Dictionary of Miramichi Biography
One of the highlights of our walk home from school was the journey through the old covered bridge. Those before us had left their mark by carving their initials. Unknown to Mum, Cliff and I placed ours there in a hidden spot behind the side rails. The old bridge was a great place to stop and play.
This spring day was no different. We were peeking through the cracks in the boards pretending we were soldiers on look-out duty for Lady LaTour. We didn't spy any of Charnisay's men coming to attack, but we did see Murray fishing in the brook.
Wow! That meant fishing season had started and the trout were biting. Murray was an ardent fisherman of Salt Springs Brook and was always successful in catching a good string of trout.
No grass grew under our feet as we rushed home. We barged through the back door to announce in no small voice that we wanted to go fishing.
Since Ken was older, he was allowed to carry a jackknife. We begged him to go quickly and cut us a couple of fishing poles. While he was doing this, we dug a can of worms. Now all we needed were lines and hooks. Mum came to our rescue with white twine and safety pins, which she attached to our poles.
We carefully baited our safety-pin hooks with fat juicy worms and off we rushed to catch a fish. As we raced to the brook, Mum's voice trailed after us, "Stay away from the deep holes. You might fall in."
After an hour of fishing we returned home very disappointed that we had not caught any trout.
Way up near Red Bank on the Miramichi lived young Willis Hamilton. He was allowed to use a real fishing rod when he went fishing. When he grew up, he became a teacher and school principal and later a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. The pendulum has swung back and now that he is retired, he spends time doing what every boy loves to do go fishing.
For five years Mr. Hamilton diligently did another kind of fishing fishing for facts about more than 1,000 men and women born before 1900 who played a part in public life on the Miramichi. He did this in preparation for the publication of his book "Dictionary of Miramichi Biography."
In this 460-page book are sketches of the lives of 1,110 men and women from many walks of life, including business people, politicians, military men, sports figures, clergymen, doctors, lawyers, teachers and hundreds of others who get remembered because their lives were significant or interesting.
Like the salmon that spawned in the Miramichi River and spread all over the ocean, descendants of these people have gotten scattered all around the world.
- John Mount Thain was born and raised in Saint John and married Mercy Jones. He became a sea captain, and in 1847, had the misfortune to be the commander of the notorious "death ship," Looshtauk, that left Liverpool, England, with 467 emigrants bound for Quebec. While at sea, 117 passengers and much of the crew died of typhus. He sought refuge at Chatham, N.B. Today, the island in the river where passengers and crew were quarantined is a public park. Mr. Thain was among the survivors and soon said goodbye to New Brunswick, sailing around the Horn, up the west coast to California, and eventually to Victoria, B.C., where he was among the early settlers
- William Lawlor, son of Henry Lawlor and Elizabeth Dalton, also grew up in Saint John. He moved to the Miramichi in 1862 and began a monument manufacturing business. He was also a builder and contractor. His best-known contract was to build the Legislative Building in Fredericton in 1882. A few years later, he erected the beautiful St. Paul's Presbyterian (United) Church, which still stands in the capital. In this same period, he built an annex to the Centracare complex in Saint John which contained 600,000 bricks, all recently fallen to the wrecker's ball. He died in Chatham in 1905.
- Jacob Carvell Gough was only seven years old when his father, James Gough, a Saint John policeman, was killed by street thugs. His mother was remarried to Peter Mitchell of Newcastle. Mr. Gough became a businessman, shipbuilder and MLA. Peter Mitchell went on to become one of New Brunswick's Fathers of Confederation and Canada's first minister of fisheries in the government of Sir John A. Macdonald.
- Alma Ann Lapham was born in Saint John in 1853, the daughter of Bradford F. Lapham and Elizabeth Coates. Her father, a fish merchant, moved to Lower Newcastle and became a canner of spiced salmon for the overseas market. She was one of the first New Brunswick women to qualify as a physician. She spent a year in practice on the Miramichi, before marrying Francis S. Williston, a Methodist minister, and moving to the United States. For many years she was the town physician and medical inspector in Philipsburg, Pa.
- John McKane wore many hats: banker, businessman, adventurer, sportsman, benefactor and "wild Irishman." Although of Irish origin, he was a native of Kettle, Fife, Scotland, and came to the Miramichi in 1890 as acting manager of the Newcastle branch of the Mercantile Bank of Halifax. Banking proved too slow a business for Mr. McKane, however, and he headed west, eventually becoming a Nevada "Gold King." Upon his triumphant return to the Miramichi in 1905, he left people agog when he withdrew a crumpled thousand-dollar bill from his vest pocket and handed it to a member of the building committee to help in the erection of St. Michael's Cathedral. At the height of his short-lived career as a financier he owned both the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Times of Saint John.
"Dictionary of Miramichi Biography" explores the nooks and crannies of Miramichi history and biography as fisherman explore the rivers of the watershed of the Miramichi River, and it is also a rich pool of genealogical information for people everywhere in the province.
A copy of "Dictionary of Miramichi Biography" by W. D. Hamilton is at the Saint John Free Public Library and in other research institutions..
Ruby Cusack is a genealogy buff living in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Readers are invited to send their New Brunswick genealogical queries to Ruby at email@example.com. When E-Mailing please put Yesteryear Families in the Subject line. Please include in the query, your name and postal address as someone reading the newspaper, may have information to share with you but not have access to E-mail. Queries should be no more than 45 words in length.
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