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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter VIII. Yarmouth and Shipbuilding


An odour of sanctity, permeating current speech and manners, is characteristic of New Scotland. But religion is less narrow, less austere, than in New England. One tamdiar expression of the religious spirit is the grace before meat. Of these anteprandial orisons the privileged traveller, curious in such matters, might collect some interesting examples n the course of his travels through the Province, ranging from a long discourse, which threatened to be interminable, which I heard at Yarmouth, to a brief, almost ejaculatory, “Thank God!” from the lips of an old naval officer at Sydney. Of the devoutness of the people there can be no question. Upwards of eighty years ago a Scotsman, author of Letters from Nova Scotia, asked a well-informed native: “Which do you think the most numerous denomination of Christians in Nova Scotia?” “Oh,” was the reply, “the Presbyterians, then the Roman Catholics, then the Baptists, then the Methodists, then the Episcopalians.”

“Is the Baptist a numerous sect?”

“Yes, it is the most prosperous of all denominations. A few years ago the Baptists were a small and comparatively uninfluential body of men. Their teachers were ignorant of all knowledge except what their Bibles afforded, and their hearers were the poorest of our peasantry. But by recent events they have received a must important accession, not only of numbers, but also of wealth, talent, and education; and I will stake my sagacity upon the prophecy that, in a few years, the Baptist Church will be predominant in Nova Scotia. The Church of England may be established nominally, but the Baptist one will be predominant.’

That was in 1828. Let us see what has happened. According to the last census, as many as 1355 churches were found to be in this one Province, the proportions being as follow:—351 belonging to the Baptists, 270 to the Presbyterians, 254 to the Methodists, 198 to the Anghcans, and 156 to the Roman Catholics. The total seating capacity of these 1355 churches was 409,738, the Presbyterians heading the list with 100,337, the Baptists coming next with 91,290, then the Methodists with 71,731, the Roman Catholics with 70,974, and the Anglicans last with 47,426. The Congregationalists had only 16 churches, with a seating capacity of 4470. Among the various churches were 1005 Sunday Schools, with 66,680 scholars and 7750 teachers. In a general classification the people divided themselves as follows:— 129,578 Roman Catholics, 106,381 Presbyterians, 83,233 Baptists, 66,107 Anglicans, 57,490 Methodists, 6572 Lutherans, 2938 Congregationalists, 1494 Adventists, 1412 Disciples, and 437 Jews, with several smaller groups of other denominations, leaving only 543 persons who did not return themselves as belonging to some religion.

So that with regard to the prophecy, although the Baptists have got more chapels, the Presbyterians can boast more devotees (a visit to the churches will confirm this), and, on the whole, the situation is little changed, save that the Roman Catholics have vastly increased, and now nominally may claim precedence over any other sect. While the Scots are mainly Presbyterians, there is a large number of Highland Roman Catholics, many in Cape Breton, many in Antigonish County. At Antigonish there is not only a Catholic University, but a Catholic newspaper, very well conducted. The denominational spirit is represented in the higher education, King’s College, Windsor, being Anglican; Acadia University, Wolfeville, a Baptist foundation; St. Francis Xavier University at Antigonish I have just mentioned; and the Presbyterians regard Dalhousie as their College, although it is undenominational. Indeed no denominational test is required of students at any save the Roman Catholic establishment, The Methodists resort to Mount Allison, just across the Provincial frontier.

Pulpit oratory is not, I fear, cultivated as an art in Nova Scotia. It is mostly, as one would expect it to be, of a hortatory character. I have even heard it alleged that the Nova Scotian parsons are a practical, canny class, rather than ripe in culture and sound :n scholarship.

It is when we come to speak of education that we see the superiority of the system to that which has long prevailed in England, and which prevails in other countries. There is practically no illiterate element in the community. While it is unnecessary to say that some have received less education than others, one may look long before finding a man or woman unable to read and write. There is a great difference between the English and Nova Scotian systems—in Nova Scotia there is tar more attention paid to the problem of education. and a greater ambition on the part of all classes to get beyond the elementary stage.

