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Miramichi, New Brunswick

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Miramichi is a fairly big city that looks like several small towns, and with good reason.  Up until a couple of decades ago, that’s exactly what they were — separate, small cities and communities, lined up along the Miramichi River in the Miramichi Valley.  It helps to know this when you visit the area, so you can figure out exactly what’s going on.

I came here, not to see the city specifically, but rather in pursuit of fall colors — and boy, did I find them!  But first, I did a little exploring.

Location

Miramichi is located in northeastern New Brunswick, along Routes 8 and 11.  The two biggest cities that made up modern-day Miramichi are Chatham (on the south bank of the river) and Newcastle (on the north bank, and to the west slightly).

My Visit

As I mentioned, my primary goal was to find French Fort Cove Park, and do some hiking amongst what I hoped would be the best autumn leaves I had seen on my early-October trip to the Maritime Provinces.  I drove up from Shediac, along the coast, and arrived in town on Route 11.  If you happen to be coming the same way, you’ll first come upon the former city of Chatham, which became part of Miramichi in 1995.

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On the way in, the most impressive building I saw was St. Michael’s Basilica.  Construction took 20 years, from 1902 to 1922, as the current building replaced an earlier church that burned to the ground.

The Basilica is just a few blocks up University Avenue from Chatham’s downtown business district.  I didn’t find a good parking spot, so I didn’t stop, but you can get a good look at it in the Drivelapse video below.

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At the end of Chatham’s downtown, there’s a park along the waterfront, and a big parking area that provides a great view of the Centennial Bridge, which carries Routes 8 and 11 over the Miramichi River.  The bridge was completed in 1967, and replaced a ferry (which probably used to dock at that big parking lot that I was standing in).

The bridge would be picture-perfect, if not for that ever-present puff of smoke that you can see on the horizon.  Up the river just a bit is the Arbec Forest Products plant, which cranks out sheets of Oriented Strand Board (similar to particle board).

I wasn’t exactly sure where to find French Fort Cove, but I was pretty sure it was on the opposite side of the river, so I crossed the bridge and continued exploring.

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French Fort Cove is easy to spot, thanks to the old chimney that was once connected to a sawmill.  You can park on either side of the cove and hike back into the canyon.  I’ll show you much more of what I found here on the next page.

Just slightly west of French Fort Cove, I came upon Miramichi’s other downtown business district — the former city of Newcastle.

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Since, at this point, I had just spent several hours hiking at French Fort Cove, it was getting late in the day, so I didn’t do a lot of exploring in Newcastle, either.  I did, however, stop at the nice Ritchie Wharf Park — where this tall ship is actually part of the wharf.  There’s a big playground here and some shops, but I had either arrived too late in the day, or too late in the season to see much activity.  So, I decided to hit the road and head towards my motel in Fredericton, a couple of hours away.

So why does Miramichi have two downtown districts with different names?  Chatham and Newcastle were competing towns for decades — along with several smaller communities in the Miramichi Valley.  In the 1990’s, Premiere Frank McKenna came up with the idea to strengthen the region, by combining them all into one city.  In 1995, despite being a controversial idea, the amalgamated city of Miramichi was formed.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive into Chatham via Route 11…

… and a tour of the area:

The Bottom Line

I don’t think a whole lot of people drive up to Miramichi, just to see Miramichi.  I’m pretty sure it’s mostly unknown outside of New Brunswick.  However, it’s still an interesting collection of small towns, and the hiking at French Fort Cove is excellent, so it might be worth the trip if you’re in the area.

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