James De Mille


  1. Biography
  2. Why Should We Read and Study De Mille?
  3. Literature
    • “Sweet Maiden of Quoddy”
  4. Questions and Considerations for Reflection
  5. Strategies for Teachers
  6. Further Reading
  7. Copyright


A writer, bookseller, and professor, James De Mille was born in Saint John, NB on 23 August 1833. Well educated and widely travelled, he was, for a brief period, a citizen of cultural repute in Saint John when his bookstore became a gathering place for artists and writers in that city. When the store’s profits didn’t materialize, he moved to Nova Scotia where he taught at Acadia and then for a long career at Dalhousie University. It was at these universities that he became a prolific and popular writer, the focus of his work touching romance, mystery, travel, adventure, fantasy, and science fiction. It is for the latter of these popular genres that he is best known, his posthumously released A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888) still in print today. The novel has been subject to much critical attention for being a very early Canadian example of a form of utopian fantasy that is deeply satirical of conventional politics and society. In that regard, De Mille is a literary descendent of the great Irish satirist Jonathan Swift. The novel set the groundwork for Tisab Ting, or The Electrical Kissanother early science fiction novel written in New Brunswick.

For a much more detailed biography of De Mille, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.

Why Should We Read and Study De Mille?

  • As a satirist and comic writer, De Mille had a wide and appreciative audience in his day, rising to become one of the best-known authors in North America in the late nineteenth century. That reputation alone should command our attention. But also significant is that he anticipated (and likely influenced) the work of other great comic writers on the continent such as Mark Twain, while at the same time pioneering a form of high adventure fantasy writing that he shared with Edgar Allan Poe (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket) and H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines).


“Sweet Maiden of Quoddy”

Sweet maiden of Passamaquoddy,
Shall we seek for communion of souls
Where the deep Mississippi meanders
Or the distant Saskatchewan rolls?
Ah no, in New Brunswick we’ll find it—
A sweetly sequestered nook
Where the swift gliding Skoodawabskooksis
Unites with the Skoodawabskook.

Maduxnekeag’s waters are bluer;
Nipisquit’s pools are more black;
More green is the bright Oromocto,
And browner the Petitcodiac.
But colors more radiant in autumn
I see when I’m casting my hook
In the waves of the Skoodawabskooksis
Or perhaps in the Skoodawabskook.

Let others sing loudly of Saco,
Of Passadumkeag or Mistouche
Of Kennebecasis or Quaco,
Of Miramichi or Buctouche;
Or boast of the Tobique or Mispec,
The Musquash or dark Memramcook.
There’s none like the Skoodawabskooksis
Excepting the Skoodawabskook.

Think not that the Megaguadavic
Or Bocabec pleases the eye.
Though the Chiputneticook is lovely,
That to either of these we will fly.
No. When in love’s union we’re plighted
We’ll build our log house by a brook
Which flows to the Skoodawabskooksis
Where it runs with the Skoodawabskook.

Questions and Considerations for Reflection

► Readers may want to consider this poem in the context of what Jacques Cartier did with Indigenous place names (see Pre-Confederation Writers and Poets: Strategies for Teachers, Strategy 2). Might De Mille have been aware of the historical injustices and erasure done to First Nations culture and sought to reinstate or at least celebrate original names? If so, is his effort successful?

► Readers may also want to fast forward to the module on the Literary Miramichi, particularly the poem “The Fair New Brunswick Hills” by folk poet Michael Whelan. Does the fact that the audience for both poems includes “sports,” those (mostly urban gentlemen) who come to the province to hunt and fish, change the meaning of how we read “Sweet Maiden of Quoddy”?

► Likewise, readers will want to read this poem in some proximity to the work of the 1970’s Acadian Renaissance poets, who revelled in presenting local place names. See, for example, Guy Arsenault’s “The Wharf” and Gérald Leblanc’s “Acadielove,” both in the Acadia Renaissance module of this curriculum.

Strategies for Teachers

Strategy 1: Speed Reading (“Sweet Maiden of Quoddy”)

Challenge any brave students to read a verse of this poem aloud as fast as possible. Why is this so difficult? The poet uses place names that have a beautiful cadence when spoken aloud, if one can pronounce them. How would the speed reading challenge be different for people who are not familiar with New Brunswick and its famous waterways?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Reading and Viewing: Show the relationships among language, topic, purpose, context and audience

Strategy 2: Substituting Place Names (“Sweet Maiden of Quoddy”)

Ask students to select a verse from the poem, substituting alternate place and river names of their choice. Have students read their new verses aloud, after reading De Mille’s original verse. How do their changes affect the tone and meaning of the poem? What do De Mille’s selection of place names reveal about the history of NB, and the poet’s affection for his home?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Reading and Viewing: Show the relationships among language, topic, purpose, context and audience

Strategy 3: Compare with “I’ve Been Everywhere” (“Sweet Maiden of Quoddy”)

“I’ve Been Everywhere,” originally an Australian song, has been adapted numerous times for different continents and countries. Hank Snow’s version is probably the most familiar to Canadians, and Stompin’ Tom Connors’ adaptation includes a verse with Maritime cities. Even Tim Horton’s weighed in, developing a hockey-friendly ad that named dozens of Canadian cities and towns. After reading De Mille’s poem, ask students to listen to any version of the song. In what ways are the poem’s humor and the song’s humor similar, and in what ways are they different? The speakers of each narrative attempt to list as many place names as possible. What are they trying to illustrate with such lists? And is it reasonable to lump their intentions together, De Mille’s coming so long before the songs?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Reading and Viewing: Note the relationship of specific elements of a particular text to elements of other texts

Further Reading

De Mille, James. A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder. Ed. Daniel Burgoyne. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2011.

De Mille’s Utopian Fantasy. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 145 (Summer 1995).

Gerson, Carole. “James De Mille.” Three Writers of Victorian Canada and Their Works. Canadian Writers and Their Works ser. Toronto: ECW Press, 1983. 195-256.

Monk, Patricia. The Gilded Beaver: An Introduction to the Life and Work of James De Mille. Toronto: ECW Press, 1991.

For much more detailed primary and secondary source bibliographies of De Mille, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.


The poem 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.

“Sweet Maiden of Passamaquoddy,” also known as “Sweet Maiden of Quoddy,” first appeared in De Mille’s story, “Minnehaha Mines.” The story was serialized and published in The Dominion: True Humorist (Saint John, NB, 16 April 1870). It has been frequently reprinted in anthologies since. The version above appears in Stubborn Strength: A New Brunswick Anthology. Ed. Michael O. Nowlan. Don Mills, ON: Academic Press Canada, 1983. 9.

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