[Notes from Editor: As page numbers in electronic editions do not correspond to those in original printed versions, they are omitted from any Tables of Contents or Illustration Lists in works that we transcribe. Spellings are left as they were in the original work. Sentence & punctuation anomalies are also (mostly) left intact. Footnotes follow the paragraph in which they are referenced, enclosed by square brackets. Richard MacNeil]
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A special thank you is extended to Sylvia Warner of Stellarton, NS
for preparing this transcription, April, 2004.
I N T R O D U C T O R Y .
The County of Pictou
lies on the Northern Shore of the Straits of Northumberland, along which, it
presents a length of about fifty miles. It extends into the interior to a distance
of over twenty miles, being bounded on the South, by the County of Guysbourgh,
on the East by the County of Antigonish, and on the West by the County of Colchester.
When originally set off in the year 1792, from Colchester as a separate district,
its boundaries were thus described: " Beginning four miles eastward of
David Archibald's house, at Salmon River, between Truro and Pictou, as the road
now runs, from thence to run north, four degrees west, (by the Magnet,) to the
shore of Tatamagouche harbour, thence from said place of beginning, to run south
twenty-seven degrees east, to the southern line of the District of Colchester;
thence east by the said line to the western line of the County of Sydney, including
all the lands to the eastward and northward of said lines, within the (then)
District of Colchester." More exactly it's limits are thus described, "
commencing at the boundary of the County of Colchester, at the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
thence south four degrees east 19 miles, thence south twenty degrees east 26
miles, thence east 25 miles, thence north 26 miles to the shore."
The following are the Latitudes and Longitudes of leading points, determined by a series of observations by officers of H.M. Navy, in the year 1828.
Pictou Island South Side 45 47 52 62 37 33
Pictou Harbour............... 45 41 56 62 42 ....
Pictou Academy.............. 45 40 20 62 44 28
It is divided into three
townships, Pictou, Egerton and Maxwelton. The first of these embraces the western
part of the county, from the Colchester County line to the harbour of Pictou.
It is separated from the Township of Egerton, by a line commencing at Boat Harbour
and running thence south 54 degrees west, till it reaches East River, at what
is called the Big Gut, and by another line commencing at Doctor's Island, at
the point between the Middle and West Rivers, and thence south 30 degrees west
19 miles, to the Colchester County line. The Township of Egerton embraces all
the central portions of the county, and is bounded on the west by the Township
of Pictou, as just mentioned, and on the east is separated from the Township
of Maxwelton, by a line commencing at the bridge at Sutherlands River, and thence
running south to the Guysbough County line. The Township of Maxwelton includes
the remaining part of the county.
Its estimated area is as follows:-
Pictou Township................ 215,360 Acres
Egerton " ................ 239,600 "
Maxwelton " ................ 222,400 "
Its coast is indented by several harbours, of which the most important is Pictou, about the centre of its seaboard, and which is the largest, and by far, the best harbour on the Northern shore of Nova Scotia. It has a bar at its mouth with twenty feet of water on it at low tide. The entrance is narrow, but within it expands into a very large and capacious basin, having from five to nine fathoms of water, where a large navy might ride in perfect safety, and with muddy bottom, affording superior holding ground. Its main disadvantage is that it is frozen over from the middle or end of December to the beginning or end of April. Three fine streams, after winding through a fertile district, fall into it, known as the East, Middle and West Rivers, the first navigable for small vessels for five miles from its mouth.
A short distance to the westward is the small harbour of Carriboo,* formed between the main land and two islands, named respectively Big and little Carriboo. This name is said to have arisen, from some of the first explorers, having seen a herd of caribou on the east point of what is now the Big Island, but which was then a headland connected with the shore, and which they thence called Caribou Point. This harbour has two principal entrances, one between the two islands, and the other much narrower but deeper, between the smaller and the mainland. When the first settlers arrived this was the only entrance, what is now the wide entrance being then a sandbeach, over which the sea was beginning to make its way. It has, however, continued its encroachments, till it has entirely separated between the two islands, making a passage half a mile wide with four feet of water on it at low tide. Within the memory of the first settlers the sea has also cut across the beach, which connected what is now the Big Island with the land, and thus formed a third entrance, which, however, is still shallow. ** And further changes are
[* Such is the spelling
now commonly adopted, though the name of the animal is generally spelled Caribou.]
