The Museum Called Tantramar — Part Two

In the Flashback published on Jan. 16, 2005, I introduced Dr. Charlotte Gray’s recent book The Museum Called Canada: Twenty Five Rooms of Wonder. In it, she presented an historical panorama of Canadian history as revealed through the rooms of an imaginary museum. Following Dr. Gray’s lead, The Museum Called Tantramar: Part One highlighted: The Joggins Fossil Lawn, The Founders Hall, The Point de Bute Archway, The Keillor House Museum, St. Ann’s Church and the Campbell Carriage Factory. The remaining six rooms will be featured today.

(6) The Ghostly Gallery of Sail: One difficulty experienced by visitors to this area is their acceptance of the fact that Dorchester and Sackville in particular, were thriving seaports and that shipbuilding was once a major industry at the head of the Bay of Fundy. During the peak of the Golden Age of Sail as many as eight shipyards were operating in the vicinity of Dorchester alone. Three of the major builders were: R.A. Chapman, William Hickman, and Gideon Palmer.

Shipbuilding came to the Sackville area in 1824 and lasted until the 1870s, with at least 118 vessels being launched. The principal local shipyards were operated by Christopher Boultenhouse, Charles Dixon and Henry Purdy. Smaller operations were to be found at Port Elgin, Cape Tormentine and Shemogue. Today there is little evidence of this once thriving industry. Sackville is landlocked due to silting and a change in the course of the Tantramar River, while few people are aware of the nineteenth century importance of Dorchester Island as a shipping centre.

All this may change in the near future, when plans projected by the Tantramar Heritage Trust for the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre are completed. Once the home of Christopher Boultenhouse a sea captain and shipbuilder, this handsome mid-nineteenth century building at Captain’s Corner in Sackville will, it is hoped, give new life and meaning to the regions Ghostly Gallery of Sail.

  1. The Fort Beausjour Bastion: Arguably Fort Beau is the most important historical site within the region. On a clear day, while strolling the ramparts, one can easily see why French military engineers selected this location for fortification. Since its years of military importance are on public record, they need not be repeated here. What is not so well known is that the museum, which dates from 1936, is a treasure trove of local history. The story is conveyed through creative displays and collections of artifacts. Once the tourist season rolls around, look for announcements in this newspaper for special events taking place at Fort Beausjour. One popular program, Soldier For A Day designed for visitors aged 6 to 12 years, was launched last year and will be continued in 2005. Where else, but at Fort Beausjour, could children experience a day in the life of a soldier in the Compagnies Franches de la Marine? Wearing period costumes, they march, perform drills, games and maneuvers, and end their service with a snack not unlike that of a French soldiers daily ration. Following the simulation, participants receive a certificate and a colour photograph depicting them in uniform.
  2. The Monro Heritage Centre: If Fort Beausjour and its Museum are one of the oldest historical rooms in the region; then the Monro Heritage Centre in Port Elgin can lay claim to being one of the newest. This Gothic Revival style building was once the home of surveyor, author and journalist Alexander Monro (1813–96). The structure was rescued from demolition and purchased by the village in 1997. Thanks to many hours of volunteer labour, plus grants from the provincial government and the support of the Westford Historical Society, this museum has become a model for other communities to follow. In addition to imaginative displays depicting various phases of Port Elgins long and colourful history, there is a genealogical section for visitors who may wish to research their family history. Keillor House Museum in Dorchester has a similar facility. However, the major source for genealogical information relating to the Tantramar is to be found in the Mount Allison University Archives. In addition to primary source material relating to the University, there is much material that is of importance to genealogists. Families with a Methodist background should also consult the holdings of the Maritime Conference Archives located in Sackville.
  3. The War Memorial Hall: In addition to the cenotaphs in Sackville, Dorchester and Port Elgin, there are further reminders of twentieth century wars in the names of the fallen inscribed on plaques, memorial windows and rolls of honour in churches and public buildings throughout the Tantramar region. Still another link with World War Two is HMCS Sackville, the only surviving Royal Canadian Navy corvette. Following the 1939–45 war, it was decommissioned to become part of the Maritime Museum complex in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Launched in Saint John on May 15, 1941, HMCS Sackville saw service on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Two local institutions were also erected in memory of fallen service personnel the Sackville Memorial Hospital (1946 & 1988) and the Port Elgin Regional Memorial High School (1949). Taken together, all of these symbols of remembrance, and others like them, form part of the War Memorial Hall in The Museum Called Tantramar.
  4. The Cape Jourimain Entrance: For visitors coming to southeastern New Brunswick from Prince Edward Island, their introduction to the province is the state of the art Cape Jourmain Nature Centre. Local history and the environment come together in this facility and its surrounding 675 hectares of natural habitat. Of particular interest are the architecturally interesting and environmentally friendly buildings. Natural materials such as cedar shingles and hemlock decking are combined with colours reflective of the earth, water and sky throughout the complex. From the historical standpoint the displays relating to the Ice Boat Era are of particular note.

While the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre was designed to welcome tourists to New Brunswick, its significance to the immediate Tantramar area ought not to be overlooked. Special features include dining in the restaurant with its stunning view of the Confederation Bridge, walking the 15 km of nature trails or visiting the lighthouse c.1870.

Once the various historical facilities mentioned above are open to the public, usually during the Victoria Day weekend in May, I hope that readers will take time to visit some or all of the many rooms in the Museum Called Tantramar during 2005.