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A Trip on the ICR from Bathurst to Miramichi, 1876

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A Trip on the ICR from Bathurst to Miramichi, 1876

Fred. J. Hamilton was a Special Correspondent for the Montreal Gazette when he travelled on the Intercolonial Railroad from Riviere du Loup to Halifax in 1876. This excerpt describes the journey from Bathurst to Miramichi, with details about Newcastle and the lumbering and fisheries industries. It is from the book of his newspaper articles, also published by the Gazette.

Culvert ICR Newcastle

Culvert on Section 10 of the ICR, Newcastle, N.B., 1872

From Library and Archives Canada


From Bathurst to Miramichi

Before writing of the Miramichi district, which includes the towns of Chatham and Newcastle, mention must be made of the work along the road.

There are three stations between these points, a distance of forty-four miles.

The first is …

Red Pine, three hundred and thirty-one feet above sea level, but before this is reached you cross a bridge three miles east of Bathurst Station, over Little River. It is a single span of sixty feet. Two miles further is another, crossing the Nipisiguit River, of six spans, of one hundred feet each and thirty-eight feet above the river. This is a lattice girder. The masonry is of granite, and the piers and abutments are founded in solid rock. The cost of the bridge alone was $60,000. Five miles west of Red Pine, and crossing the brook of that name is a plate-girder bridge, with three spans of forty feet each. The granite masonry appears to be built to last till doomsday, and gives evidence of thoroughly finished work. The structure is handsome and imposing, and affords a fine photographic study. On this section there is a total of 2,318 yards of first-class masonry, 955 yards of second-class, and 350,000 yards of earth cuttings.

The next station is Bartibogue, 514 feet elevation above the sea. This is the highest point between Bathurst and Newcastle. Four miles east of the station and crossing the Bartibogue river, which empties into the Bay Chaleur, is a lattice girder bridge, with a single span of eighty feet, approached from the east by an embankment containing 60,000 cubic yards of earth. One mile west of the next station, you pass through a rock cutting one and a quarter mile long, containing 125,000 cubic yards, and near by there is an embankment containing 60,000 cubic yards.

The third station is Beaver Brook, at an elevation, above sea level, of three hundred and twenty-four feet.

The line along this portion of the road is nearly straight, passing through a dull, uninteresting country, which, in contrast to the beautiful character of the landscapes through which you have travelled, heightens your appreciation of the splendid views left behind.

Ten miles from Beaver Brook you arrive at Miramichi Station. It is one hundred and thirty-one feet above sea level. The water is supplied from a brook, nearly two miles distant, by a reservoir six hundred by two hundred and fifty feet. Its construction cost $10,000.

The Miramichi District

The celebrated lumber region traversed by the Miramichi river, which drains 6,000 square miles of territory, is so well known by repute that it does not need more than a passing mention of its principal features. The river is divided into the North-west and South-west branches. The headwaters of the latter are in Northumberland county, near the Nipisiguit. The former takes its rise in the lakes of Victoria and Carleton counties. The greatest depth of the Miramichi, where its branches unite, is above Newcastle. From here it gradually widens into the Bay of Miramichi, and eventually flows into the great Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The area of Miramichi proper is about 2,000 miles. It is with regret that time will not permit of dwelling upon the historical associations of this district, the first grant of which dates back 1690, to one Denis de Frousac. Cartier’s name is closely associated with this tract of country, the timber from which has found its way into all parts of the civilized world.

The Great Fire of October, 1825, …

will always form a part of the most notable portion of the history of New Brunswick. That vast forest of flame, one hundred miles in length, destroyed 8,000 square miles of country a million dollars worth of property, the lives of 200 persons, nine hundred head of cattle and five hundred buildings. Newcastle was burnt to the ground. Mr. W. K. Reynolds, Jr. of St. John, N.B., has written a graphic history of this fearful disaster—probably the greatest fire in area the world has ever known. In it he gives many interesting particulars, and from it we take the above facts—the number of persons excepted.

Newcastle …

is one-fourth of a mile from, and southeast of the station. It is about a mile square, and has a population of nearly 2,000 persons. It stands on the westerly bank of the Miramichi.

The principal industry is lumber. In the town there are two saw mills, with a cutting capacity of from 40,000 to 60,000 feet per day, principally of spruce timber.

The largest mill owners are Messrs. D. & J. Ritchie & Co. and W. Park, Esq. Lumbermen over at the mills earn from $1.50 to $2.00 per day.

The following …

Custom House Returns of Lumber Exported for June, 1876

will enable the reader to arrive at an approximate idea of this branch of industry.

The exports to the European markets, chiefly England, were:—

Battens 89,052 feet; Deals 8,010,925 feet; Deal ends 279,011 feet; Scantling 479,982 feet; Boards 34,531 feet; Palings 420,750 feet; and Birch 30 tons

The coastwise exports, mostly to the United States were:—

Deals 273,341 feet; Deal ends 4,000 feet; Scantlings 1,700 feet; Boards 109,717 feet; Palings 23,825 feet; Laths 238,500 feet; and Shingles 47,750 feet

It should be mentioned that this does not represent all the lumber properly within the port of Newcastle, for in addition to those mills referred to there are three others that cut lumber for Chatham merchants, the products being entered at that port. These would give an additional amount of about 11,000,000 feet per annum.

