We Arrive in Halifax
"Come quickly, Lena, or we will miss it!" my father urged me. The word had spread quickly among the 272 of us in steerage on the steamship Hanoverian. Captain Stephen had said that would arrive at Halifax harbor, Nova Scotia, on early Sunday morning. My father and I took my little brother Wilhelm with us and hurried up to the deck. Mother stayed behind in the cabin with my baby brother Hans Peter, who was only a year old.
We stood at the railing with the other passengers, hopeful to catch a glimpse of our new home in Canada. It was raining hard, and the sun had not yet risen so we couldn't see much.
"Listen" my father said to Wilhelm and I. "Can you hear the harbor bells?"
We listened hard, and then we heard the bells on the channel buoys ringing. And then we started to hear the cry of seagulls. The waves crashed on the rocks at the harbor entrance, and land loomed out of the darkness on either side of the ship. We could hear the change in the sound of the engines on our ship as we entered Halifax harbor. Finally, even through the downpour we could see the lights of the city come into view.
"This is going to be our new home" my father told us. "Soon we will in New Denmark with many other families from Denmark. It will be a little strange at first, but there are many folks that we know already there, and everyone speaks Danish."
Since we had left Liverpool 13 days before my father could talk of nothing else - our new home in Canada and the new life that lay before us. Now we were here, and soon would be on our way to New Brunswick and the little colony of Danes at New Denmark. Wilhelm and I couldn't help being excited, despite the rain and cold.
It was hard to tell through the driving rain and darkness, but this new country didn't seem much like the Denmark we had left behind. The smell of the salt air had a sharp "tang" to it, much different from the smell of the sea at Copenhagen harbor. The buildings and wharfs looked like the ones we had left at Copenhagen, but where were the green fields and little villages outside the city? All I could see unbroken forest. Was this what Canada was like - a wilderness?
My name is Laurine Petersen, but my father and mother call me "Lena". My family and I come from Vaerslo, Denmark. I only turned 10 years old on April 4, 1883, just before we left home for our new home in Canada. So much has happened in the last few weeks that I hardly know where to begin to tell you the story. This has been the biggest adventure of my life.
"Canadian Free Land - An Invitation to Wealth and Freedom"
My mother and father have been talking about coming to Canada for a long time. He had letters from his friend Gustav Brown, who had married my sister Anna Elizabeth and had emigrated to New Denmark. There were letters from others who had started a new life there on 100 acres of free government land. I used to listen to my parents in the evening, sitting at the kitchen table and talking about Canada. It was going to be a wonderful place for my family and I, and give us a chance that we could never have staying in the old country. I knew that Canada was some place far off, some exciting place.
Father was always cheerful, with a positive outlook on life that mother's stern, cautious ways couldn't dampen. It still took a long time to convince mother to uproot our whole lives in Vaerslo and emmigrate to Canada.
I remember seeing the brochure about emigrating from the Kobenhavns Politis on the kitchen table, and a pamphlet from General Surveyor Stevenson from New Brunswick in Danish that offered: "Emigrants from Denmark will come to a country as advanced in all respects of civilization as the country they have left, but free from many of the social, legal and economic drawbacks which often render life in the older countries unpleasant and labour unremunerative." I really didn't know what all these big words meant, but listened intently when father and mother were discussing moving to Canada.
"And look here" my father said to mother "The New Brunswick Government will give anyone who lives on the land for three years 100 acres of good farming land. How much land do we have here? Hardly nothing at all, and not enough for us to raise enough food to live on! Even with my soldier's pension from the War [Lars was referring to his service in the Danish war with Prussia in 1864 over Slesvig and Holstein] and my stone mason work we hardly have enough to get by, what with the cost of everything these days. And what about our children? What future will they have here, with even less land or opportunities available?"
"But I've heard that Canada is a cold wilderness full of wild beasts and savages." cautioned mother.
"You should listen less to what the old gossips in the village say and more to our friends and neighbours that have already gone to Canada. Danes have been going there since 1872 and have built a nice little colony there. See what Gus and Elizabeth say in their letters here" he replied. "Good soil, trees for the cutting for boards and firewood, and the government has built a big house for us to stay in free until we have our own place."
