Water and Land Use

The Importance of Water

Pioneers usually settled near streams, rivers and lakes.  Why did they do this?

Water was a very important part of the pioneer life.  

Pioneers used it to drink and to make their daily food - whether it was to boil vegetables in, help mix flour for baking or an ingredient in any number of recipes.  

The settlers would also use the streams, rivers and lakes to bathe in.  They would most often go directly to the water source to bathe but sometimes they would want a warm bath so they took buckets of water from the stream, river or lake and heat them up on the wood stove before dumping it into a wooden bathtub (essentially a large wooden half barrel) until they were able to earn a steady income and then the bathtub would be made of metal and bought from the general store.

Water was necessary to help run the grist mill and the saw mills in the village.  A grist mill (also known as a corn mill or flour mill) ground grain into flour.  The term grist mill referred to both the process and the building itself.  The saw mill was where pioneers took the logs to be cut into lumber.  Both the grist mill and saw mill would be built in the village once the farmers had established their own farms.  Classical mill designs were usually water powered.  A sluice gate would be opened to allow the water to flow onto, or under, a water wheel to make it turn.  Most of the water wheels were mounted vertically (where the wheel would "scoop" the water) but some of them may have been mounted horizontally (called a tub wheel or a Norse wheel).
(web) http://pinlovely.com/reed-springs-grist-mill/

However, the most important use of water, to the pioneers, was their ability to travel for transportation or trade.  This was especially important to fur traders who saw the water as an easier and faster method of getting their furs to the trading posts or villages that were willing to trade directly.  The fur trade began after the initial exploration of the New World and it was the fur trade that helped to bring pioneers over to settle the new land.  This became an important part of settling the land as the fur trade (and other Aboriginal goods) continued to be traded with interested (and rich) Europeans in turn for the simple goods that pioneers were used to (like sugar, spices, molasses, tea, coffee, medicine and other imported goods not readily available in Canada and the United States during that time).   
(web)  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_fur_trade

There were some prominent fur trading companies during the settling of North America, including:

  • American Fur Company
  • Hudson's Bay Company
  • Missouri Fur Company
  • North West Company
  • Russian- American Company
The only fur trading company (established in 1670) that managed to survive past decline of the fur trade in the 1800s was the Hudson's Bay Company (which still exists as a department store today).   This fur trading company helped to establish many cities that we know today.

Canadian Cities
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Edmonton, Alberta
  • Grande Prairie, Alberta
  • Lethbridge, Alberta
  • Prince George, British Columbia
  • Kamloops, British Columbia
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Brandon, Manitoba
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • St. John's, Newfoundland
  • Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
  • Sudbury, Ontario
  • Orillia, Ontario
  • Sioux Lookout, Ontario
  • Chicoutimi, Quebec
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • Trois Rivieres, Quebec
  • Quebec City, Quebec
  • Battleford, Saskatchewan
  • Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

American Cities
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Hawaiian Islands
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Vancouver, Washington
  • Grand Forks, North Dakota
  • San Francisco, California
  • Fort Yukon, Alaska
  • Wrangell, Alaska

All of these cities are situated near some important waterways and that is why they have continued to grow today.

HOW DID FUR TRADERS AND SETTLERS TRAVEL BY WATER?
  • Dugout canoe
This type of canoe was quite common and the simplest to make as it was simply a log that was hollowed out.

(web) http://www.caddolegacy.com/Pages/CaddoCanoe.aspx


  • Birchbark Canoe
This type of canoe was originally taught to the pioneers by the native people and it was very efficient since it was lightweight and easy to carry when needed (for example, when portaging).  First, they would need to find a birch tree that was perfect to take off about 16 to 20 feet of the bark in a single piece.  The bark needed to be about one inch thick and would not crack when bent and twisted.  After building a frame for the canoe, the bark could be assembled to the frame and sap resin was used to waterproof the canoe as well as fill in any cracks they may have happened during construction.

For a more thorough step-by-step explanation of how to construct a birchbark canoe, click here.

(web) http://ojibwe.lib.umn.edu/collection/1918-birch-bark-canoe

If you would like to try to make your own canoe, click here for instructions how how to create a project or diorama out of it.

  • Raft
The most basic form of water travel was the raft.  Rafts were used to carry supplies short distances when the waters were calm.  Rafts were essentially logs tied together with rope and some form of oars or long branches needed to be used to move the raft along the water.  On occasion, the settlers would use the raft in rough waters but it took a lot of skill to prevent them from capsizing.

(web) http://www.ochcom.org/gangle

  • Steamboat
A steamboat is a boat which used steam power to move propellers or paddlewheels.  Pioneers started to see the steamboat in the beginning of the 1800s as a means of traveling throughout the Great Lakes, along the Hudson River and down the Mississippi River.  

Settlers in the United States of America were first introduced to the steamboat in 1787 by John Fitch which carried passengers and freight between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey on the Delaware River but it did not successfully last beyond a few months.

Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston made it possible for New Yorkers to travel by steamboat by introducing them to the North River Steamboat (later known as the Clermont) in 1807 which carried passengers from New York City to Albany along the Hudson River.  
(web) http://oldriverbillzumwalt.members.ktis.net/real_towboats.htm


For most of the 1800s, trade on the Mississippi River was dominated by the steamboat.  In fact, many port cities thrived economically and agricultural goods could be easily transported to new markets through the use of the steamboat.  Steamboats were also responsible for some negative environmental effects as they consumed a lot of wood for fuel and so, as a result, the banks of the Mississippi River became deforested and this led to the erosion of the river banks as well as additional silt int the water making the river shallower and wider.

