New Brunswick - Culture

Culture

Early New Brunswick culture was aboriginal in flavour, influenced by the native populations who made their home along the coast and riverbanks until the arrival of French-speaking in the early 17th century and English-speaking settlers beginning in the mid 18th century. Aboriginal culture in turn quickly came under European influence through trade and religion. Even writing was affected; see for example, Mi'kmaq hieroglyphic writing. Aboriginal societies were gradually marginalized under the reserve system, and it was not until the late nineteenth century, through the work of Silas Rand, that the tales of Glooscap began to emerge.

As described by the political historian Arthur Doyle, an invisible line separated the two founding European cultures, beginning on the eastern outskirts of Moncton and running diagonally across the province northwest towards Grand Falls. Franco-New Brunswick (Acadie) lay to the northeast of this divide, and Anglo-New Brunswick lay to the southwest.

Doyle's characterization was made not long after government reforms by former premier Louis J. Robichaud had significantly improved the status of French-speaking Acadians within the province and initiated their journey towards cultural recognition and equality with their English-speaking counterparts.

Early New Brunswick was influenced by its colonial ties to France, England, Scotland, and Ireland as well as by its geographical proximity to New England and the arrival of about 40,000 Loyalists in 1783.

As local society was founded in forestry and seaborne endeavours, a tradition of lumber camp songs and sea shanties prevailed. Acadian cloggers and Irish and Scots step dancers competed at festivals to expressive fiddle and accordion music. The art of storytelling, well-known to the native populations, passed on to the early settlers, and poetry—whether put to music or not—was a common form of commemorating shared events, as the voice of a masterful poet or soulful musician easily conquered the province's language barriers.

Other cultural expressions were found in family gatherings and the church; both French and English cultures saw a long and early influence of ecclesiastical architecture, with Western European and American influences dominating rather than a particular vernacular sense. Poets produced the first important literary contributions in the province. Cousins Bliss Carman and Sir Charles G.D. Roberts found inspiration in the landscape, as would later writers as well. In painting, individual artists such as Anthony Flower worked in obscurity, either through design or neglect, while others such as Edward Mitchell Bannister left the province before ever developing a local influence.

Few 19th-century artists emerged, but those who did often benefited from fine arts training at Mount Allison University in Sackville, which began offering classes in 1854. The program came into its own under John A. Hammond, who served from 1893 to 1916. Alex Colville and Lawren Harris later studied and taught art there and both Christopher Pratt and Mary Pratt were trained at Mount Allison. The University’s art gallery – which opened in 1895 and is named for its patron, John Owens of Saint John – is Canada’s oldest.

In French-speaking New Brunswick, it would not be until the 1960s that a comparable institution was founded, the Université de Moncton. Then, a cultural renaissance occurred under the influence of Acadian historians and such teachers as Claude Roussel and through coffeehouses, music, and protest. An outpouring of Acadian art, literature, and music has pressed on unabated since that time. Popular exponents of modern Acadian literature and music include Antonine Maillet, Édith Butler and France Daigle. A recent New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor, Herménégilde Chiasson, was a poet. In northwest New Brunswick and neighbouring Quebec and northern Maine, a separate French-speaking group, the Brayon, have fostered such important artists as Roch Voisine and Lenny Breau. (See also "Music of New Brunswick").

Dr. John Clarence Webster and Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook have made important endowments to provincial museums. Dr. Webster gave his art collection to the New Brunswick Museum in 1934, thereby endowing the museum with one of its greatest assets, James Barry's Death of General Wolfe, which ranks as a Canadian national treasure. Courtesy of Lord Beaverbrook, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton has a collection of world-renowned art, including works by Salvador Dalí and J. M. W. Turner.

The performing arts have a long tradition in New Brunswick, dating back to travelling road shows and 19th-century opera in Saint John. The early recording star Henry Burr was discovered at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John. Based in Fredericton, the most important proponent of theatre today is Theatre New Brunswick, originally under the direction of Walter Learning, which tours plays around the province; Canadian playwright Norm Foster saw his early works premiere at TNB. Other live theatre troops include Théâtre l’Escaouette in Moncton, the Théatre populaire d'Acadie in Caraquet, and Live Bait Theatre in Sackville. All three major cities have significant performance spaces. The refurbished Imperial and Capitol Theatres are found in Saint John and Moncton, respectively; the more modern Playhouse is located in Fredericton.

In modern literature, writers Alfred Bailey and Alden Nowlan dominated the New Brunswick literary scene in the last third of the 20th century and world-renowned literary critic Northrop Frye was influenced by his upbringing in Moncton. The annual Frye Festival in that city celebrates his legacy. The expatriate British poet John Thompson, who settled outside Sackville, proved influential in his short-lived career. Douglas Lochhead and K. V. Johansen are other prominent writers living in the town of Sackville. David Adams Richards, born in the Miramichi, has become a well-respected Governor-General's Award-winning author. Canadian novelist, story-writer, biographer and poet, Raymond Fraser, grew up in Chatham and lives now in Fredericton.

The Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada, based in Moncton and featuring Russian and European trained dancers, has recently flourished and has started touring both nationally and internationally. Symphony New Brunswick, based in Saint John, also tours extensively in the province.

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