"Here in the brochure from New Brunswick it says 'the ridges are mostly covered with a luxurious growth of Rock Maple, Yellow Birch and other hard woods. The soil is deep, mellow, rich and free from stone. One cannot speak too highly of the fertility of these ridges. The giant trees stand wide apart, very little underbrush obstructs the view, and the whole scene looks more like a beautiful park than an unclaimed wilderness. The open character of the forest renders it easily cleared.' That sounds pretty good, and we sure can't get any opportunity like that here in Vaerslo." he concluded.
"Look for yourself - here is what the New Brunswick government offers, and they have put it into law:"
"And how would we get there? Canada is all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, and those boats they have, those aren't free you know." said mother, almost in desperation. She sensed that she was losing the argument to my father.
"Do you remember when Captain Saren Heller came over from New Brunswick, back in the spring of 1872? He was sent to Copenhagen to recruit families for the new Danish colony in New Brunswick, and took 29 Danes back with him. After he got them settled in New Denmark, he made two more trips over to Copenhagen and brought more Danes to Canada with him. Then, to make things easier for others that followed the trail that he blazed, the New Brunswick government set up a subsidy with the Allan Line to carry immigrants across the Atlantic for very reasonable fares."
"Look" he said, "here is a new brochure I got from the Allan Line in the post today. They have good, fast ships that are safe and cater to immigrants. We would take the train to Copenhagen, then a steamer to Liverpool, and then book passage on one of the Allan Line ships to Canada. The passage for you and I, Laurine, Wilhelm and Hans Peter across the Atlantic would be about 383 Kroner (or 21 British Pounds and 2 shillings).
"I figure that we will need about 800 Kroner to get all of us there, buy the supplies that we need to get us started and to keep us going for a year. Remember, the government will pay me for cutting wood or working on the railroad at $1 Canadian a day - that's about 4 Danish Kroner a day, a lot more than I could ever earn here, and that will be money coming in while we get going over there!"
"Eight hundred Kroner - where are we going to get that kind of money?" mother said. "That is going to take us nearly half a year to save up that much!"
"Well, we have a little put aside, and there are some folks that owe me for work I've done for them, so I think we can come up the money in four or five months if we are very careful." he said, realizing that he had won mother over.
"But what about our new house?" "We've just moved into it, and we would have to leave it!"
"I'm sure that Lena and her husband Hans Christian would be thankful of the chance to live here. And Hannah Marie and Ludwig can stay with them, until they can join us in Canada. It will all work out for the best" assured my father.
And so it was settled that Lars and Dorothe Marie Petersen and their family would emmigrate to Canada. Or at least, most of our family. My two older sisters, Hannah Marie and Lena, would stay in Denmark. Hannah Marie was married to Kristoffer Jorgensen and didn't want to leave. Lena was married to Hans Christian Jacobsen, and agreed to stay behind with my older brother Ludwig. Ludwig was 13 and had not completed his confirmation in the church. In six months, when he was confirmed, he and Lena and her husband would come to Canada.
And so we leave Denmark
Once the decision was made to leave, time seemed to crawl. There was the passage and homesteading money to gather, of course, but also a long list of supplies and tools to assemble to take to our new home. The letters flew back and forth across the Atlantic to our friends and neighbors in New Denmark. "What is the weather like and what kind of boots and coats should we bring?" "Can we buy nails and axes there, or should we bring them with us?"
Mother was very concerned about the cost of everything in Canada, and fretted whenever she found that the price of something was higher. Actually, when you remembered that there were 3.815 Danish Kroner to each $1.00 Canadian, the prices of most everything we would need was about the same, or cheaper, than in Denmark.
Finally, after many months of planning, scrimping and saving, we were ready to go. There was a big party that our neighbors in Vaerslo put on for us, with all kinds of food and fond fairwells. Then, we all went down to catch the train to Copenhagen, our first leg on the trip to Canada. Ludwig didn't want us to go, and was convinced that he would never see us again. He cried and carried on, and when the train finally pulled out of the Vaerslo station, he ran down the tracks after us. He followed us for a long time, but kept getting farther and farther behind until we lost sight of him. We found out later that Lena and Hannah Marie were frantic. Ludwig disappeared for several hours, and when he finally came home, he was drunk! It was a good thing that mother didn't know about any of this until there was the whole Atlantic Ocean between her and Ludwig!
