Restigouche County, New Brunswick 

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Eastern Restigouche in 1847


What was Restigouche like in 1847?  Abraham Gesner, one of New Brunswick's early "'renaissance men", gives us some idea.

Gesner (1797 - 1864) is best known as the inventor of the process for producing kerosene, but he seemed to be able to do almost anything.  He was the provincial geologist and in the middle of the 19th century, he wrote "New Brunswick with notes for Emigrants."  Admittedly, this book was intended to persuade Britain's " surplus population" to seek opportunities in New Brunswick, and most of these books tended to make things sound good; perhaps a bit better than they were.  Gesner is probably more honest than many.

Here, at any rate, is his description of the country, taken from a copy of the book held by the Restigouche Regional Museum (initial preamble above courtesy of The Tribune).

Still advancing along the coast, we enter the District of Restigouche.  The county is bounded on the south-east by Gloucester, south-west by wilderness lands and north by the Bay Chaleurs and Restigouche, or the boundary between New Brunswick and Canada. It contains 1,266560 acres.

Jacquet River, about nine miles from Belle Dune, descends from the mountains to the south.  It is a rapid stream, scarcely navigable for canoes.  The lands near its mouth are of good quality, and may be rendered very fertile by the application of lime and marl, of which there is an abundant supply on the shore.  At a short distance from the seaboard they are still ungranted.  This part of the Bay-side is sheltered by Heron Island and Black Point, which form a safe harbour.  The population is scattered.

It is very desirable that the new road between Bathurst and Dalhousie should be completed, and the erection of a bridge over Jacquet River is necessary to safe and comfortable conveyance between those towns.  In 1842 the road was a series of swamps, partially filled by short logs, or projecting masses of rocks, ever threatening to capsize passengers.  The traveler is sometimes relieved of these obstacles by being driven along a narrow path to the very brink of the sea-wall - or among the soft sand, and slippery kelp, and driftwood of the shore, where both horse and driver are sometimes greeted with a shower of spray from every wave.  The bridges across the gullies are like those built by children, after a heavy shower, except that some of them are upon a larger scale, and more deserving of the appellation of horse-traps.  To add to these impediments, the inhabitants, where the ground is level, have encroached upon the pathways, leaving only the length of cart-axel between the fences for the accommodation of the voyageur, who at almost every step is saluted by the kind "Prenez-garde" of the watchful Acadians.

At Nash Creek, there is a small settlement a mile and a half inland; from it to Dalhousie the distance is nineteen miles.  Benjamin River, North and South Rivers Charlo, are small rapid streams.

New Mills, formerly called Merloguish, was first occupied by a Mr. Rumpoft, a Dutch merchant, who for many years was engaged in ship-building and fishing at the place.  The establishment was since occupied by Wm Flemming, Esq., who erected grist and sawmills upon the stream.  Heron and a cluster of smaller islands afford good shelter for vessels, and the inshore fishery is still valuable.

The margin of this part of the Bay is very thinly settled.  The population consists of Provincials, Scotch, Irish, and Acadian French, who appear to live together in great harmony.  Some fine fields have been cleared; and since the attention of the inhabitants has been directed to husbandry, their labour has been rewarded by substantial crops.  Wheat, although late n ripening, often yields twenty to thirty bushels per acre; oats produce a certain crop; and all kinds of vegetables may be successfully cultivated.

Across the mouth of Eel River the sea has thrown up a bank of sand a mile in length, and the site thus offered for a road has been improved.  A bridge has been erected to connect the sand-bar with the opposite side of the stream.  The remainder of the distance to Dalhousie is four miles, and the road passes over three sharp ridges of trap rock.

Eel River is a long, narrow stream:  it commences near the Upsalquitch, and traverses a fine level district of fertile land almost surrounded by mountains.  An opening has been made upon a tract recently surveyed, called the Colebrooke Settlement, in honour of Sir William Colebrook [Tribune Ed note:  Geographical Names of New Brunswick says this was five miles south of Campbellton, and was settled in 1843 by Acadians.  It was also known as "Coldbrook", after a tributary of Walter Brook, and as Dube Settlement, for Baptiste and Audilon Dube, grantees there.]  There are also settlements on each side of the river near its debouchement.  Still, a great quantity of these lands are ungranted, and there are few localities where a respectable class of settlers would meet greater encouragement.

The Indians have a grant at this place of 400 acres, and they resort to it during fishing and shooting seasons.  Their land, however, is very low and swampy, scarcely fit for tillage.

