Woodstock pays tribute to ‘Renaissance man’ more than 70 years after his death

At first glance, the site of Tappan Adney’s former cabin in the woods of Woodstock looks like a forgotten crime scene. There’s a string of paperwork surrounding a small patch of land, and the shack itself is long gone.

But there are still small clues to Adney’s humble existence.

“It would have been the bricks of his fireplace. Lily of the valley grew all over there. … It must have been the windows of his cabin,” Daryl Hunter says, pointing to shards of broken glass on the floor.

Hunter is a historian and passionate about all things Tappan Adney – the artist, writer, naturalist and former Woodstock figure.

Archivist and historian Daryl Hunter, standing in front of where Tappan Adney’s cabin once stood. Bricks, an old stove and broken glass from old windows are all that remains on the site today. (Jeanne Armstrong/CBC)

Hunter thinks more New Brunswickers should know about Adney, which is why he worked on walking trails and signage around the site of Adney’s old cabin.

The trail is just one example of several recent projects in the city, showing a renewed interest in the memory and legacy of Adney in Woodstock more than 70 years after his death.

Tappan Adney fell in love with New Brunswick’s oldest town

Edwin Tappan Adney was born in Athens, Ohio, in 1868. His mother ran a boarding house in New York, where Minnie Bell Sharp resided.

Sharp was from Woodstock, and when she got home she invited Adney and her mother for a visit. Soon Adney fell in love with Sharp and Woodstock.

“Nothing has had a more positive influence on my life…no wood has ever impressed me more than these woods,” Adney wrote of his fascination with New Brunswick’s oldest city.

One day, Adney came across a Wolastoqey man named Peter Jo who was building a birch bark canoe near a small stream. This chance encounter changed the course of Adney’s life.

Peter Jo agreed to mentor Adney in the art and craft of birchbark canoe making, and Adney detailed and recorded this technique in writing. Adney’s Book, Bark canoes and skin boats of North Americais considered today as the bible of canoe building.

After studying the art and technique of building birchbark canoes with the Wolastoqiyik, Adney preserved his knowledge in a book. Today, his Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America are considered by many to be the bible of canoe building. (Daryl Hunter)

To better understand the technique, canoe makers Adney and Wolastoqey often built mini-canoes – one-fifth scale models made of birch bark, cedar, spruce and moose hide.

This month, the Connell House Museum in downtown Woodstock acquired three of these model canoes, on loan from the New Brunswick Museum. They are part of an entire room dedicated to Tappan Adney.

“Things come and go, but there’s always been an attachment to Tappan, in the Woodstock area anyway. I think now seems like a good time for a Tappan Adney revival, one way or another. another,” said Joanne Barrett, executive director of Connell House. .

Woodstock’s “The Complete Renaissance Man”

Model canoes aren’t the only Tappan Adney-related items at the Connell House. This month, a new exhibit by local artist Suzan Carsley opened at the museum.

Tappan Adney often made one-fifth scale model canoes with Wolastoqey canoe builders to learn the trade. The Connell House in Woodstock now displays three of these model canoes. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)

Carsley specializes in linocut prints and watercolors, and the prints are inspired by Adney’s heritage and spirit.

It all started with a pandemic visit to a cabin in the fall of 2020. A friend of Carsley’s invited her to a cabin outside of Woodstock, which belonged to Tappan Adney’s granddaughter, Joan Adney Dragon.

Carsley says when she walked in “something just hit me. I felt that presence of Tappan Adney there.”

On the left, Tappan Adney photographed in 1899 on Nome Beach in Alaska. Right is a linocut titled “Footsteps in the Klondike” created by Woodstock artist Suzan Carsley. (Carleton County Historical Society and Suzan Carsley)

Carsley says Adney had never physically been to the cabin, but the place was a sanctuary for the man.

One wall was given over to etchings of his works, “stunning” photographs of him, old wicker baskets and some of his original writings.

“I mean, the place oozed that wonderful presence of history and such knowledge that this man had. Tappan Adney was, as my husband would say, the man of the complete Woodstock renaissance.”

The prints are a mixture of portraits of Adney and scenes from inside his granddaughter’s cottage.

“Friend of the Wolastoqiyik”

Adney was not always revered at Woodstock. Daryl Hunter says that in the last years of his life he was penniless, ate canned beans, talked to animals and walked around his property naked, which alarmed locals.

But Hunter said there was another reason Adney was disliked: He stood up for Indigenous rights and culture at a time when there were virtually no other white settlers.

“He was writing letters to the editor about what he found in his research on treaties, on the rights of indigenous peoples, and he was getting nasty letters published in the paper about his mistake,” Hunter said.

In his later years, Adney was a vocal opponent of federal government plans to force Indigenous communities in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia out of their homes and relocate to a “centralized” location in Kingsclear, a plan that ultimately failed.

He also compiled over 10,000 typewritten pages in the Wolastoqey language, with the help of Wolastoqey speaker Peter Paul.

Today, Peter’s son, Darrell Paul, of Woodstock First Nation, has worked to promote Adney’s legacy. In 2012 he built a birchbark canoe using Adney’s book, “the first canoe built in this area since Peter Jo’s [canoe].”

Darrell Paul, right, and Steve Cayard, making the maiden voyage in a birchbark canoe built in 2012, with the help of birchbark canoe instructions from Tappan Adney. (Daryl Hunter)

Paul says he thinks the technique of building birchbark canoes would be lost if Adney hadn’t put it in writing.

“The knowledge is not there. Tappan Adney preserved it. He wrote in detail how it would be done. This is the first and only source I know of how a birchbark canoe would be built “, said Paul.

In 2013, Darrell Paul and other members of the Woodstock First Nation community noticed that Adney’s grave was in poor condition. It was a small, flat tombstone overgrown with weeds.

“To me, that was quite pathetic. So we felt there should be something more respectful for the man, to honor him and acknowledge his interest in the Maliseet people of the Saint John River,” said said Paul.

Woodstock First Nation raised funds to place a more impressive black granite headstone in its place.

It features the illustration of a canoe and an inscription in the Wolastoqey language which reads: “Wolastoqiyik widub-ah-wal” or “Friend of the Wolastoqiyik”.

The headstone in a Woodstock cemetery for Tappan Adney and his wife, Minnie Bell Sharp. It was installed in 2013 through a fundraiser from Woodstock First Nation. (Daryl Hunter)

What would Tappan Adney think of all this attention today?

“He probably wouldn’t want anything to do with it,” Barrett said. “He was very individual. He had his own interests and he was stubborn about it.

“And that’s probably why he was so successful. Because he didn’t let anything distract him.”

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