From Pictou, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick via Charlottetown and Shediac in 1867
From the blog at http://JohnWood1946.wordress.com
Queen’s Square, Opera Office, & Post Office, Charlottetown, ca 1915
From the McCord Museum
Alexander Gilbert was a Montreal journalist who toured the Maritime Provinces in 1867, and published his findings in the Montreal Evening Telegram under the headline From Montreal to the Maritime Provinces and Back.
The following travelogue is edited from his writing, and describes his journey From Pictou, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick via Charlottetown and Shediac. He was impressed with what he saw.
From Pictou, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick via Charlottetown and Shediac in 1867
Once more on the Nova Scotia Railway, and soon New Glasgow is left behind. In about twenty minutes Fisher’s Grant is reached, and here a ferry steamer is waiting for the conveyance of passengers to Pictou on the other side of the bay. Pictou is beautifully situated, and is far ahead of New Glasgow in appearance. No time is allowed for a run into the town, for the good steamer Princess of Wales is waiting with steam up to start for Shediac, via Prince Edward Island.
The passengers have just time to get on board, the ropes are cast off, the good byes said, and away sails the Princess, her bow pointing for the clear blue water ahead. The scenery is very fine in leaving the Bay of Pictou, and as the steamer runs rapidly out to sea the sea breeze comes sweeping in with refreshing effect. A delightful passage of four hours, and we are entering the magnificent harbour of Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island, and no mean city. The harbour is, indeed, a large and splendid one. As we near the city, the island presents a very beautiful appearance, the red cliffs on the shore covered to the very edge with a luxuriant green, contrasting with the snow white beach with charming effect. Into the harbour three rivers empty themselves, the east, north, and west rivers, the waters of which can be seen stretching away far inland. Approaching nearer the city, the Government House and Catholic Cathedral are conspicuous, and while the eye is lost in admiration of the pretty scene, the steamer runs alongside the wharf, and we are informed that in a very short time she will be off again for Shediac. However, a stroll into the city reveals wide red sandstone streets, a novel sight in themselves; shops of respectable size, and strong healthy looking inhabitants. As there had been a grand Orange procession during the day, the city was gay with bunting, and numbers of the fair sex were promenading the principal thoroughfares—and very fair and pretty were the young ladies of Charlottetown, and, I believe, as a general rule, this is strictly true. A loud whistle from the steamer necessitates a hasty retreat on board, and again is the Princess under way. With the departure of daylight, the comfortable well-lighted saloon of the steamer is filled with a sociable group of passengers, and many are the opinions expressed as to the benefits of this Confederation, and grave are the considerations as to what should be the duty of Prince Edward Island in the present critical state of affairs. A Montrealer on board horrified the Islanders by stating that the Island would make a grand watering place for the Dominion, and startling as his proposition seemed to the indignant Charlottetownians, it is a far greater probability than that Prince Edward Island will remain in the state of isolation it at present enjoys. Retiring to a comfortable state-room, after a refreshing night’s rest we awake to find ourselves at Shediac, on the eastern shore of New Brunswick. In the harbour are a number of vessels of large tonnage, loading with deal for European ports; the deals are made in the interior, and brought down to the water’s edge, are floated off to the vessels waiting to receive them. The New Brunswick Railroad runs down the wharf to within a few feet of the stream, and the passenger has only to step from the boat to the train now ready to start for the city of St. John. Before leaving the good and staunch steamer that has carried us from Pictou to the present landing place, I must not forget the kindness of the gentlemanly captain, or the indefatigable exertions of the energetic steward to ensure the comfort of his passengers while on board. No one who goes by Halifax should think of returning to either St. John or Portland by any route but by this; the journey by rail and boat is as pleasant as could be desired, with the advantage of a visit to Prince Edward Island, and a sight of its beautiful harbour and scenery.
We are now on the New Brunswick Railway, and a smoother or better built line cannot be found in the Dominion; the cars are well finished and commodious, and the rate of travel, as contrasted with many Canadian lines of the same length, very fast. Space will not permit an extended description of the fine scenery witnessed or the many pretty little stations passed, which might furnish material for, many more letters, but the attention of the traveller cannot but be attracted by the lovely scenery as the train rushes through the verdant Sussex Valley. Nine miles from St. John is the lovely village of Rothesay, containing many beautiful villas, the summer retreats of the merchants of St. John. A little while longer, and ahead are seen the steeples and buildings of the city of St. John; the whistle shrieks and the train runs into the well-built station, the terminus of the New Brunswick Railway. Hailing a cab, we shortly arrive at the Waverley House, where dinner is awaiting, and as the morning’s journey has been productive of an appetite that might well be the envy of a dyspeptic, the curtain must drop until the substantial fare of the Waverley House has been discussed.
An American from Boston, who visited St. John, ridiculed its appearance, poked fun at its inhabitants, and no doubt in so doing imagined he distinguished himself. He certainly did distinguish himself, as an unblushing liar, and the man came from Boston! The man who could come from Boston and criticise the appearance of a city so despairingly as the lying Boston writer has done, is not only devoid of veracity, but must surely be so ignorant of the delightful cow path and “Hub of the Universe” notoriety enjoyed by the city he hailed from, as to become a curiosity.
