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SKETCHES OF OUR TOWN: SAINT JOHN

Produced and directed by Conrad Beaubien
Beaver Creek Productions, 1990. VHS cassette, 24:00 min., $99.00. Distributed by Magic Lantern Communications, Unit #38, 775 Pacific Rd. Oakville, Ont. L6L 6M4.


Grades 6 and up/Ages 11 and up

Reviewed by Allison Haupt

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October


This production captures nicely the images of the current city of Saint John and provides highlights of the city's development. From a smattering of natural history and the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in 1604, narrator Harvey Kirck traces the settlement of Saint John the Acadians in the T600s, the Loyalists in the 1700s, the transformation of the "American village" into an "Irish city" with tens of thousands of Irish arriving in the 1800s, and subsequent waves of British and European immigrants in the 1900s.

Saint John was apparently the first city to be incorporated, by royal charter, in Canada in 1785. As one of only two year-round ice-free ports in eastern Canada, Saint John had one of the largest merchant navies in the world in the early 1800s. From lumbering and shipping the industries have grown to include brewing, sugar and oil refining, and pulp and paper production today.

Ships which carried lumber to England returned bringing thousands of immigrants to Canada, but the story is a bleak and desperate one, highlighted by Saint John's notorious Partridge Island, which was used as a quarantine for cholera and small pox victims. Conditions on the boats were deplorable and thousands died on Partridge Island, which is described in the video as a "living hell."

Also highlighted in the video are "Black Wednesday" a fire that destroyed one third of the city in 1877 and the city market, one of the few buildings to survive the fire. The market has since become a focus, a "touchstone in the centre of town," for the people of Saint John. Interspersed among the shots of present-day Saint John are historical photographs by Isaac Erb, a photographer of the late 1800s.

The story is told at a pleasantly relaxed pace; the narration is best suited to a target audience between grades 6 and 12. As an introduction to a fascinating city, and as part of a series developed to introduce students to different cities in Canada, Sketches of Our Town: Saint John would be a useful addition to schools and public libraries able to afford it.


Allison Haupt is Children's Coordinator for the North Vancouver District Public Library in North Vancouver, British Columbia

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