They say the character and personality of a town come largely from its history. And St. George has plenty of history.
It started in 1783, when a group of United Empire Loyalists, led by Peter Clinch, emigrated from the United States and ended up climbing the steep bank fi–om the lower Magaguadavic River at the foot of what is now Clinch Street. (You can find the exact spot, marked by a commemorative sign.) Mr. Clinch received a grant for the land that was to become St. George in 1784, and two years later he served as a member of the House of Assembly in Saint John.
Another distinguished resident of St George who was a member of the House of Assembly was Colonel Hugh McKay. He served for 30 years, in addition to being a senior justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and at his death in 1848 he was the only full colonel of the militia in New Brunswick.
The new town grew rapidly to such an extent that by the mid-1800s five shipyards, ten sawmills and seven granite mills were operating in and around St George.
Growth and prominence brought their own problems, and the town had to build its first fortifications — Fort Vernon on the south side of the basin, in 1812, and Fort Hill, near what is now the town center, on a site still called Fort Hill, in 1866. The cannons from this fort can still be seen, ‘guarding’ the –front doors of the St George Legion Hall.
The town’s first church — the oldest Presbyterian Church in continuous use in Canada — was built in 1790, and the town’s growth Can be charted in the churches that followed: the first Anglican church in 1821 (torn down and rebuilt in 1907: destroyed by fire in 2002 and rebuilt over the following years), The first Baptist church in 1845, and the first Roman Catholic church in 1854.
St. George ‘came of age’ with incorporation in 1904.
The role of granite in the town’s history cannot be overstated. You can still see evidence of the stone throughout the town, from the water trough at the Town pump, built in 1902, in front of the granite post &lice on Main Street, to the old Presbyterian manse on Campbell Hill, to the quarries that dot and haunt the woods around the town, to monuments in the town’s cemeteries.
The Lake Utopia Medallion, housed in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, is a large, circular piece of granite, obviously shaped and engineered by an expert stone cutter: that bears the head of an Indian chief believed to have been a friend of the explorer Pierre de Mont The Medallion was not discovered until 1862, but is thought to have been cut by a member of the DeMont-Champlain expedition of 1604.
The cost of production brought an end to the granite industry through the ‘forties and ‘fifties, and the last company closed in 1953, marking the end of the industry that lives on in the town’s nickname, the Granite Town. The decline of the granite industry turned the St. George Pulp and Paper Company. In operation from the start of the century and the town’s first source of power, into the community’s biggest employer until it closed in the late ‘sixties.
Mining for tungsten and molybdenum — provided a relatively brief economic boost to the region through the ‘eighties, and as mining declined, aquaculture began its rise as the town’s preeminent industry, St George, then, is a blend of old and new.
Wherever you go in and around the town, you’ll catch glimpses of the old — of the town’s shipbuilding past in the crumbling wharves in the lower basin, of its granite past in buildings and monuments and abandoned quarries, of its mining past in the deserted mine at Mount Pleasant.
You’ll see the future in the modern mall, in the industrial park, in the new housing developments, in the new recreational facility, in tourist facilities like the lookout on the Magaguadavic basin and the Day Adventure Centre on the banks of the upper riven just as the river meets the sea in St. George, so does the old meet the new.
And just as the confluence of fresh and salt water created the setting, over two hundred years ago, for a community to settle and prosper and grow, so too, in the present, does the meeting of old and new create a community at once proud of its history, and confident of its future.
Peter Clinch, the founding father of St. George, landed with a group of colonists at the foot of present-day Clinch Street on November 10, 1783. He received a grant for the land that was to become the town of St. George on February 2, 1784. In 1786 Peter Clinch served as a member of the House of Assembly in Mallard House, Saint John.
Colonel Hugh McKay, a resident of St. George, was a Colonel in the militia for 50 years and served in the House of Assembly for 30 years. As well, he was a Senior Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. At his death on January 28, 1848, he was the oldest and the only, full Colonel of the militia in the province of New Brunswick.
