The Parish of North Lake and its People
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The Parish of North Lake did not come into existence until 1885 when it was carved outof the Parish of Canterbury. Until then, it was identified on Census returns as"Division 2." In 1877, Canterbury proper was located on the Saint John river atpresent day Meductic, stretching south for ten miles or so. Canterbury Station came intobeing when the rail road was built.

North Lake begins on the US boundary at a point on Monument Brook where Carleton Countyand York County share a common border. It follows Bull Creek to where it empties into EelRiver, thence to 1st Eel Lake, 2nd Eel Lake, 3rd Eel Lake, through La Coote and down thebrook to where Palfrey brook empties into Palfrey Bay. The line then goes straight west toSpednic Lake and then north along the US boundary to the point of beginning. It wouldcover approximately 500 square miles or slightly over 300,000 acres. Most of it woodland.The communities include: Forest City, Pemberton Ridge, Green Mountain, Fosterville, NorthLake, and Maxwell. As well, there were various locations known as Balm of Gilead Point,"The Bog" in local vernacular, off Green Mountain. Bear Trap Point and GoldenRidge near Maxwell. Eel River was near North Lake. Every dip, hill and hollow had a localname such as: the Sam Foster hill, the Webber Flat, Burnt Knoll, the Albert Place, theMatthew Place, the Benny Bell Field, Board Camp Ridge, Kneeland Ridge, Popple Brook,Norman’s Hovel, Beechridge Hill, and so on. These names would never show on a map,but the local people knew their locations and by this could find their way to every nookand corner of the Parish.

The body of water known as North Lake is the uppermost lake in the chain of lakes called Chipeneticook. Fed by Monument Brook which begins at or near the boundaries of Maine/New Brunswick/Carleton/York counties, North Lake drains into Grand Lake through a narrow channel at Fosterville called the Thoroughfare. Grand Lake, with a shoreline of approximately 300 miles, is about 20 miles in length and at its widest point about 5 miles across. Its outlet, called simply "The Stream" by locals was listed on early maps as the St. Croix River. Which makes some sense since the "stream" empties into Spednic Lake which in turn is drained by the St. Croix River into Passamaquoddy Bay. Around the turn of the century, two dams were built to control the water level and assist in driving logs to market. One at the outlet to Grand Lake at Forest City is still in existence having been replaced twice in the writers memory: in 1949 and 1966. The other was located about half a mile from where the stream enters Spednic Lake at what is known locally as Mud Lake Falls. Mud lake is simply a wide (300 yards) spot created at the head of the dam. This dam was all but disintegrated by the late forties and finally removed altogether by Weldon (Bud) Leeman and Basil S. Boone in the early fifties. The base planks can still be seen worn smooth by the endless flow of water.

Many of the early residents of all the communities had self sustaining farms. While the soil tends to be heavy with clay and rocky, the occupants nonetheless made a reasonably comfortable living from the land. Most had at least one cow and a horse, but more generally a team of horses and a dozen or so cows, predominantly Jersey. A pig or two and a flock of hens completed the menagerie. Neighbors pitched in to help each other with heavy chores such as haying or sawing the winter’s wood moving from farm to farm as the weather dictated.

The majority of farm houses were one and a half or two storey affairs, squarely constructed, with a large porch or verandah on two sides. A large woodshed was usually attached to the rear. For the more affluent, the shed contained the outdoor toilet, a "two-holer", eliminating the need to brave inclement weather when nature beckoned. Others had simple outbuildings with one hole and cracks in the walls through which the snow and rain made any stop of the shortest duration. All had the usual assortment of old calendars on the walls and a pile of Eaton (or Sears & Roebuck) catalogues nearby.

Idle time occupied few. Men would spend the winter working in the woods often spending weeks at a time in crude log camps, only coming out to the settlements at Christmas or an occasional weekend. Women stayed at home looking after the livestock. They had quilting bees, social sewing circles, church activities to round out their days.

