Plaster Rock’s first settlers were Hezekiah Day and his two brothers, who arrived in 1881. Plaster Rock was incorporated as the Village of Plaster Rock on November 9, 1966. Hezekiah Day gave Plaster Rock its name based on the hill on the other side of the Tobique River – the rock is made up of gypsum, or plaster.
The second settlers, Mr. & Mrs. Henry Ridgewell, arrived in 1882. The third settler was a gentleman named David Roulston and his family. The first true native of Plaster Rock was Gideon Day.
Structures Around Town
As the settlement grew, new structures and amenities cropped up. The first school was built in 1901 at Pig’s Ear with Henry Ridgewell as its janitor. This school burned down, and in its place was constructed a store. The school was located over the store, but was later moved. One of the first teachers was Miss Gertrude Flanders. After she left, the two Page girls took charge of the school, followed by the Hart girls and later by Mrs. Beulah Beatty. After this school burned down, it was replaced by the Plaster Rock Superior School in 1917, with Miss Helen Robinson as the principal. In 1920, a piano was purchased for the school, and in 1936 Wiley Tomlinson was awarded the Beaverbrook Scholarship. The 1936 graduating class in the Superior School consisted of 15 pupils. Some of the graduates were Judge Tomlinson and Ralph Lloyd.
The Plaster Rock Superior School served the community until 1949, when it was destroyed by fire. It was replaced by the modern day Donald Fraser Memorial School for elementary grades. The Tobique Valley High School was built in 1947 to accommodate grades eight through twelve.
The first bridge, built in 1901, was a wooden covered bridge. This bridge was washed out in the spring freshet on April 17, 1934, and replaced with a new wooden bridge. In 1971, this bridge was torn down and a new concrete bridge was constructed down river a short distance.
As the town grew, more features were added. Wooden sidewalks were built in 1913 – concrete sidewalks took their place on Main Street in 1955. The Cenotaph, unveiled on September 28, 1928, was bought by subscription and a donation of $1,000 from the county council. The total cost was $1,946.50. In 1947, the names of those who died in World War II were engraved. The Tobique Valley Centennial Arena, opened in 1967, and the Plaster Rock Tourist Park opened in 1982.
Industry, Then and Now
In winter, the men went to the woods and lumbered. In 1896, a lumber mill was built by Fred and Archie Hale; Donald Fraser later purchased it in 1901. The mill was located where the present Twin Rivers Paper Company (formerly known as Fraser Paper Inc.) mill stands.
Shortly after the mill was completed, around 1900, James McNair, father of former Premier J.B. McNair, built a general store on the west side of the river. This was the town’s first commercial venture other than the mill. This store was later bought by Alfred Green, who ran it for some years and then sold it to the Farmer’s Cooperative Company.
The first dairy farm was constructed in 1910. It burnt in 1917 and was rebuilt the same year. There were 80 head of cattle in the old barn at the time, and 40 head burned in the fire.
The first garage was built in 1912 by Bert Flanders and was torn down in 1929. In 1936, Mr. Tilley took over the old Flanders garage. In 1938, Donald Fraser bought it from Mr. William Diamond; it was run by Marsten Company with Mac Wright as manager. The second garage was built in 1926 by Lem Hatheway. In 1939, the old Hatheway garage was torn down and a new one constructed.
The most popular meeting places in the early years were hotels. Mr. Wash Turner and family built a two-and-one-half story building that was used for a hotel and boarding house. Charley Beny came along around 1906, rented a large room in the front of the building and started a grocery store. After Mr. Beny became ill, the building was purchased by S.C. Campbell to be used as a clothing store.
The Queen Hotel was built in 1910 by Mr. Post. He rented it for 15 years and then sold it to Mr. Fraser, who turned it into a tenement building.
The community hall, or theater, was built in the spring of 1928 by Mr. Fraser. It seated approximately 450 people.
The first barber in Plaster Rock was a gentleman named Frank Johnston. Then along came Samuel Campbell in 1915, who had the first upstairs barber shop. Mr. Campbell also stocked the shelves with candy and light groceries. He also had tubs of ice cream and labeled it Campbell’s Ice Cream Parlor. William Parsons moved to Plaster Rock to receive his apprenticeship under Mr. Campbell, and his son Carl Parsons now operates a present-day barber shop.
The shoemaker was once the independent craftsman of the town. The first shoemaker of Plaster Rock was Jack Powers. To follow were Russell Smythe, Victor Brown and Jim Harrington.
From 1898 to 1901, the Baptists of Plaster Rock worshiped at Linton Corner Church. After 1901, a room was reserved in the sawmill. Services were even held in the hotel office during the cold winter months. In 1908, the congregation celebrated the dedication of their new church. Disaster struck when both the parsonage and church were destroyed by fire in 1920 by sparks from the mill. Two years later, their second church celebrated its dedication at the present-day site. The first minister was Rev. Charles Sterling.
