The streets of Canada
The people of Saint John, N.B., stand on King to look at the past and into the future. Here Loyalists spurned Benedict Arnold. Here Maritimers built the world’s fastest schooners. Here are monuments to Fundy’s elegant golden age and visions of a new one
Gordon Brooks, a quiet man with a weather-beaten face, is captain of the Enid Hazel, a stubby sturdy freight boat that plies between Grand Manan, the largest island in the Bay of Fundy, and the New Brunswick mainland.
At old grey Saint John, where he unloads smoked herring and the red edible seaweed called dulse and other Grand Manan products, and loads such return cargo as diesel oil and feed grain and flour, Brooks ties the Enid Hazel in Market Slip at the foot of King Street. Then, to stretch his legs, he often trudges three blocks uphill to the head of King Street.
The walk, which is almost a climb, takes him past stores that sell everything a sailor needs, from an oarlock to a trawler engine, past the ollices of railways and steamship lines, importers and exporters, timber brokers and stevedores, to King Square, a monument-studded park.
There, resting on a tree-shaded bench, he can look back downhill at the Enid Hazel—-back down King Street.
This odd, broad, steep, slightly drab thoroughfare has no tall or very distinguished buildings. It is only a fifth of a mile long. Yet it holds a special place in the history, heart and business of a whole rugged salt-crusted region.
It's the main street of Saint John. But it's more than that. Saint John is the biggest city, commercial centre and chief port of the Bay of Fundy, so King Street runs through the lives of people in all the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia communities snuggled against Fundy’s shores or fastened to Fundy’s islands. It's where Fundy’s brides buy their wedding dresses and Fundy's fishermen buy their nets.
Fundy’s trade funnels through this street and Fundy’s financiers have their paneled board rooms on it or just off it and in some of the board rooms there are paintings and models of windjammers— reminders of King Street’s rich adventurous youth. For King Street’s Golden Age, continued over page
A century-old silver service, an ornate facade, a tarry loft that once supplied sail for Indies cruises: these surround
the traffic of a steep intersection by the sea
like Fundy’s, was in the days of sail, when Fundy’s tall ships and hard-driving skippers were known round the world. In those days King Street merchants owned fleets of lullriggers and barques and schooners. Their vessels lay in the harbor in clusters, like logs in a millpond.
John Climo, a photographer, trundled his heavy camera to King Square eighty or ninety years ago and pointed it at the water. In his pictures the masts in Market Slip, which now shelters two or three little freight boats like the Enid Hazel and an occasional tugboat, bristled like the spines of a sea urchin.
The masts are gone now, replaced by the smokestacks of steel liners and tramps that are far too large for Market Slip and lie at great concrete piers topped by metal freight sheds. A lot of the old King Street firms are gone too. replaced by the chain stores found on most main streets—Woolworth's, Zeller’s, the Metropolitan. And. midway between Mar-
kot Slip and King Square, there's a bus depot with a loudspeaker blaring word of impending departures. There are lunch counters, tobacconists, and, for tourists, souvenir and antique shops.
But Captain Brooks of the Enid Hazel, walking up King Street, still passes landmarks caught by Climo’s lens. And in venerable Saint John, which in 1785 became British North America's first incorporated city, and in which one generation tends to follow in the footsteps of another, Harold Climo, the present owner of Climo Studios, frequently photographs the landmarks photographed by John C limo, his grandfather. Among them are the Royal Hotel and Manchester Robertson Allison's department store.
The Royal stands on a site once occupied by an earlier hostelry, the Mallard House, where the first assembly of New Brunswick's legislators was held in 1786 and where New Brunswickers, in 1789, saw the first play put on in
their province—this after handbills had been distributed urging women to dress their hair “as low' as possible" so as not to obstruct the view and warning them that children would not be permitted on their laps.
For a century the Royal has stood where the Mallard stood. In its dining room discerning guests eye massive silver trays and soup tureens that were new when the Royal was new and are collectors’ items now. In the lobby a grey-haired desk clerk, A. B. McLean, whose nickname is “George.” greets the middleaged children and grown-up grandchildren of people whose luggage he carried as a bellhop before the First World War.
Manchester Robertson Allison’s, the department store, which is next door to the Royal, is a sprawling emporium with forty-five departments and was founded in 1866. Among its most faithful customers arc Maritimers who have moved to the United States or other parts of Canada and haven’t been in Saint
John in years. They associate MRA’s with the shopping excursions of their youth—with clothes and gifts bought for memorable occasions. Being sentimental about the store, they can’t imagine it changing, and expect it to be able to provide merchandise they can buy nowhere else. When it can’t, generally because a line is no longer manufactured, they write expressing surprise and disappointment. And, if absentee customers can't imagine MRA’s changing, customers who shop in person don't want it to change—-not much, anyway. They complain when a department is redecorated. “We could never modernize completely in one step,” Lloyd Macdonald, MRA's general manager, says with a wistful shrug. “The public wouldn't let us.”