Ruby McMinn Smith jotted down this verse called Pioneer Woman: At first I thought she wrote it, but later I run across another fragment. Some unknown author must take credit.
Grandmother on a winter day
Milked the cows and fed them hay;
Slopped the hogs and saddled the mule
And got the children off to school.
Did the washing, mopped the floor,
Washed the windows and did some chores;
Cooked a dish of home-made fruit,
Pressed her husband’s Sunday suit.
Swept the parlor and made a bed
Baked a dozen loaves of bread;
Split some wood and lugged it in,
Enough to fill the kitchen bin.
Cleaned the lamps and put in oil,
Stewed some apples she thot would spoil.
Cooked a supper that was delicious;
Afterwards, washed up all the dishes.
Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes,
Mended a basket full of hose;
Then opened the organ and began to play
"When you come to the end of a perfect day."

One may wonder where these people found time to visit their neighbors, but visit they did, often unannounced, but always welcome. If it happened to be meal time, an extra plate was set. On more than one occasion, a night’s lodging would be offered.

The young people had skating and sliding parties, or gathered at someone’s house for cards games (Rook and 45’s being the favorite). Schools would usually have a Halloween Party, a Christmas Concert, and closing exercises. The Church was a popular place for young and old to congregate; the older people to listen to the new preacher, the young ‘uns to meet girls and maybe walk a favorite home. Home made ice cream and parlor games took up many an evening in the winter with the adults participating as well. Everybody knew everybody else, at least well enough to nod a greeting.

To supplement the diet, as well as extra income, hunting and fishing and trapping had its place in the scheme of things. Back around 1689 when Acadia consisted of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, part of Quebec south of the St. Lawrence, and Maine to the Penobscot River, the land not only looked different than it does today, the animal population differed. The dense forests along the Saint John River, dominated by towering white pine, were rearely broken by meadows. While there were an abundance of wildflowers, there were no dandelions, daisies, clover, devil’s paintbrush, or burdocks. These, along with lilacs and wild apples, were brought in by settlers from New England and Europe.

Fish teemed waters. But there were no brown trout, which later came from Europe, nor pickeral which came from passing railwaymen in the 1880’s.

Big game included Moose, but few deer until around 1850 when the last of the wolves were driven out or killed and the deer surged back. The last of the caribou had disappeared by 1924. Fox, beaver, muskrat, rabbits, were around as they still are. Wolverine have been absent for years.

All of this had little impact on the inhabitants of North Lake one hundred years ago. So far as they were concerned, deer were plentiful, the black bear a nusiance (so much so, a bounty applied to the killing of bear for many years), speckled trout, landlocked salmon, togue, perch, whitefish, all contributed to the home cooked meal. Some of the more daring would sample the taste of a few animals trapped for their fur. Raccoon tended to be greasy and dark, similar to bear meat. Beaver and porcupine were tasty enough, if one got beyond the visual appreciation. Frog’s legs were rather succulent. Squirrel and rabbit made a delicious stew, but it took more than one to get enough meat to fill the gaping maws of a hungry household.

Notwithstanding all the potential meals going about their business in the forest and field, the deer remained the main food supplement while the fur bearing animals contributed their pelts. Prices varied from a few dollars to several hundred, depending on quality, kind, color, etc. Otter and mink were prized; beaver and muskrat somewhat less, but had moments of value according to the law of supply and demand. The wily fox was, at times, worthless; at other times, priceless.

Trapping in this area tended to be more a sideline than a full time occupation. Several times in my youth, a few pelts just before Christmas made the difference between a stocking stuffed with goodies or one stuffed with a smelly foot. Similarly, a plump, juicy deer shot along the road in June filled in between the last of the salt pork and next year’s supply. Wardens? Well, yes they were around. Occasionally. Generally a warden came from the same community as those he was supposed to catch. Not only did this bit of enforcement make for bad neighbors, it did not help his own food situation a bit. So he made an appearance here and there, put the finger on the worst offenders and sometimes shared the spoils with others. It worked well for the times.

But times were changing. The roads began to take shape when the automobile made its appearance in the early twenties. While most road work was done by local people, it was hardly an organized effort at an interconnected highway system. Gravel based, they were muddy and full of ruts in the spring and autumn, dusty in the summer and snow bound in the winter.

