River Navigation
Remarks on the Navigation of the upper part of the River Saint John, by steam.1

Mr. EDITOR, — I have observed with pleasure in your paper of the 15th instant, that a Joint Stock Company had been formed, and sufficient funds subscribed to procure a steam boat, to ply between the City of St. John and the upper parts of the country — particularly to the flourishing settlements in and adjoining Woodstock, and I have no doubt but a vessel like the Boat there briefly hinted at, will realize the utmost expectations of its patrons. There can surely be no difficulty in adapting an engine of such power to the contemplated Boat, as will propel her at the rate of twelve miles per hour, through the still water, and that velocity will no doubt be sufficient to force her through the swifter water on the route and to make headway at the rate of two or three miles through what may be denominated the secondary rapids, or swift water.

The steamer Woodstock, in her last attempt to ascend to Woodstock, has no doubt so far ascertained the practicability of the navigation as to leave no doubt but that a vessel with the power above stated would accomplish that object with ease. — In that attempt the Woodstock made way against a strong current at from 2 to 4 miles per hour. At what is called Mr. Michaels or Cunningham's Rapids, and again at the back of Bear Island, she was nearly stopped, and in one or more instances was aided by a line — still, whenever there was the least abatement in the current, she resumed her progress unaided, till she arrived at the Maductic Falls. Through these she forced her way beyond expectation, and by a judicious tack from the north to the south shore, acomplished more than half the distance through the Falls, without any assistance from the line — but, as it was fairly ascertained that her engine was not of sufficient power to propel her through the heaviest rapids without assistance from the line, it was deemed prudent not to proceed beyond the Shogamuck river.

Here, then, has been a fair experiment — the Woodstock has ascertained to what may be called a demonstration, that a boat with the power above alluded to will accomplish the proposed navigation with ease. For, suppose her engines to be sufficient to propel her at the rate of six or seven miles an hour in still water — and supposing (judging from what she did accomplish) that two or three miles per hour more power would have forced her unaided through the swiftest parts of the route which, no doubt, it would have done — this would only increase her power from nine to ten miles per hour; still leaving a balance of power of from two to three miles per hour in favor of the projected Boat, which would be sufficient to enable her to acomplish the route from Saint John to Woodstock with ease.

Some persons who appear overwise about these matters, think there was a want of perseverance in the conductors of the Woodstock in not accomplishing the whole route to Woodstock — that having done so much they should not have turned back, but continued their efforts till they had reached the Maduxnikik. But such persons forget that it was not the object of the Woodstock to ascertain whether a Boat could ascend to that point by ropes and oars (for that had been ascertained long since) but by steam; — and having fairly ascertained her want of power she had no farther object in view. Instead of taxing them with a want of enterprize it may fairly be said that they ventured too much — for if the proprietors could not well afford to lose the Boat in toto, or the proceeds of her summers' work, they ran a great risk — for, had she struck in descending the Meductic Falls, the consequence would probably have been very serious, if not fatal, which every person well acquainted with the Falls will allow, particularly when he considers that her speed through them was not less than from twelve to sixteen miles per hour.

Having thus, I trust, satisfacorily shewn that the projected boat wil have sufficient power, let me next look out for water. Should the Boat, when completed, draw only from 18 inches to 2 feet water, she may navigagfe the river from Saint John to Woodstock, a distance of 147 miles, the major part of the season. In case of severe drought, she might have to discontinue her trips for six or eight weeks; but in common seasons the interruption would be but short, and in some seasons there would be none of consequence. — Such seasons as the last and the present are particularly favorable to the navigation of the upper part of the river; and on the whole line the boat would not meet with much obstruction from the want of water.

Hoping to see the projected boat soon in active progress, I shall conclude these observations with a brief review of the improvements in the navigation of our rivers, particularly the St. John.

The simple canoe claims the first place — but whether the birch or the log has the precedence is doubtful. These, from the facility with which they are constructed, are usually the first boats used in new countries abounding with rapid rivers and streams. Such canoes, either single or coupled together, were used for many years by the first settlers in this Province to convey their produce, &c. from one place to another. When Government erected military stations up the river Saint John, Durham boats, (so called) were provided. These were a clumsy, wall-sided boat, carrying a considerable burthen, but drawing much water and requiring great labour to work them, being manned with a larger complement of men, who propelled them with poles, and towed them thro' the rapids with ropes. A trip of one of these boats from Fredericton to the Great Falls took up nearly a month in going and returning. To these succeeded what are called Tobique boats, which are a flat batteaux, carrying a good load, and requiring but a small depth of water. These boats are towed by one or more horses, and are found to be the best kind yet introduced.

Within a few years packets have been fitted up to ply between Fredericton and Woodstock — still retaining the principal of the Tobique boat. — These packets are drawn by horses, and are yearly improving; rendering the travelling as far as Woodstock, very safe and comfortable. This season a line of those packets has been established between Fredericton and Woodstock, furnished with frequent changes of horses, and fitted up in such a manner as to leave little room to look for greater comfort or accommodation on this route till they are superceded by the projected steam boat.



  1.   New Brunswick Courier, Saint John, New Brunswick, 29 June 1833 issue.