The sea-wall thrown up across the estuary has formed a large shallow basin, with a muddy bottom, which affords one of the best fisheries for eels in the Province.  The eels are taken by the Indians at all seasons of the year, and supply them with an important part of their food.  When they are skinned and dried, they are by no means unpalatable;  and when fresh, they are considered by many to be very delicious.

It is rather singular, that cod-fish in quest of food enter this and other shallow estuaries along the coast during the winter season.  The Indians cut holes in the ice, and strike them with spears.  Eels are taken in the same manner.  Trout, smelts, and flatfish are also numerous;  and in spring and autumn, the little bay is the resort of wild geese and other kinds of water-fowl.

The shores, bays, and inlets between Bathurst and Dalhousie afford excellent fisheries for cod, Pollock haddock, halibut, herring, sea-trout, smelts, eels and other varieties of fish.  Caplin are so numerous, that they are often applied to the soil for manure.  The destruction of small fish reduces the quantity of food intended by nature for the larger ones and, if continued, will greatly injure the fisheries.  Providence never intended that any of her gifts should be abused;  and in a district where limestone and marl are abundant, the practice is inexcusable, and should be prevented by law.

Seals of different kinds are frequently seen in considerable numbers in the Bay.  They were taken by the first inhabitants of this part of the Province, who carried on a considerable trade in sealskins and oil.  At present the seal-fishery is not attended to.

Whales of the humpback variety frequent the coasts, and are taken at the mouth of the St. Lawrence and in the Gulf.  They also visit the Bay Chaleurs;  but the inhabitants are not prepared to encounter them, although they are readily captured by expert whalers.

These waters abound in wild geese and ducks of various kinds.  Of the former, flocks containing thousands feed upon the shores during the autumn, until the season for their migration arrives, when they depart for warmer latitudes.

The County of Restigouche is divided into five parishes, - namely, Dalhousie, Addington, Durham, Colborne, and Eldon.  The population in 1840 was 3,161, exclusive of about 1,200 persons who were supposed to be engaged in the woods, lumbering, at the time the census was taken.  At that period, the Parish of Eldon contained only eight dwelling-houses and twenty-seven acres of cleared land.  The whole quantity of cleared land in the country at present time will not exceed 6,500 square acres (sic), and therefore a particular account of each parish is unnecessary.

The Restigouche is a majestic and very beautiful river, falling into the spacious harbour at the head of the Bay Chaleurs;  and its tributaries irrigate more than five thousand square miles of territory.  The main river springs from a lake in Lower Canada, and through branches that approach Lake Temiscouta and Metis.  Sixty miles from its debouchement into the bay, the river turns from a south-west to a north-west course, and receives a large branch that nearly approaches the St. John.  A large tributary, called the Upsalquitch, also enters from the south-east, about forth miles from the head of the bay.  The whole length of the main stream is about two hundred miles.

The river and its tributaries descend through a tract of country varied resources and beautiful scenery.  They drain a part of that spur of the Alleghany Mountain that crosses the St. John, and occupies the central parts of the District of Gaspe.  Its appended tributaries rush from the mountain ravines with great impetuosity, and throw themselves into frightful rapids, or over falls, until they reach the narrow valley of the main stream, whence they are sufficiently tranquil to admit of being navigated in safety.  Upon the borders, and remote from these water courses, red pine, white pine, and other kinds of valuable wood are abundant;  and, by the skill of the lumberman, the timber is launched down the steep declivities and perpendicular cliffs, through the falls, until it floats in the tide.

This part of the Province has been spared from those devouring fires which have been so destructive to the timber in the District of Miramichi and other parts of New Brunswick;  and a century will elapse before the forests of Gaspe and Restigouche will be exhausted of their timber resources.  The valuable fisheries of the Bay, under proper management, would supply the elements of a very extensive trade;  and the valleys, slopes, and tablelands of the interior wilderness are capable of being advantageously cultivated.  In the centre of this great theatre of offered industry and employment, is the splendid Harbour of the Restigouche, which is sufficiently spacious to contain the whole navy of Great Britain, and rivers upon which the first produce of the country can be cheaply transported.

The entrance of the River or Harbour of Restigouche is between Miguasha Point on the north, and Mon Amie's Rock  [Tribune Ed note: sic, Bonamy Rocks] on the south.  The distance between these two headlands is three miles; and here are nine fathoms of water, without a bar or shoal to interrupt the navigation of the port's mouth.

