Remembering David Alexander Ernest Hutchison

Honouring our Atlantic Roots

Remembering David Alexander Ernest Hutchison
by Janet Stothart, Miramichi NB

Ernest Hutchison was born on January 1, 1846, the second son of Richard Hutchison, and Elizabeth Stewart Mackie, both immigrants from Scotland.

He had no formal education beyond what he received in Grammar School in Newcastle and Chatham, New Brunswick, but improved his education by reading and travel. As Ernest reached adulthood, he went to work with his father, Richard, in the lumbering business.

He was reported to be a skilled mechanic who knew as much about steam mills as any sawmill engineer. Gradually, the responsibility for the management of R. Hutchison and Company shifted to him and at age 33 in 1890, he was the sole owner of the firm.

Ernest married Eliza Jane Johnston in 1871 and they had four children: Richard, Ann, Belle and Harry. Ann died in infancy. Richard and Harry moved to the United States. Belle married Hugh Moncrieff and moved to Winnipeg.

After his father’s death, Ernest continued to operate the company in his own name for 17 years, then sold to Miramichi Lumber Company, a subsidiary of International Pulp and Paper.

Mr. Hutchison played a big part in public life. In 1876, he became the first County Warden of the newly incorporated Northumberland County. He was also a Member of the New Brunswick Legislature from 1878 – 1882, and again from 1886 – 1890.

Conservative politically, it is said that he was never a strong “party man” but one who saw his role as helping his constituents. Mr. Hutchison was active in organising regattas on the Miramichi and participated in them.

According to Mr. Jack Ullock, Curator of Rankin House, “Mr. Hutchison was a very competitive man. At one time he had a boat he believed to be the fastest on the Miramichi. He called this boat Pretty Damm Quick. There was another boat owned by Snowball in Chatham who raced his boat against Hutchison and won. Snowball named his boat Darn Site Faster. After his defeat, Hutchison put his boat away and never bothered with it again.”

Miramichi Hospital
Old Photograph of Miramichi Hospital
Mr. Hutchison also had a keen interest in cars. In 1906, he purchased a 2-cylinder Russell runabout from Lounsbury Co. the third registered to Miramichi.

According to Mr. Ullock, “He was also in competition with Snowball to see who could put the most miles on their cars. With his long trips to the United States, Ernest won each time. Each spring, Hutchison and John Miller, who lived in Millerton, would have a race to see who would be the first to drive to Newcastle. One Spring the weather was wet and the roads were in poor shape, but Hutchison was determined to get to Newcastle first, so he hitched a pair of horses to his car and made it to Newcastle before Miller did.”

Mr. Hutchison was offered Lieutenant Governor of the Province but declined the offer because his wife was opposed to the appointment.

Mr Hutchison was widely admired for his generosity. In 1892, he gave the former Rankin House and grounds to Douglastown for use as a school. The Miramichi Historical Society now occupies Rankin House.

In 1914, he built the Associated Lodges Hall in Douglastown – still used today by the Lodge.

In 1915, it is believed that a number of people asked Mr Hutchison to contribute money towards the construction of a hospital. He advised that he would match whatever money collected from the citizens, but when the canvassers returned with a total of $700.00, Mr. Hutchison is reported to have said that he would finance the building of the hospital himself.

The Architect presented the plans to him on May 20, 1915, and his daughter Belle laid the cornerstone July 1, 1915. Mr. Hutchison did not attend the ceremony and did not want his name mentioned. He was more interested in donating a hospital to fill a long-felt need rather than informing the public how much it was costing him.

However, one of the local papers carried this announcement, “We, the Board of Trade take much pleasure to announce that through the unexampled generosity of one of our prominent citizens on the Miramichi, sufficient funds have been contributed to complete the building. We, the Board of Trade, are satisfied there does not exist a single county in the Maritime Provinces which has received such a princely donation from one individual for a public institution which is calculated to be of so much benefit in future years. We, the Board of Trade regret that we are not in the position to give the public the name of the Benefactor who has given so liberally to the Hospital Building Fund, but, while he does not wish to give publicity to his generous act, it is none the less appreciated by our citizens in general.”

Construction began on the hospital immediately using sandstone from a quarry in Whitney. The official opening took place on July 1, 1916 on a sunny Saturday afternoon. There was a large crowd on hand. The town of Newcastle had been incorporated since 1899; the population was probably about 3000.

The Hospital Hutchison Built
Miramichi Hospital
Mr. Hutchison was very active in the Highland Society. His father, Richard, had served a total of 35 years as President. Ernest served as President for one year (1906) but when he built and furnished the hospital, he gave it to the people of the Miramichi with the stipulation that a member of the Highland Society be appointed to the Board of Directors annually.

Mr. Hutchison maintained a keen interest in the workings of the Hospital until his death. He died on December 5, 1918 while travelling in the United States during the Influenza epidemic.

Additions were made to the hospital in 1951, 1960 and during the 1970’s. The hospital and many dedicated staff served the people of the Miramichi until December 15, 1996 when the new Regional Hospital opened.

The Miramichi Historical Society have an extensive collection of Hutchison family photos, letters and business records including the leather bound address presented to Mr. Hutchison on July1, 1916 – the day the hospital opened.

Sources of Information:

“75 years of caring” by Mary Gill
“Dictionary of Miramichi Biography” by W. D. Hamilton
Curator of Rankin House, Jack Ullock

For more about Mr. Hutchison and the Hospital read Janet Stothart’s companion article “Nurses Say Thank You” in the Miramichi Section of Bread ‘n Molasses.