The White Fence, issue #38

February 2008

Executive Directors 2007–2008

  • President: Paul Bogaard
  • Vice-President: Michael Weldon
  • Secretary: Barb Jardine
  • Treasurer: Geoff Martin


  • Administrator: Adèle Hempel (full-time)
  • Exhibits Assistant/Researcher: Angela Hersey (contract)
  • Curatorial Assistant/Researcher: Marianne Lagacé (contract)


Dear friends,

Travel is something we largely take for granted today. Who would ever think of going from Sackville to Amherst (and vice versa) as a big deal? But it depends what year you live in! Read below Donna Beal’s fascinating story of the old wooden bridge that once connected Sackville and Amherst, a critical connection between the two towns at the turn of the century. Read how losing such an important road connection could affect the citizens of both townships when getting around wasn’t as routine as today. We should never take our daily travels for granted. Our ancestors never did.

Connections are important. We are connected by infrastructures such as highways and bridges. But we are also connected by family linkages. Read how Ray Dixon and his cousin Chris “rediscovered” their Sackville ancestor Hiawatha Dixon in Australia after 148 years! We all remain connected, one way or another.

And may this newsletter and our annual Heritage Day continue to keep us all closely connected with Tantramar history for many more generations to come.

As always, we are grateful to the Mt. A archive for information and especially for the photos of the old bridge for this issue.

—Peter Hicklin

Bridge out

by Donna Beal, Sackville, N.B.

The following is an account of the rebuilding of the Tantramar River bridge in Sackville, 1901–1903, and a glimpse into the affect it had on community life.

wooden covered bridge across the Tantramar River

The old bridge taking on a hay wagon load of freshly-cut hay

The covered bridge over the Tantramar River burned on June 18, 1901. The fire was noticed around 3:00 pm just after a locomotive from Halifax had gone through the nearby railway bridge. It was assumed that a spark from the train started the fire.1 There was a high wind blowing, not uncommon for the area, and in less than a half-hour after the fire was discovered, the wooden structure fell and was carried down the river.2

Built by Hugh Gallagher in 1856, it was the second highway-bridge to be built over the Tantramar River.

The first bridge was built about 16 years earlier by Hugh Gallagher’s younger brother Timothy.3 Unlike its successor, it fell silently into the river in the middle of the night without a trace of it remaining the next morning. It was presumed that a high tide or high winds had taken it down.4 Forty-five years later, the piles of the first bridge could still be seen at low water a few feet south of the burned timbers.5

One would think the loss of the bridge would be considered a tragic event. But considering its decrepit state no one was surprised. On June 22nd, 1901, The Amherst Daily News reported “A feeling of general satisfaction seems to prevail that the old wooden bridge was destroyed in the manner it was by fire. For years it has been considered unsafe, and of late many people have become timid about crossing it.”

A few years before, a strong wind had caused damage to the structure. It was closed briefly for repairs, but the “unsafe” sign was never taken down. Katharine Stark, Music Instructor at Mount Allison, writing to John Hammond from New York on June 23rd stated “so the old bridge has gone. I think it was just as well it should go before it had time to collapse, probably causing some loss of life.”6

The detour for crossing the Tantramar Marsh, the only route between the provinces was five miles out of the way through Middle Sackville and the High Marsh Road. A few weeks earlier government engineer Mr. Wetmore had been in Sackville examining the bridge and rumour was that the government was considering replacing the wooden bridge with a steel structure.7 Public opinion was that a new bridge would soon be built and the travelling situation would be much improved.

Almost two months went by and there was no move to replace the bridge. The extra distance to the marsh properties made the haying season more difficult for the farmers, but only one small complaint appeared in the August 5th Saint John Globe; “The people of Sackville, especially the merchants and farmers, are getting quite annoyed at the delay in the reconstruction of the Tantramar Bridge.” The patient endurance exhibited by the public during the following months was the opposite of what one would expect today. It was a matterof making the best of a difficult situation. The Anderson and Patterson families at Cole’s Island discovered they could get their cheese and other farm products to town by taking them to the Railway Bridge where C. W. Cahill, a local merchant, would receive the delivery. When the residents of Cole’s Island travelled to town or attended church they would often tie their horses at the Railway Bridge and have someone meet them on the other side, or walk to their destination. When the Sackville Annual Exhibition was held in September that year (1901), the residents of Cole’s Island delivered their calves to the Exhibition Grounds on the Northwest side of the river by way of the Railway Bridge.]8

The reconstruction of the bridge did not begin that summer or fall. The November 30th issue of the Globe reported: “As it was work that had to be done, it is hard to understand why the rebuilding of the Tantramar Bridge was not taken in hand last summer immediately after its destruction. Practically nothing so far has been accomplished, to the infinite discomfort and inconvenience of our farmers, our businessmen and of the traveling public generally. Work has now been entirely suspended for the season and, for aught that appears, it may be this time next year before the bridge, possibly the most important one in the province will be ready for use.”

