The White Fence, issue #31

February 2006


Dear friends,

Walk with me into history. First of all, let’s go back to May 16, 1860, and assume that your daughter, sister, or niece is graduating on this day from the Mont Allison Ladies’ College. The graduating Catalogue is in your hands and you are leafing through all the names of faculty and students while awaiting the graduating class to come in. That’s the way I felt when I read the copy of the Graduating Catalogue of the Ladies’ Academy for that year, which was passed on to me by Al Smith. It quite vividly brought me back to a very different time.

The Catalogue is a rare gem and I copied its contents below, so that you too may walk back with me to the Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy in May, 1860. And please note how the catalogue was really meant for the parents to show them that all the ladies were under a strict behavior protocol. Some of these I found somewhat alarming … I wonder if the boys, such as Howard Sprague and Josiah Wood, who were just beginning their freshman year at Mount Allison at that time, would also have to observe such strict protocol until their 1863 graduation! Note that the section entitled STUDENTS is my summary of the list of names of students which made up this portion of the Catalogue. It summarizes the list of names with respect to their hometowns and the numbers of students enrolled in the many courses offered at the Academy. Read it all very carefully…

10th anniversary of the Tantramar Heritage Trust 1996–2006

And then, follow history miners Colin MacKinnon and Don Colpitts and read of their new discovery along the shore of the Missaguash River. It’s not the first gem from their explorations of Chignecto. And this one will take you back to the late 16th or possibly early 17th century along that river.

I have no idea whether or not Leslie will be able to fit it all in this issue of The White Fence. But if she does, get a lunch and dress warmly, you have quite an adventure ahead of you!

And please note: Colin MacKinnon has made his own miniature dyking spade based on an original owned by the descendants of Charles A.D. Siddall. It is a magnificient piece of workmanship and will be displayed during the Heritage Day breakfast. See you there!

—Peter Hicklin

Heritage Day 2006

Saturday, February 18, 2006 — Tantramar Regional High School

7:30-11 am: 10th Annual Heritage Day Breakfast

  • $5 for adults/$3 children under 10.

8–noon — Displays

  • Tantramar Heritage Trust
  • Books by Harry Thurston
  • Raffle: handmade replica of a dyking spade donated by Colin MacKinnon
  • Town of Sackville Heritage Review Board Update

9:30 am — New book launch

  • Atlas of the Acadian Settlement of Beaubassin 1660–1755, French and English editions.
  • Meet the author, Paul Surette
  • 10–noon — Antiques Road Show in the High School foyer
  • $5/item
  • appraisers: Art Smith, Pauline Parker, and Keith Lewis.

Afternoon activities at the Live Bait Theatre location on Main Street across from the Post Office

  • 1:15–2:30 pm — Harry Thurston will speak about his latest book: A Place Between the Tides: A Naturalist’s Reflections on the Salt Marsh
  • 2:45–4:00 pm — Donna Crossland from Kouchibouguac National Park will present a compelling picture of our forests 200 years ago and show how the landscape was transformed by early settlers.

Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy


Officers and Students
Sackville, N.B.
For the year commencing Jan. 1, 1860

Engraved image of the Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy

Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy

Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy faculty & graduates.

Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy faculty & graduates.


In this section is the list of names and “hometowns” of 189 ladies attending the Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy in 1860. Of these, the majority (56; nearly 30%) were from Sackville. The next most common place of origin was “St. John” (mis-spelled in the Catalogue, as it should have more properly read “Saint John”) (18 or 9.5%), followed by 13 ladies from Halifax (6.9%) and 11 (5.8%) from Fredericton, 8 from Amherst (4.2%) and 5 from St. Martins (2.6%). Only 4 ladies were from Newfoundland (Brigus (2), St. John’s (1) and Port de Grave (1)). Closer to home, nine ladies were from Point de Bute (3), Moncton (3) and Dorchester (3) and two originated from Jolicure. The remainder (places of origin and numbers of students) I’ve compiled as follows (in the order of listing in the Catalogue; some with notification of province and others not): Newport, N.S. (4), Cornwallis, N.S. (6), Sheffield (4), Miramichi (1), New Glasgow, N.S. (1), Pugwash, N.S. (2), Salmon River (1), Hopewell (2), Kouchibouguac (1), Woodstock (3), Fort Lawrence, N.S. (1), Coverdale (1), Hantsport (3), Andover (1), Richibucto (2), Truro (3), Leicester, N.S. (1), Albion Mines, N.S. (3), Portland (1), Bridgetown, N.S. (3), Lincoln (1), Shubenacadie (2), Summerside, P.E.I. (1), Norton (1), Stewiacke, N.S. (1), Yarmouth, N.S (1), Londonderry, N.S. (1), Mabou, Cape Breton (1), Oromocto (2), River Hebert (1), Windsor, N.S. (3), Dumfries (1), Carleton (1), Shediac (1), Keswick (1).

