“A Century Ago…” Notes on the New Year 1900

It is often said that time has no divisions, yet anyone following recent media accounts would question this conclusion. For weeks we’ve been flooded with millennium mania. By now, I hope that everyone has relaxed a bit, and that you have not fallen victim to Y2K.

In anticipation of future letters and telephone calls, I’ll concede that time experts are in agreement. The new millennium begins next January 1, 2001. However, if both CNN and the Globe & Mail agree that we are now five days into a new millennium; why should anyone quibble? Instead, let’s go back a century ago…

Were fears and concerns being expressed in 1900 about the dawn of the twentieth century? Most certainly — proving that human nature changes but little over time. There were also some interesting predictions for the next one hundred years.

New Year’s Day 1900, was a pleasant one on the Tantramar. The temperature was slightly below zero; but more important, there was fine sleighing. Since it fell on a Monday there was added opportunity for people to harness the horses, and visit friends and relatives all around the marsh. From newspapers and other accounts, New Year’s Day was more important than New Year’s Eve — especially for family gatherings and neighborly visits.

The Moncton Times published a peek into the future by an unknown poet. While not great poetry, his/her predictions were of more than passing interest. Entitled A Century From Now readers were warned: If you and I could wake from sleep… we’d witness such a startling change, find everything so wondrous strange… we’d hurry back across the range… a century from now! Then came the predictions: The people all will fly on wings, not heavenly but potent things… they’ll soar aloft devoid of fear… on pinions of a changeless gear… and change their flyers every year. (Was the last point a hint of future trouble in Canada’s airline industry?)

Not quite so accurate was the prophecy that our daily bread would be replaced by food in tablets or that thirst would be quenched by a chemist’s pill. On the political front it was forecast that a woman forty, fat, but fair, would occupy the Speaker’s chair.

To say the least, the latter prediction was a bold one. Many years were to pass before women were granted the right to vote. It was not until 1967 that Brenda Robertson became the first woman elected to the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly. Later in 1970, she attained a second honor, as the first female cabinet minister in the province.

Before the end of the twentieth century, two New Brunswick women actually made it to the Speaker’s chair. The first was Muriel McQueen Fergusson (1899–1997) who was named Speaker of the Senate in 1972. Twenty years later, in 1992, Shirley Dysart, MLA for Saint John Park, became Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. For the record, neither Fergusson or Dysart were forty or fat; but they both fulfilled the role of Madame Speaker in a fair manner.

Of this pioneering trio, both Robertson and Fergusson graduated from Mount Allison. In the 1990’s, two other Allisonians, Margaret Norrie McCain and Marilyn Trenholme Counsell achieved office as lieutenant governor. Is there something in the Tantramar air?

Leaving predictions aside, in 1900 there were the expected prophets of doom and gloom. They forecast, with great confidence, that the end of the world was nigh. Some were quite emphatic that this event would take place during the latter days of the twentieth century.

Sackville, Moncton and Amherst newspapers, emphasized economic progress in their year-end reviews. Since the incorporation of Sackville was still three years away, local news items centered around Crane’s Corner, the present town center. It was reported that Pickard’s Quarry had supplied stone for the new residence at Mount Allison; while three orders for stone from Saint John and one from Toronto were recently shipped. Senator Josiah Wood had completed his lumber shipments for the year by loading at Shediac, two Norwegian vessels.

The Middle Sackville correspondent was very upbeat. Although a large amount of the business of Sackville is done at Crane’s Corner, yet Middle Sackville is not without its commercial and manufacturing interests. The list that followed was impressive and included: Joseph L. Black, in general trade, with lumber and agricultural interests; W.C. Morice, grist and carding mills; James Smith, Boot and Shoe manufacturers and J. C. Ayer’s Tannery… one of the largest in the Maritimes.

There was also Campbell’s Carriage Factory, then at the peak of its prosperity; producing among other items: 30 to 40 wheeled vehicles and about 20 sleighs and pungs annually. The arrival of the automobile soon afterward, signalled the end of this enterprise; although it did not close its doors until 1949. Thanks to the initiative of the Tantramar Heritage Trust, the factory is in the process of being restored. When completed, it will highlight an interesting chapter in the industrial history of the Tantramar.

A late report in the Jan. 3, 1900 issue of the Moncton Times covered the Christmas entertainment by pupils of Dorchester school. The program, a lengthy one, consisted of choruses, motion songs, recitations, dialogues and drills. The drills were exceedingly fine, and in each case called for hearty encores. As if this were not enough for one evening, the program concluded with speeches by the then Premier of New Brunswick (Henry R. Emmerson); a former Premier (D. L. Hanington); a Senator (Pascal Poirier) and a Judge (Pierre Landry). Although not all of these special guests were then residing in Dorchester, all were lawyers, and had once practised there.

Later in the year, on Aug. 31, 1900, Premier Henry R. Emmerson left provincial politics to contest the federal constituency of Westmorland. Elected to the House of Commons on Nov. 7, 1900, he went on to serve as Minister of Railways and Canals in the cabinet of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He died at Dorchester July 9, 1914. In the early 1900’s Dorchester could justifiably claim considerable clout in the political and judicial life of New Brunswick.

Now back to millennium mania. The current craze was placed in perspective by an item that I encountered while surfing the Internet. Again, the author is anonymous. Supposedly, the satirical account was written, toward the end of the year 999, by a monk attached to Canterbury Cathedral. Looking ahead to New Year’s Day, 1000, he wrote:

An atmosphere close to panic prevails throughout Europe as the millennial year 1000 approaches, bringing with it the so-called Y1K Bug, Just how did this disaster-in-the-making ever arise? Why did no one anticipate that a change from a three-digit to a four-digit year would throw into total disarray all aspects of life in which any date is mentioned?

Every hymn, prayer, ceremony and incantation dealing with dated events will have to be re-written to accommodate an extra digit. All tabular chronologies, with three-space year columns, maintained for generations by scribes, using carefully hand-ruled lines on vellum sheets, will now have to be converted to four-space columns, at enormous cost.

Stonemasons are already reported threatening to demand a proportional pay increase for having to carve an extra numeral in all dates on tombstones, cornerstones and monuments. Together with its inevitable ripple effects, this alone could plunge our hitherto stable economy into chaos.

A conference of clerics has been called at Winchester to discuss the entire issue, but doomsayers are convinced that the matter is now one of personal survival.

A Happy New Year to all Flashback readers!