New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

A Tour of St. John, N.B. in 1870

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A very large tour group visited New Brunswick in July and August of 1870, arriving in Saint John on an ocean steamer. The tour included hundreds of people, and was significant enough that they were greeted by large crowds, including civic officials. Letters were written describing the group’s experiences, and some of these were later published in a book entitled Coit Correspondence, or a Trip to New Brunswick, Worcester, Mass., 1871. Following is one of those letters describing Saint John.

To enjoy this description it is best to ignore some of the remarks about Saint John’s less attractive features which, after all, are from a private letter. Just keep reading, and you will discover a pleasant remembrance of the visit.

Victoria rink St John

The Victoria Skating Rink, St. John

From the N.B. Museum. It was, they said, “the largest in America”

A Tour of Saint John, N.B., in 1870

Bay of Fundy, July 30, 1870

I continue this letter after a long and long-to-be-remembered day in St. John. Indeed, we excursionists find ourselves obliged to adopt the eight hour system, i.e., eight hours in the forenoon, and eight hours in the afternoon. Warily advancing through the partially illuminated fog, listening to the steamer’s impatient cry, “where are you, old fog-y,” and to the deep bass of the fog bell, as it seemed to answer like a “spirit from the vasty deep,” O-ver he-re, o-ver he-re, slow-ly, friend, slow-ly, we at last pass Manawagonish—vulgarly styled Mahogany island, then Partridge island, and lo, through the misty air loom the shipping and rocky heights of the commercial capital of New Brunswick. We ride into the harbor to the tune of “God save the Queen,” grandly played from our hurricane deck, and are met at the wharf by a multitude of mutton-chop whiskers and small boys. But certain gentlemen having long whips in their hands with which they kindly beckoned to us, saying constantly “Av-a-cabzur,” “av-a-cab-zur?” appeared most gratified to see us. Not comprehending what part of the government they represented, though plainly perceiving that they were indulging in expressions of welcome, we imitated the example of our reticent President Grant, bowed with dignity and passed on. Whereat, observing our urbanity, they were so delighted that they exclaimed the more, “Av-a-cab-zur” “Av-a-cab-zur!” So cordial a greeting, of course, awakens the best sentiments of our nature, and assures us that we shall like these foreigners.

But all pleasantry aside, it is not too much to say, that from the moment of our landing we have been treated more like brothers than mere visitors. The Mayor has dined with us, and citizens have vied with each other in extending to us delicate attentions, accompanying us to points of interest and showing us just where and how to get the finest views of this most attractive region. We are again blessed with the glad sunshine, and breathe exhilarating air. My observations in so short a time must of course be partial, like a soldier’s on the battle-field. The Coits have been active. Some have been after the speckled trout, and some after kid gloves—real Joseph’s, at 130 U.S. cents a pair—some driving, and more promenading. A few, alas, have found the Insane Asylum, the Penitentiary, the Jail, or even the Poor House so attractive and well suited to their respective Conditions, that there is little hope of luring them back to Worcester. One elderly Coit in particular, who is “mad only nor’ nor’ west” gives glowing accounts of the Insane Asylum. For myself, I confess while striving to be as ubiquitous as possible, I caught myself more than once gazing pensively upon the Poor House. The above-mentioned institutions are represented by respectable edifices and are among the most noticeable of a public sort. The Custom-House and Hotels generally are rather seedy looking buildings. The Theatre is a rude and rickety affair, so small that the orchestra, consisting of a bass-viol, three fiddles and two brass-horns, can easily “split the ears of the groundlings.” The parks are small, unkempt, and destitute of special ornament. The dwelling houses, and lesser business establishments, have in general a battered look. The market-place is a dingy aggregation of stalls where excellent beef can be bought for 13 cts. a pound, eggs for 23 cts., butter for 30 cts., blueberries and raspberries for 4 cts. a quart. On the other hand, the streets are refreshingly broad, and not a few very imposing structures of brick or stone, adorn the busier thoroughfares of trade. The Hospital tops a considerable hill which not only affords a healthful site but admirably displays the fine proportions of the building. From this point is obtained a most ravishing view of Mount Pleasant. Reed’s Castle, so called, crowns the summit. On either hand stretching away on the left to Paradise, on the right to—well, for a guess, to the Land of Canaan, and all adown the uneven slope before us, are ensconced behind thick-growing cedars very many of the finer residences of the city. The beautiful gardens and grass plats which surround these villas are hid from our view by the foliage, as are also most of the villas themselves, except their Gothic roofs and towers. A light haze softened the picture as we looked and gave to it that fairy-like charm which twilight sometimes lends to the landscape. This view captivates all and is worth coming to St. John to see. Still facing Mount Pleasant, directly below us in the valley, is the Victoria Skating Rink, the largest in America. A little to the right is the Convent of the Sacred Heart, where pious maidens ne’er look upon the face of nature or the face of man. A few steps bring us to the Bishop’s palace and to the Catholic Cathedral whose grand bulk and pleasing architecture excite our admiration. St. John is emphatically a city of churches; from Carleton Heights alone may be counted the turrets or spires of twenty-five. From Hospital hill, facing about, we look out upon Courteney Bay, where the surf is driven in upon the flats by a tide which rises 40 feet at the wharves. Mount Pleasant overlooks Lily Lake, a half-hour’s walk from King Street. This sheet of water, about three miles in circuit, is oblong, has a sinuous margin and is the home of the pond-lilies. The banks clothed with spruce and cedars rise 100 feet or more with only a slight slope from the water, adding uniqueness to the whole effect.

