Miramichi – Not What I Expected

My brother, Mom, Dad, and me on the steps of St. Mark’s Church, Douglastown, with the manse in the background (1960)

Tempus Fugit (time flies) – Regardless of my longstanding desire to travel through time to that idyllic little quiet childhood village that greeted us warmly when my family immigrated to Canada in 1956, it appears that time does march on, and it is not possible – yet – to go back in time.

There were many warning signs along the way that Douglastown, New Brunswick, had changed in the past 60 years. Despite returning on a few occasions, it has been at least 15 years since I set foot in the place.  Certainly changes were noticeable on prior visits, but none as dramatic as the current unexpected experience.

On entering the province, we stopped at a tourist information centre in Campbellton, and received an extensive package of promotional material, just about my former hometown!

The Centennial Bridge across the mighty Miramichi

Of course, Douglastown per se, doesn’t exist anymore. It was consumed in the amalgamation of Newcastle, Chatham, and Douglastown (and Nordin and possibly other adjacent communities, if I were to do the proper research) into the new City of Miramichi. Also in 1967 it was forever changed by the addition of the Centennial Bridge, spanning the mighty Miramichi River to link Douglastown and Chatham. Back in the day, when we lived there, summer travel was by ferry, and winter travel by ice road. I believe, in our first year in Canada, my dad won the recognition of being the last car across the ice before breakup. In his case it was not because he was a risk-taker, but because someone told him it was safe, and he believed them, despite the cracking sounds every few feet! LOL.

Our first Canadian home, the former manse (picture taken today)

Another warning sign came when I googled Douglastown street view, as we planned our overlandish odyssey. There on the front lawn of the manse, the first home we occupied in Canada, was a “for sale” sign.  Oh, oh!  But regardless of whether St. Mark’s United Church still owned and occupied the home next door, Betty & my plans always took us to Douglastown in time for

St. Mark’s Church, Douglastown, as I remember it.

church on Sunday. That was our touchstone, our contact point for reconnecting with a long-lost church family.  On prior visits, I was always welcomed warmly by members of the congregation who remembered my dad, mom, brother and me, despite having been gone so many years.

Maybe townsfolk remembered my parents because, in our first year, my mom was constantly telling people how homely they were! Something got lost in translation, because she thought she was telling people they made her feel right at home with them, and they thought she was saying something else. LOL.

In front of the deck in the centre of the picture is where I learned to skate. We tobogganed down the lane behind. The former church is in the background.

In any event, my family experienced a warm maritime welcome, with many “firsts” occurring in the community. For me, I learned to skate on the Miramichi at a cleared rink, just down from our home. The path down provided my first tobogganing experience, and the deep snow gave endless outdoor exercise. That lane is now called McKnight Lane – I’m sure after Mrs. McKnight, the store owner across the street from the church, but to me it is Memory Lane. When I think about it, there were too many reminisces and great experiences to reflect on in this simple blog post, so I’d better save them for another day…

Site of my first school, which hopefully provided me more of a foundation than is visible for it now. LOL

Back to the future: 2018. The first school I attended has been demolished, and a sign warns not to trespass on private property. The manse has, indeed, been sold, and we met the tenant of what had been a far more attractive house.  But

The former St. Mark’s United Church, without the elegant steeple, now a clay shop and ice cream parlour, with living space above.

the big change: auugghh! The first church my father served as Minister in Canada is no more! It is now an ice cream parlour in front, and the “Clay Café” in back. The steeple is gone, and the building transformed inside and out to make it almost unrecognizable.

The quiet little village is no more, with the road in front of our home containing a high volume of traffic. Back in the day, we were allowed to wander freely in the community, as long as we were home for supper. Now, even adults are at risk crossing the busy road! Down the street are all the national and international chains found everywhere else on the continent: Walmart, Staples, Winners, McDonalds – the long list of fast food and retail chain stores that make it indistinguishable.

Our beautiful Boondockers Welcome spot on the Miramichi

OK, that’s enough moaning about stuff I didn’t expect. We stayed at an unexpectedly beautiful Boondockerswelcome site in Lower Newcastle, camped right next to the Miramichi. And we took a very pleasant boat tour up and down the mighty river. We met the man who has been hosting a web site in honour of a local artist who was a friend of my dad, back in the day.  And best of all, we reconnected with my best chum from back in the day, Graham, who was a great friend to this Graham, the newcomer.

Cruising the Miramichi

I could be disconcerted by all the unexpected changes that have occurred in this beautiful area of New Brunswick, but as an eternal optimist I’ll just continue to keep my eyes open for that special DeLorean that can transport me back to an idyllic age. LOL.


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