As a concession to those who feel the store should look its age, a number of its departments have counters and shelves of Victorian vintage and clerks as dignified as the furnishings. Yet they offer the
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In one building, a sea-scene from Joseph Conrad; in another, a glistening executive suite
most up-to-date goods, which is typical of King Street, where the old and new are shuffled, the past blends with the present, and memories mix with hopes.
Thorne’s, a big hardware establishment near MRA's. has a flossy new exterior, but, up under the eaves of the building, the top floor might be a scene from a Joseph Conrad sea story. It reeks of tar and oakum, buzzes with the talk of seamen. and is crammed with anchors, lanterns. coils of rope, cod hooks, compasses, galley stoves, lobster twine, bolts of canvas, barometers and propellers. Nautical shoppers from New Brunswick. Nova Scotia. Newfoundland. Prince Edward Island and the State of Maine visit this floor. If a skipper like Brooks of the Enid Hazel has time to kill in Saint John and wants to swap yarns, he can always encounter a fellow sailor up under Thorne’s caves, where a friendly man named Charlie Clayton, who knows about ships and the sea. acts as a combination of salesman and host.
While Thorne’s glistening exterior hides this Joseph Conrad scene, the scarred exterior of an old brick building by Market Slip hides the glistening executive suite of Kenneth Colin Irving, the leading industrialist of the Maritimes, who controls Thorne’s among a good many other things.
Irving, a lean six-footer with alert grey eyes, even features, a pleasant manner and a brain that functions like an electric calculator, was a pilot in the birst World War. Then he sold modelT Fords. Then he set up gasoline pumps and sold gas for the Fords. Eventually, he was branching out in all directions. At fifty-nine, he heads an industrial complex that includes an oil company with sixteen hundred service stations, pulp and paper mills in New Brunswick and New York, two million acres of forest, lumber mills in four provinces, a steamship line, daily newspapers in Saint John and Moncton, truck and bus lines, wholesale and retail concerns. This spring, launching a private war against recession in his own bailiwick, he announced plans for a forty-five-milliondollar oil refinery and a thirty-milliondollar pulp mill addition at Saint John.
Irving feels, as perhaps the majority of Maritimers do, that Confederation hurt the seaboard region. Once, he had experts prepare charts showing that in 1871. the year of the first federal census. New Brunswick had a higher per-capita income and a higher ratio of industrial employment than Ontario — a situation drastically reversed in the last eightyseven years. Irving has been trying for years to persuade the federal government to build the Chignecto Canal, which would link the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence and create a short sheltered inland navigation route from Fundy ports to St. Lawrence and Great Lakes ports. He claims this would cut transportation costs and open new markets for the Maritimes in central Canada, but the government, so far, has shown no enthusiasm for the project.
Irving, gazing out the windows of his soundproofed office above Market Slip, still dreams of a time when the Chignecto Canal will help Saint John and New B.unswick recapture their bygone affluence and prestige.
This affluence, this prestige, started right below his windows, and started the
hard way. for Market Slip, then a cove in the wilderness, was where three thousand United Empire l oyalists, in May, 1783. disembarked from the ships that brought them from New York as refugees. ' It is. I think, the roughest land 1
ever saw,” wrote Mrs. William Frost in her diary. “We are all ordered to land tomorrow', and not a shelter to go under.” A woman who watched the ships sail oil. after the l oyalists had swarmed ashore, recalled her emotions in a letter
to a relative. “Such a feeling of loneliness came over me.” she said, "that although 1 had not shed a tear through all the war, 1 sat down on the moss with my baby and cried.”
Thousands of other Loyalists reached
Saint John before i 783 ended and they scrabbled slowly and painfully up what is now King Street, hacking trees, burning green stumps, wrestling with boulders. With winter, hundreds died. There were daily funeral processions to interrupt the frenzied toil of turning bush and rock into a town but by the spring of 1784 King Street, and short lanes running off it. had nearly three hundred houses and stores along them.
Charles McPherson, a Highland soldier who arrived with the Loyalists, was granted a lot on King Street and offered to sell it for "a gallon of rum and one Spanish doubloon.” Nobody had a gallon of rum and a Spanish doubloon to spare so McPherson built an inn. the Exchange Coffee House. He dispensed more rum than coffee, and, when the opportunity arose, he threw in a bit of entertainment. The Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser. Saint John's first newspaper, in 1796 had an account of the “feats on wires and ropes” done at the Coffee House by a traveling performer, Don Pedro Glorioso, who "cooled off after with Quebec brown stout and mild ale.”
