The White Fence, issue #96

october 2021


Dear Friends,

We learn something new every day! Until recently, I was completely unaware of the existence of the Canadian Paper Money Society and the fact that this society has its own journal. The main article in this newsletter, written by Mark Holton, appeared in the Canadian Paper Money Society Journal (Volume 57, Number 169) in June 2021. The journal “accepts original manuscripts on Canadian banknotes, banking history, and other Canadian paper money” as stated in its Guidelines for Contributors. When Mark informed me of the article that he was submitting for this issue of The White Fence on “The Mount Allison Bank,” he wrote that he had discovered, “a fascinating parcel of forgotten history.” And so it is! I myself am an alumnus of Mount Allison (class of ’73) and can confidently state that this small university always made very special efforts to maximize the learning experience for its students. I certainly benefited from it. But I never realized how far back these “special efforts” went. I found the exercise described below and created by the commercial programme of Mount Allison in the late 1800s quite fascinating. Author Mark Holton makes it a most compelling read! I hope that you feel the same way.

Furthermore, as you probably know, each year the Tantramar Heritage Trust hires summer students as tour guides to our museums and at the end of each season, the students write a report on their experiences. This year, we’ve extracted portions of these reports and thought that you would be interested in reading some of the students’ opinions of their time with us. At the end of this newsletter, read carefully the latest THT news. I submit to you that there is much here for you to read and learn.

But more importantly,


—Peter Hicklin

The Mount Allison Bank of Sackville, NB

by Mark Holton, FCNRS

It was a bank very different from all the other banks in New Brunswick. Yes, it called itself a bank and issued paper banknotes like a bank and those notes looked like real banknotes. And each note, in addition to the usual picturesque vignettes, carried two signatures, of David Allison as President and one S. E. Whiston as Cashier. They were handsomely designed and professionally printed by the St. John and Halifax Lithography Company, according to the credit line appearing on each note. They were certainly not out of place as far as size, style and format were concerned. All in all, at first glance, the notes issued by The Mount Allison Bank of Sackville, New Brunswick, were very reassuring.

Mount Allison University Academy Note 1874

Academy Note 1874

$1 Banknote of the Westmorland Bank of New Brunswick (1859).
Courtesy of Geoffrey Bell Auctions, Moncton.

These uniface notes dated September 1874 were printed in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 and $500.1 But the Mount Allison Bank was not a “real” bank. There was no reference on the notes to the capital amount of the bank, a feature included on many other Canadian banknotes of that time. Some might have also noticed the lack of a serial number. Others could perhaps recall seeing part of the Mount Allison design on the notes of another New Brunswick bank. And a note-issuing bank in tiny Sackville! What were these things?

They were issued by the commercial arm of Mount Allison Academy for use by students in the college’s business courses. Before the computerization of banking and business, computer scanning of goods and electronic funds transfers, money entering and leaving a business had to be counted note-by-note and carefully documented in writing. A detailed inventory was required for goods bought and sold. Double-entry bookkeeping was a mystery that budding commercial students had to learn. What better way to learn than by handling “real” paper money in business simulations?

Students in the commercial programme doubtless gained experience and confidence handing this “money” as they learned the mysteries of book-keeping, accounting, banking, inventory work, merchandising, and many other aspects of running a business. This included knowledge of shipping and receiving procedures, understanding railroad services, costs, timetables, handling invoices and order forms. Handwriting was also an important part of the curriculum.

One other important subject and an unfortunate sign of the times was being able to identify worthless banknotes issued by creative forgers and spurious or “wildcat” banks. Students would have to become familiar with the specialist publications that would have to be consulted to determine if a note from such sources as the Bank of Acadia in Liverpool, NS, was good (it was) or the Bank of Charlottetown in PEI (it wasn’t).2

One wonders how many schools went as far as the Quebec Commercial Academy which in July 1870 was congratulated by the Pilot newspaper for the successful introduction of a course in telegraphy and soon had “a number of students who operate and read [Morse code] with facility.” In time, according to the university history, telegraphy was part of the programme in Sackville!

