As we travel the roads of Albert County by car or truck--not by train, as you could at one time in the late 1870s--we can take Route 895 down the hill by the old cemetery into the community of Elgin. Regardless of which entry we take, we go down to the village, which at one time was a very bustling community.
How did Elgin get its name? Elgin was named in honour of James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, (1811-1862) who was the Governor General of Canada from 1846-1854. Did the Earl ever visit the Elgin area or was that name, probably along with other suggestions, chosen at the Shiretown at Hopewell Cape?
Albert County was so named in honour of the Prince Consort. Many people know about Gordon Falls in Elgin, but how did that name come about? Originally called Pollett River Falls, they were re-named after Arthur Hamilton Gordon, the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, who visited in 1864.
How did Elgin begin? The first settler was John Gildart (Geldart) in 1812, who was 32 at the time. He had emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in 1811. He probably came up the river by canoe or perhaps on a trail by horseback. In those days, canoes were made from hollowed pine trees wide enough to lay a barrel of flour endwise across them. I wonder if he reached the falls and gorge, turned back a short distance because of the terrain, then picked a spot at the base of what is now Gowland Mountain. At that time, it was dense forest with immense trees. (On my grandfather's farm, one board on the woodhouse door is 36" wide.)
I am sure Gildart would have noted a lot of wildlife and fish. I picture him coming ashore at a small meadow and wonder how he marked the place that he hoped to return to and start his farm. Here was land by the river, a good source of water, with many possibilities to expand with plenty of resources, and no neighbours encroaching. (I don't think his wife would be so impressed, though!) He could spread out in any direction and the land looked good for crops.
He returned to build his house and, later still, sent for his family. He and his wife, Elizabeth Mary Lutz, according to the 1851 Elgin Parish Census, had children born 1810, 1812 and 1815.
What was John's occupation in England? Did he build his home by himself? Robert Smith, also from England, arrived the next year in Elgin and settled near John. Perhaps they worked together on his house and Smith decided to join his friend in this land of opportunity. We don't know.
Pioneers had to help each other out because life was hard with only hand tools to clear land and plant crops. How did he begin farming - a colt and calf perhaps brought up the river on a raft? Did he make a trail through the woods when they couldn't travel by water? Did they have any contact with the Mi’kmaq? A few miles distant there was a portage over the hills in Portage Vale and that is how it got its name.
The pioneers survived, persevered and many prospered. We don't find other settlers mentioned until 1825 when Frank Gray and Robert Colpitts arrived at the settlement. Robert Colpitts was a pioneer in making maple sugar in Albert County. In 1814, George Jonah moved from Hillsborough to what is now Portage Vale. In 1824, James Hayward was the first settler in Goshen, a very short distance away.
In the 1851 Census, John is 71 years old with the notation "sick and infirm." He died in 1854 at the age of 74. His wife, Elizabeth, was still living in 1861 at 87 years, which was very old in those days!
There is more to come about the history of Elgin. This article is subject to errors.
References: 1851 & 1861 Censuses; Memories of Yesterday,The History of Elgin by Marianne Steeves; Elgin Revisited by Alyssa Martin.