormentors
the flies - There is one now sitting on
uncle Gs [George's?] cap as he sleeps pecking the flies
off him, it hops about from one to
another & sitting on my knee now
looking up into my face as impudently
as can be - The mosquitoes always bite
more wickedly after a cold night - it seems
to sharpen their appetites - Last night
we had a tremendous thunder storm
which drove the wretches in thousands
into the tents - for they will find an opening
in any thing & the wind always moves
the canvas about & leaves openings near the
grass which the brutes soon find out
Well last night we could not sleep
with them even when we were nearly
smothered by rolling our blankets tight
round us - still they got at us - so we had
weary as we were to get up & build a fire
that is called here a smudge in
each tent & smoke them out at the
same time we beat the canvas on the
outside all over with sticks then when
we get them pretty well out we fasten
down the tents & leave the smoke going to
& then remove it & let the smoke subside
before going back to bed - but long before
day light in comes the merry little fellows
thousands as loud as ever through every little
hole they can find & no more sleep for us
poor weary mortals & in self defence we have
to go out & light smoke fires all round the tents, which
is the only thing that has any effect on them
they are so bad that when we come
home at night our hands & faces are all
swollen up from their bites & stings
we are getting a little more accustomed
to them now - But they will always be a
great draw back to the settling of this
part of the country untill [until?] it is cleared
up & well drained - I never saw such
thunder storms as we still have nearly
every day or night - such lightning I never
saw & thunder is so heavy & loud
so far we are all safe thank God
& have not suffered from them except
in blowing our tents to ribbons
But as I have said before I would not have
missed this trip for a great deal & it is
good to have to undergo hardships
sometimes it makes us enjoy our
blessings more we are getting more
hardened to them now - But it was truly hard
at first considering the constant wet weather
we had & the wet state we were in night
& day & have been wonderfull [wonderful?] well all
through - wading in marshes all day & some
times under heavy rain & sleeping in wet
blankets all night - If some of our lady
friends were to take a peep at our wardrobes
they would be amused at the new modes
& fashions they would see & would discover
a great want of taste in the mending
departments as in our patchwork
we cannot be very particular as to shades
& colours - But fortunately for us no one but
ourselves sees us & a few wandering Indians
Boots & shoes are the most difficult to manage
with & the water of the marshes is so full
of alkali which rots the leathers so much
In less than two months since leaving
home I have worn out three pair of
good strong boots besides two pairs of
moccasins which becomes pretty expensive
work - there are a great many Indians
going about all the time in paint &
feathers - they are a strange set of people
and show us great friendliness & always
[always?] show gratitude for anything we give
them although they cannot speak one
word of English but gabble away & laugh
& grin when the [they?] come to see us so
far we have found them very honest
& quiet - I have heard that they make
stealing a most serious crime & a thief
amongst them is generally shot
Our present camp is beside Andy
Lake, & on a large prairie close to a
running creek in which we sometimes
catch some very fine fish called Lake
Salmon they weigh from six to ten lbs
each & we cannot throw in the line
quick enough to please them - we take
it in turns to get up early & catch enough
for the whole day and they are a good
relish after so long living on salt pork
We take our lunchien [luncheon?] with us to
work & it is nearly dark when
we arrive at home we have not
one moment to ourselves except Sundays
and even then we have many things
to do But we can generally on that day
keep ourselves dry & that is what we never
are on a week day I am very glad that
you get Charlie Brown to help in the
garden for it was too much for you
it was very kind of him too -
Sunday we are obliged to wash our clothes
& often to mend them - as it is late on
saturday evenings when we get home
& too dark to see to wash off the mud
we have all been down to the lake
this morning (Sunday) & gave ourselves a
good wash too - the mud is so stickie [sticky?] like
tar in that way - I fear we shall
not reach home untill [until?] Feby [February?] unless
we get on more quickly than we have
done uncle George thought he could
have in men to help us at the
Postage La Prairia but they backed out
after promising to come - & so we have no
more than our party we left home
with Even our cook whom we got at the
Postage deserted us after we had been
out two days on the road & since then
Walter Stewart has been cook up to
the other day when his cousin G. Whitehead
is having a time at it - but we now
loose [lose?] a hand at the work - Bobby Brown
is going down to the Riding Mountain House
early tomorrow for provisions & I must send
this with him, It is a ride of 25 miles
& he will have to walk back, because
the horse will have to carry the load
I do wish we were home again for
we have a long wearisome time before
us & we have not seen the worst yet

Big Prairie below Andy Lake
Sunday Augt [August?] 24 1879

I shall have this letter ready for
the first chance of sending down
to the Riding Mountain House
I hope someone will have to go this
week - as we are expecting letters as the
mail was to come up from Shoal Lake
on wednesday last we are camped
on a beautiful land on the Little
Saskatchewan on the edge of a
large prairie about 25 miles north
of the R.M. [Riding Mountain?] House so that you can
imagine it is no joke to send down for
anything unless we cannot do without
it one of the boys have to go down
about every 10 days on horse back, but
have to walk back as the horse has
to carry two bags of flour & some pork
& other things every trip - I hope we
shall get letters & that I shall hear
that you are all well at home, It
seems such an awfully long time since
I heard anything about you dear Mother
for your letters which I got three weeks
ago were written so long back - none
of us have received any news papers yet
except the one I had some weeks ago
It would be no wonder if they were
stolen for the mails are carried by any
body who happens to be passing the P.O.
& the bags were left unfastened so that
they can more easily deliver the letters
as they go across the country to the
settlers we have frost every night now
- but it is warmer in the day than it
was for a time last month & the flies
& mosquitoes are not so troublesome as
they were - but they bite more savagely
than they did - we were greatly
[teased?] by something getting into our
kitchen tent every night & eating our
provisions & could not see what it was
so we set traps for it, but still could
never catch it - several times we
heard it rattling amongst our tin dishes
& pans Edward got out with his gun
one night & he saw something running
away & fired at it - but it got off leaving
a large piece of pork on the ground &
a pool of blood so that we knew it
had been hit - still the theiving [thieving?] went
on tho' [although?] not every night, but
once in 3 or 4 nights - so one night
lately when Rolly was coming home
from the R.M. [Riding Mountain?] House with a load of
flour on horse back, he was walking after
the horse, when all of a sudden the
horse stopped & cocked up his ears
so Rolly went in to see what it was
& there he saw a big black object standing
right on the path - but as it was pretty
dark in the woods, he could not tell
what it was so he fired his revolver at
it & it went off howling through the
woods - well last Sunday morning we
were all sitting in our tents reading &
writing & Rolly looked out towards the
woods across the prairie & he shouted
O boys there is a Bear!!! so we all
ran out & Edward took his rifle
I my gun & the rest took axes &
knives & whatever they could - we
crept along through the long grass
untill [until?] we came to within about a
hundred yards of him & we could just
see the top of his ears & his back above
the high grass - so Ed fired at him &
he ran some distance & fell down there
we all hurried to his death bed and
to our intense disgust we found it
was only a large Indian dog but he
was a most tremendous brute & quite
wild & had he had the chance might
have attacked us - we examined him
as he lay dead at our feet & found
two other bullet holes in him besides
the fresh one, & so we concluded he
had been the thief - for since his
death we have had nothing more
stolen - I am begining [beginning?] to like the
work much better than I did for
at first my feet were so blistered &
sore from walking so much & being
wet all the time - that with the
other torments sickened me - tho' [although?] I
never gave up one day -
Uncle George & I have each a small
party & we run races every day to
see who will do most work, but
lately several of our poor fellows have
been laid up with boils & cuts
yesterday Rolly, Walter & [?]ie were
all laid up with tremendous boils
poor fellows the cook (G.W.)[George Whitehead?] has
one coming on his neck Edward
has one & has not quite recovered from
it although he has been working
so far Hammond & I are the only ones
who have not been off work one day
yet on account of sickness - but I am
sorry to say H. [Hammond?] has one beginning on his
neck - I never felt better in my life
I am happy to say & have no boils yet
Uncle G [George?] was off work for two days
on account of his ankle, but he
is all right again - (George had his
ankle broken many years ago & when
he walks very far it swells & is very
painful poor fellow) The flies
are bothering the life out of me
so that I can hardly write - We
have had great thunderstorms every
day now for more than a week
Any one who is timid in a great
storm should come here & they would
get hardened I never saw such lightning
in all my life the thunder rambles
along all day whether the storm is
going on or not & the rain comes down
in floods - The thunder is generally so
loud that we cannot hear one another
speak yesterday while we were out
at work & the 3 sick boys & the cook were
at home a number of Indians came
past on their way to the mountains
for their winters hunting, they
stopped at our camp & the cook gave
them some soup - but not one of
them could speak one word of English
but gabbled away in indian, Rolly
who is pretty quick picked up some of
their words he would take up an
article & asked the name of each
thing in Indian & Rollie would
write it down - They stayed several
hours about camp & went off in
very good humor [humour?] - Our horse
which was once belonging to an Indian
follow them some distance as they
had 21 ponies with them & the
boys did not notice it till an hour
afterwards when one of the Indians
came back leading our pony & tied
him to a tree for us - they have a
great honor [honour?] of horse stealing But
naturally they are very honest in
every thing poor creatures although
they are great beggars, but we always
get on very well with them & give
them some food when they call on
us - we were afraid at first that
we should be very late in the winter
getting our work finished, but now we
are doing nearly double the amount
of work we did - & have nearly finished
one township already - every day the
work will get more easy as the sloughs
dry up & the cold weather comes on, &
the horrid flies will be over then
and as the cold weather advances every
one will get well & boils & medicines
will be a thing of the past & the
leaves will fall off the trees & half
the amount of chopping will be saved
in the woods then - All these together
with experience & the hope of getting
through our work will make all
hands work better & put all into
better spirits - I must say that I
should not like to go through the first
month here again a
more miserable set of tramps never
were out on all expeditions than
we were the day after we began
work after our weary march from
the Portage to our townships - If
we had taken the advice which we
got both before & after we came to
this country we should have been far
worse than we are - but we took no
ones advice & have got along as well as
it was possible - I did not tell you
that for some days we had no
bread for our flour was delayed so
long coming after us that we had
given up all hopes of getting any
for the winter when at last it arrived
an Indian with seven carts brought
it up from the Portage - as the man
who had engaged to bring it, broke his
bargain & left us almost destitute one
man can take charge of a number
of horses here as they are taught to
follow one another on the trails
which are narrow paths - The other
party who are surveying the block
of townships west of us - were in the
same plight, but they got part of
the supply which arrived the other
day - they have been all sick & some of
his men have left him - for he took
every ones advice & suffered accordingly
Mr Thompson the Chief of that
party laughed at Uncle G [George?] for bringing
his whole party from Ontario with
him - he having been advised to have
his men at the Portage, - brought only
4 young men with him & hired the
rest The consequence is they had
a row & left him in the lurch
just when he wanted them
most - one could not stand the
flies - & he left - but so far none
of our fellows have left nor even
mentioned such a thing - we have
still the same we left home
with G. [George?] Whitehead is cook now
& does very well indeed we did
bring one from the Portage with us
as I told you before, but he left us
after we had been two days on the
road - and it was as well he did for
he was a hard case & we should
have had trouble with him
I do hope all the boils will soon
go now & all hands get to work
again Uncle G [George?] has only 2
hands with him at present & I
the same untill [until?] the rest are
well - but both my men are laid
up yesterday I took an axe & went
to help Uncle G [George?] at first Uncle
G [George?] was in very low spirits about
the whole thing, but now he is
as full of fun as he can be
& can work & eat like the rest of
us Our little bird had been
more than a month with us & was
so tame - we called it Meihie &
he answered the name so well
But two days ago a hawk came
right down between the tents
where it was pe[?]ing & flew off
with our poor pet - we have had
any quantity of nice strawberries
& now raspberries - The former as large
as many garden ones - but tho' [although?]
they would be very grateful to us - we
have not time to gather any quantity
of either except while walking to &
from work - the woods are full
of wild cherries & high bush cranberries
hazel nuts, black currants
& those I first mentioned - we eat as
many berries as we can while walking
we get teribly [terribly?] stung from wasps
every day & some times stung all
over - & it is no fun I can assure

Big Bend Prairie August 31st 1879

I am sorry that our letters have been
so doleful - but we all felt the
hardships so much & all were in
very low spirits - & over worked & little
or no sleep at night from those
horrible flies & walking all day so
that it was scarcely any wonder I
felt in a dismal mood - But
now we are doing so much better
and hope to get home before the
winter is very far advanced
as the weather becomes colder
the flies &c will begin to disappear
we thought the work on the Toronto
& Ottawa Railroad two years ago very
hard - but it was nothing to what
we have had here with much less
comforts - Then we had always a
good supply of fresh vegeables [vegetables?] - here
we have not seen even a potatoe [potato?]
since we came here five weeks
ago & no prospect of having any either
while here - We have plenty of dried
beans for soup & we like them but
long for a taste of a new potatoe [potato?]
more than you can tell
We have been very much troubled
with skunks (polecats) coming about
the Camp and we are afraid to shoot
them - they are such nasty things, tho' [although?]
pretty - we shall try to trap them
We shall move further East from
here about the end of this week
& it may be a month or five weeks
before we shall have a chance
to send another letter home, so if
you do not get one at the time you
generally do you will know the reason
& not fret & think something bad has
befallen us - but I shall send a
letter by every chance