St. John River: Company Town
Boss Gibson's Marysville
New Brunswick's economy has been dominated by a succession of powerful
business owners. The Irving family's power in oil, newspapers, and politics is
legendary. More recently, the McCain family has built an international empire in
food processing from their base in tiny Florenceville in the midst of the
province's potato-growing region.
In the mid-19th century, everyone wanted to join the Industrial Revolution. New Brunswick's
first giant of business was Alexander "Boss" Gibson. Remembered as much for his fatherly
generosity as for his industrial accomplishments, Alexander Gibson planned the town of Marysville,
outside of Fredericton, right down to the bricks of its buildings.
Gibson rose from poverty and went to work in a sawmill. Eventually he purchased a mill of
his own. Business was good and Gibson also became a shipbuilder, a railway baron, and a king
of cotton. He even opened a brickyard to supply construction materials for the big cotton
mill he opened in 1885.
Marysville had a geographically ideal location. Wood could be cut upstream on a tributary
of the Saint John and floated down to the town, ready to be turned into lumber to build ships.
Then the ships could sail down the Saint John River to the ocean.
His enterprises thrived as Marysville grew to become Canada's first "company town." He built
the town around his businesses, and named it Marysville to honour his wife. The company owned
all the houses and rented them to the workers. The town was well-planned, and Gibson took
care of his workers like family, from cradle to grave.
By 1889, Gibson was the wealthiest man in New Brunswick, with $3 million in assets. During
the worst of economic times, the "Boss" would forgive the debts of his employees at the local
store. He donated land for church and schools.
By the early 1900s, the mill could not compete with cotton mills in the United States and
Quebec. Gibson lost his fortune, sold the mill and died - poor once more.
Gibson's cotton mill finally stopped producing cotton cloth in 1980. It was taken over by
the provincial government which, a century after it was built, reopened it as a modern complex
of government offices. Marysville remains largely intact today, with its brick cotton mill,
imposing homes built for the owner's family, and blocks of row housing for the workers.
St. John River (Adobe PDF document)
of Canada (All pages in a zipped file)