New Brunswick

A floating piece of Miramichi plies the canals of Britain

New Brunswickers spending time near the canals of England have a chance to see an unexpected, familiar sight: the logo and name of the city of Miramichi, emblazoned on the side of a 55-foot narrowboat.

A narrowboat called the Miramichi is owned by the son of a New Brunswicker

The name of the Miramichi, a narrowboat belonging to U.K. residents Bill and Jean Blanchard, was inspired by Bill's memories of his New Brunswick-born father. (Submitted by Bill Blanchard)

New Brunswickers spending time near the canals of England have a chance to see an unexpected, familiar sight: the logo and name of the city of Miramichi, emblazoned on the side of a 55-foot narrowboat.

The boat is owned by Bill and Jean Blanchard, who live in a small town in Cambridgeshire.

They built the boat 10 years ago and decided to name it after the New Brunswick city and river to honour the stories of Bill's father, who was born in Bathurst.

"When I was a young boy," Bill said, "he always used to speak about New Brunswick and Canada and various places like Miramichi. ... He used to get me interested in fishing and what he used to do during the Depression. That was my childhood memory."

Roots in Canada

Bill's father, William Joseph Blanchard, lived in Bathurst and Saint John, and to this day much of the extended family remains in the region.

After fighting in the Second World War, the senior Blanchard settled in England and started his family there.

When the narrowboat was built, Bill Blanchard got in touch with the City of Miramichi for permission to paint its logo on the boat. The city agreed.

Bill and Jean Blanchard hold the flag of the City of Miramichi aboard their narrowboat, the Miramichi. (Submitted by Bill Blanchard)

Since then, Blanchard has visited the area multiple times for fishing trips and to reconnect with relatives.

"What we always wanted to do was follow in my dad's footsteps and see where he came from, where he used to go, where he fished," he said.

Spotted by Canadians

Blanchard said that over the years he has fielded many questions from tourists who spot the boat.

"Canadians will come along, and they'll see you and say, 'Hey, we've come from there, we're from Fredericton,'" he said. "And you then go into the story of everything, and it comes down to telling them about my father, how we came from New Brunswick and the significance of the name of the boat."

In 2015, two representatives of the City of Miramichi were on vacation in London and stopped by the boat to give Blanchard some gifts, including a Miramichi pendant that flies from the stern to this day.

The Miramichi, a British narrowboat, is lowered into the water. (Submitted by Bill Blanchard)

One of those representatives was Heather Coughlan, who runs an inn near Miramichi.

"I think when people travel, they love to travel and see other places but still they like a connection to home, and this is a connection to home," she said. "It makes the world a smaller place ... it's like they're still home, they've never left home."

4,020 kilometres to explore

Narrowboats are designed to move through England's canal system, which Blanchard said provides 2,500 miles (about 4,020 kilometres) of pathway to explore.

The boats are dozens of feet long — the Miramichi is 55 feet, or almost 17 metres —  but they can't be more than seven feet wide. This is because the locks on the canals are seven feet wide, or a little over two metres. 

Bill and Jean Blanchard stand by the Miramichi as it sits in a canal lock. Narrowboats got their name from the need to be narrow enough to fit in the locks. (submitted by Bill Blanchard)

The Miramichi has central heating, two double beds, a shower, bathroom and a dining room. Blanchard described it as "very, very comfortable" — enough so that he and Jean often spend up to four weeks at a time living in it.

Even when the canals get icy, Blanchard still visits his little patch of Canada.

"Over the winter we tend to use it like you would in Canada, with a cabin you'd go up to. ... You could use it just like a cottage, but very, very narrow."