Dalhousie, the shire town of the county, stands at the base of a high ridge of trap rock on the south side of the river, a little above its mouth.  It contains about one hundred and thirty buildings; among which are the usual number devoted to religious worship [Tribune Ed note: actually, at the time there was only a Presbyterian church, somewhere near or in Riverside Cemetery, and even that didn't have its own minister in 1847 but was serviced out of Campbellton], a Court-house, Gaol and Grammar-school.  The principal mercantile establishments front the river, which is lined by wharves, ship-yard, and timber-booms.  The site of the town is on an inclined plane; but the entrance to it from the eastward, by land, is over a steep hill, which might be avoided by giving the road another direction.

In the harbour are two small islands, surrounded by deep water; and affording shelter for vessels of the largest class.  The opposite side of the river, which is uninhabited, expands into a beautiful bay, bordered by high cliffs of red sandstone.  A very extensive timber trade is carried on from this port to Great Britain, and the Agricultural Society of Restigouche has given an encouragement to husbandry which will not lose its effect now that the commerce has again revived.  The scenery of the town, within its harbour and islands, is very interesting; but it is tame compared with a more extended view.  The whole District of Gaspe presents bold and precipitous eminences, flanked along the shore by perpendicular cliffs of brick-red sandstone and other rocks, which are cut through where the streams make their exit into the bay.  Upon these cliffs there is a long track of table land, which skirts the shore, while in the rear it rises into mountains of the most striking and picturesque character.  From the hill in the rear of Dalhousie, the Tracadegash and other mountains of the Gaspe are seen rising in great grandeur; and the whole country northward is covered with majestic cones, which are wooded to their very summits.  Between the sharp alpine ridges, walled in by cliffs, there are narrow valleys, washed by the collected mountain torrents in their rapid descent towards the sea.  This, the north-eastern extremity of the Alleghany chain, maintains its bold features to its termination near the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and offers to the eye a view of an unknown mountain wilderness.

The Restigouche is navigable for large ships eighteen miles; in that distance its average breadth is nearly two miles.  Its southern bank is occupied by a scattered population.  The soil is of medium quality; and the surface, a little remote from the river, is broken by closely-wooded hills and ravines.

Point Aninipk, eight miles and Point Le Garde, twelve miles above Dalhousie, on the Gaspe side, are bold prominences, and were military stations during the struggles of France to regain the Colony.  Battery Point, two miles higher up, was also occupied by a French fort.  Several pieces of cannon have been found in the sand; and muskets, pistols, swords, and culinary utensils have been dug up from the remains of this fortification.  A few years ago, a bottle of molasses and a small case of wine were also recovered from among its ruins. [Tribune Ed note: Gesner attributes this statement to Cooney's history printed in 1832.]  This fort was destroyed by Captain Byron in 1760.  It is now covered by a growth of forest trees.  The Gaspe side of the river at this place is also uninhabited.

Campbellton is situated sixteen miles above Dalhousie.  It is a compact village, with several trading-houses, docks, and timber-ponds.  A number of ships are annually loaded at this place, and it maintains a brisk trade with the lumbering parties in the forests.  The lands on each side of the river are rather broken and rocky.  There is, nevertheless, a narrow flat of good soil along the edges of the stream, which continues wide and navigable for ships.

In the read of the town is a conspicuous eminence called Sugar-loaf Mountain.  It is 844 feet high, and nearly three miles in circumference at its base.  The side fronting the river is a perpendicular cliff, from which a collection of enormous boulders extend around the eminence.  It can only be ascended in safety on the east side.  [Tribune Ed note: Gesner adds the following footnote "We reached the summit of the Sugar-loaf in 1842 by its western side; but on returning it was necessary to descend over some of the cliffs on the decayed and partially fallen trees - by no means a safe expedient."]  At other places, boulders weighing several tons are easily put in motion, when they roll down the side of the mountain, crushing the trees at its foot.  From its top, it appears to rise from a valley like a lofty tower.  The view from the summit of this hill is extremely grand and beautiful.

The chain of mountains, with lofty peaks, running through Gaspe, indents the horizon to the north-east.  The Bay Chaleurs and Restigouche, with their infant towns and villages, fill up scenery below.  To the north, there is a wide area of tableland, covered by a living mantle of evergreens.

Three miles above Campbellton , there is the large estate of Robert Ferguson, Esq., one of the first British settlers on the Restigouche.  His establishment is situated upon a tract containing two hundred acres of intervale, part of which is under cultivation.  Mrs. Ferguson was the first English child born in this part of the Province.  The sons of the above gentleman are still engaged in the timber trade of the county.  The example and industry of this family, and a few others, have mainly contributed to the improvement of this part of the Restigouche.