New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Boss Gibson’s First Railroad

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Alexander (Boss) Gibson’s life was a tale of rags to riches. He remembered, for example, that he cut timber shakes as a boy and carried them to market for a little money, down in Charlotte County. By 1847 at around the age of 28, he bought some timber properties on the Nashwaak River at a fire-sale price. This business quickly prospered and his timber holdings grew, both on the Nashwaak and elsewhere. Other businesses followed.

In 1866, he commissioned a survey for a railroad from Gibson to Edmundston and, in 1879, the New Brunswick Land and Railway Company was incorporated. Construction began in 1873 and was completed in 1878 and he became President of the New Brunswick Railway. This was a narrow gauge line and Gibson wanted to convert it to standard gauge, but there was a dispute with his Directors and Gibson decided to sell his interests in the road. That brings us to 1880 when he sold to a group of businessmen including George Stephen.

The following document was published in 1880 and carried Alexander Gibson’s signature. It was entitled The New Brunswick Railway and its Land Grants, and was clearly for the purpose of promoting the railroad for sale.

Boss Gibson’s First Railroad

Alexander (Boss) Gibson with Fredericton Station Agent Fred. Edgecombe, ca 1869-77

New Brunswick Provincial Archives


The New Brunswick Railway begins at the Village of Gibson, on the eastern bank of the River St. John, eighty-five miles from the sea, and extends to Edmundston at the confluence of the St. John and Madawaska rivers, a distance of 161 miles. It has two branch lines: the Aroostook Branch, 19¼ miles long, and the Woodstock Branch, 11 miles long, making in all 191¼ miles of road. The gauge of the road is three feet six inches; but in the construction of the road-bed, bridges and culverts, regard has been had to its probable adaption to the standard gauge, and its timber and stone work is of such a character that it would be necessary for that purpose simply to move the rails, which could be done at small expense. It was built under the inspection of an Engineer appointed by the Government, whose certificate was requisite to entitle the Railway Company to the subsidy of 10,000 acres of land per mile.

The general character of the country through which this road passes will be understood from the statement of the fact that, from the City of St. John to the Quebec boundary at St. Francis, a distance of three hundred miles, there is a continual succession of well-cultivated farms, with numerous towns and villages, on both sides of the River St. John, except for a distance of about three miles in York County, and about five miles in Victoria County. For one hundred and eighteen miles the N.B. Railway follows the St. John through this rich and prosperous region, and of the remaining seventy-three and a quarter miles of its total mileage, forty are through long-settled and thrifty agricultural sections. The unoccupied lands along the Railway are nearly all well adapted for farming, and have remained vacant heretofore only because they were difficult of access. It is safe to say that within a very few years the whole length of the Railway, except perhaps some ten or twelve miles, will pass across cultivated farms.

Gibson, the starting point of the Railway, is one of several villages collected within a radius of three miles, and containing in the aggregate a population of about three thousand five hundred. It is the natural centre of a very large section, which includes some of the finest farming lands in the County. It is half a mile above the mouth of the Nashwaak, a stream intersecting a well-settled district of very considerable extent. On the south bank of the Nashwaak begins that succession of lowlands or intervales, as they are called, which extends many miles down the river, and is occupied by an exceedingly well-to-do class of farmers. Irrespective of the country intersected by the Railway, Gibson is the natural trade centre of an agricultural population of about six thousand people. It is beginning to command a large trade from up the Railway line. The trade of the rich parishes on the eastern side of the St. John was until recently done in Fredericton, which city is situated directly across the St. John River; but there has been a great change since the opening of the Railway, and Gibson promises to become a mercantile centre of very considerable importance.

Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick. It has a population of about 7,000, and has railway connection with St. John and the United States. It is visited by many tourists every year, a great number of whom go up the N.B. Railway for the sake of the very attractive scenery to be found along the river. It is difficult to imagine more beautiful views than those which unfold themselves like a panorama to the tourist up the St. John Valley. As this is becoming more widely known, the stream of summer travel is increasing. This of itself is no unimportant factor to be taken into account in considering the future business of this Railway. The relations between Fredericton and Gibson are so intimate as to make them practically one centre. Four steam-ferries run regularly between the two places. The St. John is here upwards of one-half a mile wide, and is navigable to this point during the whole season of navigation by vessels of one hundred tons, and during spring and fall by vessels of large size. Gibson is practically accessible at any time during the season of open water, by such vessels as are ordinarily engaged in the West Indian trade and the coasting trade of the United States.

