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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter XVII. Amherst

Once again we approach a district of memories—the seat of the long feud between French and English for the mastery of Acadia.

In the county of Cumberland, on the south-western side of the narrow isthmus severing the Bay of Fundy from Northumberland Straits, and on the edge of the Province, surrounded by marshes, is the small and flourishing town of Amherst. Flourishes ;ndeed, blossoms all the year round with an unconquerable prosperity—the very type of “hustling,” boosting, busy little town one sees in the West, resolved never to look backward, and Mark Tapley like, to be cheerful and smiling under any and ail circumstances. Such :s the little town on the little Amherst River, named after the victor of Montreal, to whom the French surrendered Canada. “Busy Amherst,” as it likes to proclaim itself, even on the sign at the railway station.

"Amherst," I was told, “claimed a population of 8000.” Whether this claim is generally allowed I had no means of knowing. Probably Moncton or Frederickton on the other side of the border would not allow it. But after all it is only a cheerful symptom and aspiration of growth. Here you find growth must not he spiritual, or intellectual, or artistic, but material. For has not the great apostle of Imperialism in our time told Canada, “Get population and all these things will be added unto you.” Of what value are the. doubters here? And with what perplexity would an Amhersdan hearken to the plaint my ears have heard in many English towns and villages, “Alas, 1 fear the town is growing. It is no longer what it was.” The vain sighers after a London or a Wrexborough, “small, white, and clean, would meet with scant sympathy in Amherst. But Amherst is still only in the first stages of its journey, and it is still, with all its aspirations towards Pittsburg or Lowell, still a pleasant country town filled with a pleasant people intensely attached to Amherst. Even politics are not taken seriously, otherwise how account for that bewildering phenomenon which met my eyes on the second floor of a handsome building in the heart of the town. Can you conceive of Mr. Pott of the Eatans, Will Gazette and the editor of the Independent of the same town, not merely dwelling in unity under the same roof, but holding forth in the same office, even going to the incredible extent of assisting one another in the stress of production! Yet this is the case of the editors of the Amherst News, a Liberal organ, and the Amherst Courier, a Conservative organ. What a lesson in professional amity ! It is not as if party feeling did not run high in the press of Nova Scotia. Alas, it runs as high and as tempestuously as ever it did at Eatanswill, if one is to judge from the columns of the two rival Halifax papers. One can imagine the weary editor of the News saying one evening to the editor of the Courier, “My dear sir, would you mind finishing this editorial for me? I am sorry I must run away to keep an appointment. Just go on from this sentence: — ‘Borden, the leader of a discredited, disheartened, and disorganised gang of Tory office-seekers, is endeavouring to fling his disgraceful wiles over the Western farmers, but . . .’” “I’ll do it with pleasure,” returns the editor of the Courier. “Leave it to me, I see the point,” and taking up a pen he continues tranquilly, “but as the News has long since pointed out in our merciless expose of Tory methods and Tory prevarication, these tactics are only laughed at by the sturdy commonsense yeomen of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,” &c., &c. Or, if it is the other way about, the News man boldly (but merely professionally) declares in the columns of the Courier that “Laurier and his renegade troop may extract what satisfaction they like from the howls and cheers of their Yankee, Armerican, Hungarian, and Doukhobor supporters in the north-west who masquerade as loyal Britons and Free-traders, but who, as we have so often shown,” &c.

And upon reflection I am inclined to suspect that even at Halifax, in the very thick of the party heat and storm, the rival editors are not quite as truculent and vindictive as one might gather from their charges and imputations; although perhaps nothing short of necessity—such for example as a loaded pistol at his head—would induce the editor of the Chronicle to edit the Herald, or vice versa. But, you see, the Amherst editors are too busy booming their town to regard Dominion or Provincial politics as anything but an intellectual or sociai diversion. No one would credit the articles they write about Amherst—Amherst’s yesterday a good deal, Amherst’s to-day a great deal, Amherst’s to-morrow a very great deal, I assure you.

