The City of St. John: A Brief Glance at its History and Progress

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The City of St. John: A Brief Glance at its History and Progress
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5, 6
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The City of St. John. A BRIEF GLANCE AT ITS HISTORY AND PROGRESS. The City of St. John, the commercial capital of New Brunswick, has a history which extends back to the days of Champlain. It was that great discoverer and explorer who first visited it in the year 1604, and gave to the St. John river the name which it has borne ever since, from the fact that it was on St. John’s day that he discovered it. At that time the Micmac Indians resided on the site of the City; they had a large house or lodge on Navy Island, and here, in 1611, Father Masse, a Jesuit Priest, took up his residence with the Indians, for the purpose of converting them to the Christian religion. The Micmacs of St. John, at that time, were a portion of the same tribe which resided at Port Royal, on the opposite side of the Bay of Fundy, but at a later period, towards the close of the 17th century, the Micmacs abandoned St. John entirely, and the Maliseet, a tribe from the upper portion of the river, took up their abode in St. John. The first white settler at St. John was that remarkable Frenchman, Charles de St. Etienne, Sieur de LaTour. He built a fort on the Carleton side of the harbor, opposite Navy Island, about 1630, and kept a large establishment there, frequently having as many as 200 men with him. The fur trade of the St. John river was, at that time, very valuable, and according to the contemporary account of Nicholas Denys, as many as 3,000 Moose skins were brought down by the Indians of the St. John river for sale. The country was then full of game of all kinds, and the possession of a Territory so rich in all the products of nature, made it well worth fighting for. La Tour, however, had a dangerous rival in Charles de Menou, Sieur de Aulnay Charnisay, who had a greater influence at Court than La Tour, and succeeded in getting an order passed requiring the latter to return to France and give an account of his conduct. The contest between La Tour and Charnisay continued for several years and resulted in the ruin of the former, whose fort was taken by Charnisay’s men in April, 1645, when La Tour was absent. La Tour had a powerful ally in his wife, a woman of great courage and spirit, who defended the fort on a former occasion successfully, and at this time, although it was captured, opposed a heroic resistance to the enemy. Visitors to St. John are all interested in seeing the place where this Acadian heroine lived and died, for she did not survive the surrender of the fort many days. Traces of the old fortification are still to be seen, for it was repaired and rebuilt at a subsequent period, and continued to be a fortified, post until after the country passed into the possession of the British and the Loyalists landed on our shores. The death of Charnisay in 1650, enabled La Tour to again possess himself of the fort at St. John, in fact he married his rival’s widow, and obtained control of all his property. A fleet which was sent out by Oliver Cromwell in 1654, captured Fort La Tour, and for several years it remained in possession of the English, but by the treaty of Breda, it, and the whole of Acadia was restored to France No effort was made by the French at that time to form settlements near the mouth of the St. John, although a few adventurers; of that nation resided up the river at Jemseg and Oromocto. In 1698, Villebon, who was then the French Governor of Acadia, rebuilt the old fort at St. John, but on his death, two I or three years later, it was abandoned, 1 and the establishment removed to Port Royal, which remained the seat of Government of Acadia as long as the French had possession of the country. After Acadia had passed into possession of the English, the French attempted to put forward a claim that the territory which now constitutes the Province of New Brunswick, was not a part of Acadia, as transferred to Great Britain by the Treaty Utrecht. From the year 1745 onward, a small body of troops, aided by Indians, maintained a sort of doubtful possession of the St. John river and occupied the old fort in St. John harbor, but they were driven away after the capture of Louisburg, in 1758. After this Fort La Tour was renamed Fort Frederick and was occupied by a British garrison for several years. In 1762, James Simonds, James White, Jonathan Lovitt, Francis Peabody and Hugh Quinton arrived at the mouth of the St. John river from Newburyport, Mass. This was on the 28th of August, and on the evening of that day, James, son of Hugh Quinton, was born in Fort Frederick, and was the first child born of English parents at St. John. Mr. Simonds erected his dwelling house on the ruins of an old French Fort at Portland Point, near the place afterwards known as Rankine’s Wharf. Messrs Simonds and White commenced business in the shipment of lime, lumber and fish from St. John, and in the following year a settlement was formed at Maugerville on the River St. John, the settlers being mostly from Newburyport and Rowley, Massachussets. This settlement by Messrs. White and Simonds was the beginning of the City of St. John. They received an extensive grant of land in Portland, but the portion of the east side south of Union Street remained un-granted. They also had a grant of land on the west side of the harbor, which was known as the Township of Conway, and a number of settlers took up lots there under leases or agreements for sale made with Messrs. Simonds and White. The population of St. John however continued to be very small and the land granted Messrs. Simonds and White would have remained of comparatively little value had it not been for the coming of the Loyalists in 1783. During the War of the Revolution the settlers at the mouth of the St. John remained loyal to the British government, and they suffered in consequence from the piratical raids of parties from Machias and other portions of Maine. The garrison at Fort Frederick had been withdrawn long before this time, and the fort itself was left to the protection of a Corporal’s Guard, and therefore easily fell into the hands of the enemy, who burnt the buildings and robbed it of everything that they could carry away. The store of Messrs. Simonds, White and Hazen was also