Back to the Heritage page
The Miramichi

 

 

The Miramichi

 

This area is renowned for its angling, is rich in forest resources, and proud of its English, Acadian and Micmac heritage.

 Mention 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.

 The 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.

 Miramichi 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.

 The 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.

 Today, 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 Bay.

 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.

 New 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.

 Since 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.

 Forestry 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 mill.

 Miramichiers 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.

 River 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.

 Fiddlers 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.  The English, French and the Micmacs of this colorful region of New Brunswick are an insular people mindful of their beginnings, whose joy in living is unsurpassed.  So long as the salmon swim in the river and the trees grace the hills, no change is likely in the rough-hewn character and easy humor that have come to symbolize the life and people of the Miramichi.

 From an article written by Steve Heckbert..Canadian National Geographic...