There are 2516 elementary schools in the Province, attended by 100,000 children under the charge of 2664 teachers (which gives an average of one teacher to the great majority of the schools). Education is free, both in the elementary schools, which are maintained by Government grants and very low local rates, and in the numerous high schools. A Provincial Normal School also offers free instruction for the training of teachers ; and it may be said that, despite the fact that the Province offers many lucrative careers for a brainy young man, which makes it somewhat difficult to retain the highest talent for this profession, the standard of teaching in Nova Scotian schools is not inferior to the average on the North American continent. In fact, it is probably higher.

In various parts of the Province the old system of a group of isolated one teacher schools is being gradually done away with, and “consolidated” schools are springing up. These, each having several teachers, are looked upon as an effective means of improving the education in county districts. Of these there are at present twenty-two. I have already described the Technical College lately established in the capital; while hand-work and household science are thoroughly taught the boys and girls at various centres.

Perhaps already the reader will have gathered that this peninsula and island on the other side of the Atlantic has everything, though but in embryo, of that which makes life pleasant, useful, and prosperous, save Art. History shows few communities of half a million people with fewer artistic perceptions than New Scotland, and 1 know of no Nova Scotia poet, Nova Scotia painter, Nova Scotia novelist, or Nova Scotia architect. To some of us--to a few of us— these are the things—these books, these pictures, these buildings, which make even little nations glorious; and of which themselves are prouder and the world more grateful than for the products of the field, the forge, the factory, and the counting-house.

But in this respect New Scotland resembles Old Scotland, whose slow advance and scanty achievements in art were once the wonder of Europe; and even in New England it took nearly two centuries of civilisation to throw off the Puritan yoke and allow the imagination to dwell in and the hand to create beauty.

Perhaps we who dwell in London, or Paris, or Rome, or even New York, are apt to exaggerate the value of these things. For here we see that a people may he generous, industrious, and contented without picture-galleries, without, indeed, ever having seen a first-rate picture, a first-rate building, or read a classic.

At Yarmouth, more than the wharves, more than the clipped hedges, than the fishermen, the electric street tramway, and the manifold evidence of prosperity, was I interested in two fragments of stone, comparable in their way to other celebrated archaeological fragments in Europe and Asia which tell, and alone survive to tell, of long-past ages and vanished peoples. These are Runic stones of Yarmouth, lately reposing in private grounds, but now gathered into the safer and more accessible quarters of the Yarmouth Public Library. About the end of the eighteenth century a doctor named Fletcher discovered on the shore of the Bay of Fundy, opposite the town, a rock weighing about four hundred pounds, bearing an inscription which, when deciphered by a capable antiquarian, was found to read, “Harkussen nn n varu”—i.e., “Harku’s son addressed the men.”

In the expedition of Tharfinn Karlsefne in 1007, the name of Harku occurs in the list of those who accompanied him. In a note on the published saga we read that on this voyage “they came to a place where a firth penetrated far into die country; off the mouth of it was an island, past which there ran strong currents, which was also the case farther up the firth.”

Why such a memento should be left on this Norse visit to Markland cannot of course be explained, except to observe that memorials were often made or erected in localities where events had occurred, and in this instance the chieftain’s address may have here contained some notable pronouncement, or even commemorated the landing at that spot.

The second Runic stone was found so recently as 1897, lying face downwards, half buried in the mud on the west side of Yarmouth harbour, one m le from where the former stone had been found. It is very similar in size and shape to the Fletcher stone. Its face is as fair and as smooth as if dressed by a lapidary, and the inscription is in the same characters. Of course these two stones have excited great interest among scholars and antiquarians, and attempts have been made to dispute their Scandinavian origin, and to ascrilie them to Red Indians, Semites, and even to the Japanese.

For example, one theorist, Dr. Campbell, who would have rejoiced in assisting the Pickwickians in elucidating the celebrated Stumps inscription, unhesitatingly finds the inscription to be Japanese. He says that in old Japanese this reads, wahi deka Kuturade lushi goku.

Peacefully has gone out Kuturade, warrior eminent, or in other words: “Kuturadem, the eminent warrior, has died in peace.”

