Issue # 38, February 2008, ISSN 1913-4134
Travel is something we largely take for granted today. Who would ever think of going from Sackville to Amherst (and vice versa) as a big deal? But it depends what year you live in! Read below Donna Beal's fascinating story of the old wooden bridge that once connected Sackville and Amherst, a critical connection between the two towns at the turn of the century. Read how losing such an important road connection could affect the citizens of both townships when getting around wasn't as routine as today. We should never take our daily travels for granted. Our ancestors never did.
Connections are important. We are connected by infrastructures such as highways and bridges. But we are also connected by family linkages. Read how Ray Dixon and his cousin Chris "rediscovered" their Sackville ancestor Hiawatha Dixon in Australia after 148 years! We all remain connected, one way or another.
And may this newsletter and our annual Heritage Day continue to keep us all closely connected with Tantramar history for many more generations to come.
As always, we are grateful to the Mt. A archive for information and especially for the photos of the old bridge for this issue.
- Peter Hicklin
by Donna Beal
The following is an account of the rebuilding of the Tantramar River bridge in Sackville, 1901-1903, and a glimpse into the affect it had on community life.
The first bridge was built about 16 years earlier by Hugh Gallagher's younger brother Timothy. Unlike its successor, it fell silently into the river in the middle of the night without a trace of it remaining the next morning. It was presumed that a high tide or high winds had taken it down.4 Forty-five years later, the piles of the first bridge could still be seen at low water a few feet south of the burned timbers.
One would think the loss of the bridge would be considered a tragic event. But considering its decrepit state no one was surprised. On June 22nd, 1901, The Amherst Daily News reported "A feeling of general satisfaction seems to prevail that the old wooden bridge was destroyed in the manner it was by fire. For years it has been considered unsafe, and of late many people have become timid about crossing it."
A few years before, a strong wind had caused damage to the structure. It was closed briefly for repairs, but the "unsafe" sign was never taken down. Katharine Stark, Music Instructor at Mount Allison, writing to John Hammond from New York on June 23rd stated "so the old bridge has gone. I think it was just as well it should go before it had time to collapse, probably causing some loss of life." 
The detour for crossing the Tantramar Marsh, the only route between the provinces was five miles out of the way through Middle Sackville and the High Marsh Road. A few weeks earlier government engineer Mr. Wetmore had been in Sackville examining the bridge and rumour was that the government was considering replacing the wooden bridge with a steel structure. Public opinion was that a new bridge would soon be built and the travelling situation would be much improved.
Almost two months went by and there was no move to replace the bridge. The extra distance to the marsh properties made the haying season more difficult for the farmers, but only one small complaint appeared in the August 5th Saint John Globe; "The people of Sackville, especially the merchants and farmers, are getting quite annoyed at the delay in the reconstruction of the Tantramar Bridge." The patient endurance exhibited by the public during the following months was the opposite of what one would expect today. It was a matterof making the best of a difficult situation. The Anderson and Patterson families at Cole's Island discovered they could get their cheese and other farm products to town by taking them to the Railway Bridge where C. W. Cahill, a local merchant, would receive the delivery. When the residents of Cole's Island travelled to town or attended church they would often tie their horses at the Railway Bridge and have someone meet them on the other side, or walk to their destination. When the Sackville Annual Exhibition was held in September that year (1901), the residents of Cole's Island delivered their calves to the Exhibition Grounds on the Northwest side of the river by way of the Railway Bridge.]
The reconstruction of the bridge did not begin that summer or fall. The November 30th issue of the Globe reported: "As it was work that had to be done, it is hard to understand why the rebuilding of the Tantramar Bridge was not taken in hand last summer immediately after its destruction. Practically nothing so far has been accomplished, to the infinite discomfort and inconvenience of our farmers, our businessmen and of the traveling public generally. Work has now been entirely suspended for the season and, for aught that appears, it may be this time next year before the bridge, possibly the most important one in the province will be ready for use."
At the December meeting of the newly formed Sackville Board of Trade, W. C. Milner stated that one of the pressing needs to bring new enterprise to the town, along with a new station, street lights, and a sidewalk, was a bridge. But winter had settled in and nothing could be done until spring. So the public endured the detour through the harsh Maritime winter with few complaints.
The following spring came early. By March 10, 1902, the Tantramar River was clear of ice and fit for navigation. No one could remember conditions like that at so early a date before. The residents of Sackville expected the construction of the bridge to soon be underway. Later that month in the local legislature, A. B. Copp, MLA for Westmorland, questioned Hon.C. H. Labillious concerning the delay. His reply was that tenders were asked for on August 2nd and the contract was awarded to Whitman Brewer on August 31st. Since then, foundations had been prepared for abutment faces and foundations: supplies had been delivered and Howe Truss spans constructed. Other supplies delivered were freestone, dressed birch sheathing, planking, birch square lumber and spruce lumber, cast iron rods, the total value estimate being $4,894.00. The contractor had already been paid $2,600.00. Mr. Labillious said as soon as the weather permitted, instructions would be given to Mr. Brewer to push the work with vigour. He also stated he expected the bridge to be completed by early that summer.
By the middle of April, with no evidence of work beginning on the bridge, the following appeared in the local paper: "The Post is in receipt of a letter from 'A Farmer' who perhaps gives expression to the feelings of a large number of our readers when he says that rather than have the Sackville bridge down for another year he would be willing to contribute $100.00 out of his own pocket to have it built at once." The paper also stated that Contractor Brewer had arrived in town and work on the bridge would start at once. A week later Mr. Brewer had resumed work on the bridge.
