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Click to enlarge. [Photo by author]

Scattered throughout the world are 400 mountains and hills named ‘Sugarloaf.’ There are more than 200 in the United States alone. 

Canada has several. The best known Sugarloaf, of course, is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

But the one that stands out for me [no pun intended] is in my hometown of Campbellton, New Brunswick. The heavily-treed 922-foot high Sentinel is at the southern edge of town, about a mile or so from where I grew up, on Duncan Street.

My bedroom window provided a cool view of the old mountain. From my cozy bunk bed, the Sugarloaf was the last thing I saw at night and the first thing in the morning. There was something magical about it. I checked it out quite often, quietly wondering if I’d ever make it to the top. The mountain seemed so high.

I also thought about the animals [including the bears and raccoons] that lived up there. But mostly I thought about two white crosses painted on the face of the mountain. I was drawn to them. The crosses were a tad frightening, yet fascinating at the same time.

After my father, Byers, bought a pair of binoculars in the early 1960s, I got to see the jagged cliffs up close. And the crosses! That was a ‘wow’ moment when they came into view. So big and clear. It was as though I was ‘right there.’ 

When I became a teenager — we’re talking mid-1960s here — I finally hiked the rugged path that snakes up Sugarloaf’s eastern slope and stood proudly on the summit, waving to no one in particular. I had climbed Mt. Everest. 

At one time, my family owned a chunk of the mountain. We got rental cheques from a small company that owned a TV transmission tower on top of the Sugarloaf … the tower allowed Campbelltonians to watch television programs from Maine, U.S.A. Cable TV was a big deal back then. We didn’t know it, but we were years ahead of people living in the Centre of the Universe, Toronto.

So as a kid, I was fascinated with Sugarloaf Mountain — and it’s still that way. And here I am, turning 70 in a couple of years.


The View! Wow!!!

I ran out of words to describe the view from atop Sugarloaf Mountain:  ‘awesome,’ ‘impressive,’ ‘picturesque’ … and so I clicked on my thesaurus and found more descriptors: ‘splendid,’ ‘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:

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A family enjoys the vista from the viewing platform on 8 July 2017. Yup, that’s a drone shot. Can you spot the operator? Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]

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The Canadian flag commemorates the three RCMP officers who were shot and killed in the line of duty in Moncton, New Brunswick, in June 2014. [Photo by Author]

You always know you’re close to the top when you hear the flag flapping in the wind. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Darlene Firth]

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Visitors from Moncton, N.B. and Germany. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]

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Here’s what an eagle flying 1,650 feet above the Sugarloaf would see. The red circled area is the viewing platform. The photo also shows part of the 4.2 KM Terry Fox Memorial Trail which encircles the mountain. Click to enlarge, then click again to zoom in closer. [Photo by Author]


A Landmark …

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Both the ‘new’ and ‘old’ highways in McLeod’s, east of Campbellton, point straight to the Sugarloaf, highest peak in the area. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]

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God checks out the Sugarloaf. [Photo by Justin Meister]


Historical Images …

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This snapshot was taken more than 100 years ago. It’s the town of Campbellton before a massive fire destroyed it on July 11, 1910, leaving 5,000 homeless. All that remained of the wooden homes were chimneys. The culprit: hot embers from the sawmill on the left. Click to enlarge. [Photographer unknown]

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Photoshopping 1865. Edward John Russell’s view of the Sugarloaf with rather massive Laurentian mountains looming on the Quebec side of the Restigouche River. [Courtesy of the John Clarence Webster Canadiana Collection.] Click to enlarge.

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“Unspoiled Paradise” … an 1879 painting of Sugarloaf Mountain by John Christopher Miles. [Courtesy of Donald McAlpine.] Click to enlarge.

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Isn’t this the strangest thing? Joe Lacasse and his trusty mare, Kitty, at the summit of “Mt. Sugar Loaf” on 3rd November 1923. Word is that Joe had a bum leg from birth … and when he and Kitty finally reached the bottom, the poor horse had a leg injury and had to be ‘destroyed.’ Shot. Click to enlarge. [Photographer unknown, image courtesy of John Van Horne]


Those Crosses …

Like warning signs, a pair of crosses adorns the face of the Sugarloaf, a silent tribute to two sisters who plunged to their deaths in the fall of 1924. Dorville [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 and there was a light blanket of snow on the ground. It was the girls’ tracks in the snow that led searchers to the edge of a steep cliff.

