Miramichi is the largest city in northern New Brunswick, Canada. It is situated at the mouth of the Miramichi River where it enters Miramichi Bay. The City of Miramichi was formed in 1995 through the forced amalgamation of two rival towns, Newcastle and Chatham, and several smaller communities, including Douglastown, Loggieville, and Nelson.
Following the European discovery of the Americas, the Miramichi became part of the French colony of Acadia. About 1648, Nicolas Denys, Sieur de Fronsac, established a fort and trading post, Fort Fronsac, on the Miramichi. This establishment was apparently constructed "on the North side of the Miramichi, at the forks of the river". According to W.F.Ganong, a Recollet Mission was established in 1686 on the Miramichi "in Nelson", "probably near Beaubear's Island".
Nicolas Denys' son, Richard Denys, was placed in charge of the fort and trading post, and in 1688 Richard states, "Miramichi is the principal place of my residence", and describes his establishment as including about a dozen French and more than 500 Indians. In 1691 Richard died at sea; the post declined. .
By about 1740 French villages were well established on Miramichi Bay at Bay du Vin and Neguac. In the current city of Miramichi, a larger village existed at Canadian Point, and a town comprising 200 houses, a chapel, and provision stores occupied "Beaubear's Point". The French maintained batteries of guns at the east end of Beaubears Island and at French Fort Cove.
In 1757 the French general, Charles Deschamps de Boishébert et de Raffetot attempted to evade British troops in the St. John Valley and the Bay of Fundy, by leading 900 French refugees up the northeast coast of New Brunswick to Miramichi, establishing a camp, "Camp de l’Espérance", on Beaubears Island. Over 200 of the refugees died at the camp. During the war, the camp was protected by a battery of French cannons at French Fort Cove.
In September 1758 Colonel James Murray reported spending two days in Miramichi Bay looking unsuccessfully for Acadians, but destroying anything he found. This included burning the first stone church built in New Brunswick (at the site of the present-day community of Burnt Church). Murray didn't sail as far west as Beaubear's Island.
Most of the surviving Beaubear's Island refugees soon left the Miramichi, seeking refuge in Quebec. Some Acadians, however, remained and escaped British attempts at deportation. They eventually established (or re-established) a host of small Acadian communities along the northern and eastern coasts of present-day New Brunswick.
The French were defeated at Quebec (1759) and Montreal (1760), and the remaining Miramichi settlement was subsequently burned to the ground by British Commodore John Byron (Foul-Weather Jack) in 1760. The French North American colonies (apart from Saint Pierre and Miquelon) were ceded to the British in the 1763 Treaty of Paris. The Miramichi thus became a part of the British colony of Nova Scotia, and later New Brunswick. Benjamin Marston, a surveyor and the first sheriff, reported in 1785 that "a considerable French Village" had existed on Wilson's Point (adjacent to Beaubear's Island - the present-day site of the Enclosure).
Although they were clearly preceded by the Mi'kmaq and Acadian peoples, credit for the first permanent white settlement at Miramichi is often granted to Scottish settlers, led by William Davidson. William Davidson (a.k.a. John Godsman) and John Cort had obtained a large grant encompassing much of the Miramichi region in 1765, and promoted the area in both Scotland and New England as a new home to potential settlers.
Relations with the Mi'kmaq were not always good. During the American Revolution, some Mi'kmaq, encouraged by the Americans, attacked the newcomers. Davidson temporarily found refuge along the St. John River. A subsequent treaty signed 22 September 1779 ensured a more peaceful coexistence. Following the American Revolution some loyalist families moved to Miramichi. Davidson's original grant was revoked, and competition for the best lands escalated tensions between the early Scottish and new loyalist settlers. In the 1840's, the Great Irish Famine led to the last large influx of settlers, mostly settling on the south side of the river in the former town of Chatham. By this time, the best lands were already occupied by earlier Scottish, Loyalist and Acadian immigrants.
Although subsistence farming constituted one part of the new settlement's economy, the thin, acid soils of the Miramichi were not conducive to agriculture; thus, the lumber industry and Atlantic salmon fishery were the mainstays. A shipbuilding industry was established by Davidson in 1773, largely to facilitate overseas lumber exports, including masts for the British navy, and to provide winter employment for the men. Davidson's first ship, "Miramichi", was unfortunately lost with her cargo off the Spanish coast.
Miramichi benefited greatly from the Napoleonic wars and American independence, as Britain became dependent on its remaining North American colonies, including New Brunswick, for lumber. However, the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825, the advent of steel-hulled ships, and perhaps over-cutting of eastern white pine, would eventually contribute to a long-term decline in the area's economy. The Miramichi Fire burnt almost 1/4 of New Brunswick's forest, and consumed most of the buildings along the northern side of the river. Only 12 buildings remained in Newcastle.
