For the past several years, discussions have been held concerning the
fate of the Eel River Dam. I would like to devote the next several columns
to what I hope will be a reasonably balanced discussion on what that fate
To begin with, I would like to reflect on what Eel River was like
before the dam was built in the early 1960's. That was before my time
here, so, by necessity, my impressions are anecdotal: recollections by
people who remember the river back then.
Recently, I had reason to query several acquaintances on the topic.
Several of them recalled hunting in the Eel River Marsh as teenagers. I
remember two of them - in separate communications - talking about taking
their shotguns into the marsh after school and, as they both admitted,
despite their being poor shots, managing to shoot their bag limits
regularly. They remember seeing large numbers of American black duck,
teal, several species of sea duck (presumably Common goldeneyes and
perhaps Ring-necked ducks), Canada geese, Wilson's snipe, and American
woodcock. They recalled flocks in the hundreds throughout the fall, all up
and down the marsh.
Others wanted to talk primarily about the fishing. Apparently Eel River
had a very nice little salmon run back in those days and I can actually
recall the last remnants of a sea trout run that persisted up into the
early 1970's. Smelt and eels (of course) were present in large numbers at
the right time of year, and the clam fishing at Eel River Bar was
exceptional. Clams continued to be harvested until the fishery was closed,
a number of years after we moved up this way.
For the most part, people were not nearly as interested in listing
species back then as we are today, so it is sometimes difficult to
estimate just how many other species of bird or fish may have frequented
the marsh and river ecosystem, but, form all accounts, it was a rich and
diversified one. Certainly there were Osprey, although that population had
been decimated by DDT some years before. The marsh, which has been
described by knowledgeable naturalists as "the biggest cattail marsh in
northern New Brunswick", would certainly have been home to herons, bitterns, different species of small shorebirds, blackbirds, warblers, and perhaps rails. There were muskrat, mink, otter, beaver, possibly fisher, and a diversified range of
small rodents. Moose and foxes, hawks and owls, patrolled the edges,and
found their livelihood there.
From everything that I can see, Eel River was not a large river,
perhaps not even on the scale of one of the branches of the Charlo River.
But it a swiftly flowing one, at least in spring and during times of high
run-off. It certainly was fast enough to maintain its channel and to flush
out sediment that would otherwise have smothered those clam beds. In
talking to those who remember it well, I get the distinct impression that
it was a very special place, one that reflected well the abundance of
wildlife here back in a time when most people could not imagine its ever
being lost or so badly compromised as it often seems to be today.
Next week, I will take a look at the river as it is today.