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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter V. Windsor and “Sam Slick”


How many towns are there which make one regret that necessity which compels the visitor to approach them from their ugliest side. One can enter Oxford or Canterbury, to mention two English instances, so as to offend one’s aesthetic sense, and to impart an impression which it takes many hours spent in contemplation of more favourable surroundings to efface. So it is with the Nova Scotian town of Windsor. It is all part of the tyranny of railways. It will not happen in the coming day of the airship and air-skiff, when the eager tourist can choose his own spot to alight, and give a wide berth to the purlieus which depress, and the human and architectural crudities which exasperate.

Windsor is one of the pleasantest towns in the Province, the seat of King’s College and other institutions of learning, and everlastingly associated with that rare spirit, Thomas Chandler Haliburton. But one must banish its Main Street, thronged with loafers, and its unspeakable Victoria Hotel, where the proprietor sells cigars, presides over the “register,” and carries ice-water to his guests in his shirtsleeves, before one can appreciate that these are only excresences upon Windsor.

With a high tide in the beautiful Avon River, dotted with sails, I should first descend in my aerial craft, not amidst the pleasing ruins of Fort Edward, now a flourishing golf club, but a mile further away, on a wooded hill at the bottom of the wide shaded drive, facing the brown columned porticoes of King’s College. Here, boot or cricket-bat in hand, I see eager-faced, alert young figures moving, fine types of Canadian youth, who will presently go out to furnish forth the pulpits and colleges, the bench and the bar of Canada’s tomorrow. It is a great wooden building, with Ionic portico, flanked by other buildings, the chapel, and hall and batary. All have an old-world look, especially the spacious hall where many paintings adorn the walls. The college was chartered by George III. in 1788, and has in its time turned out many distinguished graduates. Its library is particularly strong in theological works.

Tailing with a King’s College professor, he said to me:

“I cannot help feeling a particular love for this place, where my father and grandfather were before me educated. I know all its walks and groves, and to me the country round about is the most beautiful in the world. When I think of the stream of graduates dear old King’s has sent to all parts of Canada and the United States, I am filled with pride. But there are many things we warn to make us a living force to-day. Too much of the educational resources of this Province is frittered away. There are too many small colleges. We want wider activities, and for these we sadly need endowments. We recognise the changing spirit of the age, but we at King’s will resist to the death anything which will stultify our principles or destroy the fabric so slowly built up, substituting gymnastics and Esperanto for that real education which leads the mind of the student along the paths of righteous conduct and character.”

From which statement I gather that there will he no “hustling” spirit manifesting itself at King’s.

Hard by the old college is a flourishing collegiate school for boys, and a little further on in our return to the town of Windsor is the Edgehill Seminary, a largely attended Church school for girls.

The superior culture and refinement of the people of Windsor is exhibited in the streets and houses. In front of these latter stretch beautifully kept lawns; that at the Anglican rectory, in its trim terraces, being as fine as I have ever seen in England. A famous place for prosperous-looking churches is Windsor—all denominations seem to vie with one another, not only in erecting fine edifices, but in keeping them in an order so irreproachable as to pulpit, chancel, lectern, carpets, cushions, and appointments as would send a thrill of envy through many a harassed English vicar’s bosom.

All the dwellings bespeak a degree of easy comfort and considerable taste, built in a style inferior, it is true, to the houses of the old Colonial period, but superior to the bald and shapeless Noah’s Arks which have gone up in their thousands and tens of thousands in the towns and villages of Canada since Confederation.

Can there be, I have often speculated, any occult connection between Canadian domestic architecture and the political cohesion of the Provinces? Why, when the Federal edifice was consummated, did the half million or so little brick or timber edifices which housed the Canadian population suddenly fall down as if at the blast of a trumpet, and a half million colourless, clap-boarded, slant-roofed structures—they are not houses or cottages—start up instead —making home a derision? I have heard aged inhabitants tell of, and have seen with my own eyes, pre-Confederation houses which it would be a pleasure to dwell in—houses built by the merchants and shipbuilders who grew rich in the war of 1812—houses that were built by men who built houses and not barns. But am I not making my complaint too particular? Is it the case in rural England as well? Compare the graceful, low-browed, hip-roofed cottages of the past with the yellow brick or cement villas of the present! How much better is a rude log-hut, half-masked in glowing creeper, than such as these, with their straitened entrys and stairways, and a dozen little square chambers when four generously planned ones would suffice!