Order of exercises. Ladies’ exhibition, Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy. May 16th, 1860.

Order of exercises

In a separate section, the Catalogue lists the numbers of pupils in the different fields of study at the Academy. Under ELEMENTARY, ladies were enrolled in Composition (168), Penmanship (140), Reading (104), English Grammar (90), English History (70), Geography (67), Physical Geography (62), Universal History (53) and English Analysis (52). Under MATHEMATICS, 104 studied Arithmetic, Algebra (72), Geometry (20) and Trigonometry (19). Under MODERN LANGUAGES, 94 ladies studied French and 28 were enrolled in German. Of the ANCIENT LANGUAGES, 43 took Latin and 10 studied Greek. Seven courses made up the NATURAL SCIENCES; these (and enrolment) were: Natural Philosophy (73), Physiology (20), Chemistry (64), Geology (35), Botany (50), Astronomy (64) and natural Theology (30). The most interesting section of MENTAL SCIENCES followed with the following courses: Mental Philosophy (22), Moral Philosophy (20), Logic and Rhetoric (25). Under MUSIC, 124 ladies were enrolled in Instrumental while 100 studied Vocal. In FINE ARTS, the ladies studied drawing (40), Oil Painting (30), Coloured Crayon (45), Black do (30), Mono-Chromatic (16), Water Colours (25), Oriental Painting (23), Wax Flowers (26) and Wax Fruit (20).

And with regards to costs, page 14 of the Catalogue indicated that “For Board and Tuition in Elementary Branches £9 3s. 4d. per term of Fourteen Weeks, payable always in advance. Tuition for day pupils £1 6s. 8d. per term.” Individual costs per course were listed and varied from £2 0s. 0d. to £0 6s. 8d. per term.

An especially interesting section near the end of the catalogue is the following (ladies read carefully: some important advice here!):



No one can justly charge us with Sectarianism in any of its forms, but we do ardently desire to inculcate the practical recognition of the great principles of the Christian Religion, as cherished by every denomination of evangelical Christians.


Two bible classes, under the charge of the Principal and Preceptress, meet every Sabbath morning at nine o’clock, having a specific subject for exposition and proof assigned. In order to render the exercise more interesting, one or two of the young ladies write and read an essay on some theological; theme, or scripture narrative, each week.


This important branch of Education receives special attention, and a variety of means are employed to awaken and sustain an interest in the minds of the pupils in relation to this duty.


Pupils are required to think, and not merely to repeat what is written in the textbook. The Analytic and Synthetic methods are employed in conducting recitations. Mathematics are especially valued for disciplining the mind.


A daily record is kept of the attendance, deportment, and scholarship of each pupil.


Diplomas, signed by the Principal and Preceptress, and by the President of the Board of Trustees, are awarded to those who pass satisfactory examinations in the full course of study prescribed.


Honorary cards are presented to those who attend and entire session of forty-two weeks, when the deportment is rigidly exact, and recitations average seven, (i.e. very good) and no demerits are registered.


Graduates and young ladies who receive Honorary Cards have their names enrolled in a book kept for the purpose, termed “The Golden Record”.


The Government of the School is kind and parental but decided. We aim to secure strict obedience to rules from a principle of love rather than fear.


It is hoped that parents will not supply their daughters with much spending money, as it tends to cultivate habits of extravagance and useless self-indulgence.


Young ladies are not allowed to go shopping oftener than once in a month, and then by permission of the Preceptress, and accompanied by a teacher.