With the automobile came a renewed interest in the border between Maine and New Brunswick. For a number of years following the Revolutionary War, debate over the actual border waged between England and the United States. On one side, the St. Croix River created the natural boundary; on the other side were those arguing for the Penobscot River. Even when the dust had settled in favor of the St. Croix, it would take a bit of sabre rattling in 1845 to bring it in line with its present day location.

Smuggling, the act of moving goods across the international border without official permission, is as old as the border itself. In the early 1800s, probably as many as a third of the population, living handy the border, on both sides, engaged in this profitable pastime. In 1845, for example, tea from the United States was prohibited entry into Canada. And at 45 cents per pound profit, the temptation overcame any moral persuasion.

Eighty years later prohibition merely provided another commodity for obtaining a huge profit. At the same time, kerosene, an invention of Abraham Gesner, was in short supply in New Brunswick. What better two-way profits for both sides? Rum running one way and kerosene the other.

By the late 1920s prohibition had been repealed, much to the dismay of the Temperance groups, and large scale smuggling by organized runners dropped considerably. That is until 70 years later when high taxes on tobacco and liquor again made it a profitable venture. In between, residents near the border continued to devise ways to skirt customs duties. Hidden in the trunk of a car, under the seats, stashed on the person, by boat, by foot, by aircraft. The ways were endless. Children grew up watching their parents trying to outwit the customs officer at the border, learned from them, improved on the methods and passed it along to their children. No one then, or today, thinks of smuggling as a crime.

In some ways we advance very little, but when we do there is always a price to pay. Progress killed the settlements of North Lake. One of the first casualties was the one room country school. On January 8, 1951, a new Regional School in Canterbury opened its doors to all students from the outlying areas grades seven to twelve. A school bus left Forest City at 7 a.m. every morning arriving in Canterbury around 8:30 and returning at 5 p.m. This made it necessary to keep the roads open in the winter, although there were days when travel was treacherous at best. 1952-53 brought electricity to homes previously lit with kerosene lamps. In 1957, a few homes had television. With a snowy, fuzzy image, it was the wonder of the age; far greater than the radio which was so popular during the thirties and forties. With better roads and more reliable vehicles, the younger population began to migrate. Better education, better job opportunities, better wages, all beckoned like the proverbial siren of the seas. Few returned. As the population aged, then passed to their greater reward, there was no one to carry on the family farm. Nature, ever lurking in the wings, began to exert its influence until forests replaced the wide fields of hay and pasture. Tractors and skidders and bulldozers and tractor trailers now cut and move more lumber in one day then was cut in a year before. Hospitals, Nursing homes, Medicare, replaced home nursing. Welfare and unemployment insurance replaced working for a living. The Parish and County Councils gave way to a more centralized system of government.

For those born in the early years of the 20th century, the move from the old way of life and the technological age had to be a tremendous jump. In 1925 one cranked the telephone and asked "Central" to connect them to a nearby neighbor. In 1995 one turns on a computer and connects with a friend on the other side of the world. In 1910, travel to another settlement and back took most of the day. In 1990, one could eat breakfast in Vancouver, lunch in Toronto, and be home for supper in Fredericton. In 1920 people walked on dusty roads, yet only 49 years later man walked on the moon. Hours were spent in the past preparing meals, preserving foods, baking, washing, ironing. Today, microwaves heat almost instantly, automatic washers and indoor dryers killed the Monday washday blues, electricity heats the house, and banks hold the mortgage.

Yes, things are so much better now than in 1783 when our ancestors looked at this god forsaken wilderness and wondered how they would ever survive. Surely no one in their right mind would ever want to revert to the "good old days," but there is something nostalgic about the communities of early North Lake Parish. It was one of the best places in Canada to be born and grow up in. It was like having the biggest family in the world. Our forefathers may well rest in peace knowing they made it a little easier for us. If only our descendants can say the same for us.

- Bill Boone, Florenceville, N.B. April, 1995 (Revised Aug, 2013)

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