The traveller or business man who visits St. John, witnesses the magnificent situation of the city, enjoys the lovely surrounding scenery, and experiences the hospitality of the inhabitants, and cannot be favourably impressed, should remain at home ever afterwards; he is hardly a fit subject to be let loose from the maternal apron strings.
I must confess I was not prepared for the agreeable surprise I experienced in visiting St. John; this was, perhaps, in consequence of my having been led to believe from another quarter that the city was more below the ordinary than, as it really is, far above it. One very striking feature at once noticed, is the broad streets and sidewalks, and the compact manner in which the city is built—the streets running parallel from the harbour; this, in all cases, has been strictly adhered to, the benefits of which will be more apparent at a future period when the city has assumed greater proportions. Although, like Halifax, St. John is mainly composed of wooden buildings, yet the main street can show some very large and fine blocks of brick, and the wooden structures are fast giving way to others of more substantial material.
The drives from the city to the neighbourhood are numerous and charming, and a very favourite one is to the beautiful village of Rothesay afore-mentioned. The cemetery is of great extent, prettily wooded, well laid out, and, when finished will be a fitting place for the remains of the loved ones gone before us. It is situated a short distance from the city. St. John can boast of one of the largest and finest skating rinks in the Dominion, many being of the opinion that it is equal to the famous Victoria Rink of our city. But, in the writer’s opinion, it does not afford such a large unbroken surface of ice as the Victoria, the pillars in the centre, from which the supports for the roof branch off, making a break in the ice. The St. John Rink is built in the shape of a huge dome, and does not present a very imposing appearance from the exterior, but an inside view conveys some idea of its extent, and it admirably answers the purpose for which it was constructed. Driving across the suspension bridge, a marvel of engineering skill, a lovely view is obtained of the St. John River, and of scenery in the background, which I shall not presume to describe. The asylum for the insane is in the suburb, and is a large, well-constructed edifice, and is admirably conducted and managed. Carleton and Portland constitute the suburbs of the city.
But what shall I say of the fair girls of St. John? Simply, that for really fine women, St. John is unrivalled in either Upper or Lower Canada. This may be said, in fact, of New Brunswick generally. Toronto and Quebec may boast of their fair daughters, with every reason, but they must yield the palm to St. John. Sad has been the havoc played with the hearts of British and Canadian visitors by the fair girls of New Brunswick, and no wonder. I met a number of Canadians who were all victims, all caught in the snares of Cupid. “The young ladies all seem to be good looking here at any rate,” I said to a gentleman from Toronto, who had been sometime in the city. “You better believe it,” he said, and then he candidly admitted, “I do not intend to return without one of them as my better half I can tell you.” “I give you credit for your sense,” I remarked; “I am happy to see you are so practical a Unionist. We shall be much more closely united to New Brunswick, I can safely predict, when our young; Canadians visit this part of our new Dominion.” “And glad we will be to see you too,” said a hearty young New Brunswickan who was one of the group; all the Canadians have been smitten with our lady friends, and those who are not so susceptible, at least speak in the highest praise of them. Are you making a long stay?” “No, I am happy to say, for my own peace of mind, I leave by boat tomorrow morning.” “Well, you can speak favourably of the New Brunswick girls when you get home.” “Indeed I can and will;” and when this catches the eye of my St. John friend he will see I have kept my word, at the risk of being thought a “very horrid fellow” by the young ladies of our more western part of the Dominion. But who ever heard of a literary man with a heart? Besides, the truth must be told. The St. John young ladies are unrivalled, and woe be to the bachelor who so far forgets himself as to place himself within the power of their charms. His chances of future single blessedness are few. If any are sceptical, let them put the truth of my remarks to the test.
I only wish that all who visit St. John may enjoy their visit as much as I did. My stay at St. John was as pleasant as I could desire, and my impressions of both place and people are of so pleasing a nature, that many a day will elapse before I will forget them. I do not offer this as a description of the city or surrounding scenery. My visit was of too brief a nature, and my note-book too full, to permit of giving the detailed account I would wish to have done.
Mr. Livingstone, of the Morning Telegraph, and Mr. Elder, of the Morning Journal, of St. John, practically illustrated the kindness and hospitality so proverbial of the Maritime part of our Dominion. I have to acknowledge much kindness from both these and officers of their staff. Nor must I omit to mention my jolly friend Guthrie, of the Waverley House, who although he had his house full to the ceiling had time to prove a very agreeable landlord. His house will be found the head-quarters for all Canadians, and if he is not wonderfully changed, will prove as agreeable a host as I have stated him to be.
I was fortunate, on leaving St. John, to catch the fine steamer New York again, and on a lovely morning we steamed out of the harbour of St. John. The good old city is left behind, and the steamer is smoothly rushing through the water on her way to Portland. A pleasant and smooth passage brings us to Portland at five a.m. The glad intelligence reaches us that a train will start for Montreal at seven, which gives us only two hours to wait.
To the public I would say, if you wish a delightful journey—a health-giving excursion by rail and ocean,—go to St. John, and by all means take the round trip by Halifax, Pictou, Charlottetown, Shediac, and back again to St. John.