The station grounds at Gibson consist of a block of land containing eight acres, held by the Company under a ninety-nine years lease (with covenant for renewal), at a rental of $270 per annum. They have a frontage of 1,700 feet on the St. John River, including a wharf with 400 feet river frontage. Upon these premises are four dwelling houses for the use of certain officers of the road; also the head offices of the Railroad and of the land department, together with wood and freight sheds, passenger station, engine-house, turn-table and machine-shops, all in good order. The machine-shops are more complete than any other railway machine-shops in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, except the Intercolonial Works of Moncton; and the Company is independent of any outside aid whatever in keeping the road and rolling-stock in repair, and in the construction of every description of rolling-stock except locomotives. The machinery in the shops is as follows:— 1 Stationary Engine, 1 Pony Engine for pumping, 1 Double-ended Wheel-lathe, 1 Axle and Wheel-lathe, 1 Gap -screw Cutting-lathe, 1 Small Screw-lathe for light work, 2 Drill Machines, 1 Shaping Machine, 1 Bolt-cutting Machine, 1 Steam Hammer, 1 Gay and Wood Planer, 1 Grooving and Surface Planer, 1 Four foot Dia. Circular-Saw and Table, 1 One foot Dia. Circular-Saw and Table, 1 One foot Dia. Circular-Saw for grooving, 1 Tenon Machine, 1 Variety Moulding-Machine, 1 Band-saw 1 Straight Moulding Machine, and 2 Emery Grinding Machines with all the necessary fittings and hand tools, the whole in good order.

For the first twelve miles, or to Keswick Station, the N.B. Railway follows the St. John River, and is for the greater part of the distance near the river bank. No more beautiful or more prosperous section of country, from an agricultural point of view, can be found in Canada. At Keswick there is a commodious station building, which is well situated as respects the trade of a very large tract lying farther up the St. John. The railroad here enters the valley of the Keswick, a branch of the St. John, which it follows for 16½ miles, or to Upper Keswick, passing Zealand Station at 7¾ miles from Keswick. What has been said of the St. John Valley as a farming district, is true, only on a smaller scale, of the .Keswick valley; but in addition to the settlements, through which the railway line passes, large agricultural districts lie on either side of the railway, and are intersected by nearly five hundred miles of highway road, the railway stations being located with a view to furnishing central points for the shipment of produce. Millville station is 10 miles from Upper Keswick, and is an important centre for freight. The next station to Millville is Woodstock Junction, l3¾ miles farther up the line. There is a large two story hotel and dining hall here owned by the Company; which contains also the station master’s office. Here are also fuel sheds, an Engine house with car scales, sidings, etc.

The country between Millville and Hartland, the next station to Woodstock Junction and 9 miles from it, is mostly all a forest; but new settlers are locating themselves at different points, and as the land is, except for a few miles, of most excellent character, it will probably be soon all occupied by farms. In the meantime, the shipment of the produce of the forest furnishes a good deal of business to the road. At Hartland the railroad again enters the St. John Valley. This is a place of considerable trade, which must increase as the settlement of the back country progresses. Hartland is the trading point, not only for the old communities along the river, but also for large new settlements in the interior. Here are a station, freight house, sidings, etc.