In Copenhagen on April 20, 1883 we went to the offices of the Allan Line at 13 Nyhavn. There we were greeted by the representative of the line, Wilken Horneman. We received our tickets and our baggage was marked for loading on the ship. Father also exchanged his Danish Kroner for very strange looking Canadian money. After this we all trooped down to the police station to enter our names into the emigrant register. My father had to show his papers that he had served in the Danish War, and we all had to present our certificates of baptism. Our destination was marked as St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.
From Copenhagen we caught a steamer to Liverpool. There, the agent in Copenhagen had booked us passage on the Allan Line Royal Mail steamer Hanoverian through their Chief Office at 19 James Street in Liverpool. The ticket agent had told father that we had to arrive in Liverpool a day ahead of our sailing to make all the arrangements. That night we stayed at a boarding house arranged by the ticket agent, but I was so tired that I don't remember much about it.
The Hanoverian was scheduled to leave Liverpool on Tuesday, April 24, 1883. The ticket agent picked us up at the boarding house and led us to the pier and showed us the gangway where we were to board the ship. There were many other Danes with us, all going to Canada. We had passage to Halifax as third-class passengers, in the steerage section of the Hanoverian.
The Hanoverian was the biggest ship I had ever seen, and as we walked up the pier in Liverpool to board it looked even bigger. It must have been nine or ten times longer than our house and had a funnel and three masts. The funnel was a bright red with a black top and a white band around it. There was a blue and white and red flag flying from one of the masts under a long red pennant. The agent explained to father that this was the flag of the Allan Line, and that the Hanoverian was a brand new ship, only one year old, and fast. He said that it travelled at 11 knots, but I don't know what that meant. I thought that the train we took to Copenhagen was very fast, and I wonder if our ship will be as fast as it.
Once on board we were directed down the stairs and father had to show our tickets to an officer. We were put in a cabin in steerage which we were to share with several other families also going to Canada. The ship had room for 1,000 steerage passengers, in several large cabins with rows of upper and lower bunk beds. There were only 272 of us on this voyage, however, so we had plenty of room for our little family of five.
There were others from Denmark, but also from many other countries that spoke languages I couldn't understand. The ship officers were all English, or Canadian, and most spoke only English. One or two spoke some Danish, and we were able to understand the routine of ship life. We were told that we should stay in the third-class area and not bother the passengers in the first class cabins or the intermediate class passengers. We were not allowed to go anywhere we wanted up on deck, but had to stay in the area reserved for steerage passengers.
Mother wouldn't let Wilhelm and I wander around the ship, and we had to stay in our cabin except when we went with mother or father to get our meals or when we were up on deck with them and all the other steerage passengers. There was plenty of food but I thought it all tasted pretty much the same. Mother said that it was cooked by steam and wasn't nearly as good as what she could cook at home in her kitchen. Some of us were seasick once we got out on the ocean, and we didn't want any food anyway for the first couple of days. I didn't mind the rocking of the boat on the ocean but the smell of other people throwing up made me sick too. I'm glad there weren't more people in our cabin, because it smelled bad enough as it was.
The ship stopped at Queenstown in Great Britain the next day, and then we didn't see land again for nine days. I don't remember much about the trip, except that I got over my seasickness in a couple of days. Most everyone else did too, and the crew came into our cabin to wash the floors down and things smelled a little better.
There was a sailor's band of sorts that had a fiddle, a harmonica, a drum and a hand-organ. The Captain had them play music on deck every day that the weather was good, and we all sat and listened. Some people danced, and some of the people sang songs from Denmark and other countries that they were from. Other than that, there wasn't much for us to do. Father spent hours talking to the others going to Canada to compare notes and swap what little information they all had about our new home.
Finally we heard that the ship was going to reach land at Saint John, Newfoundland. Father explained that this was also in Canada, but that we were not going to get off there. We had to wait another three days until the ship got to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It seemed like a long three days until we finally were roused from our sleep to stand out on the rainy deck in the early morning hours of May 7 as the Hanoverian sailed into Halifax harbor.
We land in Canada
We walked down the gangway at Pier 1 in Halifax. There my father had to show our papers to the Immigration and Customs Officials. They wanted to know where we were coming from, and where we were going. A doctor checked us over to see that we weren't sick. Father had to show them the money that we had brought with us, and they wanted to see what was in our baggage. When they learned that we were going to New Brunswick they gave us information on the trains and ships to get us there. I thought that once we were in Canada we wouldn't have to travel any more, but father explained that we still had a long way to go. It turned out that it took another 18 days until we were standing in front of the Immigrant House in New Denmark.