By the mid 1800’s five shipyards, ten sawmills and seven granite mills were operating in and around St. George.
Fort Vernon, constructed on the south side of the basin in 1812, was the first fort built in St. George. In 1866 a second fort was built on Fort Hill. The cannons from this fort can presently be found in front of the St. George Legion Hall.
The only evidence of a brickyard in the town can be seen in the Dr. Dinsmore House on Brunswick Street. The house is constructed of locally made bricks from a brickyard owned by Wallace and Tyler Shaw.
The Lake Utopia Medallion, a large circular piece of granite proven to have been cut by an expert stone cutter, bears the head of an Indian Chief believed to be a friend of DeMonts. Although discovered in 1862, the medallion is thought to have been cut by a member of the DeMonts-Champlain expedition of 1604. The medallion is presently in the New Brunswick Museum.
The first church, built in 1790, is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Canada.
The first Anglican Church was built in 1821, burnt January 1st, 2002.
The first Baptist Church was built in 1845.
The first Roman Catholic Church was built in 1854.
Published c.1902, the “Granite Town Greetings” was the town’s first newspaper. The granite water-trough at the town pump was completed in 1902.
The town of St. George was incorporated on October 17, 1904. The first mayor of the town was Fred Dewar.
The Granite District
This District was for years the center of the granite industry in New Brunswick. The area came into production in 1872 with the opening of a quarry on the shore of Lake Utopia and the erection of a finishing plant in St. George. “The Bay of Fundy Red Granite Company” was founded by Mr. Charles Ward, a New York artist and photographer, after he became very intrigued by the immense ledges of deep red granite while on a fishing trip to Lake Utopia. This pioneer company had its successes and failures, but the business grew and the granite industry became the leading employer of the area. In 1890, there were six firms in St George manufacturing the different coloured granites quarried near the town.
The typical St. George granite is bright red in colour, but many different shades occur in the district. Specific colours were obtained from various quarries offering customers a wide selection. This granite of high quality was employed mainly for monumental purposes and to a very limited degree, for building. The granite quarried in St. George was acknowledged by retail dealers as being superior, prettier, and more durable than any imported. For this reason, samples of our work can be seen in nearly every Canadian cemetery.
The falling-off of the industry was not due to any fault of the manufacturers, nor defects in the granite itself, but rather the trouble was simply the cost of production. Manufacturers of the area were unable to pay the going wages and compete with foreign granite quarried in Norway. Sweden, and Scotland. After 60 years as a flourishing industry, the St. George granite industry began to die slowly. After World War II there continued to be some demands for gravestones, however, a vigorous industry was unable to thrive on such occasional contracts. In 1953 the last firm was closed marking the end of the St. George granite business.
Though the industry is no longer operational, it has forever left its mark on the community. The St. George post office and granite monuments in area cemeteries continue to remind us of our roots as, “The Granite Town”. (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nbpstgeo/stge5a35a.htm)
Charlotte County Archives – www.ccarchives.ca
Heritage Charlotte – www.heritagecharlotte.com
Historical Places Walking Tour – Click Here
The Gorge is worth a couple of visits, as the high tide changes the landscape dramatically. The cliffs on either side are said to be riddled with caves, one of which is said to connect with Lake Utopia. The dam and mill were built by St. George Pulp and Paper, which ceased operations in 1967.
Shortly after the dam was built, the salmon ladder was installed to benefit stocks of wild salmon that migrate up the Magaguadavic River to spawn. The ladder has enabled a serious conservation effort to protect and enhance the wild salmon run.
“St. George and Its Neighbours”
By David Goss with Elizabeth Toy
ISBN: 9780738511498, Publisher: Arcadia Publishing (2002)
“Steve Campbell Collection”
The late historian Steve Campbell (1913-2008) wrote three books on St. George and the surrounding area. “Come Back with Me” (1988), “Come Back with Me Again” (1990) and “Remember When” (1993). While out-of-print, these books continue to offer priceless tidbits and a wonderful personal perspective on the past.