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A History of our Firm
Appendix III. The Great Fire at Miramichi, N.B., 7th October, 1825


[Excerpt from Kingsford's HISTORY OF CANADA, published 1897]

On the 7th October, 1825, occurred on the banks of the Miramichi River, N.B., one of the most remarkable of the calamities known in modern times. Some idea of its extent may be formed by the narrative of the losses it occasioned. It was subsequently ascertained that the number who suffered by its devastation was 3078, and the total loss in this thinly populated country was nearly a quarter of a million pounds sterling. One hundred and thirty persons were destroyed in the fire, ten were drowned, and twenty died from the injuries received, two thousand people were left perfectly destitute two small towns, Newcastle and Douglastown, were completely destroyed. It was a strange coincidence that on the same date a great part of Fredericton, N.B., was burned that on the Penobscot for 30 miles the fire raged with a sea of flame, and that both in Upper and Lower Canada there were fires of great extent in the forests.

In Newcastle on the afternoon of the 7th a dense cloud of smoke was seen in the north-west, which obscured the atmosphere. It was known that the woods were on fire, but no danger was suspected for there was little wind. As the afternoon advanced the wind increased to a hurricane. The sound became deafening, and the flames burst forth with a power to destroy all before them. So rapid was the devastation that one thought only prevailed, to save life. Those who witnessed the scene have left a record of the agony felt on that night. Some plunged into the river to escape destruction, others drifted on temporary rafts to meet death by drowning, hundreds sought refuge in a marsh near the town, which indeed proved the only place of safety.

The fire took its origin in the neighbourhood of the Baie des Chaleurs; its cause was never known. It extended to Richibucto, eighty-five miles by land, and passed over the district of the north and south-west boundaries of the Miramichi—more than 100 miles in a direct line, this area containing 8,000 square miles of forest. There were 120 square- rigged vessels in the river. Many caught fire but were saved by the energy of the seamen. Three ships, however, were burned. Fortunately the town of Chatham escaped, and it was here that the sufferers found refuge. Many extraordinary incidents occurred. The cattle where possible, took refuge in the river, but nearly 900 were burned. In one case they were joined by a bear from the woods. When the fire was over the creature left without attempting mischief. The very fish in the river suffered from the floating burning wood. Many were driven on the shore. Large numbers of salmon, bass, and trout were found on the river bank. The birds also suffered, especially the seagulls. Many were found dead. The snakes even crawled for the clearings. Such as failed to escape the flames were burned or suffocated.
The greatest sympathy was called forth by the calamity
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A ship of war with several vessels in Halifax immediately left with provisions. Surgeons in the service volunteered to attend to the sufferers. The garrison of Halifax and the ships in the navy gave a day's pay for the relief of the distress. Subscriptions were started in the Maritime Provinces, in Upper- and Lower Canada, the United States, and the Mother Country, and upwards of £43,000 sterling was obtained.

Although seventy years have passed since this remarkable fire, the memory of it is still vividly retained in New Brunswick.

* * * * * *

Dr. Norman McLeod, of Glasgow, who visited Miramichi some years afterwards, writes :-

'A hurricane rushed in fury along the river, tearing burning trees up by the roots, hurling flaming branches through the air for 5 or 6 miles (which set fire to the shipping and to the woods on the other side of the broad stream) causing at the same time such a rolling sea up the river as threatened to swamp the boats, and sweep the miserable refugees from the rafts! It seems incredible, but we believe there is no doubt as to the fact that the ashes of the fire fell thick on the streets of Halifax, St. John's, Newfoundland, and Quebec, and that some were carried as far as the Bermudas, while the smoke darkened the air hundreds of miles off.........

That fire has left singular traces of its journey. The road from Newcastle to Bathurst, near the Bay of Chaleur, passes for 5 or 6 miles through a district called 'The Barrens.' Far as the eye can reach on every side there is nothing but desolation. The forest extends, as it has done for ages, across plains, and vanishes over the undulating hills which bound the distant horizon. But while all the trees, with most of their branches remain, spring extracts no bud from them, nor does summer clothe even a twig with foliage. All is a barren waste! The trees are not black now but white, and bleached by sun and rain, and far to the horizon, round and round, nothing is discerned but one vast, and apparently boundless forest of the white skeleton trunks of dead leafless trees. That immense tract is doomed to remain barren—perhaps for ever—at least for many long years to come. It is avoided by the emigrant— nay the very birds and wild beasts seem to have for ever deserted it. The land itself has become so scourged by the exuberant crop of plants which grow up in such soil, when cleared by a fire, as to be comparatively useless in a colony of countless acres yet untouched by the plough of the settler.'


 


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