It may very naturally be asked how it is known that such is the reading, and how a Japanese inscription should be found in Nova Scotia? His answer to the first question is that “the identical writing in question has been found in Siberia, Mongolia, and Japan. ... As for the appearance of old Japanese in America, I have known repeatedly that the Choctaw, the Cree or Maskoki, the Ksawy and all their related tongues, are simply Japanese dialects.”

Kuturade was apparently an Iroquois, whose modern name would be Katorati, The Hunter. . . . And there is reason for thinking that this memorial might belong to the early historical period of French colonisation (early seventeenth century). We cannot tell when our Indians lost their ancient art of writing, which the Crees at least seem to have retimed in the middle of the last century.

One reflects now upon the injustice, even the inhumanity, of the British Columbians in seeking to exclude the Japanese from their old home!

But there seems, apart from prejudice and the fantastic ingenuity of minds prepared to doubt anything from the spherical shape of the earth to the utility of the bi-cameral system in the British Constitution, no reason to doubt that these stones are really tangible evidence of the pre-Columbian discovery of Nova Scotia. Humboldt agreed with Carl Rafu in believing that in the year 1001 a.d. the Icelanders touched upon the North American coast, and that for nearly two centuries subsequently numerous visits were made by them and the Norwegians.

“Bjom Heinolsen, an Icelander, was the first discoverer. Steering for Greenland he was driven to the south by tempestuous and unfavourable winds, and saw different parts of America, without, however, touching at any of them. Attracted by the report of this voyage, Leif, son of Eric, the discoverer of Greenland, fitted out a vessel to pursue the same adventure. lie passed the coast visited by Bjorn, and steered south west till he reached a strait between a large island and the mainland. Finding the country fertile and pleasant, he passed the winter near this place, and gave it tin name of Vinland, from the wild vine growing there in great abundance.” According to Rafu, “Bjorn first saw land in the island of Nantucket, one degree south of Boston, then in Nova Scotia. then in Newfoundland.”

Accurate information respecting the former intercourse of the Northmen with the continent of North America reaches only as far as the middle of the fourteenth century. In the year 1349 a ship was sent from Greenland to Maryland (Nova Scotia) to collect timber. Upon their return from Markland the ship was overtaken by storms and compelled to land at Straumfjord, in the west of Iceland. This is the last account of the Northmen in the New World preserved to us in the ancient Scandinavian writings.

Says Rafu: “The principal sources of information are the historical narratives of Eric the Red, Thorfinn Karlsefne, and Snurre Thorbrandson, probably written in Greenland itself as early as the twelfth century, partly by descendants of the settlers born in Vinland.” One account in particular seems to point very strongly to a visit to this part of Nova Scnda, and is as follows:

“Thorfinn Karlsefne, in 1007, in one ship, and Birone Grimolfsen in another ship, left Greenland for Vinland (Massachusetts). They had a hundred and sixty men, and took all kinds of live stock, intending to establish a colony. They sailed southerly and found Helluland (Newfoundland), where there were many foxes. They again sailed southerly and found Markland (Nova Scotia), overgrown with wood. They continued south-westerly a long time, having the land to starboard, passing long beaches, and deserts and sands, and came to a land indented with inlets. They landed and explored the country, finding grapes and some ears of wheat, which grew wild. They continued their course until they came to a place where a frith penetrated far into the country. Off the mouth of it was an island, past which there ran strong currents, which was also the case further up the frith, &c.” .

The long beaches and deserts of sand referred to above, seemingly refer to those stretching along the coast line from Hawk Point, Cape Island, in a north-easterly direction, one of which makes a fine race course, at least six miles long.

In the distance, across Barrington Passage, may be seen stretches of sandy hills not less than 40 feet high These are visible at a great distance from seaward. The reference, “they came to a place,” with the other geographical details, made a strong case for Yarmouth as the landing place of old Thorfinn.

It would be surprising if in a country with such a line of sea-coast as Nova Scoria, with adjacent forests of every kind of hard and soft woods, and with a population largely depending upon fishing, shipbuilding should not early have been begun.

