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A Corner of Acadia

Year: 
1883
Month: 
11
Day: 
29
Article Title: 
A Corner of Acadia
Author: 
--------
Page Number: 
1
Article Type: 
Language: 
Article Contents: 

[Manhattan Magazine for December]
A CORNER OF ACADIA.
"O'er the Isle of the Pheasant
The morning sun shone,
On the plane-trees which shaded
The shores of St. John."

-Whittier.

It is always well to have a pretty title. What could be prettier, I put it now, than the title that heads this page? It is a great thing to have an excuse to use that word Acadia at all. There is an enchantment about it, every way you take it. Put an "r" into the word, and it makes no difference. For was not Acadia Arcadia, if Arcadia ever existed anywhere? Acadia, where "neither locks had they to their doors nor bars to their windows; but their dwellings were open as day and the hearts of their owners; there the richest was poor and the poorest lived in abundance!" The "Sunshine of Saint Eutalie" and Farmer Bellefontaine, and Basil, the blacksmith, and Gabriel Lajeunesse, and Pere Felician, and Rene Leblanc, patriarch of a hundred grandchildren, and all the sweet Acadian folk in their Norman caps and kirtles of blue, with their spinning-wheels and looms, their peaceful kine and harvest-laden steeds caparisoned in brilliant-painted, betasseled wooden saddles, their nut-brown, home-brewed ale, their wayside shrines, and the harmony of their life sung by the sounds of Augelus bells, of murmuring pines and hemlocks, and of the "deep-voiced neighboring ocean"- where was Arcadia, I ask, if it was not here? The shepherds and shepherdesses, dancing to the music of Pan-pipes in the Thracian valleys, are dim simulacra to our eyes with the vapor of Time rolling between them and us. But here, in commonplace, modern Canada-America, one can converse with the children's children of the Acadians, and, listening to the same quaint Norman patois that Father Felician preached his homilies in, or marveling at the graceful courtesy of gray-haired men and home-returning school-children, can feel that Acadie - or Arcady - once had an actual existence. Yes; gone, alack, though Acadia is, though a new and ruder race have usurped its fields; though cubiform frame-houses, tanneries, ship-yards, lumber-yards, steam saw-mills, railroad stations, shoe factories and the electric light have supplanted in the landscape the Normandy gables and dormer-windows and chimneys with gilded vanes, the same as in Henri Quatre's day - yet it is something to have been in the Acadian land, to have some shadow of pretense for saying, Et moi, j'ai ete aussi en Acadie! (if not Arcadie) anyway. Such is the magic of a name and the virtue of a pretty title! There is wisdom in the choice. It enables one to spread one’s-self as much as one likes.

However, the reader need not feel the least alarmed. The foregoing rhapsody is not intended as a preface to any of that kind of spreading. There is no need to fall back on the material thus afforded — which can be had cheaply enough in the guide-books — while there is plenty of other stuff at hand. The difficulty in my case is that there is too much of other excellent stuff, to make it easy to choose what of it to give when one must confine one's-self to a short letter, and when one must, write out of the fulness of a thankful heart and out of a very fat note-book. Not all Acadia, but the veriest corner of it can I deal with here. Some other time, either this or some other goose-quill may celebrate in immortal magazine article the glories of the Acadia of to-day.

I am writing now in St. John, New Brunswick. From my window I can look through the branches of a wind-swayed pine-tree, over a pleasant lawn or two, over the steep streets and the smoke of the solid city, and over Navy Island, breasting the swift-running current, upon the very spot whereon, two centuries and a half ago, stood the fortress, renowned in song and story, for Madame de la Tour’s heroic defense of it. Behind rise the Carleton Heights, on the highest of which, above the tall mill and factory chimneys, stands a Martello tower, which has been a source of much conjecture to me, since every St. Johnite, without exception, whom I have spoken to, describes this tower with a remarkable identity of phrase that I cannot account for, except it be a quotation, as "a venerably and picturesque stone structure which gives an antique and feudal air to the landscape." To my left stretches away the Bay of Fundy, truly "a barque-bearing sea," and as it is a clear day, with none of the native fog around, Nova Scotia, a straggling blue line, is visible out on the far horizon. I look from the view, to my scattered notes, and find that, to begin with, I have set this down, after much observation, as my impression of this part of the world in general.

