by Kellie Underhill
A Room at the Rodd
The Monday morning sun hung low in the sky as the pink VW van pulled into the parking lot of the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel. Gladys and a bunch of new girlfriends from Bay du Vin blew kisses out the windows and honked as they lurched away grinding gears, leaving an exhausted Sammy standing on the sidewalk. He couldn’t wait to sleep. Mabel had offered to phone and book him a room; he entered the lobby to see if she followed through.
“Can I help you?” The young woman at the desk smiled.
“Yes,” Sammy said. “I believe I have a reservation, the name is . . . is . . . umm . . . Mabel of Escuminac?”
The clerk turned to her computer screen. “Oh yes, here it is,” she said after a few minutes and Sammy sighed. “It’s a bit early for check-in,” she continued. “Have a seat and I’ll just confirm that your room is ready.”
Sammy wandered over to an overstuffed sofa by a fireplace, picked up a copy of a magazine that sorta stuck to him and settled in to have a good read. Down the hall in a conference room he could hear tinkling silverware, the mumble of polite conversation, and then a speaker was introduced to great applause. Sammy strained his ears picking out bits and pieces. “This is the place where I want to live . . . We’re experiencing a whole new wave of optimism . . . Co-operation is the way to go for Miramichi . . . We’re here because we want to be here. This community is special . . .” He spoke about the great summer ahead and how Miramichi was positioned to do wonderful things. He spoke with passion and a positive attitude. Sammy thought he must be an important man, a respected leader, and he might be able to shed some light on his predicament. Just as he was gathering his courage to enter the conference room and speak to the man, the receptionist returned. “Your room’s ready, sir. Follow me and I’ll take you up.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Miss, do you know who the speaker is in there today?” She guided Sammy to the elevator. “Yes,” she said. “It’s the mayor. It’s the annual State of the City breakfast.” The mayor! If anyone could help him, it might be the mayor. Sammy vowed that he would track down the mayor later, right now a bed beckoned. His last coherent thought was that he must indeed be of the Miramichi because he had survived his first Bay du Vin Days.
Food for Thought
The sun had travelled from one end of the sky and was lowering in the other when Sammy woke up. He ambled downstairs to the Angler’s Reel restaurant. A waitress led him to a table by the window overlooking the water.
“Our chef’s specialty is salmon,” she said. “Twenty different ways to choose from including grilled salmon, poached salmon, baked salmon, plank salmon—”
“Oh no, please,” Sammy grimaced. “I don’t think I like salmon very much.” His stomach soured. “Do you have anything . . . deep fried?” he asked. “Can I have French fries and a burger?”
“Absolutely,” the waitress grinned. “I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
When she returned with a pitcher of water, Sammy inquired about where he might find the mayor. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Maybe try City Hall.” Sammy got directions and thanked her for helping.
When the waitress brought him a chocolate milkshake, he explained how he had been exploring Acadian and M’iqmaq heritage downriver and he wondered if there were other cultures. “Oh definitely,” she laughed. “If you’re looking for history and heritage you’ve come to the right place. You might want to start with the Irish. The hotel is only five minutes away from the Middle Island Irish Historical Park.” Again Sammy got directions and thanked her for her time. Then he bit into the juicy burger and closed his eyes savouring every bite. This was exactly what he needed.
The Irish Arrive at Middle Island
Middle Island was beautiful with walking trails, picnic areas, an unsupervised beach, a Celtic cross and more, but the summer breeze was heavy with history. At the Interpretation Centre Sammy learned about Ireland’s potato famine that forced people to flee to North America or die at home. They travelled in ships, packed like sardines. The Looshtauk set sail from Liverpool, England, to Quebec in the spring of 1847. Typhus and scarlet fever broke out amongst the 462 passengers soon after and people started to die. Conditions were so bad the Captain had to change course and head for the nearest port, which happened to be Miramichi. The Looshtauk was quarantined at Middle Island and within a couple of days two more ships arrived that were also quarantined. Nobody knows how many people died and were buried on the island. On the Looshtauk alone records showed that 146 people died in voyage and another 96 in quarantine, making the Looshtauk voyage the most tragic of all the voyages resulting from the mass exodus during the famine. Many Miramichi families were descendant from the surviving Irish immigrants. Sammy wondered if he was one of them. He enjoyed the serenity of sitting on a bench on the beach. He felt this people’s history, but didn’t know anything for sure. He left to continue his research.
Luck of the Irish in Chatham Downtown
Strolling Historic Water Street, looking at all the shop window displays and thinking about his next move, Sammy saw a sign on a quaint old stone building that said, “Welcome to O’Donaghue’s, Miramichi’s Only Authentic Irish Pub.” Unconvinced of his Irish roots, he went in. A jovial man with bright red hair poured him a pint of Guinness.
“Top of the day!” the man greeted. “What brings you to the Mighty Miramichi?”
“I’m exploring my Irish heritage, trying to trace my family tree.”
“So you’re Irish then? I wouldn’t have known from looking at ya.”
“No,” Sammy agreed. “I may be a mixed breed.”
“No matter at all,” the bartender continued. “You’ve come to the right place and just at the right time too!”
“Certainly! It so happens, Canada’s Irish Festival is underway right now.” As the man told him about all the family reunions, singing, dancing, displays, workshops, food, genealogical information, and more that was happening in the city, Sammy could barely contain his excitement. He got directions and then high-tailed it to the Lord Beaverbrook Arena.
Entering the arena Sammy distinctly heard the same voice from that morning. The mayor was here! A few men stood on the stage and Sammy thought one of them must be him. As he made his way to the front to speak with the man, thunderous applause broke out. A crush of girls wearing matching dresses boxed him in and forced him to the stage amongst them. Lively Celtic music with a tribal drumbeat filled the air and the girls started to dance. Sammy tried his best to blend in, following the girls as they floated from one end of the stage to the other dipping, bobbing and twirling but their energy was too high, their unison too perfect, and he couldn’t keep up. He collapsed onstage tripping the girl next to him and starting a chain reaction. Girls went sprawling. Somebody stopped the music. The audience sat agape and silent at the spectacle.
“I’m sorry,” Sammy mumbled as he looked for an escape route.
“You’re not a Nelson Doyle Dancer!” a teenaged girl accused as the group got back into line.
“I know,” Sammy said.
“I don’t know what kind of dancing you were doing, Mister,” a tyke of about six said as she shook her head. “But it’s definitely not Irish.”
As Sammy skulked off the stage, the music started and the girls began to dance again. He looked for the men who had drawn him to the stage but he couldn’t find them.
“Why the long face?” asked a man sitting at a table next to him.
“It’s a long story,” Sammy said. “I thought I was Irish but I can’t dance and I don’t recognize any of the names, so I guess I must not be from Miramichi after all.”
“Oh my dear boy, but there are a lot more cultures living on the Miramichi than the Irish,” the man chuckled.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Sammy rolled his eyes. “I already explored Acadian.”
“But what about the Scottish?”
“Scottish?” Sammy perked with interest.
“Yes, Scottish heritage is a big part of Miramichi. In fact they also have a festival. Maybe you should go.”
“I think I will!”
… to be continued …