Among the chief establishments here are car works, engine and machine works, a large boot and shoe factory, woollen mills, a coffin factory (fancy anything so suggestive of mortality being associated with Amherst!), an iron foundry, planing-mills, and saw-mills. Amherst seems to have solved the problem of cheap power, being the first to prove the practicability of Edison’s notion of power supplied direct from the mine. An enterprising company here was the first on the Continent to fix a plant for the generation of electricity at the mouth of a coal-mine, for the purpose of distributing power to distant industries that require it, and it is to be hoped that Amherst will ultimately avail itself to the full of the advantages such enterprise offers. The great power plant is situated at the mouth of the Chignecto mines, about six miles from the town. Coal from the shovels of the miners is carried in cars to the surface and dumped into the screens, and the screenings, hitherto looked upon as almost waste, are carried in endless conveyors to immense bins, from whence they are fed through chutes to the furnaces. With fuel so close at hand, requiring no second handling, it is possible to generate power at a low cost and transmit it to a territory included in a radius of several square miles. The successful inauguration of this experiment elicited a prompt telegram of congratulation from the great Edison.

It is worthy of remark that there is no vertical shaft at Chignecto. The coal is hauled up a “slope,” in trucks containing 1500 lbs. each, by a cable. When the trucks reach the surface they continue the journey upon a similar slope in the open air (built like a toboggan slide). until they reach the top of the bank-head. Here an elaborate system of trucks and switches sends each truck exactly where it is wanted, and its contents are mechanically dumped into rockers and over screens, which accomplish marvels in the way of “natural selection” before the good coal reaches the railway cars below, waiting to receive it. The final process, however, is an expert system of hand-picking, by which slates and other impurities are removed without stopping the progress of the coal for an instant. The slack or culm is mechanically carried to holders in the boiler-room by endless conveyors, where it is conveyed by gravitation to mechanical stokers, thus obviating the necessity of the fuel being handled in any way by human labour.

More substantial new buildings, either of brick or freestone, are built every year in Amherst—the freestone here being much in demand for building in other and distant parts of Canada. I do not think the private residences exhibit a very high taste, but they compare favourably with those of other parts of the Province. Nova Scotia, as I have already more than hinted, is, with all its natural beauties, hardly an architectural paradise.

The country surrounding Amherst is flat and marshy, but interesting, both scenically and historically. A century and a half ago Amherst was the French Acadian settlement of Beaubassin, and who that has ever read Parkman’s narrative can forget Fort Lawrence and Beausejour?

When Louisbourg and Cape Breton were restored to France by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, The British Government sought to offset this blunder by the English settlement of Nova Scotia. A proclamation was issued offering all officers and private men retired from the army or navy, and to many others, a free passage to Nova Scotia, besides supporting them for a year after landing, and giving them arms, ammunition, and a grant of land to build a dwelling. Parliament having voted $40,000, in the summer of 1749 more than 2500 settlers, with their families, arrived at Chebucto, forthwith rechristened in honour of the Earl of Halifax.

The commander of the expedition and the chief of the new colony was Colonel Edward Cornwallis, a man both able and lovable. One of Cornwallis’s first cares was this very Acadian district of Beaubassin.

Some 13,000 Frenchmen were at this time settled in some ten villages in Acadia. To the northward the French had built a fort of five bastions, which they called Beauseiour, and another one much similar at Baie Verte. Their idea was to keep up communication with Louisbourg until they could strike a blow against the English and get back Acadia again into their own hands.

Soon after Cornwallises arrival he issued a proclamation in French and English to the French Acadians calling upon them to assist his new settlers. He did not fail to remind them that while they had so long enjoyed possession of their lands and the free exercise of their religion, they had been secretly aiding King George’s enemies. But this would be condoned if they would at once take the oath of allegiance as British subjects.

It was at Fort Beausejour that the priestly fanatic Le Loutre laboured to create dissatisfaction and sow the seeds of revolt amongst the thrifty, ignorant Acadians, who otherwise would have been happy and contented. Their minds tilled with Le Loutre’s threats and promises, they refused to take the oath of allegiance, and even to supply the English settlers with labour, timber, or provisions, though good prices for these were offered. Cornwallis warned them. “You will allow yourselves,” he said, “to be led away by people who find it to their interest to lead you astray. It is only out of pity for your situation and your inexperience in the ways of government that we condescend to reason with you, otherwise the question would not be reasoning, but commanding and being obeyed.”

