Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Wooler and the New World (NT993283)

The town of Wooler may now be known as the ‘Gateway to the Cheviots’, but for one brief moment in time during the nineteenth century it offered locals a portal to a very different wilderness: the open expanses of the Canadian eastern provinces.

Whereas many folk were encouraged to move to or visit the town for its renowned health benefits (including famous names such as Grace Darling, Virginia Woolf and Sir Walter Scott), in the 1830s townsfolk were actively urged to make the long journey to New Brunswick, Canada, in an attempt to better themselves. A publicity drive by the New Brunswick Land Company in both North Northumberland and the Scottish Lowlands was launched “for the purpose of engaging families to settle on the company’s lands.”

The organisation was operating under British colonial rule which was encouraging such companies to open up large tracts of land for the purpose of “the profit of their colonial shareholders”. By chance, it seems, the residents of the Border area were targeted and information sessions were held at Ford Castle. In May 1836 the D’Arcy sailed from Berwick with its first batch of settlers – 110 in number – which had been drawn mainly from Lowland Scotland, plus a few from the Wooler area. They arrived safely and settled in Stanley in New Brunswick

Almost exactly a year later a further 137 followed them aboard the Cornelius, the majority of which this time came from Wooler and its environs. This second tranche again headed for New Brunswick, but instead (and after a dispute with the authorities) made for a virgin patch of ground and founded the little town of Harvey.

The emigrants were primarily farm labourers and their families, but included a sprinkling of tradesmen – just the sort needed in the New World. Of the Wooler contingent of the second party, two-thirds were labourers, one a teacher and eight were tradesmen: 2 millers, 2 carpenters, plus a mason, blacksmith, tailor and shopkeeper.

That was all a very long time ago, but, yes, both places still exist today. Stanley is a little to the north of Fredericton in the central area of New Brunswick, and Harvey is a few miles to the SW of the said town. As for the Wooler ‘stronghold’ of Harvey, well, it was a struggle initially, but in the decade or so after 1837 many friends and relatives arrived from Northumberland to join the first arrivals – and there are now thousands of descendants of these pioneers spread across North America. And in 2007, more than 100 of these descendants gathered at Ford Castle for the ‘Harvey Settler Reunion’ event.

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