** The late James Harris used to say that when he first visited the island, he could cross between them by wading to the knee, and he remembers the first storm which cut across the beach connecting the Big Island with the land.]
going on. At two if not
three places on the Big Island, which were once meadows, cutting considerable
quantities of hay, are now only narrow sand beaches, which the sea is wearing
away, and which it will soon cut through, and thus convert it into three or
four islands. In the days of the Pictou timber trade, vessels of considerable
size loaded in this harbour, but it is now but little used. Two small streams
dignified as Big and Little Carriboo Rivers, unite their waters about three
quarters of a mile from the harbour into which they flow into a deep channel.
About 15 miles farther to the westward, is the only other harbour on that side
of the county, viz:- River John, being the estuary of the river so named. This
harbour is not large and not well sheltered, being exposed to northerly winds,
but it has for many years been the seat of a large shipbuilding trade. The River
John, ( in Micmac Cajje-Boogwek, i.e., flowing through a wilderness,*) flowing
into it, drains a large tract of country. Between these two harbours a small
stream known as Toney River, with several brooks empty into the Strait.
Proceeding from Pictou Harbour eastward, along the coast, we pass some small harbours, known as Chance, Boat and Little Harbours, and then, meet Merigomish, formed by what is called the Big Island of Merigomish, which, however, is connected at its eastern end with the mainland by a sand-beach a mile and a half long. Here seems originally to have been the entrance to the harbour. The early French explorers in the 17th century speak of this as the entrance, but represents it as becoming choked with sand, so that only small vessels could enter, and that only at high- tide. When the first English settlers arrived, the old Indians could recollect when there was sufficient water to afford passage for their canoes. Now, however, it is a sand beach from an eighth to a quarter of a mile wide, and for some distance along the centre,
[* From Cajjah, to be alone.]
Judging by the eye, about
30 feet high, covered with a coarse grass and a few plants, such as will grow
in that situation. The entrance is now at the west end of the Island, and my
opinion is that originally this was connected with the land, but that the sea
here cut a new entrance, that in consequence the tidal and river waters flowing
in this course, the stream at the east end became too sluggish to keep the passage
there clear of the sand accumulating at its mouth, and thus led ultimately to
its being closed up. Even yet a very heavy storm will make a passage across
The present entrance has a bar with 14 feet at low water, formed by rocky shoals running out from the points on each side. Within, however, it is a large and safe harbour. Once inside, the mariner finds himself well sheltered, but it has this disadvantage, that from the bend in the channel, turning round the end of the island, the same wind by which sailing vessels can enter, will not bring them up to the upper parts of the harbour. It contains a number of islands, varying in size from a few acres to a square mile in extent. Into it flow as we proceed easterly, Sutherlands, French and Barneys Rivers.
Besides the islands already mentioned and some smaller ones, there lies off the coast at a distance of about eight miles from the entrance of Pictou Harbour, Pictou Island, and about five miles from east to west, with an average breadth of about a mile and three quarters. From each end reefs run out to a considerable distance.
The coast has few dangers for navigation, and these are largely obviated by light houses. Approaching from the east, the mariner first sights Pictou Island light, which is situated on the south-east point of the Island, showing a white fixed light, 52 feet above sea level, and visible 11 miles, from a square white building. Then comes Pictou Harbour light on the south side of the entrance. It is a white fixed light, with a small red light below, 65 feet above sea level, visible 12 mile. The building is octagonal, painted in red and white vertical stripes. Farther to the northward and westward is Big Carriboo Island light, situated on the north-east end of the Island, a white revolving light, showing its greatest brilliancy every minute, 35 feet above high water, and visible 10 miles from a square white building.
The coast is generally low, scarcely in any place forming cliffs, " the Roaring Bull," a point four miles to the eastward of Pictou Harbour, making the nearest approach to one. Both inside and outside the harbours, it is being gradually worn away, the sandstone, which forms the underlying rock, readily yielding to the influence of the waves. At the Middle River Point, those who can remember a period of about fifty years, estimate that in that time about 200 feet of the shore has been carried away. The Island there is not now half the size it was within their recollection, and a small island on the Middle River has in that same time been entirely carried away, except for a few stones visible at low water. At Abercromby Point, residents calculate that about sixty feet of the bank has been carried away.
This wasting goes on with greatest rapidity under the influence of north-east winds, which cause our highest tides, and drive water with great force, particularly against the shores on the south side of the Harbour. In this way the banks are undermined, and the frost and rain bring down the superincumbent soil, which is washed away by the waves and tides.
In Merigomish the same thing is observed. Mr. Wm. Dunn, an intelligent resident, estimates that during a period of about fifty years, from sixty to a hundred feet of shore has been carried away on the point formerly occupied by Mr. James Crerar, and in the cove on the front of his own farm. The old ship yard is now almost entirely covered with water, so that where the bow of the vessel rested on the " ways," is now about high water mark.
