New Brunswick·Photos

12 rarely seen images from New Brunswick weed history

Women hemp farmers. Reefer madness. Hippies. Richard Hatfield. And now, legalisation. These 12 images show how attitudes toward cannabis have changed over 200 years in New Brunswick.

What a long, strange trip it's been

Times have changed since 1990, when this brooding, joint-smoking youth was a poster child for the dangers of weed in a full-page ad in the Moncton Times & Transcript. It's just one example of the long, evolving history of cannabis in New Brunswick. (Saint John Free Public Library)

Canada has had weed on the brain for the past week or so.

But the plant's history in New Brunswick goes back much further than the historic Oct. 17 decision to legalize it for recreational use.

From female hemp farmers in 19th-century Edmundston, to stoned sailors raising a ruckus in Saint John, to the province's pot-smoking poets and premiers, New Brunswick has had plenty of weird weed moments over the past 200 years.

These 12 rarely-seen images illustrate how the times are, as Bob Dylan sang, a-changin'.

1. That joint of grass

(Saint John Free Public Library)

"There's danger in that joint of grass," warned a full-page 1985 feature in the Daily Gleaner.

"A few months ago," reads the accompanying article, "Andrew was a Grade 12 student at Fredericton High School. He was getting good marks, had a part-time job, and was looking forward to college with his sights set on becoming a lawyer.

"Now, he's been kicked out of school; he's lost his job and has a criminal record with little chance of being accepted among the elite group of the province's lawyers."

Weed, of course, is to blame. Quite a shift from 2018, when the Province of New Brunswick is providing detailed instructions on how to roll a joint. 

2. Wanted: Weed report

(Saint John Free Public Library )

Hemp — a non-psychoactive type of cannabis — was widely used for making rope, canvas, and other essential gear in the Maritimes during the age of sail.

When this ad appeared in the 1803 St. John Gazette, hemp was seen as a potential cash crop in the colonies — and the British authorities wanted to know whether New Brunswickers had succeeded yet in making the stuff grow. 

This ad offers 30 guineas to any New Brunswicker who can provide the Board of Agriculture in London with the best report on the state of hemp cultivation in the province — namely the "state of the soil, previous state of the land, manure … and expense of labour."

3. Bridal buzz

(Saint John Free Public Library)

It's not totally clear what's happening in this 1969 Daily Gleaner cartoon problematically titled "Just Like a Woman."

Whatever is going on — it seems to involve a blushing bride being carried over the threshold while puffing on a suspicious-looking cigarette … or maybe she's just blowing dust off a lamp shade. 

4. They're here

(Saint John Free Public Library)

"Not a small amount" of marijuana was being used in New Brunswick in 1967, according to Saint John Police and RCMP.

"Both police forces indicated there was concern and constant surveillance, but no major cause for alarm at this point."

5. Psychedelic Zellers

(Saint John Free Public Library)

Weed isn't explicitly referenced in this trippy late-sixties Zellers ad in the Daily Gleaner.

But one can certainly see how "Groovy Turned on Shades" would come in handy in the summer of '69.

6. Cannabis Café

(Saint John Free Public Library)

Fifteen years before Cannabis NB — there was this establishment on Prince William Street, which owner Jim Wood called  "Canada's first over-the-counter cannabis café."

When Jim and Lynn Wood opened their Cannabis Café in 2003, the Telegraph-Journal reported the husband-and-wife duo required a doctor's note or a sworn affidavit stating the marijuana was needed for medicinal purposes.

In June 2005, Lynn Wood, then 32, pregnant and already a mother of three, was sentenced by Judge Murray Cain to one year in jail for distributing cannabis.

7. Stoner sailor

(Saint John Free Public Library)

In 1949, a young Uruguayan sailor named Artigas Lopez learned firsthand the seriousness of selling "Paraguayan tea" in Saint John.

Lopez was a sailor on S.S. Tacoma, a ship that docked in the port of Saint John in late November 1949. The sailor sought out the company of a couple of young women at a local restaurant — and promptly got talking to a group at an adjacent booth, to whom Lopez sold a marijuana cigarette.

An undercover RCMP agent, overhearing the conversation, arranged to meet Lopez at the ship and buy $25 worth of pot.

When Lopez walked down the gangplank to deliver the goods, he was promptly busted by the RCMP and sentenced to a $200 fine — equivalent to $2,173 in 2018 dollars — and six months in jail.

Fun fact: Cannabis is now legal in both Canada and Uruguay.

8. Politicians on 'pot'

(Saint John Free Public Library)

During the royal visit in 1984, RCMP found a little bag of "pot" in luggage belonging to New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield.

"Disco Dick" was never convicted — but his party lost every seat in the legislature in the next election.  

It's hard to explain how someone else's stash ended up in the premier's luggage.

Also hard to explain? Those gratuitous quotation marks around the word "pot."

9. Clouds of controversy 

(Saint John Free Public Library)

Premier Hatfield's cannabis bust provided fodder for months of political ripostes, including this Oct. 24, 1984 Josh Beutel cartoon in the Telegraph-Journal.

The source of that cloud of "controversy" isn't hard to decipher.

10. Perverse poets 

(Saint John Free Public Library)

Iconic Beat poet and "self-admitted user of marijuana and LSD" Allen Ginsberg paid a visit to Saint John early in the Summer of Love. 

Saint John newspaperman and fellow poet Alden Nowlan ​was tapped to review Ginsberg's poetry reading. Held at St. Stephen and St. David's Church Hall, it included selections from Ginsberg's wild epic, Howl, with includes descriptions of drug use, gay sex and the excesses of capitalism. 

The response from 1967 newspaper readers was mixed, to say the least.

Some decried Ginsberg as "an evil man with a filthy mind" — others, like Saint John letter-writer Peggy Smith, acclaimed Ginsberg as a "colossal" talent. 

11. French weed farmers 

(Saint John Free Public Library )

Cannabis wasn't big business in New Brunswick in 1892, according to this fin de siècle letter from provincial secretary of agriculture Julius L. Inches — but that didn't hamper its popularity among women farmers in Madawaska County.

Weed farming, Inches wrote, was mainly undertaken by les Brayonnes, the francophone women of Madawaska County, near present-day Edmundston, Saint-Léonard, and Sainte-Anne-de-Madawaska.

"The labour is principally done by the females, who do not think of trying any of the new modes of working land or harvesting crops," he wrote.

They also kept the cannabis for themselves, cultivating it in "small patches for their own use without any effort to make it pay by selling a portion of the crop." Smart, ladies. 

12. Worried wives

(Saint John Free Public Library)

A concerned suburban spouse wrote to Ann Landers in 1966 about a suspicious envelope in her husband's desk drawer containing "some dried particles of what appeared to be a plant … it is dark brown in colour and appears to have some seeds mixed in."

Landers suggested "Frightened" take the schwag-like substance to an organic chemist for analysis — and prepare herself for questioning by the authorities.

Apart from that, the advice maven confessed she could be of little help.

"I don't know what marijuana looks like," she responded.


Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is a born-and-raised Saint Johner, reporter, photographer, and the host of Information Morning Saint John on 91.3FM. She has been with the CBC since 2016.