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:
A Landmark …
Historical Images …
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.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.
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 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.
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.
Old & new pics from the summit …
[Feel free to submit your personal shots from the Sugarloaf … send to email@example.com … or to firstname.lastname@example.org]
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.
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.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.