Summer Visitors in St. Andrews

Even before I started working in St. Andrews this May, St. Andrews has always been one of my favourite places to visit in New Brunswick, especially in the summertime! There is something special about spending time in a quaint little seaside town, and the novelty of spending the summer in St. Andrews is not a new trend.

People have been coming to visit St. Andrews during the summer since the town’s earliest days. St. Andrews from the end of the 1870s, through to the 1930s was one of the top summer destinations in Canada, as it was Canada’s first seaside resort town. At the peak of St. Andrew’s summertime success, roughly 70% of Canada’s wealthiest people were spending their summers in St. Andrews. Many of which were coming down to St. Andrews from Montreal, like the Van Horne’s. People took to coming to St. Andrews as it provided people with a break from city life. Being exposed to the sea breeze helped many people who were dealing with “hay fever” and other health issues from the poor city air. There were even advertisements and posters printed in the 1870s encouraging people to come to St. Andrews because there was “No Hay Fever.”

St. Andrews in 1895 – New Brunswick Museum 2002.1.1.13

Many of the first summer guests who came to St. Andrews were those who were involved in developing the Dominion of Canada, from either political or business endeavours. The influence of these men helped encourage others to visit St. Andrews. Many summer visitors would have their own homes built in the town, like Sir Leonard Tilley and Sir Charles Tupper.

Van Horne first came to St. Andrews for a trip in 1890, to see the work on the railway in St. Andrews. During this trip he became captivated with the area, and by the end of his visit he had purchased his first parcel of land on Ministers Island for his future summer home. Van Horne along with his wife, son, daughter, mother, sister and mother-in-law all joined the trend of coming to St. Andrews for the summer months, and could be found at Covenhoven from the end of June / beginning of July until the end of October.

Algonquin Hotel pre – 1895 New Brunswick Museum 2002.1.1.26

In 1889 St. Andrew’s most notable hotel, the Algonquin was built (for the first time). The Algonquin was built by a group of men called the St. Andrews Land Company who had all come from New England. The hotel opened on July 1st, 1889, and had 80 rooms for guests. Many guests would come and stay for either a month or the entire summer. It was most common for entire families to come and spend the summer at the hotel, there were even dining rooms for children! It was common for guests to bring their own private staff and even furniture with them. One fun fact about the hotel was that the bathtubs had four taps; hot and cold, fresh or saltwater! The hotel became known across the country, and was a popular destination. In a 1902 brochure, the CPR describes the Algonquin as, “an incomparable resting-place and retreat from the cares of business and the heat and dust and bustle of the city.”

St. Andrews Golf Course 1895 New Brunswick Museum – 1966.102B
P230.109 Golfing for the whole family, St. Andrews,1890’s
P389.34 Tennis at Algonquin Hotel 1890’s

During the summer months, the summer visitors took part in many events and activities including: golfing, tea parties, town festivals, tennis, lawn bowling, gambling at the casino, and swimming at Katy’s Cove. The best time to swim at Katy’s Cove was in the morning, so the beach was reserved for summer guests in the morning, and locals were only allowed to swim after 2pm in the afternoon.

P69.36, Katy’s Cove Beach at Algonquin Hotel, St. Andrews 1930’s

There were various shops and restaurants for people to visit too in town, and a special hairdresser, barber and shoe shiner would all come down to St. Andrews for the summer. The American First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt would often be spotted shopping in town having come from their family summer home on Campobello Island which was 76km away.

St. Andrews would continue to be a popular destination until the 1930s for Canada’s elite. With the rise of the middle class, the Great Depression, later World War II, and the advancing technology in cars the days of St. Andrews being an exclusive resort town dwindled. Of course today, the town still strives on tourism, and many people come to visit St. Andrews in the summer months and to stay at the Algonquin hotel, however, they are visitors who are more likely to come for a weekend instead of an entire summer!