In 1904, Rev. Father Ryan began construction of the Roman Catholic Church, which was completed in 1907. Before its dedication, the congregation held regular Eucharistic services in the school. The lot and much of the lumber was donated by Donald Fraser. The first pastor of St. Thomas Acquinas was Rev. F.C. Ryan.
That same year, 1907, the first United Church of Canada was dedicated with a student minister, Mr. M.H. Manuel. Mr. Donald Fraser, a member of the church, donated two beautiful stained glass windows in the sanctuary. Prior to 1907, the congregation held regular services in the Fraser Company’s boarding house. The first minister was Rev. Louis J. King.
The Primitive Baptist Church was organized in 1913, and services were held at the home of Mr. & Mrs. William Post until a parcel of land was purchased from Mrs. John McDougall for $100. Mrs. McDougall was the eldest daughter of Hezekiah Day. The church was completed in 1914, with a new organ donated by Watts Cox. The first minister of the church was Rev. A. Hatfield. In 1980, after serious discussions led to a vote, they merged with the Free Will Baptist Association.
In 1927, St. George’s Anglican Church was dedicated by Canon W.J. Clarke, a well known and loved pastor on the Tobique. Before 1927, the Anglican services were held in the Orange Hall and in the Morecraft house. Rev. Foyster, Anglican Minister of New Denmark, conducted service until Rev. Wilde suggested building a church. He was unable to remain here to see his dream fulfilled, as he became sick and returned to England. Rev. W.J. Clarke, moved by Rev. Wilde’s idea, succeeded in building the present structure.
The Pentecostal Church was first established in 1931, with its first pastor being Rev. W.J. Rolston. Since July 27, 1932, yearly conventions have been held here, bringing evangelists from many other cities. In 1998, a new church was constructed beside the previous church, which is now the school, with Rev. Dana McKillop as Minister.
Utilities and Services
Plaster Rockers were the only ones in a large area of the province that had electricity between 1929 and 1939, because the Frasers owned a private plant. John Bernier was the company electrician until 1928, when a diesel-powered generator was installed. In 1929, Mr. Theo Haddad was hired to take charge of this new system. This was only a six-hour-a-day service, from 6am to 12pm. In 1940, Mr. Fraser sold the power system to the New Brunswick Power Commission, which improved the system to a 24 hour service.
In 1904, there was telephone communication from Plaster Rock to Nictau.
Fire services were established around 1921, when the New Brunswick government built a system of look-out towers to help prevent the spread of forest fires. One was built on Mount Carleton, Tower Hill and another on Blue Bell Mountain. By 1970, all the towers had been closed. In 1974, a new fire hall and office were purchased. In 1998, after a new village garage was constructed, the old Village Garage was demolished and a new Fire Hall was constructed on that site in 1999.
The Royal Bank of Canada was built in 1927, with Mr. Stevenson as manager of the bank. Prior to this, business was carried out in the Turner Building. Mr. Fred Henderson came to be the first bank manager in 1919.
From 1877, a man named Mr. James Inman delivered mail once or twice a week for 30 years. During the winter months, Mr. Inman delivered the mail on horseback, in snowshoes or even on foot. His route was later taken over by Mr. Barney Armstrong. The first post mistress was Ida Dickinson in 1925, and George Lovelock took it over in 1927. The post office was burned in 1938 and the present post office was constructed in 1955.
Plaster Rock, as any other new community, needed law and order. Before the RCMP came along, the citizens assumed the responsibility to see that justice reigned. Before 1945, the law was enforced in the Plaster Rock area from the detachment in Perth-Andover. The first RCMP detachment in Plaster Rock was opened on June 1, 1945, with Constable Truman Trenouth in charge.
The first and second hospitals, which were destroyed by fire, were operated out of a boarding house. Our present hospital, Tobique Valley Hospital, was officially opened in January, 1957. The first doctor in Plaster Rock was Dr. Joe Coffin, who arrived in 1901. Dr. Coffin, who had one of the first automobiles in Plaster Rock, is believed to have delivered approximately 5,000 babies during his 50 years of practice.
The Independent Order of the O.F. was organized in 1909 in the basement of the United Church. The first Orange Hall was built in 1915. The present I.O.O.F. hall was built by Howard Jakes and the Post boys in 1922.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in 1896 by John Stewart. It was built by hand labor, using picks, shovels, wheelbarrows and slush scrapers. The first train was fired by wood. The train only came to Plaster Rock when it wanted a load of plaster. John Stewart was president of the railroad. The railway was not sold to the C.P. Railway as commonly believed, but was leased for 99 years.
