The White Fence, issue #87

september 2019


Dear Friends,

This issue of your newsletter includes three articles spanning a period beginning in 1686, through to 1788, and ending in the 1980s. All deal with “quirky” topics, which, once you absorb all the fascinating details, will carry you effortlessly through those times. As the saying goes “it’s all in the details.”

Long before the Confederation Bridge connected New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, I heard of proposals to “bridge” the two provinces. But I never knew of all the efforts made to try to make this happen and how far back these efforts went. Maurice Mandale brings all these to life and I hope that you will become as absorbed in reading of them as I was.

And then there are these interesting agricultural peculiarities known as “Pounds” which would have been a necessary component of most farming communities in Tantramar over the centuries. Paul Bogaard will carry you back to 1788 with the solution of our ancestral farmers in dealing with stray cattle. With the help of Eugene Goodrich, Paul paints a vivid picture (literally!) of solving a common farm problem in the 18th century: the article really does take you back in time.

And, in more recent times, there are those quirky “Sackville Treasures.” I will not say more on these but let Janet Erskine tell you all about them: you may have also experienced them (as I did).

Overall, this newsletter spans a few centuries and, as you absorb the many details described, I hope you experience a few special trips back in time! Enjoy the journey…

— Peter Hicklin

The Other Crossing at Chignecto

By Maurice Mandale

Only about 24 km separate the head of the Bay of Fundy from the Northumberland Strait where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick meet at the Isthmus of Chignecto. This low-lying strip of land has long attracted the attention of engineers and politicians who saw a shortcut for shipping, if only a wide route across the isthmus could be created. Over time, two projects were proposed: 1) a ship railway, which was actually started but not completed and 2) a canal, which was never built although much studied.

These projects have been long-awaited: the first proposal for a canal appeared in 1686 when Jacques de Meulles, Intendant of New France, recommended a cut through the isthmus 10-12 feet wide and four feet deep, without locks so tidal action could further erode the width and depth. Much later, in 1822, Robert Minnette was instructed by a committee of the New Brunswick government to survey the isthmus to determine the feasibility of a canal. He recommended a canal four feet deep. After more extensive surveys, Francis Hall recommended a channel eight feet deep at an estimated cost of $289,000. Famed Scottish engineer Thomas Telford reviewed Hall’s report in 1826 and recommended a much larger channel, 14 feet deep and 90 feet wide at the surface and tapering to 45 feet wide at the bottom. The estimated cost rose to $685,952. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island failed to reach agreement on how to raise this amount.

More studies and reports followed. Prior to Confederation in 1867, the project was discussed at the Charlottetown, London, and Quebec conferences that began to lay the basis for the British North America Act. There was a pledge at the Quebec Conference in 1864 that the province of Canada would build the canal as an incentive for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to join confederation. The canal occupied political and engineering discussions during the balance of the 19th century, including a report for a Royal Commission in 1871 by engineers Casimir Gzowski and Samuel Keefer. The Baie Verte Canadal (as it was then known) was one of a group of projects strongly recommended by the commission (chaired by Sir Hugh Allan) but it was the only canal in this group not built, despite making it into the speech from the throne in 1874 and in 1875, having an amount of $1 million in the federal budget allocated for start of its construction. Unfortunately, the great depression in trade also began about 1875 and would occupy most of the balance of the century.

By 1888, H.G.C. Ketchum had raised enough capital to begin the Chignecto Marine Transport Railway. Construction was stopped in 1891 when the project ran out of money although remains of it still exist in the form of docks below Fort Lawrence and in Tidnish, including an impressive bridge in a campground at Tidnish. The line of the railway is a popular recreational trail. Further studies on a canal followed in 1929 and 1931, increasingly wrapped up within the poor economy of the Maritime Provinces at the tie. A report in 1934 had a price tag of about $38.5 million. None of the reports over the years were in doubt of the technical feasibility of the project, although this was at a time when environmental impacts were virtually unknown, let alone even considered.

The economic development of the Atlantic Provinces has always been central to the canal project. Over the years, this argument became more and more of a selling point. A Chignecto Canal Commission was appointed in 1931 with a mandate to provide answers to 15 questions. It reported to the minister of railways and canals in 1933 although its report wasn’t published until 1939, almost certainly due to the Depression of the 1930s. The report recommended consideration of three different routes, roughly along the lines of the Aulac, Missiguash, and La Planche rivers at the Fundy end. All would begin in the Cumberland Basin, two at about the same point on the New Brunswick side of the border and the third about where Ketchum’s railway began in Nova Scotia. All would converge on the Tidnish River emptying into Baie Verte at the other end. The Aulac and Missaguash lines would join about two-thirds of the way across and the La Planche line would join these at the Tidnish River. The majority of the commissioners recommended the Missaguash line at estimated costs (depending on the dimensions of the canal) that varied between $20.5 million and $55.6 million (calculating the modern value of these figures is tricky but the range is roughly between $340 million and $920 million in terms of consumer spending today). It would be a freshwater canal with hefty locks at each end.