The Mystery of Victorian Dining Utensils

One of the reasons I am most interested in working as a curator once I am done school, is because every day is different and curators are constantly answering questions and researching new things! In saying that, I love it when I am presented with a question to solve.

A few weeks ago, Susan (our tour manager) asked me if I knew what a specific object was that was found in Covenhoven. Herself, along with the various tour guides had made guesses on what the object might be. The object was relatively small, silver, with a long straight thin handle and a curve piece that was a few centimetres at the top. Initially, I had no idea exactly what the item was, but I figured it was some form of a utensil, but for what purpose I could not tell you!

During the Victorian period, which ranged from 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria designed different utensils for nearly every purpose imaginable. Specific vegetables had their own utensils, for example there were specific tongs for asparagus, or a special dish that fish bones were to be placed in. There was a real enthusiasm for etiquette, not only in dining but in most aspects of Victorian daily life, from clothing and home decor, to social interactions.

As the Van Horne’s lived during the Victorian Period and later the Edwardian Period, the posh etiquette of the period was practiced at the Van Horne’s. If you have ever looked around the perfectly set dining room table in Covenhoven you will notice that the table has more dishes then what you would see at your own home! Meals were broken down into many courses, with each having a specific beverage, plate, and utensils. When Van Horne was entertaining at Covenhoven, he could host up to twenty-four guests at his table. Currently in this photograph the table is set for eight guests, but there were three additional leaves that could be added to the table.

Now the mystery utensil I discovered following reading a handful of articles about Victorian utensils is called a food pusher. A food pusher was a Victorian utensil that was used in the late 19th century to help children eat food by themselves. It was frowned upon if children touched their food at all, so the food pusher would help children guide the food to their fork or spoon.

In reading about an assortment of obscure utensils I thought I would share a few of my favourites:

  1. Toast Serving Fork. This utensil was used to stab and lift our bread or rolls from a break basket to the main dinner plane. The reason why they used a fork instead of their hands was because they felt that using your hands was not sanitary, and the fork will help prevent spreading any germs or diseases. Perhaps in the current COVID-19 pandemic world, this would be an appropriate utensil to reintroduce!
  2. Grape Sheers. These were used during the dessert course during a Victorian dinner. The small delicate sheers which look like modern day scissors were used as a plate of grapes were passed around during dessert, only once the grape sheers had been use to cut off a bundle of grapes could guests uses their fingers to eat the grapes.
  3. Knife Rest. During a dinner there could have been between four to twelve different courses. In order to help to keep the utensils clean between courses, as with the number of courses that were served if a utensil could be used for more than one course it typically was to prevent the staff from having to wash dishes in between courses. The knife rest would also help to keep the table cloth from getting dirty in between the many courses that were served during dinner.
  4. Ice Cream Slicer. During the 19th century ice cream was a treat that was enjoyed by the wealthiest people, compared to the easily accessible treat that is enjoyed by most people during the summer today! When ice cream was served an ice cream slicer, which was a flat blade was used to divide up the ice cream to guests.

The next time you are visiting Covenhoven make sure you take a close look at the different dishes and utensils found at the dining room table!

Shipbuilding in St. Andrews

Recently, we have had four ships brought to Covenhoven (and two more on the way) that were a part of Sir Van Horne’s personal collection. These ships have undergone extensive conservation work, and are now on display through Covenhoven.

Ship models have been made since antiquity, and often been perceived as toys, hobbies or craft objects, however, they were made for a variety of purposes including decoration, commemoration of real ships, for the design and construction process of a ship, for education purposes and to show prospective customers and financiers. Models could either be made modestly, only using one or two materials, or they could be made lavishly with a variety of materials and intricate construction techniques.

Aside from being models that were a part of Sir William Van Horne’s personal collection, demonstrating his interest in collecting art and artefacts, the ship models represent an important part of St. Andrew’s history, shipbuilding.

Ship Model on display in the top left corner of the image. Photograph taken in Van Horne’s home in Montreal.