Here is a very paradise; for the sportsman. The long-lipped moose, the antlered caribou, the "grim, taciturn bear" and other royal game are to be met with in all the woods of New Brunswick, and Northern Maine. I have talked with one mighty hunter who shot seven bears to his own gun last season! The salmon do abound in the lakes and streams. One can enjoy the poetry of the motion of a bark canoe, going down the Miramichi, and feed a whole camping party on the produce of a single rod. There is a doughty knight of the lancewood; shaft in Fredericton on whose, record for last year stand these three items: Twenty salmon and grilse caught with the fly in one afternoon; five full grown salmon caught with the fly in one hour (and a sixth hooked but lost); sixty salmon caught with the fly in a fortnight. The succulent white fish, which to some palates taste superior to trout or salmon, and the toque or toledi are to be speared in the Upper St John, while trout of all sizes respond to the bait and fly in big battalions in the same and many another river. Duck are to be shot along all the coasts and partridge everywhere. It is above all things a region for "roughing it;" from plunges aside from the rush of civilization into the deep peace of virging woods, the solitude of cliff-bound lakes, the music of brooks and rivers, and the hunter-life of primitive man. The scenery is glorious, both in variety and beauty. It is a scenery of mountain, wood and lake and stream and sea — which includes such splendors as those of the Grand Falls of the St. John, such amazing views of hundreds of miles of forest wilds as that from the rocky summit of Bald Head, and such a dazzling kaleidoscope of sea-scapes as the whole coast line of the Eastern provinces frowns and sparkles with. Human nature, too, lends its color to the picture, in types like the New Brunswick backwoodsman, lithe, knightly giant of the lumber region, and, like the quaint habitans, scattered here and there, picturesque but faded remnants of the happy people who once dwelt by the Basin of Minas.

Such is the country in general. But the part of it that I am now particularly dealing with - the city and neighborhood of St. John itself - has its own and not less interesting peculiarities.

There can be nothing finer, in its way, than a short trip up the river from St. John on one of the day-boats that ply to Fredericton. You embark at Indiantown, above the rapids, and sail out into the stream, moving past a high overhanging cliff, fir-crowned, with limekilns nestling snugly on little beaches at its base. There is a keen breeze that makes you feel the need of an overcoat even in August, when the thermometer is in the nineties on Manhattan Island. The boat is lively with a mixed company of passengers bound for any landing stage or station between Indiantown and Grand Falls, or even Edmunston — for the river is a favorite route, as far as it is available — to all points of the neighboring interior. There are farmers and farmers' wives, homeward bound from market, clad in stuffs woven beneath their own roof-tree, those famed Canadian homespuns which make such excellent coats or petticoats. Some river fishermen, in short white-flannel jackets, very like what the fishermen and peasants in Connaught wear, are looking over purchases in salmon-spears and gaffs and trawling nets. An occasional face with an Indian cast looks up from beneath an oddly-decorated straw hat; and, by a rare chance, there may be a quiet little group apart in a corner whose antiquated earrings and strange speech — uttered in half-whispers - and dullness of look, would betray them to the expert eye as habitans from Edmunston. Commonplace people are plenty enough.

The St. John is a lordly river where the Kennebecsis* joins it and they both go down together, like lovers who have long been parted, to finish the journey of their lives linked in each other’s embrace. It is a short journey, for they meet so near its end that their waters are brackish — it might be with the bitterness of the weary separation. The Kennebecsis, which at this point, is reputed the paragon of a boat-racing course, sweeps slow and stately and with feminine grace around many a woody hill of outline and many a sloping cliff, while the St. John, broad and lordly, marches on. A little higher up, the St. John itself winds among its sometimes high, sometimes undulating, banks, so that much of the way it looks less like a river than a lake. The land is mostly densely wooded, the foliage of pine and larch and fir and maple, waving gently in the breeze, and everywhere the predominant pine and fir strongly marking the Canadian contour of the forests. Peaceful banks they are, with here and there a quiet homestead reposing among their curves, and here and there a rustic-looking lighthouse out on a point, warning of shallows. Here and there, too; a tiny, sedge-bordered island, the grass on which grows so richly that they have to cut it four times a year, glistens like and emerald on the breast of the stream. What a highway this splendid river ought to be - but is not - is faintly suggested by the occasional three-masted schooner slowly tacking against the current, the lazy fishing luggers, and the little steamers puffing cityward with heavy lumber tows.