frequently robbed by these raiders from Maine whose patriotism was largely made up of a desire to plunder others. After Col. John Allan’s attempt to obtain possession of the River St. John for the rebels, in 1777, a British force was sent to the mouth of the St. John river and a fort built on the lofty eminence in Portland, which still retains the name of Fort Howe, this name being given to it in honor of Sir William Howe, who was then Commander of the Forces in North America. The Commander of Fort Howe at the time of the arrival of the Loyalists was Major Gilfred Studhom. After Fort Howe was occupied by a Garrison the settlers were not again disturbed. It was in May, 1783, that the first fleet bearing the Loyalists from New York arrived at St. John. It brought upwards of three thousand persons, men, women and children, who had been driven out of the land of their birth by Acts of the Rebel Legislatures of the several rebelling Colonies, their possessions being also confiscated. In Autumn, 1783, there was a further immigration of upwards of twelve hundred persons arriving from New York, so that in a single year the population of St. John increased from a | few hundred persons to about five thousand. The un-granted portion of the peninsula upon which St. John stands was laid out in lots which were given to the settlers and the same thing was done with the land on the west side. The land on the east side was at first called Parr Town, but after the separation of the territory of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia, the name was changed, and Carleton and Parr Town were named the City of St. John. The first settlers, many of whom were very poor, received a certain proportion of building material to enable them to erect houses for themselves and their families, and were allowed by the British Government full rations for the first year of their residence, two thirds for second year and one third for the third year. The list of the grantees of Parr Town or St. John shows that they embraced a very considerable proportion of the leading Loyalists of the time, but many who received grants never took possession of them but settled upon lands in other places. In fact there was nothing at St. John at that time to induce any considerable proportion of the grantees to remain. A town of about 5,000 inhabitants was created in the course of about a year, but the country above it was unsettled and undeveloped and its business was small. Therefore after the first rush of settlers to St. John there was an exodus from it, and it remained a small and struggling town until the close of the 18th century. Indeed the growth of St. John has always been regulated by the growth of the river counties, and when they ceased to grow in population St. John also stood still. The history of St. John from 1783 up to the present time would require a great deal more space to relate properly than we could possibly give to it. In a general way the growth of St. John, although not rapid, has been steady, and although the last two censuses have shown a decrease in population, the people of this city have good ground for believing that this is only a temporary decline, and that in a short time St. John will again become a prosperous and progressive community. The original area of St. John was only 805 acres, it being bounded on the north by what is known as the City Road, and a line passing through to the harbor in the vicinity of the present Intercolonial Railway Station. As a result of this limited area, population began to overflow the limits of the city and drifted into the northern suburb, which was known as the Parish of Portland and which embraced the whole territory from Union street, north to the Kennebecasis. Portland, after a time, became so populous that it was thought to require a different form of government, and was incorporated as a town with a Town Council. From this rank it advanced to that of a city, and so continued until 1889, when, by an act of the legislature passed that year, St. John and Portland were united into one city under the name of St. John. At that time the original St. John contained about 25,000 inhabitants and Portland about 15,000; at the census taken by the Dominion Government in 1891 the population of St. John was found to be a little less than 40,000. The favorable position of St. John at the mouth of a great river and lying in the center of the Bay of Fundy has naturally given it a great superiority over any other port in the bay, and its trade has always been large. In the beginning of its history, however, all its business was with the ports of New England, and it was considered that St. John was advancing rapidly when it began to have direct business relations with Great Britain. A good story is told of one of the Loyalists, soon after the settlement of the city, looking over the deserted harbor and complaining of the dullness of the times; but another Loyalist who was with him and who was of a more optimistic disposition, in response to his complaints said: “Cheer up, old friend, ships will come here from England yet.” Looking at St. John harbor on a summer day the visitor is impressed with the idea that ships have not only come here from England, but from every part of the known world. About 500,000 tons shipping is entered at St. John every year from foreign ports, and the clearances reach about the same figure. The coastwise arrivals and clearances amount to about half of the above figures. The chief foreign business of St John is done direct with the United Kingdom and the United States. To the former country we send principally spruce deals, and also some birch and pine timber. To the United States we send boards and shingles, laths and lime and a great variety of produce and also a considerable quantity of deals. The lumber industry naturally takes the first place in the business at St. John, and in the vicinity, of the city there are numerous mills for sawing deals, boards, laths and shingles. In the vicinity of St. John there are vast deposits of lime stone, and many of the saw mills have lime kilns attached to them in which lime is burned by the use of the refuse wood of the mill, thereby effecting an economy of from ten to twelve cents on each barrel of lime produced. By these means St. John is able to supply lime at a much cheaper rate than any other town in eastern America, and the trade is only prevented from reaching enormous dimensions by the imposition of high