St. Andrew’s, like many coastal towns and cities in the Maritimes has an important connection to the shipbuilding industry from the late 18th century, well into the 19th century. Shipbuilding has always been an important part of New Brunswick history, even before the region was officially called New Brunswick. The first wooden ship built in the region was in 1770, a schooner titled Betsey, which was built by ship builder James Simmonds. What would become Atlantic Canada, saw the start to the shipbuilding industry take off during the Napoleonic War. Napoleon created a blockade with the Scandinavian countries, which meant England had to look elsewhere to access lumber, to build infrastructure and vessels. England chose to look to their new colonies in the Americas, as the colonies were nearly completely forested. With this, England began creating shipyards in their waterfront towns and cities, like Saint John, Halifax and St. Andrews. These towns and cities would then build the ships over a few month span, fill the ships up with lumber and other profitable goods and sail the ships over to England, where the material and the ships themselves would be sold. New Brunswick in particular was very efficient due to the river system in the province. The river system made it easier for the logs to be taken downstream from lumber camps, and reach the seaside communities.

Charlotte County Archives

According to material found in the Charlotte County Archives, between the years 1789 and 1882 there were eighteen major shipbuilders in St. Andrews, and 24 docks. The highest producing builders were John & Robert Townsend, Alexander Anderson and James Rait. In 1823, St. Andrews officially opened as the second Port of Registry for New Brunswick, following Saint John due to the increase in demand for ships by England. The original Ports of Registry that were designated by the British Crown in 1787 were Saint John, Saint John Island (Prince Edward Island), Shelburn, and Sydney.

Shipbuilding was not a leisure industry to be a part of, men had to work hard to build the boats, and each new project was a financial gamble for the shipyard owner. Shipyard owners often had their hand in other business deals aside from shipbuilding, and later into the 19th century many owners became involved with the rail industry. Typically, when a ship was being built all parts of the tree would be used, and shipbuilders would try to use the natural curves of the tree to utilize the natural strength of the wood. Keel blocks would be the first part laid, followed by the frame or ribs of the ship which were steamed and bent into shape, then the planking of the beams, and the decks were fitted into the heavy knees of the ships. Once all the wood was in place the seams would be caulked with oakum (a natural hemp fibre), and the entire ship would be coated with tar. The final step was adding all the metal pulleys and the canvas sails. Different combinations of sails would be put on the ship depending on the model of the vessel.

The Golden Age of Sail for St. Andrews was between the years 1846 and 1867, with the last peak year being in 1874, as New Brunswick built in total 104 vessels. Commonly, ships would be launched at areas including Brandy Cove, Indian Point, Chamcook Shipyard, and Starkey’s shipyard. On October 17th, 1860, a 242 ton schooner was launched from Indian Point by ship builder Charles Short called Laura!

One of St. Andrew’s biggest rivals for shipbuilding was not Saint John, but in fact Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, as both towns were of similar size and were able to produce similar quantities of ships in a year.

The shipbuilding industry however began to slowly decline in the late 19th century due to Americans beginning to produce their own ships so the demand was not there, combined with the use of the railway and the construction of larger metal ships. Despite the decline and later ending of the shipbuilding industry, it still remains an important part of St. Andrews history. Next time you are driving down Water Street try and imagine the street line with shipbuilding companies!

Art Inspiration on Ministers Island

Sir William Van Horne was a man of many talents as he had a wide assortment of interests aside from his entrepreneurial endeavours. One of Van Horne’s passions was art, he had his own impressive collection of paintings, which included works by Delacroix, Ribot, Rousseau and Michel to name a few. However, he was not only interested in collecting work, he loved to create his own works of art too.

While staying at Covenhoven in the summer months, Van Horne would spend time painting aspects of the island. In particular, he enjoyed painting in the Bathhouse which looked out across the Bay of Fundy. The island was his own little piece of paradise, which inspired numerous works of art created by Van Horne.

