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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter VI. Grand Park and Evangeline


One of the pleasantest features of New Scotland is the number and variety of its wild-flowers. Outside the dwellings in “the Valley” one’s eye constantly met with and was refreshed by the sight of the white rose. The woods are full of violets. The ponds and marshes reek with perfume and colour. I shall never forget the advent at each station on the line of half-a-dozen vociferous urchins bearing bunches of long-stemmed water lilies. “Pond lilies—fresh picked pond lilies. Fifteen cents a bunch!” Behind this youth came another, at an interval of five paces. “Beautiful fresh pond lilies. Ten cents a bunch.” And still another. “Pond lilies, five cents a bunch.” The train was about to move. “All aboard!” shouted the conductor. The flower merchants showed a sudden parity and unanimity in their demands. “Pond lilies-—five a bunch,” they cried in chorus. Then, as the train began to move, one small boy, rather pale and bright-eyed, looking as if his chief and favourite nutriment were chewing-gum, looked up into my face, extended his scented wares under my very nose, and blurted out breathlessly: “Here, take ’em, mister. Beautiful and fresh. Two bunches for five!”

I tossed him a coin, but my journey was long, the cars were crowded, and the dank and dripping lilies would have been an embarrassment; so I left them in his hands. But they were very beautiful; and there is no scent in all the world for me—save the scent of lilac—so pregnant with charm, so redolent of poetry unwritten.

But the water-lily is not the dower of the Province. That is the sweet scented, rich-hued trailing arbutus—the far-famed Mayflower, so rare in other parts of Canada, here so plentiful that it has become the emblem of New Scotland, from which is derived the poetic and significant motto of the Province: “We bloom amid the snows.” No flower is so popular. One commonly meets with large parties of young people in the woods, in quest of the Mayflower; they are worn in corsage and button-hole, or carried as a bouquet in the hand by shoppers and pedestrians. The country people, Acadians, Indians, and Negroes, gather them into little bunches and bring them to market, or hawk them about the capital. So that, while it is in season, it is all-pervasive in drawing-room, parlour window, and office. So jealous are the Nova Scotians of their prior rights in this flower that a decade since, impelled by the claims of the Massachusetts folk, who seem somehow to have confounded the blossom with the name of that truly Leviathan ship the Mayflower, which bore thither the Pilgrim Fathers, that they passed in legislature “An Act respecting the Floral Emblem of Nova Scotia. Edward, Sect. I. cap. x.,” which duly sets forth their priority for all future generations.

Speaking of the vessel of the Pilgrim Fathers, a gentleman at Liverpool, who showed me a piece of her timbers, a cherished heirloom in the family, said:

“There never was a ship like the Mayflower, or an instance which so shows the untrustworthiness of contemporary testimony. We know her now to have been one of the marine wonders of the seventeenth century, far larger than the Lusitania or the Mauretania, or any modern ship. To find her equal we must go back to Noah’s Ark, unless, indeed, the Royal George, which survives to-day in the form of at least a million chairs, tables, wardrobes, and settees, were larger. The mere fact that she carried over a thousand families, including many of Irish and German origin, is a proof of her dimensions! ”

Westward from Windsor, on the edge of the Basin of Minas, lies the great marsh meadow—Grand Pre -a district over which the genius of a poet has thrown a film of magic, making it, even at noonday, a region of perpetual twilight. It is strange to think that in Haliburton’s day, Grand Pre, unheard of as a village, was merely the Grand Prairie situated in Horton township, and that Evangeline had never been heard of. Crossing the Avon, one is confronted with a range of Hills called the Horton Mountains. The view from the roadway on the summit is unmatched in Nova Scotia. It includes four counties, including the thousands of acres of marsh meadow reclaimed by the Acadians. Before one’s eyes stretch the verdant and populous vales of the Gaspereaux and Cornwallis, with their wooded groves and tilled fields: the waters of five rivers may be seen flowing into the basin. Travellers are fond of comparing it to the valley of the Dee, near Aberdeen, but that view lacks the wondrous Cape Blomidon, a majestic promontory 670 feet high, which forms the abrupt eastern termination of the North Mountain chain. Where Bumidon’s blue crest looks down upon the valley land.

How many poets have seen and sung of Blomidon and Grand Pre? But one may see with the eye of the mind and with the eye of the body, and the best description of the district is still that of the poet who himself never set foot in Acadia.

“.....Vast meadows stretched to the eastward,

Giving the village its name and pasture to flocks without number; Dikes that the hands of the farmers had raised with labour incessant, Shut out the turbulent waves; but at stated seasons the flood-gates Opened and welcomed the sea, to wander at will o’er the meadows. West and South there were fields of flax and orchards and corn-fields, Spreading afar and unfenced o’er the plain; and away to the northward Blomidon rose, and the forests old, and aloft on the mountains Sea fogs pitched their tents, and mists from the mighty Atlantic Looked on the happy valley, but ne’er from their station descended."