On the open coast the wasting must be greater. We have already referred to the changes going on at Carriboo Island. But Pictou Island is wearing away with perhaps greater rapidity, though at one point toward the south-east side, a sand beach is making. The old Indians spoke of a time, when the passage between it and Carriboo Island, now five and three quarter miles wide, was comparatively narrow. At Cole's Point, near the entrance of the harbour, about thirty yards of a bank twenty or thirty feet high has been carried away within a short time, and its foundation is now a shingly beach. Since the light house was built in 1834, about 200 yards of the eastern side of the beach on which it stands, then yielding a coarse hay, is now under water, and had not a break water been erected, protecting that building on three sides, it would have been swept away some time ago. At the same time, however, the beach has been making toward the west.
The beach on the north side has also been diminishing, though not with the same rapidity. It is calculated that during the same period it has narrowed to the extent of fifty yards. One great storm carried away about a quarter of an acre in one place. On examination of the ground laid bare, there were found roots of ash trees as they had grown, and with them a skeleton of a bear. The sand, however, after a time again covered the spot.
On the other hand, the land covered by the estuaries of the rivers, and the shallower parts of the harbour are gradually rising. On the West River, by the calculations of those who can remember fifty years, the flats have risen over eighteen inches. At Middle River Point, between the island and the shore, it has filled up to the extent of about eighteen inches, and where it was once too soft to walk on, it is now so hard, that a horse and cart may be driven over it. On Middle River, similar changes have been noted as in progress. Not only are the marshes rising, but a channel formerly largely used by boats, for which the regular landing place was at Lochead's is now filled in. In like manner what the residents knew as " the long pool" is now filled with gravel, and generally the creeks on both rivers are estimated as risen to about the same extent as the surrounding flats.
In the harbour the flats from Middle River point to the channel, are estimated to have risen about a foot in the last fifty years, while residents at Abercromby Point estimate that those off that point have risen at least two feet. The East River, from its greater size carrying down a greater amount of soil, will naturally account for this. Thirty years ago it was considered, that vessels drawing nineteen feet of water might safely load at the loading ground at the mouth of the East River, but since that time a ford has arisen further down, over which, previous to that late dredging operations, it was difficult to take vessels drawing over fifteen. Indeed it is maintained that every part of the harbour, even the channel itself, is becoming shallower. In former years vessels drawing twenty-four feet of water passed over the bar outside the harbour, but this cannot be done now.
In Merigomish the same thing is noticed, particularly in the eastern portion of the harbour, between French and Barneys Rivers. Residence have observed that the flats are widening and the water upon them becoming more shallow. The bottom, too, consists of rich, soft, fine mud, extending up to the beach itself, evidently brought down by the rivers. On Barneys River from the bridge downward, where people forty or fifty years ago went freely in their canoes, is now in grass.
Along the shore the land is level and not elevated, but in the interior ranges of the hills extend in every direction, which, with the various river valleys, by which it is traversed, present scenery of the most beautiful, though not of the grandest description. Some of these hills, such as Fraser Mountain, Green Hill, Mount Thom or Fitzpatricks Mountain, exhibit prospects which in richness and variety, of sea and land, hill and dale, river and shore, field and forest, will compare with any in America. On the western boundary the hills rise to greater elevation, being a continuation of the Cobequid Mountains, while a similar range, not so high, but more rugged in outline, and regarded as a continuation of the South Mountains of Kings and Annapolis Counties, traverses the southern portions of it, and is continued to the Antigonish Mountains.
It has few lakes, compared with some of the other counties of the Province, and these are all small. The principal are Eden, Brora, Sutherlands, and McDonalds Lakes, in the southern portions of Maxwelton township. The others, though small, add in some places a pleasing variety to the landscape.
In the descent of the streams are some pretty cascades, the largest of which and the only one which may be called grand, is on the Sutherlands River, about two and a half miles from its mouth. The stream is here about 100 feet wide. In the centre a large rock, on which is a little soil, bearing a few scrubby trees, divides it into two, and each portion descends by three stages to a pool at the bottom. But just below, a perpendicular precipice, which on the left bank rises high over the falls, projects nearly half-way across, so that the parted streams as they reunite are forced through a narrow gorge.
It has but little marsh land, and none to compare in fertility with the dyked marshes of the Bay of Fundy, but along its rivers and brooks is much intervale, and meadow land of excellent quality, while much of the upland, even to the summits of the hills, is fertile. Indeed with the exception of a tract extending from the head of the West River to the County of Guysborough, and some smaller portions elsewhere, the whole is capable of cultivation. Forest fires have, however, in some instances rendered considerable tracts for a time comparatively barren. Perhaps the largest extent of land of this kind lies between the Albion Mines and Middle River.