At the December meeting of the newly formed Sackville Board of Trade, W. C. Milner stated that one of the pressing needs to bring new enterprise to the town, along with a new station, street lights, and a sidewalk, was a bridge.9 But winter had settled in and nothing could be done until spring. So the public endured the detour through the harsh Maritime winter with few complaints.

The following spring came early. By March 10, 1902, the Tantramar River was clear of ice and fit for navigation. No one could remember conditions like that at so early a date before.10 The residents of Sackville expected the construction of the bridge to soon be underway. Later that month in the local legislature, A. B. Copp, MLA for Westmorland, questioned Hon.C. H. Labillious concerning the delay. His reply was that tenders were asked for on August 2nd and the contract was awarded to Whitman Brewer on August 31st. Since then, foundations had been prepared for abutment faces and foundations: supplies had been delivered and Howe Truss spans constructed. Other supplies delivered were freestone, dressed birch sheathing, planking, birch square lumber and spruce lumber, cast iron rods, the total value estimate being $4,894.00. The contractor had already been paid $2,600.00. Mr. Labillious said as soon as the weather permitted, instructions would be given to Mr. Brewer to push the work with vigour. He also stated he expected the bridge to be completed by early that summer.11

By the middle of April, with no evidence of work beginning on the bridge, the following appeared in the local paper: “The Post is in receipt of a letter from ‘A Farmer’ who perhaps gives expression to the feelings of a large number of our readers when he says that rather than have the Sackville bridge down for another year he would be willing to contribute $100.00 out of his own pocket to have it built at once.” The paper also stated that Contractor Brewer had arrived in town and work on the bridge would start at once.12 A week later Mr. Brewer had resumed work on the bridge.

By the middle of May it was predicted that the new bridge across the Tantramar would be ready for crossing by July 1st, but a tragic accident occurred delaying the construction.13 Early in the morning June 2nd, Andrew Kinnear, Robert Stone, Robert Gillis, and Eben Morrison climbed into a boat and pushed off from the bank of the river to go to the first pier. Approaching the pier they ran into a line. Robert Stone caught the line, but he lost his balance and fell into the water. Eben grabbed Robert and tried to pull him into the boat, but the boat listed, filled with water, and capsized throwing them all into the river. Foreman Charles Dunphy and D. H. Porter, who were working at the site, heard cries from the men in the river. By the time they discovered what was taking place and got a line to throw to them it was too little too late. All except Andrew Kinnear were able to swim against the strong current and make it to the temporary or to the shore. News of the accident spread swiftly and large crowds gathered along the river. Andrew’s body was found around noon the same day 800 yards above the bridge. It was at an inquest held that same day that the details of the accident were revealed.14

It wasn’t until June 16th that the first span was ready. It was blocked up on two large scows ready to be put into place at high tide. The mason work on the piers and abutments was almost done.15 The anniversary of the burning of the bridge passed with only the western span of the bridge in place. The July 3rd issue of the Tribune reported “The second span of the Sackville Bridge was successfully floated into position at 8:30 last evening. This is the central span, the largest of the three, and is said to weigh in the vicinity of 75 tons. Hundreds of people witnessed the span swing out from the shore and gave a hearty cheer as the ponderous structure took its place upon the substantial stone abutments.”

By the middle of July the last span of the bridge was put into place and work began on the floor.17 On a Saturday evening, July 19th, after dyking all day on the Sunken Island marsh, Thomas Patterson of Cole’s Island recorded in his diary that he crossed the unfinished bridge for the first time, even though there was only a “temporary” over the approach on his end.18 The 1st of August, Dr. B.C. Borden, Principal of the Mount Allison Ladies College, and his twin daughters Gladys and Elaine, started out on a driving tour to Hantsport, NS. He wanted to put himself on record as being the first to cross the new bridge, but when they arrived at the river they were turned away and had to take the five-mile detour.19

The wooden bridge as it stood beside the railway bridge (right) across the Tantramar River (date unknown). Mount Allison University Archives 8500/129.