Owing to the keen competition with the Pacific trade, the canned salmon industry is almost at a stand still, although fresh salmon has been largely supplied during the present year. From June 1st to 14th there were shipped to the United States 309 boxes, containing 5,444 fish, weighing, say, on an average, ten pounds. The largest shippers are Messrs. H.P. & T. Crocker, Mr. E. C. Tozer, and Messrs. Donald Morrison & Co. Large quantities of bass are shipped from the northwest stream, about seven miles west of the Branch. These fish are at times so plentiful that as much as $70 worth have been caught in one night. This occurred a short time ago. Shipments of trout, smelts and eels are also made on a smaller scale.

There is a good-sized wharf in the town, the water being sixteen feet deep at low tide, where two river steamers, owned by Messrs. K.E. Call and John C. Miller, arrive and depart. The latter gentleman owns a hemlock bark-extract factory at Derby, nine miles from Newcastle. One of these vessels, the Era, makes four trips daily between Newcastle and Chatham. There are also two ferries and four steam tugs in operation, which are kept pretty busy during the summer.

The town is lit with gas, apparently of good quality. The works are run at the private cost of Alex Stewart, who is the proprietor of the best hotel in the place, the Waverley House, which is becoming well known for the excellent comfort which its owner provides for his guests. Newcastle is represented in the County Council, consisting of a warden and twenty-one councillors. The county was incorporated but recently, and met for the first time in January last. The people are Conservatives, and a paper in this interest, the Union Advocate, is circulated largely through the county. There are five churches—the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist. The first of these predominates.

Points of Interest

There are many picturesque points in the vicinity of Newcastle. One of these is Mill Cove, one mile below Newcastle. On each side is sloping high land, and a stream of the same name runs through the valley and supplies power to the grist mill owned by the Hon. R. Hutchison. The locality is well wooded with birch and maple groves, whose dazzling tints of autumn foliage are said to be unsurpassed for their richness of color. Beaubair’s Island, owned by the Hon. Peter Mitchell, is also another interesting place. It is just below the junction of the branches of the Miramichi River. It is a favorite resort for tourists and pleasure seekers. Here may be seen the grave of the first British settler, William Davidson, of the Miramichi District, who emigrated thither in 1764, and obtained a large grant of land on the Southwest Branch. He constructed the first schooner built on the Miramichi River in 1773. On his tombstone is the following:

Sacred to the Memory of Wm. Davidson, Esq., Representative for the County of Northumberland, Province of New Brunswick; Judge of the Court of Common Pleas; Contractor for the Masts for His Majesty’s Navy. He died on the 17th of June, 1790, aged 50. He was one of the first settlers of the river, and greatly instrumental in promoting the settlement. He left a widow and five children to deplore their loss. “Memento Mori”

Many of the oldest families in St. John are descendants of the above.

Had I the time I might tell you of many other interesting features in connection with the island.

Good fly-fishing for salmon, trout and gilse may be had at Big Hole, on the Northwest River, fifteen miles distant. The wagon road is fair, and the steamers will carry you within five miles of it.

The people of Newcastle are industrious, thrifty and energetic, as may be seen by the many tasteful residences and handsome churches, which are all on sites favorable for observation. They are hospitable and courteous to strangers, and whether it be amusement or business which receives their attention, they attend to it thoroughly, as the following instance will show:—

How the Miramichi Folk Amuse Themselves

A picnic was given recently by a local temperance society. The day was hot and dusty. After arriving at their destination, the party waited for somebody to start the amusements. Things were getting “slow,” and each waited for the other to enliven the festivities. Among those present were several visitors from other parts of the country. What was to be done? The reputation of Newcastle for fun and humor was at stake, and that was a serious consideration. The very thought of such a dreadful calamity threw a funereal tone, as it were, over the company. Whether the heat or the ginger “pop” had enervated the party, no one could tell. In a fit of desperation, one of the picnickers offered to wager five cents that he could out-roll his friend a distance of fifty yards. The bet was taken, and the contestants extended themselves at full length upon the grass. Distance was measured, and the signal given. Now, these two gentlemen were remarkable opposites in their build and appearance. One was broad shouldered, but very thin, tapering down to a point, herring-fashion. The other was large, bulky and robust, like a tommycod. The race commenced with the thermometer almost 90° in the shade. What the thin man lacked in fatness, he made up in speed; but his fat rival gained an impetus from his very roundness of body. All he had to do was to give himself a jerk every once in a while, and roll himself by the mere force of his own momentum. It was a curious and instructive sight to see the deliberate air of gravity which settled upon the features of the two parties. Not a smile to relieve the business-like air which fastened upon their perspiring countenances. The thin man looked furiously determined, and gained a foot ahead at the start. The fat man, with compressed lips and serious mien, gave himself an extra jerk, and made up the lost distance. The thin man got excited, and scratched his nose badly. The fat man kept on and won the race. It was then a question for the judges to decide whether the extra size of the fat man’s body should not be allowed to the thin man on the start. But it was ably argued that this would not have been just, because the fat man, although larger than his rival, required more strength to roll successfully. However, the defeat of the thin man was repeated in two subsequent races, and the facts are merely mentioned to show that when Newcastle men set about doing a thing, they do it thoroughly, even at a picnic.


Written by johnwood1946

December 31, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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