It is most likely that these Sackville students, coming from small towns and rural areas where aspects of the barter economy still operated, would most likely have never seen, let alone handled, banknotes of high denominations. These imaginary pieces of “college scrip” as they are now called, were a practical introduction to handling real money. And behind these notes is an interesting story from the history of Mount Allison University.

Why did the Mount Allison Academy create a commercial college in the 1870s? Partly to diversify and improve the Academy, according to historian Professor John G. Reid in his history of the university3, but it was also a response to the times. The mid-1870s was one of recession in Canada but optimists saw that people with commercial and business skills would be soon needed in an expanding economy. The Academy could attract such students, help pay its bills, and make a useful contribution to Atlantic Canada. Across North America and Europe, similar commercial colleges were operating and many issued their own “college scrip” for use by students. The standard catalogue of college scrip by researchers Herb and Martha Schingoethe details hundreds of issuing institutions in a hefty reference book of over 350 pages.4

The origins of the Mount Allison Bank are recorded in the Minutes of the Trustees of what were usually referred to as the Mount Allison Educational Institutions, held in Charlottetown in June 1874. These Minutes are now in the archives of the university.5 Among other things, on Saturday the 27th, they state that:

“President Allison expressed his conviction of the desirability of our doing a work similar to that done in the Commercial Colleges of the country and intimated that he had provisionally engaged the service of Samuel E. Whiston Esq. to take charge of such a Department at Mount Allison at a salary of nine hundred dollars and on motion the nomination was confirmed. President Allison also nominated Mr. Geo. Smith A.B. as English teacher at a salary of six hundred dollars.”

During the years when this commercial programme was offered, Mount Allison issued three sets of notes, the first dated 1874 under the tenure of Samuel Whiston (1834-1903) and the second and third issues (undated) appearing late in 1890 or soon after. The first set was deliberately designed to mimic the circulating currency of the day while the second and third sets were designed to comply with the requirements of the 1890 federal Bank Act that outlawed private issues of notes that could be easily confused with genuine issues.

That 1874 note was indeed an attractive piece of work. The vignette appearing in the centre of each note presented a detailed view of the campus. It was taken from a drawing, now in the permanent collection of the university’s Owens Art Gallery, by artist and fine arts professor John Warrener Gray (1824-1912) of the Mount Allison Ladies’ Academy. Residents of Sackville may recognize St. Paul’s Anglican Church (1856) in his drawing while the back of the stone-built Cranewood House (1836) might be harder to identify. Several of the principal buildings of Mount Allison at that time also appear in this creative drawing that neatly brings together most of the significant buildings of the community. Visible are the spire of the Methodist church and Mount Allison buildings such as the president’s residence (today the Faculty Club), The Lodge, and Lingley Hall and the second Academy building.6

The artist John Warrener Gray was born in Britain and came to Canada in 1847. After periods of time spent in Halifax and Sackville he continued as an art teacher in the United States before settling in Montreal in the 1890s. A competent landscape painter and teacher, during his career he wrote about art and in Montreal was a prominent figure in the local arts scene as a writer and a lecturer at the then Art Association of Montreal (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Musée des beaux-arts de Montreal).7

Gray’s scene of urban order and stability was flanked by the image of a sturdy sailor borrowed from a $1 banknote issued by the entirely legitimate Westmorland Bank of New Brunswick in 1854-59 then domiciled at The Bend of Petticodiac, a settlement later called Moncton. The image on the Sackville note is “flopped”, suggesting this direct copy. The Westmorland Bank note is the work of reputable banknote printer Rawdon, Wright and Hatch of New York. The sailor, seen here holding compass and sextant, was a popular figure on many nineteenth century Canadian banknotes and made reference to shipping and commerce and maritime affairs in general while his tools of the trade (the navigation instruments) can be suggestive of wisdom and order.

