Scattered throughout this cool planet of ours are 400 mountains and hills named ‘Sugarloaf.’ Canada has several; the U.S. has more than 200.
The best known Sugarloaf, of course, is in Rio de Janeiro.
The one that stands out for me [no pun intended], however, is in my hometown of Campbellton in northern New Brunswick. The heavily-treed 922-foot high Sentinel is at the edge of town, about a mile or so from Duncan Street, where I grew up.
My south-facing bedroom window provided a cool view of the mountain. From a cozy bunk bed, the Sugarloaf was the last thing I saw at night and the first thing in the morning. If I was up early enough, I got to see the rising sun slowly illuminate the top of the mountain, then the rest of it.
I thought a lot about the Sugarloaf; there was something magical about it.
I pondered about the animals [including bears and raccoons] that made the mountain their home or visited now and then. But mostly I thought about the two large, white crosses painted on the north face. I was drawn to them like a magnet.
Turns out, the monument — because that’s what the crosses were — was the work of a local painter in the 1920s who ‘thought outside the box.’ Those crosses were fascinating … and to a kid, have to admit, a bit frightening as well.
After my father, Byers, bought a pair of binoculars in the early 1960s, I got to see the jagged cliffs up close. And those crosses! Back to them again. That was a ‘wow’ moment when they came into view … so big and clear. It was as though I was right there.
When I lowered the binoculars, I quietly wondered if I’d ever make it to the top. It seemed so high.
In my teenage years — we’re talking mid-1960s here — I finally hiked the rugged path that snakes up Sugarloaf’s eastern slope, standing proudly on the summit, waving to no one in particular. I’d climbed Mt. Everest.
So as a youngster, I was always fascinated with Sugarloaf Mountain … and it’s still that way. And here I am, turning 70 in a couple of years.
The mountain has given me both joy and sadness; joy when I see it, sadness when I leave town.
The View! Wow!!!
I ran out of words to describe the view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain: ‘awesome,’ ‘impressive,’ ‘picturesque’ and so I clicked on my thesaurus and found even more … ‘dazzling,’ ‘sensational,’ ‘remarkable,’ ‘out of this world,’ ‘unforgettable …’
See for yourself … click on this photo to see a ‘spectacular’ image that’ll fill your screen:
Check out that aerial shot again … know that some well-known, prominent folk have walked Campbellton’s streets including former Quebec Premier Rene Levesque, pop-singer Patsy Gallant, country singers Brenda Best and Rik Reese, a number of NHL players, NHL Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Peter Maher, Canadian Tire CEO Stephen Wetmore … and Charlie Van Horne, the colourful politician who had that bridge named after him.
A Landmark …
Historical Images …
Campbellton’s Constant Reminder …
Like warning signs, a pair of crosses is the focal point of the face of the Sugarloaf, a silent tribute to two sisters who plunged to their deaths in the fall of 1924. Dorvil [Ramsay] McLean was 22; Lottie Ramsay, 19.
No one knows why the girls decided to make their way down the face of the mountain. It was mid-November, late afternoon … and a light blanket of snow covered the ground. And there weren’t as many trees on the mountain as there is today.
Tracks in the snow led searchers to the edge of a steep cliff. The searchers called out … however, there was no answer. The silence told searchers this wasn’t a rescue but a recovery mission.
Climbing down the front of the Sugarloaf is treacherous at the best of times. It’s terribly misleading because the trees and shrubbery give one a false sense of security. One moment, you’re standing on solid ground; next, you’re stepping into thin air and down you go.
Could it be that one girl slipped, fell and her sister tried in vain to grab her?
No one knows for sure what happened that evening. It’s also not known if anyone heard their screams when they fell.Given information on the two death certificates, it appears the young women died quickly: massive head injuries.
The bodies, discovered next morning, were carried down in blankets.
It was a terribly sad day for people the small, tightly-knit community.Refreshing the faded crosses was the brainchild of a Sugarloaf Parks worker, Laura Doucet. Doucet coordinated everything and painted the crosses to honour her uncle, Charlie Thomas, who had painted them a number of times, starting in 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year.
Thomas, the popular founder of Restigouche River Outfitters, died from cancer in 2015.It was Alex Johnson’s idea to climb the mountain and paint the crosses. The Johnson brothers got a helping hand from their parents; they owned a paint store in town. Angie Johnson points out that her father, Alex, was never paid for his work on the mountain. “He did it out of friendship,” she says. “It was his idea, his initiative.”