From this point until the terminus at Edmundston is reached, the railway follows the river, being at no point more than a mile away from it, passing through an unbroken settlement all the way, although at a few points the forest is standing along the track, where the road runs through woodlots upon improved farms. On the eastern side of the river and extending back from it, in some places fifteen miles, are a succession of fine new settlements. These are rapidly growing in wealth and importance. Where twenty-five years ago the forest was unbroken, are broad farms and commodious buildings. The soil is very fertile. On the west bank of the river, the settlements extend in tier after tier to the United States boundary, a distance of from 9 to 11 miles, and thence for many miles into Aroostook, Me. The first station above Hartland is Florenceville, which takes its name from a village on the opposite side of the river. A steam ferry plies between these points. Nine miles west of Florenceville is Centreville, and four miles further is Bridgewater, Me., both trade centres for a large area of settled country. At Florenceville station there is in addition to the station building, a freight house and sidings. Kent station is 3½ miles above Florenceville. Here connection is made by highway with the head waters of the Miramichi, as well as with several fine settlements. From this station large quantities of supplies are sent to the woods for the use of parties engaged in lumbering. Bath station is three miles beyond Kent, and Muniac 11¼ miles beyond Bath. A large Scotch colony has lately been located near Muniac, which within a few years must afford considerable business to the road. Muniac is a point for the shipment of produce from and supplies to the very excellent farming district on the west bank of the St. John. Passing for 8 miles over the rich farms of Perth, the station of that name is reached. At this point, the railroad crosses to the west bank of the St. John, by a bridge eight hundred feet long to Andover, the shire town of Victoria County. Andover and Perth are the seat of a large lumber and local trade, and are situated near the mouth of the Tobique, one of the largest tributaries of the St. John. Too much stress cannot be laid upon the future importance of the Tobique River as a feeder to the Railway. It is sixty-three miles to the forks of the stream, and the settlements have reached that distance, although they are not continuous.

There is a steady influx of people into the farming lands adjacent to the Tobique. This river drains an area of a million acres, more than one-half of which is tillage land of the best description, and is owned by the N.B.R. Co., and is unoccupied. Andover has good hotels, and is a resort for tourists who are attracted by the fishing in the Tobique and neighboring streams. Aroostook Junction is the next station above Andover, and is six miles from it. In addition to the station are sidings and engine-house, turn-table, &c. Limestone Station is 8¾ miles above the Junction. It takes its name from the American village of Limestone, 4 miles distant. From Limestone Station to Grand Falls, the next station is 10 miles. Here there is a large freight and passenger station, an engine-house, turn-table, siding, &c. The station and village take their name from the falls on the St. John River. Notwithstanding the lack of good hotel accommodation, and the difficulty of reaching the Falls before the construction of the Railway, they attracted many visitors annually.

Now that good hotels have been opened and railway connections bring the Falls within easy reach of the American cities, a tide of summer travel is setting toward this really attractive spot, which must not only add to the importance of the town and lead to the settlement of the adjacent farming lands, but also prove a great source of revenue to the Railway. A large Danish settlement has been established in this vicinity, which although only seven years old is in a most flourishing condition, and last year raised a very large surplus crop, chiefly wheat. This settlement will be largely increased if the adjacent lands are not locked up by the Railway Company.

The physical conformation of the country is such as points to a very prosperous future for Grand Falls, it being the point from which easiest access can be had to an area of upwards of a million acres of well-timbered land belonging to the N.B.R. Company. This land, when cleared, will yield abundant crops.

A short distance above the Falls the Railway again crosses to the east bank of the river by a bridge eight hundred feet long. This was necessary, because from a point 2½ miles above the Falls, the St. John River forms the boundary line between New Brunswick and the United States. The railway here enters Madawaska County, and from this point to Edmundston, thirty-eight miles, is probably the most thickly settled district of New Brunswick. From some points of view the houses appear to form a continuous street, so close are they together.

The first station of importance is St. Leonard’s, thirteen miles from Grand Falls. A large trade is done here with Van Buren, an American village on the opposite bank of the St. John, where there are mills and starch factories. A conference has lately been held between representatives of the Canadian and the United States Governments relative to the bridging of the St. John at this point as well as at Edmundston. Green River Station is 16½ miles above St. Leonard’s. Green River is an important stream, as it drains a valuable lumber region belonging to the N.B. Railway Company. It has an excellent mill-site near its mouth. St. Basil Station is four miles from Green River 5¾ miles from Edmundston, the terminus of the road, Edmundston is the shire town of Madawaska County. It is beautifully situated on rising ground between the St. John and the Madawaska—a large tributary stream which drains the Temiscouata and Toladi lake systems. This town has a large local trade. Although the Railroad goes no further, the banks of the St. John are settled on both sides for forty miles above this point, and large new settlements extend back from the river. Extensive lumber operations are carried on above this point, and the Railroad does a large business in bringing up supplies.