One of the best built houses I ever saw in my life is in Pictou, walls a foot and a half thick, fine fat limbers, plenty of honest freestone, heaps of cupboard room, and a great dry cellar. A right good, tight good house, built by an old Scotsman in New Scotland nearly a hundred years ago, and as sturdy to-day as the day he built it, although alas, to-day untenanted. There are plenty of other houses, too, pleasant old-fashioned ones, with wood panelled walls within instead of paper. That is the best place for wood in a house—inside—inside on the walls, and a great log of it blazing on the hearth. I never can understand why the New Scotlanders go on building wooden houses, when stone is so plentiful and lasts for ever.

“I’ll tell you why,” said a native Nova Scotian to me. “One reason is, we haven’t any stone-masons to show us how, and the other reason is we’re in too much of a hurry. In ten years—in five, perhaps in less time, we are prepared to move—to sell our house and go into another one. We never look ahead more than ten years. After that, it is posterity; and Canadians don’t worry much about posterity.”

In many places I was struck by the haste with which houses and shops arose and churches were run up. The Roman Catholics of Annapolis Royal wanted of a sudden a new church. The moment their mind was made up they rushed off to a builder and got an estimate for the construction of a two-aisled church in pine wood. I wish you could have seen, as I saw daily, that skeleton of naked timbers arise. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars would be spent by these pious communicants on a wilderness of scanting poles, covered with thin planks, roofed in with tin, painted a sepulchral white, hung within by the portraits of saints, illuminated by candles, and reverberating with American-organic harmony. To the eye all is well. Appearances are kept up, and the worshipper may, if he is a man of strong imagination, hug the illusion that he is worshipping God in a temple altogether adequate to the Almighty. In the capital I saw a cathedral built, as to its interior, of cement, moulded and embossed to simulate stone. Great slabs of a dough-like mixture were scored across longitudinally in order to counterfeit the seams filled with mortar. A few months of labour, and a cheap and colourable imitation of Wells Cathedral resulted. Now all this sort of architectural hypocrisy and makeshift is very well for a Shepherd’s Bush Exhibition, in its nature ephemeral, but how will it appear to the eyes of the twenty-first century, not to mention the thirtieth or the fortieth? Would the old builders, who aforetime reared such stately and beautiful fabrics, who were far poorer than we, and lived in smaller towns and even villages, would they have worked this way and in this spirit? Rather were they content to add a single stone a day, seven stones a week, three hundred and sixty-five stones a year; until slowly and surely a holy building arose, to defy time and the elements, and to be a blessed sanctuary for ages yet unborn. What, gentlemen, and O ye pious ladies (whom I suspect of knowing as much about architecture as a Hottentot knows of an Elzevir) what is your hurry? Do you think the Christian religion and the practice of public worship will not outlast your time, that you are in such haste to quit the old church, chapel, or meeting-house, and run up a showy successor (generally mortgaged), which may deceive a tourist at forty rods, an architect at half a mile, but will never deceive God Almighty or the lawyer who holds a mortgage for it in his pocket, and can only foster a spirit of hypocrisy in the congregation? Better far worship in the open fields than he surrounded by such pitiful architectural mockery. And in the same way, I conjure you, better live in comfortable log cabins, than build an apology for a house, with all “modern conveniences,” that you will afterwards come to be ashamed of—or if you don’t you ought to be.

All the foregoing train of reflection has been started by a contemplation of a sweet and gentle and unpretentious cottage at Windsor. It is at the end of a short avenue of elms. It is low and spacious within. It is the kind of house a poet should live in, and it is now fast going to decay; nothing is spent by its absentee owner to preserve it, and it is occupied at present by a couple of poor Irish families. This is the house built by, and where once dwelt, Haliburton, Nova Scotia’s sole literary celebrity of international renown. When his book, “The Clockmaker, or the Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville” appeared, the whole literary world was taken by surprise, and Christopher North could not praise it enough in the pages of Blackwood.

Haliburton was a Nova Scotian judge who, with wide reading and a capital literary style, added to a native fund of humour, knew his native Province as none has done before or since. Sam Slick, as a pure literary creation, vies with any of the characters of Dickens. He may be described as a compound of Sam Weller, Alfred Jingle, and Jefferson Brick, and the whole book, or series of books, penned by Haliburton, profess chiefly to give this vulgar, loquacious, astute Yankee pedlar’s opinions on American, British, and Nova Scotian men, manners, and institutions.