Currently in Covenhoven, the majority of the paintings on the first floor of the house are all works by Van Horne. The majority of his artwork are all landscapes, in particular of places he has visited or witnessed first hand. He was also infamous for producing paintings and drawings for his grandson Billy. In Billy’s bedroom on the second floor of Covenhoven, the drawings above the bed were created by Van Horne, along with the mural that currently is on one portion of the upper wall, but would have encompassed the entire room during Van Horne’s time.

One unique rendition of Van Horne’s artwork is the use of his artwork in the book Trunks All Aboard: An Elephant ACE was written by Barbara Nichol and includes artwork by Van Horne. In 1909 while Van Horne was travelling in Europe he took to creating little works of arts on hotel and train notes to send back to his grandson Billy in Montreal. Van Horne represented himself as an elephant in artworks for Billy, and often had a cigar in his mouth. As you can see in the bottom righthand corner, Van Horne would sign his works with “Grandpa” for Billy.

The spirit of Van Horne and his artwork has continued into the 21st century on the island. Currently, on Ministers Island there is an Artist in Residence, Cathy Ross. Ross first started to work on the island in 2016 during her summers in St. Andrews. She is originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, but currently is based in Waterloo, Ontario, and comes down to St. Andrews for the summer months. Academically, Ross has studied art at Mount Allison University, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and the Banff School of Fine Arts. Currently her artwork is represented in collections across Canada, including the New Brunswick Museum, the Canada Council Art Bank and the Banff Centre. Ross uses watercolour on a stretched canvas for her work. Her artist statement states:

As an artist, I am interested in looking at objects closely and conveying my visual response to them . Something will capture my attention – a certain colour, the unique shape of a plant or the charm of an everyday object. I then collect these things and have them in my studio as possible subjects for my work. Through careful observation, I try to convey the uniqueness and special character of each object. Sometimes elements are arranged in complex compositions, other times, I use a single subject in isolation. My paintings are meant to be intimate. I want the viewer to pause and take in the subtle joy of the ordinary and the ephemeral beauty of the natural world.”

Ross’s work that she has completed during her residency on Ministers Island is of an assortment of pieces found throughout Covenhoven. Items from Billy’s little shoes to ice skates to a conch shell can be found amongst her work. In the future these paintings will be assembled into an exhibition at the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton.

On July 19th, Ross will be hosting an open house at Covenhoven for visitors to view her work! I have had the pleasure of popping in on Cathy to admire her work in progress, so I definitely recommend coming down to the island to catch a glimpse of her work and learn more about her artwork and her inspiration behind her paintings.

The island will be open from 11:15am until 4:15pm on Monday July 19th! You are able to pre-book your tickets here to receive a discount and avoid wait times getting onto the island.

The next time you are visiting the island take note of the artwork that is in Covenhoven and other locations on the island. You will find works of work by other Van Horne family members and other New Brunswick artists covering the walls. In particular take a look at Van Horne’s paintings on the first floor and inspect his signatures on his paintings, you might find a couple of quirks!

Join the Hunt! Ministers Island Scavenger Hunt

One of the first projects I decided to undertake this spring was to create a scavenger hunt of the island. For those unfamiliar, a scavenger hunt is an activity where the players have a list of items to find or questions to answer, in this case the players have to explore the property looking for answers to specific questions. From my previous museum programming experience, I have found that scavenger hunts are a great activity to engage children (and adults) of all ages while visiting a museum or historical attraction. As a new employee, exploring the island looking for little details and coming up with unique questions about the island was a great way to learn about all the great things the island has to offer! The Scavenger Hunt, is an activity that incorporates aspects of not only Covenhoven, but of other buildings found on the island too, like the Bathhouse, the Gardner’s Cottage, the Carriage House and the Barn. Ministers Island is 500 acres so there is a ton of property to explore.

