When salmon filled every pool and moose lined each bank, the Tobique River near Nictau, New Brunswick, was a feast for sport. Meandering the Appalachian foothills, guides earned their keep by poling canoes up and down the river, which flows south into the Bay of Fundy. Sportsmen arrived by horse and wagon from the downriver village of Plaster Rock, greeted there at the epicenter of hunting and fishing in North America, The Miller Hotel. Guides needed canoes with a relatively flat bottom to navigate the shallow waters and steady current; those sportsmen needed a steady canoe to cast their flies. William ‘Vic’ Miller knew the river, understood the land, and he built a canoe to help him better connect with both. In 1925, Miller Canoes was born.
Today, what remains of Nictau is a much distant reality from the once thriving community. The town is at the confluence of three rivers and only eight residents remain. The salmon are all but gone with the introduction of a barrier in 1987. The wild woods have been clear- cut, leaving scars on the land and mud in the river. Tourists rarely travel up the Tobique to Nictau, and if they do, it’s for one of two reasons: to see Mount Carleton Park, or to visit William ‘Bill’ Miller.
Like a brass tack in cedar planks, Miller Canoes remains. Bill is the third generation in a line of master craftsmen, his tools handmade by his grandfather. The current 18-foot Chickadee design is from the same mold as in 1925 and the shop is the same as his grandfather left it. The cedar for the canoes is found on the property, and from de-barking to the first float, a Miller Canoe is handmade.
Miller Canoes was created to escort the highly esteemed guests of the Miller hotel. Sport would travel from all over, including U.S. presidents who came to Nictau for the world-renowned salmon pools and bountiful hunt.
For most of the year, the Tobique valley is a quiet place. However, for one weekend in June, it surges back to life. Each year for the past 20, Bill has organized an event called Fiddles on the Tobique. It is a weekend where Bill opens his property to campers, thousands of people arrive, and the Saturday morning holds a symphony of fiddle players floating down the Tobique River. Nearly 1,000 vessels, with fiddlers in Miller Canoes, float together. For that weekend each year, Bill remembers a time now forgotten.
At the age of 70, Bill feels this will be the final Fiddle Fest as the organization and execution is becoming too great a task for him to manage. With no children, the question becomes more haunting each day. Has the world seen its last Miller?