Allan J. Ritchie and the Ritchie Wharf
by the Miramichi Historical Society,
Have you ever looked up at the sailing masts on the Ritchie Wharf recreation area and wondered why these are a prominent feature of the site? Easy enough to connect water and sail in our minds but why here and why is the Ritchie name attached?
On this site in 1872 stood a mill site, a recent purchase by two young brothers Allan and Robert Ritchie. They erected a new mill and went into the business of cutting, sawing and exporting lumber harvested on the Miramichi. Allan was 24 at the time and as the years passed, he and his brother became the second most successful lumber exporters on the Miramichi after J.B. Snowball & Co. of Chatham.
A fire destroyed the new mill but it was rebuilt and in full production again by 1874. They had extensive timber rights on the Northwest Miramichi River and the Little Southwest and employed hundreds of woodworkers. By 1878 the Ritchies were the largest shippers of lumber through the port of Newcastle, loading 20 ships out of 49. A second sawmill, purchased in 1881, increased their output and by 1890 the firm was loading 51 ships a year with as many as 16 in port at one time. What a sight this must have been, tall masts crowding the wharves and the hustle and bustle of men at work, the smell of fresh lumber filling the air! Fire again destroyed the mill but a new one was constructed, bigger and better and by 1897 was cutting an average of 10 million board feet yearly, the largest output in Newcastle.
The Ritchies were large and successful as lumber exporters but they also excelled in their employment practises. They were among the first locally to pay their workers in cash rather than vouchers which could only be redeemed at the company store. The Ritchies had a retail store in Newcastle, situated on today’s Newcastle Boulevard opposite the Square, but preferred to allow their workers to make their purchases where ever they wished.
Allan Ritchie went on to become a member of the Legislative Council of New Brunswick in 1890 and he also served in 1899 as the first mayor of the newly incorporated Town of Newcastle and on the town council for 8 years. He was a member of the Masonic Order and the Highland Society.
Allan Ritchie died in 1916, predeceased by his brother and partner who had no heirs. The business was left to Allan’s three sons but it did not survive the hard times in the lumber business of the 1920’s. The company was sold to the International Paper Co. in 1927 and the mills were dismantled in 1929.
The Ritchie name survives in the street name Ritchie Avenue, and in the waterfront park and recreation area the Ritchie Wharf. The wharf is still used by boaters and there is the occasional sailing ship to raise her sails and drift out into the tide, no doubt dreaming of days long gone. The Ritchie family home still stands on King George Highway, a gracious architectural reminder of 19th century elegance.
The Dictionary of Miramichi Biography by W.D Hamilton and Workin’ in the Woods by Gerry Parker were consulted for the information in this article, along with the files of the Miramichi Historical Society.
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