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New Brunswick Roads and Railways, 1855

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New Brunswick Roads and Railways, 1855

The following is from New Brunswick, With a Brief Outline of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, …, by Alexander Monro, Halifax, 1855, and is in two parts.

The first part is supposed to be a description of New Brunswick roads, but the author had so little information to impart that it does not add much to our understanding of those days. It is very entertaining however, since it outlines the hazards which once existed on British roads, which the traveler had best avoid as he would the devil lest he break his neck. Monro concluded that, with this in mind, New Brunswick wasn’t doing too badly after all.

 Road Work

Road work at Scotch Colony, N.B., c. 1890s, N.B. Archives

The second part is more substantial and outlines progress in railroad building, both existing and planned. These were the dreams of the day, that the great mechanical blessing of steam would bring marvellous prosperity. He foresaw the Provinces being joined by rail, leading to such prosperity that they would become ‘one Colonial Empire, whose united voice would cause its just demands to be heard and respected.’


The facilities for internal communication have always been esteemed one of the most essential means for developing the resources of a country; and this is strongly exemplified by the effects invariably produced from the opening a new road throughout the Province, in extending settlements and promoting cultivation.

It must be admitted that, in the infancy of every country, expedients precede system; and in no one department of its progress is this more manifest than in the location of its roads. The moral and intellectual advances of the inhabitants of a country are strongly indicated by the state of their means of communication, for if the roads remain stationary, so generally do the people, and vice versa.

In the early settlement of New Brunswick, the first road was along the sandy and muddy sea shore, where most of the first settlements were formed. As population increased, this precarious and uncertain pathway was abandoned, and a road, or rather a track, was constructed along the banks, where the traveler might pass without being delayed by tides and storms. In process of time, the advance of cultivation, and, in many cases, the ravages of fire, destroyed the overhanging trees, whose roots had prevented the encroachments of the sea; the imperfect road gave way to the action of the waves, and it was found necessary to remove it back as the sea advanced. But when settlements became more numerous, and extended further inland, this system of road making, if it deserved the name, was abandoned, and roads were laid out from one place to another, taking almost every man’s house in its way, as best suited the convenience of individuals. The mail road from Halifax to Saint John, though it has undergone many improvements, still presents indications of having been originally formed upon this system of engineering, peculiar to the early settlers of these Provinces; and so general and extensive did it become, before the present more improved system was adopted, that however inconvenient the old lines of road were found, it was difficult and almost impossible to abandon them, more especially taking into account their extent, quality, and the large amount of money expended upon them, and the convenience and private interests of the settlers on their sides. Thus the present partial system of straightening and improving roads will have to continue until the old and costly ground work becomes abandoned.

In order to shew that the Colony has not been deficient in the improvement of its roads, according to its means and population, it will be necessary to refer to the state of England and Scotland about eighty years ago, as given us by Dr. Lardner, in his work upon railways. He says:—As recently as 1750, “it is recorded that the carrier between Selkirk and Edinburgh, a distance of thirty-eight miles, required a fortnight for his journey going and returning. In the year 1678, a contract was made to establish a coach for passengers between Edinburgh and Glasgow, a distance of forty-four miles. This coach was drawn by six horses, and the journey between the two places, to and fro, was completed in six days. Even so recently as the year 1750, the stage-coach from Edinburgh to Glasgow took thirty-six hours to make the journey.”

In this Province, in 1854, the stage-coach, drawn by only two horses, performs the same distance in thirty hours’ less time.

Again, the Doctor says:—“In the year 1763, there was but one stagecoach between Edinburgh and London. This started once a month from each of these cities; it took a fortnight to perform the journey.” And, with reference to the number of passengers conveyed in a given time between the English and Scotch capitals, the same author tells us that, “in 1763 the number of passengers conveyed by the coaches between London and Edinburgh, could not have exceeded about twenty-five monthly, and by all means of conveyance did not exceed fifty.”

In further reference to the state of the roads in Great Britain, the Doctor informs us that “Arthur Young, (an undoubted authority) who travelled in Lancashire about the year 1770, has left us, in his tour, the following account of the state of the roads at that time: ‘I know not’ (he says) ‘in the whole range of language, terms sufficiently expressive to describe this infernal road. Let me most seriously caution all travelers, who may accidentally propose to travel this terrible country, to avoid it as they would the devil; for a thousand to one they break their necks or their limbs by overthrows or breakings down. They will here meet with ruts, which I actually measured four feet deep, and floating with mud, only from a wet summer. What therefore must it be after a winter? The only mending it receives is tumbling in some loose stones, which serve no other purpose than jolting a carriage in the most intolerable manner. These are not merely opinions but facts, for I actually passed three carts broken down in these eighteen miles of execrable memory.’” “And again,” he says, (speaking of a turnpike road near Warrington, now superseded by the Grand Junction Railway): ‘This is a paved road, moat infamously bad. Any person would imagine the people of this country had made it with a view to immediate destruction, for the breadth is only sufficient for one carriage; consequently it is cut at once into ruts; and you may easily conceive what a break-down, dislocating road ruts cut through a pavement must be.’ Nor was the state of the roads in other parts of the north of England better. He says of a road near Newcastle, now superseded by railway: ‘A more dreadful road cannot be imagined; I was obliged to hire two men at one place to support my chaise from overturning. Let me persuade all travelers to avoid this terrible country, which must either dislocate their bones with broken pavements, or bury them in muddy sand. It is only bad management that can occasion such very miserable roads in a country so abounding with towns, trade, and manufactures.’