He told them that they had been for more than thirty-four years the subjects of the King of Great Britain. “Show now that you are grateful for his favours and ready to serve your King when your services are required. Manage to let me have here, in ten days, fifty of your people to assist the poor to build their houses to shelter them from the had weather. They shall be paid in ready money and fed on the King’s provisions.”

Le Loutre, disregarding all this warning and exhortation, aroused the native Indians of the province, the Micmacs, against the English newcomers. He despatched them stealthily to slay and to destroy. Twenty Englishmen were surprised and captured at Canso while gathering hay. Eight Indians, pretending to barter furs, went on hoard two English ships and tried to surprise them. Several of the sailors were killed. A sawmill had been built near Halifax. Six unsuspecting men went out unarmed to hew some timber. Of these four were killed and scalped, and one was captured. So frequent became the Indian attacks that the men of Halifax formed themselves into a militia, and a sentry paced the streets every night. Cornwallis offered £100 for the head of Le Loutre. Ten guineas were offered for an Indian, living or dead, or for his scalp.

To build a fort to counterbalance the Fort Beausejour of the French was imperative. The latter was situated on the western bank of a little stream called the Missaguash, which the French claimed as the boundary between Canada and Acadia. Opposite, near Beaubassin, Colonel Lawrence was sent with 400 men to build the English fort. Le Loutre and his Acadians did their utmost to prevent the English landing and building the fort, which was chrstened Fort Lawrence. The commander of this post, Captain Howe, reasoned with the stubborn Acadians, many of whom perceived the good sense of his arguments and acknowledged his good influence. One bright autumn day a Frenchman in the dress of an officer advanced to the opposite side of the stream waving a white handkerchief. Howe, ever polite, advanced to meet him. As he did so, some Indians, who were in ambuscade pointed them guns at him and shot him dead. La Corne, the French commandant, was filled with shame and horror at this dastardly murder. He would like to have got rid of Le Loutre, but the priest was too strong for him. His influence with the Quebec authorities was great, and the Acacian people dreaded Le Loutre’s fierce anger.

Notwithstanding, there were a number of Acadians who consented to take the oath of allegiance to King George. When the French Governor at Quebec was apprised of this he issued a proclamation that all Acadians must either swear loyalty to France and be enrolled in the Canadian militia, or suffer the penalty of fire and sword. By way of rejoinder, the English Governor of Nova Scotia declared that if any Acadian taking the oath of allegiance to King George should afterwards be found fighting amongst the French soldiers, he would be shot. Thus were the unhappy Acadians between two fires. A considerable number removed their settlements to the Canadian side of the boundary. Some travelled even as far as Quebec. But the majority who remained continued to cause great anxiety to the English authorities in Nova Scotia.

In 1754 the French contemplated an invasion of Nova Scotia, much to the alarm of Halifax, knowing that in the absence of the English fleet Louisbourg could send a force in a few hours to overrun the country. Were not the Acadians there to furnish provisions to the French invaders, and in forty-eight hours 15,000 armed Acadians could be collected at Fort Beausejour. The outlying English forts would be destroyed, and Halifax starved into surrender. With New Scotland reduced, New England would he the next victim. Lawrence and Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, taking counsel together, resolved to strike a blow instantly before troops from France or Quebec could arrive, and drive the French out of the isthmus. Two thousand men were raised, and the command given to an English officer, Colonel Monckton. On the 1st June 1755 the English war-party arrived here in Chignecto Bay.

As commandant at Fort Beausejour one Vergor had succeeded La Come, When he saw the English ships approach, Vergor issued a proclamation to the neighbouring Acadians to hasten to his defence. Fifteen hundred responded, and three hundred of these he took into the fort. The others he ordered to retire into the woods and stealthily harass the enemy.

When the bombardment was at its height, and Vergor was hourly expecting help from Louisbourg, a letter arrived to say that assistance could not come from that quarter. An English squadron was cruising in front of Louisbourg harbour, and the French frigates were thereby prevented from putting out to sea.

The Acadians became disheartened, and in spite of threats deserted by dozens. One morning at breakfast a shell from an English mortar crashed through the ceiling of a casemate, killing three French officers and an English captain who had been taken prisoner. Vergor saw that he had begun to strengthen his fort too late. There was now no hope—the guns of the English were too near. He despatched a flag of truce and surrendered Fort Beausejour.

