The great Babe Ruth fished the St.Marys River in his day.
The St. Mary's River was named after the old French fort, Forte St. Marie, which was built by the French in 1654, at the lower end of Sherbrooke Village. The fort was built, ostensibly, to protect the French fishermen and fur traders along the coast, but mostly Forte St. Marie was built to protect the French settlers who needed to come in and get their winter's supply of fish. The French didn't remain in Forte St. Marie very long. Five years later the British came and chased them out and the River has been predominately held and settled by the British since 1669.
One of the sports celebrities from the United States who loved fishing the St. Mary's was the great Babe Ruth. His first trip here introduced him to McKenna's Pictou Twist chewing tobacco for which he acquired a taste. Babe Ruth's career might have been considerably shortened had not one of the local guides, Dan MacIntosh, pulled him out of the Stewart Pool early in May just as he was going by the end of the boat.
Above the tide, the river flows 16 kms roughly north to Melrose where it branches into the East and West branches. Its headwaters originate in five separate counties, namely Guysborough, Antigonish, Pictou, and even parts of Hants and Halifax Counties.
The original settlers along the River did not mostly come by water. They came overland from Pictou County and followed down both branches of the river, each generation moving successively a little bit further down the river, till eventually they settled the Sherbrooke area.
At one time, the river carried a fair portion of the commerce of Nova Scotia. Beautiful, two and three and even four masted sailing ships, carrying cargoes of lumber, mostly to the West Indies and the eastern seaboard of the United States, returning with cargoes of coal, salt, molasses, and odd bit of rum. Some ships were built at Sherbrooke, Sonora, and at St. Mary's River, and they eventually found their way all over the world.
Around 1930, sail gave way to steam and the long lumber gave way to pulp wood. The ships that began to come in for the pulp cargoes were mostly of Norwegian registry. Pulpwood was shipped down the river, mostly to the eastern seaboard of the United States and to Europe. Some of these ships had quite a precarious job getting up and down a narrow crooked channel sometimes these ships would go over the bar at Sonora with one inch to spare between the keel and the sand. They would wait for the swell to rise and then they would try to ride out over the top of the swell. The old method of cutting logs and the pulp wood involved piling the logs in the woods or in brows along the river; these were then hauled by horse and sleigh in the winter and piled along the banks to wait the ice going out in the Spring. Roads were cut for double teams, stumps were cut down, the wood was hauled on frozen ground protecting the forest floor.
The pristine wilderness of St Marys River is protected to this dayAfter the ice went out in the Spring, the logs and pulpwood were driven down river. It was quite a thing to see some of these old log drivers coming down on the big, big logs. Pulp drivers usually tried to get on a big crooked hemlock that didn't roll too much. After the logs got to Sherbrooke they were processed at one of there several sawmills mostly run by steam and water wheels. They had hard working crews, inveterate tobacco-chewers because they couldn't smoke in the mills. They worked long hard days with no coffee breaks, no union and low pay, most still seemed to enjoy life, make a living, and raise a family.
Environmental control and conservation of salmon a top priority today, is not new. In this district, prior to it becoming a municipality, the top man was the Squire and he had appointees who carried out various duties. Thus, around the year 1870, just prior to the Municipality of St. Mary's being formed, the Squire passed a resolution prohibiting the spearing of salmon on Thursday. This was their means of conservation, one day per week they could not spear!
In the early 1900's some well-known anglers started coming to the St. Mary's River for the salmon fishing. They came from all over Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and parts of England. At that time, when they first started coming salmon fishermen would get on a slow train in Halifax and sit on that for maybe half a day to Antigonish. They would then get off the train hire a horse and buggy and drive to Sherbrooke or Melrose or Waternish to go fishing. These folks were dedicated!