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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter I. Canada’s “Front Door”


“And if he took ship, lo! if was the wrong ship; and when he had got upon the land the road led him backward, or to the right or to the left, so that with doubling and turning he was full twenty years upon his journey. And all this while, if he could but have seen it, the land of Salabat lay straight before him, likewise the castle of the Princess Zobeide, which he could not behold because of the cloud the genie had caused to float before it.”

Some of us laughed when we recalled that Arabian tale on our pilgrimage to New Scotland, for there was a man on board who dwelt at Sydney; and he told us how, on his visit to London, he had engaged a taxicab at the Mansion House, and told the driver to take him to Piccadilly Circus. After an hour or so he waxed impatient and put his head out of the window and asked the driver where they were.

“Hammersmith.” was the reply.

“But that’s the other end of London, isn’t it? I told you Piccadilly Circus.”

Whereat the man was aggrieved.

“Ain’t I driving you to Piccadilly Circus? You didn’t say you wanted a short cut?”

“There’s Sydney yonder,” concluded the Nova Scotian, with the glass to his eye, “and we might be at Halifax this evening. There is the gleaming Bras d'Or, and the trout streams of the Mira River, and my wife and children are on the pier at Sydney; and I’m sailing on and on a thousand miles to Montreal, and then a thousand miles back by rail, because the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and the Government of Canada, and all the powers of the air, and the water, and the road don’t know that I want a short cut”

Of the eight Canadian Provinces stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard, the one of which Englishmen might be expected, from its origin, its proximity, Its history, and its resources, to know most about they know least. This is a puzzle I have often had to explain. Go down into Kent or into Wiltshire, and you will find villagers talking glibly of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The ale-house wiseacre can give you off-hand all the salient peculiarities of the Far West. I have heard a farm labourer near Westerham expatiating upon the grazing lands of the Bow River, and the duties of the mounted police, five thousand miles away, never forgetting to refer to the Canadian Pacific Railway as the C.P.R. To hear him one would suppose he had already made his venture into those far occidental regions of the Empire; but no! it was only in prospect, when he had “saved up a bit more.”

“Why in the name of common-sense do you go so far?” I asked. “What’s the matter with Nova Scotia?”

The worthy fellow stared and scratched his chin.

“Nova Scotia,” he replied, not without difficulty, “where’s that?”

Here his intelligent little niece—a half-baked product of the Board School, came to the. rescue.

“Don’t you see, uncle Bob, the gentleman’s only having a little joke with you? Nova Scotia is an uninhabited island in the Arctic Ocean! ”

Now, Saskatchewan is between 4000 and 5000 miles from England; Nova Scotia is less than half the distance, long-peopled, storied, picturesque to the eye. Both are Canada—both are crying out for immigrants. Yet the one stands almost solely for Canada in the mind of the prospective emigrant, and the other he confuses with Nova Zembla! Could you demand a more, striking tribute to the powers of advertisement? For alone of the Canadian Provinces those on the Atlantic seaboard had not shared in the astounding uplift, “the spectacular development,” which has characterised the Dominion since 1896. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants poured into the country, past the forests, orchards, and valleys of what has been aptly called “Canada’s front door.” It was decreed that they should be carried on to where there were lands to sell and wheat to be freighted; and so they travelled westward—“gone farther and fared worse” in many cases, although serving an undeniably good end in buttressing and giving body to the lately invertebrate trunk of the Dominion, of which Nova Scotia is undeniably the “head.”

But this condition could not endure: the reaction has come at last: and I wish in these pages to give the British reader some notion of New Scotland as it is to-day, with sidelights upon what it was lang syne, and will be to-morrow.

To me as a Canadian, the pageant of New Scotland and Acadia has been familiar from my earliest years, and as the steamer ploughed its way through the waters of the Gulf, I had abundant leisure to let my fancy dwell upon those scenes of the past.

Full of adventurous story are the annals of this Province erstwhile Acadia and the Markland of Leif the Lucky. It was our kinsfolk, the Norsemen from Iceland, who landed on the peninsula nine centuries ago.