“Dad was very compassionate and he knew the [Ramsay] girls. Everyone in Campbellton was grieving when they died.”
A personal keepsake Angie will treasure forever is the safety harness her father used on the mountain.
Johnson, a founding member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Campbellton, died in September 1997. The gentleman who took it upon himself to help bring some closure to the tragedy was 98.
Alex Johnson is also buried in the Campbellton Rural Cemetery.
The painted crosses have not only paid tribute to two lives but probably saved many more — thus becoming not just a monument, but a living legacy for both the Ramsay and Johnson families.
A Nighttime Shot …
Etched in Stone
Scattered throughout the Sugarloaf are hundreds of names and initials chiseled in stone. The mountain has become a giant scratch pad.
Here are some names at a spot I call the ‘second lookout’ [several hundred feet west of the main lookout]. The location provides a great view of Atholville, Tide Head, and the Matepedia Valley.
Can you make out Daniel Lagace …?One visitor shared that she sometimes makes her way to the remote lookout to meditate. I do too.
It was at this same spot, 50 years ago, where, hidden under moss, I discovered some initials … and a date — 1917.
Mark Ramsay has done one better. The Sugarloaf Parks official often scours the mountain looking for names, initials, and dates from years — and generations — gone by. The earliest date he’s found? 1887.
“I thought it was so neat,” he shares, “that folks took the time to sit and carve names in stone all those years ago.”
True. Back then, people took the time to chisel their names and initials into the volcanic rock. Today they use a marker.
Mark’s grandfather was the younger brother of Dorvil and Lottie Ramsay who lost their lives on the Sugarloaf in 1924.
Western End of the Mountain …
The hike to this part of the Sugarloaf is unmarked, but it’s worth the time and effort to make your way through the forest. There’s no designated path on that part of the mountain so when walking, keep the city [to your right] in view … otherwise, you could wander all over the place.
The “Pines” [as I call the area] provide an excellent view of Sugarloaf Provincial Park, Matepedia Valley and a highway half-cloverleaf in Atholville.
Here’s what a bird sees …
Click on the speeded-up video [2X] to get a birds-eye view of the Sugarloaf from east to west. Music: Reve d’Amour by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Composer: Franz Liszt [1811-1886]. The clip runs just under one minute.
Clicking the arrow will show the video in 720p quality. To view it in 1080p — Blu ray quality, which is 50 percent sharper — no problem. Click on ‘share’ [top right] … go to and click on ‘original’ or MP4. The image will not only be sharper but larger.
Should you want to download the video, click on ‘share’ then on ‘OGG.’
400-Million Years …
That’s one hell of a long time. But that’s the age of Campbellton’s Sugarloaf — give or take 10 or 20 million — making it one of the oldest mountains in North America.
The Sugarloaf is a retired volcano. That explains why it stands out from other mountains in the area since volcanic rock [cooled magma] is more resistant to erosion.
400 million years. Man. That’s when a day on Earth was 22 hours long and a year had more than 400 days. That’s also 200 million years before the dinosaurs showed up. To put things in perspective even further, it’s believed that homo sapiens [the earliest humans] have only been around a mere 2 million years.
Suddenly I don’t feel old anymore.
Another ditty from geologists … what we now know as Northern New Brunswick — including the Sugarloaf — was once south of the Equator. I can’t get my head around that: palm trees in Campbellton.
“The heavily-treed 922-foot mountain …” If you’re from the area, that measurement may not have sat well with you. Many — myself included — were under the impression the Sugarloaf was exactly 1,000 feet. Mountain erosion doesn’t happen that fast, so what’s going on here?
Those in the know maintain that the actual height of Campbellton’s mountain is 922 feet [281 meters]. Could it be that the 1,000-foot number refers to ‘feet above sea-level?’ I don’t know.
The Year Was 1967 …
… before 500-channel television, computers, video games, digital cameras, cell phones, drive-through restaurants, air-conditioning and 100 other things that made life easier. Or so it seemed.
On a spring/summer/fall weekend in the 1960s, it was not unusual to see scores of people scampering about the summit of the Sugarloaf, snapping photos and chiseling their names and initials in the large rocks.
Here’s a collection of old photos [taken with an inexpensive Kodak Instamatic] from my sorties up the face of the mountain in August and September 1967. I paid extra for this film because … it was colour.
