New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

A Quiet and Business-Like Little City

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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. The following excerpt describes his visit to Saint John.

I was critical of Mr. Spedon in a previous excerpt of this work, but I find his remarks about Saint John to be enjoyable. My only complaint is that he ignored the labouring classes. From his description, you would think that Saint John was uniformly what we would call ‘middle class.’

Following are his observations, with some editing changes as noted. I have added the title “A Quiet and Business-Like Little City.”

Saint John 1898

Saint John at the foot of King Street, 1889

From the New Brunswick Provincial Archives


A Quiet and Business-Like Little City

The city of St. John is situated at the entrance of the St. John river, and upon an arm of the Bay of Fundy. It stands upon a rocky peninsula, once of very uneven ground, that slopes in opposite directions from a central ridge. It was founded by the French when they held possession of that country, and was a station at which trading with the Indians was extensively carried on. On the opposite side of the harbor, the ruins of an old French fort are still to be seen, where many a bloody contest between the French and English took place. After several years of unsuccessful fighting and determination on the part of the British, they finally succeeded in taking the forts, and driving the French from the town by coming upon them unawares, at the early dawn of the morning, when most of them were in bed. So keen and resolute were the French that the majority of them sallied out upon their invaders, undressed, but after a severe contest they were compelled to surrender.

Tradition has still preserved a few of the many legends connected with the place, during those troublous times; but they are now difficult to be obtained.

[A romanticized version of the story of Madame LaTour is deleted.]

The Saint John of the present day is one of those pleasant little cities in which the tourist delights to feel himself at home for a few days. Its design, on the whole, is purely of a mathematical order, exhibiting a refined taste, and a high sense of convenience and comfort. Many of the houses are of a superior structure, but the majority are composed of wood, yet neatly and elegantly finished.

The streets are wide, and run at right angles to each other. In the centre part of the city, divided only by a block of buildings, are King’s and Queen’s Squares, each consisting of several acres of land, interspersed with trees, and kept in excellent condition. In the centre of each is a fountain, standing in a pedestal basin and ejecting a continued stream of cooling and refreshing water. From this point beautiful pathways diverge to each angle, and middle of the exterior of the squares; and numerous seats are placed at convenient distances from each other. These parks are the favourite and fashionable resorts of the citizens; a sort of elegant parterre, to which all classes have an equal right. It is, indeed pleasant to the wearied feelings to take an airy ramble around these grounds in the lovely summer evenings, and participate, as it were, in the happy and social feeling of the varied throngs that pay a visit to these verdant elysiums. There you behold men of every grade, and of varied vocation,—a wide field, indeed, for the observing student of human nature, and one that can furnish many practical lessons of humanity.

Contiguous to King’s Square, is the old cemetery—the garden of the dead,—a venerable looking place. It is beautifully laid out, being interspersed with elegant walks, bordered with flowers, and with graceful trees on either side, forming cool and delightful avenues. Its surface is dotted with tablets and tombstones, many of which are considerably weather-browned, and their inscriptions partially effaced.

[Spedon’s poems and thoughts about mortality deleted.]

The population of St. John and its environs is estimated at 42,000. They are chiefly the descendants of the U.E. Loyalists, but a sprinkling of the British Isles is discernible. In person, the people are generally tall and robust, of noble bearing, and fine expressive countenance; with a sort of “free-and-easy-go” motion. In manner they are courteous and extremely civil; in conversation agreeable and intelligent, and ever ready either to give or receive information: and on the whole, apparently possessing more of the American characteristic, than that of the British. In business they appear to be diligent and persevering, and accomplish more with affability and prudence than by counterfeit and boisterous arrogance. The city generally assumes a quiet and business-like appearance; and, notwithstanding its maritime position, its laws seem to be strictly observed, and few signs of intemperance are visible. The people in general seem to estimate the healthy, exhilarating, and invaluable exercise of walking. The streets are not lined, like those of our Lower Canadian cities, with caleches and catch-penny-cabs; nor is the pedestrian at all molested in his perambulations by the unmannerly demand of “’caballing whipsters” and “petty drivellers,” to have “a drive.”

