In 1783, Peter Clinch, revered as the pioneer of St. George, arrived with fellow United Empire Loyalists, setting foot at what is now known as Clinch Street. By February of the following year, he was granted the land which laid the foundation for St. George. By 1786, Clinch had taken on a political role, serving at the House of Assembly in Mallard House, Saint John.
Another distinguished resident, Colonel Hugh McKay, contributed significantly to St. George’s history. For half a century, he held the rank of Colonel in the militia and spent three decades in the House of Assembly. In his later years, he held the title of Senior Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. When he passed away in 1848, he was uniquely honored as the sole full Colonel of the militia in New Brunswick.
St. George witnessed swift growth by the mid-19th century, boasting five shipyards, ten sawmills, and seven granite mills in its vicinity. With growth came challenges, leading to the construction of fortifications: Fort Vernon in 1812 and Fort Hill in 1866. Reminders of the town’s fortified past remain, with cannons from Fort Hill now stationed at the St George Legion Hall.
Religion thrived in the growing town, with the construction of the country’s oldest continuously used Presbyterian Church in 1790. This growth was further evidenced by the establishment of churches over the years: the Anglican church in 1821, which was rebuilt twice due to various circumstances, the Baptist church in 1845, and the Roman Catholic church in 1854.
The town’s communication expanded with the publishing of “Granite Town Greetings,” its inaugural newspaper, around 1902. That same year saw the completion of a granite water-trough. By 1904, St. George achieved incorporation, and Fred Dewar became its first mayor.
The Granite District stands as a hallmark of New Brunswick’s granite industry. Initiated in 1872, this industry began with the launch of a quarry by Lake Utopia and a finishing plant in St. George. The “Bay of Fundy Red Granite Company”, envisioned by New Yorker Charles Ward, propelled the industry forward. Despite initial hurdles, by 1890, six firms were producing diverse granites in St. George, making the industry a primary employment source.
St. George’s granite, distinguished by its radiant red hue, came in various shades from different quarries, offering customers a plethora of choices. Mainly utilized for monuments due to its exceptional quality, this granite was occasionally used for construction. Retailers esteemed St. George granite over imports, considering it more aesthetic and resilient. Its legacy can still be witnessed in numerous Canadian cemeteries.
However, the industry’s decline wasn’t due to granite quality or manufacturers’ mistakes but production costs. The local industry couldn’t match the prices of foreign competitors from countries like Norway, Sweden, and Scotland. After a prosperous six decades, the granite business waned post-World War II. Despite sporadic demand for gravestones, the industry couldn’t subsist on rare orders. By 1953, the last granite company shuttered, signaling the end of an era. Yet, its legacy endures, evident in structures like the St. George post office and the town’s moniker, “The Granite Town.”
An artifact bearing witness to the region’s rich history, the Lake Utopia Medallion, is displayed in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. This intricate granite piece showcases an Indian chief, speculated to be an ally of explorer Pierre de Mont. Discovered in 1862, experts believe it was crafted during the DeMont-Champlain expedition of 1604.
By the mid-20th century, the town’s economic focus shifted. The once-thriving granite industry gave way to the St. George Pulp and Paper Company, which had provided power since the century’s commencement. This entity became the town’s primary employer until its closure in the late 1960s. The 1980s witnessed a short-lived economic uptick with tungsten and molybdenum mining, followed by the aquaculture industry’s emergence.
The Gorge, with its dramatic tidal changes, is a sight to behold multiple times. Local legends speak of cliffs laden with caves, one possibly connecting to Lake Utopia. The dam and mill, constructed by St. George Pulp and Paper, ceased operations in 1967. Post-construction, a salmon ladder was established to support the wild salmon population of the Magaguadavic River, emphasizing conservation efforts.
During WWII, the vicinity hosted two military bases: “Camp Utopia” for the Canadian Army and an RCAF/RAF Air base at Pennfield Ridge. By the 1950s, both had ceased operations. Camp Utopia transitioned to Camp Gagetown, eventually becoming CFB Gagetown, while Pennfield Ridge’s airfield evolved into Saint John’s inaugural commercial airport.
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