We get ashore at a landing stage and ramble up a laneway overshadowed with foliage, through which we catch glimpses of rustic people working in fields; of farmyards in which primitives plows and hay-rakes lie about, and of veritable Normandy trimming - these rosettes around the bend and these bunches of fluttering ribbons - on the hats of the swarthy waggoners! What, I wonder, can be the genealogy of those wains and head-dresses? There was a complete team down at the landing-stage, too, a stout fellow was exhibiting with pardonable pride a new invention that illustrated the strange evaluation the equestrian chariot undergoes. This was a three-wheeled trap, hung on springs, with a single wheel working on a pivot in front and hung so low that its body almost touched the ground. It was the queerest-looking affair, suggesting a cross between a Bath-chair and a St. John "sloven." I did not rightly catch what was the supposed virtue, if any, of the single front wheel; but its owner drove the vehicle round and round for the benefit of the by-standers, all the time while they were waiting for the down-boat. When it was suggested to him that he should take out a patent for the affair and put it on view in the Cooper Institute, New York, he grinned and said: "No, thankee; but I'll show it at the exhibition in St. John next month." After all, was not this man to be envied his delight - his just delight, as one of the benefactors of mankind?

A hoarse whistle gives warning that the down-boat is behind a bend. When she comes alongside we go aboard with the squashes and the cabbages. The passengers are fewer going down stream, this being the afternoon boat. That river breeze has conduced to appetite; so we test the fare of the day-boat, and, having the best sauce in the world, find it not bad. In fact, we enjoy dinner, as we smoothly drop down in the evening past the scenes we had studied earlier in the day. We had as our fellow-guests a curious pair of gentlemen, evidently of the farming or cattle dealing class, who seemed mightily offended that we did not partake of a black volcano-crater-looking dish, the basis of which appeared to be burnt huckleberries. With these gentlemen, too the waiter — a tall, bronzed individual that I took to be a half-breed — had quite a tiff which enlivened the down-stream trip considerably. The difficulty seemed to be about the payment for the dinner; and the waiter seemed to take the matter as an offense personal to himself. "D’yez mane to insult me?" we could hear him exclaiming at the steward's desk, in an accent that dispelled all my half-breed suspicions, "ye pair of Blue Nose dhalteens!" The others replied Something we could not catch. Then there Was a very brisk interchange of rich emphatic vocabularies, which lasted some moments until the waiter’s voice got very high and the steward uttered something about "ladies." Thereupon the waiter dropped his voice and hissed through his teeth, in a tone expressive of withering sarcasm and suppressed passion, the following invitation :— "Perhaps yez would obleege me, gentlemen, by just steppin’ outside the saloon until I tease yez for a little While. I just want to trouble yez be batin’ yez both around the boat till yez are so black and blue that yer own dear mammas Will have a difficulty in recognizing yez. D’ye hear ye—" The intervention of a very fat engineer, the steward and some of the crew, brought the scene to a close, and the waiter having expended his indignant wrath, returned to the saloon with a lofty sneer on his countenance. While polishing a plate with great vigor he came over to us, still wearing the sneer, and said, "With apologies for that little matter, but unless yez keep a stiff upper lip with such customers as that, the line of steamboats couldn’t live. Yez have to do it, or bust inty bankruptcy. I know that pair well. They’d skin a 'skeeter for the sake of his hide. They kem from Aberdeen!" He uttered the last statement as if it clinched everything.

Back again at Indiantown we heave to and disembark. If you desire a little violent exercise which will give you "a good shaking up," you can do no better than take here an "army-worm" for a ride up and down the cliff-like streets of St. John, hewn, as they are out of the solid rock. "Army-worms" is what the hack-coaches of St. John are called. Why "army" I cannot say, except the antique horse and vehicle be a genuine relic of the armies of the Revolution, which seems quite possible. The philology of "worm," as referring to the place, in patent enough.

