area is renowned for its angling, is rich in forest resources, and proud
of its English, Acadian and Micmac heritage.
the name Miramichi and one thinks of a salmon struggling at the end of an
angler's line. But there is
much, much more to this New Brunswick area, than fishing.
Miramichi River drains the middle of New Brunswick into the Gulf of St.
Lawrence. It unfolds over 300
km., beginning as a tumultuous stream in the provinces northern highlands
and slowing majestically as it approaches the sea. The confluence of its
two main branches, the Southwest and the Northwest, occurs just beyond the
tidewater close to Newcastle at Beaubears Island. This was the homestead of the
areas first white settlers.
was the home of the Micmac Indians for a least two millennia before
Jacques Cartier's brief visit in 1534. Bones and artifacts unearthed at
the Augustine burial mound, a major archeological site found near the Red
Bank reserve on the Northwest bank of the river, have given us a glimpse
of Micmac culture in the times of the ancient Greeks.
pioneers who settled Beaubears Island were French, refugees from the 1758
conquest of their fortress in Louisburg Nova Scotia. Within a few decades, a steady
influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants occupied the riverbanks; the
Acadians resettled along the seacoast of Miramichi Bay, where they became
and remain, fishermen.
people on both sides of the river, from its source to the salt water, are
solidly English speaking, blending with the Acadians only at the mouth of
the two great Miramichi staples, fish and forest, the forest is
economically more important.
William Davidson, the rivers first English speaking colonist,
stamped the region forever as a lumbering area by securing a contract to
supply white pine masts to the Royal Navy. In 1773 his new 300-ton schooner
Miramichi, splashed into the river launching a shipbuilding industry that
brought a century of local craftsmanship and prosperity.
homesteads had risen as far as 160 km. upriver when the catastrophe of
October 07, 1825 struck. The
area had been studded with deadwood left from a spruce budworm epidemic so
the forest was a tinderbox.
In ten hours, the Great Microfiche fire destroyed some 15, 000 sq.
km, almost a quarter of the province. Two hundred citizens perished and
the people, livestock and wild beasts that survived did so by standing all
night up to their necks in the river, The fire destroyed many communities
even reaching Fredericton where serious damage was done.
that time, the inhabitants of Miramichi have taken every adversity in
stride. Lumbermen found
enough unburned pockets of forest to rebuild the village of Newcastle and
resurrect the ship building industry. Within a decade, virtually all
riverfront on both sides for 20 km was a shipyard.
continues to account for more than half of the Miramichi's economy. There are over 5,000 private wood
lot owners who derive at least part of their income from forest
products. Typical of the
Miramichi spirit is Russell & Swim Ltd. of Doaktown, which to this day
uses horses to haul logs to the roadside in preparation for the lumber
over the centuries have come to rely in a prolific fishery both in the
river and beyond. Most
commercial fishermen nowadays are Acadians who live in the windswept
villages along the lower reaches of Miramichi Bay and who venture out only
a few km. into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fishing fleets anchor at Escuminac
where they catch herring, smelt, cod and mackerel as well as the esteemed
salmon, lobsters and scallops.
folk are close to the water and the land. So it is that the songs heard at
the Miramichi Folksong festival tells of the joys and the hardships of the
fishing and lumbering. The
festival was inspired by a collection of folklore commissioned by the
river's best-known son. Lord Beaverbrook.
and step-dancers set toes to tapping and singers deliver the unaccompanied
Miramichi songs sung to lighten a journey, a task, or a long winter's
evening. One song recalls the
Dungarvor Whooper, the legendary ghost of a murdered lumber camp cook
whose banshee shrieks were quieted only when formally exorcised by the
parish priest of Renous.
an article written by Steve Heckbert..Canadian National