DOTW: King's Landing, St. John, NB

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Registered: 03-21-2003
DOTW: King's Landing, St. John, NB
Mon, 05-10-2004 - 6:02pm

King's Landing Historical Settlement is a place our family has visited numerous times. Each season has it's own special attraction, from planting crops in the spring to harvest in the fall with lots of events in between.

For six weeks in the fall of 1995, Kings Landing Historical Settlement in New Brunswick became a giant movie set. The film, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballad, tells the story of Martha Ballad, an extraordinary woman who was two centuries ahead of her time. Martha lived during the Revolutionary War. She delivered 814 babies in 27 years, spent long, dark nights nursing the sick, and prepared the dead for burial.

Martha wrote about her life and work in a diary kept between 1785 and 1812. Laurel Ulrich, a history professor at the University of New Brunswick discovered the diary in 1982 and produced a biography based on its contents.

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballad won virtually every award available for books of historical research, including the Pulitzer Prize. Film maker Laurie Kahn-Leavitt optioned the book and recruited director Richard Rogers, a Harvard University film professor to assist her in selecting a site suitable for filming the story. After scouting in New England, the pair arrived at Kings Landing Historical Settlement and declared it a perfect location for filming.

Nestled in a majestic setting in the St. John River valley, Kings Landing Historical Settlement depicts the one hundred year transformation of a young colony into a vibrant nation. Listen for creaking wagons pulled by trotting work horses, the whooshing of hoop skirts, and the distant melodies from lively fiddlers and dancing townsfolk. Witness the bustle of farm life, and learn first hand how ordinary people lived and worked in the 19th century. An epic story that’s more than just history, it’s history, well told.

You will find over 70 historic buildings, complete with artifacts, furniture, tools and equipment. The history is real, the stories you hear are true. Staff are thoroughly trained and immersed in the 19th century to provide you, the visitor, with an authentic visit to New Brunswick in the 1800s.

Kings Landing grew out of the massive Mactaquac Dam Project which began in the 1960’s. The New Brunswick government, in an attempt to meet rising demands for electric energy, decided to build a dam across the St. John River at Mactaquac and create a headpond that would extend 100 kilometres up river to Woodstock.

It was obvious that the flooding of the Valley would disrupt long established communities and farms on the banks of the St. John River. The first settlers used the river as a highway and therefore built their homes along its banks. Any trace of these original settlements would be wiped out by the ensuing flood. So a new “settlement” was created by moving historically and architecturally significant buildings out of the flood plain to what is now Kings Landing. Over the course of a number of years, they were restored to their original time periods and appropriately furnished.

The purpose of Kings Landing Historical Settlement is to represent life in the central St. John River Valley throughout the 19th century. During our summer season we represent the transition from the Loyalists to the late Victorians in the time period 1780s to 1910. The key elements of our outdoor museum work together to tell this history. The landscape and buildings reflect the relationship between people and their natural environment. With each building restored to a specific date, the artifacts are seen in context. The buildings and artifacts are displayed as they should be, in direct relationship with the people of our past.

At Kings Landing we take great pride in the authenticity of our restorations and the way we interpret the evolution of family and community life along the banks of the St. John River. The period we represent was a time of dramatic growth and change for New Brunswick. The Loyalists laid the foundation of the province’s economic and social structures, and built settlements along most of the principal river valleys. By the turn of the century lumbering and timber exports drove the provincial economy and made commercial centres of Saint John, St. Andrews, Newcastle and Chatham.

Who were the Loyalists? They were refugees from the American Revolution who had courageously and steadfastly held to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming opposition. They came from each of the Thirteen Colonies and from all walks of life.

At war’s end many Loyalists had their homes confiscated and were declared public enemies. They dared not return home. They had given their all to a cause and lost. Seeing the seriousness of their circumstances the British government granted them land in the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and Bermuda. Thousands of Loyalists landed at the mouth of St. John River in the spring and fall of 1783. New Brunswick was then part of Nova Scotia, and only became a separate colony in 1784.

They were a mixed group. They definitely were not, as some have claimed, all from well to do families. Rather they were a broad sweep of Americans at that time, including a few wealthy families, many craftsmen and farmers and even some slaves. Most were ordinary people who made an extraordinary decision. Whatever their background, they all faced a future of struggle and hard work.

The first few years were very hard years for many of the Loyalists. The British government supplied seeds, farming tools and food. Some who arrived in the late autumn of 1783 spent their first New Brunswick winter in a tent.

For some the hardships proved too much and they gave up and returned to the United States or even to England. Still others found that their lands were not productive and moved to new grants. By the late 1780’s their farms were productive, their shops bustling as the Loyalists made lives for themselves in their new homeland.

During the 1800’s thousands of Scottish, Irish and English settlers immigrated to the province and opened up the backwoods. As Queen Victoria came to the throne, New Brunswick craftsmen were known for their furniture, silver, cloth and manufactured products. Farms, well established for several decades, prospered and the prospect of railroads buoyed the hopes of the factories as they entered Confederation. Steamships, railroads and telegraph lines linked them to the rest of the Dominion and the world. This story of evolution is told from the personal level of the families who lived and worked along the banks of the St. John River over 100 years ago.

Kings Landing is a place where over 100 years of New Brunswick’s history and culture comes to life. This is the 19th century. It is a place where you can touch, taste, hear, see and truly experience the 1800s. It is more than just history, it’s history well told.