… the more they stay the same. We’ve all sat on our grandparents laps and heard the stories of walking to school, up hill, both ways. The summers were hotter, the winters colder, the snow was deeper, the ice formed faster and so on. You know the drill. Even on the weekend was overheard someone telling a youngster that on 15 December 1989, hay was hauled across the ice from Long Island to Wickham.
On this bright day with the St. John River as flowing as blue as it was in July, here’s some photographic evidence that indicates that an open river this late in the season isn’t that unusual. The images show the Majestic, one of the last riverboats, pulling into the wharf at Palmer’s Point, Kings County, 19 December 1923. Palmer’s Point is just south of Evandale at Tennant’s Cove, and north of the entrance to Belleisle Bay. The photograph does show considerable ice along the shoreline, and snow covered trees and fields on the hillsides of the western side of the river, so it was apparently a cold and snowy season. But yet the river stayed open to the riverboat traffic. Imagine the skill and thought that must have gone into determining travel at this time of year. Today we think of weather related decisions concerning road conditions and airline safety. But 100 years ago it was how much ice can a wooden vessel plow through before it becomes too dangerous? As evidenced by this photo and the thick ice on the shoreline, apparently the decision was pushed to the limit.
By 1923 automobiles were making their presence felt in urban and rural areas like Queens and Kings Counties. The Valley Railroad had been built during the war and snaked up the western side of the St. John River with whistle stops at various communities along the way. The riverboat, however, remained the main source of transportation to and from the cities of Saint John and Fredericton moving people, animals and freight. As soon as possible in the spring, the boats would start moving up the river and the dice was always rolled in the winter – how long before the ice became too thick to pass through? Getting to a few days before Christmas in 1923 must have been considered quite a bonus for the merchants and families along the lower river valley!
For more information about the Majestic, contact Queens County Heritage at firstname.lastname@example.org.