New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Ode to the Oromocto River

with 2 comments


A spirit inhabited the river before the first Europeans arrived, and the native people were careful to observe the spirit’s requirements so that it would continue to provide for their needs. I want to believe that the native people were correct, and also hope that the spirit remembers all of the happiness and sorrows experienced along the river over the ages.

It is not unusual to find stone arrowheads along the Oromocto River. There are also portage routes where paths are worn into the rock by the passage of feet over millennia. Other archaeological evidence of this time is rare. People no longer seek out the marked stone which is, in any event, becoming faint and difficult to read. I do not know if the glyphs on this stone indicate an important place, but we can be sure that the river provided a home and livelihood to the native people long before our history there began.

There is a small lake beside the river some miles above its mouth. The lake is hidden behind a river levee and would appear to a passerby only as a small stream entering the river. The mouth of the river is also somewhat hidden behind Oromocto Island. If the spirit could tell its story then we would learn that the French had withdrawn to French Lake in order to find peace during troubled times. There was no peace, however, and the English ascended the Saint John River in 1759 and burned Saint Anne’s to the ground. Joseph Bellefontaine witnessed the scalping and murder of his daughter and three of his grandchildren; and other brutalities were meted out with impunity. The New Englanders then headed up the Oromocto River where the French Lake group managed one good ambush before they were either killed or chased off into the woods.

By the 1770s there was not a single European settlement anywhere along the river. Some logging took place on the Rusagonis Stream which enters the Oromocto across from French Lake but, otherwise, the spirit was alone on the river. Our history is a little poorer since the relics of this era are now hidden. We cannot find the lost tools or discarded items. We can easily imagine that the logging camps of those days together with the work and the songs and the rum provided stories enough to last the lumbermen a lifetime.

The American Revolution was lost or won and, in 1783, Guy Carleton evacuated New York City and transported 15,000 refugees to the mouth of the Saint John River. The Loyalists penetrated far into the wilderness and were exploring the Oromocto River within months. Settlement began shortly thereafter and the newcomers went about the usual occupations of raising families, making money and religious observance. The river was so transformed that the old history seemed to disappear, and the spirit has been silent for well over two hundred years.

The Oromocto River is today a part of a dispersed, mostly rural, area surrounding Fredericton. Newcomers arrive all of the time, but most people still have Loyalist or 19th century immigrant roots. There is a general feeling of peace and belonging; but real people lead real lives and all of the joys and sorrows that come with that have also been experienced. There have, in addition, been great tragedies that we would hope never to endure.

Our days seem as unchanging pages in a contemporary story, but if it was quiet enough one evening we might hear the distant voices of native, French and Loyalist children playing along the river. If we were lucky enough then we might be privileged to hear the spirit tell his story. We might learn that the history of the river is not about natives or Planters or French or Loyalists but is an ongoing saga of which we are the latest chapter. It might even be that the story is not about any of these people at all; but is, rather, the story of a spirit and its river.


Written by johnwood1946

October 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Hi John,

    Just wanted to let you know I am enjoying reading your blog quite a bit. Joseph Bellefontaine was the brother of one of my ancestors, Marie-Yves Godin-Bellefontaine (married Michel Saindon). Thank you for telling the stories that don’t often get told about this region!

    J Saindon

    August 4, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    • Thank you. Don’t forget to tell your friends, I always need more followers. – John


      August 4, 2014 at 8:49 AM

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