Article extracted from the New Brunswick Reporter

NBR – 1845.05.23 – Reminiscences of New Brunswick – #7


Presque Isle – Great Falls – Durham – Boats –
Early Navigation
Leaving Woodstock I shall take a brief view of the two old Military Forts which were established on the River St. John, shortly after the country was first settled. The first was at the Presque Isle, about 82 miles above Fredericton At this place a clearing was made and Barracks were erected with Store houses and other accommodations for a large Detachment of Troops who were stationed here at that period, this being a very elevated and commanding site overlooking the surrounding country to a great distance, and opening a communication with the settlers who were scattered through the wilderness from Fredericton upwards along the margin of the St. John. The other post was at the Great Falls about fifty miles farther up the River. This place forms one of the great features of New Brunswick. Here the whole body of the River St. John is precipitated down a perpendicular precipice of more than forty feet and the Upper country totally disjointed from the sea board. When boats arrive at this place from the lower country bound to Madawaska and the upper St. John, they are taken out of the water and with their load transported across the Isthmus, when they are again embarked on the River and proceed to their destination. This will doubtless in future years cause a town to arise at this place as nature appears to have formed it for a place of deposit and export for the products of the upper and lower parts of the Province. It is already a place of considerable importance as the [lumberers] on the upper St. John have to make this one of their chief stages for storing their supplies, and a rendezvous for their workmen while passing their lumber through the Falls in the Spring.

The River at this place forms a curve round a projecting point of highland. The Isthmus joined by this course was cleared by Government shortly after the peace of 1783, and Barrack and other accommodations were constructed in which a considerable Garrison was kept up for a long time.

Those two posts being thus established in the interior when the country was a dense forest, was of the utmost consequence to the early settlers, as they were the means of opening an keeping up a communication between the upper Country and Fredericton, for there were then no roads, and but few canoes on the River. Those posts were a secure resting place for the first inhabitants in their route from Fredericton to their distant and lonesome abodes in the wilderness. And by the forwarding supplies to those posts a water communication was opened by which the scattered settlers received many of their smaller supplies from the seaboard.

It may not be amiss here to notice the great improvement in the Navigation of the River St. John, by contrasting the different kind of boats formerly used, and those of the present day. The boats by Government for conveying supplies to the two posts first described were a heavy wall sided batteaux of several tons burthen but of a great draught of water. They were called Durham Boats, and required a dozen men to work them. They were propelled by heavy pike poles and dragged through the shoals and rapids by men with ropes, and it took longer at that time to complete a trip from Fredericton to the Grand Falls with a load, then it does at present to cross the Atlantic – nearly a month was often spent in the voyage up and down.

Those Boats were under the direction of Mr. King and Mr. M. Duperre, and usually consisted of three or four for the trip. Their progress up the River though slow, was anxiously watched by the settlers, for the whole population along the River as well as the troops at the different stations, were interested in their arrival. Indeed those Boats for a long time formed the only mode of communication between the straggling settlers and the seaboard, and served to keep up an intercourse between them and the world from which they were at that time nearly excluded; while the troops at the different posts depended on their arrival for all their supplies. For if the River was late in opening, and the old stock of provisions run short, there was no other [resourse] but patience and abstinence till the Boats could make their way up. The upper Garrison at the Grand Falls was the most exposed to these privations, for being completely isolated, no relief could be expected but from Fredericton. At one time a detachment of the 54th regiment with their families were reduced to the greatest straits by a delay in the arrival of those boats, and were nearly as much elated by their appearance as the Garrison of Londonderry at the sight of the fleet of King William. While the scattered inhabitants traced their progress along the River with the most intense interest for reasons that shall be explained in the next number.