New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

4 – David Kennedy’s Tour of Nova Scotia in 1876

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4 – David Kennedy’s Tour of Nova Scotia 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. David’s impressions of Saint John, Newcastle, Chatham and Bathurst have already been presented. This week they travel to Moncton, and then to Nova Scotia. He describes some interesting people, and finds the landscapes to be picturesque. 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.

Pictou 1915

Pictou Harbour, ca 1915. From the McCord Museum


We returned south again as far as Moncton, then branched off to Amherst, where we first set foot in Nova Scotia. From here to Truro was a splendid journey, with green, refreshing landscapes unfolding themselves in ever-varying forms—now a succession of soft-outlined hills bounding a rolling, grassy country—now miles of fertile meadows framed by dark, bold featured, forest-clad ranges. Lumbering and farming were everywhere being industriously pursued. The fences, the wooden houses, the sheds, the lavish use of timber, the piles of logs lying about, showed a country where wood was plentiful. Now and then the engine would give a succession of short staccato whistles, and there would be a hasty slackening of the train as a lot of lazy calves would stray across the line. At distances of a few miles we passed little towns, wooden, painted white, and standing brightly against the dark-green country. Near the station there would be a small inn, and above the door the single word “Entertainment,” which had quite a charming, primitive look. Boys and girls came upon the train and sold nosegays of May-flowers, the harbingers of spring, which brought to our minds the old historical Mayflower, the ship that bore the Pilgrim Fathers to America. During the journey we noticed several Indian huts, built of planks stacked pyramidally into a kind of wooden tent. They did not appear to be a very wretched set of folks—though shabbily, they were all warmly clad. The children ran about in a rough, ragged condition, but were not a whit less tattered-looking than the Highland boys I have seen on the banks of the Crinan Canal, chasing the steamboat for bawbees. The Indians of Nova Scotia are increasing instead of decreasing in numbers—about the only instance of an aboriginal race flourishing in presence of the white man.

Well on in the afternoon, the train reached some high ground, commanding a grand, far-extending landscape—the nearer dark green shading off into rich blue, the rich blue toning away into lighter blue, and the misty outlines of the extreme distance almost blending into the azure of the sky. Then we entered a deep valley. The train followed its windings, travelling high up on the heights, in full command of the opposite hills, and overlooking the verdant level floor below. There are fourteen snow-sheds on this part of the railway, all comprised within a mile or two. Inside these sheds was a most peculiar sight. The cuttings that had been roofed over were formed along the heights, and the mountain streams, shut off from the sun in these cold wooden tunnels, had been frozen into ghostly white masses, like torrents petrified into marble, that flew gleaming past us in the dim light of the sheds.

Truro lies in the heart of old-settled country, and is surrounded by eye-gladdening fields, pasture-land, wooded uplands, and hills—scenery beautiful even for Nova Scotia. Here within a few minutes we had the great pleasure of meeting some Edinburgh friends, and also of talking with a gentleman and lady who had seen us in Nelson, New Zealand. The world is small, after all. The town happened to be excited over races which took place about a mile out of town. The weather was perfectly hot here—the atmosphere oppressive—summer had set in with a rush. The Truro ladies came out in light dresses—one or two gentlemen could be seen in white hats. There is very little spring here—two or three rainy days come at the tail-end of winter, and these form the prelude to the warmth of summer. With all the heat at this time, most of the trees had not a leaf on them, and the bare branches looked decidedly incongruous. The year has no time to spare in lingering over a poetically dawning or departing spring. The gentle blending of the seasons is unknown in this part of the world.

Our route now lay east to Pictou. On the way we stopped at New Glasgow, near which we saw the extensive Albion Coal Mines, the most important in the province. They are now being worked at a depth of a thousand feet. The beds of coal here are something extraordinary—the main seam is thirty feet and a half thick. The coal area of the Maritime Provinces is estimated at 18,000 square miles, and half of that is in Nova Scotia alone. Twenty-two mines have been opened in Nova Scotia since 1858—these mines being supposed to contain from two million to fifty-five million tons. More than ten and a half million tons of coal have been taken out since 1827. In 1872 the yield was 785,914. There has also been a good deal of gold-mining in the province; but, truth to tell, it has been a failure, owing to bad management. Nothing is so risky as getting gold out of quartz. The yield per ton is so nicely proportioned to the cost of mining that, unless there is great care, skill, and excellent machinery, the business is almost certain to be unsuccessful. At New Glasgow, too, we saw a good deal of shipbuilding. Two large wooden brigs were lying on the stocks almost completed. This branch of industry is very flourishing. In 1872 there were 53,000 tons of shipping built in the province. What with its coal-mines, its shipbuilding yards large and small, and its valuable fisheries, in which 20,000 men are engaged, Nova Scotia is a very prosperous portion of the great Dominion.