Special omnibuses are always in attendance on the arrival and departure of the cars and steamers; and any person desirous of taking a drive can get a conveyance at a moment’s warning at any of the numerous livery establishments throughout the city.

St. John possesses an excellent harbor, and its wharves extend over a mile. An extensive trade with other countries is generally carried on; but owing to the present American war, a universal depression appears to prevail. Shipbuilding is also a prominent feature of industry. Some of the finest ships in the world are built here, many of which are purchased by Britain. During my stay of two weeks in the city, I saw no less than half a dozen of stately, well-finished vessels launched. I noticed that several of the ships belonging to this port bore names of Scottish origin, such as—“Bonnie Doon,” “Ailsa Craig,” “Ettrick Shepherd,” “Heather Bell,” &c., &c.

Carleton, a small town, is situated upon the opposite side of the harbor, and is connected by a suspension bridge, spanning the mouth of the St. John river, 600 feet in length, and resting upon abutments of solid rock, rising perpendicularly to the height of nearly 200 feet. The passage of the river at this place, and for some distance above, has apparently been cleft by volcanic agency. The tradition of the Indian informs us, that the river originally had two outlets, opening at a considerable distance from each other; but that the “Syegah,” or Water Spirit having become very angry, occasioned by a party of the Indians fishing upon the “Feejah,” or holiday, had shut up the two mouths and opened the present one. Part of this story I believe to be true, as indications of their former courses are still traceable.

Under the bridge, at low tide, a beautiful fall of the water is formed. A story is related of an accident that occurred at these falls many years ago. It appears that several of the early settlers on the St. John River, in the vicinity of Long Island, had gone into partnership in the construction of a very large canoe, by which conveyance they might be enabled to carry their produce to the town, and get in exchange such commodities as they required. Their first voyage, however, proved to be very unfortunate; for while passing over the St. John Rapids, it being low tide at the time, the canoe upset, and fifteen persons were drowned.

The bridge is a beautiful specimen of architecture, and is the only one in the province at which a toll is demanded. It has been erected by the government at great expense. A former one was erected years ago, but fell when nearly completed, killing a number of workmen. On the opposite side of the river, a little above Carleton, stands the Provincial Lunatic Asylum; a splendid building, having a front 300 feet in length, with two wings projecting from the main body, each 160 feet long, &c. It possesses a commanding position, and a fine view of the city and surrounding country; and on the whole is well designed for promoting the health and comfort of the patients.

It appears that the first effort to provide for the accommodation of insane persons, was made in the year 1836, when a building was obtained in the city of St. John, and appropriated to the purpose. It was soon found necessary to provide improved and more extensive accommodations; but not before the subject had been frequently discussed in the Legislature, as it decided to erect a Provincial Asylum. Legislative grants were then appropriated to the erection of the necessary buildings, which were completed in 1848. Since then many requisite additions and improvements have been made.

The control and management of the Asylum are regulated by a Board of Commissioners. The chief resident officer of the institution is Dr. John Waddell, a gentleman of superior abilities, and in every way efficient for the position and responsibility he sustains. When Dr. Waddell first took charge of the establishment, except a small spot in front of the main building, the whole of the land belonging thereto, consisting of 40 acres, was a mere waste. Now it is all under cultivation, and produces a considerable sum towards the support of the establishment, besides conducing largely to the comfort and improvement of the patients.

Notwithstanding the many beautiful and excellent characteristics connected with the city of St. John and its vicinity, there is one very disagreeable feature; and that is the immense quantity of fog that pervades the air, at certain seasons of the year. Frequently, for days, the whole place is enveloped in one dense and universal covering of drizzly fog, so dark at times, as to bewilder the stranger, and. even render locomotion difficult.


Written by johnwood1946

June 17, 2015 at 9:09 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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