New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

A Trek from Taymouth to Boisetown, 1862

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Arthur Hamilton Gordon was born in 1829, a son of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen who went on to become Prime Minister of Britain. Young Gordon served as a Member of Parliament for a while, but was defeated in an election and then became a private secretary to Gladstone. Gordon reluctantly accepted the Lieutenant Governorship of New Brunswick in 1861, but warmed to the assignment when he discovered that it was not a frozen wasteland as he had imagined. He was 32 years old and single when he arrived, and took to hunting, fishing, hiking and canoeing with enthusiasm.

The following story is from Gordon’s book “Wilderness Journeys in New Brunswick in 1862-63.” These wilderness adventures were primitive and arduous, along near-empty rivers and thick forests teaming with flies. He loved it (except for the flies)! His writing style was pleasant, being devoid of literary excesses sometimes used by others of the 19th century. When Gordon’s descriptions became colourful, he was not trying to be dramatic but was genuinely in awe of his surroundings.

On this trip, Gordon was accompanied by several people including Gabriel ‘Acquin’, the well known Malecite guide who was the subject of an earlier post in this blog. They travelled by carriage from Fredericton to the Taymouth area, and then by foot to the head of the Nashwaak and through the forest to the Southwest Miramichi. The final leg of the journey was by canoe to Boisetown.

 Gordon Canoe

Arthur Hamilton Gordon and Party on a Canoe Trip, c 1862.

From the William Francis Ganong collection of the New Brunswick Museum


A Trek from Taymouth to Boisetown

Sometimes, I have made journeys on foot. The first trial-trip which I undertook was of this nature, and though not of very long duration, was in some respects more arduous than any of my subsequent expeditions. Our plan was to explore the river Nashwaak to its source, thence to cross in a direct line through the forest to the river Miramichi, and then descend that river till we again reached the confines of civilization. On this occasion, we only contemplated an absence from Fredericton of about a fortnight, and canoes were sent from Boiestown on the Miramichi to meet us at the Miramichi lake, in the neighbourhood of which point we expected to strike the river. The Nashwaak, the upper course of which it was our intention to explore, is a tributary c»f the St. John, into which river it falls opposite to the city of Fredericton, and consequently at a distance of about ninety miles from the sea. For some thirty miles above the confluence its banks are well settled, and its course very beautiful, running between hills which occasionally recede leaving a broad margin of rich hay-land, studded with fine elms and thriving farms, and sometimes approach their steep banks of mingled hard-wood and fir close to the river’s edge. Our party consisted, besides myself, of my Adjutant General, Lieutenant-Colonel C—, Mr. W—, one of my secretaries, and a Malecite Indian from the camp opposite Fredericton, Gabriel by name, the pet guide and huntsman of the garrison—a clever fellow, speaking good English, which, however, as he had learnt it chiefly from officers, abounded in odd expressions of military slang. Our first day’s destination was the head of the settlements in the parish of Stanley, and to this point we drove by a direct road, on the 10th June, 1862. The air was thick and close with the smoke of burning woods, and at one point we passed a place where the forest was at the time on fire. Taking advantage of a halt to bait the horses, we bathed in the Tay Creek, a pretty stream, with banks of wood and rock, reminding me of many a well remembered Perthshire burn. This bathe is memorable to me as my first introduction to the detestable black flies. Whilst dressing, we had noticed a number of small flies resembling the common house-fly in shape and appearance, but of smaller size, hovering about us; and on returning to the carriage, we observed that C—’s face and neck were bleeding in several places. What could have caused this? Surely not those tiny flies! The idea was at once rejected with disdain; but we were destined experimentally to learn wisdom on this subject at no distant time.

