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Restigouche River, New Brunswick


   They tell a story of one woman going up the street with a chamber pot in her hands. Someone asked her where she was going with that pot, she was so embarrassed she smashed it on the sidewalk. Many incidents like this happened. It goes to show what people will do when excited. At that time the fire equipment consisted of one horse drawn hose wagon, two hose reels, one steam fire engine and a horse drawn hook and ladder truck. Although the firemen worked like fiends, sometimes the fire got behind them and they were hard pressed to save themselves. Sometimes they used dynamite to break the wall of flames but to no avail. They had to retreat to the Government wharf, where they saved the coal shed where the baby was born, and one other building there.
   When the morning dawned, after a sleepless night, only desolation met the peoples' eyes and they were left with nothing but a few clothes. The ones that stayed in the fields were the worse off and there were hundreds of them. The population at that time was about thirty-five hundred. When the outside world heard of the disaster, supplies were sent and carload after carload arrived with food, clothing, tents, bedding and everything that was needed. It came from all over the province and elsewhere.
   It gave the people heart and the courage to start again. A relief committee was set up to rake charge. The business men of the town built temporary shacks, the contractors started to build houses on the edge of town. They were small houses but they sheltered a lot of families for the winter. In the Spring they started to build in earnest and buildings sprang up everywhere and they built a safer and better town.
   Besides being a railroad and terminal point it was also a mill town. Lumber was shipped to England and other overseas markets. In the early days, before my time, full rigged ships came into port for cargoes of square timber. This timber was squared by hand with a whip saw and sometimes broad axe and sold by the ton. Although, when I was a boy, sailing ships were coming to Campbellton for sawed lumber. I was always fascinated by ships, especially wind jammers and schooners and always tried to go to the wharf to see them when I went into town. There were five long log mills in the vicinity of Campbellton when I was a boy. Shives Co. at Athol, Richards had two at Richardville, Millers at the west end of town and Champoux on the north shore, opposite Campbellton. I was twelve years old when I went to work at Shives' mill and in those days that wasn't considered too young to work.
   I bought a second hand bike for five dollars and pedaled three miles night and morning. There was no red tape when you got a job at that time. I asked the boss for a job. He took out a little book and asked me my name. Then he said: "Come with me." We went down underneath the mill where belts, gears, shafts and conveyers were running in great confusion, or so it seemed to me, he took me in semi-darkness to a little stand in between two conveyer belts going different ways. He said, "This one goes to the burner and this one goes to the boilers. Take the bark from the boiler conveyer and put it in the one that goes to the burners," and he left me with the warning, "Don't play with the machinery." Then I noticed a lantern under the gang saw and sitting along side was a man. He said: "Hello, my name's O'Brien, what is yours? I am the oiler for this machine." I was glad to have a little company. I stood there for ten hours a day and O'Brien sat nine hours with the ever present oil can, every few minutes he filled the oil cups on these saws that were going up and down. That was the most monotonous job I ever had in my life. The mill started at five minutes to seven and stopped for the night at six P.M. Sometimes I nearly went to sleep on the job.
   I saw the boss a couple of times that summer. He came to tell me, not unkindly, that too much bark was going to the boiler. It was against the rules to even eat a sandwich. No coffee break in those days, although where I was it didn't matter, it was too dark for anyone to see me anyway. I received the fantastic sum of $1.00 per day.
   The Restigouche Rafting & Boom Co. was located at the east end of Tide Head and what they called the North Boom was located on the north side of the Restigouche River. They boomed and rafted all the timber coming down the Restigouche River and tributaries. They were managed by Robert Harper. Sixty years ago they employed over one hundred men, mostly from the Miramichi. They were skilled boom men and as much at home on a log as on land, but the long log saw mills were fast disappearing and today these are very few on the Restigouche River. For a few years pulp wood was driven to the booms but more and more pulp wood was being hauled by truck and river driving became a thing of the past. Many of the boys from Miramichi married girls from the surrounding settlements and became good citizens of the community.
   Let us go back down the river again and cross over to the Quebec side.
   Some sixty years ago St. Anne de Restigouche was. a thriving community. Champoux Bros. long lumber and shingle mill was located there. They shipped sawed lumber to the overseas market. They also had a good American and local trade. A ferry boat ran between Campbellton and Cross Point and gave continual passenger service and communication. St. Anne de Restigouche is a Micmac Indian Reserve. They are a quiet and very friendly people.