Mount Allison Banknotes 1890s

Britannia appears at the right of the 1874 note holding her traditional symbol, a trident. This too looks like a “borrowed” image but to date the source has not been found. To the viewer in the 1870s, however, Britannia represented stability, success, permanence and the wider horizon offered by the British Empire of which New Brunswick was but a modest part. To see Britannia was to be reassured. There would be no surprises. The solid design and quality printing coupled with the two bold signatures confirmed that this was indeed serious money. Perhaps only the observant would notice the lack of a serial number or that the notes stated “Will pay bearer in tuition…. on receipt of current funds / at Commercial College”.

How was this money actually used? Three items recently appearing at a Moncton auction elaborated upon the comments made by Prof. Reid and the late numismatist Ray Mabee.8 According to Mabee, students were given $1000 in notes and then small printed cards were distributed stating the nature and quantity of a particular commodity or “Representative Merchandise”. It could be five barrels of white fish, or five barrels of trout or perhaps 40 pounds of coffee. The goods were added to inventory, wholesale and retail prices calculated, then they were put up for sale; students would buy and sell their “merchandise” with the cash proceeds received and carefully accounted for. The card for 5 barrels of white fish indicates in a very neat handwriting on the reverse a “1st cost 5.00 / 25.00”, then “Wholesale 6.00 / 30.00” and finally “Retail @ 8.00 / 40.00”. All this, presumably, to be recorded under the sharp eyes of Prof. Whiston and his assistants.9 It should be noted that the existence of many of these early Mount Allison notes is due to the chance discovery by numismatist and antiques collector Ray Mabee of “a folder with a small hoard of bills” found in a Queen Anne style walnut chest of drawers in an old New Brunswick home.

In 1875, a special building was erected on campus to accommodate the commercial department. A photo appearing on a 1906 postcard shows the commercial college building as a two-floor wooden structure with a mansard roof and, if not large, then certainly displaying a significant campus presence. Alas, the commercial college was not destined to survive in this form for very long. The talented and highly regarded founder, Samuel E. Whiston, left Sackville to open what became “Whiston’s Commercial College” at 95 Barrington Street in Halifax.10 Student numbers declined and some courses or programmes were shed and it was not until the arrival in 1890 of C. W. Harrison from Ontario that matters improved. He revitalized the commercial programme and this most certainly included the printing of a new set of paper banknotes, this time more restrained in design due to the demands of the decennial Bank Act.

These notes were much less attractive than the 1874 notes. There is no cheerful scene of Sackville, no reassuring Britannia or a neatly-dressed and well-equipped sailor. Instead, with the heading of “Good Only in the Actual Business Department of / Mount Allison Business College / Sackville, New Brunswick” the design can only be called bureaucratic/institutional. To give one example: at the left is the large digit “1” and “One” printed vertically, both within a small vertical guilloche and at the right, a woman coming in from the field carrying what might be a sheaf of wheat. The lower half of the note carries a statement and a quotation that perhaps explains the Spartan nature of the design. The following clause from the Bank Act, 53 Victoria Chap. 31, 1890, explains why a Bill resembling a Bank Note cannot be issued by any Business College – Clause 63:

“Every person why designs, engraves, prints or in any manner makes, executes, utters, issues, distributes, circulates or uses any business or professional card, notice, placard, circular, hand bill or advertisement in the likeness or similitude of any Dominion or Bank Note, or any obligation or security of any Government or of any Bank, is liable to a penalty of one hundred dollars, or to three month’s imprisonment, or to both.”

And here it is worth noting historian Reid’s reference to a Mount Allison 1874 $2.00 bill that an enterprising student successfully passed as the genuine article!

It is not known how long these 1890s notes were in use or when they were discarded. Included in this large series were notes of 5 cents (printed in black), 10 cents (green), 25 cents (dark blue), and 50 cents (red) with notes in brown ink for $10, $20, $100 and $500, according to the data provided by the Schingoethes. This set of notes carried the heading “Mount Allison Academy”. In blue ink were notes of $1, $5, $10 and $20 and they were headed “Mount Allison Business College”. The notes held by the university archives and those held by collectors confirm many of these combinations but not all; unfortunately the Schingoethe book does not reveal their source(s) of information.

