I’m a Maritime explorer, and I would be a colossal jerk if I didn’t show others around | CBC News

I’m a Maritime explorer, and I would be a colossal jerk if I didn’t show others around | CBC News

Looking through the parlour and out a front window of an abandoned house in Head of Millstream, Kings County, James Upham has watched this house slowly decay for years. (James Upham)

In this guest column, James Upham — a Moncton historian and educator who shares stories about New Brunswick on Information Morning Moncton — explains where his love for history and the artifacts left behind began.

I love exploring the woods, trails, waterways, and history of the Maritimes. This place fascinates me. I hope the Roadside History series gives you a reason to get off the highway and out of your car.

I grew up in the country. At age five, my step-brother and I were allowed to head into the woods on our own, provided we brought along a “coyote whacking stick” in case some of the local fauna had missed breakfast.

As we got older we ventured further, eventually on dirt bikes and Ski-Doos.

We learned to build campfires and make lean-tos, and we learned to take the woods seriously.

In the process, we also discovered artifacts left behind by previous generations who experienced the same hills and creeks we did; nothing too fancy, but obvious reminders that we were not the first people through these woods.

Legendary finds

A tin can or an old stubby bottle, a piece of farming equipment left in a barn overtaken by forest — these things might not sound legendary, but they seem like ghosts when you stumble upon them as a kid.

I was also introduced to the waterways of New Brunswick while young. I went on my first sailing trip at nine months old, and my first “solo” trip was rowing on Mount Creek off the Saint John River when I was about eight — up to the fabled and historic Mount House.

old photos of two young boys in woods - one in winter next to a creek and one in summer where they are crossing a river on dirt bikes
James Upham, foreground, and his step-brother Steve Balser are seen in these photos found in a family album. (Submitted by James Upham)

Spotting those majestic ruins behind the trees along the banks of that lily lined creek probably did something to me. I rowed back a confirmed explorer, and I wanted to know about the places I explored. Fortunately, my family was supportive.

When I was young, I’d get my Mom to drop me off at the library so I could read old newspapers on microfiche.

Yes, really.

I spent my money on books, and I had a library card for the Provincial Archives by the time I was in my tweens. Obviously, I was incredibly popular in middle school: my room was wallpapered with pictures of historic aircraft and my first CD was Glen Miller at Carnegie Hall. I’m still a fairly eclectic person.

Ancient and underappreciated

The river systems, coasts and trails of New Brunswick are intricate, ancient and underappreciated. The communities that they connect, and which grew along them, are much the same.

Hiking beaches and coming across the remains of wharves and dikes built by hard working hands whose labour benefited generations is quite something. Finding the names of those who did the work is quite something again.

a hand holding an artifact covered with mud
Upham found this glass bottle stopper, dated from about 1880, with some bits of pottery in a washed-out area next to the Old Albert Mines road. (James Upham)

I have handled bits of clay pots found along the banks of the Saint John River that predate the City of Rome. It’s a cool feeling. It’s even cooler to realize that the people who built those wharves and the person who dropped that pot probably knew a lot of the same places I know — just differently.

A summer job at Kings Landing at age 19 started an ongoing career in heritage and interpretation. I studied modern history and classical history in university, followed by an education degree which has served me well.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve stayed an explorer.

I stop by old cemeteries and see who’s around because it’s worth it — you never know who you’re going to run into around here.

I make a point of going off of the beaten path because that’s where the things people forgot are.

old stone walls rising out of snow
Col. Joseph Gubbins considered the Mount House, on Gagetown Island in Queens County, a vital strategic point while planning the defence of New Brunswick during the War of 1812. Upham says the place is central to one of his earliest memories. (James Upham)

I research abandoned communities and visit them because I think it’s fascinating to sit on what’s left of someone’s front steps from the 1870s, now kilometres away from the nearest paved road, and be able to name them.

With this serieswe explore places of interest in this region that are worth knowing about. Many of these places are close to being forgotten, and all are worth visiting.

Some are easier to get to than others, but quite a few are — literally — on the side of the road.

It’s one thing to be aware of historical events, but the perspective you get by putting your feet on the ground and connecting with the reality of these places is something else entirely.

Exploring the Maritimes has made my life measurably better. The more I’ve learned about the Maritimes, the more interesting life has become.

If I didn’t share these places and stories with people, I’d feel like a colossal jerk.

This place is amazing. Go have a look.

picture of an old wooden wharf on a beach with blue sky
Dorchester Wharf on Dorchester Island in Westmorland County is, Upham says, was once a thriving centre of transportation and business that included a hotel, and would be comparable to an airport today. (James Upham)

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