Scavenger Hunts stem from ancient folk games, but they became popular by Elsa Maxwell in 1927, just past Van Horne’s time. Elsa Maxwell was a writer, who wrote for a Gossip Column in New York. Her first scavenger hunt she hosted in Paris where she asked her guests to find certain items during the evening of the event. During the 1930s the game took off becoming a popular party game. Van Horne himself loved to play games and tricks on people, so an activity like a scavenger hunt most likely would have been an activity that he would have loved to see take place at his estate during one of his parties.

One of the days I was working on inspiration for the Scavenger Hunt I brought my father with me. My dad is a mechanical engineer, and he notices every little detail. When my dad and I were exploring Covenhoven and the barn he noticed so many small things that I had not observed yet, from details on the lights to architectural details of the house, at one point we were even underneath the pool table trying to figure out what stone the table was made out of. As we were exploring we even found a pigeon nest with a couple of eggs in it, in the crack of the creamery building which is currently under construction.

I also looked through some old copies of scavenger hunts that were used for school groups and learned new facts myself. Here are a couple of the fun facts about Covenhoven I learned:

  1. How heavy is the pool table? The pool table weighs 3000 lbs, because of the weight of the table it has never been moved from the games room on the main floor of Covenhoven.
  2. Where did the farm workers stay? In the red boarding house. Behind the barn Van Horne had boarding houses built for his staff, which are no longer standing today. All of his staff were paid well, their lodging was taken care of and they ate the same meals that Van Horne ate at Covenhoven.
  3. How many elephants are above the fireplace in the gift shop? The number is always changing depending on how many have been sold. But why are there elephants? This was a question that confused me! Van Horne depicted himself as elephant in drawings and paintings that he sent his grandson Billie.

The scavenger hunt is now available on the island! If you wish to get a copy, let one of the tour guides know when you enter Covenhoven, they are wearing orange polos so they are hard to miss!

Happy Scavenger Hunting!

Archives: Introduction

As a historian one of the most crucial resources that exists is an archive. Have you ever been to an archive? Do you know what an archive is?

An Archive is a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or a group of people. These documents are referred to as primary source documents, as they have been accumulated over the course of an individual or organizations lifetime. In Archives they keep documents in fonds, which are folders or boxes that hold all the information of an individual or an organization.

For my research I have become a frequent visitor at the Charlotte County Archives in St. Andrews. The Charlotte County Archives is located on Frederick Street in St. Andrews, and the collection holds more than 90 000 documents regarding the history of Charlotte County. The building itself is even historic, as the archives are located in the Old Charlotte County Gaol which was constructed in 1832, and was used as a jail until 1979.

To learn more about the Charlotte County Archive click here.

To date – I have already read a lot of material in the Charlotte County Archives, but today I want to talk about the first set of documents I looked at, Fond 504, the Van Horne fond, and a few of my favourite pieces I have studied from that Fond.

  1. Public Auction Brochure: In 1977, between March 10th and 13th, a public auction took place selling off all the items in Covenhoven (The name of Van Horne’s summer house), in total there were 725 items up for auction. Not all items were original to Covenhoven, but there were numerous items from Van Horne’s collection that were sold off. On the third day of the auction, the province stepped in and purchased the remainder of the collection. The list of objects up for auction was fascinating as there was such a variety, from ceramics to books to soda bottles to snow shoes to a Steinway piano. One of my favourite items listed was a painting by John Hammond. Hammond was a Saint John artist who started Saint John’s first art school, the Owen’s Art Institute in 1884, which is now located at Mount Allison University.
  2. Deed for the Island. The next interesting item in the fonds was the official Crown Grant and Deed of the island. This document was drawn up by Palmer, O’Connell, Leger, Turnbull and Turnbull law office, and shows the passing of the island from King George III to Samuel Osborne on August 26, 1785, to the Andrews family and then slowly piece by piece of the island to Van Horne. It even shows the moment where Van Horne left the island to his eldest child, his daughter Adeline Van Horne. In 1907 Van Horne transferred the deed of his land on Minister’s Island to his daughter Adeline Van Horne for the cost of $1.00. Following Adeline’s death, she left the Island to the San Zenon Company Limited on February 6th, 1936, which then passed to the Van Horne Club, to the Great Northern Land & Cattle Company, to Norman E. Langdon, and the final passing of the land on this document is the Harbour Farm Association Incorporated on March 28th, 1973.
  3. Telegraph Journal Article. On January 3rd, 1981, the Telegraph Journal published and article titled “Was it Sir Williams Ghost that Sneezed that Night,” this article is not an academic source per say, but it is a story that is trying to prove that Covenhoven is haunted by Van Horne’s ghost! The article is a story of a couple that spent the night in Covenhoven on their own in the 1970s when Norman E. Langdon owned the island, as they were a friend of his. They claimed that nobody else was on the island while they were staying there, but in the middle of the night they heard loud footsteps and eventually a loud sneeze, which they attributed to being to a ghost. In particular – since Van Horne was known to hardly sleep through the night as he was also working away on projects or trying to educate himself on new topics. The concept I liked the most about this article, is imagining what would it would be like to stay overnight in Covenhoven for a weekend, having the entire home to yourself. It would be a pretty neat experience!

