Cindy Wilson photo/Telegraph-Journal

Students promote city's history

by Canadian History Class - Sunday, January 11, 2009

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal

Editor's note: Last term, the students of Barry Ogden's Grade 12 Canadian history class at Saint John High School were given a special assignment. They were asked to break up into groups to study aspects of Saint John's history, from the Wolastoqiyik First Nation to the golden age of sail. They conducted research, went on field trips and heard from local experts. Through the research, they learned about working together in teams, making and keeping commitments, how to delegate and how to motivate. The project opened their eyes to the wealth of history in their home community.

With the information they had gathered, the students wrote research papers and constructed models and other visual aids, such as one might find in a museum display. Each group also wrote a letter to the editor, giving a thumbnail sketch of what they had learned and arguing that Saint John should do more to promote public understanding of its history.

Here are those letters - written by students looking back to the past and forward to the kind of city they want to live in.

Learn from the Wolastoqiyik People

The Wolastoqiyik People, sometimes referred to by Europeans as Maliseets, were located in north eastern North America. North America's real name, the First Nations' name, is Turtle Island. The Wolastoqik River was the homeland to these aboriginal people. We call this river by its European name, the Saint John River, but for 11,000 it was called the Wolastoqik River. The Wolastoqiyik People have lived with many conflicts, fighting for their aboriginal and human rights.

We recently went on a trip with our Canadian History class to the New Brunswick Museum to learn more about our native culture. We had an excellent tour by Rose Poirier. We learned about Happy Spirit Bags, as First Nations People believe those spirits are our ancestors and are there to help us and support us. This is very different than the concept of Heaven and Hell.

The First Nations people had a very co-operative culture and saw the environment as part of all of us, so it was to be treated with respect and dignity.

In Saint John we should have a physical representation of our Aboriginal culture. A few wigwams and canoes would be a great way to learn more about our history of the last 11,000 years and would be found very interesting by tourists and school children. This would be easy to recreate and create a lot of pride in our community.

We can learn a lot from the Wolastoqiyik People and at the same time learn a lot about ourselves as a community.


Build replica of Fort LaTour

One of the first contacts by Europeans to our area was by Samuel de Champlain in 1604. Saint John is home to one of the most important aspects of French Canadian history. This is the structure we all know as Fort LaTour. The LaTours traded with the Boston area and the Eastern Seaboard, home today to 120 million people.

Fort LaTour was a home, a trading base and the host of many battles. Madame LaTour and Charles LaTour were very proud people. They had a school and a church and even fought off rival French forces, which was the only time in this part of the world when the French fought the French.

Why is this great story not told in a way all citizens and visitors can share in? We, as Saint Johners, need to show pride in and display our heritage. The LaTour site should have a replica of the fort from this time period for all of us to learn from, and close by should be a display of our Aboriginal heritage. This could easily be accomplished if we have enough pride to do it.

Our models are on display at the Saint John Free Public Library at Market Square.


Loyalist House honours refugees

New Brunswick has a history that is basically not talked about. The first people in our area were the Wolastoquiyik. The Wolastoquiyik created the basis of our area for over 11,000 years. Had it not been for them, the people who came later would not have been able to survive.

After the American Revolution, the Loyalists began coming into Saint John in 1783. About 14,000 Loyalist refugees came to New Brunswick with the hopes of finding something better for their families.

In October of 2008, Dennis Knibb, the former principal of Saint John High, gave our Grade 12 Canadian History class a very interesting tour of the Loyalist House on the corner of Union Street and Germain Street. This house has remained the same since it was built between the years of 1817 and 1820 for David Daniel Meritt.

It was surprising to hear how much Mr. Knibb knew about the Loyalists and what they did for us. Mr. Knibb has contributed a lot to this community.

Loyalist House is one of the oldest buildings in Saint John. It also survived the Great Fires of 1837 and 1877. Loyalist House is not a government funded project; those who work there are volunteers. I would encourage people to visit Loyalist House and push for the rebuilding of our Loyalist heritage.

A Loyalist tent city, like that which existed when many loyalist settlers died from those first few winters, would be rather easy to recreate and tell our story. It would be a great tourist attraction and learning centre.

We need to display our history and make it tangible for all to learn.


City should rebuild Willow Grove Church

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

-Martin Luther King Jr.

The largest number of Afro-Canadians to ever to come to New Brunswick arrived between 1783 and 1784. Many of these people were used as slaves by the Loyalists. Most slaves were in Saint John; however, as the Loyalists moved up the St. John River they were found in other parts of the province. Even though there was a big number of afro-Canadians who were slaves, there were others who came as Loyalists who were free people.

