New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

By Steamer, to the So-Called City of Fredericton

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From the blog at

The following is 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 experiences upon a steamboat, travelling from Saint John to Fredericton.

Spedon describes a very pleasant trip up the river. He was perhaps tired of describing pleasant things and, as he approached Fredericton, his writing reverted to its sarcastic best. That is why I have entitled this segment “By Steamer, to the So-Called City of Fredericton.”


The Steamer Westchester on the Jemseg River

N.B. Museum via the McCord Museum


By Steamer, to the So-Called City of Fredericton

Having taken a general peep at St. John and its vicinity, I took steamer at Indian Town,—distant a mile and a half from the city, and thence proceeded en route for Fredericton,—the Capital of New Brunswick, and distant eighty-five miles up the St. John river; it was a lovely morning in June,—a gentle breeze was fanning the bosom of the water, and all on board appeared to be happy and conversive. Both decks were crowded—the usual number being augmented by a company of Baptist ministers, with their wives and families, going to the Gemsec [Jemseg] river to hold a “Spiritual Association” with others of their brethren. These “General Assemblies” of the Baptists in New Brunswick are similar to the “Camp Meetings” of the Methodists in Canada. They assemble in vast multitudes,—encamping in the fields or woods, and attend to the wants of the outer and inner man,—and for days, and perhaps weeks, have a good time of it, in fostering and promulgating their religious principles, and cherishing their united feelings of cordiality and friendship.

The river St. John was discovered in 1804 [sic], by Mons. de Monts, a French navigator, and by him named, after the Patron Saint of France; it being found on that anniversary day. It was then called by the Mimacs, Oungandy; and by the Milete, Walloostook, signifying long river. Its entire length is 450 miles. It takes its rise in the hills between Canada and the state of Maine. From its mouth, to a point above the Grand Falls, it runs exclusively through New Brunswick,—its east bank only for 75 miles further up is within the Province. For 112 miles above this, its course is wholly through American territory; and a further distance of 38 miles to its source, it is the dividing line between Canada and Maine. It is navigable for vessels of about 100 tons to Fredericton—eighty-five miles from its mouth,—and steamers of lighter draft ply to Woodstock, sixty-two miles further up, and at some periods of the year they ascend as far as the Grand Falls. The St. John river is to New Brunswick what the St. Lawrence is to Canada,—the main artery of the Province, into which numerous tributaries empty themselves; many of which are navigable to various distances.

During summer, six small steamers ply daily between St John city and Fredericton,—and the number of persons who pass up and down the river is estimated at 60,000.

The river, in proportion to its general size, for some distance above its mouth is extremely narrow, circuitous, and apparently deep, and is called the “Narrows.” The shores in this part are bound by rugged ledges of rock, rising perpendicularly to the height of from one to two hundred feet, and their bold fronts looking down with stern sublimity, threatening an invasion upon the waters. Gradually, the river widens; but ranges of rocky hills still line the shores seemingly unfit for animal existence to subsist therefrom. Seven miles from the city, the Kennebecasis river enters the St. John; and in the distance it appears as a mountain lake. Some twenty miles further up, the land assumes a less formidable aspect; and as we advance, the hills become beautifully modified, particularly on the northern side of the river, and at length gradually recede, leaving extensive flats of alluvial land. These intervals are low, marshy grounds, producing immense quantities of hay, from being enriched by the annual inundations of spring. The farmers in these parts obtain an animal and a vegetable crop yearly from their farms; for during spring the inundations bring large quantities of fish to their very doors; and afterwards the soil produces an abundant harvest. In some places, these flats are indented with little silvery lakes. The most beautiful and picturesque scenery along the river is in the vicinity of Long Island, and at the entrance of the Gemsec. At the latter, the river resembles an archipelago, and might with propriety be called the “Valley of Waters.” Around islets of romantic beauty the arms of those rivers are thrown as if embracing them with affectionate delight, and the vessel glides as a thing of life among those lovely isles that nestle upon the bosom of the waters, while the eye wanders in poetic fancy over the elysian scene. The steamer now deviated from its usual course by entering the Gemsec, in purpose to carry our “spiritual brethren” to their destination, at the distance of a few miles. The scenery here is also delightful, and every heart appeared to appreciate its charms. Nature is to be met here in forms of modest and magnificent beauty, whose features are more designed to please the fancy than excite the feelings into ecstasy.