The Canadian National Railway was built through Plaster Rock in 1909. It was not until 1910 that the bridge was built. One train went from Edmundston to Plaster Rock, and another one went from Moncton to Plaster Rock.
Fraser Companies Ltd.
In 1895, Donald Fraser, Sr., the founder of Fraser Companies Limited, participated in organizing the Tobique Log Driving Company. The firm’s name at that time was Donald Fraser and Sons, incorporated in 1895, comprised of Donald Fraser Sr. and his two sons, Archibald and Donald. At this point, most of the logs cut on the Tobique were water driven to mills on the St. John River. In 1894, Donald Fraser and Sons had built a large sawmill at Fredericton called the Aberdeen Mill. This mill burnt in 1905 and was never rebuilt.
In 1900 they incorporated the Tobique Manufacturing Company Ltd., which in 1901 acquired the Hale Mill property including a sawmill on the site of the present mill. In 1908, the name of this firm was changed to Fraser Lumber Company. This company became one of the group of companies incorporated as Fraser Companies Limited in 1917. Today the mill is called Twin Rivers Paper Company (formerly known as Fraser Paper Inc.)
Thus, the firm of Fraser has been operating sawmills on the Tobique River since 1900 and logging on this river as far back as 1895 or even earlier. In the intervening years they have operated several other mills, sawing both softwood and hardwood. The Plaster Rock mill has been in continuous operation up to the present.
Many varieties of lumber trees grow along the Tobique River, which include: pine, spruce, fir, poplar, cedar, tamarack, hemlock, maple and birch. Extensive forest fires in 1825, 1855, 1884, 1912, 1923 and 1933 have all had their impact on the nature of the forest which followed. The actual record since 1937 indicates the average area burned per year has been 750 acres.
Plaster Rock’s Surrounding Areas
The Tobique, a small river, runs nearly the length of Victoria County. It begins in several streams, which form two streams, which unite at Nictau to form the one river. The Tobique empties into the St. John River. The Tobique has a mild climate with neither extremes of heat in summer nor cold in winter.
The first white man and woman to settle on the Tobique was William Campbell and his mother, who took up land at Arthurette. Soon following them was the family of James Giberson and the Browns. A few years later, Allan Reed and his family took up land above them on the opposite side of the river now known as Reed’s Island or St. Almo. Then came the Blues and Knowltons, who settled farther up the river near what is now Blue Mountain Bend. Then came the settlers of Plaster Rock and it was a steady growth from there.
In 1850, a plaster mill was built at Three Brooks by Thomas Edgar. The plaster was hauled from what is now Plaster Rock down the river on the ice. A few years later lumbering became so prominent that the mill at Three Brooks was changed to a lumber mill. The first saw mill on the Tobique was built at Caldwell Brook. In 1889 another saw mill was built at Arthurette by Stratten Brothers. This mill burned in 1904.
The first school outside of Plaster Rock was built at Arthurette in 1860. The first teacher was Sally Hutchinson. In 1870 a school was built at Three Brooks with the first teacher being Martha Linton. After that schools were built at Maple View, Sisson Ridge and Plaster Rock.
The first telephone line on the Tobique was built in 1890 and John Stewart was the main person in getting the line up. The first telephone was installed in a store at Red Rapids. The next telephone was installed at John Smith’s residence at Three Brooks.
The first bridge on the Tobique was built across the river at Arthurette in 1876. This was soon followed by one at Rowena which was torn down and replaced by one at Tobique Narrows. These were followed by bridges at Riley Brook and Plaster Rock.
– On March 7, 1874 records show that Messro Brimmer had been peddling liquor on the Tobique River and supplying jug taverns. During that winter, they were convicted for selling, contrary to the law, and fined $20 and cost.
– In 1918, Fraser bought the Arbuckle Mill site and built a shingle mill. This site had been used to crush the plaster hauled from town. It has been said that as many as 50 men worked there at one time.
– Mr. B.T. Marsten came to Plaster Rock to open a hardware store. He and Arthur Ridgewell operated an undertaking business in Marsten’s basement while he sold coffins overhead in the Ridgewell building. Mr. Marsten also amalgamated an insurance business with Jeff King. His hardware store still stands on Main Street and belongs to the Gerrishes.
– Plaster Rock once had the honor of sending one of its citizens, Vincent Shields, to the National League. He played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies.
– The first Mayor of Plaster Rock was Don Gerrish. Take a look at this full history of Plaster Rock’s mayors and council members.
Thus, the Tobique has increased in population and today Tobiquers have the Tobique Valley to be proud of.
*Photos courtesy of The Plaster Rock Public Library.