New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Rambles Among the Bluenoses in 1862

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The following is taken from a travelogue entitled Rambles Among the Bluenoses, Reminiscences of a Tour Through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and was written by Andrew Learmont Spedon. His travels were during the summer of 1862.

Spedon was born in Edinburgh in 1831, and was brought to Montreal as a child. He worked as a newspaper editor and also wrote several books. The following excerpt describes his tour down the east coast of New Brunswick, and across to Saint John.

I don’t think that I would like Mr. Spedon. He had a very good opinion of himself, while being critical of almost everyone else. His descriptions of some New Brunswick towns are very unflattering. If we strip away his dismissive attitudes, however, then we are likely left with some truth. I have edited out some of his remembrances, as you will see. I have also edited two of his references to people of race which, although acceptable in the context of an old document, were nonetheless crude by today’s standards.

Our “rambler” has been travelling on the Saint Lawrence, and we join him as he approaches the eastern coast of New Brunswick in the ocean steamer, The Arabian.


Dalhousie, c 1900, looking toward the Restigouche River, Wikipedia


Rambles Among the Bluenoses in 1862

Early next morning I was awakened from my dreamy slumber by the hoarse voice of the Arabian’s steam-pipe announcing our arrival at the port of Dalhousie. I immediately hurried upon deck to get a prospective view of the town and vicinity—my first glance upon the coast of New Brunswick. I also felt a sort of quivering curiosity to see a New Brunswick “Blue Noser,” as very probably he might differ in some respects from our Canadian “Rouges.” But the first object that attracted my notice was [an African-American] on the wharf, hugging at the hawser or “stay rope” of the vessel, and in such an awkward and unstylish manner as to convince me that his “greenness” would be but a poor certificate to constitute him a “Blue-Jacket.” My attention was further arrested by a number of singularly looking, and strangely dressed beings, apparently of the human form, but of varied sizes, lining the wharf, and seemingly waiting with eager desire to get on board. Each one had a blanket around the body, and drawn closely over the head and face, leaving the proboscis bare, like the neb of a nestled chicken sticking out through the wing of its mother; which organ being blue with the morning chill, left me no reason to doubt of their identity as a specimen of the “Blue Noses.” But a secondary observation annulled the assured veracity of my vision; for on having rubbed the fog out of my eyes, I recognized them to be no other than a party of [Indian women], apparently on a trading excursion to some other town. In the course of a few minutes a number of gentlemen chiefly of the “weight and measure” business, came upon the wharf, whose active and respectable appearance upset my vague and outlandish ideas of the New Brunswiekers, and substituted a more favourable impression.

Having ascertained that the steamer would stay for a couple of hours, I availed myself of the opportunity of visiting the town. Dalhousie is situated at the furthest western extremity of the Bay of Chaleur. Its population, I think, cannot exceed 800. It is built on the acclivity of a range of low hills; but neither the design of the town, nor the appearance of the houses represents a modern dignity in taste and architecture. The scenery possesses a shade of the romantic and beautiful, but the apparent sterility of field and forest, throws a damper over the heated fancy, and the eye turns to gaze with invigorated delight over the calm pellucid waters of the Bay, and thence arises to take its final glance of the adjacent hills that cluster in wild disorder along the Canadian coast.

From Dalhousie our course was directed to Bathurst, situated upon an arm of the Bay, on the eastern shore. But it being low tide at the time, the steamer was prevented from reaching the port, and passengers and freight were removed by small boats. Thence returning, we proceeded down the eastern coast of the Bay of Chaleur—a magnificent sail, indeed, as the weather was favourable. The Bay is over 100 miles in length, and from fifteen to fifty in breadth, and is destitute of any impediment to navigation. It was originally one of the principal fishing grounds of France; and is still famed for the variety and abundance of its fish. Immense numbers of small boats dotted its surface, and the constant hauling of the line and hook was an evident sign of the universal presence of cod-fish and mackerel. This bay, during its whole length, separates Canada from New Brunswick, but there is a striking contrast between the two coasts; that of the former is rocky, mountainous, and almost incapable of being cultivated, whilst the latter is less hilly, in many parts low and flat, apparently formed from alluvial deposits of sand and clay, and wooded with scraggy fir; however, a considerable portion of the country bordering the shore appears to be well inhabited and cultivated.

Early on the following morning we entered the Miramichi river, and proceeded to Chatham, a distance of twenty miles. The town is small, but beautifully situated upon the bank of the river; but does not command that attention which its position might enable it to do. The streets arc irregular; the houses are chiefly of wood, and their dingy, weather-beaten aspect shows that neither paint nor whitening is considered as the essential attributes of taste or beauty.

