Peter Mitchell Commemorated

The Miramichi is unique in many ways. To be able to boast two Fathers of Confederation is yet another source of pride.

Peter Mitchell of Newcastle and John M. Johnson of Chatham were law partners who soon became interested in politics. Being eloquent orators, they became known as "The Northumberland County Smashers."

Johnson was first elected to the provincial Legislature in 1850 and Mitchell six years later.

In 1866 Peter Mitchell led the Confederation Party to victory to become the Premier of New Brunswick. Earlier he had attended the Quebec Conference and later the London Conference. He was the man who steered New Brunswick into Confederation.

Called to the Senate when the first federal Cabinet was formed, he became Canada's first Minister of Fisheries. He was elected to the Commons in 1872 where he was to serve for a total of fifteen years.

In 1874 his constituents wanted to recognize his achievements in some way, and a fund was set up.

A meeting of Northumberland County electors decided to present this outstanding native son with a testimonial. The following is taken from the Union Advocate of January 7, 1874.

"A number of the subscribers to the fund in aid of procuring a testimonial to be presented to the Hon. Peter Mitchell met at Chatham on Saturday. At this meeting it was determined to procure a silver dinner service and a gold watch and chain. The whole thing is to cost somewhere in the vicinity of $3,000. The committee appointed to carry out the wishes of the subscribers: Hon. W. Muirhead (Senator), C. Sargeant, Alex Morrison, R. R. Call, Michael Adams."

The testimonial banquet was held and the presentation was made.

Mitchell Artifacts In Newcastle

The silver epergne and the gold watch presented to Peter Mitchell in 1874 are now in possession of the Town of Newcastle, having been acquired by Lord Beaverbrook.

It is interesting to note that the gold watch was discovered in Ottawa a few years ago by Mrs. Daniel Arbuckle of Ottawa (the former Doreen Menzies of Whitney), who is well-known here and is the author of the book "The North West Miramichi."

It is not known exactly how the watch ended up in Ottawa but Mrs. Arbuckle saw it advertised at an auction and lost no time in acquiring it.

Another artifact of interest is Peter Mitchell's cradle, which came down through the Urquhart family and was presented to Lord Beaverbrook by Mrs. Aubrey Steeves and Mrs. Robert Cairns, formerly Hazel and Mora MacKay of Newcastle, whose mother was an Urquhart. The cradle is presently owned by the Town of Newcastle.

Commemorative Ceremony -- 1927

Ceremonies, arranged by the Boy Scouts were held in both Newcastle and Chatham to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Confederation.

In Newcastle, school children of Harkins, St. Mary's and Buie Schools assembled at the Memorial Field.

Mayor W. L. Durick read King George's message. Pictures of Hon. Peter Mitchell and the Fathers of Confederation were presented to the school by the IODE. A pageant of Confederation was presented and patriotic choruses sung.

Two maple trees were planted at the entrance to the Memorial Field by C. E. Fish, former Member of Parliament who gave an address on Hon. Peter Mitchell. The planting was directed by the Canadian Legion. All proceeded to St. James Cemetery where a wreath was laid on Mr. Mitchell's grave by the Boy Scouts.

100th Anniversary -- July 1, 1967

At noon on July first ceremonies were held across Canada at the final resting places of all 37 Fathers of Confederation.

The following account is taken from the Moncton Times of July 3, 1967:

A simple but impressive ceremony was carried out Saturdav at the grave of Peter Mitchell, Newcastle's Father of Confederation which is in the churchyard of the former Presbyterian church, now the St. James and St. John United Church.

The ceremony was sponsored by the Canadian Boy Scout Association of Canada and the Centennial Committee of the town of Newcastle. Honored guests at the ceremony were Mr. and Mrs. Robert Clements of Halifax and Dr. Louise Manny of Newcastle. Mrs. Clements is the closest living relative of Peter Mitchell. The ceremony was attended by honored guests. Rover Scouts, Robert Ronan, Wayne Tozer, William Arsenault of the Aurora Troop, Newcastle: Mayor Earle McKenna. Deputy Mayor A. B. Weldon and members of the council, and M.L.A.'s of Northumberland County, members of the Lord Beaverbrook Chapter, IODE and interested citizens.

Ald. William Vickers chaired the program. Rover Scout Robert Ronan read the commemorative service address written by Dr. Frank MacKinnon followed by the placing of the official memorial wreath by Mrs. Robert Clements, assisted by Rover Scout Robert Ronan. Mayor Earle McKenna placed a wreath for the Town of Newcastle. Deputy Mayor A. B. Weldon read the list of the Fathers of Confederation. Rev. Elton Smith of the United Church offered a prayer of thanksgiving. The group then reassembled at the Square in downtown Newcastle where Mrs. Clements laid a wreath at the Memorial Cenotaph.

Attending the ceremony were several residents of the town of Chatham and Mrs. George Rafferty of Florida, the former Sarah Hill, former resident of Newcastle who moved away in 1929. Dr. Mildred Fish and Dr. Frances Fish entertained Mr. and Mrs. Clements and Dr. Louise Manny at a party luncheon.

The town of Newcastle tendered a testimonial dinner to the honored guests in the Beaverbrook Town Hall Saturday night at which members of the council and their wives and county members of the Legislature were present.

A New Monument

Prior to 1969 there was nothing special to mark Peter Mitchell's grave. The Father of Confederation's epitaph was only a few lines on the Mitchell family monument.

Today just in front of the original monument in St. James Churchyard there is a larger and most appropriate stone of grey granite with an attractive plaque. The wording is similar to that on the monument in the Square.

Some confusion surrounds the origin of the plaque but it apparently arrived in Newcastle following the Centennial Year celebrations.

Herbert L. Shephard, chairman of St. James Cemetery Committee says he became aware of its existence and set out to have it installed in the cemetery. ''I went to Sussex to see the Nelson Monument people," he said. "They agreed to donate the stone and Smith Contractors contributed the foundation work. I think the result is very impressive. The monument is located just on the left of the main entrance to the churchyard."

The plaque refers to Peter Mitchell as "Timber Merchant, Shipbuilder, Orator and Statesman". Dr. Louise Manny, the late Miramichi historian would no doubt be pleased with the wording. She once expressed disappointment that an earlier plaque, placed on the Newcastle Post Office in 1941, did not mention Mitchell's role as a shipbuilder. "Shipbuilding was one of Peter's many colorful activities," she said at that time.

(Northumberland News, February 18, 1981)

Peter Mitchell

Written by Michael Whelan, Renous, Miramichi poet on the death of Peter Mitchell, which occurred in Montreal October 25, 1899.

Ah, he is dead, the grand old man
   Beyond the three score years and ten,
Who in the old time led the van,
   The foremost mid the foremost then.

And who shall count his contests o'er
   Or who shall tell his battles won,
And who does not his death deplore
   New Brunswick's great and gifted son?

To read his history great and good.
   The story of that struggle grand,
When Peter Mitchell sternly stood
   The bulwark of his native land.

How in that dark and stormy day
   His voice rang out in splendid strife.
When, old abuses swept away,
   New Brunswick rose to larger life.

When in Confederation's cause
   He lent heroic, helping hand
To formulate the liberal laws
   That govern now our native land.

When Minister of out Marine
   He lit our coasts with warning lights,
That far upon the sea are seen,
   His monuments, on dark, dense nights.

And in the Behring Sea award
   Gigantic work had Mitchell done,
But others reaped the rich reward
   And wore the laurels he had won.

When in the Senate, too, he sat,
   Where he at last might hope to rest,
At duty's call he tendered that
   And left it at his Chief's request.

And now at last he lies in death
   Just as the Transvaal trumpet blows
When, summoned from his native heath,
   Each boy to battle bravely goes.

Peace to the gallant Mitchell's soul,
   He would have been in battle too,
So, tho the Transvaal thunders roll,
   Remember him, the tried and true.

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