The debate continued until relatively recently. During the 1960s, two of the protagonists were Michael Wardell, publisher of Atlantic Advocate magazine, and L.L. Harrison of Saint John. Wardell, who had the ear of influential people in government and industry, was an ardent backer of the canal. In a speech to the Halifax Rotary Club in 1960, Wardell claimed a promised investment of $105 million in new industrial capacity in and around Saint John from no less a figure than K.C. Irving, if the canal were built. All the provincial premiers of the day (around 1960: Hugh John Flemming followed by Louis Robichaud in New Brunswick, Robert Stanfield in Nova Scotia, and A.W. Matheson in Prince Edward Island) were strong backers of the canal.

Harrison’s objections to the canal focused on what he regarded as false claims of the time saved for shipping from points south into the St. Lawrence. Shipping from Saint John, in particular, located well up Fundy, would benefit including the Irving interests. Rather than having to use the lock at the Strait of Canso or sail around the northern tip of Cape Breton, shipping could cut off a considerable distance by using the canal. Harrison prepared a report on the issue in 1960 to which was appended a series of testimonials from sea captains as to their thoughts on the proposed time-savings the canal would offer. Each one basically said the savings would be negligible, even under ideal conditions. Given a risk of fog in the Bay of Fundy, which could often mean arrival at Cumberland Basin when the tide was wrong for entering the lock, there would be a delay of 12 hours or more before the next opportunity. This would erase any time-savings offered by the canal. Proponents of the canal did not see this as an obstacle given modern shipping and navigation aids.

Wardell served as honorary chair of the Chignecto Canal Committee which commissioned a report from Economic Research Corporation of Montreal on the feasibility of the canal. This report downplayed the time-saving aspect of the canal in favour of its larger potential for stimulating economic development in the region, particularly as it would offer better transportation options for resource development of minerals, agriculture, and forestry. Mainly for this reason, political support for the canal remained strong throughout the 1960s. When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 the canal was pitched as an extension. There was also a fair bit of “Central Canada got the Seaway, what’s in it for Atlantic Canada?”

Perhaps the last passionate advocate for the canal was Lloyd Folkins, MLA for Tantramar from 1974 to 1982. I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Folkins in the 1970s, helping a committee of the legislature to prepare its final report. Mr. Folkins was a member of the committee, a hard-working MLA eager to represent his constituents. He was also a politician of the old school, strong on economic boosterism. In a speech in the legislature in response to the budget in 1977, he devoted about a quarter of his time to why the canal was necessary: “The canal is a must for many and varied reasons, the most important being to prime the pump and pay our way into prosperity….The spin-off from [the canal] in new industry, increased trade to the local areas…boggles the mind….The towns of Sackville and Amherst would become cities; the villages on both sides of the provincial boarder would become towns.”

In one sense, the canal was actually dug. In 1961, a group of Mount Allison students (as recounted by local historian Bill Hamilton) began a token canal, using existing waterways and lakes but sticking to the overall proposed route. It took them two weeks of digging, after which a female student navigated a “very small boat” along the ditch. At the same time almost exactly, the federal minister of public works issued a statement rejecting the most recent canal proposal and not much has been heard of it since despite Mr. Folkins’ eloquence.

The following documents were consulted in preparing this piece:

Chignecto Canal Commission (Chair, Arthur Surveyer), Report, 1939.

Economic Research Corporation, Report on the Chignecto Canal, 1960.

Per Hall, Chignecto Canal, presentation to the Women’s Atlantic Council, 1958.

L.L. Harrison, Is the Expenditure on the Chignecto Canal Valid?, 1960.

Lloyd Folkins, speech in reply to the budget in Synoptic Report of the Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, session of 1977, vol. 1.

Bill Hamilton, The Digging of the Chignecto Canal, Sackville Tribune-Post, February 18, 2004.

Michael Wardell in a speech to the Halifax Rotary Club, May 10, 1960.

Visualizing a 1788 “Pound”

By Paul Bogaard

Visualization of 1788 cattle poundIn the records from the early decades of Sackville Township, there are occasional mentions of “pounds” for holding stray livestock. And the same would have been true for all the other early townships in old Nova Scotia, much as it had been back in southern New England. It was a common community practice in those days, one the Planters who first re-settled this area in the 1760s brought with them. But we have never had a clear idea of what those pounds were like. Until now…

Thanks to the work of Eugene Goodrich, we have detailed descriptions of local governments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And now with his more recent effort to transcribe the Townbook that survives for Cumberland Township (and after 1784 for the District of Fort Lawrence), we have minutes of the town meetings that, unexpectedly but happily, include a description of such a pound.

