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Divided Loyalties

Descended from American Colonists who fled north rather than join the revolution, Canada's Tories still raise their tankards to King George

Newly independent Americans scoffed at the notion that anyone would willingly live in “Nova Scarcity.” One Tory refugee described the colony as a land “covered with a cold, spongy moss, instead of grass,” adding that “the entire country is wrapt in the gloom of perpetual fog.”

But Nova Scotia was not without its virtues. Largely uninhabited, the colony, roughly comprising present-day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, plus part of what is now Maine, was covered by virgin forest, a considerable resource given that all ships were constructed of timber. Just off the coast, the Grand Banks was the most fertile fishing ground in the world. But the most important advantage accrued from Britain’s Navigation Act, which required trade between its Atlantic dominions to be carried in British or colonial vessels. Let America look west to its new Mississippi frontier. Nova Scotia’s displaced merchants would soon monopolize commerce with the West Indies.

“It is, I think, the roughest land I ever saw,” wrote Stamford, Connecticut’s Sarah Frost upon arriving at the mouth of the St. John River early in the summer of 1783. “We are all ordered to land tomorrow, and not a shelter to go under.” Others viewed their exile in even bleaker terms. Noted one Loyalist: “I watched the sails disappearing in the distance, and such a feeling of loneliness came over me that although I had not shed a tear through all the war, I sat down on the damp moss with my baby on my lap, and cried bitterly.”

Despite the dislocation angst, Nova Scotia grew rapidly over a 12-month span. Within a few months, the port of Shelburne on Nova Scotia’s south coast had 8,000 residents, three newspapers and was well on its way to becoming the fourth-largest city in North America. After observing the diversity of talent in the region’s growing population, Edward Winslow, a Tory colonel from Massachusetts who later became a judge in New Brunswick, predicted, “By Heaven, we will be the envy of the American states.”

Some Loyalist leaders wanted to replicate 18th-century England, in which the rich lived off large estates with tenant farmers. “But most of the new arrivals were infected with America’s democratic ideals,” says Ronald Rees, author of Land of the Loyalists. “Nobody wanted to be a tenant farmer anymore. More than a few Tories condemned ‘this cursed republican town meeting spirit.’ ”

By the mid-19th century, Britain had begun eliminating trade protections for Maritime Canada, thereby putting these colonies at a disadvantage relative to its much more developed American states. “Britain’s embrace of free trade was the killer blow,” says Rees. “By 1870, steam had replaced sail, and all the best lumber had been cut. Once all the timber was gone, the Loyalists had nothing the British wanted.”

Inside new Brunswick’s provincial legislature, enormous portraits of George III, whose erratic behavior eventually gave way to insanity, and his wife, the self-effacing Queen Charlotte, dominate a chamber that replicates Britain’s House of Commons. And the image of a British galleon, similar to those that carried Loyalists from America, adorns the provincial flag. Beneath the ship floats New Brunswick’s resolute motto: Spem Reduxit (Hope Restored).

“There is no place on earth more loyal than here,” says historian Robert Dallison, as he ambles through Fredericton’s Old Public Burial Ground, past tombs whose weathered epitaphs relate a story of unvarying defiance and privation. Leaving the cemetery, Dallison drives down to the St. John River and turns onto Waterloo Row. On the left, a number of stately properties stand on land first developed by Benedict Arnold. On the right, down a gravel road past an overgrown softball field, several stones in a pool of mud mark the anonymous graves of starved Loyalists hastily buried during the harsh winter of 1783-84, a period Maritime history books call “the hungry year.”

Maritime Canada’s living monument to its Loyalist past lies just north of Fredericton at Kings Landing, a 300-acre historical settlement that comes alive each summer when 175 costumed employees work in and about 100 relocated homes, barns, shops and mills that once belonged to Loyalists and their descendants. At Kings Landing, it’s possible to sample a hearth-baked rhubarb tart, observe the making of lye soap and learn how to cure a variety of maladies from Valerie Marr, who in her role as a colonial healer, tends what appears to be a sprawling patch of weeds. “A Loyalist woman needed all these plants if she expected her family to survive,” Marr says. “Butterfly weed cures pleurisy. Tansy reduces arthritic pain if it’s mixed with a bit of vinegar.” Marr, who is 47, has worked at Kings Landing for 26 years. “I tell my friends that I’ve spent half my life in the 19th century,” she says with a laugh.

Kings Landing gardeners grow heirloom fruits, flowers and vegetables in demonstration plots and work with CornellUniversity to preserve a variety of apples no longer sold commercially. Various traditional species of livestock, including Cotswold sheep, are bred here as well. “Kings Landing is a living portrait of a society striving to regain what it lost in the American Revolution,” says chief curator Darrell Butler. “We’re re-creating history.”

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