Story and Photography: Andrew Herygers
Publisher: Saltscapes, Canada's East Coast Magazine
As kids growing up in Northeastern New Brunswick, we had an abundance of time to spend our summer days swimming and exploring Tetagouche Falls, located 10 km's outside Bathurst city limits in the community of South Tetagouche. Generations of the area’s people felt as we did about Tetagouche Falls, beginning with the Mi’kmaq, who first named the river “Tootoogoose.” According to local Mi’kmaq historian, storyteller, and folklorist Gilbert Sewell, “Tootoogoose” means “Squirrel Cliff,” or “Squirrel Jump.” The name refers to flying squirrels that leapt across the river gorge on outstretched pine branches.
At Tootoogoose, the Mi’kmaq wove baskets, sang, and told stories, sometimes about the “little people” or stone cave-dwellers who lived here long ago. It is said that these mysterious dwarves enjoyed playing tricks on the local settlers, and that their mischievousness could only be deterred with offerings. The Mi’kmaq also customarily offered tobacco to the river in exchange for provisions of food and medicinal plants, including indian turnip, sweet rag root, sweet grass, wild raisins, blueberries, cranberries, and fiddleheads. The river and its environs provided a bounty of wild game, such as trout, moose, and deer.
The Tetagouche River, often referred to as one the purest rivers in New Brunswick, is fueled by a complex network of other rivers, brooks, streams, ponds, and lakes. Home to salmon and brown trout, the river bends and grows from among the Upper, Middle, and Lower Tetagouche Lakes for a distance of approximately 25 miles, eventually emptying into the north side of Bathurst Harbour.
The South Tetagouche Road (Route 180) makes for a memorable drive through a beautiful ascending countryside. The hidden sylph-like river gorge runs somewhat parallel to the road, emerging at times from behind the farm fields on the right. Large, weathered farmhouses and aged barns dot the countryside, offering a nostalgic glimpse into the lives of pioneer mining families who settled here from England, Ireland, and Scotland in the early 1800s. The families cleared land along the riverside, built houses, and planted crops in this landscape they named Patrick’s Landing.
The South Tetagouche Road plateaus near the falls. On the left, a small white church appears, then, after a strong bend in the road, the park sign. Inside the Tetagouche Falls park, follow the road that veers right to the look-off and picnic area, perched high above the falls and gorge. The fenced look-off point is sure to give you a new appreciation for the raw power of nature. Feel the roar of rushing water, mist, spray, and the trembling of the falls. From here, you have a clear view of the falls, hydro dam, and river. Far below the100-foot cliff side, you may hear the cheers of kids swimming in the cool waters, their voices echoing in the deep gorge. If experienced hikers feel so inclined, there’s a hiking trail that begins at the end of the parking lot. The trail, a short 10-minute walk, is the best way to enjoy the area’s wild scenery. The dense fragrance of the pines, the fresh air, and the rocky terrain will absorb you during the descent into the river gorge. Be sure to stay on the designated trail, as the surrounding cliff sides areas are rugged, and not always fenced off. It’s also a good idea to fill an empty container with cold Tetagouche spring water before the hike. When you find yourself at the river, follow the intensifying sounds of the falls upstream. At the pebbly beach, you will find yourself in the open amphitheatre of the spectacular cliffs surrounding the gorge. Piping and a large turbine, once active as part of Tetagouche’s hydro-electric dam, protrude out of the rock cliff, a reminder of the falls’ industrial past. From the pebbly beach, the falls themselves are still obscured behind a rock wall. Mist and spray splashes out from behind this cliff, where a naturally occurring ledge provides an open view of the falls. Another option for a clearer look is to take a swim.
Tetagouche Falls’ mining history began in the 1840s, when prospector William Stevens of Cornwall, England began exploring for minerals in the area. A manganite bearing quartz vein was spotted on the south bank of the river in 1842, and that same year the Gloucestor Mining Association shipped 125 tons of manganese ore out to England. This operation, which also saw some copper extracted, is possibly the earliest example of underground mining in New Brunswick. Mining activity continued at the falls until 1864, when the ore could no longer be mined at a profit and the workings were shut down. It was a decisive moment in Tetagouche’s history, as families chose between returning to their native countries, moving to other mining towns, or staying to adapt to farm life. Many chose the latter, and descendents of the original Smyth, Ward, Payne, and Macintosh families still reside in the South Tetagouche area.
Throughout the 1900s, the Tetagouche River hosted spring log drives, and powered saw, grist, and carding mills. The Irish and British protestants living in Patrick’s Landing (today’s South Tetagouche) and the Irish Catholics in Kinsale (North Tetagouche) were friendly neighbours who overcame the natural obstacle of the river by constructing cedar log bridges to join their communities. The early Kinsale families of the day included the Powers (Power-Croft Apple Orchard) and the Calnans, who farmed potatoes, corn, various vegetables, and fruit.
In the early 1900s, Tetagouche Falls was targeted as a possible source of electricity by established Bathurst businessman John P. Leger. Leger, who had a dream of bringing electricity to Bathurst, figured that a dam at Tetagouche Falls could power the city of Bathurst for a good part of the year. In 1904, the incorporation of Bathurst Electric and Water Power Company Limited was formed by Act of Assembly leading to the early construction of a hydro-electric plant at Tetagouche Bridge. Even though many people discouraged Leger, he continued to follow his dream, finally acquiring the right to harness power at Tetagouche Falls in 1911. Leger used up nearly all his financial resources constructing the dam, and it was completed the next year. This high-risk gamble eventually paid off for Leger, and also helped accelerate the town of Bathurst into modern times. Tetagouche Falls’ hydro-electric dam was not only the first in New Brunswick, but possibly in all of the Maritimes. In 1919, the Bathurst Lumber Company amalgamated with the Bathurst Electric and Water Power Company, leading to the construction of a much larger dam at Grand Falls, on the Nepisiguit River. The Tetagouche Falls dam continued to power the city of Bathurst until 1921, when the newly completed Grand Falls dam took over the burden.
The dam’s remnants still stand high above the falls, as a reminder of its industrial history. However, over the years, erosion has withered away the vulnerable center portion of the dam, leaving only the side walls and piping. Signs of nature’s powers of reclamation are also evident at the mouth of the river. Here, in 1986, several thousand Bathurst aster (Aster subulatus obtusifolius) plants were re-discovered. These largely forgotten fresh and saltwater plants were originally discovered by ML Fernald and Emile F. Williams in 1902. In 1992, COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) listed the Bathurst Aster as a species of “special concern,” because its riverside habitat is particularly sensitive to human disturbance. Currently, there are efforts underway to preserve the Bathurst aster, which is known to exist only on the Tetagouche and Middle rivers in Bathurst, New Brunswick. At Tetagouche Falls, nature is reclaiming its rightful place, for all to enjoy and reflect upon. One can only hope that it will remain pure for many more years of appreciation.
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