At Yarmouth, about 176j, with the building of a small schooner, christened the James, of about 25 tons burden, the industry had its birth. From the time of the launching of this modest craft until that of the County of 2'armouth, a full rigged ship of 2154 tons, in 1886, there is seen a steady development of the shipbuilding industry, in which the south-western portion of the Province bore the leading part.

In 1765 there were said to be in Queen’s County alone seventeen sail of fishing schooners, all of native construction. Other portions of the southern coast were not far behind. Trade with the West Indies soon became important, and before the close of the eighteenth century larger schooners and briganrines were built, running to upwards of one hundred tons.

Somewhat later the export of timber from the various ports along the Northumberland Strait induced shipbuilding on a very much larger scale. Soon after the Highlanders came to Pictou they turned their attention to the exports of timber in home-built vessels, and many of these of considerable burden were built.

This time not merely Yarmouth, and Shelburne, and Liverpool, and Pictou, but New Scotland, owned an important fleet of sailing ships, but still small in number compared with the veritable navy they were to own and be enriched by within a few years.

The forty years, from 1840 to 1880, saw the palmiest days of this great industry. One still hears tales of the mighty Captain George M'Kenzie of New Glasgow, to whom more than to any one man Nova Scotia owed the great impetus that was given during this period to shipbuilding. Along the ports of the Northumberland Strait, at least, this worthy mariner and builder, full of energy and genius, did more than any one else to improve the character of the ships built. He twice represented the County of Pictou in the legislature, and, indeed, his shipbuilding ventures are referred to by his friend, Joseph Howe, In the latter’s famous speech on the “Unification of the Empire."

In 1850 Captain M‘Kenzie was presented with a service of plate by the merchants of Glasgow on the occasion of the arrival of one of his T500 ton ships, the Hamilton Campbell Kidston, which was the largest vessel that up to that time had ascended the Clyde.

Along the Northumberland Strait, Pictou, New Glasgow, Tatamagouche, River John, and Merigomish, were all noted for their shipbuilding. The Crimean War gave a decided impetus to the industry, and about this time there were said to be in New Glasgow alone fourteen square-rigged vessels built in one year. The coal trade from Pictou to the United States was also a stimulus.

In the west, Yarmouth, Windsor, Hantsport, Maitland, Londonderry, and other Bay of Fundy ports were centres for shipbuilding. But, indeed, there were scarcely any harbours or rivers of note, both in the mainland and parts of the Island of Cape Breton, that did not play a greater or less part in this great industry.

A little over a quarter of a century ago there were registered n Nova Scotia 3025 vessels, with a tonnage of 558,911 tons, or about one and a quarter tons of shipping per capita of the population, a larger holding than any other country in the world, not even excepting those of Northern Europe.

The fleet of Yarmouth alone covered every ocean, and represented the largest tonnage per capita of any port in the world. You saw Yarmouth ships in Helsingfors and Monte Video.

The building and rigging of such a fleet of course gave lucrative employment to a vast army of men.

Loggers, choppers, shipwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths, caulkers, riggers, were employed full time at good wages. But freights fell lower and lower. Conditions changed in the carrying trade, arid at Yarmouth I gathered that the prosperous days of wooden sailing vessels reached

their zenith m 1879, when they had to give way to iron sailing ships, these again to he replaced by the tramp steamer which has invaded every sea, lake, and river formerly sailed by the white-winged fleet.

And so the immense fleet of Yarmouth vanished. Some of its owners were ruined, and others retired with a metre than comfortable competence. A few capitalists foresaw the coming change—the Incoming of steam— and established other marine industries.

Nova Scotia ceased not only to be a shipbuilding, but also to be a ship-owning and ship-operating country.

But in consequence of the recent revival of the lumber trade to America and to the Southern Continent, there has come the building of a large number of smaller vessels in the Bay of Fundy ports. Three-masted schooners, of some 300 and 400 tons, have been launched, while the demand for smaller vessels for the West India tirade has never entirely ceased, and such are being launched every year from Shelburne and other ports of the southern shore. From the same portion of the Province, and in particular from the County of Lunenburg, where the fishing industry is pursued vigorously, fishing vessels are being constantly built.

