Eastern Canada – New Brunswick
River of Enchantment
An American writer called it “the river out of Eden”, the Mi’kmaq called it “he who disobey’s his father”, the French explorers called it “Ristigouche” and legions of avid fishing enthusiasts have called it “the best darned salmon river in the world.” It is New Brunswick’s famed Restigouche River.
The section of this historic waterway which was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1998, is 55 kilometres long and runs between Jardine Brook and the Million Dollar Pool at its junction with the Patapedia River. This section of the Restigouche is accessible by public highway at only one point, the community of Kedgwick River located at the end of Highway 265. The bridge at Kedgwick River, built to provide access to the logging roads that serve the interior forested area, is the only bridge crossing the Restigouche River within the designated section.
Because of its relative inaccessibility by road, the region is completely unspoiled. The river winds peacefully through dense forests. There are few breaks in the trees except for small clearings where intrepid settlers built their homes and raised their families. The rough terrain has limited development and, for the most part, the river has remained the domain of the majestic Atlantic salmon.
Many of the world’s wealthy people, including titled aristocrats and even a former king (The Duke of Windsor), were drawn to the Restigouche because of the fishing. Men and women, who were used to giving orders, obediently followed the instructions of local guides who told them where to cast their lines in deep, mysterious pools with names such as Devil’s Half Acre, Snake Rock and Trotting Ground. Then, as they canoed down the gently moving stream, these same people experienced the sense of peace that comes from being at one with nature in surroundings that have changed very little in 200 years.
While anglers still head for the Restigouche between June and August, the river now attracts canoeists as well as other nature lovers. In the spring, the banks become lush and green; in the summer, salmon leap out of water, their silver bodies glinting in the sun; in the fall the area is turned into a panoply of riotous colour; in the winter, it sleeps quietly under a blanket of snow, its peace barely disturbed by snow-shoers and cross-country ski enthusiasts.
The Restigouche River has touched the lives of many people, from the Mi’kmaq, for whom it was a major transportation route, to poor Irish immigrants seeking a better life, to sports fishermen, and to the children who play along its banks.
Breathtakingly beautiful and historically significant, the Restigouche River also provides exceptional recreational opportunities. For all these reasons, nomination of the Restigouche as an official “candidate Canadian Heritage River” was accepted by the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board in January 1995. In February, 1998, the Province of New Brunswick tabled a management plan for the river and its surrounding watershed with the Board at which time it received full status as a Canadian Heritage River.
Located in the north of New Brunswick, the Restigouche river flows in a northeasterly direction to the Baie des Chaleurs and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Its principle tributaries are the Kedgwick, Gounamitz, Patapedia and Upsalquitch Rivers.
Salmon angling camps are located at four sites within the designated section and are only operated during the salmon angling season. The land adjacent to this section of the Restigouche River is mainly Crown land. The area is characterized by a rolling topography with elevations ranging from approximately 50 metres at the mouths of the rivers to approximately 400 metres along an escarpment that slopes Northwest into the Restigouche from the Upsalquitch. The river channel has been influenced by the geology and ice flow of the area, resulting in a gently meandering waterway with areas of natural erosion. Features include floodplains, terraces, islands, dykes, rock outcrops and deep pools.
New Brunswick is renowned for its forests. The banks of the Restigouche are densely wooded with predominantly eastern white cedar, balsam fir and white spruce. There is also the occasional white pine plus hardwood species including white and yellow birch, trembling aspen and balsam poplar. Fire and logging operations have affected the vegetation pattern of the area, especially the ground vegetation. The forest floor is covered with a wide variety of vascular plants, mosses and lichens. Some of them, such as crawe’s sedge and green spleenwort, are rare in other Canadian provinces.
The combination of forest cover and associated ground vegetation supports an abundance of wildlife. Those who hike along the forest trails might come across white tailed deer, moose, red fox, black bear or coyote, while canoeists will see beaver, ruffed grouse and mallards. And, if they are exceptionally fortunate, these outdoor enthusiasts may catch sight of a lynx padding quietly through the trees or an osprey diving swiftly into the water. Both the Canada lynx and the osprey are provincially endangered species.
Of course, the Restigouche is famous for its salmon some of which have been reported to weigh more than 50 lbs.
According to legend, the river was named by a distraught Mi’kmaq chief whose son was killed while leading an expedition against the Mohawks who were poaching salmon. The chief opposed the battle plan and when the entire Mi’kmaq party was massacred on the banks of the river, he named it “he who disobeys his father”.
Both the Restigouche branch of the Mi’kmaq nation whose emblem was, naturally, a salmon, and the Maliseet people who lived on the banks of the Saint John River used the Restigouche corridor for transportation and relied upon the rich natural resources of the area for their survival. The Mi’kmaq travelled from their headquarters on the Baie des Chaleurs at Tjigog (Atholville) down the Restigouche to the Saint John River as well as up to the Matapedia and then on to the St. Lawrence.
When French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed from Gaspe to Miscou, he learned from the Restigouche Mi’kmaq that there was a passage to the Gulf of St. Lawrence by way of the Matapedia River through a short portage. Champlain was followed by French missionaries and fur traders who depended on the natives for guidance.
