THEODORE GOODRIDGE ROBERTS
DATES are for histories; and as I have no intention of attempting a history of the capital of New Brunswick in the space allotted, dates are barred.
My concern is to convey to my readers a sense of the qualities, characteristics and charms of this little inland city which have endeared it to sojourners within its gateless limits as well as to its native sons.
‘‘Beauty is always changing and returning,” according to Mr. Charles Bruce, a Canadian poet; and 1 make bold to claim for Fredericton something of this particular quality of Beauty. She changes; but after every defacing turn of Old Time’s hand and every obliterating stroke of the Old Reaper’s hook, her essential spirit returns and remains unchanged.
Fredericton’s site is an extensive piece of level land, many times longer than its width, lying in a crook of the course of a splendid river. In its natural state, the lower levels of this site were wild meadows and the higher were a forest of soaring pines. Little creeks had cut into it from the river, and little brooks from the springy hills had cut across it. Here and there humped inconsiderable mounds, the chief of which is now the Old Burying Ground, where the bones of the ancestors of our citizens together crumble in congenial company.
The Fredericton of today is of Empire Loyalist origin, but the first white settlers of this site were French or Acadians,
and it was known then as Ste. Anne's. Though trading with the Maliseets, trapping fur and hunting wild meat were the basic employments of the men of Ste. Anne’s, they built themselves good houses of pine logs.
Their building operations resulted naturally in clearings in the forest; and these clearings and the adjacent tracts of natural meadow kept the place green in men's minds long after the flight of the settlers, the destruction of their houses, and Governor Villebon’s departure from the guardian fort, which was situated just over the way at the mouth of the tributary Nashwaak. The French power passed from Acadia, and the Acadians of Ste. Anne’s migrated upstream and farther inland to remoter and less desirable locations.
In the course of time some of those New Englanders (or their sons'» who had raided the lower and middle reaches of the great river for political reasons and scalps, came again with their plows and pots and candle-molds, with their families and feather beds, and settled on vast, fertile and mosquitoey flats which lie for miles along the great river, down stream and across stream from the site of Ste. Anne’s of the past and Fredericton of the present.
These damp flats were then such a tough tangle of elms, water maples, water birches and waterlogged deadwood
that the practical New Englanders found it well worth their while to cut and “make” and stack the hay of the deserted clearings of Ste. Anne’s every summer and sled it home on the ice during the following winter. Their annual haymakings at Ste. Anne’s, their harvestings on the scenes of Acadian labors, were terminated by the arrival of the first contingent of the Loyalist founders of Fredericton. So they had to get busy with axe and grub-hoe and fire on their own tangled flats, while the Loyalists appropriated the hay of the departed Acadians to their own uses. Dam those Tories, anyhow !
Many of those first Frederictonians experienced bitter nights and days. Some of them died of such experiences. But all this can be found in guidebooks and histories, and this effort of mine is neither. Ignorant of history and in no way qualified to make a guidebook. I deal with my native city on higher terms—as the interpreter of its distinguished spirit and unique atmosphere. One can only do one’s best.
The Empty Coach
MY MEMORY serves me back to the days when Shore
Street, then the home of Bliss Carman, was called
Gas Alley by almost everybody except Bliss’s parents. The
Carman house stands with its back to the street and its
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face to its garden. It was built by Colonel I Shore, and its attitude was doubtless an expression of the colonel's opinion of his neighbors. Not that I have personal memories of Colonel Shore, mark you. He was a Loyalist. Cows pastured in Shore Street when 1 was a little boy.
My memories of Fredericton are of inherited experience, like instinct, as well as of personal acquisition. I present the Master of the Rolls to your attention in a characteristic moment of his career. The Master of the Rolls lived and lived well—in a large house called Elmcroft, which is still to be seen at the lower end of the town. His friend the Lieutenant-Governor of the time, who was an Englishman, according to the custom of those days, lived beyond the upjier end of the towrn in a very fine Government House. (Government House is still there —but what a mess ! It is a war ruin as surely as the Cloth Hall of Ypres was a war ruin, though it was never a target for hostile shells. While the Canadian Corps kept its appointments with the Huns on the Western Front, Canadian Goths did their Hunnish work at home in the name of military construction. But to return to the Master of the Rolls.) The Master was invited to many parties at Government House. Most of those shindigs were dinner parties. The fashionable dinner hour of those days was four-thirty o’ the clock, post meridian. It w'as called an hour, but the dinner, and what followed at and under the table, were always good for three or four hours.