The country on each side of the river St. John, for many miles beyond its confluence with the Gemsec, is in keeping with the other portions of the river scenery. For miles are tracts of level land, gradually swelling into hills, and then hill and dale alternate,—the former, rising at times to the dignity of a mountain, and the latter subsiding into a valley; then the banks become abrupt, steep—and again they are terrace-like, sloping away with a graceful incline from the water’s edge. But as we approach Fredericton, the scenery assumes a less lovely appearance, and the soil apparently more sandy and sterile; but when we had reached the capital, an involuntary feeling of disappointment stole over my mind, and the painted bubble that I had been blowing up all day unexpectedly burst before my eyes. But, before entering the “Great City,” I feel disposed to linger a whil’e over the scenes of the day and comment a little further upon the general features of the country.

I have admitted that the river scenery is in general beautiful and pleasing to the fancy; but the true poetic eye soon discovers that there is a marked deficiency in some of the ingredients essential to constitute an agreeable picture to the taste of the epicurean admirer of nature. The beauty of the scenery arises more from the mere outlines of exterior and position, than from the contributaries of the general features, or the combination of the minutiae with the greater. Every candid observer of nature will admit that the river possesses a noble appearance,—winding as it does through a romantic country. Its form is large; its water pellucid,—and beautiful islets dot its surface in many places. The form of the hills are also finished with geometrical skill, in places receding with gentle acclivity in ranges; and at others rising, as it were, out of the bosom of each other,—and all united as a family in one extended chain of brotherhood.

But a further observation informs us that the country is destitute of that verdant vegetation and vivid vitality that Canada is possessed of, particularly at that time of the season. The trees in general are of the fir kind, small, and scroggy, and apparently the worst specimens of the species. The softwood and evergreens are naturally designed to exist in marshy lands; but here, we find them high and dry, as if nature had pitched her productions of the swamp at random upon the heights. In vain do we look for the vegetable emblem of Canada, and the graceful presence of the leafy grove. Nothing but fir, fir continually—everywhere we go; and the eye at length feels so disgusted with its monotonous omnipresence, that neither the beauty of the river, nor the symmetry of the hills can relieve the feeling. I have, indeed, an inveterate antipathy to the fir ever since,—and were I to become a botanical author I would totally exclude it from the genera of that species of natural philosophy.

Again, the cultivated land of the hills, on both sides of the river, from St. John to Fredericton, and farther, appeared to be universally covered with weeds bearing a white flower, and known by the very romantic cognomen of “Bull’s Eyes.” A product so general and utterly useless shows, at once, that the soil is either puerile by nature or rendered so by the lack of proper attention;—both may possibly be true. In many places, red soil, apparently sand, was visible through the verdure of the fields; and, judging from the appearance of things in general, I venture to say that agriculture is sadly neglected. Fishing and lumbering, I fear, too much absorb the time and attention of the farmer,—and to that degree, that farming may only receive a secondary consideration.

The islands and intervals are the formations of alluvial deposits brought down from the hills and mountains by the rains and rivers,—and within the memory of the old settlers, many parts, then covered with water, are now dry and producing immense crops of hay.

The country may be rich in its resources,—the people may be wealthy,—but another indication of something wrong in the wheels of progress is the want of towns and villages. Not one single instance of such is visible along the St. John river, between the city of St. John and Fredericton. A paltry wharf or so, with a house or two at the rear, are the only “stepping stones” to commercial business in those parts. It may now be asked, “How then are travellers and freight disposed of?” When a passenger on board has arrived nearly opposite his destination, a signal is made, known to his friends on shore or persons stationed there for the purpose of attending to the steamer, who immediately come out to receive the person or whatever freight has to be taken ashore; or when any party or freight is to be exported, as soon as the steamer makes its appearance, a boat with its cargo is hurried out—a signal is made,—and responded to by the bell or steam whistle, and the process of removal is performed in almost an instant of time. Indeed the whole affair is very ingeniously and expertly accomplished. As the small boat approaches the side of the steamer, it is drawn closely to, and held by catch poles, while a man descends a step-way that is let down, and the passengers and freight, are instantly removed, without scarcely a perceptible halt in the motion of the steamer. In my downward trip by the “Heather Bell,” that runs in opposition to the “Anna Augusta,” I counted no less than two hundred persons who had to undergo this process of “positionary exchange.” A spirited competition is manifested by these steamers; and as they ran together, they were continually striving to out-wit each other in the picking up of passengers frequently passing and repassing each other, at times coming so close as to almost touch sides. This afforded considerable amusement to many of the passengers who were evidently desirous to out-win their opponents. But, from such reckless and irresolute actions and “goaheaditiveness” of our fast going age, too frequently has it been the case that fatal and calamitous events have ultimately resulted therefrom.

