johnwood1946

New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

3 – David Kennedy’s Tour of Newcastle, Chatham and Bathurst in 1876

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3 – David Kennedy’s Tour of Newcastle, Chatham and Bathurst in 1876

This blog has been following the travels of David Kennedy and his father. Their travels were in 1876, beginning in Quebec City and continuing to New Brunswick. Last week’s segment described David’s impressions of Saint John, and this week they continue to Newcastle, Chatham and Bathurst. 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.

Bathurst 1860

Bathurst in 1860, from the N.B. Museum

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St. John to Newcastle was a delightful journey of 160 miles through the interior of the province of New Brunswick. The railway carriages were large, high-roofed, well-lighted, well ventilated, had capital springs, and, the road-bed being good too, the travelling was very enjoyable. The train stopped at all the stations, the conductor shouting out such unearthly names as Quispamsis, Nauwigewauk, Passekeag, Apohaqui, Plumwaseep, and Penobsquis, though, of course, the words were altered by frequent repetition into something more pronounceable. Once or twice the brakeman came round with a can of water on his arm, to relieve the thirst of the passengers. During the forenoon we traversed the fertile Sussex Valley, with verdant slopes, knolls, and high-wooded hills rolling at varying distances either side of us—a continuous, undulating panorama of great beauty, with the train frequently skirting the banks—shores I ought to call them—of magnificent rivers, chief among which was the noble Kennebecasis. In the afternoon the scenery was tame—dense forest country, relieved every few miles by a gap burnt in the woods. Near Newcastle we crossed the splendid iron bridges which span the two broad arms of the great Miramichi River—then in a short time entered the town.

Newcastle is situated on the North Shore of New Brunswick. Its shipping finds outlet to the Gulf of St Lawrence by way of Miramichi Bay. There is more lumbering than farming in these parts—settlement is rather backward. As a Newcastle Scotsman said to us, “The fack o’ the matter is just this, that naebody will come to New Brunswick as lang as they can gang west to Ontario. The winter’s ower lang here. This is near the middle o’ May, an’ there’s no a pleugh in the grund yet. The country’s gude eneuch—the craps grow like winkin’, the soil’s magneeficent, but there’s nae time to get the seed in. Hoo’s a man wi’ a six-horse farm to get alang, he has to hire men, an’ he canna afford to keep them daidlin’ aboot a’ the winter. He’s got to work himsel’, too—there’s nane o’ yer gentleman-farmin’ done here, I can tell ye—ye’ve got to tak’ aff yer coat an’ work yersel’. But if ye do, ye’ll mak’ siller.” There was some truth in this, though it applied more particularly to Newcastle and other places on this North Shore. There is no denying that New Brunswick has a prolonged, severe winter; but there is also no question that the province contains fine land. The more genial soil and climate of Ontario have proved too attractive to immigrants, and they have literally left New Brunswick out in the cold. However, the work of settlement has got to be done some time or other. Farms are being started in various parts of the province, and the country is surely, though slowly, being opened up. At Newcastle we sang in the Masonic Hall, a new building, the acoustic properties of which were not increased by the floor being carpeted with sawdust to the depth of two inches. This was for the ingenious purpose of keeping the floor clean. The audience, of course, were limited to the mere clapping of hands; but at last they could stand it no longer, and scraped holes through the sawdust to the floor, so as to hear the clatter of their feet.

We took the steamer from Newcastle to Chatham, six miles farther down the Miramichi. The sun shone in cloudless heavens, the river was exquisitely smooth, and the wooded shores mirrored themselves clearly on the glassy water. Now a large stern-wheeled steamer would churn past—now an Indian would steal along in his bark canoe—now a shoal of logs would drift past, broken away from some “boom” or dam far up in the lumber region—now an enormous raft, with the water lapping lazily against it, would glide down the river, propelled by sail and oar. On board the steamer were several old men, all natives of New Brunswick. While conversing, one happened to remark that he “hadn’t seen his great-grandfather’s grave.” “Haven’t you!” said another; “why, I’ve seen it, an’ the tombstone’s got a rigmarole on it as long as from here to the paddle-box, all about him being a good man an’ a pioneer, an’ a purveyor of food to his Majesty, an’ all that sort of thing.” “I was born down the river here,” commenced a third old man; “an’ when I was a younker, the great fire took place that burnt over a big tract of country, a hundred miles long and seventy miles broad, devouring the villages it passed over. My father was workin’ aboard one of the boats at the time, an’ wasn’t at home all that day. There was my mother, my sister, a neighbour’s two little children, an’ myself in the house. In the evening my mother happened to be outside the cottage, when she saw a red glimmer far off, an’ came in saying there was a fire somewhere. A few minutes after that she went out again, an’ saw the glare was fast comin’ nearer. Then she knew the forest was ablaze, an’ she ran in with a blanket to cover us. She had hardly done it when the flames came rushing along. They leaped down in great flakes upon us, like fire out of heaven, an’ our cottage was eaten up like, tinder. My mother an’ my sister perished there, an’ I never saw them again; the bones of the two little children were got some time after amongst the ashes; an’ I was the only survivor, with my arms dreadfully burnt. My father was kept on board the ship all night—no one was allowed to have any connection with the land for fear of fire—an’ it was not till next day that he got ashore an’ saw the black ruins of our old home.”

Chatham was a busy, lumbering town, its river-front lined with noisy saw-mills, and great stacks of fresh-cut planks shining yellow in the sun. We lived at a hotel that had something of the boarding-house about it—looked like a private villa, displayed no sign in front of it, had a garden before the door, and was kept by a Mrs. Bowser, who was assisted in the domestic arrangements by her daughters. The boarders were chiefly tradesmen and clerks—one of the transient guests was a travelling doctor, who treated diseases of the eye and ear. At breakfast we had the luxury of fried bass. This fish, it was told us, is caught principally in the winter. The fishermen go out upon the frozen river, and cut a hole seven or eight feet wide in the ice. Then, with an immense bag-net on the end of a pole eighteen feet long, they haul up the bass, sometimes three hundred at a time.

Going back to Newcastle, we took the train thence to Bathurst. In a few minutes there appeared frequent stretches of snow—then more and more snow—till the country was almost a perfect white sheet. We crossed a dirty-coloured river which was foaming in swift rapids, laden with innumerable blocks of ice that were grinding and jamming, and sweeping along with the current. Bathurst, which lies on the Bay of Chaleurs, presented a bleak wintry aspect. Its harbour was choked with rotten ice, awaiting some favouring wind to blow it out to sea. We drove in a waggonette from the station to the town, along a veritable bog of mud, so sticky that the horses could only by desperate haunch-struggles keep themselves from being glued to the spot. Bathurst lay on the other side of the harbour, which we crossed on the “Bridge,” a long ballast embankment, with little spans for the passage of the ice and tidal waters. The town was very quiet and scattered, and was composed of very old-fashioned houses. There was a village-air about the place—your footfall could be heard ringing in the grass-grown streets. One old church had a sun-dial on the gable-wall. The foundations of the cottages were bedded up with sawdust to keep out the cold. I have been harping so much about the severity of the weather that the reader will be imagining Canada a very undesirable place to live, when the fact is that our travel extended over the entire winter, and we left the country when the fine summer weather was coming in.

Next week’s blog will describe his travels from Moncton and into Nova Scotia.

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Written by johnwood1946

October 5, 2016 at 8:53 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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