Promissory Note, 1910

Cheque, 1910

Deposit slip

A small collection of receipt blanks, deposit slips, and blank cheques indicate that the commerce programme continued into the early years of the 20th century. These blank forms carry preprinted dates of “19__” and “191_” but no further series of banknotes are known after the 1890s. The institution itself was known by various names after that, including The Mount Allison Business College Bank at the turn of the century and on a promissory note dated March 1910, the “Mount Allison Commercial College Bank”.

According to Professor Reid’s history of the university, the commercial programs continued at Mount Allison University into the 1930s. After the Great War Reid writes that the commercial college “drew students from throughout the region for training in bookkeeping, business practices, stenography, and related skills, with an especially strong contingent each year from Sackville itself and the immediate area.” (II, 182).

In 1936, the university created the Commerce department. A study recommended that the commercial college courses “should be taken over by the university from the Academy, and that a four-year degree programme should be introduced, consisting both of business administration courses and a leavening of arts subject. In this way, Mount Allison could continue its tradition of offering commercial education while not duplicating the work of private business schools….”

The Commerce department continues to this day at Mount Allison University, but without courses in handwriting, telegraphy and railroads.

Mark Holton, FCNRS, lives in Sackville, NB. Now retired, he has been an art museum curator and director, university lecturer, fine art advisor to a number of collectors, and a high school teacher.

1. To clarify the matter of names…the Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy was a school for boys established in 1843, with the Female Branch (later called the ‘female academy’ and then ‘Ladies Academy’) opened in 1854. In 1886, the name changed officially to the Mount Allison Ladies’ College. Mount Allison granted its first degrees as a University in 1863.
2. One such reference work is W. L. Ormsby, 1852. A Description of the Present System of Bank Note Engraving showing its tendency to facilitate counterfeiting: to which is added a new method of constructing bank notes to prevent forgery. New York: W.L. Ormsby and London: Willoughby & Co.
3. John G. Reid, Mount Allison University: A History to 1963. Two volumes, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963. I am indebted to librarian Laura Landon for obtaining these books for me when the pandemic kept me from the university library.
4. Herb and Martha Schingoethe, and Neil Shafer (editor) 1993. College Currency; Money for Business Training. Port Clinton, Ohio: BNR Press.
5. I am greatly indebted to university archivist David Mawhinney for providing me with photocopies to work with during the COVID-19 lockdown when the university archives was closed to non-university users.
6. I am indebted to Jane Tisdale at the Owens Art Gallery for very kindly showing me the original drawing using on the Mount Allison Bank note as well as a coloured view of the same.
7. Gray is the subject of a very brief but laudatory biographical sketch in the Franklin Historical Review, a copy of which is in the vertical file at the Mount Allison University archives: “John Warrener Gray — An Art Teacher of Long Ago” by a “Miss Claribel Cantwell”. She notes that Gray “painted mostly landscapes in oil”. The Montreal Herald notes that while “an artist of genius” Gray died “penniless and almost forgotten in his old age.” Herald, February 26, 1912.
8. Ray Mabee, The Mount Allison Commercial College Currency, in the Journal of the Canadian Numismatic Association, April 1971, 256-257 and also printed in the Newsletter of the Atlantic Provinces Numismatic Association, January 1971.
9. These cards appeared in the G. Bell Auction, April 30 and May 1, 2020, at the Toronto Coin Expo Spring Sale, as lots 456-458.
10. But in the end he returned, to be buried in the Sackville Rural Cemetery after his death in Halifax, March 5, 1903, to be with his daughter, Ethel, who died at age 6 in 1876. Also buried there is spouse Maud Whiston who died April 1912 at age 73. Whiston successfully operated “Whiston’s Commercial College” in Halifax until 1900 when he sold the business to Messrs. Kaulback and Schurman, proprietors of the Maritime Business College. This sale is noted in the Charlottetown Guardian newspaper on February 21, 1901, and later issues. In Charlottetown, Mabee suggests that Whiston may have been the head of the Eaton’s Actual Business College when he was lured away by President Allison.