When hiking the front of the mountain, it’s easy to tell when one is approaching the top. It’s not the flag flapping in the wind, or people talking … about 150 feet or so from the summit, one begins to notice old cans, bottles [both glass and plastic] and other debris such as empty potato chip bags.
In spite of a large garbage can at the top, there’s a whole whack of litter spread about on the side of the Sugarloaf.
In years gone by, there was a public garbage dump at the very bottom of the mountain. Today it’s near the top. There’s lots of litter [empty water bottles, broken beer bottles, etc] in bushes just beneath the viewing stand.
Snapshots and Mugshots …
Feel free to submit your personal pics from the Sugarloaf … send to firstname.lastname@example.org [home] … or to email@example.com [work].Some mountain trivia: At one time, my family owned a chunk of the Sugarloaf. We got rental cheques from a small company that owned a TV transmission tower on top of the mountain. A thick cable was dropped over the face of the mountain and that cable allowed people in Campbellton to watch television programs from Presque Isle, Maine.
Cable TV was a big deal back then. We didn’t know it, but we were years ahead of people living in Toronto, Centre of the Universe.Just an aside here, but a man [initials: Jimmy Allison] who has been to the top of the Sugarloaf thousands of times — notes that most of those who hike the path are women. “Women,” he says, “climb the Sugarloaf — guys go to the gym.”
I’d say that at least three-quarters of those who climb the Sugarloaf are women.
World-Class view …
so how about a world-class tourist site? It’s possible. But do the people of Campbellton and area want that??
By world-class tourist attraction, I’m talking about a cable car up the face of the mountain — just like in the Alps, the Canadian Rockies and other places around the world. And at the very top of the Sugarloaf, a complex of chalets [great for honeymooners], revolving restaurant, a large, wooden platformed-viewing area with benches, shelters, fixed-binoculars, a souvenir shop, running water and toilets.
Even a glass walkway, like they now have south of Jasper, Alberta. Glass-roofed cabins so people can study the stars at night. As well: an interactive, educational centre. And groomed walking trails across the top of the mountain — not as wide as the Terry Fox Trail — but designed just as well.
And along the spine of the Sugarloaf — near one of the existing paths — a wide, wooden stairway with metal hand-rails … running from the bottom to the top with resting spots with benches and sheltered lookouts along the way.
The Sugarloaf is, as one commentator to the Downhomers Facebook site put it, an ‘undeveloped asset.’
It was Campbellton’s greatest visionary, Charlie Van Horne, who tried to build a hotel complex and revolving restaurant on top of Sugarloaf Mountain. That was more half a century ago. His dream went up in smoke. Literally. One night visitors arrived carrying gasoline …
Dany Roy, a longtime local resident, is a businessman who’d love to see the Sugarloaf developed further. Dany and his family have been climbing the path for years. “They’ve been saying this forever,” he says [of developing the site]. “It’s nice place,” adding, “… a perfect spot.”
“People would come from China to see the beautiful scenery here.”Can’t say I disagree with Roy, but that’s my bias. I recognize that some wouldn’t want to have the site developed at all; in fact, some would prefer it to be the way things were 150 years ago. There’s nothing wrong with having diverse opinions. That’s all part of a democracy. One is also free to climb the face but, of course, it’s far more dangerous. If you try to climb the face, take your time [stop for rest breaks], wear a helmet and take along a cell phone in case you get in trouble.
And unless you’re an experienced climber, avoid from the cliffs above the crosses.Speaking of democracy, put the matter to a referendum — and if the majority of people are in favour of further development of the Sugarloaf — then have a comprehensive study done [with input from professionals and environmentalists] to best determine how Charlie Van Horne’s dream can become a reality.
To borrow a line from Kevin Costner’s 1989 drama film, A Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.”
Perhaps, in the end, it’s not affordable. Not doable. But … maybe it is. A study would sort this out.
It would please me to no end to see more seniors on the top of the Sugarloaf and — for the first time — people in wheelchairs.
If a trail and viewing area were properly developed, there would be far fewer injuries.I can see tourists flocking to Campbellton to ride the cable car and enjoy the spectacular view and everything that goes with it. And that’s 12-months of the year.
I also believe that a development would be a tremendous shot in the arm for both the local and provincial economy. As Dany Roy put it, “It would make Campbellton great again.”
Who knows? With proper planning and management, a world-class tourist site with first-class amenities could become the number one employer in the Campbellton area.
It’s certainly worth consideration.