In quality of construction, these Nova Scotia built boats have obtained an enviable reputation, and it would seem as if it would be many years before the wooden shipbuilding industry will be entirely lost to the Province. Something has indeed been done in the way of the construction of small steam boats, and nearly ail the coastal steam packets are home-built.

Yet, when the big wooden ships vanished, Yarmouth captains, as factors in the world’s mercantile marine, remained. Their experience and reputation insured them employment elsewhere. After these vessels had become obsolete, and were forced from the trade, these tried fellows were eagerly sought for by English and Scotch shipping firms, as skilled mariners and of unquestionable integrity. To-day many important ships in America and Britain are commanded by Nova Scotians, and Yarmuthians in particular.

Wooden shipbuilding on a grand scale being a thing of the past, if the sea-loving New Scotlanders are to become again a race of shipbuilders and sailors, it must be in steel bottoms. Already a beginning has been made in a small way. Several small steel steamers have been built in the town of New Glasgow, and one has lately been launched at Yarmouth.

At the former place was launched last year the three master steel schooner James William, of about 500 tons register. As a swift sailer, and more particularly as a good carrier, this vessel has more than exceeded the expectations of her builders. The beginning so auspiciously made is full of promise for the future, and it may well be said that within the next few years Nova Scotia may come back to her own, and once more take her place under newer conditions as a great shipbuilding country.

Many of the Yarmouth fishermen repair to Gloucester in the spring, and go to the Banks in vessels from that port. These do well as a rule, and in November troop home to enjoy the fruits of their labours. There are no Bank fishermen out of Yarmouth ports nowadays, and those who do not go out of Gloucester remain at home and conduct fishing operations “off shore.” Very often fish are scarce when bait is plentiful, and vice versa, and oftentimes during the early fall the weather is so rough that operations are perforce suspended for days at a time.

Of late, however, I was informed, large schools of herrings have struck in along the shores, and big catches have been made, so big in fact that at some points schooner loads have been shipped to the American market.

The Argylls strongly suggest the scenery of the Scottish Highlands, and must have done so to the Western Highlanders who first settled the place. It is the centre of a fine fishing and hunting country. There is a remarkably curious natural phenomena at the “Narrows”; for six hours the waters rush madly up stream, and for the next six tumble as rapidly down again. The island-studded waters provide fine duck shooting, and Lobster Bay is a famous spot for these crustaceans.

As for Pubnico, it claims to be the very oldest French Acadian settlement, being planted by D’Entremont in 1650, and is still peopled by that race. The harbour is a beautiful sheet of land-locked water, where exceptionally safe bathing and boating may be had. Many little old-fashioned villages are close at hand, and are an object lesson in early French habits and customs.

Barrington was described to me as a "homey” little place, where visitors have delightfully jolly candy-pulls, clambakes, and lobster-roasts nightly around roaring bonfires on the beach.

I had long wanted to see Cape Sable Island. I was told that it had enjoyed an unwonted prosperity during the last few years. The island is seven miles long and from two to three miles across, with a steam ferry plying to Barrington. It is famous for its splendid beaches, Hawk and Stoney Island, and all sorts of shore and sea birds are found here in abundance, and furnish good sport.

The first settlement appears to have been made about 1786 by Michael Swim, who had previously migrated from New York to Shelburne. Being a man of some education, he was long known as the Clerk of the Island, and hence, according to one tradition, the name Clark’s Harbour.

It is well worth while leaving the railway at Barrington and traverse nine miles towards the coast to see the relics of Fort St. Louis, now called Port La Tour. Here was the scene of one of the most romantic episodes in the history of Acadia. In 1627 the gallant young Charles de la Tour was entrenched here. Hearing of the English plan to drive the French from Acadia, and strong in his alliance with the Micmacs, he wrote Louis XIII, asking to be appointed commandant of all the coasts of Acadia. His father, Claude de la Tour, it will be remembered, bore the letter, and on the way back was captured by Sir David Kirke, and taken to England. Here he renounced his loyalty to the French king, married an English lady, was made a baronet of Nova Scotia, and received a large grant in Acadia for himself and his son. Sir Claude then sailed with his wife and an escort of two warships to where his son Charles was holding the last fort in Acadia.

