“The Lower Province Excursion”, The Globe (16 August 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “The Lower Province Excursion”, The Globe [Toronto] (16 August 1864).
The Lower Province Excursion.
FROM ST. JOHN TO FREDERICTON.
THE PUBLIC DINNER.
GOV. GORDON’S LEVEE.
&c., &c., &c.
(FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.)
FREDERICTON, N.B., Aug. 9.
The speed with which we are hurried from point to point—the rapidity with which one event follows in the footsteps of another, renders it impossible for the correspondents of the press to give daily an account of each day’s proceedings. If they could dispense altogether with sleep, if travel did not weary them, if their muscles were steel and their brains cast iron, —wood would not do under any circumstances— if they could collect facts by machinery, and weave them together a la Jacquard, then perchance they might keep pace with the demands made upon them. As it is, much that should be said must perforce remain unsaid from sheer lack of time wherein to commit it to paper. To the members of Parliament and other Canadian visitors, who have nothing to do but to see and to be seen, to eat, drink, sleep, and be merry, the journey is one easy enough; but to the workers-those who have to tell the people of Canada what has been and is to be done, the affair has a very different appearance.
On Monday morning at half-past eight o’clock we found our way, according to appointment, to the station of the British North American Railway, a line connecting the port of St. John with Shediac, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a distance of 108 miles. Had time permitted, the Canadian visitors would have travelled the whole length before leaving the Province, but that was found to be impossible. They had, however, an opportunity afforded them to judge of the nature of the work by a ride of tine miles, from St. John to Rothesay. Their experience sufficed to convince them that there is no railway in Canada which equals in smoothness that which New Brunswick possesses. Though the speed at which they travelled was great, there was no jolting. At times, when the eye was taken from the window, it was difficult to realize that the cards were really moving, so steadily did they progress. The railway is substantially built, but with little attempt at display. The cars are plain. They glitter not in any undue amount of paint and varnish. But they are clean and comfortable as any America possesses.
The immediate reason for our going to Rothesay was this. It was ordered that we should go to fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, situated on the St. John river, at a point about eighty miles above the city of that name. But the falls of which I spoke in a previous letter prevent steamers starting directly from St. John. Rothesay is the place from which they move, and thither we had to go, the railway doing a similar service for us, to that rendered by the Lachine line to travellers from Montreal westward. Now you understand it.
The country between the two points along the line, looked at from an agricultural point of view, is by no means inviting. Here and there are stretches of good land, but as a whole the soil is rocky. The hay crop, which has not yet been cut, is very good, and the oats, so far as we could tell from the train, more than passable. No wheat, however, is seen, that being a cereal in which this part of the Province does not delight.
The rocky barrier over which we travelled extends in the direction of the river but a few miles beyond St. John. Between the city and Rothesay the channel is comparatively narrow. It would seem that in early days—how many thousands of years ago it is impossible to tell—there were no correspondents then—the stream pouring down the valley found the road to the ocean barred by the ledge, which formed a dam in its path. The waters, struggling for an exit, sought another path. Far to the south-east they spread along the channels of other and smaller rivers. In vain did they form large lakes—the Masquapit, the Grand, and the Kennebecasis—whichever way they turned, similar difficulties stood in their path. Desperate, they turned to the first ledge, and after filling up the valleys to a depth of over a hundred and fifty feet, escaped from bondage by [Illegible]. Century after century have they laboured at the task of wearing for themselves a clear course. But the rock is hard, and unless civilized man comes to their assistance with gunpowder and steel, many more centuries must roll by ere the bed of the river at the falls is brought to a level with the bottom of the lakes. Though undeniably it would be better if the channel in the neighbourhood of St. John were free of all difficulty, yet the effect of the barrier has been to provide a depth of water in the river above it for many miles northward, which the largest vessels ever built and ever likely to be built might navigate. The Great Eastern herself would pass in safety to and fro a channel with depth varying from 100 to 150 feet. The only difficulty in the way would be to get her there. She would make a pretty river boat.
