New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Fredericton Bridge, a Prophetic Writing

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From the blog at

The story of “Fredericton’s First Bridge Across the Saint John River” was told in this blog on October 31, 2012 [].

The bridge was controversial, and M.H. Pengilly, reviewed most of the objections to it in her essay called Fredericton Bridge, a Prophetic Writing, in 1885. Pengilly began with an account of her home being destroyed by fire in 1877; which was likely the Exhibition Palace fire of October 30th. She then discusses her fear that spring-flooding could devastate Fredericton and that bridge piers in the middle of the river would make this more likely. Her fear that flooding would be worsened did not prove to be correct. However, the discussion raised other interesting topics such as westward migration and the lack of industrial development at home in New Brunswick. It is interesting that she wanted more local prosperity, while also opposing commercial development.

Burns flooding

Robbie Burns inspects flooding, Waterloo Row, Fredericton, May 1, 1973

Environment Canada at

And, so, here is Ms. Pengilly’s essay:


Fredericton Bridge, a Prophetic Writing

In the year 1877 having lost my home by fire, I spent the remainder of the Summer and Autumn in Fredricton. The home of my friends with whom I boarded was near the bank of the river “St. John,” and my attention particularly drawn to the manner in which it was getting settled down to its Winter sleep. In the morning it would be covered with ice formed during the night, and by noon swept farther down by the rains falling at its head, and at its many tributaries. We discuss the subject and come to the conclusion that by all Appearances and from the experiences of former years, there would be a great ice jam in the Spring, from there being such a body of water, forming so much ice, and stowing down like a reserve force that will carry all before it in the Spring, if the rains should fall and raise the water before the ice should be weakened by the sunshine and warm winds of Springtime. (A few dry winds came just in time to save the city that season.) The water ceased to rise and the ice moved gradually away, keeping within the river bounds. I being more nervous than usual by my fire escapade, my nights were made more sleepless while thinking of the river and as Spring approached I dared not stay so near its banks.

I would not run the risk of being washed away from a refuge to which I had been so lately driven by the fire. I went to the house of a friend five miles above the city. Its elevated position enabled us to see the ice, night and day, (the moon being full). I watched it anxiously as it crowded and jammed itself along. It lodged just below the city and fears for its safety were entertained by many, forgotten now I suppose in their desire for improvement and connecting railways. The water rose many feet above its usual height flowing into the yard of my friend, and when they told me of it on my return. I was very thankful that I had left for higher ground, for I should have had no sleep there. Although I knew I was safe on the hill, I left my bed many times to see if the ice was yet standing still, often fancying I could see it piling up over the banks of the doomed city, for whose safety and that of my friends there I felt more than anxious.

Ice and water is I am sure a more dangerous foe than fire, more rapid in its movements, more difficult to escape from, and against whose losses we are seldom insured. The proposed Bridge brings so forcibly to mind that time of dread and anxiety for the safety of Fredricton that I cannot refrain from giving expression to my thought and feelings on the subject. If the people of Fredricton would consider this matter in a natural and impartial manner, they would not for the sake of money that would necessarily be expended at that time, run the risk of destroying the city by placing a bridge where, if built with sufficient strength to resist the force of the ice in ordinary seasons might in a time like the Spring of ‘78, hold the ice and assist in forming a dam that could not fail to flood the city, if it did not sweep it entirely away. How many cities and towns situated on low lands near river banks have been destroyed by an element so much beyond the control of feeble man. Why then should we thus lend our aid to so powerful an enemy as the water and ice would be, if the proposed bridge when completed should hold the last stone required to make perfect the dam that should aid in the destruction of the city.

This has become so fast an age. The traveling and commercial world can scarcely wait for ferryboats and horses with which to exchange cars and stations. They must needs have bridges or wings. Time to them is so precious, so valuable. Is it of more value than human lives. Is it more essential to the prosperity of a country that railroads should be linked by bridges than that the safety of its cities should be considered. Will the few hours lost by such hindrances be missed at the end of life’s journey, I think not. Could not the traveling public be expedited in a less dangerous, less expensive manner. Would it not be better to expend one half the sum which would be required to build a bridge in adding boats and landings near the stations.

The exchanges would give added employment and so increase the population by drawing to us workers from other countries instead of allowing one to go west tor lack of employment here.

The Bridge that will expedite travel and benefit few while under course of erection will carry the business more swiftly past the city and leave it quiet and lifeless as before. Will it be better to draw so heavily on our government funds for the sake of a year of prosperity, that will subside into added taxation and debt, when we may with much less expense secure quite sufficient by ferryboats leaving landings at short intervals.

Let us do all in our power to increase the prosperity of our cities that they may continue growing and with a new impetus equal to those of the far west, which have been built up by a sacrifice to our Province, as they have attracted from us so many of our most enterprising young men.

Lack of public spirit and a proper protective policy that would encourage the establishment of various manufactories, has left us behind our Sister Provinces. This has in a measure been overcome by the “National Policy” of our honoured Minister of Finance which must eventually become one of the bulwarks of the Dominion.

Let us always strive for the right. Let us expend the public monies in such a manner as shall do the most good to the many.

Let it not be in any sense an individual matter, but such as will extend to our children’s children, and shall add to our wealth and strength without exposing ourselves to the danger of being swept away by the resistless force and mighty power of the ice floating down in Springtime, when the late rains of Autumn may have added so much to its usual weight and quantity. What is the puny arm of man when trying to resist the power of God in the elements. ’Tis true he has brought to his aid the lightning from the sky and with it carries words and sounds across oceans and continents. In forming the Electric light he has been able to make brilliant the darkest night. He is daily using the breath of Heaven to waft his ships across the seas.

He forms channels through which to convey water and make it subservient to his purpose, from water he produces steam to move the mighty engine, the greatest work of the present day, and yet by those elements he is often and in various ways, swept out of existence in an instant, and they who come after him are benefited by his wisdom or impoverished by his lack of judgement or economy.

I hope the people of my native county in the City of Fredricton may never have cause to regret that they have not taken heed to this my prophetic warning in regard to the Fredricton Bridge.


Written by johnwood1946

September 17, 2014 at 9:44 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi John , I worked in the basement of Zellers on Queen St. in the 1973 flood . I sucked up water for 2 days . This story is a reminder that another flood could come from the up river dam . I wonder if anyone wrote a story about the dam in 1964 ?? David B.

    David Blair

    September 22, 2014 at 8:53 AM

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