But first a bit of background: agriculture was the mainstay of these early communities, and we know that cattle, sheep, and hogs were important livestock.1 The fact that records were kept of the marks used to identify cattle and sheep means that they must have been allowed to forage in common pastures, mostly on the dyked marshlands. Hogs may have been allowed to forage even more widely. Fences were used more to keep livestock out of gardens and yards than for keeping herds separately in one’s own field.

We know from Gene’s work that it was common to have someone responsible in each community as “Fence Viewers,” “Hog Reeves,” and as “Pound Keepers.” These appointees were there to see to it that you kept your fences mended and hogs ringed and yoked. But, some livestock strayed. Gene writes:

“In spite of the best efforts of the fence viewers, however, livestock owners did not always keep up their fences to the highest standard, and animals were quick to take advantage, often to the detriment of the neighbours’ crops and gardens. Then recourse was had to the closest pound in the parish. This was an enclosure for holding stray critters until their owners paid the aggrieved party for damages and the pound keeper his fee for ‘room and board’.”2

Now, I have myself seen an 18th century pound down in New England, and it was constructed of stone fencing…with “Cattle Pound, 1793” carved into stone. (Of course, it may be only the stone enclosures that have survived, and very few at that.) Local records show that there were three pounds called for in Sackville Township – one near each village – and that Westmoreland Parish called for two. So, they would have been a common sight in our own landscape, but just what would one have looked like?

Then Gene discovered the following description in the Cumberland/Fort Lawrence Townbook:

Fort Lawrence November 3rd 1788

This day being the first Monday in November which is appointed by law for Town Meetings and according to a notification this Town or District being convened, unanimously agreed to have a pound erected in the form and dimensions following viz:

The pounds is to be 40 feet square, by way as (of) a frame 8 logs of Hackmatack 22 feet long by 10 inches squared. The length above 40 feet in each 2 is to answer for a share or half lap. These are to be for the mud or bottom sills.

And 8 Hackmatack logs 22 feet long by 8 inches square. These are to answer 2 on each side as the above for top sills.

Then 250 Hackmatack studes 6 1/2 feet long by 6 inches diameter to be let into the bottom and top sills by a 2 inch tenure [sic]. N.B. the bottom end shouldered. The top end either shouldered or not. There should be one Hackmatack log 41 feet long by 8 inches square and 2 logs Hackmatack 21 feet long each by 8 inches square. Those 2 should go from each end to the middle long joist as above mentioned 41 feet long – under the middle of this long joist should be a Hackmatack post set into the ground about 3 feet with a tennor [sic] at top put in the middle of said long joist.

Then 4 logs of Hackmatack about 17 feet long by 7 or 8 inches square for each corner a brace half-lapped on the top sills.

N.B. In the middle of the southwest front should be the doorway into said pound, the posts of which should be 5 or 6 inch tennants and not round as the studs.3

Determined to use this remarkably complete description to build up a picture of what this would have looked like – using the 3-D computer-aided-design program called SketchUp – I first puzzled over the 40 feet square,” since today that would mean an area, say, 10′ x 40′. But from the remaining description it became clear they called for two 22′ logs end to end, on each side, making for a square 40′ x 40′. And it explains that two 22′ logs, hewn to 8″ square for each side of the top sills. So, that is what I’ve drawn.

This drawing is done using all the measurements given, to scale, and you can see the lap joints in the middle of each side, and at the corners, where I have added the kind of wooden pins called tree-nails that would have been driven through each joint. What you cannot see are the “tenons” inserted into the bottom sills, and the top sills, to hold round “studs” into place. It is not clear exactly what they intended by these being “shouldered,” but I think this referred to a feature of these joints that would have allowed each stud to rest securely on the bottom sill. It would not have mattered as much at the top.

There are lots and lots of these vertical studs and I would likely have been chastised by the authors of this 1788 description for not including enough of them! I’ve spaced these at about 6″ apart, when they may have expected them to be closer. I hope you (and they) will forgive this small adjustment. In recompense, I’ve added a couple cows and a young pound keeper.

Top cross beams (one a very long log of 41′) have been added, with a vertical post supporting them right at the centre. And, with some hesitation, I have added corner braces half lapped onto the top sills (which you can see with their tree-nails). This was the only description of which I was unsure. In a house or barn using timber framing, there would typically be corner braces, but in the vertical walls. Usually these were placed at 45 degrees on either side of each corner. But the description specified that these were to be 17′ long, and that is just too long for these sides. Plus, placing them vertically would interfere with the studs. So, I’ve located them above, half-lapped on top of the top sills. Finally, add a doorway with square posts and the drawing is complete. Hackmatack was called for throughout (or tamarack, as we usually say for the same kind of tree) which we know were abundant and are said to be moisture resistant and long lasting.