The scenery on the St. John River is equal to anything in British North America. For some distance above Rothesay the rocks rise high and precipitous, and the appearance of the country as a whole is very bold and wild. Ranges of hills stretch away far to the north-east, all clothed in vestures of dark green. Little cultivation is to be seen. No farm-houses gladden the eye, no cattle, no living thing for miles is to be seen. But once this iron-bound district is passed, the country assumes an altogether different aspect. The rocky shore gives place to vast stretches of rich alluvial soil, which the river has carried with it in its downward course, and which, in the spring of each year, it carefully tends, as the Nile the rice fields of its renown. The hills recede gradually from the water’s edge, or become modified into a long series of picturesque undulations, oftentimes running parallel with the river’s course. Though very much of the country has been cleared, many trees have been left. The farmers here do not follow out, to the same extent, the Canadian practice of clearing the ground of all wood. Consequently, many fine trees, whose outspreading branches growing out from their trunks testify that they have long ago been relieved of the close companionship of their ancient forest brethren, contribute a large share of beauty to the landscape. They are of many sorts, but walnut, beech, maple, ash, and pine are those most commonly seen. Placed upon the slope of the hills where they can command a good view of the river, or when on level ground, in proximity to the bush, are the homes of the farmers, generally as it would appear of a larger size than those of the habitans on the banks of the St. Lawrence, but a good deal less than the average of those to be seen in the settled districts of Western Canada. Here, though the solid is fertile, little wheat is grown. The favourite crop is hay; fine, almost silky, but growing closely blade to blade, and yielding a crop of three and sometimes four tons to the acre. As seen from the river, the fields look like smooth carpets of green velvet stretching for miles away, until merged in the dusky hue of the woods beyond. One characteristic of the scene the Canadians could not fail to note—the smallness of the bush timber. Here and there large trees appeared, but the mass manifestly do not belong to “the forest primeval” of which Longfellow sung, and in part of which the Acadians dwelt. For the reasons, we are referred to the fire which took place about eighty-five years ago, and swallowed up in its course nearly all the timber on the banks o the St. John. Had not the flames done so, the lumbermen would, long ere this; so that, so far as appearances go, little has been lost. In many respects the scenery on the river is far preferable to that of the St. Lawrence. In majesty, it cannot compare with the neighbourhood of Quebec, but in its general character it is far more beautiful. Upon that all the Canadians were agreed.
No better day than that on which the journey happened could have been selected, or even made to order. Our good friends of New Brunswick were joyous at the aid lent by sun and sky to the display of their favoured land, while their visitors bore abundant testimony to the surprise they felt at finding so fertile and beautiful territory behind the formidable Atlantic coast. A number of the St. John Committee accompanied the visitors, pointed out to them objects of interest, and inserted the multitudinous questions incessantly address to them. The band of the 15th Regiment was on board, and from time to time contributed to the amusement and enjoyment of the company by music excellently well played. Many times too in the course of the trip, the French members struck up a tune on their own account, and added much to the general merriment. They are a jolly set of fellows, all life and motion. They sit together in a ring, smoking like so many volcanoes. One of them makes a remark on some commonplace subject—say that the champagne on board, supplied by the St. John committee, is excellent, whereupon they all roar with laughter. Then another jerks out an equally witty remark, and again they roar in unison. They make more [Illegible] than all the rest of the people in the boat put together. The Western Canadians and the New Brunswickers watch them, marvel at their hilarity, sometimes laugh with them, and wish that they themselves were possessed of an equal flow of spirits. But it may not be. The Frenchman thinks laughter justifiable whenever possible; the Englishman excusable only when unavoidable, but scarcely ever strictly reasonable. At night, in a crowded hotel, the English idea is certainly the best; the French, in practive, must be annoying to all except themselves.
There is not much traffic on the St. John, especially at this season of the year, when the timber has been already floated down. But the past few months have been dull beyond precedent. A good deal of wood was cut in the winter, but owing to the drought which prevailed over the whole of North America in the early part of the year, the streams did not swell to their usual height, and thus a great deal of the timber remains where it was first felled. The effect in St. John has been not a little injurious to trade, for it is said that the receipts of the retail dealers during the last month averaged little more than half the amount they attained in the same period last year.
The navigation of the river is excellent; a channel broad and deep runs the whole distance between Rothesay and Fredericton, and thirty miles beyond, which large strayers may use. But there are few wharves in the interior. When it is required that the vessel should stop, a signal is made from the bank, and boats with the passengers and freight on board put off to the steamer. A good deal of cattle is thus sent down to the city. At one of those places, (Georgetown) about thirty miles below Fredericton we were met by the Committee of Invitation and Management for the capital, consisting of the Hon. Mr. Tilley, Provincial Secretary; Hon. G.L Hathaway, Chief Commissioner Board of Works; Hon. J. Steadman, Postmaster General; Hon. J. McMillan, Surveyor General; Hon. J.C Allan, Speaker of the Assembly; Dr. Dow, M.P.P, York county; Mr. J.A. Beckwith, Mayer of Fredericton; Mr. T. Temple, High Sheriff; Mr. S.D. McPherson, Coroner of York County; Mr. G.E. Fenety, Queen’s Printer; Mr. John Richards, Secretary to the Committee, and Mr. W. Carman, Clerk of the Crown. These gentlemen were accompanied by Mr. John Ferris, M.P.P, Queen’s county; Mr. J.S Beck, Legislative Librarian; and Mr. James Hogg, reporter of the Fredericton Spectator, the organ of the Government. They bade the visitors a welcome to Fredericton, and expressed the personal pleasure they felt at meeting them.