Do you remember the visitor to Abbotsford, who, remembering the beautiful lines

“He who would see fair Melrose aright,
Must visit it by the pale moonlight;”

inquired:

“Did you often visit it by moonlight, Sir Walter?”
“Not once!” confessed the poet.

Emerson says somewhere that we write by aspiration and antagonism, as well as from experience, and the one writing may be as true as the other. Critical persons there may be, who seize upon passages in “Evangeline” as contrary to facts. Personally, I found few discrepancies between Longfellow and Baedeker.

Strikingly in evidence is the great increase in the number of tourists to the land of Evangeline. It is one of the wonders of literature, certainly without parallel on this side, of the Atlantic, how Longfellow’s hexameters have fenced in this Acadian valley, and even peopled it with poetic ghosts. Thither in their thousands come the living twentieth-century flesh-and-blood to pay their tribute to the genius loci. I came across them lingering by Etangeline’s Well, and gazing sentimentally upon the spot where stood the forge of Basil. Bat they are, almost without exception, Newr England, not Old England pilgrims.

On the crest of the highroad stands the white-painted old chapel of the Scottish Covenanters, the high pulpit and the old-fashioned pews within, and no barer now than when the voice of the stern-faced preacher rang out his exhortations and his remonstrances against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the meek self-denying flock in whose bosoms the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, was fleeting, remote, and exiguous indeed! These Scots were the successors by one remove, of the banished Acadians, and to them this land of Grand Pre must have been Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey; for owing to its sheltered situation and the marshes and many silt-conveying rivers, the soil is very fertile.

Along the road my driver urged his spirited mare. We turned presently sharp to the left, through a quaint stone gateway, with an appearance of such antiquity as it it might be coeval with the Round Tower of Newport, and through an avenue of apple-trees, which developed into a thickly planted orchard, so thick that the trees might almost have been an army, close-ranked for action, and then winding in and out beneath the golden fruit, a house bursts on the view, a house of rambling pattern, many-winged and gabled, covered with flaming creeper; and in this house I passed several delightful days. Under that roof 1 listened to the pleasing gossip and animated reminiscence of an old judge who knew New Scotland well from Cape North to Cape Sable; who had for nigh fifty years travelled on circuit by good roads and bad, populous and lonely, by night and day, in summer and winter; who knew the people, especially the farmers, as Haliburton knew them; and who had many tales to tell of their customs and their manners, their hopes and their disappointments, their diversions, schemes, and oddities. There was in all this flow of talk no narrowness of vision—no pettiness; but much aspiration towards the broader, more generous point of view, much humour, much courtesy. And as I sat at dinner sipping, not cider, not tea, not “fire-water and bubbles,” but bumpers of champagne of noble vintage, listening to the hale old judge, Lowell’s words came to me, and I thought “The soil out of which such men as he are made is good to be born on, good to live on, good to die for, and be buried in.” I thought of that often in New Scotland when I met some of her sons, and marked their characters and noted their talk—men of dignity, and ripeness, and gentleness, and kindliness, such men as my host, the old judge, of the present Chief Justice of the Province, of Sir Charles Tupper, still with us, of amiable Sir Malachy, of Judge S., and of many more. Of many, many more.

I fancy this champagne was some of that carried by a French ship bound for St. Pierre. which was wrecked off a prohibition village on the south-east coast. The ship was making a return voyage loaded chiefly with French wines. As case after case was brought ashore the inhabitants looked blank. Every sturdy teetotaller suspected his neighbour, and nobody felt quite easy in his mind until an enterprising Yankee patent-medicine pedlar had carted away the whole stock, and Satan, speaking with a strong Rheims and accent, was placed at defiance.

“The soil out of which such men as he are made is good to be born on, good to live on, good to die for, and be buried in.” O ye in England—at the heart of the Empire— deem not all the culture, all the innate courtesy and gentleness of manhood and womanhood is within the confines of your own little island, reckoning the folk overseas as all crude, and brusque, and unpolished, because of the examples that come out of the rough and strenuous West. There are thousands— Colonial-born, as were their fathers and grandfathers before them—who do not come back and sit at the Imperial Mother’s knee, who may not be seen careering up and down Regent Street, or imbibing strange beverages at the Hotel Cecil, who are the true sons of the Old Land, and better represent the qualities which have made her great than all the loud shouters from Toronto, the hustlers of Winnipeg, and the boosters of Vancouver. These others are of the type of men which make Canadian soil good to be born on—who carry on the tradition of the loyal, self-denying, idealistic spirit in which British Canada was founded; and I thank God they are not yet extinct.