On this memorable occasion the Master of the Rolls, upon receiving an invitation to dine at Government House, decided to make a day of it. So he invited three friends to lunch with him at Elmcroft. As these gentlemen had also been honored with gubernatorial bids, the advantage to be derived from forming a party for both lunch and dinner, as propounded by the Master, was apparent to all. Starting all together at eleven in the morning, they would hold together, pass on together from the Master’s to the Governor’s mahogany, and render moral support w'ithin their little company whenever and w'herever required. It was a happy idea. They were happy gentlemen. They lunched well.
The year was 1836 or thereabout and the month was January. Snow lay in and about Fredericton in seasonable quantities, no deeper than to your knees in places, in other places drifting to prodigious heights and depths. The coach came to the front door I at four o’clock sharp, its interior well stocked with buffalo robes and hot bricks.
I The Master of the Rolls and his guests were I great-coated, fur-capped, mittened and ! bundled in : and the coach rocked and i lurched down the driveway on its "bob-sled" runners, with the coachman and the groom i on the box so muffled in furs of the coarser I kinds as to resemble one mountain of hair.
The gentlemen had been in the middle of a ¡ rubber of whist. They resumed their play.
; The coach turned to the right, toward town. It lurched like a ship as the horses plunged Í at the drifts on the little bridge over the snow-choked creek. The road improved.
I The horses passed along Waterloo Row at a trot. The outfit cut a fine dash from end to end of the town. People halted to stare at it. and some of them shouted after it—but the ears of the men on the box were full of hair and hauteur. The coach lurched to a dashing standstill before the wide entrance of Government House. The half of the mountain of hair that was Pat Kelly detached itself and dropped to the snow.
“Hey!” yelled Pat. “Hey. Bill! Come down wid ye !"
Coachman William McQuog descended majestically, whip in hand. Together.
I coachman and acting-footman gaped at i what they saw and what they did not see. The door of the coach hung open on its hinges, disclosing an interior as empty as a
blown egg save for a few warmish bricks.
William and Patrick found their master and his guests and the buffalo robes in the drifted creek within fifty yards of .Elmcroft, just under the edge of the little bridge. The gentlemen were still playing whist.
“The coach was ordered for sharp four,” said the Master of the Rolls. "We dine with Sir Charles at half-past. Don’t let this happen again, William !”
Culture Is Traditional
y ES, FREDERICTON has always been socially distinguished, though native honesty compels me to suggest that in none of the qualities of its earlier distinction is it quite what it used to be. Better it may be, but is it as bright? The fact that it is now illuminated by electricity in place of the gas. oil and candlewax of the past is in no way germane to my argument. Perhaps the present life of the old town is easier and more comfortable than was its life as our fathers knew it. But, is it as amusing? I am asking. The chances are it is more amusing. When I used to spin on my heels and toes under the gas lamps and memorial elms, I felt that the whole town spun with me; and now that I do not spin, I feel that nothing spins.
As for Fredericton’s aristocratic tradition —well, the truth of this matter is anybody’s guess. What, after all. is "aristocratism?” To many people it is a mere tag or label, vulgar alike in its conception and application. To others it is a state of mind, often stupid and always confused; to a few it is a native conviction; and to yet fewer it is a luminous and beautiful idea.
And our culture! Culture is traditional with us; and are we letting it go at that, I wonder? Education is still with us. but in a changed spirit, I think. Spirit and matter have become stereotyped perhaps; and certain attributes of the pure and disinterested culture of our fathers, certain abstractions such as taste and literary appreciation and a sense of the wider and finer humor, are missing. And yet, on the other hand, one of our cultural traditions is Julia Horatia Ewing.