Meanwhile the youthful French hero, lord of Acadia under Poutrincourt’s charter, knew nothing of his good fortune or of these paternal proceedings. When Sir Claude reached his destination here at Fort St. Louis, he demanded an interview with his son, who was astonished to find his father in command of an English ship and wearing the dress of an English admiral. Sir Claude related the flattering reception he had met with in London, and the honours that had been heaped upon him.

Instead of showing joy, Charles was thunderstruck. He replied haughtily that “if those who sent you on this errand think me- capable of betraying my country, even at the solicitation of a parent, they have greatly mistaken me. I am not disposed to purchase the honours now offered me by committing a crime. I do not undervalue the proffer of the King of England; but the Prince in whose service I am is quite able to reward me; and whether he does so or not, the inward consciousness of my fidelity to him will be in itself a recompense to me. The King of France has confided the defence of this place to me. I shall maintain it, if attacked, till my latest breath.”

In these circumstances Sir Claude thought to bring the ungrateful youth to reason by force. Thrice he landed his soldiers and sailors and tried to storm Fort St. Louis, but in vain. His men were repulsed, and soon became disgusted with the whole enterprise.

Eventually they all repaired to Port Royal arid took up settlement with the other Scotch colonists there. It might be supposed that in its extremity the young English girl to whom Sir Claude had promised power and luxury on his Nova Scotian estates would now desire to return to England; but she refused.

“I have shared your prosperity, Sir Claude,” she said, “I will now share your evil fortunes ’ And evil they proved.

For in 1632, after the shameful treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, by which Canada and Nova Scotia were ceded back to France by King Charles I., Sir Claude, “between the devil and the deep sea,” was fain at last to throw himself on the mercy of his son, who established the couple and their suite in comfort, some distance from the fort, and there he remained for some time, until King Charles found employment for him elsewhere in British Dominions.

I have related elsewhere something of the drama of the young La Tours, of the heroism of the wife when besieged by the villain Charmay, of her death, of the long exile of her husband, and his marriage with the widow of his enemy.

Upon such a spot one could hardly look unmoved; but explore as one might, all trace of the La Tours seems to nave vanished from tiff the earth, save that on the page of history and their names on the map.

In the old days the Acadians were settled in considerable numbers about Barrington. At the time of their expulsion, a flourishing settlement, with stone church and grist mill, was utterly destroyed, the cattle burnt, and the inhabitants deported to Boston and Halifax. Some few returned afterwards to Cape Sable and received grants in Pubnico, where they contributed to the present thrifty settlement.

In 1761-63, some eighty families from Nantucket and Cape Cod settled in Barrington, but about half of them, disappointed in their hope of making this a whaling station, soon returned; and in 1767 the township of Barrington, including Cape Sable Island, was granted to a body of one hundred and two New Englanders.

Barrington is a quiet and picturesque little town, to which a goodly number of summer visitors resort. It is easy of access, being on the railway. and a point of call for the smaller steamers from Yarmouth and Clark’s Harbour. I am not sure whether it is not worth mentioning, but Barrington is one of the few small towns in New Scotland whose streets are lighted by oil lamps set upon old-fashioned lamp-posts. The posts were brought from Boston many years ago.

Between Barrington and Shelburne, scattered for some twenty-seven miles inland, lie what are called the Clyde settlements. The river Clyde is a really beautiful stream, and rich in salmon and trout. The railway station is at Port Clyde, near its mouth, and Clyde River settlement is two and a half miles further up. Goose Lake, Goose Creek, and Bower’s Lake are favourite haunts of trout fishers.

Seventeen miles further up the river is Middle Clyde, and Upper Clyde still another town—both pretty villages, within easy reach of lake and river fishing. This is a good moose ground, partridge and rabbits are plentiful, and the skilled hunter may add to his bag a brace of wild cat or an occasional bear.


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