The Restigouche-With Notes Especially On Its Flora
By G. U. Hay, 1896
The old route between the St. John and the Restigouche was by canoe up the Grand River and into one of its small tributaries, the Waagansis; thence by a "carry" of three miles into the Waagan, an affluent of the Restigouche, and down that stream to the spot where we made our first camp. But that is now practically impossible owing to the filling up of the slow-running Waagan, and the dense growth of bushes, which almost conceals it. I could scarcely believe that it had ever been passable for canoes. But we saw it at the height of an unusually dry season.
One of the last plants that we saw on the borders of the Grand River Settlement was the Campion Flower (Silene Cucubalus). It was the first to attract our attention on the pebbly beaches of the Restigouche. It was almost constantly in sight on the whole course of the river. And yet it is not a native plant, but introduced on to this continent from the old world where it occupies wide areas from North Africa and India to the Arctic Ocean. It has evidently followed the footsteps of man, both as settler and explorer, for it is as abundant on the upper St. John as on the Restigouche. Its inflated grayish-green calyx is beautifully veined and surmounted by white petals. Growing in dense clumps, it is an attractive plant. In the woods nearby we found our common Hop (Humulus Lupulus) and from its position here and at other points on the river it is without doubt indigenous to our province. I saw some fine specimens in fruit of the Wake-Robin or Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) and several species of wild gooseberry and currants (Ribes).
I shall only make mention in connection with this trip of those plants that are new or rare to the province, or those that are striking by their great abundance, luxuriance of growth, or other distinguishing features. I feel sure that this, the first descriptive account of the flora of the Restigouche, will be full of interest to you, occupying as this river does the northern limit of the province, and prior to the visit of Dr. Cox and Mr. Brittain, a few years ago, almost unknown to botanists.
Let me attempt to give you a few general ideas of the topographical features of this northern heritage of ours. I may remind you that the chief watershed of New Brunswick extends from the extreme northwest limit of the province southeasterly to Baie Verte; that the easter slop extending from this is drained by the Restigouche, Nipisiguit, Miramichi, and by a great number of smaller rivers. The southwestern slop is drained by the St. John and its tributaries, and by smaller rivers. Next to the St. John and Miramichi the Restigouche is the largest river in New Brunswick. It is 150 miles long and drains an area within the province, of 2,200 square miles, about one-fifth of that drained by the St. John, and less than one-half the area drained by the Miramichi, although as a whole, the basin of the Restigouche is nearly as great as that of the Miramichi.
Its chief tributary is from the south is the Upsalquitch, and three chief branches from the north are the Katawamkedgwick, the Patapedia, and the Metapedia, one of which at least is larger than the main stream; but the main stream is considered to have the right to the name because of its generally direct course from the watershed in Northern New Brunswick to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Metapedia is wholly a Quebec river, the Patapedia forms the boundary between this province and Quebec in the lower half of its course, while the Katawamkedgwick, wider and of greater volume than the Restigouche, where it joins the latter, flows only for the last forty or fifty miles of its course within New Brunswick territory. The wide divergence of these four tributaries from the main stream is the origin of the Indian name Restigouche (river of the five fingers.) [Note: this is not now an accepted meaning-the present view is that it comes from a word meaning "good river", ie for canoeing, fishing, etc.]
The Restigouche takes its rise in the northeast of the county of Madawaska, near Prospect Peak and about twenty-five miles northwest of our camping ground at the mouth of the Waagan. Its waters are clear and cold, from the springs and lakes of the dense wilderness to the north-and some of these sources are probably within the province of Quebec.
Its flow is strong and swift, broken by rapids on an average of every one hundred yards, but nowhere impassable for a canoe. In its course of 110 miles, from the Waagan to Tide Head, above Campbellton, there is a descent of from 400 to 600 feet. The Restigouche flows through a narrow valley, growing deeper as you descend the stream, flanked by hills rising very steep from the water's edge, but scarcely ever too steep not to admit of a luxuriant vegetation, chiefly evergreen. In the loops formed by its winding course there may be seen, at intervals, now a stretch of meadow land, now beautiful terraces from thirty to seventy feet about the river; but so suddenly does the stream change its course and rush to the opposite side again, that these meadows and terraces alternate from one side of the river to the other in quick succession. These level spots are clothed with the most luxuriant vegetation, whose vivid green contrasts with the clear, flashing waters below them and the dark evergreen of the hillsides beyond.
Can you imagine greater pleasure than this-to sit in a canoe, paddle in hand, and wind in and out at the rate of five or six miles an hour amid scenes like these? And how we wished when our journey was ended that we had gone more slowly! Yet we only ran three or four hours, on an average, each day.
I agree with the author of "Little Rivers" when he says: "A river is the most human and companionable of all inanimate things. It has a life, a character a voice of its own, and is as full of good fellowship as a sugar maple is of sap . . . The life of a river, like that of a human being, consists of the union of soul and body. They belong together. They act and react on each other. The stream moulds and makes the shore; hollowing out a bay here and building a long point there; alluring the little bushes close to its side, and bending the tall slim trees over its current, sweeping a rocky ledge clean of everything but moss, and sending a still lagoon full of white arrowheads and rosy knotweed far back into the meadow. The shore guides and controls the stream…bending it into a hundred sinuous curves…here hiding the water in a deep cleft overhung with green branches, and there spreading it out, like a mirror framed in daisies to reflect the sky and clouds, sometimes breaking it with sudden turns and unexpected falls into musical laughter, sometimes soothing it into a sleepy motion like the flow of a dream." The author might have had the Restigouche in mind, for such a description suits it exactly.
To be continued.....