The towns of Newcastle and Chatham developed a long history of rivalry, including a small "war" fought between the communities ("the fighting election of 1843"). The 1843 election was fought on a political level between John T. Williston of Chatham (supported by local entrepreneur Joseph Cunard of Chatham, brother of Samuel Cunard) and John Ambrose Street of Newcastle (backed by the prominent lumber baron, Alexander Rankin of Douglastown). The Rankin and Cunard factions literally fought the election in the streets of Newcastle and Chatham with sticks, stones, coal and other missiles.
In 1875 the region's largest construction project in history was completed when the federal government's Intercolonial Railway (ICR) opened between Moncton and Campbellton. The following year it would link Halifax with Rivière-du-Loup and the Canadian railway network. One of the biggest geographic obstacles presented in the project was the crossing of the Miramichi River. Surveyors deemed the ideal location for bridging to be at the upper reaches of tidewater between Nelson and Newcastle, crossing the Southwest Miramichi, then a short section of land at Derby, followed by the Northwest Miramichi. The combined length of these bridges would be among the largest constructed to date in Canada (surpassed only by the Victoria Bridge in Montreal) and were the first bridges over the Miramichi River, revolutionizing transport in the region.
The ICR bypassed Chatham by running through Newcastle and then on to the north and west. Within a decade, the Canada Eastern Railway was built to link Chatham with Fredericton, along the length of the Southwest Miramichi River valley. In 1904, the Canada Eastern was purchased by the ICR. In 1915, the ICR became part of Canadian Government Railways and 3 years later in 1918 it became part of the Canadian National Railways (CNR).
CNR operated express passenger trains along the main line from Halifax to Montreal via Newcastle, most notably the Ocean Limited, along with various local trains to Fredericton, Moncton and Campbellton. The Dungarvon Whooper provided passenger service along the Canada Eastern Railway from Newcastle to Fredericton. The ports and railways serving Newcastle and Chatham burgeoned with activity as the 19th century lumber industry gave way to the 20th century developments in pulp and paper, and mining.
As the shipbuilding, masting and lumber industries waned, pulp and paper production eventually replaced lumber exports as the mainstay of the area's economy. A valuable sports fishery developed, attracting "sports" initially from adjacent New England, and subsequently from all parts of the world. In the mid 20th century, an air force base, CFB Chatham, became the cornerstone of Chatham's economy. The discovery of base metal deposits and the development of Heath Steele Mines, 60 km to the northwest, allowed Newcastle's economy to diversify and strengthen through the 1960s. The mine and airforce base had both closed by 1999 as the mine's ore body was depleted, and with the collapse of the cold war. The forest industry is the dominant player in the city's economy today.
In the 20th century the rivalry between Newcastle and Chatham continued, expressed chiefly through sports, politics, and in competition for businesses and government largesse. In 1994 then Premier Frank McKenna (the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Chatham) developed and implemented a plan for merging the communities. The amalgamation of the former towns and villages to form the City of Miramichi was controversial at the time, and remains so today, due to the strong identities that each of the communities possessed. The 1995 amalgamation of the communities served to limit this rivalry, giving the region a larger and more united voice in promoting the region.
For a more detailed local history, including details of prominent citizens, see the entries for Miramichi's founding communities (Newcastle, Chatham, Douglastown, Loggieville, and Nelson). For a larger regional context, consult the entry for Maritime history.
Miramichi enjoys a cool, moist climate (Mean Annual Temperature = 4.7°C, January Mean Temperature = -10.7°C; Mean July Temperature = 19.2°C). Proximity to the Gulf of St. Lawrence tends to moderate the winter climate, but Arctic air sometimes penetrates into the area during winter (coldest recorded temperature = -35°C, 2 February 1962). Summers are warm and sunny (hottest recorded temperature = 37.8°C, 12 August 1944). The city averages about 1100 mm of precipitation per year, with about 300 mm of the precipitation falling as snow.
Miramichi winters are sunnier than almost anywhere else in Canada, averaging 120 hours of bright sunshine in January (Compare with Winnipeg, Manitoba - 120.3 hours; Kelowna, British Columbia - 40 hours). Miramichi averages 250.5 hours of bright sunshine in July.
(All data are derived from Environment Canada statistics for the Miramichi airport)
According to the Statistics Canada 2001 census, there were 18,508 people residing in Miramichi. 48.1% of residents were male and 51.9% were female.
Children under five accounted for approximately 5.0% of the resident population. This compares with 5.6% for Canada overall. In mid-2001, 15.5% of the resident population of Miramichi were of retirement age (65 and over for males and females) compared with 13.2% in Canada. The median age was 39.9 years of age, comparing to 37.6 years of age nationally.
In 2001, 97.6% of the population were born in Canada; 89.4% claimed "English only" as the "language(s) first learned and still understood", whereas 8.8% indicated French, and 0.7% indicated "both English and French". The population was 61.8% Roman Catholic, and 33.3% Protestant. 3.8% reported no religious affiliation.
