Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Tribune of Nova Scotia
Chapter I. Nova Scotia


Joseph Howe was in a very special sense at once the child and the father of Nova Scotia. His love for his native province was deep and passionate. He was one in whom her defects and excellences could be seen in bold outline; one who knew and loved her with unswerving love; who caught the inspiration of her woods, streams, and shores; and who gave it back in verses not unmeet, in a thousand stirring appeals to her people, and in that which is always more heroic than words, namely, civic action and life-service. ‘Joe’ Howe was Nova Scotia incarnate. Once, at a banquet somewhere in England, in responding to the toast of the colonies, he painted the little province he represented with such tints that the chairman at the close announced, in half fun, half earnest, that he intended to pack up his portmanteau that night and start for Nova Scotia, and he advised all present to do the same. ‘You boast of the fertility and beauty of England,’ said Howe, in a tone of calm superiority; 'why, there’s one valley in Nova Scotia where you can ride for fifty miles under apple blossoms.’ And, again: ‘Talk of the value of land, I know an acre of rocks near Halifax worth more than an acre in London. Scores of hardy fishermen catch their breakfasts there in five minutes, all the year round, and no tillage is needed to make the production continue equally good for a thousand years to come.’ In a speech at Southampton his description of her climate was a terse, off-hand statement of facts, true, doubtless, but scarcely the whole truth. ‘I rarely wear an overcoat,’ said he, 'except when it rains; an old chief justice died recently in Nova Scotia at one hundred and three years of age, who never wore one in his life. Sick regiments invalided to our garrison recover their health and vigour immediately, and yellow fever patients coming home from the West Indies walk about in a few days.’ ‘Boys,’ he said on one occasion to a Nova Scotia audience, ‘brag of your country. When I’m abroad I brag of everything that Nova Scotia is, has, or can produce; and when they beat me at everything else, I turn round on them and say, “How high does your tide rise?” He always had them there — no other country could match the tides of the Bay of Fundy. He loved and he sang of her streams and her valleys, her woods and her wild-flowers, most of all of the ‘Mayflower' the trailing arbutus of early spring, with its fresh pink petals and its wonderful fragrance, long since adopted as the provincial emblem. After more than one political fight he retired to the country for a month or for a year, and there let nature breathe into his soul her beauty and her calm. Of one such occasion he wrote: ‘For a month I did nothing but play with the children and read old books to my girls. I then went into the woods and called moose with the old hunters, camping out night after night, listening to their stories, calming my thoughts with the perfect stillness of the forest, and forgetting the bitterness of conflict amid the beauties of nature.’

But while he was thus the child of Nova Scotia, he was her creator as well. Early Nova Scotia was rather a collection of scattered little settlements than a province. To Howe, in great measure, she owed her unity.

The first settlements in the Acadian peninsula were made by the French, in the fertile diked lands at the head of the Bay of Fundy. To the number of six thousand these Acadians were driven out on the eve of the Seven Years’ War, a tragedy told of in Longfellow’,^ Evangeline. In after years many of them crept back to different parts of their beloved province, and little settlements here and there, from Pubnico in the south to Cheticamp in the north-west, still speak the speech of Old France.

In 1713 the province became British,, and in 1749 Halifax was founded by the British government. From this time on, bands of emigrants from various countries settled in districts often widely separated, and established rude farming and fishing communities, very largely self-contained. Howe knew and loved them all. In one of his speeches he thus sketched the process: ‘A small band of English adventurers, under Cornwallis, laid the foundation of Halifax. These, at a critical moment, were reinforced by the Loyalist emigration, which flowed into our western counties and laid broad and deep the foundation of their prosperity. A few hardy emigrants from the old colonies and their descendants built up the maritime county of Yarmouth. Two men of that stock first discovered the value of Locke’s Island, the commercial centre of East Shelburne. A few hundreds of sturdy Germans peopled the beautiful county of Lunenburg. A handful of emigrants from Yorkshire gave animation to the county of Cumberland. The vale of Colchester has been made to blossom as the rose by the industry of a few adventurers from the north of Ireland. Half a century ago a few poor but pious Lowland Scotsmen penetrated into Pictou. They were followed by a few hundreds of Highlanders, many of them “evicted” from the Duchess of Sutherland’s estates. Look at Pictou now, with its beautiful river slopes and fertile mountain settlements, its one hundred schools, its numerous churches and decent congregations, its productive mines and thirty thousand inhabitants, living in comfort and abundance. The picture rises like magic before the eye, and yet every cheerful tint and feature has been supplied by emigration. At the last election it was said that two hundred and seventy Frasers voted in that county—all of them heads of families and proprietors of land. I doubt if as many of the same name can be found in all Scotland who own real estate.’

