The mouth of the St. John River, now The City of Saint John, was part of the traditional territory of the Maliseet people, and would have also been frequented for trading purposes by members of the Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy nations. The French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, gave the St. John River its name. Later it became an outpost for France. Its first major impetus for growth and establishment as Canada’s first incorporated city in 1783 came with the Loyalists who arrived from the colonies south of the now United States-Canada border during the American Revolution. So, a century later, the city’s centennial in 1883 was an auspicious occasion deserving of the creation of a lasting commemorative piece.
John Rogerson (1837 - 1925) was a Scotsman who immigrated to Saint John at age 12. He possessed great skills as a woodworker, artist and carver and was renowned on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent his life in Saint John, leaving only briefly for training with a master woodcarver in Boston. Prized examples of his work are in the collections of The New Brunswick Museum, the Church of St. Andrew and St. David and other Saint John institutions. The figurehead from the sailing vessel Tikoma, built by Jardine Bros. in Richibucto, NB, and wrecked off Pictou, NS, was a product of his skill. It was loaned to the Museum by Arthur G. Ross of Saint John and later, Montreal. There was great interest in the 2007 Christies’ sale of a figurehead carved by Rogerson for a sailing ship Edinburgh.
A ceremonial President’s chair crafted for The Saint Andrew’s Society’s 110th anniversary in 1908 is another fine example of Rogerson’s work. It is made with over two dozen select woods, specially chosen and carved for the Saint John Scottish group. It is on display at the Hilton Saint John Hotel, Market Square.
In 1883 Rogerson conceived of a centennial clock as befitting the celebration of the Saint John’s 100th anniversary. It would be of the finest Pennsylvania oak, adorned with appropriately carved symbols and figures and dimensions of five feet by nineteen inches.
In addition to the timepiece, it would incorporate a barometer and a thermometer. The topmost decoration would be a winged urn, symbolic of the flight of time, an hourglass would be carved on the side. Two full-length classically dressed female figures symbolizing Trade and Commerce would face a lion’s head. Trade would hold a mallet on her shoulder while Commerce would lean on an anchor. Beneath them, an exquisitely carved shield of New Brunswick would be flanked by maple and oak leaves with the date 1883.
For reasons unknown, the masterpiece was not finished until the following year. It was purchased by The Hibernia Lodge for the sum of $300, a substantial amount in those times, and was to be the highlight of the Provincial July Fair ( the 100th anniversary of freemasonry in NB) when it would be raffled off at 50 cents per ticket, again a considerable cost. The finished timepiece was displayed in the store windows of Lee & Logan on Dock Street and John P. Culley on King Street. Newspaper stories about the clock and the raffle appeared in the April 19 and July 3, 1884 issues of The Daily Sun, one of Saint John’s seven daily newspapers. The winner and the clock’s whereabouts remained a mystery for a half-century thereafter.
The next known address for the centennial clock was at 31 and 33 Wright Street. This was the home of the Gregg Family from the 1930’s until mid-century. Mrs. Jean Gregg, an artist and interior decorator, acquired the clock during this period. Her husband died in 1947 and she subsequently married Campbell Mackay, a prominent businessman and moved to his home known as Kingshurst in Rothesay. Upon selling the Wright St. house to Gregory Walsh, Mrs. Mackay promised to return for the clock but eventually gave it for the admiring Greg to treasure for another half-century.
Over the years, Greg cared for this unique artifact, appreciating its significance and taking a keen interest in its workings, given his training as a machinist with the Saint John Iron Works, the Dry Dock and later as an industrial teacher and Department Head at Simonds High School. His family lived for many years on Elliott Row, owning and operating the well-known harness and leather firm, Horton and Walsh, at 9-11 Market Square. Greg Walsh himself designed and built a horse blanket manufacturing machine that was renowned in Canada at the time.
The Walshes and Murphys lived across the street from one another on Elliott Row and both families summered at Fairvale. It was natural that Greg would come to know Marie Isabel Murphy (1916- 1998). They were married at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1941. Marie, known for her good looks and style, had twin sisters and a brother. She graduated from St. Vincent’s Girls School and developed skills as a homemaker while caring for her parents. She enjoyed the activities of the CYO, was an excellent cook, gardener, did beautiful needlework, and was a faithful volunteer for the Catholic Women’s League. Friends say, “her face smiled all the time,” and mention how easily she made and kept friends. “She was soft-spoken, kind and a gracious lady.”
One hundred twenty-eight years after its crafting, Gregory Walsh donated the centennial clock to the City of Saint John, in loving memory of his wife of over fifty years, Marie I. Murphy Walsh.
The terms of the agreement, with the city and The Community Foundation, provide for its permanent display in the city’s official reception area, the Ludlow Room, at Saint John City Hall. John Rogerson’s original concept has been taken to completion.
In order to ensure its security and preservation, Mr. Walsh has established a fund of $25,000 with The Greater Saint John Community Foundation. It provides for the clock’s proper maintenance and ongoing public enjoyment of it as a fitting part of our community’s heritage as the only known artifact dating from the City’s centennial. Any earnings from the permanent fund not required for the clock, is used for the ongoing charitable work of the Community Foundation and to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Greater Saint John. The Board of Directors of The Foundation is deeply appreciative of Mr. Walsh’s generosity to his community. The Board is grateful this gift has been matched with a gift of $12,500 from the T.R. Meighen Foundation’s Community Advancement New Brunswick program. It was augmented by a bequest from Mr. Walsh to the Foundation’s Community Fund when he passed away in 2006.
The Foundation gratefully acknowledges the following for their assistance in the research and cooperation needed to complete this act of community philanthropy: Gregory Walsh, Gerald McMackin, Q.C., former Mayor Shirley McAlary, Archdeacon Arthur Gregg, David Goss, Kevin Bond, The Saint John Free Public Library, The St. Andrew’s Society, The Masonic Grand Lodge of NB and The New Brunswick Museum. The Foundation recognizes the ongoing cooperation of the staff of the City of Saint John and Mayors, present and future.