In New Glasgow there are many people from the mining districts of Scotland. Every other house, too, has some old person who can speak Gaelic. There are four churches here, and they are all Presbyterian. They stand in one part of the town, grouped together at distances of a few yards, with their bells pealing in harmonious union. We went on Sunday forenoon to the “Auld Kirk,” where we heard singing a little after the old-fashioned manner. The collection was taken up in long-handled ladles. We were much astonished to see the elders hurrying to a corner of the church and marching forth with the long sticks over their shoulders. There was great peremptoriness in the way the ladle shot past one’s nose to the other end of the pew, or landed in front of one’s waistcoat pocket. The dexterous way in which the extremely long handles were raised or lowered, so as to clear the heads of those sitting behind the collector, betokened long practice. When the benediction was being pronounced, the congregation prepared themselves to go, holding their hats in their hands, with their bodies inclined sideways—the word “Amen” being the signal for an unseemly rush, in which we were pushed and elbowed rapidly down the passage. One-half our party went this Sunday as far as Hopewell, a village a few miles distant. On the way we passed through the coal-black streets of the mining-town Stellarton, which has a long stretch of cottages all alike, all painted the same, and numbered with big white figures running beyond 200. The country was very beautiful—the grass delicious, its colour fresh and gladdening to look upon. Hopewell is a rural little place, which has been preached and lectured into teetotalism. The mere force of public opinion has put a stop to the sale of liquor in the village.

Seven miles from New Glasgow is Pictou, which lies sheltered on a beautiful harbour opening into the Gulf of St Lawrence. Like New Glasgow, this is a very teetotal town, and there is not a liquor-licence in the whole place. It is likewise a very Scottish and Presbyterian town. The Pictou district is about as Scotch as any part of the Dominion. The interests of the town are chiefly maritime. Lately, during a municipal election, a certain candidate was proposed, and a Scotsman was heard to exclaim contemptuously—“Him a mayor! he has na an acre o’ land or a ton o’ shippin’, an’ lives in a flat! He’ll never be eleckit!”

We had intended at one time taking the steamer from here to Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island. But a shoal of ice drifted up and down Northumberland Straits, blocking up first one port and then another. When this treacherous flotilla had moved off or settled down somewhere, it was discovered that we could go over easy enough, but there was no chance of our getting back the day we wanted. We wrote many letters across to the Island, but got no definite replies as to the steamers. Upon inquiring at the shipping office this side, there was the same uncertainty. We were not alone in our perplexity, for a lawyer happened to be calling on the agents at the same time. He was in a towering rage, and gesticulated and swore, because, owing to incorrect information, he had missed getting to Cape Breton, where he had an important law case to attend to. Instead of being there by Wednesday, he found he could not arrive till Thursday at the very earliest, even by riding a hundred miles in a coach. One person advised us to hire a steam-tug, which would cost about twenty-five dollars. A second hinted at our getting over in the steamship Carroll, but as this was a United States boat, she was debarred by law from intercolonial traffic. We heard also of a small steamer, an ex-mail-boat, which was cruising promiscuously from port to port. Finding a person who had some interest in the craft, we asked him if it were possible to run the boat to Charlottetown, urging as an inducement that there was a large party, seven of us. “A-ah-ah,” sighed he, with a serious face, “that’s too many!” and so, not liking to trust ourselves in a steamboat that could only take us in two separate loads, we broke off the negotiations. The result of it all was, that much to our regret we did not go to the Island.

When we left Pictou in the early morning, we had the honour of being escorted to the wharf by the silver-cornet band of the town, which played “Auld Lang Syne” as the ferry-boat steamed off across the harbour. On our way back to Truro we had the company of a Roman Catholic priest, Father M’Gillivray, who spoke with a very perceptible Scotch accent. His grandfather was a Highlander from Inverness, but his father and mother were both born in Nova Scotia, where he himself first saw the light, and where he picked up the Doric he now possesses. It strikes one as an anomaly, that a person should talk broad Scotch and yet never have been in Scotland. The priest’s tastes and feelings, as well his tongue, were unmistakably Scottish. The railway ride was a perfect treat. Words would fail to describe the pleasure with which our eyes rested on the cool, green, swelling country through which the train sped swiftly. Everywhere there was a feeling of freshness and purity. The recent rains had washed and gladdened the face of nature. The grass was vivid green, and seemed to have grown to luxuriance within a few days. The fields were mantled with deep clover—the bushes and shrubs were full of vigorous life the trees had burst into foliage—the air was inexpressibly fragrant, clear, and exhilarating. After the long spell of winter, and the wet weather of spring, the verdant loveliness of these Nova Scotian landscapes was truly delightful, between Truro and Halifax there was “water, water everywhere.” Lake after lake—Grand Lake, chief of all, and well deserving its name. River after river, the Stewiacke and the Shubenacadie among others. Nova Scotia, like New Brunswick, has not only a splendid seaboard but a wealth of inland waters. At eight o’clock in the evening we sighted Halifax harbour.

Next week’s blog will give his impressions of Halifax.


Written by johnwood1946

October 12, 2016 at 8:44 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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