Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Arboreal Deaths
by Peter Unwin

By 1822 the Military Settling Department had determined the tree to be a leading cause of death. "Drowned," "deceased" and "killed by a tree" were fingered as the great culprits of Canadian depopulation. The first, of course, was "gone to the States."

Often, as happened to the Reverend John Scadding, the tree fell on you. More typically the axe-head bounced and cleaved a foot or leg, leading to the most frequent wound in Canadian medical history: the hatchet wound. Menard, a Jesuit and one of the first white men to reach Lake Superior, had a tree fall on him while paddling a canoe. In the timber camps of eastern Ontario, lumbermen stricken by typhoid and diphtheria were typically carried out in the blankets they died in, and buried in a ditch.

Sometimes they had a tooth pulled by a camp dentist, and died of infection. There were countless ways to be killed by a tree. Even the Iroquois Book of Rites, which predates Columbus by half a century, congratulates all who have survived wild beasts, thorny ways and falling trees.

Most famously, death by trees comes in the form of fire. There is barely a town, settlement, ship or even a lighthouse in the Dominion that did not burn to the ground or waterline at least once, and often twice. One of the first ordinances passed in English Canada was a law requiring home-owners to keep a pail of water on the porch at all times. When Toronto burned to the ground for the second time, wood, as a building material, was outlawed in favour of brick. Vancouver was destroyed by fire in 1886. Ottawa burned twice, and even the mill that sawed the boards that built Ottawa burned four times... A 1948 forest fire that swept Lake Superior’s north shore generated so much smoke that streetlights had to be turned on at noon as far away as Texas. In fact, it is not unknown for smoke from Canadian forest fires to reach England. The Great Miramichi fire of 1825, in New Brunswick, has been called "the most dreadful conflagration in...the history of the world!" It stretched 112 kilometres on either side of the Miramichi River, and caused winds of such velocity that salmon were sucked out of the river and scattered in the trees.
- From
Geist magazine, No. 54, Fall 2004

I went to see Andy today, and got my hair cut! Only trimmed, really. In August, however, I'll get a real haircut again. :) How I adore Andy...

And my mother and I have caught cold. It was only a matter of time, I suppose. But it's really unpleasant, and seems to insist on draining my energy just when I need it most. Curses.


Greg said...

If I'm ever killed by a tree, please make up some story that I was fist fighting a grizzly bear. Even if this all occured in Hawai'i. Well, then it could be a wild boar, I guess.

Diana said...

Will do, will do. And the same goes for me. Unless, of course, I'm in Canada at the time. In that case, I'd be happy to add my death to a genuinely Canadian statistic. See where socialism gets you?! ;)

Greg said...

In Soviet Canada, tree chops down you!