The morning after my arrival at Fredericton,—the “city capital” of New Brunswick, I strolled out to get a peep at this “great central emporium” of the province; but after pedestrianizing for half an hour, straining my eyes in vain to see more than could be seen, I felt a sort of bewildered disappointment creep over my feelings of anticipation, and, like the man that denied his own self when he discovered in the morning that his whiskers had disappeared during the night, I concluded that I must either deny the capital, or doubt my vision; or, perchance, that I had committed an error by landing at the wrong place,—so in order to satisfy my mind, and do justice to the city, I stepped into a shop in the main street to make inquiry.

Beyond the counter stood a youthful scion of the weight and measure species, and apparently but newly initiated,—yet, affecting a sort of mercantile air and position, and my “humble servant” in full readiness to wait upon me as soon as I had entered.

Having introduced my presence by the usual morning salutation, and taken a mental survey of his clerkship’s scarlet colored cranium, and speckled countenance, I inquired, with bare-faced Yankee inquisitiveness, if this was the city of Fredericton.

“Ye-es sir,” was the reply.

“Is it the capital of New Brunswick?”

“Ye-es sir.”

“Is this the principal street of the city then?”

“Ye-es sir.”

“Is there much business done here?”

“Ye-es sir,” was again the reply.

Like Abraham of old, I ventured to ask another question, peradventure I might strike his natural vein of conversation.

“Are there many soldiers here at present?”

“Ye-es sir,” he hesitatingly replied, somewhat astonished and staring at me as if I had come in the undercovered capacity of a Yankee spy, to get a peep at the garrison.

Having obtained so much information through the medium of only two words, and not wishing to tamper with his humor and civility by extracting a further repetition,—and perhaps get myself into as bad a fix as did Slidell and Mason, I thanked him for his kindness, and made my exit with good decorum, leaving his “clerkship” to his own reflections.

Indeed, I narrowly escaped a temporary detention. Whilst at supper in the evening, a gentleman was telling with great gusto, that a Yankee had been seen that day loafing around the barracks, and making himself very inquisitive about the city affairs in general: whereupon a universal volley of national anathemas was inflicted upon the suspected spy, and the doings of Yankee Jonathan’s children in general. I could not refrain myself from smirking under the eyelids at such a personal remark. The whole affair reminded me of Chamber’s visit to a burying-ground in Scotland, the contents of which, are as follows:

Scarcely had he entered the hallowed ground, and began to decipher the almost obliterated inscriptions upon the gravestones, when an old wife showed her head over the paling, and demanded his errand. Mr. Chambers very calmly informed her of it; and thence interrogated a series of questions about the “auld kirk yaird” whereupon she suspected him to be a resurrectionist,—and away she ran to the village; and, in less than no time, about thirty “auld wives” were after him with stone and turf, and had he not been possessed of such speedy legs, he might have been sacrificed, Stephen-like, as a martyr to his local inquisitiveness, and met with his death and grave at the one place.

Fredericton, with only about two or three thousand inhabitants, is in reality an incorporated city, and the capital of the Province; but, I know of no feature connected therewith that should have given it the pre-eminence. Properly speaking, New Brunswick like Nova Scotia—has only one city, namely, Saint John, which, I think, is fully entitled to the preference of that title, which the insignificant, so called city of Fredericton presumptuously inherits.

The city is built upon the side of an eminence; and when viewed from the river it possesses a somewhat lively and romantic appearance. The principal part in the city, and where the business in general is conducted, consists of one wide street of a mile in length, running parallel with the river;—the houses of which are chiefly composed of brick;—large, elegantly finished, and principally used as ware-rooms and shops.

The other buildings of the city are generally inferior, and on the whole destitute of sufficient attraction to elicit a description. The governor resides in the city. A battalion of soldiers is also stationed there.


Written by johnwood1946

June 24, 2015 at 7:54 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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