When the tide serves one may shoot the rapids below Indiantown in almost any kind of craft. The St. John River is four hundred and fifty miles long; numerous tributaries, big and little, empty their contents into its stream and give it altogether a navigable length of eight hundred miles. Fancy this great mass of water being discharged into the sea through a rocky gorge which, at one point, is not quite four hundred and fifty feet wide! The scene is striking when, at low tide, the foaming volume sweeps through with tremendous swhirl. The walls of the gorge are steep and impressive, and they are spanned by a very graceful suspension bridge that adds to the picturesqueness of the place. But these rocky walls, pitiful to say, are defiled by the paint and whitewash of the murderous advertiser, a baser savage than the Micmac he replaces. The municipality of St. John or Portland, whichever has jurisdiction, should put an end to this wretched work. To rush through these rapids, in either a small boat or a steamer, is an exciting experience.

It is, then, interesting to sail down into the harbor of St. John. The tide-fall in the Bay of Fundy is so great — some seventy or eighty feet at St. John — that ice never forms here in winter. This circumstance, added to the others, serves to make St. John harbor one of the finest imaginable. The great tide-fall gives curious effects when the tide is out; the wharves look so high above the water-level, and the
lighthouses look so gaunt and weird standing upon mammoth spindle-shanks, or the lofty ribs of their foundation bared to the cruel air with tags of sea-weed fluttering from their crevices. There are plenty of good marine "bits" here. There is a shipping of all nations. The skeletons of ships in embryo point numerous arms from the Portland direction; for St. John is renowned for its ship-building. All manner of fishing craft, some from Digby, Nova Scotia, over the way, and more than one that had passed "where the mists of Penobscot clung damp on her mast," bob against each other at the busy Market Slip. Somewhat out in the harbor, toward Partridge Island, stand a pair of "ocean tramps," as the stevedores of St. John indignantly call those iron steamships that coast around delivering their cargoes cheaply by their own brews, instead of employing the honest harbor men. Some flat Navy Island — where once stood a fortified Indian village — are characteristic. St. John looks well from its harbor-its graceful custom house, post office, city hall, well laid out streets, numerous churches and tree-embowered private residences, visible in clear relief upon the high ridge on which the city is built. Over against the city proper Carleton and its heights make a pretty companion picture, on which no true St. Johnite ever looks without thinking of Fort LaTour and its heroic story.

That LaTour legend is one of the bits of history in which St. John takes especial pride. Everyone knows the story, I take it - how Madame, wife of Charles St. Estienne de La Tour, one of the lords of Acadia under the French king, held that fort when it was attacked by the rival-lord of Acadia, D’Aulnay Charnizay, while her husband was absent seeking help from the saints of Massachusetts; and how she held it so well and bravely that she repulsed the besieger until the treachery of one of her garrison, a Swiss, placed her in his hands; and how all her garrison, but the Swiss, were put to death, and how madame herself died, from grief and ill-treatment, in nine days, leaving a baby, before her husband could arrive to her succour. By the way, Mr. Whittier has made an extraordinary mistake with reference to this La Tour legend. In his stirring ballad, "St. John - 1647," he treats De la Tour is if he had been a Huguenot martyr, the victim of Papist hate, and so forth. He sings:

St. Saviour had looked
On the heretic sail,
As the song of the Huguenot
Rose on the gale.
The pale, ghostly fathers
Remembered her well,
And had cursed her while passing,
With taper and bell,
But the men of Monhegan,
of Papists abhorred,
Had welcomed and feasted
The heretic Lord.
They had loaded his shallop
With dun-fish and ball,
With stores for his larder
And steel for his wall.

