Saturday, 3 December 2016

Past Lives: Nelson Parish

Hugging the south bank of the Southwest Miramichi River in Northumberland County New Brunswick is a lonely stretch of Highway 118 in Nelson Parish.  The parish was established in 1814 and named for Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson for his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Several communities were quickly hewn out of the thick forest along the river, including Doyles Brook, Upper Nelson, McKinleyville, and Chelmsford.

Many such settlements were little more than adjacent strips of property on the river that stretched back into the bush, and depended on farming, fishing, and lumbering for their livelihood.  When the railway was constructed a few became flag stations, connecting them to the rest of the province at large and enabling them to better trade their goods.

One building in McKinleyville that stands out has a sign on it: LOL No. 147, 1906.  This was once the meeting hall for the local chapter of the Loyal Orange Lodge, properly known as the Grand Orange Lodge of British America, which is a Protestant fraternal organization.  John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, was known to be an Orange Order member.

The parish was sparsely inhabited to begin with; although at its peak there were about 1000 people living in the area, during the latter half of the twentieth century the population dwindled.  The railway no longer passes through, and a local photographer who recently drove along Highway 118 commented that there seemed to be more abandoned structures than inhabited ones.

Today Miramichi is the main urban centre of the parish and boasts quite a few natural and historic sites such as the French Fort Cove nature park, the Water Street Historic District, and St. Michael's Basilica.

*Photo courtesy of Paul Dunn, 2016.