At the foot of King Street is Market Square, now a grand stand for drays, carts and slovens. Here, at what is called The Slip—suggestive word—landed, in 1783, the “Pilgrim Fathers of New Brunswick,” those old Loyalists whose souls did not kindle with our fathers’ upon the “imperial theme” of the Revolution. I didn’t observe any monument in this vicinity, but in the Old Burial Ground,—which by the way is prettily diversified with willows, and horse chestnut trees, though otherwise shabby enough—I noticed a great many deaths of elderly gentlemen in 1815, and concluded that becoming disgusted with life they slipped off in each others’ company as they came.

This letter is already too long, and yet I have not half exhausted the scenes and sights of this memorable day. I must refer you to Mr. Mecorney’s letters in the Spy where you will find, I doubt not, all the gaps filled. Or, better yet, come yourself and behold this truly noble harbor, with is grand semi-circle edged with ships; the Suspension Bridge; the marvellous phenomenon of the Falls at the mouth of the St. John River, where twice a day the descending waters face directly opposite points of the compass—like little boys see-sawing—and where twice a day for fifteen minutes and no longer, vessels may pass up or down; and, if piscatorially inclined, catch all the trout and salmon you can. I cannot quite omit, however, my happiest experience of the day—a visit to the Barracks. Until recently, England has kept a large military force here. It was expensive and useless. Now one regiment of Scotch Highlanders answers for this province and Nova Scotia—two companies here, six there. These Scotch boys gave us “a Highland welcome,” and took evident pleasure in giving us information and gratifying our curiosity. Among other things they showed us a genuine needle-gun, and explained its peculiar and ingenious device for exploding the cap. But the noble fellows were themselves the objects of greatest interest. Many were in full dress—feather bonnet and hackle, scarlet tunic, kilt, sporran, hose, white gaiters, and skene-dhu, all complete. For undress they wear a buff jacket and the Glengarry cap. They belong to the 78th Highlanders, their regimental crest being a stag’s head with scroll inscribed “Cuidich’n Righ,” or “King’s Men,” and their war-cry “Carber fey.” The piper, John Duncan, obligingly tuned his bagpipe —instrument dear to the Highland Scotch,—and played reels and jigs; then, striking a loftier strain, the “Gathering of the Clans” and “I’m wearin’ awa Jean” closed the pleasant entertainment. I thought of the Scotch piper brought into the presence of Napoleon. “Play a march,” said the Emperor. He played it. “Play a pibroch.” It was played. “Play a retreat.” “Na, na, I canna play that,” was the quick reply. I shall not forget Sergeant James Tuite, a hero of Lucknow, who wears three medals upon his breast—“India,” “Persia,” and a third inscribed, “for long service and good conduct.” How proud I was to grasp his manly hand, and show my esteem for his modest merit! Nor shall I let go from memory the names and faces of Wishart and Willson. Good-bye boys—may God indeed be with you.

And now, reminding you that this city is about the size of Worcester,—population 45,000; that its thrift—for it seems to be thriving—depends largely upon its trade in fish and lumber; that it makes large importations of British goods, and sells the costliest of them to us Yankees, whose dollars just now are worth 84 cents, I take my leave of the goodly city of St. John.


[Likely either Abner H. Davis of Worcester, or A.H. Davis of Webster, both members of the party.]


Written by johnwood1946

February 4, 2015 at 8:52 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Wonderful blog. Thank you. What is the meaning of “Av-a-cab-zur”?


    February 5, 2015 at 6:20 AM

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