(web) http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/791/data

There is still some disagreement about which was the first steamboat that used the Great Lakes since both the Canadian vessel Frontenac and the U.S. built Ontario operate in Lake Ontario around the same time in 1917.  The first steamboat to operate in Lake Erie was Walk-in-the-Water in 1818.  It was a great success and more steamboats followed.  In fact, steamboats grew in size and once the screw propeller was introduced with the Vandalia in 1842 and the Hercules in 1843, a new class of combination passenger and freight carrier saw even more traffic by steamboat in the Great Lakes.  Between 1844 and 1857, luxury steamboats became a normal sight in the Great Lakes.  It allowed passengers to move freely between the United States and Canada for holidays and an opportunity to enjoy new surroundings.

For more information:  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steamboat
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes_passenger_steamers




Land Use


The primary reason that most of the pioneers left their homeland to come to the New World was because they wanted to start a new life and often that included including their own land.  Having been raised in civilizations that had already been established for hundreds (or even thousands) of years, the pioneers had no idea what to actually do with all that wilderness but they knew that the land was there to be used.

In many cases, new pioneers were provided with free land but it was in an area where the wilderness still existed and there was no established town or village.  What was a pioneer to do? 

(Web)  http://image.frompo.com/be0ce463ce06fa04d356d0012f3f1d7d

Clearing the land was the first priority.  In Upper Canada, land was granted under the following conditions:

  • a minimum number of acres had to be cleared
  • a road had to be created and maintained in front of the lot
  • a house had to be built to certain specifications
If these conditions were met within 12 to 18 months, a deed was delivered from the government to the pioneer stating that the land now belonged to him.

Before the settlers could begin farming, they had to cut down trees and remove stumps so they could plant crops.  It was very hard work but the wood could be used in many different ways.



How Wood Was Used
  • Log Cabin / Log (Plank) House
The new settlers would arrive with nothing on their land -
except acres upon acres of forest.  Once they had worked on chopping down trees to make space for their crops, they would also pick a space to build their first shelter, which was the log cabin.  The log cabin would serve as a simple space of about 300 square feet to sleep and eat in between setting up the farm.  It usually had no foundation with no windows, a dirt floor, a hole in the roof for smoke to escape and it was considered a temporary shelter.  The logs were simply chopped down, assembled together with one room and could be finished within a couple of days.


While living in the log cabin, pioneers:

  • used candles and oil lamps
  • built sleeping bunks into the walls with mattresses of boughs
  • would have one table with benches
  • would get water from springs, streams or nearby lakes
  • made the roof using tree bark, saplings or hollow logs
  • held the log walls together with wooden pegs and filled the cracks with mud or wood chips
  • used oil paper or cloth as window coverings (if they had a window)
  • used a blanket to cover the doorway until a door could be built


A log (plank) home was usually constructed about 1 - 2 years after the crops and barn were established.  The barn was just as important as the crops since it would provide necessary shelter to the farm animals and protection from possible predators or the elements.  A typical log (plank) house followed a three-room plan with two floors and one or two fireplaces (including a chimney).  Instead of using full logs, the farmer would likely have a village that had been established nearby where his logs could be hewed to make planks (which made assembly easier).  There were several techniques for assembling corner joints to make a more efficient home including notching, lapped or locked styles, dovetailing as well as lock and step variations.  Using a solid corner technique would help limit gaps and therefore kept the home warmer and free from outside pests.  If gaps did happen, they would be stuffed with moss, oakum (hemp fibres twisted into ropes and laid between the flat surface of the logs) or  chinking (a simple mixture of mud, clay, grass and moss which would be spread between the logs for insulation).  

While living in the log (plank) house, pioneers:

  • used candles or kerosene lamps
  • heated the house with a stone fireplace or iron cookstove with pipes that carried heat to the other rooms
  • furnished their houses with cupboards, tables, chairs and beds
  • fetched water from the streams, wells, a cistern or a rain barrel
  • finished the roof with cedar shingles
  • held the planks together with nails and cracks may have been filled with strips of cloth or cotton or paper and glue
  • created windows with glass
  • built a wooden door with hinges
There are still many examples of both log cabins and plank houses at local Pioneer Villages and Museums.

  • Barn
Raising the barn was a signal to the beginning of a settler's new life.  The size of the barn was large as a farmer was optimistic of a good yield and therefore a need for a lot of space for both the crops and the animals.  The logs that had been cleared for the crops would not only be used to build the pioneer homestead but the logs would be used to construct the barn as well.  A lot of work went into building a barn and it usually took many farmers to pool their resources together to make it happen as it was a big job.  Farmers would work together to get all of their barns built in a timely manner.  That is why building a barn became such an important symbol.

A barn raising was a big deal.  It was the start of a family's
future and an opportunity for the community to come together.  The women spent days preparing enough food for the farmers and the men spent days to prepare the timbers since all beams had to be numbered and notched by the foreman so that it was just a matter of coordinating the manpower and putting the pieces together on barn raising day.  Sometimes they even made an event out of it and created teams to compete with each other to see who would finish first.  Before the barn could be raised, the foundation had to be created and sometimes the farmers would test the strength of the foundation flooring by having a good barn dance.  

(Web)  http://www.dalzielbarn.com/home.html
http://www.projects.yrdsb.edu.on.ca/pioneer

Other uses for wood included....

  1. kitchen utensils
  2. barrels and pails
  3. furniture
  4. farming tools
  5. fences
  6. yokes for oxen
  7. toys
  8. wells
  9. carriages and wheels
  10. canoes
  11. wash board and tub
  12. woodstove







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