Having got Fort Beausejour (renamed Fort Cumberland) into his hands, Monckton summoned another French stronghold at Baie Verte to surrender. The commandant complied, and the campaign was over. The danger to English settlers in Nova Scotia was removed for ever.

From the portals of the excellently appointed Marshland Club in Amherst I set out in a Canadian-built car with a friend, an ex-member of the Dominion Parliament, to pay a visit to Fort Lawrence and Fort Beausejour— household words to a Canadian boy versed in even the outlines of his country’s stirring history. We had some difficulty in finding the exact site of Colonel Lawrence’s fort, which has wholly disappeared.

Yet odd to relate, a prosperous farmer named Lawrence occupies the ground, and upon the site of the old commandant's house his dwelling is built. At the time of my visit a youth was actively engaged with a scythe in a field where Lawrence’s artillery was placed, the breastworks having long been levelled. Bullets and other relics were occasionally picked up. A couple of the cannon I afterwards saw in use as gate-posts before a private house in Amherst. My friend deplored with me the indifference of the New Scotlanders, and especially the. people of Amherst, to their historic shrines—the spots where the deeds in Canada’s story were wrought which make of the Canadian people a free people to-day. I was delighted to hear him say, “Every stone, every brick, belonging to our days of struggle should be a priceless memento—worth its weight in gold.” For I knew that when such sentiment rings utterance on the lips of one good man the root of the matter is there, the idea will flourish, and the fruit will in good season appear.

On we went to Beausejour, on the other side of the Missaguash. Here ruins very similar to those at Louisbourg meets the eye, solid casements and bastions which have resisted the tooth of time, and where now cattle browse peacefully. One of the longest structures, the Governor’s house, solidly built of stone, is now a veritable cattle-shed, in which I counted ten cows herded closely together. But the view across the marshes and Cumberland Basin, across to the Elysian fields and the distant Cobequid mountains, was entrancing. The foreground was bathed in golden sunshine, the background seemed pale purple, as of a mist, while overhead mighty picturesque masses of creamy cumulus cloud rolled like a full sail of some divine argosy. A great dismantled wooden mansion, built in pretentious Georgian style, caught my eye a stone-throw from the fort, dating probably from the Fort Cumberland period, and I bent my steps towards it.

I have never before viewed such complete desolation and decay, the result merely of age and neglect, and not of fire or earthquake. One step within the portals convinced me that to venture further would be to endanger life and to invite the instant collapse of the whole edifice, whose every beam and rafter trembled on the brink of utter destruction. And yet because the house, though expensively built, was built of wood, there was nothing venerable about it or dignified—it rather inspired contempt, as of a dissipated old rogue, whose vices had wrecked his constitution, and was ready to tumble into the gutter. Eager as I am for the preservation of ancient monuments, it was with something like relief that I reflected that this rollicking old ruin was on the other side of the New Scotland frontier.

Twenty miles from Amherst is Joggins, the centre of the Cumberland county coal-fields, which begin at Maccan. I have not the slightest idea who Joggins was, but I feel certain that were he alive to-day he would have every reason to feel proud of the growth and prosperity of his name-place. The output of coal here is very large. The Joggins shore extends along Chignecto Bay, with imposing cliffs, occasionally three or four hundred feet high. Here are exposed some wonderful petrified forests and sections of carboniferous strata, which have been visited and described by scientists of such eminence as Sir Charles Lyeil, Sir William Dawson, and Sir William Logan.

The coal area extends inland without a break forty or fifty miles to the neighbourhood of Oxford, the most important colliery being at Springhill, where the annual output is over half a million tons.

From an old resident I got an interesting purview of this part of New Scotland in the early ’60’s. Half a century ago the whole district, from the mouth of the river Philip to the upper waters of that river, was known as “River Philip.” Neighbouring settlements bore, distinctive names, such as “Mount Pleasant,” now Cemreville, “Moores,” now Rockley, “Goose River,” now Linden, and “Little River,” which still retains its name.