By the middle of May it was predicted that the new bridge across the Tantramar would be ready for crossing by July 1st, but a tragic accident occurred delaying the construction. Early in the morning June 2nd, Andrew Kinnear, Robert Stone, Robert Gillis, and Eben Morrison climbed into a boat and pushed off from the bank of the river to go to the first pier. Approaching the pier they ran into a line. Robert Stone caught the line, but he lost his balance and fell into the water. Eben grabbed Robert and tried to pull him into the boat, but the boat listed, filled with water, and capsized throwing them all into the river. Foreman Charles Dunphy and D. H. Porter, who were working at the site, heard cries from the men in the river. By the time they discovered what was taking place and got a line to throw to them it was too little too late. All except Andrew Kinnear were able to swim against the strong current and make it to the temporary or to the shore. News of the accident spread swiftly and large crowds gathered along the river. Andrew's body was found around noon the same day 800 yards above the bridge. It was at an inquest held that same day that the details of the accident were revealed.
It wasn't until June 16th that the first span was ready. It was blocked up on two large scows ready to be put into place at high tide. The mason work on the piers and abutments was almost done. The anniversary of the burning of the bridge passed with only the western span of the bridge in place. The July 3rd issue of the Tribune reported "The second span of the Sackville Bridge was successfully floated into position at 8:30 last evening. This is the central span, the largest of the three, and is said to weigh in the vicinity of 75 tons. Hundreds of people witnessed the span swing out from the shore and gave a hearty cheer as the ponderous structure took its place upon the substantial stone abutments."
By the middle of July the last span of the bridge was put into place and work began on the floor.17 On a
Saturday evening, July 19th, after dyking all day on the Sunken Island marsh, Thomas Patterson of Cole's
Island recorded in his diary that he crossed the unfinished bridge
for the first time, even though there was only a "temporary" over the
approach on his end.18 The 1st of August, Dr.B. C. Borden, Principal of the Mount Allison Ladies College, and his
twin daughters Gladys and Elaine, started out on a driving tour to
Hantsport, NS. He wanted to put himself on record as being the first
to cross the new bridge, but when they arrived at the river they were
turned away and had to take the five-mile detour.
The wooden bridge as it stood beside the railway bridge (right) across the Tantramar River
(date unknown). Mount Allison University Archives 8500/129.
Without any fanfare, the new bridge was finally open to traffic by September 1st, fourteen and a half months since fire destroyed the former bridge. At the time of opening, it had not yet been covered or painted. Since it was built mainly of spruce, there was also a concern that it would not last long if left in that condition. The bridge was left exposed to the harsh winter elements during one of the coldest winters on record.
It wasn't until June, 1903, two years after the former bridge was destroyed by fire, that Contractor Brewer returned to Sackville to complete the work on the bridge. By July 23rd the Sackville Tribune reported: "The roof of the Tantramar Bridge is about completed adding materially to the appearance of the fine structure." The completed bridge must have made an impressive backdrop for the September 30th opening of the Annual Exhibition held at the nearby Exhibition Grounds. Although repairs were needed at various times, the bridge remained over the Tantramar River until 1940 when it was replaced by the two-lane steel highway-bridge.
1    Saint John Globe . June 19, 1901
2    Hand-written account, author unknown. Mt. A. Archive 5501/6/1/12
3    Globe June 21, 1905
4    Ibid : June 24, 1901
5    Ibid : June 19, 1901
6    R. C. Archibald fonds, Mt. A. Archive 5501/3/2/60
7    Globe June 19, 1901
8    Albert Anderson diaries,Mt.A.A. 7832/2/1/2 and 8317/4/1/6
9    Sackville Board of Trade minutes, Mt.A.A. 4801/1
10    Globe Mar. 10, 1902
11    Sackville Tribune Mar. 20, 1902
12    Semi-Weekly Post Apr. 15, 1902
13    Tribune May 22, 1902
14    Tribune June 5, 1902
15    Globe June 16, 1902
16    Ibid : June 23, 1902
17    Ibid : July 14, 1902
18    Thomas C. Patteson diary,Mt. A.A. 7832/2/6/3
19    Globe Aug. 4, 1902
20    Globe Sept. 1, 1902
21    Ibid : Dec. 15, 1902
22    Globe June 8, 1903
23    Tribune Oct. 21, 1940
Thanks to Bill Hamilton and Phyllis Stopps for their suggestions.
Dixon's return to Sackville
in Sackville, N.B.
Sackville is such a great small town! When we took Chris downtown for a haircut, Alice Folkins (manager of Keillor House) was having her hair done in the same shop. I teased her about the Keillor house being closed in September and my cousin from Australia would not be able to see it. Her response "What time would be convenient for Chris and me to drive down?" At 4:00 p.m. Alice had arranged for us to be guided through so Chris could see some family artifacts. A wonderful example of real tourism promotion!
One of our common ancestors was a man called Hiawatha Dixon. Before Chris and Lin started their trip, an Australian cousin wanted a picture of this Hiawatha Dixon in full regalia. I searched many sources but could not find a picture anywhere. Chris explained to me that his cousin was a bit of a joker, so we dressed Chris up in some period clothes and with a bit of cornstarch on his beard got a black and white picture to take back with him as Hiawatha Dixon!
We show the picture here so you could see the Australian visitor returning after 148 years – and he looks the part!!
IS PLEASED TO PRESENT
The 12th Annual
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Morning Activities at Tantramar Regional High School
Afternoon Activities at the Wu CentreThe Trust is pleased to host the following events in co-operation with
the Centre for Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University.
How To Find Sackville's Heritage Day Venues
Tantramar Regional High School (TRHS)
From Tantramar Regional High School
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