Igniting the Spark
Courting Canadian Style
To the first Canadians, relationships between the sexes were very open and sexual activity usually began at an early age; but always at the discretion of the female. If she chose a young man to be her partner, he was expected to leave her a small trinket to show his appreciation, which she would add to a belt worn around her waist.

This belt would later be presented to her husband as a wedding gift, which he would then wear with pride. The longer the belt, the more desirable the woman, so the young man felt priveledged indeed to have won such a treasure; both the belt and the girl.
However, once she chose her intended, the union had to be approved by her father,  who wanted to be sure that the young man was a good hunter, to properly provide for both his daughter and any future grandchildren. If he had a canoe, spear, hatchet, pipe and tobacco; he was considered wealthy and definitely a good catch. Once approval was given, the courtship was brief and the ceremony simple. The girl would then follow her husband into the woods for a hunting trip and when they returned a marriage banquet would take place with the game they had managed to bag themselves.

These customs varied between the different cultures, but the basic theme was shared by most. However, when the first Europeans
immigrants arrived and imposed Christian notions, the couple's family would often have them "stand up in church". 

As for the early immigrants, including European Canadians, their values pertaining to love and marriage fell somewhere in between. Marriage was still encouraged but the priority was creating future farm hands, so it was not uncommon for a girl to have several children before finding a husband. Who fathered these children is a subject for another time, but a passage from
Canadian Scenery, published in London in 1840, states that "Although a spry lass as she is termed, is certain of repeated offers, and is sure of being early united in the bonds of matrimony, she may frequently before that event have given birth to one or two children. The corrector feeling on this subject, of females from the old country are condemned as ridiculous. Nay, where so little delicacy pervails, and the children are so valuable a possession, the bringing of two or three into the world in this irregular fashion instead of being a bar to marriage, proves it as said, an additonal attraction, making the young lady a species of heiress.  After marriage, she makes an active industrious wife, but expects from her husband much deference, and even that he should wink at occasional frailities."

The article was designed to encourage English women to seek husbands in Canada, so that if she had a child or two born out of wedlock, though outcast at home, she would be welcomed there as an "heiress", since children were such a valuable commodity. She was also assured that her husband would not look down on her because of her past, but would instead appreciate her "dowry". Courting Etiquette or "Sparking" differed greatly between town life and rural life, and while the former adhered to many of the strict Victorian codes of conduct, those from rural communities had few such restrictions. That's not to say there wasn't romance, but long engagements were a luxury they could ill afford.


Often a man living in the backwoods and in need of a wife, would start asking around and if he heard of a suitable mate, he would travel for days to make her aquaintance, stopping along the way to inquire of her potential. When he reached the young lady's home, there would be a short interview, a deal made with the family and a summons to the preacher (who was probably already on standby). The newlyweds would then leave almost immediately so that the bride could begin her wifely duties.

Surprisingly, many of these marriages worked out fine, as the couple shared the common goal of survival, but there were also many of these girls who became victims of domestic violence or died young during childbirth; especially if she was of a tender age. Hence the old saying "Early wed, early dead" If there were no suitable young ladies within riding distance, many of the young men would write to their families in the "old country" to see if they could provide them with a spouse.

This was especially true of the Scottish and many single young lasses arrived in Canada as "mail order brides." In small communities marriages were more often than not "arranged" well in advance of the legal age, and it was not unusual for two families to have several children joined together in matrimony. The couplings were often strategic to ensure that their combined lands remained in the family. Sometimes a son or a daughter might "run off" and marry someone of their own choosing, but contact with anyone outside of the community was rare; so there were few opportunities.

That doesn't mean that there wasn't love and romance.  Sunday was always considered the best day for "sparking", and many events like taffy-pulls and summer picnics, were held by the churches in an attempt to bring young people together in the best possible atmosphere.  And let's not forget
New Years Day, the best day of all for matchmakers to do their thing.
Light on Dark Corners
Toronto - 1894

The Power and Peculiarities of Love 

Love is a Tonic and a Remedy for Disease, Makes People Look Years Younger, Creates Industry, etc.
1.  It is a physocological fact long demonstrated that persons possessing a loving disposition borrow less of the cares of life, and live much longer than a person with a strong, narrow and selfish nature. 

2.  Persons who love music and are constantly whistling a tune, are persons that need not be feared, they are kind-hearted and with few exceptions possess a loving disposition.  Very few good musicians become criminals.
3.  Parents that cultivate a love among their children will find that the same feelings will soon be manifested in their children's disposition.
4.  If you desire to cultivate love, create harmony in all your feelings and faculties.  Remember that all that is pure, holy and virtuous in love flows from the deepest fountain of the human soul.

5.  Love strengthens health and disappointment cultivates disease.  A person in love will invariably enjoy the best of health.  99% of our strong constituted men, now in physical ruin, have wrecked themselves on the breakers of an unnatural love.  Nothing but a right love and right marriage will restore them to health.

6.  All men feel much better for going a courting, providing they court purely.  Nothing tears the life out of a man more than lust, vulgar thoughts and immoral conduct.

7.  A woman is never so bright and full of health as when deeply in love.  Many sickly and frail women are snatched from the clutches of some deadly disease, and restored to health by falling in love.

8.  It is a long established fact that married persons are happier than unmarried persons, thus it provides that health and happiness belong to the home.

9. An old but true proverb:  "A true man loving one woman will speak well of all women.  A true woman loving one man will speak well of all men.  A good wife praises all men, but praises her husband most.  A good man praises all women, but praises his wife most."

10. People deeply in love become peculiarly pleasant, winning and tender.

11. Love makes people look younger in years.  People in unhappy homes look older and more worn and fatigued.  A woman at thirty, well courted and well married, looks five to ten years younger than a woman of the same age, unhappily married.

12. Love renders women industrious and frugal, and a loving husband spends lavishly on loved wife and children.

13. Love cultivates self-respect and produces beauty.  Beauty in walk and beauty in looks, a girl in love is at her best; it brings out the finest traits of her character; she walks more erect and is more generous and forgiving.

14. Now in conclusion, a love marriage is the best insurance policy; it pays dividends every day, while every other insurance policy merely promises to pay after death.
The Caption under this 1856 cartoon from Harper's Magazine:
"I say, Mister, give me one of them six cent volumtines, with suth-in 'bout  hearts-a-bustin', and, and - it's got to be thunderin' affectionate or 'twon't do!"
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