His Excellency Governor Gordon had started in the Heather Bell from St. John a short time before we did, but as the boat which bore him had to call at various places on the river the Anna Augusta, which carried us Canadians, overhauled him towards the latter part of the journey. But we did not at first pass him. The captain should not in courtesy give the smoke of his steamer to the representative of Her Majesty. So the Anna Augusta lacked speed for a space until the Heather Bell made a pause for the purpose of taking on some passengers. The we went ahead, cheering vigorously, while the band played the National Anthem. Arrived near the capital, we stopped and allowed His Excellency to land first, at a wharf a little higher up the river than that where we were received. A large portion of the population of Fredericton lined the bank, and greeted us with their hurrahs. Two guns, belonging to a volunteer battery, also gave a salute, which, however, was, I imagine, intended for the Governor. The people not knowing in which steamer he was, chose ours as the better looking of the two, and left His Excellency to land alone. They subsequently made up for the mistake as well as they were able, by surrounding his carriage and giving utterance to sundry hurrahs.
The city was gained at half-past five o’clock. As the hotel accommodation is not large, many of the visitors were kindly received in the houses of leading men of the place. Your correspondent has to tender his thanks for the courtesy in the matter should to him, by Mr. Fenety, the Queen’s Printer, a gentleman who founded the first penny paper in the Maritime provinces, the St. John Morning News, and for five-and0twenty years conducted it with great success. The house he now occupies once belonged to the clever, the unfortunate, the guilty Benedict Arnold, when quartered in Fredericton. Within the last few years considerable additions have been made to it, but the original building is carefully preserved, and is habitable in every aspect.
After a walk of a few minutes to look at some of the streets of the city, for there was little time to spare, the visitors met together in the legislative buildings in response to an invitation to dinner. The tables were laid in the Council Chamber—a neat room, but of deep red; four windows o each side are hung with scarlet curtains, pendant from gilded cornices. The ceiling is blue and gold, and a handsome canopy over the throne is supported by knitted pillars of dark oak, with Corinthian bases and capitals. The chair was taken by His Worship, Mayor Beckwith, a jolly old gentleman, who received part of a very excellent education, and became a surveyor, in your good city. The vice-chairs were occupied by the Speaker of the Lower House, the Provincial Secretary, the Sheriff, the Hon. W. Odell, and the Chief Commissioner of the Board of Works. The P.M. General, Dr. Dow, Mr. Fenety and Mr. Carman acted as [Illegible] company were many of the chief citizens of Fredericton, and the officers of the 1st batt., 15th Regiment, composing the garrison. Besides the Canadian guests, there were also present Hon. Mr. Weir and Mr. Coleman of Halifax, N.S; two gentlemen deputed by the committee to invite us to that Province. Grace having been asked by Rev. Mr. Irving, (Mr. McGee’s chaplain) the dinner was commenced, but there were so many good things to be eaten, and so much good wine to be drunk, that it was two hours at least before oratorical talking could be attempted. After the loyal toasts had been disposed and responded to by Hon. Mr. Armand, M.L.C, and Hon. T. D. McGee. The latter gentleman, alluding to some remarks made by the chairman, refused any share of the credit due for bringing about this visit, ascribing the greater part to the St. John gentlemen, especially to Mr. Donaldson, the President of the Board of Trade, with whom the idea originated, and to the enterprising company represented by Hon. Mr. Ferrier, who, in the most public spirited way, had placed their road at the disposal of the Canadians who had determined to accept the invitation extended to them. Mr. McGee next spoke of the [Illegible]ing visit of members of the Canadian Government to the Charlottetown convention; from which he trusted great good would come. He, for his part, would be deeply disappointed if that meeting did not put us one step forward at least in the path to a much closer alliance than had heretofore existed between the colonies. He expressed himself strongly in favour of union, and concluded by urging that the young men of the Provinces should be taught to consider themselves, not Nova Scotians, not New Brunswickers, not Canadians, but British Americans. The Hon. B. Weir, of Halifax, responded to the toast of “Our sister colonies.” He took great pleasure in doing so, because he was sure great good would come of this meeting. Mr. McGee had referred to confederation and that sort of thing, of which he (Mr. Weir) knew very little; but, as a business many, he thought the first step towards union was to be found in the possession of more speeding means of communication between the Provinces. The toast of “The Bench and the Bar of British North America” was acknowledged by the Hon. J.C. Allan, Speaker of the House, and by Mr. John Duggan, of Tronto—the “Rogue’s march” having first been played by the band of the 15th. The Colonial Press was represented by