Travelling Down the Emigrant Road: Upper Cape, Malden and Melrose

Long-time readers will know that the region covered by this column conforms to the provincial constituency of Tantramar. Over the years, there has been an understandable emphasis on its three major centres of population — Sackville, Port Elgin and Dorchester.

Although a review of past columns reveals that smaller communities have not been neglected; I am taking seriously a suggestion made by one reader: … that rural communities be featured from time to time. Today the spotlight is on an interesting section of the old parish of Botsford. Later, other areas will have their turn.

One of the best ways to appreciate the Tormentine peninsula is to take a circular tour starting with Highway #960 outside Port Elgin at Bayside. This road follows the coast until Cape Tormentine is reached. There a switch can be made to the Trans Canada Highway for the return trip through Malden, Melrose and Timber River to the Highway #960 entrance on the outskirts of Port Elgin. The same itinerary may be followed in reverse; however, from the historical standpoint, the shore line was settled first.

A map published in 1862 indicates that by then the area from Bayside though to the Oulton Road was thickly populated. The remaining shore line through to Cape Spear and Cape Tormentine was more sparsely settled. There were three reasons for this early settlement: the potential of the lobster fishery in Baie Verte and beyond; the availability of fertile marshland and the opportunity for lumbering in the heavily forested interior of the peninsula.

The family names then represented are still to be found in this part of New Brunswick: Allen, Campbell, Davis, Dobson, Oulton, Polley, Read, Rayworth and Ward were among those represented. But by far the two most numerous were members of the Allen and Rayworth families. The latter was sometimes spelled Raworth.

The common Allen ancestor was one Benjamin Allen (1735–1823). Of Scottish origin, he was part of the Loyalist migration from New England to New Brunswick in 1783. When it is realized that he had eight sons, all of whom settled in the immediate area, it is easy to see why the Allens soon outnumbered their neighbours. There is also an interesting connection between the Allen and Rayworth families.

John Rayworth emigrated from England in 1798; settling first in Prince Edward Island. Dissatisfied with the system of landholding which then prevailed on the Island, he crossed the Northumberland Strait. Sailing up Baie Verte he landed on the property of Ephraim Allen, son of Benjamin Allen. Part of this landholding is still known as Ephraims Island. In the early 20th century the island was owned by Fred Magee of Port Elgin. Presently, it is being developed as a summer cottage subdivision. Upon Ephraim Allens advice Rayworth made application for a grant of land and settled at Upper Cape.

The 1862 map also explains why those who lived on both the Shore and Emigrant Roads were comparatively self sufficient. Many families were involved in mixed farming, lumbering and the fishery. The interior of the peninsula was drained by five brooks; all named for early settlers: Matts [for Matthew Allen], Wards, Rayworths, Barrys and Oultons. The waters of these streams were harnessed to operate both saw and grist mills. Later on, there were several smaller portable saw mills which could be moved from place to place. Logging was a major activity each winter, and in contrast to todays preoccupation with clear cutting, only mature trees were harvested; while logs were hauled to the mills by teams of horses. Many of the present day homes along the shores of Baie Verte were built from lumber supplied by these saw mills.

Largely as the result of the efforts of a pioneer missionary, Edward Wood of Baie Verte, most of the early residents were converted to Methodism. It was not uncommon for Wood to walk along the shore to Cape Tormentine on a Saturday. He would return on Sunday, conducting two or three services along the way. The first Methodist Church at Upper Cape was erected in 1838. It was replaced in 1892 by a new building, which still stands. No longer in use as a church, it is now a private home.

The heyday of the Upper Cape community was probably the five decades that followed 1890. The depression of the 1930s; changes in farming, the forestry and fishery, spelled the death knell for the former self sufficient family farm. Today, corporate farming and tourism are the major industries, while the shore line is fast becoming dotted with summer cottages. Many of the old ancestral homes are still occupied by relatives of the first settlers, or by people from away. The peace and quiet of 2002 obscures what was once a vibrant rural community.

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, emigration from the British Isles to New Brunswick increased dramatically. Included in this migration were a number of Irish settlers who received grants of land along what became locally known as the Emigrant Road. Now part of Highway #16, it stretched in a straight line westward to Timber River. These settlers emigrated to New Brunswick during the mid 1820s. This placed them in the vanguard of the later and more numerous Irish Migration, which resulted from the famous Potato Famine of the 1840s. Botsford Parish historian, W. M. Burns has pointed out: It may be truthfully said that the Emigrant Road was the cradle of the Irish race in New Brunswick.