One stops to marvel sometimes how the course of the history of the world would have run if Leif and his men had remained and settled Markland, and Vinland, and the New World. Instead of the Crusades, Europe would have poured her militant hordes into this hemisphere five centuries before Columbus; and instead of conquering England such sphits as William of Normandy would have found such a field for their energies as Pizarro and Cortez later found. Or it may be that the Scandinavians, with their western possessions, would have forged ahead of Latin Europe, and New Christians, New Stockholms, and New Copenhagens would have replaced the Bostons, New Yorks, and Chicagos of far later times.

But the Norsemen sailed back, leaving Markland unsettled; and in a few generations the story of their adventurous voyage was forgotten, or enshrined only in the sagas of their poets, where it became dim and legendary. The centuries passed. Markland was given over to the tribes of wild Micmacs, who inhabited its coasts and roamed, its interior in search of the moose and caribou, paddled their canoes, and sang their songs of love, and war, and the chase; who offered sacrifices to their gods in the light of a thousand lodge fires. Then Columbus came. Five years after the daring Genoan had righted the West Indian islands from English shores, John Cabot set forth, crossed the Atlantic, landed on the Markland coast, and, by virtue of his charter from King Henry VII., founded the claim of England to Markland and to the whole Continent Columbus never saw. But England’s day for expansion was not yet. Cortereal, a slave-hunter, appeared on the Labrador coast in 1500, and there kidnapped a cargo of natives. Eighteen years later, a Frenchman, Baron de Lery, landed some of his followers and a few head of cattle on Sable. Island, off the Markland coast. But although this attempt failed, some of the cattle thrived, and their descendants were found running wild on this bleak sandy island eighty years afterwards. After de Lery none came to colonise these northern lands until Jacques Cartier, the hardy St. Malo mariner, sailed with his men into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the river to Stadacona. On the heels of Cartier, from whom and other sailors they had tidings of the wealth of the New World fisheries, came a horde of English, Norman, Basque, and Breton fishermen, who plied their calling off the Markland coasts, and returned laden with cod in the autumn. Many of these landed and dried their fish on the shore, and during most of the sixteenth century that was all Europe knew of or dealt with Markland. True, under a charter granted by Elizabeth, Sir Humphrey Gilbert landed in Newfoundland and took possession of all land six hundred miles in every direction from St. Johns, comprising therefore what is to-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and part of Labrador. But his flagship, the Squirrel, sank with all on board in Nova Scotian waters, and nothing more came of Gilbert’s colonising scheme.

Two years ere the century closed, the French again awoke to the possibilities of North American settlement; and the Marquis de la Roche sailed forth for Markland with a cargo of convicts for colonists, for volunteers were chary of accompanying him. La Roche steered westward until he came to that long crescent of sand which the opposite currents off the Markland coast had formed, whose treacherous shallows were just hidden by the waves as if designed to lure ships to their destruction. It was the same Sable Island upon which de Lery had landed eighty years before. Fearing the aborigines on the mainland, La Roche disembarked his convicts while he went to reconnoitre. Awaiting the Marquis’s return, the convicts roamed the island, and came upon herds of wild cattle, whose ancestors had come out from France with de Lery: they tramped by the solitary lagoon of fresh water, through the dark grasses, startling the flocks of wild duck, but never a shelter they saw. And they drew themselves together at dusk, and dug holes in the mud and sand, and waited for the ships to come and take them away, even back to the gaols and galleys of France. There are few more tragic incidents in New Scotland story than this, one of the earliest. For the Marquis de la Roche had been driven back across the Atlantic by an autumn hurricane, and the forty unhappy wretches in their despair, after ravening like wolves, and fighting and slaving each other, when other sustenance was gone, snared the wild cattle and ate the flesh raw, clothed their bodies in the hides, and out of the wreckage on the shore fashioned themselves a shelter from the terrible winter. Meanwhile, La Roche had been flung by a powerful rival into prison, and it was some time before he could get the ear of the Court to explain the plight of the men on Sable Island. At last a ship went out to take them home, and the twelve wild-eyed survivors, clad in shaggy hides, and with matted hair and beards, were got on board and carried back to France, where the King saw and set them free. A few years later another French noble, Pierre du Gast, the Sieur de Monts, the founder of Acadia, procured from the monarch a monopoly of North American trade, set forth in two ships filled with cavaliers and convicts, to people the territory named in his grant. This was Acadia, of no very definite limits, but comprising the entire north-eastern portion of the Continent. With de Monts sailed Champlain and a Picardy nobleman, the Baron de Poutrincourt; and, after sighting Cape la Hive (near Lunenburg), and entering Port Rossignol, the party skirted the Acadian coasts (losing a sheep overboard in another harbour, which de Monts promptly named Port Mouton), explored the Bay of Fundy, and finally landed and spent the winter on a small island at the mouth of the St. Croix River. When spring came, de Monts abandoned this settlement for a far better site, on the shores of a beautiful harbour on the eastern side of the Bay of Fundy, which they christened Port Royal.

