Capt. Munro's Description. The Tributaries of the Upper St. John. The Temiscouta Road. Mast Trade.
Our last article dealt with Captain John Munro's account of the St. John river from Fredericton to Woodstock, as explored by him just before the arrival of the Loyalists in the year 1783. We shall now see what he has to say of the river north of Woodstock.
The lands near the mouth of the Meduxnakic, particularly the fine intervals and islands, gained his commendation. Ascending the river he remarks, "The next river on the west side is Sicars alligo, very good upland and back some interval." [Siceralligo as marked in the oldest plan in the crown land office appears to be the big Presqu'isle.] "The next on the west side is River Flute [evidently River de Chute]; the next a small creek, fine lands on these rivers. The next on the west is Neinance [probably Tibbit's brook]. The next is River Jacquet [the Aroostook], this is a large river and extends 100 leagues to the westward, one small portage near the mouth of it; this river is full of valuable islands and fine land till it terminates in several small lakes; from here to the Grand Falls no river nor any stream of water from the westward."
In the old plan in the crown land office just referred to, the Aroostook is marked River Jacques and the note appended "By information of the Indians this river runs one hundred leagues with remarkable good land."
The rivers on the east side of the St. John from Nackawick to the Madawasks the gallant captain disposes of in summary fashion. He says, "Beside those rivers already described, on the east side of the river St. Johns there are several more, the two principal of whome are the River Vert [Green River] and the river Tobit [Tobique]. River Vert is navigable 60 leagues and River Tobit 75 leagues; both rivers, Vert and Tobit, terminate in several lakes near the heads of Ristiguish. I learn the lands on all those rivers are most excellent, by information of the Indians and Canadians who have been often up and down those rivers."
The reader will observe that in his report Capt. Munro keeps strictly to business which in his case was to describe the country with a view to its settlement and to make observations on the route of communication between Canada and Nova Scotia. He makes not the slightest attempt to describe the grandeur and beauty of that magnificent work of nature, the Grand Falls of the river St. John. Why should he? The new road that General Haldimand was constructing via Lake Temiscouata was not likely to attract much tourist travel. To Capt. Munro the Grand Falls were simply an obstacle in the route of communication concerning which he remarks, "When you come to the Grand Falls you have a carrying place for about a mile. Here you have a very steep pitch before you gain the height as it is in a state of nature. Twenty men will make a road fit for a carriage in one week over this carrying place as its course is rocky. This carrying place must never be granted to any individual as it would injure the public."
In the main, Munro seems to have been accurate in his observations. Many of his statements of necessity were based on information derived from the Indians and Acadians and were not always correct. As regards distances his figures represent estimates rather than measurements. He strove, however, to make an independent study of the country and remarks: "I am sensible by conversing with several people who have gone up and down the river St. John of their still being ignorant of the quality of the land as they never examined further than the banks of the river. It is true that along Madawaska River and from the Grand Falls to the River Jacquet (Aroostook) the lands are higher on the banks of the river, covered with cedars, hemlock and spruce, but take a view of the country back and you will find good lands where thousands of inhabitants may settle. The river St. John is full of all kinds of fish, such as salmon, sturgeon, bass, trout, etc., particularly to the Falls, and above the Falls trout in abundance. The banks of the river above the Falls are covered with wild grass which will afford the greatest help to the settlers in the beginning. The inhabitants that will settle upon the River St. John's will have fish and moose meat every day in the year with very little trouble."
"Between the Great Falls and Madawaska the lands are remarkably fair and good; the flatts are under water for a few days when the ice is going away, which enriches them very much. An industrious man may put 30 acres in corn or wheat in one year with a pair of oxen or horses."
"Above the falls you enter still water which is navigable to Batteaus till you enter the river Madawaska; here you will meet with a ledge of rocks which in the spring are under water and may be got over without difficulty and allow you to proceed up the river and lake (Temiscouta) to the Post House at the Carrying Place."
To those who are familiar with Edmundston a description of the "Little Falls" at the mouth of the Madawaska as given by Munro 112 years ago may be of interest. He says, "The Rift in the Madawaska near the river St. John I was told by an Indian, who spoke pretty good French, is at all times navigable for a four handed loaded birch canoe and they often even sett them up by poles when they are expert, but mostly they carry canoe and cargo over the rock, which might easily be made navigable Locks, and cut through, it being a shelvy blue stone; but without a Lock would lower the river and make it less navigable." Munro thought the place might be cleared by six miners in a week so as to make a free passage at all times for canoes and small boats. He says the Madawaska river "winds between mountains and hills, those seen from the river are marked in the sketch."
These high lands, it may be observed, are laid down in the old plan in the Crown land office, another incidental bit of evidence that it may have been the "sketch" submitted to Governor Parr by Captain Munro along with his report. The plan in the crown land office was forwarded from Halifax after the division of the old province of Nova Scotia and doubtless was frequently consulted in laying out grants to the first settlers on the Upper St. John. On this plan an Indian village is shown just below the mouth of the Madawaska with the note appended, "The Indians have made no improvements here but subsist by hunting and fishing." This was the site of the old "Metawascaugh" village mentioned by Col. John Allan. The trees in that neighborhood Munro says were mostly of the evergren kind "white cedar, single and double spruce, and the Balsam (fir) tree, a few white and red pine, white and a few black birch, few elms and less ash."
On the shores of Lake Temiscouata there was at one point a cleared spot with the remains of a stone house built by the French, evidently the site of the old seigniory of Madawaska referred to in one of our former articles.
We need not follow Capt. Munro in his description of the route from Kamouraska to Lake Temiscouta. He expresses his opinion that the inhabitants who settle above the Grand Falls will procure their necessaries from Canada by this road but their produce must go down the river St. John as the land carriage to Canada will be too expensive.
Among the other things noted by Mr. Munro was the rapid development of the mast trade on the St. John river. This had begun as we have already seen in the troublous times of the Revolutionary war when the Indians had to be solicited by annual presents to protect the mast cutters. It was on 22nd November 1780 that a navy transport arrived at Halifax on her way to England with a cargo of masts for his Majesty's service from the St. John. Sir Richard Hughes then Governor of Nova Scotia, reported to the British ministry as "a first essay under Major Studholme." The 30th of April following he wrote Lord Germaine that "upwards of 200 sticks for masts, yards and bowsprits have been cut squared and approved by the king's surveyors of the river St. John in the course of the last fall and winter and one of our navy transports is now at Fort Howe embarking the second cargo of those stores."
Referring to this infant industry Munro says, "On the river St. John's are the finest masts and spars I ever saw. I saw at Fort Howe about £6,000 worth. Two ships were loading when I left that place, I suppose there were masts sufficient there to load ten ships."
Hitherto the reserve of white pines for mast purposes had not been one of the conditions of the grants made in Nova Scotia but a condition to that effect was inserted after the arrival of the Loyalists. The settlers on the lower St. John were accustomed to sell pines for mast purposes standing for eight dollars each tree. It is doubtful whether any masts were at this time cut as far up the river as Woodstock.
W. O. Raymond