The Legacy of W. S. Loggie

(The W. S. Loggie House as it looked in 1979)

It is 1983 and I am sitting in the Victorian drawing room of the W. S. Loggie house in Chatham. The room looks not very different now from the days when the Loggie family lived here.

From the dining room comes the sound, not of the massive table being laid for dinner, but the voices of crafts people taking part in a crocheting class.

The story of how this house came to be and the very different role it is playing now goes back to 1879 when W. S. Loggie commissioned local builder George Cassady to construct "Hillside", a three-storey mansion that has been a landmark on Wellington Street for more than a century.

William Stewart Loggie was a young man on the move and the house was a fitting tribute to his ability. It was an appropriate family home for one determined to become a man of substance.

In 1874 he had married Elspeth Kerr and they were to have a family of twelve children. One son survives, Warren Loggie of Alberta.

W. S. Loggie was born at Burnt Church in 1850. When he was twelve, his family moved to Ferry Road. He left school at fourteen and went to work for MacDougall and Snowball in Chatham. One day J. B. Snowball said to him: "You're smart enough to start a business of your own," to which he replied, "That's just what I'm going to do."

In 1873 he set up a general store in the Commercial Building on Water Street. From that time on he never looked back. He went into the fish business, canning various types of fish as well as blueberries; the Loggie Company owned several schooners and among other things, manufactured and exported lumber and pulpwood.

Active politically, he served as president of the Board of Trade when it was formed in 1895. He was the president of the Maritime Board of Trade in 1900, a member of Chatham's first Town Council in 1896, Chatham's third mayor (1900, 1901), a member of the Legislative Assembly (1903, 1904) and a Member of Parliament from 1904 to 1921.

After the death of Mrs. Loggie, their daughter Rae Loggie ran the house and, in her last years, also held the position of company president.

J. Kerr Loggie began working for his father when he was fifteen. He acted as manager during the early years when W. S. Loggie was involved in politics and in later years when he became ill. When W. S. Loggie died in 1944, Kerr Loggie took over as president.

Another son, Leigh J. Loggie, helped to manage the company during the First World War when his brother Kerr was overseas. After the war, Leigh Loggie decided to go into business for himself at Peace River, Alberta, where he operated a fur trading business and a general store until 1946 when his brother became ill. He returned to Chatham. His brother died the following year and Leigh Loggie managed the W. S. Loggie Company until his own death in 1977.

For the first time in almost a century, the big house stood lonely and neglected. Was this historic structure to go the way of so many others?

I was one who felt the Loggie house was worth preserving. It had historical and architectural interest; its features could not be duplicated-- the mansard roof, the oak floors with the inlaid parquetry and the beautiful woodwork and fireplaces.

The Chatham Town Council was interested in acquiring the property which consisted of two acres of land, the house, barn, carriage house, warehouse, garage and a summer house or gazebo.

Could this house be used as a library? The experts said it would not be suitable unless a great deal of money were spent. It was finally agreed that the property would be utilized as a cultural centre for the whole community and that its 19th Century flavor would be preserved.

Negotiations with the W. S. Loggie Company and its president, Elspeth Berg, a granddaughter of W. S. Loggie, went on until the spring of 1979 when the company agreed to sell the property for $50,000 with the proviso that the house be used only for historical, cultural and charitable purposes. At the time of the transaction the company gave the town a grant of $15,000. Mrs. Berg and her sisters also loaned several artifacts, the most valuable of which is the portrait of Francis Peabody, founder of Chatham, painted in 1837 by Albert G. Hoit of Boston. This painting has been restored by Elizabeth Loucks of Sussex, and is hanging once again in the Loggie house.

As a member of the town council and the one who had pressed for the purchase of the house, I was appointed to head a committee of citizens to restore and administer the house and to seek the funding to do so.

Most of the restoration work was done with the help of a Canada Works Grant, supplemented by a grant from the town. The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation gave a generous donation to restore the drawing room; the Beaverbrook Foundation gave a sizeable grant; the provincial department of youth, recreation and cultural resources gave a grant which transformed the attic into light and airy studios; the Sunworthy Company donated wallpaper, as did Sears' Newcastle store; local organizations, businesses and individuals, including tourists, gave donations of money and artifacts. Interested citizens of CFB Chatham installed a wheelchair ramp for the convenience of the disabled.

The Historical Resources Administration loaned most of the furniture which recreates the 19th Century. This department has also provided a tour guide each summer to conduct visitors through the house.

The W. S. Loggie Cultural Centre was all dressed up in Christmas finery for the official opening in November of 1980. Mayor Edward Maher of Chatham cut the official ribbon. John Saunders, director of the provincial cultural development branch was on hand. Representing the Loggie family was Renforth Loggie of Chatham, son of the late Dr. W. Stuart Loggie and grandson of W. S. Loggie.

In conjunction with the opening, the Miramichi Arts and Crafts Council put on a Christmas exhibit and sale of local arts and crafts. The cultural centre was launched in style.

Almost from the beginning the Centre has been a busy place with meetings, receptions, exhibits and classes in everything from oil painting to guitar lessons. It also hosts travelling art exhibits in cooperation with the provincial cultural development branch.

Operating expenses are met with the help of Miramichi municipalities, businesses, local organizations, the provincial government and personal donations and bequests.

Work on the property has gone beyond the house. The carriage house has been adapted for a children's theatre, the department of cultural resources helping make it possible.

The summer house, built in the 1830's, was for many years on the Joseph Cunard estate on Water Street. It was brought to "Hillside" in the early part of this century when W. S. Loggie purchased the former Cunard property. This building has been restored and now stands ready for inspection.

A visit to the W. S. Loggie house is a visit back through time.

(The Atlantic Advocate, December 1983)

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