New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

2 – David Kennedy’s Visit to Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1876

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2 – David Kennedy’s Visit to Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1876

David Kennedy’s father was a singer who toured Australia, New Zealand, and Canada between the years 1872 and 1876. Last week’s blog post described their travels from Quebec City to New Brunswick through New Hampshire and Maine. Today’s segment covers their picturesque and favorable impressions of Saint John in 1876. The story is from Kennedy’s Colonial Travel: A narrative of a four year’s tour through Australia, New Zealand, Canada, &c. by David Kennedy, Jr., Edinborough, 1876.

Saint John 1898

Saint John in 1898


Next morning, a walk through the town showed us the streets lively with carts, drays, buggies, and waggons. The thoroughfares that led up the hills were very steep. When you got to the head of them and looked away down, along the trough of the street, and far up again to the other slope, with all the busy traffic of human beings and vehicles, you saw a scene that favourably impressed you with the amount of life existing in St. John. There were crowds of people at the Exchange discussing stock. Across the street stood the new post-office, a high building occupying a prominent corner, with a fine frontage of bow-windows—the latter divided from each other by pillars of red granite, which is found in the province, and which, as the folks here say, is equal to that of Aberdeen. One of the squares of the town is guarded by a gate of the usual three arches, and looking as solid and enduring as a rock. You think it an old stone structure till you go up and tap it, when you find it is built of wood. The imitation of stone is exceedingly clever, and merely as an illusion the gate is well worth seeing. The heights of St. John are crowned, not with a bold fortress, a handsome church, or a stately public building, but by an enormous square hotel, which is too big to pay for some years to come. The people here have undoubtedly great public spirit. There is an almost endless series of views to be had from the many high standpoints in and around St. John. The river and the bay each wind about the town, and the prospect down many of the streets ends in a pleasant water view. Some of the knolls and hills in the outskirts are bleak looking and covered with scrub, but most of them are occupied by cottages and villas. About half-an-hour’s walk from town is a charming basin of water situated amongst the heights, and lying secluded at the foot of a hill clad with pine-trees to the very shore. Lily Lake, as it is called, is entirely surrounded by wooded rising ground, and you are shut out as completely from the city’s bustle as if you were a hundred miles away from civilisation. Its limpid, smooth waters seem never to have been ruffled by a storm. It is a fish paradise. A person of a meditative turn of mind could smoke a cigar here in perfect bliss.

Saw-mills, puffing chimneys, the clatter of ship-building yards, log-rafts, sailing-ships, and ferry-boats, lend a great deal of bustle to the port. St. John is famed for shipping and lumbering. There is a ton of shipping for every inhabitant of the province, and the province numbers 300,000 people. New Brunswick, like Nova Scotia, is also great in the matter of fisheries, the total value of these in one year being close upon seven million dollars. Codfish, herring, mackerel, haddock, pollock, hake, trout, smelt, bass, salmon, halibut, gaspereaux, and shad are caught on these shores. At the hotel we had fish regularly for breakfast and dinner, sometimes for tea, and after our sojourn in the far inland regions of America, fish newly caught from the sea was no mean luxury. Oysters are plentiful here—also lobsters, of which there are about two and a half million cans prepared annually, and which have led to a grievance concerning a certain treaty made with the United States. The Americans agreed to admit Canadian fish free, inclusive of preserved lobsters, but now they charge duty on the tin cans. Oh, they are cunning dogs, those Yankees!

St. John has a pretty good harbour, sheltered at its mouth by an island, which is a source of danger as well as protection. On that island there is a fog-horn, blown by steam, and let off at stated intervals by clockwork. As at this time, the bay was never free from drizzling mists, the giant trombone was booming night and day, with a plaintive dying cadence. Another interesting feature is the tide. The Bay of Fundy is one of the tidal wonders of the world. The tide rises in some places sixty feet—in the harbour of St. John it marks thirty feet, varying, of course, according to the power and direction of wind and wave. The ferry-boat landing-stage each side the river is a floating platform that rises and falls with the tide. During low-water you descend it at a steep gradient, with the green slimy pile-timbers of the wharf standing either side of you—at high-water it is level with the street. When the tide is out there is a bay running into the town that is nothing but an expanse of mud. At the wharves you will see ships of 1,200 and 1,500 tons lying high on the ooze at ebb-tide. St. John requires no dry dock, thanks to the Bay of Fundy. At the foot of one of the streets we saw carts driving right into the harbour, and loading up with cargo from the smaller craft that were temporarily stranded by the tide. A mile and a half from the centre of the town is a graceful, lofty suspension bridge, which crosses the St. John at a part called the Rapids or Falls, where the river is hemmed in closely by precipitous rocks. Here you see the marvellous effect of the big tide. At low-water the river rushes and swirls down the slope with great impetuosity, its whirlpools and hidden rocks forming an impassable barrier to shipping; but at high-water the tide sweeps up and combats with the wild rapids, flooding them completely, and making a smooth, deep channel for vessels. Again, at Moncton, which lies on the Petitcodiac River at the head of the Bay of Fundy, the spring tides flow up in a wave two or three feet high, resembling on a smaller scale the “bore” of the Ganges and the Yang-tse-kiang.

We were in St. John during the first two weeks in May. The weather was cold and drizzly at times, but there were the delightful sea-breezes, sappy, freshening, and laden with saline particles. How we opened our lungs to inhale the generous air! The people here have been nicknamed the “Blue Noses,” probably in unkind allusion to their climate, but I should rather call them the “Red-Cheeks,” as everybody has such a good colour. The moist atmosphere is beneficial to the complexion. How different from the Western States, with their dry climate and want of salt in the air. The people far inland look withered, and have dried-up skins. Give me places like St. John, with its sturdy sea-breezes that invigorate the frame and tinge the cheeks with Nature’s own rouge!

On Sunday we were asked by a friend to visit him at his hotel. While at dinner, we saw at the other end of the room a party of fourteen men dining at a table by themselves. They were jurymen, with two constables in charge. An important criminal case was in progress, and these “good men and true” were boarded here, as being convenient to the Court House. Some of the jurymen were Protestants—some were Roman Catholics. They all wished to attend divine service, but, as they could not separate, what was to be done? The Protestants would not put their noses inside a Catholic cathedral, and the Catholics were equally determined not to countenance a Protestant place of worship. At last (happy thought!) a compromise was agreed to, which would soothe all their consciences —they marched off in a body to the Ritualistic Episcopalian Church! What would Dr. Cumming say to that “sign of the times?”

Next week’s blog will describe his travels to Newcastle, Chatham and Bathurst.


Written by johnwood1946

September 28, 2016 at 8:27 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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