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Renowned for salmon fishing, but delightful for canoes and kayaks

We float down the river, no need to paddle for stretches at a time as our kayaks are carried along by the gentle current. Tiny sandpipers skim across the water while kingfishers chatter, swoop and dive. Occasionally, a bald eagle glides overhead.

This is the mighty Miramichi in its tranquil stage. Just an hour later, after the day heats up and the cicadas start to sing, we hear rushing water. It sounds like a waterfall as though we might soon plummet down a raging chute…

But it’s just a stretch of white water; not rough enough to be dangerous but fast enough to be exciting.

We’re in the middle of New Brunswick on the main southwest Miramichi River. Known for salmon fishing, the waters around Doaktown are perfect for kayaking or even tubing.

Before last summer, the Miramichi River had an almost mythical quality for me. I had heard so much about it—the log drives, the fly fishing, the celebrities (ever heard the story of Marilyn Monroe on the Miramichi?), yet I had never seen the river—only the estuary where the river opened into the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the city of Miramichi.

The Miramichi River and its tributaries (the largest Atlantic salmon-bearing system in the world) cut across the centre of New Brunswick in a diagonal line. To follow the river route by car, the easiest way is start in Boiestown, less than an hour’s drive northeast of Fredericton on Highway 8. But driving is not the way to experience or even see the river. Much of the highway passes through dense woods; the river is rarely visible. The highway, however, gives you access to the many camps and resorts along the river.

The Miramichi is famous for its fly-fishing. Even now, with salmon being a catch-and-release fishery, people from around the world come to cast their line for salmon and brook trout. But I am not one of them. I just want to take in the beauty of the river by kayak.

Our host from Storeytown Cottages drops us off at the Priceville Footbridge. At 210 yards long, this is the longest suspension footbridge in the province. Before climbing the stairs to the bridge, I read the interpretation panel about the Priceville Footbridge tragedy (a bad move). I take several steps, feel the bridge sway, and think about how the suspension cables let go years earlier. My partner, who has confidently crossed already, points out that the bridge has been rebuilt twice since the tragedy in 1939. According to him, there’s a great view from the centre. I take his word for it.

Driving is not the way to experience or even see the river. Kayaking is the best to take in the beauty of the river.

On the water, I feel much more comfortable. I wave from my kayak as I pass a woman floating in a tube looking completely relaxed. Later, we pull up on the gravel of a small island after a stretch of white water. It is thrilling to manoeuvre around rocks and maintain my balance as the kayak dips and dives. Exciting and fun—but also safe given that the water is only a few feet deep. At any time, if we don’t feel like running the white water, we can simply get out and walk, pulling the kayaks behind us. For more of a challenge, some people try stand-up paddle boarding.

As we sit on a log on the island, eating granola bars, we see the woman in the tube coming toward the white water. She just lets the tube bounce along with the current, the sound of rushing water mingling with peals of laughter.

The relaxing feel of the Miramichi is a change from the 1800s when logging ruled the river. Each autumn, men from across the Maritimes, Quebec and Maine would come down the river to logging camps. They cut wood during the fall and winter. Then came the climax of months of work—the spring log drives when men steered logs on the long high-water route to mills downstream.

The history of the loggers is honoured in the Central New Brunswick Woodmen’s Museum in Boiestown. The word “central” in the museum’s name highlights the fact that the museum is located in the geographical centre of the province.

People have lived and worked along the Miramichi for millennia. At the Metepenagiag Heritage Park, just west of the city of Miramichi, we tour a museum with artifacts and high-tech multi-media displays. The text is trilingual—Mi’kmaq, English and French. We learn that Mi’kmaq have lived on this land for 30 centuries.

The park is near two national historic sites. One, the Augustine Mound, is a sacred site that dates back to at least 600 BC. The burial ground is named after Elder Joseph Augustine who, in the 1970s, led the drive to save the site from being destroyed by a gravel company.

Outside the interpretative centre, I see the Miramichi River in a new light. With wigwams behind me, I look down a steep cliff and see the river meandering far below. I wonder how many other people have stood on this spot over the last 3,000 years. For many, the river was a source of food and transportation. People fished its waters; they hunted and lived near the banks. This was still happening when the woodsmen and log drivers came to cut and move logs down the river. Learning the history of the Miramichi Valley has enhanced my enjoyment of the river.

In this legendary river, in the stretch just outside our cottage, I wade in the warm water. Beneath my feet, coloured stones form a mosaic. The water is crystal clear. Blue damselflies flit by. I stand in the middle of the Miramichi River, listening to the sound of the water, the call of a bird in the distance and the trill of insects. I am completely at peace.

Next year, or maybe the year after, I’ll come when the water is deep and the current is fast. I’ll get a sense of the strength of the river that has carried flotillas of logs downstream and served as a highway of Mi’kmaq canoes for millennia. But today, I am savouring the serenity of the gently flowing Miramichi.

If you go:

  • Metepenagiag Heritage Park, along with Augustine Mound and Oxbow National Historic Sites of Canada
  • Central NB Woodsmen’s Museum in Boiestown
  • Atlantic Salmon Museum in Doaktown
  • Doak House weaving demonstrations in Doaktown
  • Nelson’s Hollow Bridge—believed to be oldest covered bridge in NB – built in 1870 and rebuilt in 1899 over Betts Mill Brook between Boiestown and Doaktown
  • Priceville Footbridge

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