[The “Rambler” then tells a story of an odd looking man who fell off of the wharf at Chatham, together with his dog. It turned out that the man had outstanding warrants in the U.S. and had, in addition, stolen the dog. He was rescued from the water and arrested. This story is deleted from this edited version of the story.]

Our next stopping place was Newcastle, seven miles further up the river. This town or rather village is pleasantly situated, but its appearance indicates that the organs of order and color are somewhat deficient in the people. Immense quantities of sawn timber here, and at many other places along the shores, show that the lumbering business is extensively carried on in the district of Miramichi. The river is large and beautiful, and is divided into two branches, each of which are navigable for a considerable distance. The country is slightly undulating, and in many parts apparently well cultivated; but it appears singular to me that so large a quantity of cereal produce is annually imported to these parts.

Miramichi, literally translated, signifies “happy retreat,”—so called by a tribe of the Micmac Indians, who had retreated thither after an inglorious contest with those of the Iroquois.

Many of my readers, may probably have heard of the fearful “burning of Miramichi”—a conflagration that still reflects horror on the memory of those who witnessed the awful scene. The summer of 1826 had been excessively hot and withering, and some parts of this continent, and even Europe suffered severely from drought and fire. Many parts of the Canadian forest were also desolated at that time, and much of the land deprived of its vegetable deposits by the ravages of a fire, that in some parts of the combustible soils continued to burn even until the middle of winter. Autumn came, and the sultry sky still continued to withhold its moisture, and the kingdoms of nature became morbid, and languished under the scorching element.

On the afternoon of a Sabbath in August of that memorable year, the fire of Miramichi broke out in the village of Newcastle, the identical place on which the present one stands; with such immense rapidity did the fire extend its fury in the gathering strength of the atmosphere, that in a few minutes the whole village was enveloped in one universal sheet of blazing fire. The aff’righted inhabitants like the ancient Pompeians ran confusedly from the all-devouring element; but many were overwhelmed in the fiery vortex. The very wharves were burnt to the water’s edge, and vessels and their cargoes alike destroyed. Nor did it confine its ravages to this place alone; nor could the hand of mortals arrest its progress, or say “hitherto shalt thou come and no further.” Infuriated by the winds the contagious element spread rapidly over the land, at that time chiefly covered with woods. The very air was pregnant with fire and smoke; and burning cinders were carried to the opposite side of the river, setting the forests on fire. Cattle were overtaken in their flight and roasted alive. Vessels were burnt to ashes upon the water. The inhabitants of the country fled to the river to save their lives, and were compelled to lave the water over their bodies to prevent them from being burnt to death by showers of fiery cinders blown from the trees. Even the wild beasts of the forest sought an asylum in the waters, and seemed for the time being to forget their fear of man. The river at length became so hot and deleterious that the very fish lay dead upon its shores. And for weeks after the fire had subsided a dense smoke, black as Erebus, hung like mourning over the desolated land.

Such an alarming and destructive calamity has been considered by the reflective Christian as a divine chastisement for the sins of the people. The inhabitants being chiefly lumbermen, and generally destitute of moral and religious influence, had become at length regardless of the laws of both God and man. Drunkenness and gambling triumphed over virtue; the Sabbath was desecrated, and in a sense, blotted out of the decalogue [this word misused]; Newcastle was a second Sodom in profanity; the infant country had become old in iniquity; and the darkness in the moral atmosphere burst forth at length in a storm of fire: Newcastle was consumed to ashes; the country was made desolate; and the inhabitants reduced to a state of mental and physical suffering.

From the Miramichi river we proceeded to Richibucto by way of the gulf. This village is situated at the upper extremity of the river bay. The channel is narrow, irregular, and extremely dangerous; both sides of which are girt with shoal and reef. Banks of sand line the shore, and scraggy fir cover the land in many parts. The country is flat and marsh-like—is bleak and raw, and appears as if lately emerged from the deep. I cannot speak of the village with accuracy, as our short stay at the wharf rendered a visit impossible. But my unfavorable ideas of the place in general may have been partly augmented by the weather, which for the first time since we left Quebec, had become unfavourable. The clouds had already begun to respire freely, and the waters to shew their spleen, indicating a boisterous evening. Several of the passengers, either from a dread of returning by the channel, or that of sea sickness, went ashore, preferring to go by stage to Shediac, whilst others less fastidious about their feelings came on board. I noticed one in particular who appeared to possess no anxiety of thought or feeling beyond the limits of the present moment—a young “Miss,” apparently but newly imported from the boarding-school, and full of fun and frolic. Accompanied by a young man of similar stamp, she promenaded the deck with graceful step, chatting and giggling in chorus to every frivolous and unmeaning expression of his puny mind. Such fools! thought I, to sell their characters in this manner to the public for so little. But we leave them for the present.

