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  • The Road to Canada: The Grand Communications Route from Saint John to Quebec
  • Robert Mackinnon
The Road to Canada: The Grand Communications Route from Saint John to Quebec. Gary Campbell. Vol. 5, The New Brunswick Military Heritage Series. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions / New Brunswick Military Heritage Project, 2005. Pp. 115, illus., b&w, $14.95 paper

This book is about a transportation route that 'formed the backbone' of the French and British Empires in eastern North America (11). The 'Grand Communications Route' – which followed the Saint John River to the junction of the Madawaska River, then ran along the Madawaska towards Lake Temiscouata, and over the 'Grand Portage' to Rivière-du Loup – was the principal overland route between Saint John and Quebec when the Saint Lawrence was closed to navigation in winter. The primary focus of the book is on the extent of military travel along this route between the seventeenth century and the mid-nineteenth century, when railway and telegraph lines began to bridge the distance along this difficult overland route.

Chapter 1, 'Establishing the Route: The Beginnings to 1760,' addresses the use of this route by the First Nations of the region and the French, and describes the fortifications that were built to protect this line of communication (at Edmundston, Meductic, and near Fredericton and Saint John). During the French Regime, canoe and portage travel along this route was regularly recorded, and by 1700 it had already become an important strategic factor in the administration of Acadia and its military affairs.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal, respectively, with the Planter and Loyalist settlement era (1760–85), and the subsequent colonial period (1785–1824). The boundary dispute between British North America and the United States is outlined, as are the attempts to secure the route to enforce British claims. Among the most interesting of these was a plan initiated in 1787 to establish a postal service along the 'Grand Communications Route' via a series of 'post-houses' built at intervals of between forty and forty-eight kilometres between Fredericton and Quebec. The 690-kilometre distance to Quebec along this route required at least sixteen days of arduous travel (51–2). An account is also provided of an epic march along this route in the winter of 1813 by New Brunswick's 104th Regiment, in which the author's great-great-great-great grandfather participated (58–61).

Chapter 4 explains the events that led to the resolution of the Maine–New Brunswick border controversy, which finally secured the Saint John River route to Canada for the British in 1842. Chapter 5 focuses on transportation improvements up to 1870 that consisted of new road construction, the establishment of small garrisons, [End Page 428] barracks, and blockhouses, the use of towboats and steamers, and the completion of telegraph and railway lines. Both chapters emphasize how these developments influenced the movement of troops from the Atlantic ports of Halifax and Saint John to Quebec, especially during the American Civil War (1861–5). By this time, the volume of traffic along the 'Grand Communications Route' had increased significantly, with more than 6,500 troops recorded passing through Rivière-du Loup in 1862 from the Temiscouata Portage (94). However, once the Intercolonial Railway was completed later in the 1870s, via the more northerly route between Campbellton and Métis, the strategic significance of the 'Grand Communications Route' faded.

Together with volume 1 in the New Brunswick Military Heritage Series, Saint John Fortifications, 1630–1956, by Roger Sarty and Doug Knight, this slim volume provides an overview of the strategic importance of the Saint John River region in the geopolitics of seventeenth-, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century eastern North America. An appendix that lists significant historic sites that may be visited when travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway – that still follows stretches of the 'Grand Communications Route' – will be of interest to visitors to the region. Much more could be said about the level of trade and commerce along this important transportation arterial, and of this route's significance to the important timber trade of New Brunswick and Quebec. The 'Selected Bibliography' could also be more comprehensive and inclusive of regional studies...


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