duties by the United States Congress, that country being our principal market for lime. St. John also does a considerable trade in fish, and is rapidly becoming a center of that business, in which it is greatly assisted by the excellence of its railway communications. The harbor fisheries of St. John are quite extensive and valuable, and a large proportion of the fish caught in the Bay of Fundy comes to St. John for shipment. Quite an extensive trade is done with the West Indies in fish, and large shipments are made to the Upper Provinces and to the West. This is a business which is certain to increase, as the demand for fish is always large, and the city which can supply it best is certain to obtain the larger share of the business. At one time St. John built ships on a more extensive scale than any port in Canada, or perhaps in North America, but the decline of wooden shipbuilding has destroyed this once great industry. The first vessel known to have been built in New Brunswick was the Monneguash, a sloop of 15 tons, which was built by Jonathan Lovitt in 1770. In 1786 the Lord Sheffield, which was termed by the local prints of the day "a noble ship," was built for Benedict Arnold, who was then a resident of St. John. From that period the building of ships went on steadily at St. John and other New Brunswick ports. In the year 1825, 120 vessels, measuring 28,893 tons, were built in New Brunswick, most of them in St. John. In 1840 the number of ships built in New Brunswick was 108, measuring 64,104 tons. In 1854 high water mark was reached, the number of vessels built being 135, and the tonnage 99,426; since then the largest amount of tonnage built in any one year was in 1864, when 163 vessels, measuring 92,605 tons, were constructed. Gradually, however, wooden vessels have been replaced by ships of iron and steel, and by steamships, and this the change in the material of ship building has destroyed the ship building business of St. John, the only vessels now built here being of small size, for the harbor or the coasting trade. St. John, from becoming a large builder of ships, naturally became a large owner of seagoing vessels. In 1854 there was on the registry books of St. John 582 vessels, of 119,650 tons, and this number gradually increased, until, twenty years ago, the shipping of St. John had a tonnage of about 275,000 tons; now it has fallen to about 132,000 tons, and must continue to decline, unless our people engage in the building of iron and steel ships on an extensive scale, as they formerly engaged in wooden ship building. There seems to be no good reason to doubt that iron ship building will eventually be carried on in St. John, as there is no port in North America which possesses greater facilities for the successful conduct of this industry. St. John has excellent facilities for manufacturing, in consequence of the large supply of cheap coal it enjoys, and the low rate at which raw material can be brought by sea. There has also been a considerable amount of manufacturing done in St. John, and some of the industries of the city are in a highly flourishing condition. Yet there have been some failures, and these have discouraged many from venturing their capital in enterprises which might have been profitable to themselves and advantageous to the city. Certainly there is no city in Canada which is as well situated for manufacturing cotton and iron goods as St. John, and it would also seem that many other industries would have their natural home here. We must, however, look to future for a greater development of manufacturing industries and a stronger of St. John, the only vessels now faith in the future of St. John, for one built here being of small size, for would almost seem a necessary accompaniment to the other. If the people of St. John decline to invest their capital in lines of business which lie at their own doors, they cannot very well expect others to have more faith in St. John than they have themselves. The facilities for carrying on a large commerce are admirable. The harbor is easy of access at all times, and there is a depth of water in the east channel of twenty-two feet at low water spring tides, a condition which is but seldom attained in the course of a year. Practically, therefore, a large steamship can enter the port of St. John at any time. The rise and fall of the tide varies from seventeen to twenty-five feet, and therefore at high water there would never be less than forty feet of water in the channel. Briefly stated, St. John has as good a channel for shipping as the great port of Liverpool, and indeed better, for the distance into the harbor is much less than in the case of Liverpool, and the channel much better defined. St. John is amply supplied with deep water wharves, and can accommodate eight or ten large steamships at once. On the west side there is a magnificent grain elevator at the terminus of the C. P. R., in connection with an excellent system of deep water wharves, and grain from the Upper Provinces can be shipped here with facility and dispatch. St. John has a line of steamships running every fortnight to London, and also a line running to the West Indies, and as far as Demarara. There are also lines of steamships running regularly to Boston, to Yarmouth, to Grand Manan, to Digby and Annapolis; also, in addition to these, there are lines which run up the river St. John to various points on its numerous tributaries. St. John has very excellent facilities in the matter of railways, First, in point of age, in the Intercolonial to Halifax and Quebec, and touching at all the important points of the north shore of New Brunswick. The Intercolonial, with its numerous branches, supplies railway facilities to the whole Provinces east of the St. John River. St. John is the eastern terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and this great trans-continental line not only connects St. John with Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and the Pacific Slope, but also with all the important towns in New Brunswick west of the St. John River, as well as with New England and New York. The Shore Line Railway is another useful line, which at present goes only to St. George and St. Stephen, and to intermediate towns, but which is to be immediately extended to Bar Harbour, forming another line to Boston, which will be much patronized by summer tourists, and which will give railway facilities to a large extent of country now destitute of them.