The Restigouche was also the site, in 1760, of one of the most important battles between the French and English. The French Fleet was destroyed on its way to Quebec City. After the defeat, British fur traders settled in the area as did officers posted to the region to defend the Crown’s territory. These men, who had time on their hands, discovered the joys of salmon fishing. So did a number of Scotsmen who worked as pilots on English ships. They sent word back to Scotland and, in 1773, eight men, including Robert Ferguson and Samuel Lee came to the Restigouche area from Aberdeen to establish a fishing industry. Scottish settlers were also among the first to clear land for agricultural purposes on the banks of the river but because of the rough terrain and harsh weather, agriculture was a difficult way of life and many of the farmers turned to other methods of earning a livelihood, such as fishing. At that time, salmon were so plentiful in the river that it was considered the most productive in North America. Huge quantities of fish (four million pounds a year) were shipped across the Atlantic. An Anglican archdeacon travelling in the region in the early 1800’s complained that he had difficulty crossing the river because of the salmon nets.
Overfishing on such a massive scale soon resulted in severely depleted salmon stocks. This led to an 1824 law forbidding all fishing after August 1st and abolishing night fishing. But, although this was one of the first conservation laws in North America, it was not enough. In 1857, a Crown lands officer reported that harvests had continued to drop and asked the government to bring in more effective legislation. This legislation, the Fisheries Act, was passed in 1858. It opened the door for private hunting and fishing clubs by granting them fishing leases. While the forests represented a valuable asset for logging companies, the acquisition of riparian rights (exclusive rights for fishing) became an even more prized possession and they were sold to the highest bidder.
Millionaires such as railroad magnate William Vanderbilt purchased land with riparian rights on the Restigouche. Not content with the existing housing facilities, which consisted mostly of small log cabins, the millionaire owners constructed stately fishing camps and lodges. One of these camps, which is along the nominated section, is Kedgwick Lodge. It was designed for Vanderbilt by the renowned American architect Stanford White. He was noted for developing the “shingle” style of architecture typically associated with larger mansions on the Eastern seaboard of the United States.
Logging was the most important winter activity in the area from the latter part of the 18th century to the early 1900’s. In the spring when melting ice from tributaries greatly increased water levels,massive numbers of logs were floated downstream to mills on the Baie des Chaleurs. Matthew and Bella Broderick, caretakers of theVanderbilt property, often reported housing and feeding up to 70 men en route to the log drive. After a hearty lumberman’s breakfast of baked beans and homemade bread, the men headed off on the 23 mile trek from the junction of the Restigouche and Kedgwick rivers to the Rapids Depot to begin their downstream drive on the floating logs.
High profile guests also visited the river. They included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who, for a week, lived the simple life at the Restigouche camp of Canadian businessman Izaak Walton Killam. Like many other anglers, the former king spent his days fishing. However, the Duchess encountered a problem when the local man assigned to be her guide, Duncan Myles, was so overcome by emotion at the sight of this famous woman that he fainted while handing her into the canoe.
Today a broad highway takes the traveller from the Baie des Chaleurs to the Saint John. In recent years, transportation on the river has come full circle. Just as the natives did centuries ago, modern travellers are once again exploring the Restigouche by canoe.
The designated section of river is unique in that, while it can be considered remote, it is close to civilization. It offers excellent opportunities for recreational canoeing, kayaking. sightseeing, nature interpretation, cultural and historical interpretation, camping and sport fishing. Salmon angling accounts for over ninety percent of the fishing activity on the river system with the remainder focusing on trout. There are four salmon angling camps on the designated section – Downs Gulch, Larry’s Gulch, Kedgwick Lodge and Cater Hall Lodge. Larry’s Gulch is operated by the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources but space there is always at a premium. The three others are owned by private families.
To accommodate more users, public access to salmon angling is permitted on the “Crown Open Stretch” from Montgomery Bridge to the mouth of Jardine Brook and on two “Crown Reserve” sections.
Recreational canoeing and camping in the area have increased steadily over the past decade. The river offers a variety of canoeing experiences. In total, approximately 340 kilometres of canoeable waters are directly accessible from the designated section. Through a recreational management initiative under the Environment Trust Fund of the Province of New Brunswick, campsites are being developed and maintained by the Department of Natural Resources and Energy to accommodate canoeists. Four primitive campsites have been established within the designated section along the river. Eco-tourism is also being introduced in the region.
A campground, Echo Restigouche has been developed on the river bend at the end of the highway leading from Kedgwick. Here canoeing packages, which include instruction and guide books for all levels of expertise are provided. Experienced canoeists, who want to plan their own river excursions, can be provided with transportation as well as overnight accommodation. Hiking tours and nature observation packages can also be arranged. Because Echo Restigouche operates all year round, hunting parties are welcomed in the fall while snowmobilers, snow-shoers and cross country skiers are encouraged in the winter. There are a number of groomed trails but not on the river itself because of rough ice as well as sections of open water.
Accommodation and Services: The only public accommodation actually on the river is at Echo Restigouche. The camp has seven large log cabins, each of which sleeps eight, two four person cabins and 17 trailer sites. Tents can be set up anywhere on the Echo Restigouche property.
Motel accommodation is available in the City of Campbellton and the villages of Kedgwick and St.Quentin.
Access: Highway 17, running north from St. Leonard on the Trans Canada Highway to Campbellton on the Baie des Chaleurs, provides the major road access to the area. It is approximately one hour’s drive from St. Leonard to the Village of Kedgwick and the junction of Highway 265. There are several small villages on Highway 17 north of St. Quentin and the road is well maintained all year round. Those travelling from the Gaspe region of Quebec can cross bridges at Campbellton and Matapedia which are approximately an hour’s drive from the river. The nearest major airport is at Fredericton, approximately 200 miles (333 km) from Kedgwick.
Reprinted courtesy of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System