All this time I am forgetting my hostess, whose sweet and gracious presence is often in my thoughts, a descendant of one of the earliest pioneers, herself the daughter of a judge, who has given six stalwart sons to the Province and the Empire, one to the army, one to the Civil Service, two to medicine, another to science, scattered thousands of miles apart—the true breed of British mother who is, after all, Britain’s greatest glory.

Readers of Longfellow’s poems will not question the appropriateness with which this house has been named. It is “St. Eulalie.” In the very heart of the old Acadian settlement it stands. A tablet within the porch states:

“Here stood the village of Melaneon, where, on the night of de Villiers memorable arrival in 1747, was celebrated an Acadian wedding attended by the villagers from Grand Pre.

After being here warmed by huge fires and regaled with cakes and cider, the French and Indians marched through blinding snows under the guidance of returning guests, who disclosed at Grand Pre the several houses in which the British slept.

“Afterwards de Villiers. wounded in the attack, caused himself to be carried hack for treatment by the surgeon here encamped.”

All the walks and drives hereabout are full of the charm of scenery—of the magic of historic association. On a hummock by the river I came across a tall tree, upon which was fixed the following inscription: “Near this spot Coulon de Villiers with about 20 French officers and 400 Canadians and Indians on the night of 10th Feb. 1747, from Beausejour, crossed the river in a snowstorm to attack Colonel Noble with a force of 500 New Englanders at Grand Pre.”

The expulsion of the Acadians is perhaps the most striking and pathetic passage in New Scotland’s history. The British authorities could not treat all these thousands of people as rebels, for the great majority of them had not fought against them at Btausejuur and elsewhere, but had sulked quietly in their villages. But the long panence of the Provincial Government was exhausted. Repeatedly Governor Lawrence urged them to take the oath, repeatedly and stubbornly they refused.

Then and not till then did the decree of exile go forth. Ignorant of the trades and callings by which they could earn a livelihood in those countries, the Acadians could not be shipped to France or England. Colonists they were, and the sons of colonises, suited only for a colonial life, and on banishment they could only be distributed in batches amongst the English colonies along the Pacific coast.

Many hearts, even amongst the soldiers, warmly compassioned the fate of the unhappy Acadians. Those who had taken the oath were safe in their homesteads. A number fled into the forest. As for the rest the military officers were given their instructions. At Beausejour 400 men were seized, and without warning the people, Colonel Winslow marched rapidly to Grand Pre. He summoned the men of the village to meet him in the chapel, and there read to them the decree of banishment. In vain they tried to escape; the doors were shut and guarded by English soldiers. The people of village after tillage were seized, until 6000 souls had been gathered together. For a long time they had to wait for transports to bear them away. Many had forcibly to be conducted on board the ships. Old and young men, women, and children, were marched to the beach. A few members of the same family became separated from each other, never to meet again. But the soldiers strove their best to perform their painful duty as humanely as possible, and no unnecessary harshness marked their operations.

From Minas, Chignecto, and Annapolis, ship after ship bore, their weeping burdens southward. Many, long years afterwards, returned again to Acadia, where, when Quebec and the French flag had fallen, they were no longer a danger to the Government. Such of the Acadians as reached Quebec were treated with inhumanity by the French officials there, and nearly perished of famine. It is said that they were reduced to four ounces of bread per day, and sought In the gutters of Quebec to appease their hunger. Smallpox broke out amongst them, and many entire families were destroyed. Such, alas! was the fate of those unhappy beings “whose attachment to their mother country was only equalled by her indifference.”

The expulsion of the Acadians may seem to us a cruel act, but it was forced upon the English by the hardest necessity—the necessity of self-protection, and in spite of all that has since been written to the contrary, no impartial student of history can perceive in what other way than the deportation of these irreconcilables could the peace of New Scotland have been assured, a peace which has lasted to this day.

Of Grand Pre it has been said that it boasts a threefold attraction—beauty, fertility, and sentiment. Originally Grand Pre was a long straggling Acadian settlement beginning at what is now the Grand Pre railway station, three miles east of Wolfeville, with Horton Landing one mile away. The salient features of the landscape to-day is, and the older portions of those likes are, relics of the Acadian occupation.

A group of old willows in one part of this great meadow, undoubtedly planted by the original French inhabitants, the well supposed to have been part of the village’s water-supply, and the reputed sites of the forge of Basil the blacksmith and of the house of Father Felicien, are duly shown to the visitor. I have already mentioned the place where a body of New England troops were massacred by the French and their Indian allies nine years before the expulsion.