Four post-offices, kept generally in trunks, served the commercial and social wants of the whole length of the river. They were listed as “Mouth of the River,” somewhere on the post road between Pugwash and Amherst. “Head of Tide,” now Oxford. “River Philip Corner,” where the old road from Amherst to Londonderry crosses the river, and “Upper River Philip,” where at that time one Rufus Black, one of Samuel Slick’s hosts, carried on an extensive lumbering and mercantile business. There were no railways nearer than Truro on the one side and Moncton on the other. The only prophetic suggestion of the present Intercolonial Railway was a stretch of embankment somewhere on the Nappan marshes, which had been thrown up in some spasmodic, perhaps electioneering, effort, in the days when Joseph Howe was strenuously contending for an “Inter-Provincial,” “All British” line from Halifax to Quebec.

What is now the town of Springhill, with a population of 7000, was then a sparsely-settled farming district on the foothills of the mountain, with, perhaps, ten or fifteen farm residences in the whole section, the most important of which was the old “Nathan Boss” place, as a stopping-place on the road between River Philip and Parrsboro, where travellers frequently took passage by sailing packet, from Parrsboro to Windsor, and thence to Halifax by rail.

At Springhill, the coal areas, then almost unknown and undeveloped, were held by the “Old English Mining Association.” One pit, or more correctly speaking, a hole in the ground, was operated in a small way, the coal being raised by horse-power and distributed to consumers in adjacent districts by horse and cart. The thing was but an experiment, and the consumption, even for a small district, was very united, as the best of hard wood existed in abundance for fuel.

At Athol one may motor or take a regular stage-coach across the isthmus by a beautiful road to Parrsboro on the Basin of Minas, or one may take the Cumberland Railway at Springhill Junction, distant thirty-two miles from Parrsboro. I found Parrsboro but little changed from my last visit. To my mind it is one of the pleasantest little towns in the whole of Nova Scotia, and is visited by many summer tourists who appreciate the fishing, shooting, boating, and beautiful scenery to be had hereabouts. The harbour is sheltered by Partridge Island, a pleasant headland hard by, upon which a hotel is built, and from which there are pretty views of the Basin and neighbourhood. Parrsboro is a lumber port, handling nearly all the product of the southern forests of Cumberland as Pugwash does on the north. To the north and west of Parrsboro some of the best moose hunting in New Scotland is to be had, while partridge, geese, brant ducks, and other marine birds are abundant. A few miles behind me the Cobequid Hills, a long range running east and west from Cape Chignecto to north of Cobequid Bay.

From Parrsboro, where there is a good deal of shipping, a steamer plies across the. Basin of Minas to Kingsport, Hantsport, and Windsor, and another to St. John. Indeed it is only eight or ten miles across the Basin, whereas it is ten times that distance round by land.

On my return journey to Halifax, I must not forget to record that I enjoyed the privilege of a spirited conversation in pidgin English with a Canton Chinaman, who smoked a large cigar, and wore a queue under his Panama hat.

Odd as this Far East of Canada seems as a habitat for Chinamen, yet there is hardly a town or village where Wun Lung, or Sam Kee, or John Sing has not penetrated, and set up his peculiar and odoriferous little establishment for the destruction of linen. It is one of the curiosities of industry why the Chinese should have taken to this particular occupation. It began in the Far West, when the affluent miner and rancher, discovering the merits of a boiled shirt on Sundays, and that a glazed front and collar is an additional mark of gentility, sent his linen all the way to ’Frisco. Then up rose the wily heathen to hit upon another use for the rice flour of his native larder, and thereby gratify, at ten cents; the garment, the vanity of the early Argonauts. The art he communicated to others of his race, it spread north, south, east, and west, and in the process of time one hundred thousand flat irons were actuating from Los Angeles to Labrador. Thus was the immediate industrial future of the invading Mongol assured.

The Legislature was not in session at the time of my visit to Halifax. But I met in a friendly way many of the legislators, and I learnt a good deal of the local needs, real or fancied, which agitate this community and all other communities on the face of the earth, but which are of little interest to the outside world. Considering that the population of the Province is only half a million souls, the machinery of government would seem somewhat cumbrous. First of all, Nova Scotia sends 20 members to the Federal House of Commons at Ottawa, and 10 members to the Senate. The Provincial Parliament consists of 38 members: there is a Legislative Council of 21 members and an Executive Council of 10 members. Moreover, there s a system of local government operating in the eighteen counties.