Parents are particularly requested not to send boxes containing fruits, confectionary and provisions, to their children, as in very many cases sickness and interruption of studies follow.


Attendance at Church twice every Lord’s Day is considered obligatory. Parents and Guardians are requested to specify by note the place of worship where they may wish their children or wards to attend, and if practicable their wishes will be complied with. In the absence of a written request from parents or guardians the students attend the Wesleyan Church, where free sittings are provided for them.


A Gentleman Professor of Instrumental and Vocal Music, who is also an excellent Organist, is constantly engaged in teaching. A lady teacher of superior ability as a performer and vocalist devotes her whole time to the instruction of her pupils, and also superintends the practice of the young ladies.


In this department teachers of ability have been secured, who devote all their time to the pupils. The students in the various branches of the Fine Arts average from seventy to eighty per term. No expense has been spared in procuring the greatest possible variety of the best copies for the pupils. The materials for this department are imported direct from London. Particular attention is paid to those who expect to become teachers of the arts.

Parents are requested to communicate directly with the Principal or Preceptress their wishes with respect to the fine arts. Young ladies sometimes are admitted to these classes, assuming that their parents’ consent has been obtained, when afterwards this is found not to have been the case.

We do not hesitate to say that the different branches are all taught at a very low rate, yet we must caution parents that if their children take many studies and add to these Music and the Fine Arts, with the material required, their bills must run up to a pretty large sum.

It is very desirable that students should enter the Institution at the commencement of the term and continue until the close. The literary exercises and concert at the close of the term are found to exert a very beneficial influence.

Attention is invited particularly to the importance, in connection with the financial working of the Academy, of the advance payment of the ordinary charge for tuition and board.

A good library is accessible to the pupils, for the use of which a small fee is charged.

The Institution is moderately supplied with Philosophical apparatus, useful for illustrations and experiments by the Teachers.

A well supplied Medicine Chest is always kept in the Academy, and every case of sickness receives immediate attention. There is a regular charge of two Shillings and Six pence per term for medicine.


The present Academic year ends May 15th, 1861. The Summer term of 1861 commences July 25th.

The Class of 1863

contributed by Al Smith

Mount Allison University’s origins date back to an 1839 proposal by Sackville businessman Charles Allison that resulted in the opening of Mount Allison Wesleyan (male) Academy in 1843. The Ladies’ Academy opened in 1854 (see article above) and in July 1862, four years after the charter was passed, the degree-granting Mount Allison College came into being. Thus for the first time at a Mount Allison institution, students could complete a full undergraduate course of study. The Mount Allison College conferred degrees on Howard Sprague and Josiah Wood in May 1863, the institution’s first graduating class.

Sackville native Josiah Wood had entered the Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy at the age of nine. Wood completed all of the Academy’s academic requirements by 1861 and continued on to enroll in a BA at the College. The three-year degree program required students to complete courses in mathematics, sciences, philosophy, political economy, languages, logic and rhetoric and religious studies. Just before his 20th birthday, Josiah became one of the two members of Mount Allison’s “Class of 1863”.

Howard Sprague (left) and Josiah Wood

The class of 1863: Howard Sprague (left) and Josiah Wood — the first graduating class from Mount Allison Wesleyan College (photo courtesy of W. Mariner Black)

An article published in a Saint John, N.B. newspaper, The Progress, published years later (1889) tells an interesting story about the Class of 1863. Apparently, college graduates of the day felt that the law or the Ministry were the only two professions deemed suitable. Josiah Wood and his classmate Howard Sprague, could not decide which career path to follow and “they resolved to leave the decision to chance. As it was considered wicked to pitch cents (flip a coin?), Mr. Wood found a nice flat wood chip, which Mr, Sprague spat upon. “Wet or dry?” inquired Mr. Wood, twirling the chip in the air. “Dry”, said Mr. Sprague. Dry it was. And so Howard Sprague devoted the rest of his life to pious purposes and Josiah Wood took the law”.

While pursuing their respective careers, both Wood and Sprague continued their association with Mount Allison, each earning an M.A. degree in 1866.