The farmer at whose house we had intended to sleep was absent from home, and we accordingly proceeded through fine woods of maple, elm, and butternut, only partially cleared, to the settlement of Mr. Johnson, an emigrant from the north of Ireland, which we reached about 6:15 p.m. This farm had every appearance of being as prosperous as any I had seen in the province. Fine cows were roaming about; the tinkling bells, which are always suspended to their necks to prevent their being lost by straying into the forest, sounding pleasantly in the twilight. A large amount of land had been cleared, a substantial, whitewashed house, with a verandah, erected, and the whole place wore an air of progress and comfort. Mr. Johnson was at work in a field, in which he was still chopping at tree-stumps, and was just concluding his day’s work when we approached, and asked him if he could let us sup and sleep at his house. His reply was characteristic of the country: “No man, white or black, is ever turned away by me.” In the evening I sat long with him on the edge of the verandah, discussing the working of the common school system, and watching the fire-flies, or as they are styled by the people, with more descriptive accuracy than poetical elegance—lightning bugs!

We slept on the floor of one of Mr. Johnson’s rooms, and at five on the following morning started in earnest on our forest walk. Each man carried a knapsack, containing a few clothes, and ration of salt pork, biscuit, and tea—a blanket strapped on the top of the pack, and in his hand a gun or fishing-rod. Gabriel carried, in addition, the tea-kettle and frying pan.

Our way at first lay along a well-defined path, in a westerly direction, through a thick forest of elm and maple, and though occasionally interrupted by a fallen tree or low growth of underbrush, was perfectly easy to perceive and to traverse. The soft earth near the margins of the little streams we forded was abundantly printed with tracks of the lynx, the moose, and the bear, some of which were very fresh; but the only creature we came upon was a partridge, which we shot. After walking about three hours, the character of the forest suddenly changed, and showed a great preponderance of various kinds of fir, which however had again given place to hard-wood before we reached the Little Nashwaak lake, the embouchure of which we forded, and where, after an unsatisfactory bathe in shallow water, we breakfasted, surrounded by beautiful yellow swallow-tailed butterflies.

The Little Nashwaak lake is a small sheet of water to the south of the river, with which it is connected by a very short passage. From this point we proposed to follow the Nashwaak river, (which we here touched for the first time since leaving Fredericton), closely to its source.

About half-past ten we again set out through the forests on the right bank, and I do not know that I have ever been more tired in my life than by this morning’s walk. We wandered on through the thick and trackless woods, heavily loaded, through stifling heat, and surrounded by countless swarms of insects, whilst our progress was so slow, owing to the thickness of the wood and the number of windfalls, as to permit of their feeding on us at their pleasure. At length, after a long descent, we again reached the river, and so thoroughly exhausted were we, that sinking on the shore, we all fell fast asleep, almost before we could throw off the loads on our backs, regardless of black flies or exposure. How long we slept I do not know, but when we woke we found ourselves,—(well bitten),—by the side of a very pretty Scotch-looking stream, among slaty rocks shadowed by bright green foliage. Here we rested some time, caught fish and ate them; and when the heat of the day was abated, forded the river, and continued the journey on the left bank—each of us carrying in his hand a torch of cedar-bark, as some defence against the flies. Such a torch goes on smouldering and smoking for hours, if care is taken not to permit it to burst into a flame. At last we camped. I have never, in all my subsequent experience, known the black flies so utterly intolerable as on this and the succeeding day. For an hour before their disappearance for the night, this evening, we sat apart, each absorbed in his own miseries, his face buried in his hands, unable to move, or talk, or think. On the following day, when compelled to stand still for a short time, whilst Gabriel was searching for signs to direct as to the course we were to take, we plunged into three [?] several spruce trees, and endeavoured (vainly, alas!), by pulling the boughs rapidly to and fro over our persons, to keep the enemy at a distance. The mosquito of North America appears comparatively harmless to any one who has afforded a meal to those found on the plains of Syria;—the sand-fly—“Bite him no see him,” as the Indians, or “brulard,” as the French, equally appropriately call them —though irritating, do no harm;—(the sensation is like that of a minute hot ash falling on the skin);—but the black fly is indeed a pest, and happy are the dwellers in Europe, where they are unknown. Fussy, restless, pertinacious, finding entrance at every aperture in one’s clothes, thronging into ears, eyes, and nostrils, drawing blood, and leaving an irritating wound, they are no light drawback to the pleasures of a forest life.