Such is an outline sketch of the main line. The Woodstock Branch is, as above stated, eleven miles long. It gives a short line of road to the United States and the ports on the St. Croix via the N.B.&C. Railway, and also through connections with St. John via this and the St. John & Maine Railway.

Woodstock is the seat of some mills and manufactories, is the shire town of Carleton County, as well as the centre of a large section containing many valuable farms. The Aroostook Branch leaves the junction of that name and follows the Aroostook River. At four miles it crosses the United States boundary and enters the State of Maine. Three miles from the boundary it reaches Fort Fairfield, an enterprising and flourishing town. There are large station grounds here with station-house, sidings, etc. The present terminus of the branch is Cariboo, twelve miles from Fort Fairfield. Here are an engine-house, stations, turntables, etc. Nearly equidistant from both of these towns, and about ten miles to the South, is Presqu’ile, which does a large trade with the Railway. The fertility of the Aroostook country is proverbial all over the U.S., although the soil is in no wise superior to hundreds of thousands of acres of the N.B. Railway grant which lie on the same geological formation. Aroostook is, comparatively speaking, a newly settled country, but it gives promise of becoming what an eminent authority in the U.S. foretold of it a quarter of a century ago—“the Granary of New England.” Notwithstanding the tendency of the American people to “go West,” and the inducements held out by Western railway companies, there is a constant influx of first class settlers into Aroostook. During the year 1879, 500 families moved to the Aroostook from other parts of the U.S., and there is no reason to expect any falling off for years to come. The yield of produce is enormous; vast quantities of potatoes are raised, and within the last few years fourteen starch factories, capable of making six thousand tons of starch annually, have gone into operation. The carriage of this starch together with the surplus agricultural and forest produce, affords a large, steady and remunerative freight business to the railroad, when it is remembered that for three million acres, of Aroostook County, the N.B.R. is the shortest and readiest outlet, and that although the yield of produce is so vast, the settlement of the country is only fairly begun, some idea may be formed of the probable value in the near future of this Aroostook connection. To briefly summarize, the N.B. Railway is the natural, and at present the only outlet for an area embracing parts of New Brunswick, Quebec and Maine, containing in the aggregate over eight million acres, every acre of which is valuable, either for its timber or as farm land. And by very much the greater part of it is not only well timbered, but is of the highest fertility. It begins at the head of navigation, for ocean-going vessel on the St. John, and extends to within seventy-seven miles of the Intercolonial, at a point near Rivière Ouille, to which a line for a railway easy of construction can be found. If this is built the distance from Quebec and all points west of St. John will be two hundred and forty miles less than via the I.C. Railway. Its construction would give to the interior provinces, the shortest possible route to the sea, and to a winter port over British soil. In this event, the importance of the N.B. Railway as a part of the great Canadian Railway system, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, can hardly be over-estimated. As these things are yet in the future, we will confine our attention to the local trade. This is increasing, and must within a few years be very much larger than it is now. With the increase of population has come a better system of agriculture. It must be borne in mind, that the present prosperity of the country has been attained in spite of the serious drawbacks, resulting from imperfect means of transportation to a market. Now that this has been remedied, and this immense area of fertile land with its vast stores of timber is easily accessible, and those articles of agricultural produce for which it is best adapted find a ready market in Great Britain, it is reasonable to expect even more rapid progress than that which has marked the last quarter of a century.

The equipment of the N.B. Railway consists of:—10 Locomotives (mostly nearly new), 9 Passenger Cars, 117 Freight Cars, 4 Snow Ploughs, 20 Hand Cars, 22 Hand Lorries, and a full assortment of track tools.

