by Léonel Richard
As usual it is mid-April and the ice is barely out on the Barnaby. This spring as springs before, I am on this river, trying to shake off the cobwebs that have settled on the nerves, connecting my brain to my semi-atrophied muscles. Impatience is the culprit and the canoe is the cure.
Snow remains here and there along the riverbank, giving off steam in the early dappled sun of the morning. The pileated woodpeckers fly from dead elm to dead elm establishing their domain. All is clean, all is new again, all is right with the world as I re-acquaint myself with my paddle.
I have always enjoyed hearing old stories about events of the past, most rivers have stories, known and not so well known; this one is no exception. During the early part of this century, this river as well as many others was used each spring to transport the logs to the mills downriver. They were piled up high on river banks in a fashion as to require only a few swings of the axe to send the whole thing rolling in the river.
A young man barely sixteen was anxious to get going and against the advice of the others, volunteered to do the dangerous job of cutting the log pile loose. His name was Éloie Doucette and this was to be his first and last log drive. No one is sure anymore how it happened exactly but it appears he lost his footing as the logs started thundering down the hill. A dangerous situation having an axe in one hand and a peevee in the other.
The young man died later that day, on a raft, as they rushed down the river to find help. Sometime the following summer while Éloie's brother was walking along that stretch of river, he found his hat and tied it to an old pine tree, where sheltered from the elements it survives to this day. What remains of the hat can be easily missed as one paddles by, but it is there, in the shade of the branches, a clump of hard felt, hard as shoe leather, and every time I float by, I get that lump in my throat.
Every spring we await the melting of the ice to fulfill our need for adventure, to break with our predictable and regimented routines of daily living. As if to replace with recreation, what was once provided by daily work, we plan and execute and are seldom disappointed.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Barnaby River, it flows northward from Rogersville to the Miramichi River, the last take-out being Route 118, ½ hour southwest of Miramichi City. Hazards present are restricted to beaver dams and alder-choked passages on the upper reaches and one notable section of whitewater known as "Saunders Rapids"(class II+ in high water) directly above the tide-head.
Put-ins are numerous and easily accessible at major road crossings, on route 126 and the West Collette Road. Anything above that is only runnable in very high water (early spring), while below it is usually possible to find enough water into late May or early June. A nice one or two day trip.
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