The wooden bridge as it stood beside the railway bridge (right) across the Tantramar River (date unknown). Mount Allison University Archives 8500/129.

Without any fanfare, the new bridge was finally open to traffic by September 1st, fourteen and a half months since fire destroyed the former bridge. At the time of opening, it had not yet been covered or painted. Since it was built mainly of spruce, there was also a concern that it would not last long if left in that condition.20 The bridge was left exposed to the harsh winter elements during one of the coldest winters on record.21

It wasn’t until June, 1903, two years after the former bridge was destroyed by fire, that Contractor Brewer returned to Sackville to complete the work on the bridge.22 By July 23rd the Sackville Tribune reported: “The roof of the Tantramar Bridge is about completed adding materially to the appearance of the fine structure.” The completed bridge must have made an impressive backdrop for the September 30th opening of the Annual Exhibition held at the nearby Exhibition Grounds. Although repairs were needed at various times, the bridge remained over the Tantramar River until 1940 when it was replaced by the two-lane steel highway-bridge.23


  1. Saint John Globe. June 19, 1901
  2. Hand-written account, author unknown. Mount Allison University Archives 5501/6/1/12
  3. Globe June 21, 1905
  4. Ibid: June 24, 1901
  5. Ibid: June 19, 1901
  6. R.C. Archibald fonds, Mount Allison University Archives 5501/3/2/60
  7. Globe June 19, 1901
  8. Albert Anderson diaries, Mount Allison University Archives 7832/2/1/2 and 8317/4/1/6
  9. Sackville Board of Trade minutes, Mount Allison University Archives 4801/1
  10. Globe Mar. 10, 1902
  11. Sackville Tribune Mar. 20, 1902
  12. Semi-Weekly Post Apr. 15, 1902
  13. Tribune May 22, 1902
  14. Tribune June 5, 1902
  15. Globe June 16, 1902
  16. Ibid: June 23, 1902
  17. Ibid: July 14, 1902
  18. Thomas C. Patteson diary, Mount Allison University Archives 7832/2/6/3
  19. Globe Aug. 4, 1902
  20. Globe Sept. 1, 1902
  21. Ibid: Dec. 15, 1902
  22. Globe June 8, 1903
  23. Tribune Oct. 21, 1940

Thanks to Bill Hamilton and Phyllis Stopps for their suggestions.

Dixon’s return to Sackville after 148 years in Australia

by Ray Dixon, Sackville, N.B.

In 1999, Chris Dixon was in Perth, Australia, and searched the internet for some family information. There, he discovered the “Yorkshire 2000” website and e-mailed Al Smith. Al passed the e-mail address onto me to update Chris on any family history I might have. From that small beginning came an exchange of information that will blossom into a book on the ship “Sarah Dixon” and a pilgrimage to Sackville by Chris and his wife Linda to retrace their ancestor’s steps.

Their Sackville ancestor was William Coates Dixon, a great grandson of Charles Dixon who emigrated here in 1772. William’s mother Martha (Anderson) died suddenly in 1855. Edwin, his father, married Jerusa Anderson (his mother’s niece) six months later. Although a lot of people in Sackville thought this was shocking, Edwin’s father, Edward, blessed the union because she was from a good Yorkshire family! Family lore states that William did not get along with his stepmother so, in 1858, he left for Australia — about as far away from Sackville that he could get! William was a gold miner for the rest of his life.

The rediscovered Hiawatha Dixon in Sackville, N.B.

The “rediscovered” Hiawatha Dixon
in Sackville, N.B.

While in Sackville, Chris and Linda (Lin) toured both the carriage factory and the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre, met Al Smith during a walk on the waterfowl park, and checked family grave sites and Fort Beauséjour. When they went to see the monument near the swan pond, the artist Peter Manchester was there and explained the work to them.

Sackville is such a great small town! When we took Chris downtown for a haircut, Alice Folkins (manager of Keillor House) was having her hair done in the same shop. I teased her about the Keillor house being closed in September and my cousin from Australia would not be able to see it. Her response “What time would be convenient for Chris and me to drive down?” At 4:00 p.m. Alice had arranged for us to be guided through so Chris could see some family artifacts. A wonderful example of real tourism promotion!

One of our common ancestors was a man called Hiawatha Dixon. Before Chris and Lin started their trip, an Australian cousin wanted a picture of this Hiawatha Dixon in full regalia. I searched many sources but could not find a picture anywhere. Chris explained to me that his cousin was a bit of a joker, so we dressed Chris up in some period clothes and with a bit of cornstarch on his beard got a black and white picture to take back with him as Hiawatha Dixon!

