Canada has several Sugarloafs; the U.S. alone has more than 200. The best known, of course, is in Rio de Janeiro.
But the Sugarloaf Mountain that stands out for me — no pun intended — is in my hometown of Campbellton, New Brunswick. The heavily treed 922-foot sentinel is at the southern edge of town, about a mile or so from Duncan Street where I grew up.
My bedroom window provided a great view of the old 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 got up early enough, I could see the rising sun slowly illuminating the mountain, starting at the top and working its way down.
Like an unveiling, I guess.
There was something magical about our Sugarloaf and I thought about it a lot. I mused about the bears and raccoons that made the mountain their home …
But mostly I thought about the two large, white-on-red crosses on the north face. Like a magnet I was drawn to them. They were fascinating … and to a kid like me, a bit frightening as well because I knew what they represented. Death.
The monuments — because that’s what the crosses have become — were the work of a local painter who thought outside the paint can. More on him later.
After my father, Byers, bought a pair of binoculars — we’re talking early 1960s here — I got to see those beautiful jagged cliffs up close. And those crosses! Man! Back to them again. That was a ‘wow’ moment when they came into view … so big and clear. It was as though I was standing right in front of them.
When I lowered the binoculars, I quietly wondered if I’d ever make it to the top of the Sugarloaf. It seemed so high and dangerous.
In my teenage years, I finally hiked the rugged path that snakes up Sugarloaf’s eastern slope, standing proudly on the summit. I’d climbed Mt. Everest.
I was always fascinated with Sugarloaf Mountain … and it’s still that way today. And here I am, now in my seventies. [I was born in 1949]
The mountain has given both joy and sadness; joy when I see it, sadness when I leave town …
The View! Wow!!!
I ran out of words in describing the view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain: awesome, impressive, picturesque … and so I clicked on my thesaurus and found a few more … dazzling, sensational, remarkable, unforgettable …
Well, see for yourself … click on the photo to see a spectacular image that’ll fill your screen …Take another look at that photo.
Some well-known folk have walked Campbellton’s streets including former Quebec Premier Rene Levesque, pop-singer Patsy Gallant, country singers Brenda Best and Rik Reese, Broadcaster Steve Bujold, a handful of NHL players, NHL Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Peter Maher, Canadian Tire CEO Stephen Wetmore … and Charlie Van Horne — one of Canada’s most colourful politicians — who had a bridge — the one in the photo — named after him.
The flag atop Sugarloaf Mountain has become a much-loved icon in Campbellton. When the wind blows, it waves ‘hello’ to no one in particular.
The flag is many things … from a weather beacon [showing how strong the winds are] to a gentle reminder that it would like a little company.
The flag is also a powerful piece of Canadiana … proudly flapping in the wind. It not only reminds people where they are, but what Canada stands for.
Having a flagpole on top of the Sugarloaf was the brainchild of RCMP Corporal Stephen Dibblee. The officer wanted to do something special to honour the three slain Moncton Mounties.
On 17 April 2018, a combination of strong winds and an ice storm brought down the flagpole, snapping it in two. Within hours, Dibblee [stationed in Ottawa] was on the phone with officials at Sugarloaf Park to make arrangements to put up a new pole.
When it comes to getting things done, people will either find a way or find an excuse. Dibblee and Sugarloaf Park staff found a way and it didn’t take them long.
A new flagpole was erected by park workers on the 25th of May. It’s a few feet shorter than the old one.
An Old Landmark …
Historical Images …
A 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 chose 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. As well, there weren’t nearly as many trees on the mountain like today.
Tracks in the snow led searchers to the edge of a steep cliff. The searchers called out … but there was no answer. The silence was a huge red flag. This was no longer a rescue mission but a recovery mission.
Climbing down the front of the mountain 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 thing, you’re stepping into thin air … and down you go.
Could it be that one girl slipped, fell and her sister tried to grab her?
No one knows for sure what happened that fateful day. It’s also not known if anyone heard their screams.Given information on the two death certificates, it appears the young women died quickly: massive head injuries.
The bodies, discovered next morning by a police officer, were carried down in blankets.
It was a terribly sad day for people in the tightly knit community.
Doucet 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 founder of Restigouche River Outfitters, died 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 who owned a paint store.
Angie Johnson points out that her father, Alex, was never paid for the work he did on the mountain. “He did it out of friendship,” she says. “And 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 used by her father.
