Snowball - A Magic Name On The Miramichi

The Snowball name on the Miramichi is no more. Yet the magic remains.

The older residents remember that the Snowball Company, with its mills, canneries and steam-powered vessels employed 900 men in a busy season; the family members are fondly remembered and their gracious and lavish lifestyle is still discussed.

The patriarch of the family was Jabez Bunting Snowball. Born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in 1836, he attended Mount Allison in Sackville and following graduation, decided to settle in Chatham where his father was the Methodist Minister.

Jabez Bunting Snowball

He joined John MacDougall in a general store business. In 1866 he bought him out and expanded his business to become eventually the second largest lumber exporter in New Brunswick.

Besides his several Miramichi mills, J. B. Snowball was active in railway, the Chatham Electric Light Company and the Miramichi Telephone Exchange.

Involved in the building of the railway from Chatham to Newcastle, he eventually became absolute owner. With Alexander Gibson, he built the line from Chatham to Gibson near Fredericton. The line was called "The Canada Eastern Railway" and Mr. Gibson bought out Snowball.

Although J. B. Snowball operated small mills in Bay du Vin River, Red Bank and Tracadie, "Snowballs Mill", referred to by Miramichi residents even today, is the one which was established in 1872 in Chatham in the area where the Sewage Treatment plant is now. This was a large steam sawmill, at that time the largest in New Brunswick.

Many Chatham people have ancestors who worked for Snowballs. Mrs. Pearle McLean tells of her father, George Groat, who was employed by Snowballs for 55 years and ended up as mill manager.

"Snowball was good to him," she says. "He earned a very good salary and was sent on a number of buying trips all over the country. George Fisher and Sam McLean were key people in Snowball's office in the early years; Clarence Luke managed the office in later years".

Charles Whitty tells of his father Jimmy Whitty, who worked for years in the machine shop located where LeGresley's store is now.

The volume of business carried on by Snowballs was staggering. Dr. Don Moar of Saint John recalls his uncle Peter Moar telling him that the ships at Snowball's wharf would be lined up as many as eleven deep waiting cargo.

"As soon as one was loaded, the next would move up," says Dr. Moar.

"Fresh water was a problem and this problem was solved by having small water boats bring water to these waiting vessels."

Dr. Moat's great uncle, Captain Jim Moar, ran one of these water boats; it was he who was the Captain Moar of the "Blue Bird", as recounted in the poem written by Martin Sullivan.

J. B. Snowball In Politics

Elected as a Liberal MP in 1878, he was appointed Senator in 1891, a position he resigned to become Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick in 1902. He died while still in office. In 1907 he was on his way to attend church at Christ Church Cathedral in Fredericton and he died on the street.

Wellington Villa

The J. B. Snowball home, still standing on the corner of King and Wellington Street, was a showplace--the huge Gothic-style house with well cared-for and extensive gardens was surrounded by wrought iron fence believed imported from England.

(The J. B. Snowball House, on the corner of King and Wellington Streets, as it looks today. Dewey photo)

In 1858 J. B. Snowball married Margaret MacDougall, his partner's daughter. After her death, married Margaret Archibald (1873), a Minister's daughter. Many Chatham residents remember the second Mrs. Snowball very well.

Pearle McLean recalls that she was a sweet person, always referred to as Lady Snowball. "She taught me in Sunday School; she would take us to Beaubear's Island for picnics. My memory of her is that she was wonderfully sweet and kind."

Aside from her good nature, Mrs. Snowball is probably best remembered for her wonderful garden and garden parties.

Charles Whitty who lives across the street in the Loudoun house, recalls that she had a great number of garden parties and strawberry festivals, many of them in aid of the war effort during World War I, or in aid of the church.

"The garden parties were held in the gardens to the east and to the rear of the house. The Presbyterian Manse wasn't there then, of course, and the coach house, now Calvin Presbyterian Church, was close to the street and facing the other way. A gardener was employed and the flowers, shrubs and trees were beautiful."