For the biting satire contained in these productions Haliburton was widely blamed; and in reply to the charge of holding the Yankee up to ridicule, he thus condescended to explain his object:

“In the Canadas,” he wrote in 1838, “there is a party advocating republican institutions and hostility to every-thing British. In doing so they exaggerate all the advantages of such a form of government, and depreciate the blessings of a limited monarchy. In England this party unfortunately finds too many supporters, either from a misapprehension of the true state of the case, or from a participation in their treasonable views. The sketches continued in the present and preceding series of the Clockmaker, it is hoped, will throw some light on the topics of the day, as connected with the design of the anti-English party. The object is purely patriotic.”

In exposing the faults and the follies of the Nova Scotians, Haliburton claimed that he had “done a good deal of good. It has made more people hear of Nova Scotia than ever heard tell of it afore by a long chalk; it has given it a character in the world it never had afore, and raised the vally of rael property there considerable.”

At all events, Sam Slick soon became a household word, and so high was he held in the esteem of the Yankees that, long alter Haliburton had left the Province, long indeed after his death, thousands of Americans came to pay a visit to his dwelling here in Windsor, long known as the “Sam Slick house.” Many to-day know of Sam Slick who do not know of Haliburton. His writings present an admirable picture of the Province seventy or eighty years ago; and much of what he described then is true to-day. It cannot be said that he was a neglected author, or that he lacked a due appreciation of his own merit. In one of his own chapters he boldly recommends himself to preferment at the hands of the British Government, as a clever Colonial author who is worth being taken notice of.

“The natives,” he makes his hero say, “are considerable proud of him, and if you want to make an impartial deal to tie the Nova Scotians to you forever to make your own name descend to posterity with honour, and to prevent the inhabitants from ever thirling of Yankee connexion (mind that hint), say a good deal about that, for it’s a tender point that, adjoining of our union, and fear is plaguy sight stronger than love any time) you’ll jist sarve him as you sarved Earl Mulgrave (though his writinl ain’t to be compared to the Clockmaker, no mure than chalk is to cheese), you give him the governorship of Jamaica and arterwards of Ireland. John Russell’s writins got him the berth of leader in the House of Commons. Well, Francis Head, for his writins you made him Governor of Canada, and Walter Scott you made a baronet of, and Buhver you did for too, and a great many others you have got the other side of the water you sarved the same way. Now, minister, fair play is a jewel, says you: if you can rew7ard your writers to home with governorships and baronetcies and all sorts o’ snug things, let’s have a taste o’ the good things this side o’ the water too. You needn’t be afraid o’ bein too often troubled that way by authors from this country (it will make him larf that, and there’s many a true word said in joke), but we’ve got a sweet tooth here as well as you have. Poor pickins in this country, and colonists are as hungry as hawks. The Yankees made Washington Irvin a minister plenipo, to honour him; and Blackwood, last November, in his magazine, says that are Yankee’s books ain’t fit to be named in the same day with the Clockmaker—that they’re nothin but Jeremiads. So, minister, says you, ;ist tip a stave to the Governor of Nova Scotia, order him to inquire out the Author, and to tell that mar, that distinguished man, that Her Majesty delights to reward merit and honour talent, and that if he will come home, she’ll make a man of him for ever, tor the sake of her royal father, who lived so long among the Blue-noses, who can’t forget him very soon.”

Haliburton duly went to England, was elected member of Parliament for Launceston, and, had he lived long enough, would have seen his son, who died the other day, Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Lord Haliburton. Sam Slick’s author himself died in 1865 in his seventieth year.

But we must take leave of Windsor, which was formerly the prosperous Acadian village of Pisiquid ("Junction of the Waters”) long before the expulsion of 1755. Fort Edward here played a prominent part in all the internecine struggles of the period.

I have alluded above to the existing remains of Fort Edward. Standing on the disused battlements one’s glance sweeps across the waters it commands to Avonport on the opposite shore. But I write “waters”—can I now speak of the waters of the Avon? For, lo! the tide has fallen and there is now but a mighty waste of red, red mud, “an ugly rent in the land,” where but two hours or so ago a teeming river flowed a spectacle to remind us that we are now in the land of the “fluvial bore,” and are watching the action of the far-famed double tides of the Bay of Fundy.


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