Now we know how these early pounds looked and it seems reasonable to assume they were all fairly similar.

  1. See Culture and Agriculture on the Tantramar Marshes by Dr. Graeme Wynn (Tantramar Heritage Trust, 2012)
  2. W. Eugene Goodrich, Local Government in Early Westmorland County, Being an Annotated Edition of the Minute Book of the General Sessions of the Peace 1785-1809 Together with Explanation and Copious Commentary (Westmorland Historical Society, 2013/14), p. 56..
  3. Record for Fort Lawrence, County Cumberland, Nova Scotia, British North America, original held by Mount Allison University Archives, Webster Manuscript Collection 7001/331. Transcription annotated and with an introduction by W. Eugene Goodrich, available from the Mount Allison University Archives or from the Purdy Research Centre of the Tantramar Heritage Trust. Description of the “pound” to be erected was taken from pp. 17-18.


Fall Fair Activities

Thursday, September 19 – Saturday, September 21, Boultenhouse Heritage Centre, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

With the generous support of the New Brunswick Railway Museum and Live Bait Theatre, we have a new exhibit on the Sackville Railway, covering the time from the Intercolonial Railway coming to Sackville 150 years ago through to CN and Via Rail in more modern times. We are excited to show you what we have but, as always, we’re especially interested in the hidden gems that people might have in their homes. If you have any items or documents relating to the railway in New Brunswick that you are willing to loan or donate to the Trust, please contact the office at (506) 536-2541 or

Please note that the exhibit will stay in place for some time after Fall Fair but the hours will be limited.

Annual Fall Fundraising Dinner

Sunday, September 29, The Music Barn, 18 Station Road, Sackville, NB, 6:30 p.m.

Our “Taste of History” fundraising dinner this year will centre on the Saxby Gale which took place October 4-5, 1869, almost 150 years ago to the day! There will be a dramatization of the events around the Saxby Gale, Al Smith’s famous Trivia competition, a Silent Auction, 50/50 draw, and more. The menu is a Hip of Beef dinner with catering provided by Laurie Ann Wesselby. Tickets are $50.00 each and a $25.00 tax receipt will be issued for each one. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be obtained by contacting the office at (506) 536-2541 or at or dropping by the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre at 29 Queens Rd. Seating is limited so don’t delay!

Top Hats and Tails: More Sackville Treasures

By Janet Erskine

Sackville is a place where you can discover treasures. Some examples of these are the delightful old customs which one encounters. Here are two that came right to our house.

Around 1980, when we asked a chimney sweep to inspect our chimney, he appeared at our front door in the costume of top hat and tails. His bushy beard and confident manner completed the picture of a local entertainment, come right to our home. Any pronouncement about the chimney was of course received with great respect, because the medium was the message: age-old custom carries with it age-old knowledge.

The traditional costume comes fro Europe – from Germany, England, and Scotland; for instance these days there are thousands in the United States who use it. Our local example, Darbyll Vincent, belongs to the Chimney Sweep Guild of North America and he saw four hundred in traditional dress at a convention. A red woolen scarf and red mitts are part of the winter costume. In olden times, some were often part-time funeral parlour helpers. They thus found that they could get tails that were somewhat worn and frayed, for nothing. And soot falls off them beautifully.

The second treasure that visited us came on New Year’s Day at 9:30 a.m. Claude Estabrooks, a very senior citizen, appeared at our back door, wearing a top hat, his black coat (substituting for tails) and white overalls. He wore a mask from Montreal with a furze of fake sideburns. He carried an umbrella for a little extra dash. Rubber boots completed his costume. The message was “Happy New Year!” And certainly that wish has so far come true, so it’s definitely and effective custom. He gave us a sprig of fir, a part of the ritual. He didn’t stay long because he had to visit his other neighbours. Besides, he was late getting up this morning. I saw my neighbour from across the street, wearing what looked like a red flannelette nightgown, watching him from her window as he progressed. She must have been late getting up that morning too! This is a very local custom from what I hear. Sometimes candy is given out in return for the fir twig.

It would be interesting to hear more from anyone who knows more about them.

Written up by Janet Erskine soon after that time. Claude and his wife both died in the next year, soon after their 70th wedding anniversary – to which we were invited. This year, we, in our turn, celebrated our 64th anniversary. The years still march on.

Images from 150 Years: Living by the Rails

A taste of the new exhibit opening at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre this weekend.

Princess Elizabeth visits Sackville 1951 Mount Allison students at Sackville train station Train bridge in Sackville NB