[The rambler then tells the story of a terrible storm on the Bay. The ship’s passengers fear for their lives but, in the end, they remain safe and sound. This story is deleted, including the rambler’s opinion that he was the only person to keep his head during the event, which sounds unlikely. His story of the young “Miss” being comforted by her male friend is also deleted. The rambler dared to assume that the friend was her paramour, and he considered the young man’s efforts to comfort the Miss to be as hypocritical as might come from a Pharisee. Our rambler was a strange fellow.]

However, after a rough passage of two or three hours longer, and no other accidents occurring, we were safely landed at Shediac, feeling happy indeed, that we had not become inhabitants of the deep; and also grateful for our preservation to Him, “who maketh weights for the winds and weigheth the waters by measure, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea; and none can say unto Him, ‘What doest thou?’”

The village of Shediac has rather a scattered and irregular appearance. A few stores, a saw-mill or two, and a rail-road depot, constitute the chief features of business. The country is somewhat low and sandy, and is neither possessed of beauty nor enriched by agriculture. The people exist chiefly by fishing and lumbering, and live largely upon crabs and lobsters, if I may infer from the many heaps of decomposing offal.

Having spent two days in and around the place, I then left en route for the city of St. John. The country joining the rail-road, for many miles is chiefly in forest, many parts of which have been terribly ravaged by fires. The land in general is flat, of a sandy gravelly nature, and destitute of much of the surface soil. In vain, I looked for the bough-spreading elm, and the stately maple but instead thereof, only beheld the poplar, fir, and white birch, few of these possessing anything apparently of beauty or value.

Moncton was the only place on our route of any consequence between Shediac and Sussex valley. This town or rather village, is situated on the banks of the Petitcodiac river, commanding a fine position and country, and presenting an industrial orderly appearance. Farming is a general feature of labour in this part; but lumbering and ship-building are the staple productions of business The river has received its name from its singular curve at this place, resembling an elbow. The tides from the Bay of Fundy ascend the river for thirty miles, the water vertically rising here to the height of thirty feet; but of that wonderful phenomenon of the tidal wave, termed the “bore,” occurring here and at other places, I will speak hereafter.

As we advanced, the country assumed a more undulating appearance; and when we had entered the Sussex Vale—called the “Pleasant Valley,” we were surrounded by scenery lovely and picturesque. This place is equidistant from Shediac to St. John. The Valley itself is low, exceedingly fertile, and intercoursed by a winding river. The backgrounds are romantically formed by ranges of hills that look like verdant walls, sloping with finely-cultured fields, and dotted with fashionable houses. It is here that the “Hero of Kars” has his New Brunswick residence, and the mansion, beautiful in itself, and imbedded with trees of the evergreen, like its possessor, stands eminently high in position. It is very probable that this valley and its continued extremities were formerly the bed of a large river, contributing to that of the Kennebecasis. Indications of coal are visible in this vicinity. Something of that nature has been lately discovered by a Mr. Light; I hope that neither the invaluable treasure has evaporated in “gas,” nor that the said gentleman has buried his talents in the earth; but that he will give to the world all the “light” that he possibly can. [The “Hero of Kars” was Sir William Fenwick Williams, a military hero during the Victorian era.]

At length we came in view of the Kennebecasis, a name poetically adapted to appearance, signifying a “River of Lakes.” At one part the river is apparently a small arm or stream, abruptly it widens into a beautiful lake-like form; then separating in several arms, running in beautiful circles among verdant meadows, and at length meet and mingle into one, again to be divided and re-united, until it diffuses its silvery waters into those of the St. John river. I may here state that the distance from Shediac to the city of St. John is 108 miles. The rail-road is well laid, and considerable taste is displayed in the construction of the cars and the station buildings in general. One disagreeable feature, particularly to the more fashionable and fastidious traveller, is the aboriginal name of the places being attached to almost every station. Such for instance, as Nauwigewaugh, Plumweseep, Quimpamsis, Apohaqui, Penobesquis, &c. I could not prevent myself from giving a hearty outburst to my tickled fancy, when I first saw the conductor open his mouth like a dying cod-fish, and roar out one of these terrible etymological jaw-breakers. Horrible and unchristian-like as they may appear to the civilized ear of the Englishmen, they are beautifully emblematical of a reality connected with the place, or object, and contain more poetical sentiment and geographical truth than most of our modern names, many of which are only the unmeaning words of a whimsical fancy, or the revived echo of an apish nationality.

As we approach St. John, the country gradually becomes more rugged and sterile; sternly romantic, and offering few facilities for farming; some parts apparently a barren wilderness of mountain crags, and fit only for the existence of chameleons and rock salamanders.

But I wind up for the present, as the steam whistle announces our arrival at the depot; and I alight among a noisy and promiscuous crowd of strangers, and find that I am safely landed at the “City of the Bay.”


Written by johnwood1946

June 10, 2015 at 9:22 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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