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. You can be standing on solid ground but before you know it, you’re stepping into thin air and down you go.

Could it be that one girl slipped and fell and her sister tried in vain to grab her? Who knows??

No one really knows what happened that night. It’s also not known if anyone heard their screams.

The battered bodies, discovered the following morning by searchers, were carried down in blankets. What a sad day that must have been for the small community.

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The Ramsay girls stood little chance of surviving such a drop. [Photo by Author] Click to enlarge.

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The main cross … repainted by a group of volunteers on July 16, 2016. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author in June 2017]

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.

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The small cross, just up from the main one. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author in 2017]

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Meet one of the two brothers who first painted the crosses — Alex Johnson. Alex and Seely Johnson did so on May 28, 1925 … half a year following the tragic accident. The above photo was taken in May 1955. Click to enlarge. [Photo courtesy of John Van Horne]

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The girls are buried in the Campbellton Rural Cemetery, in the west end of town. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]


A Nighttime Shot …

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Taken shortly before midnight on a warm night in June 2010. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]


Sunrise …

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Sunrise over the Restigouche Estuary and the Bay of Chaleur … notice the patch of fog [on the right], about to be burned off by the morning sun. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author in July 2017]

Sunset …

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The day’s last visitor leaves … but not before one final shot. Another spectacular sunset in Eastern Canada. July 2017. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Darlene Firth]


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 …?

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Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]

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 somebody’s initials … and a date — 1917.

Mark Ramsay has done one better. He often scours the Sugarloaf looking for names, initials, and dates from years and generations gone by. The earliest date? 1887. 

“I thought it was so neat,” he writes, “that folks took the time to sit and carve names in stone all those years ago.”

Mark’s grandfather was the younger brother of Dorville and Lottie Ramsay who died 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 [which is to your right] in sight, otherwise you could end up wandering 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.

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Tall pine trees galore at the western end of the Sugarloaf. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]

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The highway leads to the bright lights of places such as Glen Levit, Dawsonville, and Robinsonville. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]

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Another aerial shot … this one showing Sugarloaf Provincial Park, home of camping, alpine skiing and mountain biking. Notice the Terry Fox Memorial Trail, centre-left, cutting through the forest. Click to enlarge. [Photo by Author]


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’ … go to Download and click on ‘original.’ The image will not only be sharper but larger.

 

 


400-Million Years …

According to scientists, that’s roughly the age of Campbellton’s Sugarloaf — give or take 10 or 20 million years — making it one of the oldest mountains in North America.

The Sugarloaf is believed to be 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 200 million years before the dinosaurs showed up. To put things in perspective, it’s believed that homo sapiens [the earliest humans] have 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: a mountain in Campbellton surrounded by palm trees.

“The heavily-treed 922-foot mountain …” If you’re from the Campbellton-area, that measurement may not have sat well with you. Many are under the impression the Sugarloaf is 1,000 feet. Mountain erosion doesn’t happen that fast, so what’s going on here?

Officials maintain 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?’ Or is it simply folklore? 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 colour photos [taken with an inexpensive Kodak Instamatic] from my sorties up the face of the mountain in August and September 1967.

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Somewhere on the front of the Sugarloaf: Peter Irvine, Arnold Christopher, Oben Haley. The front? Our parents didn’t know what we were up to that day.

Art Stewart

Forget Waldo. Can you spot Art Stewart?

Arnold and Byron

Arnold [author’s kid brother] and Author.

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Christmas 1968 – Author and sister Cheryl on a blustery day outside our family home at 90 Duncan Street … with a snow-covered Sugarloaf in the background.


Old & new pics from the summit …

[Feel free to submit your personal shots from the Sugarloaf … send to byronchristopher@shaw.ca … or to byronchristopher@yahoo.ca]

Broadcaster Steve Bujold 1993

Broadcaster Steve Bujold [1993]

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Beautiful sunrise! Photographer unknown. [Image courtesy of Mike Charlong]

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Local historian Irene Doyle

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The scrawl on the back of this old picture reads: “Kierstead, Mona Kierstead, Julie Arpin, Judy Thompson, Aucoin [?] and Peter Irvine. September 1967. Notice the race track. [Photo by author]

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The small tower is no longer there, and we’re no longer thin either. Left to right, Terry Belliveau, Bryan Lutes, Peter Irvine, Author, Oben Haley. August 1967.

 

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 the existing path — 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.

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. Arsonists paid a visit one night …

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 was in 1850. There’s nothing wrong with having diverse opinions. That’s all part of a democracy.

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Part of the existing trail up the side of the Sugarloaf. Hiking NB describes the hike as ‘intermediate.’ It’s also dangerous, especially when those massive boulders on the path are wet. Does anyone know how many people have been injured on this trail?

One is also free to climb the face. Of course, it’s far more dangerous. If you do attempt 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 stay away from the crosses, unless you’re an experienced climber.

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About 40 percent of the way up the face … Click to enlarge. [Photo by author — who wasn’t wearing a helmet. LOL]

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 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.

There’d also be far fewer injuries if the trail and viewing area was properly developed.

I can see tourists flocking to Campbellton to ride the cable car and enjoy the spectacular view and everything that goes with it.

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.

 

 

 

27 thoughts on “My Love Affair with a Mountain

  1. WOW!!! I am lost for words. Peter Irving. My brother hung with his brother, Sterling.

    You know as a teenager I don’t think I paid much attention to the Sugarloaf, although I too had a clear view of it out my back door at 52 Duncan. When I do make it back home now, I am in awe of its magical size.

    Thanks.

    Like

  2. My hometown was Dalhousie N.B. and always remember Sugarloaf Mountain and those two white crosses.

    Thank you for sharing the history of the Mountain … so very well done. You should really consider putting this in book form.

    Like

  3. Would you happen to know about the cable car that was attached to the mountain to bring supplies up to the top? I have always seen it, but never knew what it was used for. I am assuming that it was for bringing tools and what have you to the top.

    By the way, love this story and as a fellow Campbelltonian, I miss the place as well.

    Like

  4. My maiden name used to be Claire Hachey; I lived in Atholville but was born in Campbellton, 1956.

    A death in the family had my brother and I living for a while where I could see the Sugarloaf Mountain and the crosses, maybe around 1964. The man and woman had an older son, maybe named Walter? Not sure, not sure his age either, I just remember being there, seeing that mountain daily.

    I always loved the Sugarloaf, I spoke well of it my whole life. I don’t know what town I was in, but the mountain always said I wasn’t far from home.❤️

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  5. Such a special ‘affair’ with a beautiful mountain of memories old and new.

    Loved the photos, especially the night shot and the sunrise over the city.

    Yes, easily found the drone operator.

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  6. Thank you for the history lesson. It is truly amazing how much information we thought we knew about our hometown and how much we didn’t know.

    Being born in Atholville and raised in Campbellton, these ARE things we should have learned in school and not history of the US.

    Thank you again for the amazing article.

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  7. Thanks for the article. I learned a few things from it.

    I was told as a kid that the mountain was 999 feet tall, and so the geological monument was to give it the elevation to make it an ‘official’ mountain bigger than 1000 feet. But I don’t recall who said this, so chalk it up to an urban legend I guess.

    Also, Charlie Thomas was my brother. It is kind of you to mention his contribution.

    Like

  8. Lots of adventures “up the Sugarloaf” remembered.

    In the 1960’s, the western end of the Sugarloaf provided fill for the Campbellton approach of another landmark, The Charles Van Horne Bridge.

    Like

  9. Great article.

    I grew up on Christoper Avenue which was changed to Victoria Street and again to Aucoin Street. My favorite street name is Christopher Avenue which I think was named after your family.

    I never understood why the town wanted to change the name of the street in the first place. The house never moved but it had three different addresses. The house is still standing. My sister lives there. A house that my father built.

    The Sugarloaf mountain is in the back of the house. We had a clear view from our bedroom and kitchen window. We had a wonderful deck in the back of our house. I thought we had the best view in town.

    How I loved Campbellton but I had to grow up. The jobs were scarce and it did not hold a bright future for young adults unless you were lucky.

    I moved in 1966 to Toronto to work and further my education. In 1976 I moved to Chicago and presently I am retired and since moved to Michigan. I married and had two children. I brought them back many times when they young to be with their grandparents and play with their cousins. I wanted them to see and experience the place where I grew up.

    What I am mostly proud of is my father Alex Johnson and his brother Seely that they were the first people to paint the crosses on the Sugarloaf mountain.