We show the picture here so you could see the Australian visitor returning after 148 years — and he looks the part!!

The Tantramar Heritage Trust is pleased to present the 12th Annual Heritage Day in Sackville, N.B.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Morning Activities at Tantramar Regional High School

7:30–10:30 a.m.

Heritage Day Breakfast (TRHS Cafeteria); Menu: eggs, bacon, sausage, home-baked beans, toast,orange juice, tea, coffee. TICKETS: $5 adults, $3 children under ten.


Heritage Displays (TRHS Cafeteria)

  • Marshview Middle School (Gr. 8): Ch. Boultenhouse family characters
  • Sackville Heritage Review Board
  • THT publications for sale, including most recent, The Life and Times of Josiah Wood (1843-1927): a builder of Sackville, by Dean Jobb
  • Trust Exhibits:
    • Sackville Personalities
    • Campbell Carriage Factory Museum 2008 Expansion
    • Agora Online Exhibit (Virtual Museums of Canada): A Carriage Factory Built on Horse Power
  • and much more!

9:30 am

cultural capital of Canada 2008 logo
  • Cultural Capital Announcement (TRHS Main Foyer), Warren Maddox Coordinator
  • Cultural Capital 2008 Programme Launch


  • Sackville’s Own Antiques Road Show (TRHS Main Foyer) — Appraisers: Keith Lewis, Art Smith, Pauline Parker.
  • Bring your favourite Sackville antiques for appraisal ($5 fee/item)!

Afternoon Activities at the Wu Centre

2:00–2:15 pm

Feature performance by Sackville’s own MARSH Troupe: A Complete History of Sackville in Five Minutes

2:15–2:20 pm

Raffle Draw: “Scene of the Sackville Harness Shop” (built c. 1846), by Rod Mattatall — reproduction of original watercolour. TICKETS: $2 ea. or $5 for 3, available Feb. 11th on at the THT Office & Tantramar Pharmacy. Call ahead (536-2541) and reserve yours now.

2:20–3:20 pm

Guest Speaker: Dr. Charles Scobie — “Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and the Tantramar” Charles H.H. Scobie, author of the Trust’s latest book published as part of its Publications program, will give an illustrated talk, outlining some of the things he learned both about the life and work of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, and about the history and geography of the Tantramar region while researching and writing his book. As one of the original partners to Sackville’s being named a Cultural Capital of Canada, the Tantramar Heritage Trust was able to fund this project, in part, through the generosity of the Canadian Heritage program for 2008.

3:30 pm

THT Book Launch: “The Roberts Country: Sir G.D. Roberts and the Tantramar,” by Dr. Charles Scobie Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (1860-1943), “the Father of Canadian Literature,” spent the first fourteen years of his life in Westcock, in the Tantramar area of south-eastern New Brunswick. This book shows how his boyhood in the Tantramar profoundly influenced much of Roberts’ later work: his historical writings, his animal stories, his novels and above all his poetry. With the help of over thirty illustrations and three maps the book also provides the visitor with a guide to “Roberts Country.”

How To Find Sackville’s Heritage Day Venues

Tantramar Regional High School — 223 East Main Street, Sackville. (Free Parking available above and below school)

  • From Moncton: from Trans Canada (Hwy 2), take exit 504 (Main Street Exit) and turn left onto East Main Street; proceed across highway overpass. TRHS is the first driveway on your right. Free parking is available at both levels.
  • From Amherst: from the Trans Canada (Hwy 2), take exit 504 (Main Street Exit) and turn right onto East Main Street. TRHS is the first driveway on your right. Free parking is available at both levels.
  • From Dorchester: follow Hwy 106 east to Sackville. Turn left onto Salem Street and proceed north to intersection with East Main Street. Turn left onto East Main Street and proceed past Tim Horton’s (at right), across highway overpass. TRHS is the first driveway on your right. Free parking is available at both levels.

Wu Centre — Sir James Dunn Building, Mount Allison University, 67 York Street, Sackville
(Corner of York and Salem Streets; Free Parking available at Salem & Park St. Parking Lot)

  • From Tantramar Regional High School: turn left onto East Main Street and follow traffic into Town; turn right where road forks at Mount Allison University; continue to 4-way stop at top of hill. The Sir James Dunn Building will be on your left. For parking, continue on Salem Street through intersection, to parking lot on corner of Salem and Park Streets. The Wu Centre is on the main floor of the Sir James Dunn Building.