Harold Sprague (1843–1916), born in Newfoundland, the son of Rev. Samuel and Mrs. Sprague, was accepted into the Methodist Church as a student minister in 1862 and was ordained in 1866. He served numerous Maritime congregations (including Sackville) over the next forty years. He was appointed to the theological faculty at Mount Allison in 1908, later becoming Dean of Theology.

Josiah Wood (1843–1927) went on to study law at his uncle’s firm in Dorchester and was called to the bar in 1866. He became a successful lawyer,businessman, developer and owner of the NB & PEI Railroad, an MP, Senator, Lt. Gov. of New Brunswick and Sackville’s first Mayor. He was possibly Sackville’s most famous son.

PLEASE NOTE — Later this year, the Tantramar Heritage Trust will publish Dean Job’s 1980 thesis on Wood: Josiah Wood — A Cultured and Honoured Gentleman of the Old School. Look for it next fall; it’s a fascinating read!

The Black Island Knife

a proto-historic (c. A.D. 1500–1600) copper artifact from the Missaguash Marsh

By Colin MacKinnon and Donald Colpitts

The noted historian W.F. Ganong wrote Events in which one can picture himself taking part, particularly those which heroism, endurance and loyalty are demanded, are the ones that men like most to read about and to think upon, and the vividness and pleasures are so much the greater when one can stand upon the exact spot where the event occurred and feel himself surrounded by the very witnesses, inanimate though they be, of these events (Ganong, 1899, p. 1). It is these sentiments, so well expressed by Ganong, that captivate our interests in the history of the Chignecto Isthmus. In July of 2005, the authors found a copper knife on Black Island in the heart of the Missaguash Marsh. This artifact is presently unique to New Brunswick and provides a tangible link between precontact aboriginal history and the time of European contact (Figure 1).

The Missaguash Marsh is a spectacular, but remote, 10,000 acre wetland complex that straddles the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia border. Central to this marsh is the Missaguash River that defines the present dividing line between the provinces. However, in the early 1750’s this river was also the international boundary between the colonies of England and France in the New World. The Missaguash River extends 14 km, in a north-easterly direction, from Cumberland Basin to just beyond Portage Bridge. The Missaguash is part of an ancient canoe and portage route that was an important overland connector between the Upper Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait. Aboriginal sites, dating from the last few thousand years, are found along this route (C. MacKinnon, unpublished) and later European explorers followed the footpaths of our first people.

Black Island Knife

Figure 1. The Black Island Knife, a proto-historic (c. A.D. 1500–1600) copper artifact from the Missiguash Marsh, New Brunswick (88 mm long × 30 mm wide × 1.5 mm thick). C. MacKinnon photo

Details of the Missaguash Marsh were first depicted on the Franquelin and de Meulles map of 1686. Even at this early date, this important map identified all of the salt marshes between Cumberland Basin and the Northumberland Strait that were of economic importance to the Acadians.

Map of the Isthmus of Chignecto

Figure 2. CARTE de l’jsthme d’entre la Baye Verte et la Baye francoife 1752. Map of the Missaguash Marsh and portage, by Louis Franquet (1697–1768), showing key features (Isle Verte is presumably modern day Black Island) (Milner, 1911, p.1).

This map also documents the first proposal for a canal (canal à faire), across the isthmus, at the head of the Missaguash River! Thus in the late 17th century the overland portage trail must have been a well known and important thoroughfare to the French as it had been to the First People. How many moccasin covered feet trekked overland from Bay Verte to Portage Bridge? The surveyor Alexander Munro described the portage trail as: being about ten feet wide and hollowed to trough shape by wear (Ganong, 1899). The earliest detailed documentation of this route is by the French engineer Louis Franquet (1697–1768) who prepared an annotated map that can easily be compared with features that exist on the landscape today (Figure 2). Lake names on Franquet’s map, such as Lac à la tasse d’argent (Lake of the silver cup) and Lac ha ha, stir the imagination. It is worth noting that features called ha ha on early maps have often been suggested as relating to the call of the loon; however haha is also a French word meaning an obstacle interrupting one’s way sharply and disagreeably ( The complex of lakes, bogs and tangle of streams within the Missaguash could easily fit the above description! It is interesting to note that the cove at Mary’s Point, near Grindstone Island, was also called Ha Ha Bay. The long, fish hook shape of the point would definitely have been a similar obstacle, when mariners once navigated up the bay.