If you are interested in looking at primary source documents and learning about a particular subject, whether it be family history, history of location or just a topic you have an interest in, I definitely recommend exploring an archive, looking at historical documents first hand is always such a neat experience.

All Aboard!

Welcome to the All Aboard with Laura: Behind the Scenes of Ministers Island blog!

My name is Laura Oland and I am the new Museum Intern working for the Van Horne Estates on Ministers Island. I started my new position at the beginning of May, and I am so thrilled to have been given this opportunity to be a part of the Ministers Island team, and to delve into research on Sir William Van Horne, his family, Ministers Island, the Passamaquoddy Peoples and so much more.  

As a historian, I am constantly reading and writing, uncovering new information or angles to discuss historical material. The goal from this research is to discover stories and new information about Ministers Island and Sir William Van Horne in order to enrich the visitor experience on the island. To record my research, one of my new projects is to create a blog documenting my research over the next year! 

Academically, I am currently working on my PhD in Art History at Concordia University. In 2018 I graduated from the University of Glasgow in Scotland with a Masters in Letters: Art History Dress & Textiles degree, and in 2017 I graduated from Acadia University with an Honours History degree with a minor in Classics. Professionally, I have been very fortunate to gain museum experience over the last seven years working in a handful of institutions including the New Brunswick Museum, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Hunterian, and the Randall House Museum. 

From my studies and work experience – I am sure it is easy to gather that I absolutely love history. For as long as I can remember, I have been enamoured with everything “from the olden days,” as I would say as a child. The stories of Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls quickly grabbed my attention before I started school, and once I started reading I could not put down the Magic TreeHouse books, where each book went back in time to a different historical period or event. Particularly, I have always been captivated with being in history, by either taking part in theatre performances, attending the Visiting Cousins program at Kingslanding, or simply wearing 19th century costume dresses my grandmother made me. 

Prior to May 3rd, 2021, the last time I stepped foot on Minister’s Island was in 2007, when I was eleven years old. I visited the island with my mother, grandmother and two younger brothers. As my memory recalls – I was fascinated with the grand estate, in particular the bathhouse. I can also recall being a tad creeped out by the animals’ busts – which I associated with as being a part of the hunting lodge. My youngest brother, who was seven at the time, was quite concerned with the size of the closet doors as he could not believe that people one hundred years ago were that small (not knowing he was looking at small closet doors or crawl spaces). Returning for the first time on May 3, 2021, I was instantly captivated with the entire island. First, my drive to work was so cool – where else do I get to drive across an ocean floor, and feel every element of history as I drive along the roads on the island up to Covenhoven? From walking around the rooms in Covenhoven, I quickly realized the amount of research into the estate, Van Horne’s story, and the entire history of the island is endless, and I can’t wait to get started! 

I hope you will follow along over the next year as I document my research and the uncoverings of Van Horne and his fascinating island.