Mr. Fenety, the Queen’s Printer, and by Mr. Macaulay, of the Journal de Quebec, who both made able speeches. Hon. Mr. Ferrier proposed “The Mayor and Corporation of the city of Halifax,” which was responded to by His Worship in very fitting terms, both in English and French. In response to the toast of the Administration of New Brunswick, given by Mr. Walsh, M.P.P. for Norfolk, Hon. Mr. Tilley said he accepted the compliment as paid to the people of New Brunswick, not to the Executive; and in that spirit he was sure it was also accepted by the members of the political party in the room opposed to the men now in power. He had himself been to Canada on important business, and had found that one of the greatest obstacles in the way of a closer union of the Provinces was to be found in the ignorance of their Canadian friends. It afforded him unmixed pleasure to welcome the members of Parliament, but with ten-fold interest he viewed the visit of the members of the press; the gentlemen who would give information to the people of Canada respecting New Brunswick and her resources and enable them to form an intelligent opinion on the question, whether a closer union would or would not be mutually advantageous. Proceeding further, Mr. Tilley said that, as a member of the Council, it was not to be expected that he should give his opinion on the subject of a federal union, but he would draw attention to the fact that while the neighbours of New Brunswick, the people of Maine, evicted the greater anxiety to extend their commercial relations with this Province, the greatest apathy existed on the subject in Canada. The hon. gentleman argued strongly in favour of free trade between the colonies as a measure which would be beneficial to all alike. Within the next twenty years the population of British North America would probably increase to seven millions should remain isolated from one another, with no greater connection, with no greater association, than at the present time? The time was fast coming when the British Government would require that, for purposes of defence, we should do more than we had done hitherto; and he believed it would be well for us to do more. From these considerations the question arose in force—could not means be devised whereby to bind us together in one confederation which should extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific? Feeling the importance of the subject he had long been one of the warmest advocates of a railway connection which should bind us together, of entire free trade, and of a policy which should induce identity of feeling in the breasts of all. Mr. T. C. Wallbridge responded to the toast of “the ladies.” He did not know why he had been called upon unless it were that he was an advocate of Representation by Population. He complimented the fair sex of New Brunswick on their beauty, equal to that of their land, nowhere to be exceeded. The descendants of all the old settlers in Canada looked with affection upon New Brunswick, inasmuch as it formed the wilderness of the early days, where their soldier forefathers dwelt for a time on their way to the promised land of the West. That had been the case with his (Mr. W.’s) family, and a portion of the country still bore his family name. Alluding to the object of the visit, Mr. Wallbridge said that with Canadians it was a question of federal union. But here he found it to be merely a railway matter. For his own part, he thought that entirely subordinate to the federation of the whole of British America, and that when wanted the railway would follow as a matter of course. To the west of Canada there was a territory capable of sustaining 60,000,000, whose productions must inevitably flow through the valley of the St. Lawrence, and it devolved upon this generation, in his opinion, to lay the foundation for a future empire there. Mr. McKellar being called upon to address the company, did so in a capital speech, setting forth some of the great resources of Canada. Two o’clock a.m. having arrived, the company adjourned to bed.
This morning the Governor held a levee, which was numerously attended. That over he made a few remarks, in the course of which he expressed the great pleasure he felt at meeting the Canadians, and the hope he indulged in that the object of the present movement would be gained. His Excellency delivered himself very fluently and sensibly, and made a most favourable impression upon all who heard him. He is a young man, not more than 80 years of age, and a son of the Earl of Aberdeen, once prime minister of Great Britain. He served as secretary to Mr. Gladstone on his mission to the Ionian Islands. He is very popular in the Province.
From Government House the visitors proceeded to the Province Buildings, where they were presented with an address by the Mayor. Mr. McGee delivered a reply, in which he thanked the people of Fredericton for the magnificent manner in which we had been received, and intimated that an attempt would be made to reciprocate their kindness by entertaining some of their representative men in Canada.
At eleven o’clock we left once more for St. John, and are now nearly there. At four o’clock in the morning we start for Windsor in Nova Scotia, across the Bay of Fundy, and expect to arrive in Halifax to-morrow afternoon.
In my next letter I shall have more to say about Fredericton and New Brunswick generally.