Meadowlands: A Chronicle of the Scovil Family by Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund

Readers old enough to recall the popular TV series The Waltons, which ran from 1972-81 will enjoy reading Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund’s non-fiction novel about the Scovil family’s daily lives set in rural New Brunswick in the early 1900s through the Depressions years until 1934.

“Meadowlands — home to the family of Morris and Harriet Scovil at the beginning of the 20th century; nine hundred acres of interval and forest land at Scovil Point on the St. John River across from Gagetown, New Brunswick; a farm that produced hay and horses; a place that nurtured the life of a remarkable family.”

It is a remarkable family, one that lost their mother early in life, but forged ahead as Aunt Bessie, an accomplished nurse and writer stepped into the role to assist her bereaved brother. The author is actually the daughter of Mary, the next to the youngest child in Meadowlands, and as such a lot of the story revolves around her and her siblings.

Life at Meadowlands is certainly not a hardscrabble one; this is a successful farm, with the breeding and the selling of horses and the growing of hay. Wealthy family connections stateside and Bessie’s writings for the Ladies’ Home Journal and other periodicals bring in a little money too. There are the seasonal challenges of being iced-in by the freezing of the Saint John River, then the thawing of it when they become an “island” cut off by too much ice and water to safely cross over to Gagetown.

A large book, at over 400 pages, it is definitely not a mistake that the word “chronicle” appears in the title. At times while reading it, I felt that the writer was getting bogged down in an extraordinarily detailed way, and some clever editing could have pared it down to a faster-moving read.

Nevertheless, Meadowlands is most enjoyable for the reading about living in a simpler time, before automation reached the rural farms and the automobile was practically unheard of. Travel by sled in winter and by horse-drawn carriage or wagon in fair weather (or by foot), crossing the river in rowboats, going on a paddle wheeler to Saint John to catch a U.S. bound train all make for the type of adventure available to the Scovils in Meadowlands.

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The real star of Meadowlands is Aunt Bessie or Elizabeth Robinson Scovil, a remarkable woman for her time, as she was a nursing contemporary of Florence Nightingale and wrote for many journals and periodicals. Happily, the author plans on (or is currently writing) a biography of Aunt Bessie that should prove to be interesting, as Ms. Bjerkelund certainly has a knack for storytelling. With maps and archival photos of the Scovil family, Meadowlands makes for an important addition to New Brunswick’s provincial settler history.

Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund is a Maritimer, born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, educated in Fredericton, New Brunswick, followed by nearly 30 years of living in England where she married and brought up a daughter and son, now both retired. She returned to Fredericton, re-married, travelled widely, practiced Social Work, and is active in the cultural life of the city. Meadowlands is her first published book and, although 90, hopes it will not be her last.

  • Publisher : Chapel Street Editions (Dec 1 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 440 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1988299322
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988299327

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