This post is a collection of a few links related to the Saint John River.
First of all, Canoe Kayak New Brunswick, which I'm pleased to be involved with, has a great new website. Take a look!
A related thing of interest is this quest to paddle 1500 miles on a route that includes the entire length of the Saint John River in New Brunswick, along with the Allagash in Maine. I supported the expedition on GoFundMe.
The main topic of this post is a PhD thesis from UNB that examines some of the history of the Saint John River (download it here). It is titled River of three peoples: an environmental and cultural history of the Wәlastәw / riviѐre St. Jean / St. John River, c. 1550 – 1850 and was written by Dr. Jason Hall. At 465 pages in length, I haven't read the whole thing, but the parts I did read were very interesting. I don't think I've seen so much detail on 17th century New Brunswick history assembled elsewhere—granted I haven't really read scholarly research on the topic.
Here is the beginning of the abstract:
This study investigates how three distinct cultures – Maliseet, French, and British – engaged with and transformed the ecology of the Welastekw/riviere St. Jean/St. John River, the largest river system in the Maritimes and New England. Ranging three centuries, ca. 1550‐1850, it examines cultural interactions relative to the river’s fish, banks, and flow to assess ecological changes. By developing comparisons among Maliseet, French, and British relationships to the river, it analyzes how cultural groups modified and expanded on the ecology of other peoples. Drawing upon a vast array of sources, including Maliseet oral traditions and language, archaeological surveys, scientific studies, historic maps and paintings, as well as diaries, letters, and reports of the waterway and its banks, this research makes significant contributions to a number of scholarly fields: river ecologies and human adaptations of them, Maliseet history, seigneurial settlement in colonial societies, Loyalist ecology, colonial and municipal legal history, historical cartography, and the role of ecological knowledge in governance and environmental activism. Moreover, it contributes to early modern North American environmental history, as well as global studies of rivers. (p. ii)
The author challenges the view that the region was untouched wilderness when European explorers and settlers arrived:
As humans have been an intrinsic part of this region since the retreat of the ice shield 13,000 years ago, it is impossible to consider the ecology of the Welastekw, riviere St. Jean, and St. John River, as the animal and plant dynamic within landscapes without people. As we have no evidence of humans in this landscape before the retreat of the last ice age and the formation of the river, it is an excellent place to examine the relationship between nature and culture that has been so fraught with debate since European colonization. From the 19th century onward, the trend in natural sciences has been to view nature as separate from humanity. In local environments such as the St. John River Valley, however, it is difficult to distinguish between nature and society. This study examines human interactions with the landscapes and waterscapes of the St. John watershed to analyze how three different human cultures interacted with the same physical environment over three centuries. (p.11)
Frequent mention was made in the thesis of portage routes connecting the Saint John River to other watersheds, including the Saint Lawrence via Lac Temiscouata.
Almost all of the St. John’s principal tributaries connect to a host of other watersheds via short portages, which made the river an important link in a water‐based regional transportation network for lightweight canoe technology (p. 3)
Fort Nashwaak was discussed quite a bit, including Maliseet negotiations for better trade terms in 1695 (following a plague in 1694) and the brief siege in 1696, and the advantages and disadvantages of being located so far upriver: it was easier to defend, but left much of the desirable farmland downriver unprotected.
The Saint John River was a vital transportation route in the province, along with being a source of fish and replenishing soil nutrients during flooding. But it also brought challenges:
The St. John was a far larger river than what most [British] colonists had seen or grown accustomed to further south. Moreover, it behaved differently than the other rivers they had known. Its mouth was more complex and dangerous to navigate than most rivers in eastern North America or Great Britain. Its tidal estuary was longer than many waterways and some of the most powerful tides in the world influenced its flow 140 kilometers into the interior. The river and its tributaries also experienced more cold, snow, and ice buildup than rivers in New England and the British Isles. These factors limited settlers’ navigation and agricultural opportunities in ways that they did not foresee. (p.271)
British settlers had to adapt norms around property rights to suit islands and flood plains that were seasonally flooded and where permanent fences could not be built.
Reversing Falls also figures prominently in this telling of the history of the river. The entire discharge of the river has to pass through a bottle neck that is less than 100 metres wide and is only passable for something like 40 minutes every 6 hours at slack tide. This limited navigation into the interior, especially for people unfamiliar with the area such as military raids without local guides. However, later on it also became a hurdle for upstream industry.
This thesis had some nice maps and paintings, but it would have been nice to see more figures. It seems like it has a pretty comprehensive bibliography, including many primary sources.
Finally, it's not exactly related to the Saint John River, but I also wanted to share this refugee orientation video.