Adam Allan


  1. Biography
  2. Why Should We Read and Study Allan?
  3. Literature
    • “Grand Falls”
  4. Questions and Considerations for Reflection
  5. Strategies for Teachers
  6. Further Reading
  7. Copyright


Adam Allan was born at Founten Bleau, Dumphries, Scotland in 1756 and came to New Brunswick with the Queen’s American Rangers in October 1783 after fighting on the Loyalist side during the American Revolution. In New Brunswick he was a Lieutenant in the King’s New Brunswick Regiment, a Loyalist militia, and lived in one of the first homes in Fredericton along Ste. Anne’s Point. His military duties included command of a regimental post in Grand Falls, NB, sometimes called “Great Falls,” where he endeavoured to stop the entry of French soldiers and citizens at the border. It was at that time, 1797–98, that he wrote the poem “A Description of the Great Falls of the River St. John,” his best-known work. He is credited with writing the first volume of poetry that made reference to New Brunswick.

For a more detailed biography of Allan, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.

Why Should We Read and Study Allan?

  • Early writers such as Adam Allan provide valuable insight into how our first settlers perceived New Brunswick. Even if Allan was more a visitor than a settler when he wrote the poem below, his impressions of our place are still worth considering. That his poem is the first extant literary expression that references the province makes it an important historical (if not literary) touchstone.


“Grand Falls”

A placid river, gliding easy on
To its dire fall o’er a large bed of stone
Into an abyss-dreadful-even to thought,
Where caves immense by whirlpools are wrought
And where large trees by annual freshets brought
Are by incessant motion ground to naught.
See, where obstruction checks the torrent’s way
The parts announced by a vast mount of spray,
Where, as the sun its daily course pursues
Reflects an arch of the most beauteous hues,
Combining elegance with scenes of horror,
From the dread gulph of never ending noise
Resembling that where devils but rejoice,
Its waters rush like lava from the pits
Of famed Vesuvius and Mount Etna’s lips
Foaming with rage. It forward presses on
From fall to fall o’er vertigated stone
Tween banks stupendous; seeming to the eye
An eagle flight, when towering to the sky.
The wondrous charm takes crescent form
The better its crude majesty to darn;
So that where’er you ramble for a view
Each change of station shows you something new.
Verse colors faintly when restrained from fiction,
Truth here alone has governed this description.
Now on the wings of fancy let me rove
To paint the Falls and margin of the grove
In depth of winter, when the river’s bound
And openings rarely but at falls are found.
How changed the scene! each horror now is fled
And Frost’s chill hand enchanting prospects make.
Now every tree with ice is spangled o’er,
And every rock is crystalled on the shore.

The falls too most gorgeously appear
Since purer waters aid its bold career
Strong banks of ice contract its former bounds,
And under ice its echo hollow sounds.
Around the verge, what curious objects rise
To feed the fancy and to feast the eyes—
Pillarsters, arches, pyramids and cones,
Turrets enriched with porticoes and domes
In artless order, formed by surge and spray,
And crystalline garnet hues their rich array
A dazzling cascade ground throughout the whole
Strikes deep with pleasure the enraptured soul!

Questions and Considerations for Reflection

► Allan’s poem makes little claim to New Brunswick aside from the fact that it describes a well-known New Brunswick feature, Grand Falls. What is significant about the poem, however, is its language, which combines 18th century gothic imagery with neoclassical reference. That combination allows Allan to exaggerate the sentiment of the poem (“dire fall,” “dreadful abyss,” “caves immense,” “scenes of horror”) while aligning that sentiment with epic conventions that elevate and ennoble subject matter. In other words, Allan saw such great force in the falls that he chose amplified forms to represent it, selecting, in the process, two volcanic mountains (Vesuvius and Etna) as metaphors for its immensity and rage. With no local metaphors or imaginative inventory to rely on, he had little choice but to reach for what he knew, which had no connection whatsoever to what he was describing. The result is thus historically interesting but not aesthetically significant.

Strategies for Teachers

Strategy 1: Writing as a Visitor (“Grand Falls”)

Have students think of a place they have only once visited. Ask students to write a paragraph or two describing the place, attempting to capture the atmosphere of the setting. (Optional: Invite students to share their writing with a partner or the whole group. If students feel quite safe in the classroom, you might ask students who know the described settings to evaluate whether the visitor descriptions ring true, explaining why or why not.) Discuss the writing experience afterwards, and how it differs from writing about a place they know intimately, perhaps using the following prompts:

  1. What “literary” position does this force them into?
  2. What do they inevitably miss?
  3. What can they never see?
  4. What lens do they see through?
  5. What does that tell them of the sort of ethical position they must adopt when encountering places for the first time?
  6. How does this exercise change their reading of the earlier writers in this module?

Finally, ask students to reflect on a well-known anecdote that J. Edward Chamberlin relates in his book If This is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? (2004): “It happened at a meeting between an Indian community in northwest British Columbia and some government officials. The officials claimed the land for the government. The natives were astonished by the claim. They couldn’t understand what these relative newcomers were talking about. Finally one of the elders put what was bothering them in the form of a question. ‘If this is your land,’ he asked, ‘where are your stories?’” (1).

Extension: Ask students to bring in at least one example of travel writing and representing, either amateur or professional. These might include such things as blog posts, guidebooks, photograph albums, or scrapbooks. Returning to the discussion prompts, what position do these travel writers adopt? What did they miss? Are there any similarities between their approach and that of Adam Allan? In traveling and documenting their travel, to what extent are these writers attempting to confirm or impose their prior conceptions of a place?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Writing and Representing: Make critical choices of form, style, and content to address increasingly complex demands of different purposes and audiences

  • Writing and Representing: Evaluate the responses of others to their writing and media productions

  • Speaking and Listening: Reflect critically on and evaluate their own and others’ uses of language in a range of contexts

Further Reading

Chamberlin, J. Edward. If This is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Toronto: Vintage, 2004.

MacFarlane, William G. New Brunswick Bibliography: The Books and Writers of the Province. Saint John, NB: Press of the Sun Print, 1895.

Maxwell, Lilian M. Beckwith. The River St. John and its Poets. Sackville, NB: Tribune Press, 1947.

For a more detailed bibliography of Allan, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.


The work above has been in the Canadian public domain for 50 years after publication and 50 years after the author’s death. As such, it is no longer protected by copyright in Canada. However, it may still be under copyright in some countries. Readers outside Canada must comply with the respective copyright laws of the country in which they live.

The Allan poem above appears in Stubborn Strength: A New Brunswick Anthology. Ed. Michael O. Nowlan. Don Mills, ON: Academic Press Canada, 1983. 2-3.

All contents except for poetry and fiction copyright © Tony Tremblay, James W. Johnson, and Alexandra Cogswell.