Its geological structure may be described in general terms as follows: Across the whole southern side the county extends a range of hills of Upper Silurian formation, composed principally of beds of quartzite and slates, the latter varying much in colour and texture with masses and dykes of syenite and greenstone. This band which commences on the east of Cape Porcupine and Cape George, is about fifteen mile broad from the east side of the County, till it approaches the East River, when it suddenly bends to the south, allowing the carboniferous strata to extend far up into the valley of the river. Farther west it again widens and so continues beyond the boundaries of the county. Rocks of the same formation are also found further north on its western border, where the Eastern Cobequid hills enter the county at Mount Thom and adjacent hills. In an economical point of view, these rocks derive their chief importance from their valuable iron ores, but large part of them are covered with fertile soil.
At the base of the hills are lower carboniferous rocks, chiefly sandstones and conglomerates, over and associated with which, is a series of reddish and grey sandstones and shale, with thick beds of limestones and gypsum, the latter not of the economic importance, of those of Hants County. These can be traced from the upper part of the West River, eastward to the East River, along the valley of which, they enter in the form of narrow bay into the Metamorphic District to the Southward. Eastward of this they continue to skirt the older hills, until they reach the Gulf of St. Lawrence, at Arisaig, beyond the bounds of the county.
To the northward of these older members of the system, there is in some places, especially on the East River, a large development of the productive or middle coal measures, which we shall have occasion to notice more particularly hereafter. The remaining portions of the county, stretching along the straits of Northumberland, consists of newer carboniferous rocks, supposed by Dr. Dawson, to belong to the upper coal measures, or permo-carboniferous series. These formations afford in a great number of places grey freestones, much esteemed for architectural purposes, and also suited for the manufacture of grindstones. Copper ores are found at varies localities, the principal being Carriboo river, the West River a little below Durham, the east River a few miles above the Albion Mines, and River John near the village, but none yet in quantities to be of economic value.
Its Natural History need not further be particularly described, as its flora and fauna are the same with the other portions of the Province. The Beaver has become extinct, though the effects of his labours may yet be seen in various places. Most other wild animals have become scarcer, and some, as the Fisher and Marten, are nearly if not quite extinct. We may mention, however, that the Skunk and Raccoon are recent arrivals. The first appearance of the former was a noted event about fifty years ago. A young man from the Middle River was on his way to the East, to attend a sacramental service; crossing the wilderness land lying between the two rivers, he saw an unknown animal, which he attacked vigorously, and with results that may be imagined. He proceeded on his journey, but as he approached the groups surrounding the church, met the averted faces even of friends, and was obliged to return home and bury his clothes. Other scenes of a similar kind took place in other quarters.
The water along our shores exhibit similar changes in their inhabitants within the historic period. When European voyagers first visited our coast, the Walrus was still found at this latitude; and within the memory of persons still living, the Seal was in such abundance as to be each spring a regular object of pursuit. The first visitors to Pictou described in glowing terms the size and abundance of the oysters, to be found in our harbour, and the shell heaps on the sides of the old Indian encampments, corroborate their statements, but now scarcely any are to be found, and those are but small. I am also informed that the clams, which are but little used, are not only becoming few in number, but smaller in size.
As to its vegetable productions, occasionally a rare specimen may be found. A short distance from the road up Sutherlands River, toward Antigonish, stands a solitary specimen of a species of spruce, which is not found any where in this part of the Province at least. And I have hear of other instances of trees being found, belonging to species not known to exist anywhere near. Many plants have been introduced by colonists, which have spread and become wild. The introduction of one presents some circumstances of interest. A vessel landing ballast at Mortimer's wharf, a few stalks of a species of ragweed, known in Scotland among the common people as Stinking Willie, were thrown out with it. They had been pulled by some cultivator in the old country and thrown among the stones, and with them conveyed to the hold of the vessel, and thus transported across the Atlantic. Some of the seeds took root on the shore, and some fifty years ago the late John Taylor pointed out the plants and warned some bystanders of their character. They laughed at him, and he took no trouble in the matter, but he afterward often expressed his regret that he had not himself set to work and rooted them out, which he might readily have done. About forty years ago, a Highland servant of my father's, pointed out to me a large bunch of it on the shore of the side of the point toward the town. At that time, farmers being interested in getting rid of the oxeyed daisy and other weeds, he remarked that he was mistaken if they did not find ere long that would be more troublesome than any with which they were contending. Since that time, it has not only occupied all the highways around the town and proven troublesome in the fields of the farmers there, but it has spread to the extremities of the county, and beyond it. I have seen it at Carriboo Island on the north shore, at Tatamagouche to the west, well up the East and Middle Rivers to the southward, and I have pulled a stalk of it on the road by Lochaber Lake to the east.