The next days are all a blur. Father wanted to get started as soon as possible, but we had to find a place to stay until he could get tickets on the train to Digby. There was someone at Pier 1 who directed us to a boarding house nearby where the landlady was Danish. The train trip took nearly all day. At Digby we took another ship to Saint John, New Brunswick, arriving late in the day. One of the crewmen told father that we were crossing the Bay of Fundy, where the ocean tides rise and fall more than 40 feet - the most of anywhere on earth.
Saint John seemed to be built on a big rock. When we sailed into the harbor there were houses perched up on the ledges all around. We passed an island that father said was Partridge Island, where sick travellers were quarantined. It didn't look very pretty, and I was glad that none of us was sick.
Saint John also seemed to be full of brand new buildings. One of the crewmen explained to father that the city had nearly completely burned down in 1877, only 6 years before. All that we were seeing was newly rebuilt buildings and piers and streets since the fire.
Up the Saint John River to New Denmark
At the St John pier we unloaded all our baggage again, and this time we changed to a paddle wheel boat for the trip up the Saint John River as far as Fredericton. There we boarded a smaller boat to go further up the Saint John River as far as the Salmon River. The trip took us until the next morning, when we landed near the mouth of the Salmon River at a little spot called Ortonville. I didn't get much sleep all night, although the trip up the river was fine with very pretty country on both sides. There were farms with fields that reached down to the river, and green forest as far as the eye could see.
"This is as far as we go by boat" father said as we pulled into the shore and we made ready to disembark with our baggage.
At the landing were Gus and Elizabeth and a small group of people who waved and shouted at us in Danish "Welcome!". Here were some of our old friends and neighbors from Denmark, waiting to welcome us to our new home in New Denmark. They had arranged for a wagon to take our baggage up the hill to the Immigrant House. It was about two miles up a steep road through Lucy Gulch, and we all had to walk except for mother and little Hans Peter. On every side were thick woods pressing in on the narrow road, and I thought that mother might have been right about the "Canadian wilderness". Denmark was like a big garden, and I was scared of what might be in those woods.
We arrived at a clearing in the woods a hour or so later. There were stumps everywhere from what must have been big trees, but also smooth areas where people were working on getting gardens and fields ready for the spring planting. In the middle of the clearing was a big building with people coming in and out.
"This is Immigrant House" our guide said to father. "You can live here with your family until you have picked out your land and built your house on it. There will be other families living here also who have recently arrived."
As we arrived at the Immigrant House we were greeted by one of the original settlers from 1872. "Welcome to New Denmark" said Hans Peter Lysgaard Petersen, the unofficial leader of the colony, keeper of the store and general interpreter for the colony. "I hope that your trip was easy, and once you have settled in, we will help show you around our little town. I think that you will enjoy living here in your new country, and your new home."
And so we settled into becoming Canadians, learning the language and clearing the land for our new home. I soon had new friends among the other settlers to play with. Father selected a lot of 75 acres on Christensen Hill, right across the road from the 100 acres that Gus and Elizabeth Brown had selected. Father was given free grant and title to Lot "T" on February 25, 1889. Hans Peter Lysgaard Petersen signed the Free Grant as Commissioner under the "Act relating to Free Grants of Crown Lands" and as Justice of the Peace for Victoria County. This photo shows father and mother sitting in front of their new home on their new land.
My older brother Ludwig made the trip from Denmark after six months, when he had been confirmed. My older sister Lena and her husband Hans Christian Jacobsen came over with Ludwig, but Lena did not like the frontier living in the Canadian wilderness, and insisted that Hans Christian take her back to Denmark. He did, but Ludwig stayed on with us in New Denmark.
This trip to Canada truly has been one of the biggest adventures of my life. I feel as if my life is just beginning, and it is...but more of my life sometime later.
This article is a blending of the facts that we know about Lars Petersen and his family filled in with contemporary accounts and histories of the Danish migration to New Denmark, NB. The conversations are fictional.
My thanks to my cousins in New Denmark, New Brunswick and in Denmark for helping fill in the details of our family history, and to my brother Emery Daly for providing information on the steamer Hanoverian.
Laurine Petersen was my grandmother. Additional stories about her as she raised my father and his brothers in Effingham, New Hampshire, can be found at Uncle Charlie's Tapeworm.