    As a young child I remember when my father would come home for supper after a long summer day of painting the crosses. I remembered he said that it was difficult to get the paint and ladder up the front of the mountain and that it was a rough climb.

    I remember when he first told me the story of the sisters and how they fell. It made me sad and I thought in my young mind “What if it was me and my sister”? What would we have done? I never thought that I would ever climb the mountain. Seemed liked like a very scary thing to do.

    I would change my mind.

    When I was around 11 or 12 our parents allowed us to climb the mountain with friends. Sometimes we might have had as many as 15 kids from our neighborhood that would be climbing the mountain on a summer day. It was always an adventure.

    Alex Johnson was born in 1898. That would make him 57 years old in that picture of him leaning against the cross.

    His brother Seely was older. He was not afraid of heights. He was a Forman of Bridge and Buildings for the Canadian National Railroad in Campbellton. His job required him to work on high bridges.

    Seely loved Campbellton! He was a one of the founding fathers of the Canadian Legion and was an active member for over 75 years. He fought in the First World War. He told many stories of the war.

    When I took a closer look at the picture, I noticed that he documented the date that the crosses were painted and hand painted a little story regarding the accident. That was truly my Dad. He wanted everyone to remember.

    I want to thank you for honoring him and acknowledging him and his brother Seely. Alex Johnson died a couple of months before his 99 birthday of old age.

    I love the articles you post and I guess I am a lot like you. I left a piece of my heart there, I miss my hometown and I will never forget how wonderful and beautiful it was to grow up there. I would like to return to find the piece of my heart I left behind. Where will I find it? In the little house I grew up in or is it on top of the Sugarloaf mountain? Maybe it is in Tide Head where I went swimming or somewhere on the streets of town when I walked everywhere. No buses there! And if I do find it, I may leave it there. ♥️

    Like

  10. Bravo!!!! Once again my friend you have captured me in your writings.

    You have a marvelous gift and I am thankful you share them with me … thank you.

    Like

  11. I didn’t realize the Bay of Chaleur moved so close to Campbellton! Nice shot.

    Those night time shots of Sugarloaf are terrific especially the one with lightning you didn’t take 🙊.

    Great article.

    Like

  12. I would like to make a correction. Alex was a founding member of the Canadian Legion anld actively participated in the Legion for over 75 years. Alex was a foreman on the Canadian National Railway. He was employed as a foreman over Bridge and Buildings.

    Seely was a taxidermist and served as a local weatherman.

    Like

  13. I really enjoyed reading your article. Campbellton and Sugarloaf Mountain, cannot talk of one without the other.

    Spent almost all of my years in that town, the last thirty years our living room window was facing the mountain. Could see the two crosses clearly and remember seeing them being painted. Was always fascinated by the different versions of the story of the two women’s fall.

    Thanks Mr. Christopher for sharing your personal feelings towards that landmark.

    Like

  14. Another well-written and documented story. You excel in your writing and I look forward to every article. Also looking forward to my visit to Campbellton in August.

    Like

  15. I just toured the retired volcano from your home town area. It was an amazing short journey which gave the sense of history and beauty.

    A sad event, those two girls that fell in 1924.

    My favourite pic is the painting of the hill in 1879. I can get the sense of unspoiled paradise with the painting.

    I sometimes feel a bit sad about the “lost paradise” all the now-populated places were 100 years ago. There are still many untouched places, I know, but just the same … what have we done … damn it.

    Like

  16. Wonderful! Magical! I grew up in Brookside Park and this great piece of nature was my backyard. It was our playground. Many adventures. Some to share and others, while exciting and memorable, cannot be shared!😊

    Thank you for a great article! Keep them coming.

    Like

  17. Well done! I really enjoyed this article, it brought back so many wonderful memories of climbing the Sugarloaf in the 60’s & 70’s.

    We also had a great view of the mountain from our house on Landsdowne … and even though I love my adopted province, there’s no place like home.

    Like

  18. Wonderful to accidently stumble on this article.

    I recognised the mountain from the first picture. Small world! I grew up at 53 Duncan (born 1945) and made many trips up the Sugarloaf from a path on the other side of the brook. Used to be a wonderful walk but the final trail to the summit was over huge boulders so I imagine the guy on the horse up there must have rode up there from somewhere else.

    Also the old painting is looking at the mouth of Walkers Brook into what we called Rabbit Toen.

    Brought back lots of wonderful memories of home.

    Like

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