Its meteorology exhibits little interest as distinct from the other portions of the Province. Like the rest of the north coast it presents a remarkable contrast to the southern, in its almost entire freedom from fog. The mean and extreme temperatures are, however, higher there than here, owing specially to the influence of the Gulf stream. The ice which comes down from the north in the spring lingers long off our coast, cooling the air, so as to retard vegetation and impart a rawness to the east winds at that season, which is trying to the health, particularly of persons under any pulmonary weakness. The autumn, however, is much finer than on the south coast, there being much less wet weather, and the southern gales of that season being felt less severely.
The name Pictou was supposed by many to have been a corruption of Poictou, the name of an old Province of France, and to have originated with the French. In many documents of the early part of this century, even Government plans, it is so spelled, and old Highland settlers pronounced it in this way. I have heard of educated persons in Pictou, who maintained that this was the proper name, and spelled it so in their correspondence. But this is a mistake. The name appears spelled as we spell it in the writings of the earliest French voyagers, and there can be little doubt that it is formed from the Indian name, which, according to Mr. Rand, is Pictook. The k at the end of Micmac names, he says, marks what grammarians call the locative case, expressing at or in. The French generally drop the k. Thus we have Chebooktoo for Chebooktook, and so Pictou for Pictouck, the ou being originally sounded as in French.
As most of the Indian names are descriptive, attempts have been made to discover the meaning of this, but as yet we do not think that certainty has been reached. Some have supposed that the word is analogous to Buctou, properly Booktook, which means a harbour, or more properly a bay or arm of the sea; but this is used only with a prefix, as in Chebooktou, Richibooktou, Chedabooktou, &c.
Mr. Rand explains the word differently. He says that the word Pict means an explosion of gas, and he supposes the name to have originated from the escape of gas at the East River from the coal lying below. Whenever the noun ends in the sound of kt, the regular form of the case locative is the addition of ook. Thus nebookt means woods, nebooktook " in the woods," and thus Pict becomes Pictook, and the k being dropped, as just mentioned, we have the name Pictou. It may appear presumptuous to express any doubt regarding a point of Micmac philology, on which Mr. Rand is satisfied. Yet it appears to us a serious objection to his view, that the phenomenon to which he refers was only seen at the East River, to which the Indians gave another name
( Apchechkumooch-waakade, or duckland) while it seems certain that the name Pictouck was applied specially to the harbour, where no such phenomenon exists.
Others again have supposed, that it is a corruption of the Micmac word, Bucto, which signifies fire. That this was the derivation of name, was a common opinion among the early settlers, and find it asserted by Peter Toney, now about the oldest of the Micmac in Pictou, and by others of the tribe. Their story or tradition is, that at one time there had been a large encampment up the West River. On one occasion they all left in their canoes on a cruise down the harbour. During their short absents, the whole encampment was burned up, and also the woods for a considerable distance around. No person could tell how the fire originated. They always spoke of the event as the "Miskeak Bucto," or big fire, which naturally became associated with the place. When the whites came, hearing the Micmac speak of it in this way, they corrupted the name and called the whole north side of the harbour, Pictou, because according to this learned Micmac, they could not pronounce it aright. Others adopting the same derivation, have supposed the name to have been given in consequence of a large fire, at what is now the East River mines. When coal was first discovered there, it was covered with from four to six feet of burnt clay and ashes, over which large hemlock trees were growing, and I am informed that the Indians had traditionary accounts of a fire, which continued burning there for some length of time. This view I regarded as entirely a supposition, and would consider Mr. Toney's much more probable, on this ground if on no other, that the name was originally given not to the Mines but to the north side of the harbour. But Mr. Rand asserts, that the difference between the words is too decided, to admit of this being the correct derivation.
Another meaning was given by Philo Antiquarius, and also by the late Mr. Howe, as derived from a Micmac. It is that it means anything like a jar or bottle, which has a narrow mouth and widens afterward. We have never received this from micmacs, but when we have suggested it to them in the form of a leading question, they have assented to it, whether to please us or because it was correct, may not be quite certain. This would well represent the shape of the harbour, and could it be shown to be in accordance with the Micmac language, we would deem it preferable to the others. But when such differences of opinion exists among the learned, we are obliged to leave the matter unsettled.