St. Margarets, NB

1952 Ė St. Margarets Comes of Age Ė Sherman R Fisher


St. Margarets Comes of Age
Sherman R Fisher

When Diamond Construction broke ground for the Radar Base in St. Margarets, it brought this tiny Miramichi community into the twentieth century. There were just three phones listed in St. Margarets according to the 1944 telephone directory. As darkness fell each evening, oil lamps were lit and placed on the kitchen tables in the houses of this tranquil little village. It would be another three or four years before New Brunswick Hydro would install power lines along the Old Yellow Road leading to this Miramichi community.

The center of St. Margarets was typical of many other communities in the area. An old wooden church with twin steeples built in the middle of the nineteenth century dominated the skyline. A one room schoolhouse sat directly across the road from the church. Close by, Bert and Mary Shanahanís living room was the home of the village post office. Jim Flynnís country store was a place where the local men would gather each evening to discuss the news from afar and issues of local interest. Some would say that it was a pity that this quaint little village should be disrupted by so many new people and the irreversible changes that they would bring with them.

Time is only a journey. No person or place is immune to the effects that such a journey leaves behind. The people of St. Margarets greeted first the construction workers and in April 1952, I became a member of that group. During the next 36 years hundreds if not thousands of military personnel would follow. As sure as there is a beginning there is an end. The world changed politically and technologically and by 1988 the radar domes had disappeared. Once again, the old wooden church regained its rightful place as the tallest structure in the village, symbolic of a purpose that would never be obsolete.

In my quest for the history of St. Margarets, St. Michaelís Museum Association was the only source of recorded history that was available to me. I was able to determine that twenty-seven different priests served the spiritual needs of the community from 1861 to the present day. More than fifty family names were inscribed on the tombstones in the local cemetery. In addition to this information, there was one other heartwarming story meticulously recorded in St. Michaelís archives. On Christmas Eve in 1985, the people of the village along with Father Broderick locked the doors and left the church. The day after Christmas someone saw smoke emitting from the eaves of the church. Help was only a short distance down the road. Sgt. Henry Zeibach and his firefighters from the radar base arrived and the blaze was quickly extinguished. They were credited with saving this beautiful old landmark.

One should not discontinue their search for stories after reading the few pages available that were provided by St. Michaelís. Local folklore is priceless in such a fact-finding mission. In conversation with the local people I was able to determine the origins of the legend behind the name of the Old Yellow Road. One other event that only dates back a half a century is worth repeating. A young man who once lived in the old farmhouse next to the base was escorting a young lady home after her babysitting duties. The road was dark and quiet. Her house was a couple of miles from the center of the village. The family dog was waiting on the front step. Unfortunately, the dog was not particularly fond of the young man. Realizing that he would be unable to outrun the dog the young man took refuge from the dog in the culvert under the driveway. This was a situation that was too good to be true for the old mutt. He simply entered the other end of the culvert to deal with the young man on his own terms. This is when the young man realized how important it was to sound sincere when you say "nice doggy".

Today the place where the young ladyís house once stood is marked by a couple of old apple trees. Shortly after the events of that evening, the bright lights of the Big Apple were too hard for her to resist and my sources tell me that today, now in her early seventies, she is enjoying her retirement years with her husband in a New York suburb. A small black granite stone in a local cemetery with the dates 1929 - 1963 marks the final resting place of the young man who so courageously escorted her home over fifty years ago.

His stone is not the only one worth noting. Jim Flynnís stone 1883 Ė 1959 is a reminder that more than forty years have passed since he rang up his final sale in his little country store. Now the Shanahanís living room is used only for relaxation. Mailboxes can be seen as you drive along route 11.

Ironically, many of the names on the boxes are the same as the ones on the oldest stones in the cemetery, just another example of how reluctant this little village is to change. Like the closure of the base, however, change is inevitable. The long afternoon shadows from the church steeple reach out and touch the place where the little one room schoolhouse once stood. Today the faithful are no longer called to worship by the tolling of the church bell on Sunday morning. A small marquee next to the front of the church conveys a brief message; one of the priests from a neighboring parish will be there to greet the villagers at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday evenings.

With the closure of the base, the village reverted back to a quiet community. Few if any new faces now stop by Jack Hackettís convenience store. Today many of the residents live in the former PMQs. As well, a few of the other smaller buildings on the base have found a new lease on life. When I returned recently as I often do I was accompanied by one of my grandsons. I showed him where I had experienced a couple years of my youth. I explained to him where the towers were that I helped construct.

We could only imagine what it was like when so many men and women in uniform went about their daily tasks. It was not hard for my grandson to visualize this because when his New Year break was over, he would be returning to his military posting in Alberta.

When we left the old site, I notice a small building that raised a question in my mind. Unlike the few remaining buildings that were serving a useful purpose, this little gray building by the edge of the highway was locked up and forgotten. Was it overlooked by the demolition crew? Or was it left as a reminder to the passing motorists that there was a time when men and women from across Canada had once lived and worked here. Because the world had changed, they were free to leave this village taking with them memories that they would cherish forever.