Perhaps the least popular patron of the Coffee House was Benedict Arnold, the traitor, who reached Saint John in 1787 in his own brigantine accompanied by his wife Peggy, who was the daughter of Pennsylvania’s last royal governor. Arnold, once a trusted general of George Washington, thought the Loyalists would welcome him because he had attempted to sell Washington out to the British. Instead, the Loyalists treated him with cold contempt at first—contempt that turned to active anger. Arnold was engaged in trading with the West Indies and had a warehouse on King Street. When it burned, his partner, Munson Hoyt, openly said Arnold had set the fire to collect insurance. Arnold charged Hoyt with slander, with “blackening my character,” and Hoyt retorted, in the courtroom: “It is not in my power to blacken your character, for it is as black as it can be.”
When the judge awarded Arnold damages of twenty shillings, a crowd gathered on King Street, burned Arnold’s effigy, complete with wig and cocked hat. and dispersed only when the mayor read the riot act. In September 1791, Arnold advertised in the Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser that he was selling excellent feather beds, mahogany fourposter bedsteads, an elegant set of Wedgwood gilt ware, cabriole chairs covered with blue damask, and a lady’s elegant saddle and bridle.” After the sale of his chattels he departed from Saint John.
So. about this time, did Edmund Fanning. a Loyalist who had commanded a thousand guerrilla fighters in the Revolutionary War. Fanning had plundered villages and killed women and children as well as men. He was too bloodthirsty for his fellow Loyalists to stomach. A big King Street blacksmith told him so and Fanning challenged him to a duel. The blacksmith chose the weapons— broad-bladed axes—and expected his size and strength to give him an advantage over Fanning, who was small. But Fanning. if small, was agile and fast. He cut off the blacksmith's toes and remained in Saint John until he had to flee to escape being hanged for rape.
Meanwhile King was gradually becoming a bustling and colorful street. Shipbuilding had started at Saint John and elsewhere on the Bay of Fundy, white pine logs were being rafted down the four-hundred-and-fifty-mile-long St. John River to be sawed into deals at Saint John and loaded on vessels bound for Britain, the salt-fish trade was prospering.
and a number of Loyalists who had owned little factories in New' England and New York re-established them in New Brunswick. The money these activities produced was spent on King Street and the advertising columns grew in the Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser.
Alexander and John Thompson’s store sold "gloves anil hosiery, wines and vinegar, sailor jackets, loaf sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon, paints and oil, knives and forks, gunpowder, sheet iron for stoves, glass and nails." A Mr. Evans, late of New York, advised women to avoid "the fatigue of dressing their own hair" and to let him do it for them. He also sold "tetes and toupees already prepared, also all sorts of cushions cheap as in London, plain and scented hair powder, and beauty patches in porcelain boxes.” Dr. Josiah Flagg promised "the safe and salutary practice of his profession as a surgeon dentist” and supplemented his income by selling "tooth and gum brushes, tinctures and dentifrices.”
Marriott’s restaurant offered "soups, broths, beef or mutton steaks at the lowest possible prices at a minute’s warning, also shaving and hairdressing at the most reasonable terms.” James Hendrick’s hardware store sold cooking pots guaranteed to "weigh at least twenty-five pounds,” and Judge James Putnam, late of Boston, sold flour and molasses on the ground floor of his three-story house. Nor was culture neglected, for Stephen Humbert had a book and music shop.
Humbert’s ads didn’t say, but the news columns did, that he and Daniel Leavitt, the official “keepers of the Sabbath." designed a wicker cage in which boys guilty of improper Sabbath conduct could be suspended below the balcony of the market building.
The War of 1812 increased King Street’s wealth, for most of the privateers that sailed from New Brunswick to return with Yankee prizes belonged to King Street shipowners. One of them, the forty-seven-ton sloop Dart, went inside the Boston Light to capture the American ship Union in 1813.
High life on King
News of the Battle of Waterloo came to King Street, and was celebrated by King Street, months after the event; and John Ward put steamboats on the St. John River; and in 1821 Dan Lambert, the eight-foot-seven Irish giant who weighed seven hundred and ninety-five pounds, came to Saint John with his wife, who weighed eight hundred and ninety ’ pounds, to sing and dance in the Exchange Coffee House. Ezekiel Barlow bought the Judge Putnam house and store for two thousand Mexican dollars, which he delivered by wheelbarrow.