   Although some of the Indians worked in the lumber camps and as guides for the fishermen on the Restigouche River, he preferred to make a living hunting, fishing, making snowshoes, rawhide moccasins and bark canoes. I saw many of those canoes when I was a boy. They were well shaped with a high turn at bow and stern and very light. The women made baskets and did lovely beadwork. When they had a good load they would sell them from house to house, sometimes far out in the country and they always walked. In the Spring the men would go to the Islands to get Ash wood for the snowshoes and baskets. For the baskets they would have to pound the ash logs till it could be pulled apart. It would come off in strips, the full length of the log, perhaps eight feet long. We could hear them day after day.
    It sounded like war drums to a little boy like me. one day I asked Mother why someone was always beating drums on the Islands, then she told me what it was and explained how it was done.
   Farther up the river we come to Kempt Road, Sillersville and Broad Lands. The people there are farmers, lumbermen and fishermen. Their forefathers were some of the first to settle on the Restigouche. They were the people who cleared and tilled the land. The land was granted to them by the Crown. Sometimes quite large tracts were granted, usually they were divided among their descendents or leased yearly for 99 or 999 years. Even today some of the home owners are paying a yearly lease on the land their homes are built on. In my humble opinion this is wrong. People like to think they own the land their house stands on.
   The early settlers were honest, hard working. They laboured from dawn till late at night. Their work was never done. They had to prepare for the long hard winter. When harvest time came the hay had to be made and stored in the barn, the wheat and buckwheat had to be threshed with a flail. I would like here to tell you what a flail is and how it was used. First they made a rack, this was a frame eight or ten feet square, with small poles inserted close together through each side.
   The flail was two poles about six feet long and joined together at one end usually by a rawhide string as this was stronger than tanned leather. They laid the grain on the rack then they took one pole by the end and flailed away. This took a little practice as one pole was dangling and could easily knock your ears off. They laid a blanket under the rack to keep the wheat clean that fell through. This was a crude affair but it got results. Although I have seen this done when I was a boy, it was interesting to watch but it was on its way out and threshing machines were coming in. When the threshing was finished the grain had to be taken to a grist mill to be ground into flour, brought home and carefully put away for the winter. Most farmers grew wheat, oats and buckwheat.
   The winter's wood had to be cut, hauled and stored in the wood shed. Most farmers had a pit to store vegetables. This would be opened in the Spring. This pit was a cave dug in a bank if possible and was walled up with logs and double covered hatch on top with straw in between. There was always an anxious time when they opened the pit, they were eager to see how the potatoes, turnips and carrots had kept through the winter. If it was too warm the potatoes would sprout but if it was too cold they would freeze, but chances were they would be alright.
   Most farmers had a cellar under the kitchen floor where they kept vegetables, sometimes pickles and preserves. Then the unpleasant job of butchering had to be done and this is where the women of the home took over. Nothing was wasted. They made head cheese, tripe and sausages and what sausage they were, just delicious and no comparison with today's store bought sausage. The women picked raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and cranberries. The children usually helped with this chore. They made jam and pickles, salted eggs down, knit socks, mitts and even underwear, wove cloth and made homespun clothing. These are the essential things they would need for the winter ahead, but there were other things as well, molasses, tobacco, oil and dozens of other little things, sometimes going many miles by log canoe as the river was what the highway is today. The log canoe in the summer and the horse and sleigh in the winter. New Brunswick is snow country and the Restigouche River is no exception, so the farmer found it easier to go on the ice than battle their way on the terrible roads of that day, hardly more than trails. As for the log canoe, just a log pine or cedar hollowed out.
   Although I have been telling about days before my time, I do remember the log canoe, the ones I remember were about twenty-two inches wide and sixteen feet long, except one owned by Harvey Gilles. If my memory serves me right, he owned a salmon fishing stand and he used this canoe around the nets. It was massive, about thirty-six inches across and twenty-four feet long. Where it came from or where they got such a log to make it I don't know. It was later cut in the middle and bulk heads put in and made into two canoes. It took a man with skill to make one of those craft and this is too a lost art. On the Restigouche River it also took a skilled river man to manage a log canoe. They were ticklish and would throw you out on the least provocation, but they could take a good load and were easy to pole or paddle and a good canoe man had no problem. I heard of one man Fred Ferguson by name who could shoulder a barrel of flour weighing two hundred and eleven pounds, standing in a twenty-two inch canoe. If this is true it is one for Robert Ripley.

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