Our Summer Students’ Experiences
with the Tantramar Heritage Trust in 2021

Every year, with the assistance of many funding sources (see below), The Tantramar Heritage Trust hires students who lead visitors to either the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre or the Campbell Carriage Factory to create a special learning experience. Each year, we pride ourselves in selecting special people for these important tasks and, at the end of tourist season, our tour guides and research assistants are requested to write a report of their experiences with the Trust as well as offer suggestions to make our visitors’ experience with our museums an even better one. These reports are always carefully read, suggestions recorded and the reports filed. But this year as we read through the seasonal reports, we were touched by many of the personal comments made by the students about their experiences with us. And on that basis, we thought that our membership should be made aware of the very positive commentaries and suggestions made by our summer students. Below, we accumulated some of the many commentaries expressed by our summer employees and extracted from their annual summer reports. We felt that it was best to not add any names as these commentaries were made confidentially. But the board of directors felt that our members should be made aware of these as you all assisted, one way or another, in the funding of those important summer positions.

Our funding sources are varied and include: the J.E.A. Crake Foundation, Mount Allison University Experiential Learning, Canada Summer Jobs (Government of Canada), Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations (Canadian Museum Association), Community Museum Summer Employment Program and the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. We are very grateful to all.

I cannot thank you all enough for the amazing work you do on a daily basis. I could have never imagined how integrated and integral the Tantramar Heritage Trust is to the Tantramar Region. The work, time, and energy you all put in is inspiring. I am so thankful to have been a part of such a lovely team and a wonderful organization this summer! I have learned a lot and I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to grow tremendously as a person. You are all such crucial aspects to the community of Sackville and, without all of your efforts Sackville would not be what it is today.


I was able to learn and experience a lot in a very safe, supportive and fun environment. This job allowed me to explore new skill sets and there were a good variety of tasks to do.


It is exciting to be a part of an organization with so many opportunities. I hope that the next Crake Intern has as much fun as I did connecting with the Tantramar community and learning about its history.


Over the past ten weeks, I have learned many things, made incredible friends and overall, acquired an appreciation for Sackville and the history within this small town.


I really enjoyed my summer here and I am glad that I was able to work in collections this summer.


As someone who is interested in museums, I really appreciated the opportunity to give tours at the Boultenhouse and at the Campbell Carriage Factory. I learned a tremendous amount about important local history and the significance of the Tantramar region, both past and present, including how the region had a very active economy. The museums and accompanying exhibitions present so much history in an enjoyable and informative way.


We had a great summer with a staff of 8 working out of the museums. By August, we were getting lots of visitors and it almost felt like a normal summer. We continued to follow safety protocols to keep everyone safe, including wearing masks, social distancing as much as possible, and using hand sanitizer regularly.

Unfortunately, cases have risen in New Brunswick and in our own community. As a result, we’ve decided to cancel our fall fundraising dinner and perhaps hold one in the spring instead. As with everyone, we’re in “wait and see” mode.

As of October 5, our museums continue to be open to the public. Masks and proof of double vaccination are required to enter our buildings. The Boultenhouse Heritage Centre is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm. The Campbell Carriage Factory is available for tours by appointment. Just contact the office at (506) 536-2541 or

We’re pleased to be partnering with Mount Allison University’s Experiential Learning Office to have Annika Williams working in Archives this fall for course credit. Check out our holdings in the Council of Archives New Brunswick database here:

I’m also pleased to tell you that our Research Centre is now open to the public. It’s best to make an appointment if you’d like to visit, since it can get busy around here. Thanks to the Young Canada Works Program, we have hired Alex Nay to work in the Research Centre this fall and winter. He’s worked with us in the past and is very familiar with our organization and will be happy to respond to research and genealogical inquiries. Just email him at with questions or to set up an appointment.

–Karen Valanne