In 1825 the Saint John Hotel, which was new, advertised that “a fine lively turtle will be cooked anil ready to serve up at I I o’clock on Monday next." and in 1828 an eighteen-year-old boy. Patrick Burgan. was hanged for stealing one dollar. In 1830 on the anniversary of Waterloo, veterans staged a sham battle in a theatre anil did it so realistically that several were wounded by gun wadding and one man was killed by a ramrod. New Brunswick’s consumption of rum, the black overproof kind, was roughly five gallons a year per head of population. The jaiikeeper kept a bar in the jail and when the city council decided this should be removed, to keep the prisoners sober, the jailer was voted a grant of thirty pounds sterling annually to compensate him for his loss. And, in 1833. the Loyalists dug pits in King Square and roasted oxen and fired a
salute of fifty guns and danced and capered all night to celebrate their first half century in Saint John. In that half century everything they had touched had turned to gold. They were sure Saint John would be the great metropolis of British North America. They were still more certain of this when the Marco Polo, a Saint John ship launched in 1850. sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne. Australia, in seventy-six days, and back to Liverpool in the same time —the fastest passage in history. Orders for ships like the Marco Polo flooded Saint John: the shipyards worked night and day. King Street merchants sent buyers to Europe in search of silks and satins and furs and jewelry for wealthy customers.
By 1867. the year of Confederation, King Street had an elegance surpassed nowhere in British North America. Its stores, wine cellars, restaurants and hotels were famous far beyond New Brunswick and the ships of its traders were bringing luxuries from every corner of the earth. Meanwhile. Saint John was manufacturing products that ranged from teapots to railway trains. In the census of 1871 it was Canada's fourth city, with a population of 41.000, outranked only by Montreal with 129,000. Quebec with
60.000 and Toronto with 59,000.
Then, on June 20, 1877, half Saint
John was obliterated by one of the worst fires in Canadian history—a fire that destroyed thousands of houses and scores of factories. In King Square, homeless people slept in army tents. The flames spared one side of King Street—that on which the Royal Hotel and MRA's are situated—but turned the other side to rubble.
The fire coincided with the beginning of the long decline in wooden shipbuilding. Saint John rose from the ashes but was never to be the same.
Today, while it’s an important national port, while it still clings determinedly to a variety of industrial plants, and while it is the chief city of the Bay of Fundy, it has to accept the fact that it has dropped to eighteenth among Canada's cities. The population of Saint John proper is
52.000 and that of Metropolitan Saint John 85,000. Vet. in spite of setbacks and disappointments. Saint John remains a jaunty old character among Canada's cities and King, if a shade threadbare in spots, is one of Canada’s most cheerful streets.
With its foot in salt water and its head in a shady park. King is something more than three blocks of pavement and buildings. It's a century and three quarters of diverting history. Robert Foulis. who invented the foghorn, walked here and Abraham Gesner, who developed the process by which kerosene is extracted from petroleum and who thus became
the father of the oil industry, and Benjamin Tibbetts, who invented the compound steam engine, and Munson Jarvis, who founded the first fire-insurance company in Canada, and Robert Reid, w ho invented postage-stamp albums, and the great ship designer David Lynch, and Rupert Turnbull who invented the controlable-piteh airplane propeller, and Charles Gorman, who set speed-skating records that have never been broken. Bliss Carman walked here, his unkempt hair flying in the everlasting salt breeze, as he composed his poems about Saint John and Saint John's ships. Lord Beaverbrook walked here when he was a reporter earning five dollars a week from a Saint John paper, and Louis B. Mayer walked here as a penniless urchin who hadn't even heard of Hollywood. Saint John people. Fundy people, hardly notice the buildings as they w-alk up and down King Street, or sit in King Square resting or listening to a band concert. But they are always aware that King is no new upstart of a street without background or atmosphere. They enjoy its age. the memories it stirs.
They also enjoy the Old Burying Ground, which lies just beyond King Square and has acquired the status of a park instead of a cemetery. There, on the tombstones, they read about poor Catherine Beck:
Afflictions sore, short time I bore, Phicitians ade was vain Til death did seas and God did pleas To eas her pain.
They read the advice of John Godsow:
My glass is run. my days arc spent, My life is gone but it was lent:
And as I am so you must be: Therefore prepare to follow me.
And they read the epitaph of Abel Judson. drowned seaman:
Tho Boreas’ blasts and Neptune’s waves Have tost me to and fro.
Now I’m escaped from all their rage And anchored here below.
The mention of Boreas' blasts and Neptune's waves may set them to wondering about the weather, which is never very far from the minds of seaport people. If it does, they're likely to saunter through the City Market, behind the stores on the north side of King Street, and pause at Daniel O’Reillys stall to peek into the sauerkraut barrel.
If the brine is down and the cabbage is up. it won't storm. If the brine is up and the cabbage down, it will. Anybody can tell you that on King Street—the street that slopes into salt waiter and has stubby sturdy boats like the Enid Hazel bobbing in its slip and is the main street not only of old grey Saint John but of the whole Bay of Fundy. ir