Julia, with her husband, the major, and a bulldog or two, lived for several years in Fredericton. A large house on Waterloo Row, standing opposite the lower ferrylanding and its guardian willows, was her home for a part of her stay in our town. That dignified house stands there no longer. It was dragged down and in the name of improvement replaced by the architectural bad manners of thirty-five years ago. The author of .4 Flatiron for a Farthing was popular in the Fredericton of her day; and the major and the bulldogs were popular, too. The lady must have possessed something of the delicate, quaint, fragrant charm which is still to be found in her little tales of that fairyland of generous squires, happy gaffers and contented paupers which was her own comfortable conception of rural England. And she was not an “authoress” only. She painted sweetly in water colors— autumn foliage, venobvious sunsets and so on. She and the major sang in the cathedral choir, and the major wrote hymns, vertís and music complete.
General Benedict Arnold resided for several years in an earlier Fredericton than that known to the gentle Julia, and busied himself with shipbuilding in a creek at the lower end of the town. Lesser houses and gardens now occupy the site of Rose Hall and its gardens and yards; and today’s householders are constantly exhuming relics of past generations from that historic ground -empty bottles, a bedroom candlestick. gun flints, a spur, gilded buttons for display and buttons of iron and brass for service. And though the notorious Arnold occupied the place for only two or three of the hundred years of its existence, he is
credited with all these relics, as if he had been the only bottle emptier and button shedder of all the residents of Rose Hall. Such is infamy more lasting and acquisitive than fame itself.
A Place for Happy Living
BUT TO RETURN to our cultural tradition. We cannot go far with this subject without implicating the University of New Brunswick which, under one name and another, has carried on for 132 years. Its origins were Tory, Loyalist and Church of England. It outgrew' those origins long ago. for better or for w'orse. One of its early presidents, a doctor of divinity (and Cantab, at that) once challenged the Governor to mortal combat w ith pistols at twenty paces, on a nice point of manners. Of manners, not morals, mark you. The governor retired tactfully behind his official position. Representing His Majesty, it was impossible for him to take liberties with the law even to oblige his learned friend.
The University of New Brunswick’s roster of worthies is formidable. She graduated tw-o of Canada’s three best poets—Charles G. D. Roberts and the late Bliss Carman. The other of Canada’s three best poets, the late Archibald Lampman, must be credited to Ontario and. I think, the University of Toronto. She graduated Sir George Parkin and Sir George Foster, though not as such. Parkin and Foster were admitted to the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George after long and distinguished careers, the first as an -educationist, the second as a statesman; the first as a Knight, the second as a Knight Grand Cross. Scores of her sons are, and have been, provincial and national leaders in every w'alk of life; none have been hanged, I think; and but few have been jailed, unfrocked, cashiered or disbarred. I believe. The present Chief Justice of New Brunswick, Sir Douglas
Hazen, is of the old Fredericton Collegiate j School as well as of the University, and was i at one time, at an early stage of his honorable public service, Fredericton's mayor.
The University of New Brunswick is small for its age. Still a small college, it retains many of the advantages of a small college. Its Forestry' School is one of the best, perhaps the best, in Canada. On all its applied science side it is strong as strong as it is in rugger. As for the rest -but after all. philosophers, like poets, are bom. not made. Both are the better for encouragement, however.
The old college, now the Arts Building, is a beautiful thing. The other buildings of the University—but I won’t say it!
Fredericton is famous for its elms, river, cathedral, university, half-mile trotting track (the fastest in the world), rugby football, pretty girls, poets, bankers, canoes and somew'hat jumbled traditions. The late Charles E. Neill and Francis Sherman, of the Royal Bank of Canada, wrere both Frederictonians. Sherman wras a poet, too: and the chances are that he would have been a greater poet if he had not been so successful as a banker. Our canoes, by Chestnut, are know'n the world over; and what could be more fitting and just than that the spirit of the river should be caught alike in the songs of our poets and the canvas and good white cedar of our craftsmen?
Some people live happily in Fredericton because they have never lived anywhere else; and others live happily here because they have tried living in London, New' York. Pernambuco, Petit Vimy and Toronto.
Fredericton is whatever you want to find it. If you are friskily inclined. Fredericton’s frisky will frisk with you; or you can go fishing, or to church, or sit around with college professors and acquire merit and a headache.