The Miramichi area’s economy is primarily focused on forests, mining and fishing. Other sectors include: tourism, customer contact centres, manufacturing and provincial and federal government. The service sector is the largest employer. The region has recently experienced the closure of several wood mills causing many residents to migrate west.
For years, the only bridge at Miramichi was a narrow, historic crossing, the Morrissy Bridge, at Newcastle. Ferry service facilitated crossings at Chatham and Loggieville. In the late 1960's the Centennial Bridge was completed at Chatham, greatly improving north-south transit across the river. The Miramichi Bridge at Newcastle opened in the late 1990s.Water The towns of Chatham and Newcastle were formerly important ports for northeastern New Brunswick. Dredging, however, was necessary to maintain a deep enough channel for most ships to cross between the barrier dune islands at the mouth of Miramichi Bay. Ocean-going ships entering the port must have a shallow draft, and must navigate the ancient, meandering course of the drowned Miramichi River channel through the inner Bay.Rail The New Brunswick East Coast Railway (NBECR), formerly part of the Canadian National (CN) Railway mainline, and the earlier Intercolonial Railway passes through Miramichi. VIA Rail offers passenger service on this line, supplementing NBECR's freight capacity.Air Miramichi is located within a 90 minute drive of two international airports (Greater Fredericton International Airport, Greater Moncton International Airport) with scheduled domestic and international flights. In addition the Miramichi Airport Commission operates the Miramichi Airport (YCH) on the former site of CFB Chatham.
Local legends, like the tales of the Headless Nun, the Wizard of the Miramichi, and the Dungarvon Whooper, are products of the long, rich history of the region, and a tradition of story-telling. The telling of "lies" (or tall tales) provided a social outlet, building a close bond among "shantymen" as they passed long winter nights in remote lumber camps. No doubt these tales were further embellished as each generation sought to improve upon the original stories, and captivate their audience. This oral tradition lives on in the hunting and fishing camps that line the river, and in the traditional ballads immortalised in Louise Manny's Songs of the Miramichi, in the 1962 Folkways Records recording Folksongs of the Miramichi: Lumber and River Songs from the Miramichi Folk Fest, Newcastle, New Brunswick, and in the Miramichi Folk Song Festival.
Other local festivals include:
Miramichiers speak a form of Maritime English, not readily understood by outsiders. A small part of the language has been captured in Herb Curtis' 1991 book, "Look what the Cat drug in - a Miramichi Dictionary" , and Doug Underhill's 1996 "City of Miramichi - An interpretive guide". Visitors may find a few words and expressions useful when visiting the region:
New Brunswick School District 11 (French):
New Brunswick School District 16 (English):
With its rich history and scenic landscape, the city attracts visitors from all over the world. The greatest attraction, beyond all else, is the Miramichi River.
French Fort Cove is a nature park located between Newcastle and Nordin. The park contains regular and advanced walking trails, canoeing, kayaking, paddle-boats, a children's playground, and an ice-cream shop. The park holds many events and activities during the summer.
It is the former site of a gristmill, lumbermill and shipyard. It is also the former location of a rock quarry which was used to build many local buildings and the Langevin Block of the Parliament Hill, among others.
It is the setting for the local legend of the Headless Nun.Middle Island
Middle Island was used as a quarantine station when, in 1847, typhus and scarlet fever spread throughout the ship Looshtauk as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 462 passengers on board, at least 146 people died en route and 96 died while in quarantine. Initially those who died on the island were buried in caskets, but as the death toll continued to rise personal resting places could no longer be an option. This resulted in large mass graves being placed on the island. Some of these graves were discovered as recently as 1996.
Many people are able to trace their family roots back to the journey taken by the Looshtauk.
The island now serves as a tourist location and memorial.Rankin House Alexander Rankin and James Gilmour came to the area in 1812 to establish a lumber and shipbuilding enterprise (Gilmour, Rankin & Co.) at Douglastown (then known as Gretna Green). Rankin House was constructed in 1837 as the home of Alexander Rankin.
Rankin House is now a museum containing a collection of objects relating to early life in New Brunswick. It is located in Douglastown on the King George Highway.Ritchie Wharf Ritchie Wharf is a park located on the waterfront of Newcastle-Miramichi. It is the location of many events that take place on the river, and is often the location of choice for local musicians.
Its boardwalk is lined with restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops, and it is also the location of a tourist information centre. In addition, there is a children's playground with a small water park.Marine (Seamen's) Hospital
The Marine Hospital was built in 1830-1831, and was used to provide care to members of the shipping community involved in the lumber trade. It is the oldest surviving marine hospital in Canada, and now serves as a hall for a local church and the general public. It last opened its door to patients in 1921, and was commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in September 2000.