by Kellie Underhill
Off to the Market
The Farmer’s Market was big with many tables full of handicrafts, arts, homemade cooking and much more. A large crowd moved through the aisles. Sammy got breakfast before entering the throng to search for the mayor. He saw breads, cookies, cakes and pies, but no mayor. He saw sweaters, mittens, doilies, and dolls, but no mayor. He saw bird houses, mirrors, face creams and jams, but no mayor. Round and round Sammy went but he couldn’t find the mayor anywhere. This is hopeless, he thought. He went outside and sat on the curb to think. An outdoor vendor noticed him. “If it’s none of my business, just say, but you seem a bit sad, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Not likely, nobody else has been able to.” Sammy sighed.
“Hey, give a guy a chance, eh?” the man chuckled. “You never know.”
Sammy took a deep breath. “It’s a long story but the gist of it is that I’m lost and I have no history.”
“Aha! If it’s history you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place,” the man exclaimed. “Miramichi is full of history! You should go on a historical tour like the Headless Nun at French Fort Cove.” Sammy hadn’t heard of French Fort Cove or the Headless Nun. This was something he could pursue.
A Ghostly Walk
The French Fort Cove was a sprawling nature park with many walking trails, boardwalks, boat rentals, a playground, and more. Sammy joined a small group, waiting for their costumed interpretative guide to begin the tour. When everyone was assembled the group entered the trails and Sammy learned about the nun, Sister Marie, who was beheaded without giving up her charge’s treasure. Along the way actors performed skits illustrating the story. While the legend was fascinating and the idea that the treasure had never been found and the ghost of Sister Marie guards it still intrigued Sammy, overall this tale didn’t set off any bells or whistles in his memory.
When the tour ended Sammy decided to hike around the cove and relax in nature. He even took a refreshing dip in the water. Swimming always made him feel better. A few hours later he emerged more energetic than he’d felt in days and walked over to the French Fort Cove Eco-Centre to take a look around. There were a great many interesting displays to enjoy and Sammy soon learned that this place was a hub for all activity in the city. It was a goldmine of information! Many of the places he learned about he had already visited but there was one in particular that stuck out. Beaubear’s Island was a place where fortunes were made and lives lost. If he hurried he could catch the next boat.
An Impromptu Meeting
As Sammy scurried to the Nelson Waterfront to catch the shuttle to Beaubear’s Island, something caught his eye. Sitting on a bench enjoying a cone of ice cream at Ritchie Wharf was one of the men he’d seen onstage at the Irish Festival. If it wasn’t the mayor, then certainly this man would know where he could find him!
Right on the water, the Ritchie Wharf was a beautiful place designed as a tribute to the Miramichi’s history of shipbuilding with a ship’s mast stretching into the sky, a small lighthouse housing visitor information and many shops, restaurants, a playground, and boardwalks for strolling. Sammy sat on the bench beside the man, not knowing how or where to begin. The man smiled at him and nodded.
“Hi,” Sammy said. “Um, I wondered if you were the mayor.”
“I am,” the man said. Excited, Sammy pushed forward spilling his entire story about how he had followed the lights to the city and then heard the mayor speak at the breakfast and how he figured if anyone could help him it might be him.
“Well, that’s a pretty tall order,” the mayor said when Sammy had finished. He sized Sammy up and then shook his head. “I’m sorry, I just don’t recognize you.”
“Oh.” Sammy looked like his dog had died. “That’s alright then, I understand,” he said. “I’ll just keep going, keep travelling until I find some answers.” He got up to leave.
“Well, wait a second, now,” the mayor said. “No need to rush right off. Sit with me for another minute and let’s see if we can’t work something out.” Sammy sat back down.
“I understand your need to keep moving, but maybe all you need is some time to get your memory back,” the mayor began. “Maybe you just need to stop trying so hard and your memories will come back all on their own.” Sammy looked skeptical. “I mean what if you travel and travel and your memory never comes back. You’ll be homeless and miserable for the rest of your life. There’s no need for that. You like Miramichi, don’t you? You’ve met some great people, haven’t you?” Sammy nodded. “Well, I can tell you there’s absolutely no better place to call home. Miramichi is full of opportunities for a bright young lad with a good head on his shoulders like you.”
Sammy sighed. “But I don’t think I’m a Miramichier,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter,” the mayor said. “We’ve got a lot of people moving here who aren’t Miramichiers because it’s a great place to live and work. There’s no reason why you couldn’t be one of them.” The thought had crossed Sammy’s mind more than once. “Miramichi has one of the lowest tax rates in the province,” the mayor continued. “We’re one of the best placed communities for new growth. There are a lot of exciting positive things happening here. This is a special community and we’d love to adopt you and encourage you to make this your new home.” Sammy felt a lump in his throat; this was one of the kindest most generous things anybody had said to him on this journey that had been full of kindness and generosity.
“Thanks,” he said to the mayor. “I know you’re right and I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I can ask,” the mayor said shaking his hand. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“Me too,” Sammy said. “Me too.” He bid the mayor farewell and hurried to catch the boat to Beaubear’s Island.
A Long and Rich History
At the Nelson Waterfront Sammy boarded a boat with a group of people and as a costumed tour guide provided some background on the island the captain navigated to Beaubear’s. The island was spectacular with old growth pines, lilacs, plum trees and wildlife. A red fox stared at them through a stand of trees and someone pointed out a bald eagle circling in the sky. As the group entered the woods, their tour guide explained how the island had served for centuries as a Mi’kmaq meeting ground for trade and stories of the hunt. It seemed Beaubear’s Island had a rich history that involved many of the different Miramichi cultures. The island was named after Marquis Charles des Champs de Boishebert, who brought thousands of fleeing Acadians to Beaubear’s Island and the surrounding land during the expulsion of 1755.
“For over 75 years, the island’s shipyards bustled with Irish and Scottish shipwrights and carpenters, stores and homes, and Beaubear’s is believed to be the only untouched shipbuilding site left intact in Canada,” the guide said. The remains of slips, wharves and foundations were very visible. The island had been uninhabited for over a hundred years. As they walked the trails, they came upon actors in the woods, dressed in period costumes and performing skits about a particular bit of history. Two rabbits startled Sammy as they leapt out of the bushes while he stood reverently beside the Russell Tomb where prolific shipbuilder, Joseph Russell, had buried seven of his children. The tales were fascinating but Sammy didn’t feel any particular connection to them. As the group moved back to the boat and sailed away from the island, Sammy knew for certain that he wasn’t of the Miramichi.
“Excuse me,” a large woman said. “Can you scoot over some, a little elbow room please?” She jostled into place and while Sammy was trying to make himself as small as possible one of the lady’s huge arms swung round and bopped him across the chest sending him flying out of the boat. “Oh, that’s better!” Sammy heard the woman sigh as he splashed into the water. He spluttered to the surface and called for help but the boat continued on its way as if nobody had noticed he had been thrown overboard.
“Oh, what’s the use anyway?” Sammy muttered. The water soothed his tired bones and he closed his eyes and floated for awhile to regain his strength. Soon the river lulled him to sleep.
… to be continued …