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History

Newcastle

churner

By Doug Underhill

The former Town of Newcastle is now officially part of the City of Miramichi. But the original town had a long and rich history. First incorporated as a town in 1899, Newcastle was the shiretown or capital of Northumberland County.

Located in the western end of the City of Miramichi, Newcastle was first founded in the mid to later 1700s when a land grant was given to two Scots by the names of William Davidson and John Cort. Local historian Dale MacRae notes "The origin of the town goes back to the days of William Davidson. In those days the land was completely covered with trees, huge white pines right down to the riverıs edge." Clearing such land with only an axe was quite a chore.

This new community was first known as "Miramichi", but the early inhabitants found it hard to spell and pronounce and so the first sheriff Benjamin Marston gave it an English connection and named it "Newcastle."

Originally, the actual site of the town was at the point where the Northwest and main Southwest Miramichi rivers meet. This used to be called Wilsonıs Point and today is what we call "The Enclosure."

grave sign

However, around 1790, MacRae notes that "it was arranged for the town site to move to what is known locally as the Square because a man [Robert Reid] was unsatisfied with the lot of land he was given and he asked the local authorities to trade his lot for another. Since his lot already had two log cabins, the justices realized they had a ready-made jail and courthouse, and decided to allow the trade. By the time word of this exchange reached higher authorities, it was too late to do anything about it and Newcastle began to grow on its new site."

Trading in fish, fur and lumbering began. William Davidson was able to secure a contract for providing masts from the tall white Pines and historian Edith MacAllister in her book Newcastle on the Miramichi notes "the need of finding vessels to ship them in led to the rise of the shipbuilding industry. Often both vessel and cargo were sold at their destination." The first ship built by Davidson was called "Miramichi."

Besides the original MicMacs, some early French settlers and the Scots, there came the Loyalists after the American Revolution, and Irish after the Potato Famine in Ireland.

MacAllister notes that "As the population grew, so did the lawlessness. The local magistrates could not cope with it and in 1822 troops were sent to Newcastle from Fredericton to keep order."

Newcastle became a center of industry with a population of 1,000, but the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825 laid to ashes much of the community leaving only 12 buildings remaining, but the following year it rebuilt and continued to be very active in lumbering and shipbuilding. It had a stage coach route connecting it with Bathurst and Fredericton.

By the 1850 Newcastle had reached its Golden Age, but the advent of the steam powered ship brought a downturn in its economy as the need for wooden declined. Nevertheless, the community still prospered. MacRae wrote "Travelling theatre companies, concerts, fancy balls, and sports began to become prominent. In winter there was skating in the Square, and on local ponds and rivers, hockey, curling and sliding. In the summer people played baseball, tennis, cricket and went swimming and boating. In 1910 the first movie theatre, The Opera House, opened."

Newcastle continued to be closely affiliated with the lumbering industry with mills operated by Edward Sinclair, D. and J. Ritchie and William Hickson. Their employees numbered in the thousands. The townıs largest employer at the time of amalgamation was Repap which was one of the largest coated paper mills in the world. Today it is operated by UMP Kymmene.

Newcastle once boasted a population close to 8.000. It was the boyhood home of Sir Max Aitken who became Lord Beaverbrook. It has a modern Civic Centre, library, a French and English High School, a middle school and two elementary schools.

It has a picturesque shopping area around the Town Square, a mall, several churches, a beautiful hiking and water park at French Fort Cove, an outdoor and indoor swimming pools, tennis courts, several hotels and motels, the Royal Canadian Legion, banks, numerous restaurants and eating establishments, a Kinsmen Center and Lions Club Center, the Northumberland Co-op with its constantly expanding business base, City of Miramichi Council Chambers, Court House, public wharf, the tourist attraction Ritchie Wharf, several taverns , bars and clubs, a curling club, CFAN Radio station, government offices, two baseball fields, several softball diamonds, a Rec center, industrial park, police and fire facilities, a lumber mill, Department of Natural Resources building, funeral homes, and a railway station.

At one time it had its own hospital donated by Ernest Hutchison in 1916. It also had its own quarry at French Fort Cove. It was home to Peter Mitchell one of Miramichiıs two Fathers of Confederation and the person responsible for bringing the railroad though the northern part of NB.

It was also the home of author David Adams Richards who won two Governor-Generalıs award and the Giller Prize for writing. It is the home of the Miramichi Folk Song Festival started by Louise Manny and now continued by Susan Butler.

Newcastle has won the Hardy Cup emblematic of Canadian Senior Hockey supremacy and has sent two players to the NHL.

Its official town symbol was the Moose.

moose

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