My Restigouche River Run part One
by: Irene Doyle
"Run the River", a term that is used around this area as much as "having breakfast". When it is not being used from spring until fall to talk about actually doing it, it is being used in the past tense to describe how it went the year before or a few years ago. But either way there is almost always a twinkle in the eye of the person using the term.
In my nature loving travels, I have visited Grand Manan Island many many times and taken a ferry for the close to 2 hour crossing to the island, I have been out on a small fisherman's boat looking for a rare gull off Grand Manan in February, been out to Machias Seal Island, over shoals which create waves a few feet high and rocks a little fisherman's boat quite a bit, to get a real close look at Atlantic Puffins and Razorbill Auks. I have gone out into the Atlantic 23 miles to get a close look at whales, a 7-hour trip. I've also embarked on a little fisherman's boat and gone many miles off the Acadian Peninsula shores to get a glimpse at a rare visitor called the Northern Fulmar. Although I have had a few butterflies during these expeditions and sometimes even used Gravol to be safe, I have felt pretty safe with a life jacket and an experienced fishermen at the wheel. I have also gone to Heron Island in a small boat on days when the wind was high and the river pretty rough. I have climbed Mount Jacques Cartier in the Parc de la Gaspesie, I have gone down in the Caves of St Elzear, gone some 300 feet underground at the Miner's Museum in Springhill, N.S. and I have walked quite a few trails, but I had never "run" the Mighty Restigouche River.
To run the river is so popular and it is something I had always dreamed of doing but of course all I had to go by was the stories that I had heard. I just love the water, love nature and the outdoors but I swim like a rock. So I was always a little apprehensive about getting in a canoe and taking the chance of it tipping and me ending up at the bottom of a deep pool with salmon staring at me. Although I love it, I've always been deathly afraid of falling in water if it was more than a few inches deep because I know my first reaction would be to "gasp" and there you go, lungs do not function too well when water replaces air.
So, although curiosity killed the cat, I was curious enough to find a real good friend of mine who "runs the river" all the time, who agreed to take me down a part of it at least. So for my first "run" we decided to go late in the fall when the water was not as high. This may have been a mistake although the trip was marvelous but somewhat dangerous because of the very low level of the water. One day we even had to visit one area on foot but it was the only way I could get to see it. We will call my friend Patrick or Pat for short, for the purpose of this story.
Now before I try to describe our beautiful trip to you, which I will do in 6 or 7 parts, I would like to give you a few facts about the Restigouche River. With the map I have placed on here (Courtesy DNR) it should give you a better idea of how the river runs and where the "river runs" start and end most of the time.
A 55km section of this river, which runs between "Jardine Brook" and the "Million Dollar Pool", was nominated and in 1995, was, accepted to be included in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board.
There are two or three stories, or legends, as to where The Restigouche got its name. The Restigouche River was apparently named by the Mi'kmaq who lived here long before us, and some say it was called Restigouche because in their aboriginal language it means "he who disobeys his father". The legend tells of a boy who was killed while leading an expedition against the Mohawks who were poaching the salmon in the area. The boy's father, who was the Chief, was not in accord with his son and he was opposed to the battle. The whole party was massacred on the banks of the river and the boy's father named the river "he who disobeys his father".
In his writings to the Daily Sun of Saint John, "Sketches in Restigouche History", dated February 8, 1883, Rev. J.C. Herdman writes of another story. He states that its Mi'kmaq name means "five fingers" "Hand of five fingers" or River that divides like the hand" which represents the 5 rivers that run in the area; The Restigouche, and the Kedgwick, Patapedia, Upsalquitch and Matapedia Rivers which all run into the Restigouche at some point. Many brooks also run into it and quite a few fishing lodges or salmon pools bear their names. The river also serves as the border between the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick from the Million Dollar Pool on down.
Cooney writes in 1832, about the name of the river meaning "Broad River" or "Big River" to distinguish it from the Restigouchesis or what is now known as the Miramichi River.
The Main Restigouche River is about 57 miles long, starting from the mouth of the Kedgwick to what use to be called Head of Tide or as we know it today Tide Head although about 340km of it is canoeble waters. The average width of the river is approximately 300 feet. The salmon pools are between 10 and 20 feet deep. A few spots are quite hazardous if you are not an experienced boater or are not careful, you could do damage to your boat or motor or even get hurt, so caution has to be exercised when running the river.