There are self-feeding water Tanks erected at every twelve miles of the road. Although the Railway was in course of construction, and notwithstanding the almost unprecedented stagnation in all departments of business, the net earnings of the railway for the past two years were $54,000.00. The earnings for the three months of December, January and February last, shew an increase of forty-three per cent, over the corresponding three months of the previous year. The timber lands of the Company have been, and must continue to be a great source of revenue, and although owing to the great depression in the lumber trade, only a small portion of the lands was under lease, sufficient revenue has been collected from them to meet a large portion of the interest on the bonds. The first charge for stumpage was seventy-five cents per thousand superficial feet for spruce; one dollar a thousand for pine logs; fifty cents a ton for birch, with corresponding rates for cedar. This has been increased from time to time, and the stumpage now collected is $1.50 per thousand superficial feet for spruce; $2.00 for pine; $1.00 per ton for birch, and corresponding rates for cedar and other lumber. Should the present improvement in the lumber market continue, it is the intention of the Trustees to increase the stumpage on spruce to $2.00 per thousand, on pine to $2.50, and on other lumber in proportion.

The cost of the New Brunswick Railway was as follows:—Bonds issued $1,994,000.; Cash subsidies $177,000.; Cash from Stock subscription $507,000.; Rolling stock purchased from earnings of road $54,000.; Total cost $2,732,000.

The sole liability of the road consists of the bonds above mentioned, and these are chargeable upon the land; the road, rolling stock and property of every description belonging to the Corporation.

In addition to the road and its equipment, the N.B. Railway Company have as assets their grant by way of subsidy from the Provincial Government of 1,647,772 acres of land, less 600 acres sold, leaving 1,647,172 in the hands of the Company. Of this, there is on the head waters of the Miramichi River 300,000 acres, upon which from a long experience in lumbering operations backed by the opinion of experienced foresters, I estimate there is an average of 5,000 superficial feet of spruce and pine to the acre, or fifteen hundred million in all. On the St. John and its tributaries the remainder, consisting of 1,347,172 acres, lies. This will average 1,500 superficial feet per acre, or two thousand and twenty millions in all, making a grand total of spruce and pine for the whole Railway grant of three thousand five hundred and twenty million superficial feet. The birch, ash, elm and other exportable hard woods will average one ton per acre, or 1,647,172 tons.

The amount of cedar is incalculable. It is very much within the mark to estimate an average of 2,000 superficial feet per acre, or 3,294,000,000 feet in all. This, at the present rates of stumpage collected by the Company, namely, $1.50 per 1,000 for spruce and pine and cedar, and $1.00 per ton for birch, ash, elm and other hardwoods of exportable value, represent a total present value of $11,837,655, and there would yet remain a large quantity of valuable wood. In addition to this, on one block of 40,000 acres in Carleton County, through which the Railroad runs, it is estimated that there is besides all other lumber 160,000,000 superficial feet of hemlock logs, which will give 160,000 cords of hemlock bark, worth at present rates $1.25 per cord for stumpage. This lumber is now ready to be cut and is all within comparatively easy reach, the Railway lands being intersected in all directions by large streams. This fact, and the facilities afforded by the Railway for carrying supplies to the interior, give these timber lands a greater value than similar land in other localities. In addition to the trees now standing and of marketable value, there is a large young growth supplying the place of what is cut away, so that with a prudent system of forestry and careful management on the part of the land officers, there is no good reason why the supply of lumber should ever be exhausted, although if the lands of the Company are opened for settlers it will naturally be diminished as the settlements increase. These estimates of lumber are so large as to be almost startling, yet they are too low in the opinion of many persons well qualified to judge by a lifetime spent in and about the lumber woods.

It is worthy of remark that while the land grants of the Western Railways in the United States are lessened in value by the reservation of alternate blocks by the Government, the New Brunswick Railway lauds form a continuous area. In conclusion, it may be noticed that while the area of the Province of Prince Edward Island is 2,173 square miles, and that of the State of Rhode Island 1,306 square miles, the territory owned by the New Brunswick Railway is 2,575 square miles. Before the grants of the land issued, each section was explored by experienced agents of the Company, and all of inferior quality rejected.

Alex. Gibson

Managing Trustee for the Bondholders of the New Brunswick Railway


Written by johnwood1946

May 17, 2017 at 8:56 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I really enjoyed reading about the NB railroad history. Carole

    Carole Dick

    May 17, 2017 at 8:03 PM

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