Johnson, a founding member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Campbellton, died in September 1997. The man 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 positive legacy.For a more complete story on the crosses, click here: https://byronchristopher.org/2017/10/08/death-on-the-mountain/
Mother Nature may be slow but she’s never still.
Campbelltonians are used to hearing the occasional rumbling from the old mountain as large rocks break free and tumble down. Three times in the past ten years, massive chunks of rock have broken free and cleared a swath through trees.
One particular slide happened around eight in the evening on Tuesday, 24 September 2019.
Anyone who had been hiking in its path would’ve been in serious trouble. A good reason, say parks officials, to stick to the trails!
Check out this :05 clip.
Here’s a 30-second aerial showing the two main breakaway points and the aftermath.
To view the clip in higher resolution, click on ‘Share’ [top right], then click on ‘MP4’ [bottom left]. Wait for the clip to load.
Slide number three — again, just to the left of the crosses — June 2020 …
Photo: courtesy of Rose Beek
A Nighttime Shot …
Etched in Stone
Scattered throughout the Sugarloaf are scores 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 Matapedia 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 generations gone by. The earliest date he’s come across? 1887.
Mark’s grandfather was the younger brother of Dorvil and Lottie Ramsay.
“I thought it was so neat,” he shares, “that folks took time to sit and carve names in stone all those years ago.”
True. Back then, people did that. Today they use a marker.
Western End of the Sugarloaf …
The hike to this part of the mountain is unmarked, but it’s worth the time and effort to make your way through the forest. Because there’s no path, try to keep the city in view … otherwise, you could wander all over the place.
You know you’ve reached the end when you come across a cluster of tall pine trees. The ‘Pines,’ provide an excellent view of Sugarloaf Provincial Park, Matapedia 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, which is 50 percent sharper — no problem. Just click on ‘share’ [top right] … then 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.
According to geologists, 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. It’s also 200 million years before the dinosaurs showed up. To put things in perspective, it’s believed that homo sapiens [the earliest humans] have only been around a mere 2 million years.
And just like that, 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 supposedly made life easier.
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 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. For American readers, that’s color.
When hiking the mountain, it’s easy to tell when one is getting near the top, and it’s not the flag flapping in the wind, or people talking. About 150 feet or so from the summit, especially towards the front, one begins to notice old pop cans, plastic bottles, broken glass bottles, empty potato chip bags, sunflower seed bags, tissue papers, etc. It’s a little garbage dump.
In years gone by, there was a public garbage dump at the very bottom of the mountain. Today, it’s near the top.
Park officials are now encouraging people to take their garbage with them when they go. Some slobs have been ignoring the request, dropping the litter at their feet. Let someone else pick it up, I guess.
Snapshots and Mugshots …
Feel free to submit your personal pics from the Sugarloaf … send to email@example.com [home] … or to firstname.lastname@example.org [work].
Campbellton’s original fitness club …
Gone Are The Old Towers …Some mountain trivia: At one time, my family owned a chunk of the old Sugarloaf. We got a cheque from a small company that owned a TV transmission tower on top of the mountain when the land was sold.
A sturdy cable was dropped over the face of the mountain and that line allowed people in Campbellton to watch American TV programs from WAGM in Presque Isle, Maine.Back in the 1960s, cable TV was a big deal. We didn’t know it, but Campbellton was years ahead of some major Canadian cities.
So was climbing the twin towers a big deal, albeit risky. Some, like Roland Parent [who was about 15 at the time] managed to climb to the top and sit on the cross-bars, enjoying the view. Not me. I got as far as 30 feet up and was shaking.
I agree. I’d say that 75 to 80 percent of those who climb the Sugarloaf are women.
A Sugarloaf Birthday Cake
Now this is different.
In March 2019, hiking buds Mariettte and Anne both celebrated the Big 6-0h. Friends presented them with a custom-made birthday cake of one of their favourite haunts, the Sugarloaf Mountain.
The cake was made by Croissant Delice of Balmoral.
World-Class View …
So how about a world-class tourist site? It’s possible. But do people want that??
By world-class tourist attraction, I’m talking about a cable car up 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. Why not? 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 just as classy.
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 than 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 a nice place,” adding, “… a perfect spot.”
“People would come from China to see the beautiful scenery here.”
Yup.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.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 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 some consideration.
‘OUR MOUNTAIN’ …
These two wonderful poems by Deanna Taylor Holdershaw sum up perfectly how locals feel about their beloved mountain, a touchstone to so much history … [click to enlarge]