“The most commodious, pleasant place that we had yet seen in this country,’’ wrote Champlain, While the colony was industriously preparing a settlement further down the coast for the winter, Champlain went off exploring the coast in his ship, sailing up and down what was destined to become ere long the territory of New England.

Poutrincourt’s first choice, Port Royal, was found far superior to the tentative one. at St. Croix River, and there in late spring they began to construct a town near what is now called Annapolis. De Monts and Poutrincourt, returning n the autumn to France, managed to induce a large number of mechanics and workers to emigrate to Acadia, and Poutrincourt’s ship, the Jonas, sailed from Rochelle in May 1606. Amongst the new emigrants was the active Lescarbot, lawyer and poet, and man of affairs.

A peal of cannon from the little fort at Port Royal testified to the joy of its inmates at the advent of the Jonas. Poutrincourt broached a hogshead of wine, and Port Royal became a scene of mirth and festivity. When, in the absence of Champlain and Poutrincourt on further exploration, Lescarbot was left in charge of the colony, he set to work briskly, ordering crops of wheat, rye, and barley to be sown in the rich meadows, and gardens to be planted. Some he cheered, others he shamed into industry. Not a day passed but some new and useful work was begun: water-mills, brick kilns, and furnaces for making tar and turpentine. When the explorers returned to Port Royal, rather dispirited, Lescarbot arranged a masquerade to welcome them back, and all the ensuing winter, which was extremely mild, was given up to content and good cheer.

Then it was that Champlain started his famous “Order of a Good Time,” of which many stories have been transmitted to us. The members of this order were the fifteen leading men of Port Royal. They met In Poutrincourt’s great hall, where the great log fire roared merrily. For a single day each of the members was saluted by the rest as Grand Master, and wore round his neck the splendid collar of office, while he busied himself with the duty of providing dinner and entertainment. One and all declared the fish and game were better than in Paris, and plenty of wine there was to toast the King and one another in turn. “At the right hand of the Grand Master sat the guest of honour, the wrinkled sagamore, an aged Indian chief Membertou, his eyes gleaming with amusement as toast, song, and tale followed one another. On the floor squatted other Indians who joined in the gay revels. As a final item on the programme, the pipe of peace, with its huge lobster-like bowl, went round, and all smoked it in turn until the tobacco in its fiery oven was exhausted. Then, and not till then, the long winter evening was over.”

But in the spring a ship came from St. Malo with the tidings that the. King had revoked de Monts’ charter, and after efforts on the part of Poutrincourt and his son, Biencourt, to linger and retain their hold upon Acadia, the French were forced for a time to retire. The English, meanwhile, had got a footing in Virginia, and an adventurer named Argali came from thence and utterly destroyed Port Royal, as encroaching upon the territories rf the English. He even caused the names of de Monts and other officers and the fleur-de-lis to be defaced with pick and chisel from the massive stone upon which they had been graven. Biencourt fled to the forest, and for a time consorted with the Indians, leading a semi-savage existence. From this dates the long struggle, lasting for a century and a half, for the possession of Acadia a conflict that was not ended until Wolfe’s victory at Quebec and the surrender of New France.

Eight years after Argall’s inroad in 1621, James VI. of Scotland conferred on one of his courtiers, Sir William Alexander, the whole territory which the French dominated Acadia.

But in lieu of joining with them to build up a New England, he resolved, by the favour of the King, to engage his countrymen in extending the glory of their native land by founding a New Scotland across the ocean. “Being much encouraged hereunto by Sir Fordinando Gorge and some others of the undertakers for New England, I show them that my countrymen would never adventure in such an enterprise, unless it were as there was a New France, a New Spain, and a New England, that they might likewise have a New Scotland.”


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