Some of the Petersen family still live in New Denmark to this day.
Gustave (Gus) Frederick Brown was given title to Lot "V", a 100 acre tract across the road on Christenson Hill from Lars' tract on August 15, 1891. The Free Grant was signed by Hans Peter Lysgaard Petersen as Commissioner. Gus and Anna Elizabeth had a son Carl (b 1884) and four daughters, Hanna (b 1888), Grace (b 1890), May and Carrie. They later sold their land and moved to Waterville, Maine.
When he was 26 years old Lars' son Ludwig filed for a Free Grant to Lot 151 on Tobique Road near the Little Salmon River. This was granted to him after several years of living on the land and documented labor. Ludwig married Anna Larsen and they had two sons and three daughters. Ludwig for many years was the postmaster at the New Denmark postoffice. His granddaughters Madeline Pedersen and Rita Pelkier are my second cousins and still live in New Denmark.
In 1933 Lars' son Hans Peter was issued a Free Grant to Lot "Y" on the Tobique Road, near his father and brother. Hans Peter married Orpha and had five sons and two daughters. His granddaughter Emma Petersen is my second cousin and has lived in New Denmark all her life (see Driving Cousin Emma).
In 1911 Lars sold the 75 acres on Christensen Hill and moved to a new 16 1/2 by 20 1/2 frame house on 100 acres a short distance northeast. He applied for title to Lot No 1, Range A, Blue Bell Tract in 1915 but was denied, since he had already received one Free Grant. Lars lived his last years with Hans Peter and died sometime after 1917.
According to Edwin Clay, the Immigration Agent for Halifax in his 1883 Annual Report, immigrants landed from 56 steamers that year with "not one complaint..entered against either officers or men, not even against the food,...". There were 8,475 emigrant passengers landed at Halifax, including 1,571 from "other countries" [which would have included Denmark].
The total number of emigrants that came from Denmark to New Denmark is not known precisely, but immigration continued into the 20th century at sometimes 100-200 Danes each year. Not all stayed in New Denmark. Some, like Laurine's sister Lena and her husband went back to the old country. Other Danes moved west, to better farmland being offered by the government. In 1882, the year before Lars Petersen and his family arrived, there were three or four thousand acres under cultivation in New Denmark. At 100 acres per "eligible male settler", this represents an enormous accomplishment considering the land was heavily forested when the immigrants arrived, and gives some idea of what the population of New Denmark was.
The steamer Hanoverian was built by William Doxford in Sunderland, England for the Allan Line and launched on March 21, 1882. She was the third in a series of three steamers. The other two were the Grecian (1880) and Corean (1881). The only photo I have been able to find of the Hanoverian shows only her stern, but there is a photo of her sister ship the Corean, launched only a year before and nearly identical in design and appearance.
S.S. Hanoverian was a 3503 gross ton ship, with a length of 366 feet and beam of 42.2 feet. She had one funnel, three masts, an iron hull, a single screw and a speed of 11 knots. There were accomodations for 1st and 3rd class passengers, although the Passenger List for the May 1883 voyage showed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class passengers. Similar sized Allan Line ships had room for up to 1,000 steerage (3rd class) passengers, but thre is not record we have found that lists the number of passengers for the Hanoverian or her sister ships. Her maiden voyage started May 25, 1882 when she left Glasgow for Quebec and Montreal, and on Mar 11, 1883 she started the London-Halifax-New York sailings. According to Bonser her first Liverpool-Halifax-Baltimore trip was on June 3, 1884, but clearly this is in conflict with the passenger list information for Lars Petersen's trip that took place a year earlier. The Hanoverian had a short life. She was wrecked in St. Mary's Bay, Newfoundland, on September 2, 1885 with no loss of life. Over the years, the Allan Line lost more than 40 of their steamers. With no radar and no radio communications in the 1800s it is suprising that more were not lost.
When the leaves drop this fall, and before the snows come, I hope to be able to go back up to New Denmark and find the cellar holes of Lars' original and his second homes. When my father first travelled to New Denmark in 1949 there were still traces of the original log building on Lot "T", but I don't expect to find any of it. Most of New Denmark is now cleared and grows potatoes, but Lars' lots have mostly reverted to forest.
Find a title you would like? Order on-line!
[ E-mail ]
Last updated December 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree