A Walk Around Town – Walk R – On Letter Writing

Example of a letter written in 1861. StCM, 2007.112.2

Excerpt from “Walk R” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on September 11th, 1856.


I realized the other day that my son, who is 14 years old, has never written a letter and sent it to someone in the mail. He has read letters written to him, or more often, annual birthday or Christmas cards. He has signed and sent cards but he has never actually written a letter.  This, of course, is a situation I plan to promptly correct.  With that said, this week Junius published a letter he somehow got his hands on that was written by a woman from England to her sister while she visited St. Catharines.  Letters are some of the best sources for learning small, personal details about our city’s history.  Below is an excerpt from this letter, written on August 30th, 1856, that I think you will find interesting.  It is enlightening to read the writers description of St. Catharines as she shares her perception of the city at that time with her sister:

“I received, my dear sister, you letter of the 15th of this month, fourteen days after it was dated, so rapid is the communication now a days, we get New York papers the same day they are dated, although we are at the distance of 600 miles.”

Imagine what she would think of e-mail!

“You ask me what kind of a place St. Catharines is? I will endeavour to describe it. You will see, by consulting a map of Canada, that it is situated on the Welland Canal, four miles south of Port Dalhousie, nine miles south-west from the town of Niagara, eight miles west of the Suspension Bridge, which crosses the River Niagara, and ten miles north-east of the great Falls. In a clear day, in the morn, we see the mist rising over them. The Welland Canal, that runs through St. Catharines, connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. – All the water traffic from the Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, St. Clair and Superior passes through it 700, or perhaps 1000 miles. Thirty or forty vessels pass in a day. There are altogether some 30 locks, and they make an assent of 12 foot each, to pass from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.” … Vessels of 200 feet in length pass through it, many of them with propellers and some of them with wheels, curiously constructed, set in as it were, so as not to exceed the breadth of the canal locks. Those in our Translantic phiscology (sic) are Polliwogs; I believe the term used for frogs, when they were in a transition state. … The population is from 6 to 7, 000; there are a great many very wealthy; the leading people are the great corn factors, the proprietors of the Mills; they keep their carriages and pair, and most of the men in business have their one-horse gig, &c.’ they are very well bred, kind and civil, and seem to live on very friendly terms…”

She goes on to compare the bonnets of women in St. Catharines to the bonnets of the women where she lives.  Apparently St. Catharines bonnets were far inferior and like comparing; “a dandelion with a sun-flower.”  She also goes on to speak of the women in the city and how all of the women are called “lady” even if they were not actually “ladies” based on their status in a family.  The most “companiable” person of the city was the mayor with whom she had befriended.  Needless to say she goes on to share town gossip just as Junius did in his weekly columns, which is most likely why he chose to include it in this week’s walk.

Junius’ opinion of the letter is as follows:

“There is, as the old saying goes, more truth than poetry in the above letter, written and intended only for soft English eyes, English rosy-cheeks, English fair hands, English feminine reading, and translantic (sic) sisterly information. – However as all don’t look alike, so all don’t view things alike, don’t act alike, or think alike: Wherein we differ, let us all in a fraternal spirit, agree to disagree, harmoniously!”

Junius, your description of this letter sounds as though you are describing your own musings!

This woman’s letter about St. Catharines went on for 5 typewritten pages. And now people manage to write messages to people in a 140 character tweet!  If you wanted to share something great about the City of St. Catharines in only 140 characters, what would it be?

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