“Now, it so happens that the precise ground over which Mr. Young travelled in this manner less than eighty years ago, is at present literally reticulated with railways, upon which tens of thousands of passengers are daily transported, at a speed ranging from thirty to fifty miles an hour, in carriages affording no more inconvenience or discomfort than Mr. Young suffered in 1770, when reposing in his drawing room in his arm chair.

“Until the close of the last century, the internal transport of goods in England was performed by wagons; and was not only intolerably slow, but so expensive as to exclude every object except manufactured articles, and such as, being of light weight and small bulk in proportion to their value, could allow of a high rate of transport.” After shewing the cost per mile of conveying merchandize by the ton, Dr. Lardner proceeds:—“But this is not all: the wagon transport formerly practised was limited to a speed which, in its most improved state, did not exceed twenty-four miles a day.”

To an inhabitant of the Province it is scarcely requisite to contrast the present state of its roads with those Mr. Young has so emphatically described; his own experience will sufficiently prove their superiority. To a stranger it will only be necessary to say that there is scarcely a bye-road in the country on which, during the summer months, an English stage-coach could not be driven with ease and safety. In the winter, the climate compels the use of a different mode of transport, a description of which in this place may not be unacceptable. A frame work is constructed, with due regard to lightness and strength, supported by two runners, turned up in front like skates, and shod with iron or steel—the harder the material the better,—upon which is laced a box or carriage. These vehicles receive the names of sleds, sleighs, pungs, coaches, &c., according to the peculiarities of their construction; are easily drawn, and afford, in consequence of the centre of gravity being comparatively low, a very safe and comfortable mode of conveyance.

From these statements, it will be apparent that New Brunswick, although not more than seventy years a colony, by her more safe and speedy means of transit, incalculably outstrips the state of conveyance that existed between the most important places in Great Britain, at the time referred to by Dr. Lardner; and it is a question if the common or parish roads of that island are at this day more than thirty years in advance of this Province. When a comparison is instituted between the present state of the roads, and what they were within the memory of hundreds of its inhabitants, when canoes in the summer, and the shoulders of the settlers during the winter, were the only means by which articles were conveyed; and when even the mails, then but few and far between, were carried in the same manner, the difference cannot fail to be most striking. Almost every settlement contains historians who delight to inform travelers of these facts. It must, however, be acknowledged, notwithstanding the safe and comparatively speedy manner in which the mails, travelers and goods are now transported from place to place, that great improvements might be introduced, especially as to comfort, into the winter system of conveyance in this, as well as in the sister Provinces.

In further illustration of the efficient state of the roads in this Province, it may be observed that the mail coach, which travels three times a week between the cities of Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and Saint John, in New Brunswick, a distance of 260 miles, performs the journey, except for a short time in the spring and autumn, in forty-five hours, including all stoppages and delays caused by the delivery of mail bags among the numerous villages along the road. The stage coach, which runs daily during the winter between Saint John and Fredericton, a distance, by the Nerepis road, of 65-1/2 miles, completes its journey in eight hours. During the summer, not less than from eight to ten steamers ply on the St. John river between these two places, leaving each place every morning and evening. The trip is eighty miles, and the upward voyage is made, when the freshet is not running too strong, in eleven hours; that downward in much less time. Israel D’Andrews, Esq., in his report to the American Senate, states that in 1851, not less than 50,000 persons took passage in the boats plying on the river, which were then less in number than at present. The passengers that travel this way, in the present year, must far exceed that number.

Nearly the whole external boundary of the Province is belted by good coach roads, and numerous cross roads are everywhere being extended into the interior, on which settlements, post offices, school houses and manufactories, are gradually established; in fact, the Province is bidding fair to become a complete net-work of roads.

The bridges of the country are not at all in keeping with its high roads. This arises from many causes; first, from the great extent of bridging required; second, from defective engineering; and thirdly, from a want of an immediate supervision. When bridges get out of repair, or are swept away by freshets or storms, which is frequently the case, more especially with wooden bridges, they are seldom re-built until after the annual meeting of the Legislature. However, the whole bridge building system is now receiving the attention of the Government, and will, it is to be hoped, undergo a thorough revision, so that the bridges of the Province may be placed on a more safe and substantial footing.