A place of hope for these individuals was the Willow Grove Church. I believe that we should recreate this church, because it would be nice to see more of the Afro-Canadian culture; it would be a great tourist attraction, a museum and could be used for a place of learning.

There is a organization based in Saint John called PRUDE (Pride, Race, Unity, Dignity, Education), which is "dedicated to the full participation of all cultural communities in the social, cultural, and economic fabric of mainstream New Brunswick life." This is a great organization for creating a New Brunswick that is welcoming for Canadians and new immigrants alike. Some of the programs and services they offer include training and skills development programs for women, public awareness programs, a senior drop-in center, and a heritage reference library. We had an excellent presentation by David Peters of PRUDE on our Afro-Canadian history.

To find out more about this organization or to see how you can help, you can visit them at 47 Charlotte Street, 3rd floor, City Market.

Why don't we rebuild the Willow Grove Church to restore our Afro-Canadian culture?


Open Irish historic sites

The city of Saint John can not possibly realize how rich this province, and city, are in Irish history. Saint John is home to numerous Irish historical sites. It is time for Saint John to recognize its Irish history and begin to flaunt it.

When the Irish first immigrated to Saint John, they found it somewhat difficult to find a place. However, once they began to demonstrate the talents they had, an Irish community developed. Today they are known for their construction, medical practices, their role in the judiciary, and their role in the political system.

I believe that some of the historical sites should be opened for the public to experience what the Irish immigrants once did. For example, Partridge Island could be used as a teaching tool. I myself just recently discovered the fact that it was a quarantine center for new immigrants. I feel it should be designed to indicate the impact it had on the city of Saint John. Without some of the Irish immigrants who once traveled through this island, the city would not be what it is today.

Opening Partridge Island to the public with historical information could turn it into a tourist attraction. There is no reason that Saint John could not create a harbour tour. It could take tourists through the Reversing Falls, past the docks and then all the way out to Partridge Island. After all, Saint John used to be entirely dependant on the harbour.

It would be very uplifting for the Irish community in Saint John to understand that their history is being shared.

It is in the hands of the citizens in Saint John to ensure that historical sites, such as Partridge Island, can be opened to the public. It is very important that the new generation of children realize their local history.


Scottish immigrants helped build city

Our Grade 12 Canadian history class, over the past months, has been working on projects in relation to the early growth of Canada, in particular the Maritime Provinces. Our group chose Scottish immigration as our subject.

Scottish heritage is to be a major part of Canadian history, the main historical figure being John A. MacDonald, the first Canadian Prime Minister, who was born in Scotland. Why did the Scottish choose Canada? Or even, why did they leave their home country?

In the 1800s, due to overpopulation and powerful land lords, both the highland and lowland Scottish experienced forced emigration. These events, known as the clearances, caused massive emigration into the British colonies. Canada became home to approximately 326,000 Scottish immigrants between 1870 and 1918. Around 14 per cent stayed in New Brunswick.

Despite their success in Canada, the voyage across the Atlantic was difficult. Most immigrants were forced to board timber ships returning to the various colonies. However, this journey could take up to around 10 to 12 weeks with little provisions and medical aid.

Institutions such as the Saint Andrew's Society have been helping Scottish immigrants and descendants since 1798. These institutions should also press our city to retain our Scottish heritage, St. Andrew's square being a good example.

We would strongly encourage not only students but also the citizens of Saint John to be aware of the strong influence that the Scottish have played in Canadian history.


The Golden Age of Sail

The Golden Age of Sail occurred between the 1840s and the 1890s. Wooden sailing ships ruled the seas, and our ships were plentiful and looked up to. Canada had the advantage of plentiful forests, highways of rivers, close connections to the oceans and the shipping industry. Saint John was the heart of this fourth largest fleet in the world.

During its peak, we were producing more than 500 ships per year, which provided an emerging class of shipbuilders and plenty of work. Saint John has always been a worldly city, as it is a port city. Many of the new immigrants brought new skills and an entrepreneurial spirit with them. Our community has always been the economic engine of the province and has always raised the most tax revenue for our province. We have always used the sea and traded this way, from the Wolastoqiyik people to our present-day citizens. Maritime commerce is a common theme in our 11,000 years of history.

The famous Saint John ship the Marco Polo held the record for circumnavigating the world.

Although it has passed, the Golden Age of Sail has helped to shape Saint John into the great city it is today. People who understand, know and appreciate their history look to the future with confidence because they are proud and sure of who they are.

Looking back at this time period gives us a sense of self-knowledge and self-confidence for the future.


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