Thus the little settlements gradually expanded into prosperous fishing and farming communities, on the statistics of whose steadily growing exports and imports Howe loved to dwell. But they long lacked a common consciousness, and no man did so much to knit them together as Howe. Germans of Lunenburg, New Englanders of Annapolis and Cornwallis, Loyalists of Shelburne, Scottish Presbyterians of Pictou, Scottish Roman Catholics of Antigonish, French of Tracadie and Cheticamp, and Irish of Halifax, all learned from him to be Nova Scotians and to 'brag of their country.’ The chief influences making for union were the growth of roads, the growth of political discussion, and the growth of newspapers; and to all three Howe contributed. Both as politician and as editor he toured the province from end to end, walked, drove, or rode along the country lanes, and in learning to love its every nook and cranny taught its people their duty to one another and to the province. In those days when there were few highways, and bridle paths were dignified with the name of roads; when the fishermen and farmers along the coast did their business with Halifax by semiannual visits in their boats or smacks; when the postmen carried Her Majesty’s mail to Annapolis in a queer little gig that could accommodate one passenger; when the mail to Pictou and the Gulf of St Lawrence was stowed away in one of the great-coat pockets of a sturdy pedestrian, who kept the other pocket free for the partridges he shot on the way, we can fancy what an event in any part of the province the appearance of Joe Howe must have been.

Halifax, the capital, where Howe was born, engrossed most of the social and political life of the province; in fact, it was the province. The only other port in Nova Scotia proper that vessels could enter with foreign produce was Pictou. A few Halifax merchants did all the trade. Halifax was an old city, as colonial cities count. It was near Great Britain as compared with Quebec, Kingston, or Toronto ; much nearer, relatively, then than now. The harbour was open all the year round, giving unbroken communication with the mother country. Halifax had a large garrison, and it was the summer headquarters of the North American fleet. On these and other accounts it seemed to be the most desirable place for a British gentleman to settle in, and many accordingly did settle in it. Their children entered the Army or Navy or Civil Service, and many distinguished themselves highly.

Halifax was essentially a naval and military town. As such it was proud of its great traditions. It was into Halifax Harbour, on Whitsunday 1813, just as the bells were calling to church, that the Shannon towed the Chesapeake. Captain Broke had been wounded and the first lieutenant killed, and the Shannon was commanded by a Halifax boy, her second lieutenant. Of these glories no one was prouder than Howe. 'On some of the hardest fought fields of the Peninsula,’ he said, ‘my countrymen died in the front rank, with their faces to the foe. The proudest naval trophy of the last American war was brought by a Nova Scotian into the harbour of his native town; and the blood that flowed from Nelson’s death-wound in the cockpit of the Victory mingled with that of a Nova Scotian stripling beside him, struck down in the same glorious fight.’

On summer nights the whole population turned out to hear the regimental band. One of the great functions of the week was the Sunday church parade of the garrison to St Paul’s Church, which had been built in the year of the founding of the city. On these occasions the scarlet and ermine of the chief justice vied in splendour with the gold lace of the admiral and of the general. Whether this was altogether good for the town may be doubted. It gave the young men of civilian families a tendency to ape the military classes and to despise business. The private soldiers and non-commissioned officers, with little to do in the piping times of peace, took to the dissipations of the garrison town. Drunkenness was common, though not more so than in the England of that day. ‘I ask you,’ said Howe in his first great speech, ‘if ever you knew a town of the size and respectability of Halifax where the peace was worse preserved? Scarcely a night passes that there are not cries of murder in the upper streets; scarcely a day that there are not two or three fights upon the wharves.’

Yet along with the drink and the snobbishness went much of finer grain. Many of the British officers brought traditions and standards of social life and of culture sometimes lacking in the Canada of to-day. At the dinner-tables of Halifax in the early nineteenth century, when the merchant aristocracy dined the officers, the standard of manners was often high and the range of the conversation wide.

From the rest of British North America Nova Scotia was cut off by hundreds of miles of tumbled, lake-studded rock and hill. Its intercourse with the outer world was wholly by sea. The larger loyalty was to England across the Atlantic. It was by sea that Halifax traded with St John and Boston and Portland, which were a hundred times better known in Nova Scotia than were Montreal and Toronto. The staple trade of the merchants was with the West Indies, to which they sent fish and coal and lumber, receiving in return sugar and rum and molasses. Most of this sea-borne commerce centred at Halifax, rather to the detriment of the rest of the province, for from Halifax inland the ways were rough and difficult. But gradually the other coast towns won their privileges and became ports of entry. At Pictou, especially, the industry of building wooden ships grew up, which, until knocked on the head by the use of iron and steel, made Nova Scotian industry known on every sea, and gave her in the fifties a larger tonnage than all the other British colonies combined.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus