Silence on the Tobique: Founder cancels fiddle festival to protest clearcuts
'I'm not very proud to live here anymore,' says Bill Miller, founder of Fiddles on the Tobique
The path to Bill Miller's workshop is rutted and brown, the grass worn away by three generations of Miller men.
Past a door covered with licence plates from around the world sporting witty asides — "I KNU 2" — you'll find 74-year old Miller, sporting a lush white beard, usually hunched over a jig, the form he uses to mould and create a new canoe, like a shoemaker's last.
"I have the most wonderful job in the world," says Miller. "I like it so much I'd do it for free if I could make a living at it."
The workshop is crammed with a lifetime's worth of wood shavings, pots of dried resin and sad, broken canoes awaiting repair. Miller, who usually spends hours alone here, is delighted to have an audience. He's waving a smooth, thin, white cedar rib through the air as he talks.
He should know. Miller has been warping, twisting and tacking wood into canoes for 47 years now. He figures he's made close to 500 for buyers from around the world.
"There's one in South Africa and there's five or six in Fairbanks, Alaska. There's Miller canoes in England, there's one in France, I have a boat downstairs that belongs to a fellow in Norway."
Miller is known for more than his canoes. He's also the founder of Fiddles on the Tobique, a local music festival that drew hundreds to the river for a day of music on the water. This will be the first summer in 25 years that the Tobique will be silent.
Miller admits he probably has enough wood piled near his workshop to satisfy his needs for the next few years, but he is upset with how he feels clear cutting is affecting the environment and the once-unspoiled view from the river.
After two consecutive years of flooding in the lower St. John River valley, Miller is convinced clear-cutting is contributing to the problem.
"They're taking away the trees that hold the moisture and the water levels rise. How come all that flooding we had in the St. John River this year and last year. Where do you think all that flooding is coming from? It's loss of trees."
Just down the road about half a kilometre is an area Miller uses to illustrate his point. It is a mess of dried, bleached waste wood, the detritus left behind after trees has been harvested.
Just looking at it seems to fuel Miller's resentment.
Clear cutting has changed the face of the province, even near the slopes of Mount Carleton, a provincial park and the highest peak in New Brunswick, just down the road from Miller's place in Nictau.
The blocks are difficult for the untrained eye to see, screened as they are by a thin green border left standing. Aerial images taken over the area in the past few years show the large blocks of land, up to 100 hectares, shorn of trees and left lying fallow until they can be replanted.
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick says Miller has a point.
"The way we're cutting our forests today is a contributor to what we're seeing happening in the intense spring freshets," says the council's Jon MacNeill.
We're looking at photos of clear-cut blocks around the Little Tobique, a tributary of the Tobique River.
MacNeill hastens to add that this is all done according to regulations. No laws are being broken. The lumber firms harvesting wood here are following the rules.
That does little to temper the mood of Bill Miller. He's spent his life making boats that give people access to the province's rivers. If the view from there is of blocks of clear-cut forest, then what's the point?
"People from all over the world came to Fiddles on the Tobique, people from all over. And to encourage people to come to the Tobique and look at all the clearcut, all the devastation, the land crap, it looks a mess."