One point is beyond debate — descendants of these industrious settlers were later to fulfill positions of of prominence in business, industry, politics, the church and the professional life of the province. Over time two post offices; Emigrant Road and Emigrant Settlement were established; however, their similarity led to confusion in the mails.

The last named was the first to be changed. Its popular designation Savagetown for the Savage family who were among the first settlers, was discarded in favour of Melrose in 1892. A decade later, the Emigrant Road post office became Malden. The choice of these two place names is open to conjecture. As the Canadian postal service expanded, literally hundreds of new place names were added to the map. Sometimes the choice was made locally, but often the decision was handed down by a bureaucrat in Ottawa. In this case, it is worth noting that there are two adjacent towns in Massachusetts named Melrose and Malden. The local naming occurred during the the first out-migration from this part of New Brunswick to New England; and this may well have been a factor in the selection of these two names.

It is unfortunate that the Irish migration to this region has been overshadowed by the earlier influx of New England Planter and Yorkshire settlers. Even when viewed from the provincial perspective, the important Emigrant Road Settlement has often been overshadowed by the much larger Irish migration to Saint John and the Miramichi. Why did these people abandon County Cork for an uncertain life in what was then described as a wilderness of woods?

As with other examples of migration, there were many reasons for leaving Ireland. Overpopulation, with too many people for too little land; the persecution of Roman Catholics; even the prohibition of the Irish language and music were contributing factors. In addition, following 1815, there was the availability of cheap transportation across the Atlantic. Some families who settled on the Emigrant Road came by way of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island; while the majority were lured by cheap passages offered by Maritime sailing ships returning home with empty holds; after unloading cargoes of lumber at ports in Ireland and England.

Known in the lumber trade as human ballast; the trauma of an often stormy Atlantic crossing was to linger long in the memory of these Irish immigrants. Further, had they known or understood the backbreaking work involved in clearing virgin forest, a number might well have reconsidered their choice. In some instances, just prior to their departure from the old sod a traditional wake was held. Both those leaving, and the relatives left behind, knew full well they would never see each other again.

Despite all these obstacles, the settlers on the Emigrant Road persevered. Upon their arrival on this side of the Atlantic, their luck actually changed for the better. In March 1820 an act was passed by the New Brunswick legislature to provide for and encourage the settlement of emigrants. In each county discreet individuals were appointed to work for and with industrious and enterprising emigrants and assist in their settlement.

Fortunately for these Irish immigrants, one of those persons was the MLA for Westmorland and Speaker of the House of Assembly, William Botsford (1773–1864). The Parish of Botsford had been set apart and named for him in 1815; consequently, he took more than a passing interest in helping settlers on the Emigrant Road. For years afterward, the name of William Botsford was revered among the Irish immigrants and their descendants.

Meanwhile, land was cleared, timber for export sold and later there came saw and gristmills, so that within a generation, the Emigrant Road was noted for its small, but largely self sufficient farms. Sadly, a century and more later, many of these farms, especially those on marginal land, have reverted to forest. Over the years, several families were forced to leave the settlement, with a number finding employment in Moncton.

A measure of their legacy can be seen in the many Irish surnames, found not only in Malden, Melrose and Moncton; but scattered throughout southeastern New Brunswick. Heres a roll call of some of more familiar: Barry, Burke, Corrigan, Hartnett, Hayes, Hickey, Holland, Joyce, Kennedy, Lane, Mahoney, McCarthy, Murphy, Noonan, Reilley, Roach, Savage, Stack, Strang and Sullivan. The current mayor of Moncton, Brian Murphy, is a direct descendant of Dennis Murphy, one of the first settlers on the Emigrant Road.

Another part of their legacy may be found in a long-standing devotion to their religious faith. In 1826 a log church was built on the farm of John Roach. Later, in 1838 this was replaced by a wooden building, erected directly opposite the present church in Melrose. Exactly a century ago, in 1902, the magnificent St. Bartholomews Church was erected. It was consecrated in 1903 by Rev. Arthur Meahan D.D., then of Saint John. Father Meahan lies buried in the church cemetery.

Rev. Edward Savage, a native of the parish, and longtime pastor of St. Bernard’s Church, Moncton, was responsible for the memorial wrought iron gate to St Bartholomews cemetery. See also the illustration of the striking Celtic Cross which will continue to perpetuate the memory of the cradle of the Irish race in New Brunswick.