It would be tedious to dwell minutely on the remainder of our journey. The river’s course lay almost always through fine hard-wood, but it was difficult to keep as near to it as we desired, and we often lost our way altogether. The feeling of confinement was unsatisfactory. A small circle of tree-stems was all that we could see, unless we were actually looking up or down the river, where the views were generally pretty. It was impossible, as we went along, to learn anything of the aspect of the country; for though we went up high hills, we never got a view of any extent out of the trees immediately round us. Our last Nashwaak camp, however, perhaps deserves description. After wandering about a good deal in a circuitous direction in the forest, we came down a bank towards the river. On one side rose the high bank we had descended, on the other was a wooded flat. The river was broad and black, and perfectly still and dead, without perceptible current. Near our camp it was overhung by a large willow, and a magnificent black birch—one of the finest I have ever seen—rose high above the other trees on the opposite bank. The whole appearance of the scene was mysterious and dismal, resembling that of the deserted and neglected lake of some great park which had been abandoned by its owner, and over which hung some gloomy association. Nor was the mysterious aspect of the place diminished by the only noise we heard—the continued drumming of the partridges, of which the deep, hollow, muffled tones sounded all night through the forest.

To a wet night succeeded a showery morning. Silently we packed, and resumed our way with somewhat depressed spirits. The river was dark and still, the air heavy and warm, the saturated foliage motionless and loaded with moisture, which descended on us in showers at the slightest touch, the drumming of the partridges had ceased, and an absolute silence prevailed, which weighed oppressively on the mind. Walking was very difficult, as our way lay through a wholly untrodden forest full of windfalls, and overrun by tangled undergrowth. We had to ford a succession of creeks, and crossed repeatedly from side to side of the river, which had here scarcely any perceptible current. But our efforts to reach the lake which is supposed to form the source of the Nashwaak were all destined to be fruitless. After crossing the stream, we frequently left the swampy tangled thicket on its banks for the comparatively dry ground and opener wood of the higher ridges in the neighbourhood. Here, at last, after, as I am inclined to think, mistaking a branch for the main stream, we lost the river altogether, and, after vain searching for it from the tree-tops, gave up the quest, and followed a direct line due north, which, about one o’clock, led us down to the bank of a broad clear river, which Gabriel pronounced to be the Miramichi. We struck it just above the confluence of two branches, and the meeting of the waters presented a very lovely scene—the lovelier, perhaps, in our eyes, for our previous confinement to a narrow circle of tree-stems. Two large streams, broad as the Thames at Henley, flowed quietly together, the point of their junction being marked by two large pines, which overhung the stream, and formed a striking contrast to the hard-wood forest which backed them. Far away in the distance, seen over the trees, were the purple summits of a distant mountain. All was quiet and calm and still, but it was a peaceful, tranquil stillness, very different in its impression from the eerie deadness of our camp of the previous night. We caught a number of trout, and dined, and then after going down the river bank for about a mile, we resolved to take to the water as an easier mode of progression, for we were still far above the point where the canoes were awaiting us. Gabriel led us to a deserted camp, high above the river, which supplied us with materials for constructing a couple of rude catamarans on which to place ourselves and our effects. After two hours’ work these were completed, and we launched ourselves into the stream, not, however, without having first narrowly escaped setting fire to the forest; a small fire made to keep off the maddening attacks of the black flies, having spread into and under a bank of rotten wood and rubbish in such a manner, as to cause us the utmost difficulty in extinguishing it.

The river here was broad and the stream gentle, and we glided very pleasantly along among water-lilies and wild ducks, till we reached a turn above some rapids, where Gabriel thought it best to stop for the night, which we accordingly did. Being very tired no camp was made, and we lay down in the bright moonshine, with a fire at our feet, and beyond it, what looked like a garden composed of tall green succulent plants.

The next morning, Gabriel floated the unloaded rafts through the rapids, whilst we carried the goods to a point below them. In a few miles more we again approached rather serious rapids, and prepared to portage again. Gabriel undertook to bring down one, and W— the other raft, whilst C— and I carried our diminished stores, and watched for the descent of the voyagers. Gabriel came down successfully, his catamaran merely touching on a rocky point and then swinging off from it into the full rush of the hurrying waters, which brought him down all right into the pool below. W— was not so fortunate. His raft struck full upon the same rock on which Gabriel’s had touched, and being pressed against it by the force of the water, began to lose its shape and break up. He was soon standing on a mere loose mass of timber, which floated away piecemeal from under him, He tried to reach the rock, failed, and was the next minute in the boiling current, struggling towards the shore, whilst C—, who was nearer the bank than I, rushed into the river to pick up the bits of the raft as they floated by, which we succeeded in cobbling together again after a fashion.

All this was sufficiently exciting, but it must be confessed that a prolonged catamaran voyage is somewhat wearisome and tedious. After the passage of the rapids we continued to drift down without any further adventure, and our progress was both too slow and too wet to be pleasant. Our own catamaran was nearly under water, whilst that navigated by W— and C— was always in danger of coming bodily to pieces whenever the frail craft impinged on a rock—a very frequent occurrence—though C— and W— spent great part of their time in the water endeavouring to ward off such collisions. Moreover, the waterlogged condition of their machine, and their want of Gabriel’s experience in its conduct, made their progress even slower than ours, and we had constantly to stop in order to allow them to keep within any reasonable distance, and to be at hand in case assistance should be really wanted. At length, about five o’clock, one lovely summer evening, our crazy rafts neared a point beyond which, in Gabriel’s opinion, it would be hopeless to attempt to carry them, as there was there a considerable fall and dangerous rapid. Nearing this point we came upon a very pretty spot, at which the river, before turning sharply to the north, opened out into a little lake. Behind the woods which fringed a still mirror-like pool, rose high and graceful hills, clothed in the richest young summer foliage, bright with every tint of golden green, and bathed in the still sunshine of evening. Our logs struck heavily on a sunken rock, and we had just observed that this hidden foe would altogether demolish our comrades’ craft, when a thin line of blue smoke, rising into the air, caught Gabriel’s eye, and almost at the same moment a log canoe shot rapidly out from behind a promontory, and darted over the black glassy surface of the water towards us, its red shirted occupants uttering a whoop of recognition. In a few minutes we were on board the canoe, and our abandoned catamaran was floating down the stream to find its way to the sea as best it might,—to remain a broken pile of drift wood under some rock, or float round and round in an eddy, till flood or frost changed the current of the river’s life. All difficulty and discomfort were now over. We found a luxurious spruce bark camp, with soft spruce boughs to sleep on, and skins to cover us, fresh provisions, and clean dry clothes,—even plates and knives. There being still some hours of daylight, W— and I went out on the chance of a shot at a moose. W— as the younger and more eager shot had the foremost canoe—for me the novelty and beauty of the scene sufficed.

We went up the little winding stream which leads to Lake Miramichi, and a more lovely evening I never remember to have seen. The absence of all human sounds gave an impression of deep and solemn stillness, and yet air and water were full of life, and the attentive ear caught the plash of the frightened water-rat as it plunged into the stream; the gurgling bubble of the diving musquash; the rise of startled water-fowl among the sedges; the hum of the laden bee homeward-bound; the buzz of myriad insects near the water’s surface. Sometimes we shot under tall trees, which bent towards each other from either bank and canopied the stream,—sometimes by low stunted wood, above which the mountains could be plainly seen,—sometimes through reedy swamps,—sometimes through tangled spruce woods; but ever turning and turning, and ever moving rapidly over clear brimming water. It was my first experience of a log-canoe, and much as I had heard on the subject, I was unprepared for the marvelous skill and dexterity with which it was handled. At one point we fairly ascended a small waterfall, going up its steps as if up a staircase. At length, at a sudden turn, we burst into the Miramichi Lake. Very lovely, indeed, it looked in the waning sunlight,—a perfect picture of placid repose. Hills of soft rounded outline and considerable height, densely clothed with hard-wood, rose from the water and were reflected into it; whilst every shade of beautiful colouring, purple, blue, and crimson, tinged hills and woods, and water, and the low mist gathering on the surface of the lake. In the distance, W— saw two moose, one feeding at the edge of the lake, the other swimming in the waters. In again descending the stream, we came upon another of these huge animals feeding very near the bank. W— took good aim, and pulled the trigger; but our catamaran voyage had damped the caps, and the gun hung fire. Before he could fire his second barrel the moose was gone, nor did we see another that night though we twice heard them crashing through the Woods. We did not return to camp till nine p.m. when we were ready to do ample justice to an abundant supper.

The next day we commenced our canoe voyage down the river,—which here runs in a north-easterly direction,—by a descent of falls and rapids, certainly well calculated to inspire the inexperienced beginner with considerable astonishment. But the command exercised over the canoe appears nearly as great in the roughest as in the smoothest water, its progress being occasionally suddenly arrested in mid career, or turned from the very edge of a threatening rock, with a nicety which nothing but constant practice can give. The scenery all day was very beautiful, though the hills were somewhat monotonous in form. Their rich and varied clothing of hard-wood, however, saved them from being wearisome. At one island where we stopped for a short time, I noticed the mixture of slate and quartz, which forms the home of gold, but none has yet been discovered on this river. We stopped for the night at one of the best fishing stations, “Burnt Hill,” and actually halted in the middle of a rapid. We failed, however, to see any salmon, partly because the water was still too cold to have admitted of their ascent in any numbers, and partly on account of the obstructions which fish have to surmount, and which bid fair, in no long time, to extinguish the as yet highly profitable salmon fisheries of the province. Laws and regulations are made for their protection, but they are seldom enforced, and individual selfishness seeks unchecked to reap an immediate harvest, regardless of the interests of the future. I have myself seen on this very river a net habitually stretched across its whole breadth, and remaining down, I have every reason to believe, for weeks together.

Our halting place at Burnt Hill struck our whole party as wearing a singularly theatrical appearance. The thin edges of the slate rock, which here have an almost vertical dip, strangely resembled the pasteboard side-scenes of a theatre, whilst a “practicable” stair-like path and narrow terrace, just able to contain a few figures on the hill-side, greatly added to the operatic aspect of the whole place.

The rest of our voyage to Boiestown was accomplished without adventure; the river preserving through its whole course the same general characteristics. The night before we reached Boiestown, however, we slept in scenery more resembling that of an English park than is usual in the American forest; large single trees standing well apart on a grassy bank, and presenting to our sight something like the glades and clumps of our own country, instead of the tangled litter to which the eye may become accustomed, but which is never agreeable to it.

The land is almost entirely covered with hard-wood, and is consequently of good quality for settlement, but very much of the district we traversed is locked up in the hands of the New Brunswick Land Company, who possess an enormous tract in the County of York, the disposal of which, so long as the provincial government sells land at the rate of three shillings an acre, payable in labour, they can hardly hope rapidly to effect.

I was struck, whilst descending the river, by a peculiarity which I then for the first time noticed, but which I have since remarked on almost all the other North American rivers which I have subsequently visited—I mean the rapidity with which they descend from, one level to another, without marked rapids or any distinct vertical fall. There will sometimes be a rapid incline for nearly three miles of perfectly unbroken water, not leaping over rocky ledges, or fretting among boulders and wearing out holes in its bed, but running smoothly down hill at an inclination so distinctly visible that the inmates of one canoe will look very decidedly over the heads of those in one but a very short distance below them. This is a feature I have seldom seen in European rivers.

At Boiestown we met my carriage, and went home, well pleased with our excursion, to resume our ordinary course of life.


Written by johnwood1946

January 12, 2014 at 10:15 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. This post was of great interest because my husband’s forebears all lived in this area on original 1784 land grants and some descendants still do AND I CAN’T STAND BLACKFLIES, THEY MAKE A BEE-LINE RIGHT FOR ME BUT NEVER USED TO TOUCH HIM!! We roamed over much of the area looking at places the ancestors lived and where they are buried and one of his ancestors was Thomas Boies for whom Boiestown was named.

    Marianne Donovan

    January 12, 2014 at 6:16 PM

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