Our flight takes us down the valley of the South West Margaree River.
At Margaree Forks, the North East Margaree River joins in and we turn slightly westward, following the combined Margaree Rivers. We fly over the “Big Intervale” past Fordview and Gallants Hill, and soon the iron bridges of East Margaree are coming into view.
The river is slowing down now as salt water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence is marching upstream with rising tides. From the air, the scene is dramatic with high hills on both sides and the wide valley floor filled to the brim with a wide river. This is the estuary of the Margaree River.
To get good pictures, we drop even lower over the river and bump around in the rough air. Neat rectangular blocks of land butt on the river frontage and fade away into the hills. From the air, the “Long Lots” can be found along the St. Lawrence River.
The new low-level bridge of Margaree Harbour is now in sight. The land is flatter now on both sides of the river with the villages of Margaree Harbour and Belle Cote spotted on opposite sides of the river facing each other.
A long sand and gravel bar almost closes off the mouth of the river from the ocean. The river narrows as it passes out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two massive breakwaters help to keep the channel of the river open, providing a safe passage for the fishing boats returning to the wharf on the Belle Cote side.
The mouth of the Margaree River is different from many other rivers that are silt-laden in that it does not build a delta. Its drowned river mouth is almost five miles inland.
Settlement began in the early 1800s at Margaree Harbour and gradually spread inland along the two Margaree River valleys. In those early days, it was an important trans-shipment village/port as the coastal steamers, “the smacks,” brought bulk goods to the inland villages, such as South West Margaree.
D.D. MacFarlane, the store keeper at South West, wrote many times about going to Margaree Harbour for bulk goods such as molasses, salt, sugar, kerosene, tea, and other items that came in bulk quantities. From the Harbour, they were moved overland by horse and wagon or horse and sleigh. He even mentions trucking bulk goods to the Harbour for shipment and occasionally visitors and relatives returning to faraway places by first taking the coastal vessels.
The Margaree estuary is a stopping place for spawning salmon and gaspereau until their bodies become acclimatized to the brackish water and eventual fresh water of their parent rivers. In the spring of the year, the gaspereau fishermen of the South West valley wait anxiously for the call that rings out that the gaspereau are “in the harbour” and it’s just a matter of time until the “big run” is on. Later on, the Atlantic Salmon are making their run up the North East Margaree River.
Some of my fond memories of Margaree Harbour were the many hot summer days spent at the beautiful sandy beach that never seemed to lose its sand, a visit to Lawrence’s Store, and a strange well close to the roadside that was forever bubbling up fresh water.
The old wharf and shanties, the ropes and anchors, the boats and bustling activities of fishermen are all gone. But they are not far away, they just moved across the harbour to Belle Cote. I guess change is inevitable. I would imagine that some of us might even miss the old rickety bridge that crossed the harbour.
Margaree Harbour is a much quieter village now than it was at the turn of the century when its harbour was more important than the roads and rails which were to come.