My Father’s Office: Remembering Donald Sutherland (DS) Creaghan and his Contribution to Miramichi

The Old Creaghan Store on Castle Street in Newcastle, where Tim Hortons now stands.
Photo Courtesy of Charles Asoyuf.

By Thomas W Creaghan

Note: This is an extended version of the article which first appeared in the Fall 2020 Giv’er Miramichi magazine.

My father’s office was in Creaghan’s store in downtown Newcastle, overlooking the Miramichi river at the back. There were two desks, one for my father, the manager, and one for Clare McCabe, the accountant and bookkeeper.

There was a large steel safe with a massive iron door where they kept the company books and daily receipts to be deposited at the Bank of Nova Scotia a day or two after they were received. The safe was closed and locked at day’s end and opened by Clare McCabe at the start of business the following morning. It was located near my father’s desk on the Miramichi river side of the room, and I remember it had a window. McCabe’s desk was located on the west side of the room and had a window. This was his working area of the office where he kept the accounts and did other book work.

There was a fireplace on the north wall and it had a white painted mantelpiece, which had two, one-and-a-half-foot high statues of Sir John A. MacDonald and Sir Robert Borden placed upon it.

Everyday Clare McCabe and Dad would manage to take a break to have a quick drink of brandy. This quaint Irish custom was held over from my grandfather’s day. My Irish-born grandfather, JD Creaghan, was founder of the company.

The office was fairly large and was divided into two sections. One section was somewhat private where McCabe and Dad were located. The section to the west was divided by a partial wall. This was a public area, which contained a high counter with a tellers’ cage like you would see in a bank. It was where people came to make exchanges and pay their bills. The partial wall kept the public from seeing Dad and Clare McCabe. I came to enjoy these office visits with my Dad, perhaps because he always kept special chocolate candies in a desk drawer and offered me one each time I arrived on the scene.

My mother, my younger brother Alan and I used to drop by the office. I was about age four or five. As young children we managed to visit whenever Mother was on a shopping trip to the town square, downtown or to Taylor’s grocery store located west of the Town Hall. At Taylor’s she shopped for our family’s daily food requirements while Alan and I passed the time by romping through the store. On the way home we would stop at Molly Morrissey’s tearoom where Alan and I were given a cake or one of Molly’s cookies to keep us out of mischief. Mother was probably fed up with our showing off at Taylor’s and Molly Morrissey’s but never said a word.

When I was in high school, I visited my dad nearly every day on my way home from school and usually our dog Buddy, a Scottie, would be in the office with him. Buddy would gladly join me for a walk, and we would slowly wend our way through the town to our home on Pleasant St. It was in the downtown office that my Dad managed not only the affairs of the J. D. Creaghan Company, but also his wartime activities, and the many other things he was involved with in the community. He was Mayor of the Town of Newcastle. He was on the board of the Harkins Schools, the Chatham Exhibition. He also had something to do with the Newcastle Curling Club and the Golf Club on the Chatham road.

Sometimes my father would take me fishing to a camp on the North West Miramichi and in the fall he would take Clare McCabe and I on a hunting outing on the Frazer-Burchill road where we hunted partridge. One of his favorite pastimes was visiting the steamers in the port and I think he visited everyone. He was really interested in the things that Miramichi had to offer and I was happy to be with him.

In 1939 while he was still mayor of the town, the King and Queen of England visited Newcastle. Dad and my mother had the honor of introducing Them to the prominent citizens of Miramichi. My sister Nonie, along with Marjorie Davidson, was given the honor of presenting flowers to the Queen. It was a momentous occasion for the Miramichi. I think the King and Queen had come to North America at that time to assure that Canada and United States would loyally support England in the coming war with Germany. Their visit to Newcastle was a very notable affair with lots of pomp and circumstance. After the introductory ceremonies were finished the royal couple slowly motored through Newcastle and I managed to see them on their way to Fredericton. My brother Alan and I were located on a stand my father had erected for the occasion on King George highway back of our house.

During the war years, the school kids used to tease me relentlessly at recess, taunting me with the term “mayor”, (as in the “old grey mare”). This was a tag I did not take to lightly but I had to put up with it every agonizing school day of my life, or for at least as long as my father was mayor of the town. I didn’t know how to stop the ribbing.