A report regarding one of the gardens parties, taken from the Whitty newspaper files, reads as follows:

"The garden party held on Wellington Villa grounds on Wednesday afternoon, September 6, 1916, under the auspices of the local Red Cross Society, was well attended and most successful, the handsome sum of $105 being realized. A large number of those attending took advantage of the opportunity to inspect the beautiful grounds and well-kept flower and vegetable gardens. Mrs. Osborne Nicholson of Newcastle was the holder of the lucky ticket in the drawing for the silk umbrella."

Ben Burke of Newcastle recalls, "How well I remember Wellington Villa and the garden parties they had; I could see them as I passed by and to me they looked like something you would see in the movies.

"Lady Snowball, as we all called her, taught me in Sunday School in the basement of St. Luke's Church. Many a Sunday I would walk home with her and she would take me into the garden and pick a bouquet of flowers for my mother.

"I was in the house several times as she taught me recitations for Easter and Christmas. I was always impressed with the heavy wine velour curtains and the knob on the front door looked awful large to me; I didn't know whether to open it or not. I was four or five then."

The front door itself, according to Charles Whitty, was carved by a German artisan.

The J. B. Snowball Family

The children of the first marriage were MacDougall Snowball and William Bunting Snowball. Three other children died when they were very young.

MacDougall Snowball became president and manager of the first electric street and domestic lighting system which his father had organized. He died in Pasadena, California.

William Bunting Snowball remained in Chatham and became president of the J. B. Snowball Company Ltd., incorporated in 1900. Under his management some changes were made. Three fish canneries on Shippegan and Miscou Islands were sold in 1906 and the dry goods business at Chatham was wound up that same year. The large mill closed in 1923.

W. B. Snowball was mayor of Chatham for four terms and a member of parliament for one year before he died in 1925.

J. B. Snowball's second family was made up of R. Archibald (Archie); Laura (later Mrs. Henry Rawlings) Montreal; Frances (later Mrs. Earl Crocker), Newcastle; Lillian, who never married and lived in Cowansville, Quebec.

W. B. and R. A.

The half-brothers William B. Snowball and R. A. Snowball continued the family tradition of beautiful and gracious life style.

W. B. Snowball purchased the Henry Muirhead Jr. property at the corner of Henderson and Howard Streets.

R. A. Snowball built his home on the comer of King and Howard. With its fish pond and sundial it was another showplace. Later turned into an apartment house called "Chatham Towers'', it burned several years ago.

Connie Jenkins, who now lives in an apartment in the J. B. Snowball house, tells of her father DeVeber Trevors, a landscape gardener, starting to work for the Snowballs in 1916. Previously he was judge Wilkinson's gardener and the family lived in Bushville.

They moved to the gardener's house on the W. B. Snowball property, now the home of Syd Trevors.

"My father looked after the gardens at the three Snowball homes. Sunnyside, W. B. Snowball's estate, ran the length of the whole block then. It was just beautiful; you could walk from the living room through to the hot house.

"In later years my father did floral work at Miramichi Nurseries on Howard Street, which was owned by R. A. Snowball."

The Next Generation

In 1889 W. B. Snowball married Mary Louise Harrison. Their children were Harrison (Harry) and Laurence (Laurie).

He, like his father, married twice. His second wife, whom he married in 1896, was Bertha Harris. Their children were Walter, who married Frances Kerr; Bertha, who married Ellis Salter, Ottawa; Mona, who lives in Toronto; J. Bunting (Bun), who died recently in Toronto; and J. MacDougall, who died when he was quite young.

R. A. Snowball married Margaret McIntyre from Montreal. They had one son Robbie, who lived most of his life in Montreal and died there recently.

R. A. Snowball became president of the company in 1925. The mill was sold in 1929 and torn down shortly afterwards. The Great Depression was taking its toll.

The Snowballs played a significant part in the history of the Miramichi and their activities form one of its most interesting chapters.

(Northumberland News, May 26, 1982)

Copyright © Lois F. Martin, 1985. All rights reserved.