The Federal Parliament alone deals with such important matters as revenue duties, railway grants, the judiciary and the postal system, leaving to the Halifax Legislature the schools, public roads and bridges, local railways, and the royalties on minerals owned by the Province. The County and Township Councils regulate the taxation for roads, schools, and other purposes, every citizen directly voting his own taxation, although such taxes are supplemented by grants from the Provincial Government, which has a unique and perennial source of wealth in the mining royalties.

Although the Legislature and Council is so numerous, the real labour of the Executive really falls upon two or three pairs of shoulders, chiefly those of the Premier and the Attorney-General. Although the Hon. George Henry Murray, K.C., is only fifty, he has been the First Minister of the Crown in New Scotland for fifteen years, succeeding Mr. Fielding when the latter joined the Laurier Cabinet in 1896. Mr. Murray is one of those politicians who, like his party chief, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, exhibits prudence and probity in power, and having the honour of his country at heart fully enjoys the confidence of the people.

Under his political leadership, which not likely to be disturbed, save by considerations of health, now, I was glad to find, no longer imminent, the fortunes of both land and people are certain to advance hopefully into the future.

Considering its unrivalled water-power facilities, New Scotland might easily become a great manufacturing country, as New England has long been. Manufacturing has made considerable progress in recent years; but the Province only occupies the third place in manufactures, Ontario and Quebec far outstripping her. There are now some twelve hundred establishments, with a total capital, including lands, building, machinery and motive power, tools and implements, and working capital, of 34,586,416 dollars, paying out 4,395,618 dollars in wages to 21,010 men, women, and children.

The products of Nova Scotia’s manufactories were 53,337,000 dollars in 1910. These included food products, textiles, iron and steel products, paper and priming, liquors and beverages, chemicals and allied products, clay, glass and stone products, metals and their products, tobacco, vehicles for land, vessels for water, and miscellaneous industries. The value of the manufactured products in Nova Scotia has more than doubled in a single decade, and to this result the increased output in connection which the iron and steel industries has of course greatly contributed.

The province’s position now may well be called, in respect to the establishment of manufacturing industries, truly strategic. Her situation on the ocean highway enables her to assemble all the raw materials cheaply, and to manufacture at lowest cost for the home and foreign market. Here are the only coal-fields in Eastern Canada, those on the seaboard being practically inexhaustible. Pig-iron from the increasing furnaces of the Province has already been exported to markets distributed along the whole seaboard of the United States, to most parts of the world, and to some parts of Germany. Gold, steel, gypsum, pulp for paper manufacturing, grindstones, building stones, timber, fish, fruit, and many manufactured goods are exported abroad. Nova Scotia’s ships for 200 years frequented the ports of the world, and carried on a thriving and ever increasing trade.

All this abundance of coal, and other minerals, combined with her geographical position in relation to Great Britain and Europe, the North Atlantic Coast of America, the West Indies, and South America, leaves no room for doubt that the Province is destined to become one of the great manufacturing centres of the world.

“I don’t know what more you’d ask,” cried Sam Slick; “almost an island, indented everywhere with harbours, surrounded with fisheries. The key of the St. Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy, and the West Indies; prime land above, one vast mineral bed beneath, and a climate over all temperate, pleasant and healthy. If that ain't enough for one place, it’s a pity—that’s all.”

And so I part from this little book about New Scotland—an imperfect survey, but not intended to be compendious; only that to the British reader, willing to know something of the people, the land, and the resources of our great Western Dominion, a new Province may, like the film pictures of a cinematograph, “swim into his ken.”

More and more will the Nova Scotians increase in culture as in wealth, more and more will their country become a great Imperial asset. To apply here to New Scotland a famous passage of Froude’s concerning the story of Old Scotland, turn where one may, “weakness is nowhere; power, energy, and will are everywhere. Sterile as the landscape where it will first unfold itself, we shall watch the current winding its way with expanding force and features of enlarging magnificence, till at length the rocks and rapids will have passed—the stream will have glided down into the plain to the meeting of the waters— from which as from a new fountain the united fortunes of the British Empire flow on to their unknown destiny.”

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