During the summer months thousands of people "run the river". Most of them, taking the road off Route 17, that leads to the mouth of the Kedgwick to get to the shores of the Restigouche, where their canoes or kayaks are put in the water. The run can be shortened by leaving from points lower down the river, some people even do the whole 57 or so miles in one day, leaving very early morning and getting back to Tide Head late in the evening. I would say that would take the fun out of really enjoying the ride and the natural environment but to each his own.
Under the Environment Trust Fund of the Province of New Brunswick, campsites have now been developed and are being maintained by clean-up crews of the Department of Natural Resources and Energy to accommodate canoeists. Before this project begun, the run of the river was wild and in more ways than one. The beauty of the wilderness was there to admire and explore but there was also the "Yahoo" canoeists as they are called by most, who would make running the river a big party, breaking trees, leaving their garbage behind either on the sites where they stayed overnight or at the bottom of the river. This project which meant setting up campsites, toilets and garbage cans with regular pick up, also meant educating people and convincing the "Yahoos" to use them. According to my friend Pat, at first it apparently was not easy as some would completely disregard the new facilities and do as they pleased, but with time it seems to have become a lot better, although a few of these "Yahoos" still exist as you will see later.
This mighty river is also a very historical one, it use to be the only means of transportation for the first inhabitants, the Mik'maq, the Scotish, the Irish and Acadians. It was not only the first to welcome the first inhabitants it was also the first resting-place for a lot of them who got killed while sailing it. The last battle for supremacy between the French and the English in 1760 was fought between Campbellton and Listuguj on this river.
It was once stocked with so much fish that according to history, some four million pounds a year were shipped across the Atlantic. Rev. J.C. Herdman also writes "In the days of the early British settlers, the Restigouche Indians occupied themselves mostly with fishing and hunting. They were experts in spearing salmon, which they used sometimes, it is said, to pile in stacks. Their old men speak of their fathers being employed by the white to bring them salmon, and of their kiling in three or four days fish enough to load a vessel of 50 to 60 tons. Without doubt salmon were plentiful in those days."
Overfishing though soon brought attention to it and this led to one of the first North American conservation law in 1824, "no fishing after August 1st and no night fishing". This however was not enough as in 1857 the stocked river was still being depleated of its fish. A conservation officer requested a more restricting law, which was passed in 1858 when the Fisheries Act was passed. It opened doors to private fishing and hunting clubs by granting them leases and fishing rights, which were sold to the highest bidders. Millionaires such as William Vanderbilt bought such land and rights. At that time there were only a few log cabins being used as fishing lodges and Mr. Vanderbilt changed that by getting more modern ones built, among others the Kedgwick Lodge. This lodge was even decorated with a hunting trophy donated by Theodore Roosevelt.
The Restigouche was also a witness to millions of logs floating down its waters when the "spring log drive" started. There were no roads or big trucks as there is today taking the pulpwood that had been cut all winter by local residents, to the local mills. Most of the time, sleuces were used to send the logs down to the river from the top of the mountains. The logs were simply dumped in the river by hand, and it carried them to the Atholville, Broadlands booming grounds area with the help of the brave men who worked at making sure the logs got there. These amazing, fearless men would run on those floating logs for weeks to make sure the wood did not get stuck on the beaches etc. But a daily happening was a logjam, where a few logs would get caught on shore, and more logs would get caught in them, causing the flow to be jammed and backed up many thousand feet at times. The men would run out on the jam, plant dynamite sticks here and there, light the sometimes short fuse and run back to shore to watch the logs fly up in the air as some of the jam was set loose. Unfortunately many of them did not make it to shore, but that is another story. The wood was then placed in circular booms, drug to the mills by tugboats where they were stored for processing. This is not being done anymore and according to my friend Pat, through this process the riverbed got cleaned by the logs on their way down. Today the bottom of the river has grown with deposits to where it is barely passable in places. So I guess with "evolution" man is slowly destroying the planet in more ways than one.
To be continued next month….