Metal artifacts from the precontact period are relatively rare in the Maritimes. There are some notable exceptions such as tools made from native copper, found by archaeologist Kevin Leonard, on Shediac Island (Leonard, 1996) and the important copper implements discovered in northern New Brunswick by Joseph Augustine. This later find, now the Augustine Mound National Historic Site at Metepengiag First Nation, Red Bank, was explored by archaeologist Christopher Turnbull in the mid 1970s (Turnbull, 1976). On finding the Black Island artifact, we originally surmised the same precontact history. However, the construction of the knife did suggest another origin. The copper blade is flat and very thin (only about 1.5 mm). Its dimensions are 88 mm long × 30 mm wide (Figure 1).

The shape resembles a broad willow leaf with a definite tang at one end. The upper, or pointed half, of the blade has been sharpened by grinding on both sides while the lower, tang half, is blunt along the edges. This suggests that the tang portion was hafted to a handle of some type. Of interest, the blade was not sharpened uniformly. When held point upward, the right side of the blade has a more shallow ‘edge’ than the left side. If the knife is turned over, point still facing up, this side also shows this asymmetry in sharpening (the right side still exhibiting the more shallow ground edge). The junior author, who is right handed, has been an avid trapper for many years. Examinations of his working knives show opposite wear to that of the Black Island Knife! This observation is clearly not definitive as there are various ways to sharpen a knife. However, assuming a similar mode of sharpening, the original owner/user of the copper knife might have been left handed!

To us, the thinness of the blade raised the potential that the artifact was not made from native copper, but was constructed, or sourced, from European trade goods. Chemical analysis of the knife solved the question of origin. The base elements of the artifact consisted of 100 parts copper to 9 parts lead to 3 parts zinc! The results suggest that the knife is indeed an alloy and assumed to have an European origin and thus not of native copper! A likely scenario for the construction of the knife is that a fragment of a broken copper trade kettle, or similar source, was reworked into the present shape. Similar tools have been found in proto-historic burials in Northport and Pictou, Nova Scotia that date to the late 16th and early 17th century (Harper, 1957). How or why such an important and valuable tool ended up on the Missaguash is another question. Was it lost, part of a cache or used for a nefarious and deadly deed? We will never know.

reproduction black island knife

Figure 3. The Black Island Knife reproduction was made by the senior author from sheet brass and mounted to a deer antler handle with artificial sinew (A. MacKinnon photo).

A further question regarding the Black Island Knife was its functionality. How was it hafted? Was the shape practical? Would copper hold an edge for cutting? Based on similar surviving examples from other cultures, the senior author fabricated a reproduction of the knife using sheet brass, artificial sinew and deer antler (Figure 3). The resulting example was very practical, the brass (approximating copper) holds an edge surprising well and we think that processing food with this tool would not be a problem. Once hafted, the blade has the elliptical shape of modern skinning and fleshing tools used to process game. The reproduction fits comfortably in the hand and although the hafting and handle shape is purely conjecture, we think the reproduction demonstrates how valuable and useful the Black Island Knife must have been to the original owner!


We would like to thank Pat Allen, Michael Deal, Albert Ferguson and David Keenlyside for valuable comments and suggestions regarding the historical context of the Black Island Knife and again to Pat Allen and Albert Ferguson for providing valuable comments on the manuscript. A special note of thanks goes to Art Cook, Environment Canada, who conducted the chemical analysis.

Literature cited

  • Ganong, W.F. 1899. A Monograph of Historic Sites in the Province of New Brunswick. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, No. III, Section II, pp.213–357.
  • Harper, J.R. 1957. Two Seventeenth Century Copper-kettle Burials. Anthropologica 4:11–36.
  • Leonard, K. 1996. Mi’kmaq Culture during the late Woodland and early Historic Period. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto.
  • Milner, W.C. 1911. Records of Chignecto. Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. XV, pp. 1–86.
  • Turnbull, C.J. 1976. The Augustine Mound: a Mound from the Maritimes. Archaeology of Eastern North America 4:50–62.