A recent discovery at Grand Pre revealed portions of the foundations of the Acadian Church of St. Charles. Most of the stone had been removed, either to be used in other foundations built by the English settlers after the deportation, or had been removed to enable the owner to plough over the church site, but enough has been exposed to determine the size of the church.

Excavations have brought to light also the remains of the fireplace and foundations of the chimney built by the soldiers who were quartered in the church. After the first removal 600 Acadians had to be kept prisoners till ships arrived from Boston to take them away. All Minas was destroyed, save the few houses in Grand Pre needed to shelter these 600 people. Wherefore the soldiers made the church comfortable for themselves during the early winter, till they finally departed.

I had an interesting chat with the sole descendant of the original Acadians, one Herbin by name, an intelligent and enterprising spirit, who has recently set up business in the Grand Pre district, and seems to prosper at the hands of the numerous tourists to the shrine, of Evangeline.

Each morning I arose and gazed across the Basin of Minas at Blomidon, as it lay like some sleeping lion. And the sun shone, and the summer wind rippled the tall marsh grass as if it were pale green sea. And far beyond the white sails of ships stole in and out of the Basin, bending and veering like seagulls. And once out from an orchard a farmer’s boy sang a selection from “Parsifal” (“Learnt it off a gramaphone. Learnt a lot o’ operatic songs that way”); and my heart, too, sang, and I was glad I had come to Grand Pre.

From Grand Pre I went on to Wolfeville, a pleasant little town which, for some odd reason, is spelt “Wolfville When the “e,” which allies its history with the name of the famous young general, was elided, I cannot precisely state, but the town was Wolfeville on the old maps and in Ilaliburton’s account of the Province. Here is situated the Acadia College, a flourishing Baptist institution, which has recently enjoyed some of Mr. Rockefeller’s favour, and which has long been an eminent seat of learning in this part of the Province. But Wolfeville’s chief asset is the fact of its being a convenient centre for American tourists visiting the “Evangeline District.”

Wolfeviile’s growth has been steady and uninterrupted since the old coaching days of three quarters of a century ago, when a few houses on one street composed the settlement. From this hamlet it grew into a village, and in 1893 into a town.

The Acadia College and its allied institutions have from the first been the chief asset of the place. Adding to its attractiveness as a residential centre, they also bring annually about 400 young men and women here, and pay out to teachers about $30,000 a year. And besides the educational, the natural advantages of Wolfeville are considerable. It is the commercial centre of a fertile and prosperous region where orcharding and dairying is remunera, we, and the farming population increasingly prosperous.

With railway facilities there is excellent water communication for domestic and foreign trade, and a daily steamboat service to Kingsport and Parrboro for nine months in the year, which makes Wolfeville a promising distributing centre.

This part of Nova Scotia as well as Cape Breton, struck me as eminently adapted to sheep-raising. I am told that where the same care is bestowed upon these animals as is bestowed in other countries, excellent results are attained on Nova Scotia farms. There should be a flock of sheep on, at least, three-quarters of the farms, and the only obstacle which has hitherto militated against success in the parts of the Province best fitted by nature for sheep-raising, has been their destruction by dogs. Until this is rectified by legislation, and I have the Government’s assurance that this will be attempted-—it is useless for any farmer to engage in the pursuit. Repeatedly throughout Nova Scotia I have heard stories of canine depredations. The worst was a case at Yarmouth, where a young Englishman had his whole flock of prize sheep destroyed by dogs. When he made complaint to the owner of a ferocious cur demanding that the animal be shot, or chained, or muzzled, it’s owner retorted, “Why should I get rid of my dog? What business have you to keep sheep?” A rigorously enforced tethering or muzzling order for sheep-worrying dogs would meet the difficulty.

Whether Kentville will continue to be the headquarters of the railway rests with the Canadian Pacific authorities. Should that corporation see fit to remove the workshops and offices from the town, it will be a blow not wholly unexpected.

However, the Canadian Pacific always exploits the country its line traverses, so what is the gain of the surrounding district would in time benefit the town.

Kentville ought, I think, not to bestow all its eggs in one basket. Owing to the partial failure of last year’s apple crop, this town being in the heart of the fruit district and largely dependent on apples, a good deal less prosperity was experienced in consequence.

From Kentville I motored through the Cornwallis Valley, taking in a number of villages, and seeing on all sides evidences of prosperity, especially in Watenille and Berwick. Besides material prosperity, and even moral, and intellectual, and aesthetic, there is another kind of prosperity —that of years; and a gentleman who came forward to my car and shook hands with me, vigorously enjoyed this kind of prosperity. He was a centenarian. He had long ago undertaken a race with Father Time, and that inexorable personage had not yet succeeded in running my friend to Mother Earth. Let us hope his race will not be run this many a day; for the absurd brevity of our lives is a great and growing grievance with us all.


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