The Miramichi Fire: A History by Alan MacEachern

“Whatever happened to the Miramichi Fire? I first came across it in George Perkins Marsh’s groundbreaking 1864 Man and Nature, the first modern treatise on humans’ effects on nature. He recalled it in these terms: “The great fire of Miramichi in 1825, probably the most extensive and terrific conflagration recorded in authentic history, spread its ravages over nearly six thousand square miles, chiefly of woodland, and was of such intensity that it seemed to consume the very soil itself.” Marsh had been living in Burlington, Vermont, when the fire took place and surely breathed its smoke, but even without that sensory memory, it is not surprising that the fire came to his mind four decades later: it was one of the most famous natural disasters of the nineteenth century.”

So begins Alan MacEachern’s investigation into the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825, the 175th anniversary of which occurs on October 7th, 2020. Having moved to Miramichi from Ontario in 2008, I had never heard of this historic conflagration until I was introduced to Miramichi author Valerie Sherrard’s young adult novel, Three Million Acres of Flame (Dundurn, 2007). In fact, Ms. Sherrard acknowledged Mr. MacEachern for his generous support in researching her book. Now, almost thirteen years later, I find myself holding the most authoritative collection of facts, figures, maps and historical accounts of the Miramichi Fire as one could hope to have. The author acknowledges that “Having come to a topic under-researched and newly researchable, I have thoroughly over-researched it. Perhaps a part of me was hoping to create a work so definitive that it would preclude anyone ever writing on it again.” To a reader such as myself, who read this book for the sole purpose of gaining information, I would say that Mr. MacEachern had attained his goal. However, every researcher must feel the same as he; that knowing when “enough is enough” is never an easily attainable judgment.

Through his exhaustive research, the author has recreated a sense of the size and reach of the Miramichi Fire. Even fires that burned in Lower Canada and Maine ended up taking the name of the New Brunswick fire because if it’s greatest death and damage totals.

The Miramichi Fire: A History is a book that any New Brunswick historian should welcome. Any silviculturalist with an interest in dendrochronology would appreciate the research, both archival and on the ground (including the present-day coring of trees in the areas affected or passed over by the fire) that Mr. MacEachern has put into compiling this book. The Miramichi Fire is certainly not a ‘dry’ read, for the author injects a little humour here and there to lighten the otherwise serious academic tone of yet another fine volume from McGill-Queen’s University Press. Five stars for a highly readable and well-(overly)researched topic. It will remain authoritative for years to come.

  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0228001492
  • ISBN-10 : 0228001498
  • Product Dimensions : 22.7 x 2.2 x 15.3 cm
  • Publisher : McGill-Queen’s University Press (July 23 2020)

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