The poet adds that "the prayers of the elders" had followed La Tour's way; and he describes the bold Huguenot spying a "pale priest of Rome" and "fastening his hand on the throat of the Papist" and demanding him to "Speak, son of the Woman of scarlet and sin!" La Tour leaves thescene vowing that "Massachusetts shall hear of the Huguenot’s wrong," and that "Pantagoet shall rue what his Papists have done, when his pallisades echo the Puritan's gun!" But the ballad is entirely wrong. La Tour's father may have been a Huguenot, but he himself was a Papist who never travelled to Boston without a pair of the "pale, ghostly fathers" in his shallop with him. The "men of Monhegan" only loaded him with stores when he paid them well for it. They were willing to trade with him as long as they could make a good profit by the transaction; but the utmost help they would give so good a commercial neighbor was to permit him to enlist men at his own expense. Indeed, when he applied to them for aid against D’Aulnay, they ended after days of deliberation, by communicating with his enemy. Here are Governor Winthrop’s own words:

When they were met the governor propounded the case to them... 1st. Whether it was lawful for true Christians to aid an anti-Christian? 2nd. Whether it were safe in point of prudence? After much disputation, some of the magistrates and elders remaining unsatisfied... a third way was propounded, which was that a letter should be sent to D’Aulnay.

The result of that "third way" was a treaty with D’Aulnay and a thowing over of La Tour altogether. All through the State Papers La Tour is alluded to by the Puritans as "Papist" or "heretic" or "anti-Christian;" and here is how one of the elders (J. Endecott), whose prayers, Mr. Whittier says, followed La Tour, writes of him: "I am glad that La Tour hath not ayd from us; and I could wish he might not have any from the ships. If La Tour should prevail we should undoubtedly have an ill neighbor. His father and himselfe have... shed the blood of some English already... I feare we shall have little comfort in having anything to doe with these idolatrous French. Is it too late, I wonder, for Mr. Whittier to write his ballad over again?

In the environs of St. John there are some good drives. From the Mananoganish Road (the "Mahogany" road is what the inhabitants have corrupted the pretty Indian name into), to reach which you have to cross the suspension bridge above mentioned, a curious effect is to be experienced. The Mananoganish runs along the narrow strip of land between the river and the sea, near the river’s mouth; and on one side of the road the St. John, rolling almost at your feet, affords some lovely glimpses of river scenery, while on the other side of the road, also at your feet, the Bay of Fuody, with its cliffs and islands and glistening sails, forms a striking sea-scape. But the Marsh Road is a favorite drive; it must be a gay scene in the frosty winter moonlight when all the sleighs of St. John are flitting up and down upon it. And then you can go along it to Rothesay, on the brow of the bank of the Kennebecsis If one wants to get a comprehensive view of all this neighborhood, let him climb the heights of Portland or of Carleton; but my selection as a viewing-point would be the old dismantled fort behind the Exhibition building, where, from the carriage of a King George cannon, you can gaze on city or bay.

The people of St. John, I find, have a harmless weakness for a "history" - at least one section of them has. The "first families" call themselves "Loyalists;" but the people who are not of the first families call them "refugees," who, they say, were cowards for not fighting for, and fools for running away from, the rich conntry in which they were before the Revolution. But be that as it may, this is the centennial year of the landing of the Loyalists in St. John and the descendants of the founders of the city are accordingly just now in a state of exuberant loyalty. The event is being celebrated in many ways. The Loyalist newspapers allude to England as "the Mother Country," with capital M and C. The other day I saw a staid old gentleman in spectacles busily engaged catching cold, out on the unsheltered Marsh Road with a tape measure in his hand; he was marking out the ground for trees which the Historical Society have resolved to plant along one side of the road, in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the Landing. The most sensible way of honoring the occasion is the bi-centennial exhibition which is how being held here. The exhibition has set all St. John, loyal or non-loyal; by the ears, and has served to prove that, aside from this little historical vanity of theirs, the St. John folk are a right royal-hearted company. It is good to see the free-handed and kindly way they are dispensing the hospitalities to all the strangers who are these days taxing the accommodation of the city to the utmost. The St. John people are enthusiastic over this exhibition. It brought into St. John, they say, visitors not only from the neighboring provinces, but from some of the most distant provinces of the Dominion; it thus interested people in St. John who knew little about it before, and it benefited the city in many other ways. They should have a similar exhibition to this again next year, they say. If it does them good, may they have it next year and every year! say I right heartily.

THOMAS P. GILL.
St. John, N, B., October, 1883.

When Acadia was divided from Canada it was described as bounded on the north by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the east by the Atlantic, south by the River Kennebec, and west by the Province of Canada.

*They pronounce it Kennebeccaysis, but "sis: is the Indian diminutive, the word meaning "the little Kennebec," and being properly spelled as I give it.