Dad was also president of the local Rotary Club and, best of all, with Senator Percy Burchill, he was a director of the British Commonwealth Flying School in Chatham, and of the Chatham airport. Subsequently, during the war Dad would take me and my brother Alan with him to the airport on Saturday mornings. There we would puddle around and occasionally be lucky enough to catch a flight on one of the Anson bombers that were stationed in Chatham awaiting to be flown overseas to England. One flight lieutenant or another, or perhaps a ferry pilot, who dad knew from his visits to the Officers Mess, would take us up for a short flight. We would fly over the Miramichi River valley in all its splendor. I can’t describe how thrilled I was, a green kid, flying over his own house in Newcastle and other sites along the beautiful river. We would fly down to the small islands in the bay and would see a panorama of the whole Miramichi valley. Then we would fly all the way upriver as far as Doaktown and sometimes further. They were noisy flights but I will never forget them and still think of them often.

Dad was also the vice-consul for both Norway and Denmark and he placed the coat of arms of each country on the exterior wall of his office at the Creaghan’s store in Newcastle for the people of the town to see. He also visited every vessel that came to the Port of Miramichi, whether Norwegian, Swedish or Danish. On each of these visits he would have an aquavit or two with the captain and there would be discussions about the advantages of trading on the Miramichi, the abundant fish in the river and of course the progress of the war. He usually took me with him on these visits and sometimes he even invited the captain for dinner and drinks. The captains had a lot to tell because their ships were part of a large convoy and had to dodge German torpedoes on the voyage to Miramichi and back across the Atlantic. It was risky business and they loved to talk about it.

Dad was much taken with all the talk of these captains, so foreign to him, but now in time of war, so interesting. The steamers came for the area’s pit-props” which were spruce or pine logs cut to two-and-a-half feet long. Apparently the logs were used in the coalmines of England. They were used to line the walls of the mines and to hold up the ceiling and secure the roof. The steamers usually stayed in the port about a week, in which the captains got to know some of the town’s people.

As the war progressed Miramichers were happy to learn that relatives of Lord Beaverbrook would be arriving in Newcastle to escape the bombing in London and that they would be residing at Trevor Aitkin’s vacant house in Newcastle. The party included a Mrs. Lloyd and her children Robert and Ann and a Mrs. McClintock with her children Peter and William.

Getting back to our family structure, there were seven children in our family and my parents loved us all. Dick, the fourth child, was not old enough for service and spent his time at our cousins the Doyles in Douglastown. They had no children and Marion their oldest daughter adored him. As a result, he was always at the Doyle’s home and was never home. Nonie, my only sister, was away at boarding school in Montreal most times and came home only for the holidays. That left me and my younger brother Alan at home. As the two youngest, we finally got the undivided attention of Mum and Dad, which was so important in our development. For a short time we also had a younger brother who was christened Michael but he was a so-called “blue baby”. He lived only a couple of days so we never got to know him.

My mother doted on the eldest, John, more than the rest of us, possibly because Dad was so hard on him. Anyway, she was certainly glad to have him around the house after Dad died. John, in his youth, spent summers working on a Great Lakes steamer. I can state that I never saw much of him as a young boy and when I was in my teens, John was overseas in the army where he managed to get a commission. Mark the second boy in the family was a seaman in the navy and was assigned to a ship on the North Atlantic run, guarding the convoys to England. He was a great guy and was always a true big brother to me.

Mother was worried sick during the war for both John and Mark. She prayed daily for their safekeeping. To do her part for the war effort, she volunteered to knit socks and other items for the soldiers overseas. I think it was to keep her mind off John and Mark as she perceived the hardships they were going through. She produced a lot of knitted items for the war effort and volunteered to collect food and goodies for boxes to be sent overseas to the troops. She was an active woman and a good cook. She had Lena our longstanding maid to help her. She was active in the Catholic Women’s League, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, and some other local charitable organizations. She brought jams and preserves that she and Lena made to the local hospitals in Newcastle and Chatham. She also collected jams and pickles made by other women of the town. I remember she faithfully wrote a letter to her boys overseas every single day that they served in the forces.

Our family life and my father’s office were entwined. That office, the wonderful staff at Creaghan’s, my father and his activities and love of Miramichi, served as much as an education as my schooling. Anyone having a coffee at Tim Horton’s in historic downtown Newcastle, there Creaghan’s used to be, should spare a thought for DS and the store that formed an important part of Miramichi heritage.

The article first appeared in the Fall Issue 2020 of Giv’er Miramichi Magazine

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