The roads are divided into two classes: great roads and bye-roads. The great roads are those upon which the principal mails are conveyed, and the greatest amount of travelling performed; these roads receive a larger amount of legislative aid, according to their extent, than the bye-roads do. All the counties have more or less of the great roads passing through them, and therefore all partake of the benefits arising from an increased expenditure of the public monies, and the facilities afforded by improved roads. The bye roads diverge in every direction from the great roads; they receive annual grants of money from the Legislature; and both classes of roads, in addition to the Provincial endowments, are also partly repaired by the inhabitants of the districts through which they pass, livery resident in the Province is required by law to contribute his quota either in labor or money, at his option, towards the support of the roads near his residence. The sum required from each for this purpose is assessed by officers, denominated Commissioners, three of which are annually elected by the people of each parish. The parishes are laid off into districts by these officers, each district, generally, not exceeding two miles in length. The work is done, under the superintendence of a surveyor, at such a season as may best suit the convenience of the communities; thus no inconvenience or hardship can arise to any individual from the performance of this duty, which amounts to no greater tax than the assisting to make a road to each person’s property within the district.

The yearly legislative grant varies according to the prosperous or adverse state of the Provincial revenues. The amounts thus appropriated for the year 1854, and the two preceding years, are as follows: In 1852, £33,000; in 1853, £35,822; and in 1854, £45,153.

These respective sums include the grants for the great and bye roads, and for the bridges throughout the Province, and are divided among the objects as necessity may require.


In the year 1830, the first Railway was opened in England; in 1844, only fourteen years after this great era in the means of transit, the St. Andrews railroad, in New Brunswick, was commenced; and although its progress has been slow, yet that is easily accounted for by the general commercial depression, as well as by many other incidental causes. In 1848, the survey for one of the most gigantic plans of inter-colonial railways ever yet proposed—that from Halifax to Quebec—was entered upon. Various obstacles, arising from the different views of the several British North American Provinces and the Home Government, have, for a time, suspended its progress. Originating from this survey, however, portions of a line, affording communication with the United States, and which will ultimately lead to the accomplishment of an inter-colonial connection, are now under execution. This line is known as the European and North American Railway. Operations have been commenced at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, with a view to reaching the New Brunswick boundary; and from thence to the city of Saint John, the commercial emporium of New Brunswick. The distance, including a branch of six miles to the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Shediac, will be 255 miles from the Atlantic terminus at Halifax to Saint John. This line is intended to be produced, by the company incorporated in this Province, to the boundary of Maine, a further distance of seventy miles; and from thence, by that State, to Portland, where a complete connection will be established with the American and Canadian railways.

That portion of the road passing through Nova Scotia, with branches to Pictou, Windsor and Annapolis was authorized by an act passed in the last session of the Provincial Legislature, to be constructed by the Government, annually expending £200,000, until the whole shall be completed; in pursuance of which, contracts are now being entered into, and works, to some extent, have been commenced at Halifax, in the immediate neighborhood of which several miles of rails have been laid. As that sum will be sufficient to execute, and set in operation, about twenty-eight miles of the trunk line, it will take more than four years to complete the road from Halifax to the boundary of New Brunswick; and should the Government conclude to expend a portion of the money on the branches at the same time, the completion of the main line will be protracted to a much longer period. The branches may be more cheaply constructed, with the exception of that to Pictou, on which the coal and other productions of that district will form an important item of transport, and render that line, in all probability, one of the most paying in that Province.

The portion of the great line traversing New Brunswick, from the Nova Scotia boundary, as far as the city of Saint John, being the property of the European and North American Railway Company, is under contract by those rich and enterprising capitalists, Messrs. Jackson, Peto, Brassey & Co., of England, who have undertaken, in connection with the Province, as a stockholder, to execute that part, together with the branch to Shediac, in four years, commencing in 1853, for £26,500 sterling per mile, the breadth of gauge to be 5 feet 6 inches.

The advantages accruing to this entire line are very numerous. Beginning at Halifax, one of the best and most spacious harbors in North America; open at all seasons of the year—the nearest point to Europe, which must eventually, as time and distance become more essential objects in crossing the Atlantic, be the European terminus on the American continent,—it passes through numerous and populous settlements in Nova Scotia for a distance of 125 miles, out of which, not less than ninety are highly fit for cultivation. In the remaining thirty-five miles, there are several fine valleys well suited for agricultural purposes.

In passing through New Brunswick to the boundary of Maine, about two hundred miles, the road will traverse large settlements, and not less than 150 miles of good land for the operation of the farmer. The remaining 50 miles, like a portion of the line through Nova Scotia, afford numerous spots where well directed industry will receive ample remuneration; and more especially, as the poorest lands on the line, in both Provinces, are nearest to the cities of Halifax and Saint John, where farmers have the advantage of the best markets for their produce.

The mineral productions of both Provinces are abundant and valuable, and will therefore contribute, in no small degree, to the paying qualities of the line. Upon the whole, it is generally believed that this undertaking when completed, will amply repay its projectors. In addition to the lumber and timber, which is everywhere manufactured along its course, the fisheries will prove a large and important item of traffic; manufactories will probably spring up, and all the resources of the Provinces will be more systematically opened up. The whole face of the country through which the traveler will pass is richly diversified, and cannot fail to arrest his attention. That portion of the line from the city of Saint John to Shediac, 100 miles, is wholly cleared of its timber, and grading is commenced, and a portion of the rail laid near Shediac, at the Bend, and near the city of Saint John.

The Province is indebted for this stage of its railway progress, and as far as it is traversed by this line, to the Hon. Edward B. Chandler, who, in company with a delegate from Canada, held a conference with the British Government, with a view to obtaining imperial assistance to construct a railway through New Brunswick to Quebec. In consequence of some objections taken by the Home Government to aid any line not passing through or near to the centre of the Province, the mission entirely failed in its main object. Mr. Chandler, however, being fully apprised of the wishes of the inhabitants, was determined that, at almost any hazard, they should share in the advantages of railway transit with their American neighbors, as well as with their sister Province of Canada. With his usual skill and political tact, therefore, he entered into conditional arrangements with the before mentioned firm, and for his conduct on this mission he received the plaudits of the Colonial Secretary, and the agreement was subsequently ratified by the Legislature of New Brunswick.

St. Andrew’s and Woodstock Railway—This line, with an ultimate view of its extension to Quebec, is steadily progressing. After the first ten miles was completed, a contract was made for the construction of seventy miles more, which is now being executed; the grading of twenty-five miles or upwards from St. Andrews was completed last autumn, and the cars are now running on the first section. The line is cleared and prepared for grading for a much greater distance. The company have a grant from the Provincial Government of a large tract of good land fit for settlement on each side of the line, which is estimated to contain 100,000 acres; the contractors take 10,000 acres of this land, at one pound sterling per acre, in part payment of the contract. The first eighty miles is being constructed in a good substantial manner, at a comparatively low cost, not exceeding £3000 per mile. This railway, as far as it has gone, (and of its speedy completion there can be no doubt) owes its existence to the indomitable energy, enterprise, and well directed exertions of the inhabitants of the county of Charlotte.

Shediac and Miramichi Railway—This line will form a continuation northerly, and is a branch of the European and North American Railway, or a part of the Halifax and Quebec line, if carried on. Departing from the former, between Shediac and the Bend, and taking a nearly direct course, it will cross the Shediac, Cocagne, Buctouche, Richibucto, and other rivers, near the head of the tide, and will open to view one of the finest and most extensive tracts of arable land to be found in this section of the Province, besides forming a communication, at all seasons of the year, with the rich, thriving and populous counties in its northern division. If this branch were in operation, it would not be long before an effort would be made by Canada. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to induce Great Britain to aid in the completion of the intermediate space of 200 miles between Miramichi and the River du Loup. This, when executed, would connect itself with the grand trunk, and. through it, with the other Canadian railways; and would thus form one of the most formidable bands that could be devised, for the consolidation of three extensive and valuable Provinces into one Colonial Empire, whose united voice would cause its just demands to be heard and respected.

Railway from Saint John to Fredericton—This line will run along the valley of the Saint John, within a short distance of the river. During the winter season, there would be considerable traffic for a railway, but it would be much lessened in summer, in consequence of the ready water communication afforded by steamers and other craft. A depot at Fredericton, the Provincial head quarters, would be the rallying point for a large extent of country. The iron and other minerals, reported to exist in that vicinity, would then be opened; and these sources, with the increased trade of the city of Fredericton, and the surrounding country, would form large items in its paying qualities. It is not, perhaps, likely that the line would yield a large profit at first, but, by its cheap, speedy and safe mode of transit, it would open up sources of wealth to which the hand of man has not yet been directed.

Scale of Railways, in progress and in contemplation in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

New Brunswick Lines: European and North American Railway (N.B. portion) 210 miles; St. Andrews to Woodstock 90 miles; Shediac to Miramichi 70 miles; City of St. John to Fredericton 55 miles; Total 425 miles.

Nova Scotia Lines: European and North American Railway (N.S. portion) 125 miles; Cobequid Mountains to Pictou 23 miles; Trunk line to Windsor 41 miles; Windsor to Annapolis 74 miles; Total 263 miles.


Written by johnwood1946

January 1, 2014 at 10:16 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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