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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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WYSE, WILLIAM (1833-1912)

WYSE, WILLIAM, merchant, fish processor, fisheries officer, and chronicler; b. Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, Scotland, 12 Feb 1833, s/o Henry Wyse and Mary Walker; brother of Henry W. Wyse; m. 1st, 1860, Elizabeth Catherine Marshall, d/o Alexander McNaughton Marshall and Elizabeth Crockett, and 2nd, 1865, Emma (Peters) Thomson, d/o Charles Jeffery Peters and Isabella Smith, and wid/o Dr William Abrams Thomson; d. Chatham, 24 Apr 1912.

William Wyse came to the Miramichi with his parents as an infant in the ship William Dawson, which arrived in May 1834. He spent his first year in Douglastown, where his uncle John Wyse, the builder of the well-known stone house, had been living since 1816. His parents then settled in Chatham, where they conducted a small hotel or lodging house, and where Henry Wyse established one of the earliest bakery businesses in New Brunswick. The children of the family assisted in the bakery, and three of the sons became bakers: Henry W. Wyse in Newcastle, John Wyse in Boston, and Andrew Wyse in Chicago.

After studying at the County Grammar School under James Millar, William Wyse took a job as a store clerk in Chatham in 1851 and kept it until the business went bankrupt in 1854. He then travelled for a time in the United States. When he returned he worked on Fox Island canning salmon for his brother-in-law Alexander Loudoun. Around 1868 he opened a dry-goods and grocery store and started his own lobster-canning business.

Wyse was a strong supporter of Confederation and of Peter Mitchell's role in helping bring it about. In 1868, after Mitchell became minister of marine and fisheries in the government of Sir John A. Macdonald, he was appointed to the modest position of fisheries officer for the lower Miramichi district. He was a fisheries overseer for that district in 1891, at which time he was dismissed for exceeding his authority and disobeying instructions. He admitted to having hired assistants without permission, but this had evidently been his practice for many years. While acknowledging, tongue in cheek, that his offenses were sufficient to warrant dismissal, the Miramichi Advance asked if those overseers who failed to exercise their authority in any way, and who disobeyed instructions by spending their time fishing for salmon for their own consumption, should not also be dismissed. In 1893 he was appointed county game warden, which was another part-time, seasonal position.

Wyse took a personal interest in the physical condition of the town of Chatham and was credited with rescuing the public square from the dolorous effects of many years of neglect and indifference. The square had been set aside in 1865, and "fencing, improving, and ornamenting" had been attempted at that time, but it soon degenerated into "a turfless and almost treeless receptacle for tin cans, empty bottles, and old boots." The planting of 500 trees in October 1883 was an ambitious labor of love with him and an important turning point in the history of the square. A finishing touch was given in 1892 when a bandstand was erected. By now the Chatham Square committee, of which he was the "irrepressibly energetic" secretary, was able to boast that "Elm Park" was "one of the most beautiful spots in New Brunswick."

Between 1886 and 1898 Wyse was the commissioner of roads for Chatham, which involved advisory and inspectorial duties rather than a large commitment of time. After the town was incorporated he became street commissioner, but he handed in his resignation in 1899 in response to "petty annoyances" to which he was being subjected by some of the town councillors. He had resigned as abruptly for a similar reason the previous year as chairman of the Chatham Board of Health. In spite of occasional conflicts with individuals, he was popular with the public. In the municipal election of 1901, in which he sought a council seat, he received far more votes than any other candidate.

While he held the various government and civic appointments mentioned, Wyse continued to maintain an involvement in the fish processing industry. In the summer 1885 he had four lobster boats on the water and a canning factory in operation at Escuminac which employed twenty-seven seasonal workers. At the same time, he was a licensed auctioneer and commission merchant. Around 1891 he opened a furniture 'emporium' in Chatham, and for the last fifteen years of his life he earned his living mainly from furniture sales and the auctioneering business.

Wyse was an astute observer of the passing scene, and later generations are indebted to him for his descriptions of the 'Fighting Election', the fall of Joseph Cunard, and other events of historical importance of which he left first-hand accounts - in the columns of The World, and in the "Paper from Wm. Wyse" which Dr James McG. Baxter included in his "Scraps of Local History" in the Proceedings of the Miramichi Natural History Association. Louise Manny referred affectionately to Wyse as "that grand old personage who lived through most of the 19th century and saw everything that happened on the River, from the building of the Peabody the arrival of the first automobiles."

To quote The World, Wyse was "erect, cheerful, and always on the alert for the comical side of everything that turned up." He had "a keen sense of humor and was not disposed to spare the other fellow's feelings by spoiling a joke." He was a "liberal supporter" of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church and sat "uninterruptedly for fifty years" on the church's trustee board. He was survived in 1912 by his second wife, Emma (Peters) Thomson, two sons, and a daughter.


[b] Biog. Review NB [m] Gleaner 20 Oct 1860; official records [d] Advocate 1 May 1912 / Advance 13 Aug 1891, 28 Sep 1893, 29 Sep 1898, 18 May 1899, 18 Apr 1901; Advocate 5 Aug 1891, 14 Mar 1934; Baxter; Commercial World 3 Jul 1947; Fraser (C); Whelan (P&S) (ad); World 3 Nov 1893, 11 Jan 1908 ("The Cunard Failure in Chatham"), 29 Jul 1908, 24 Apr 1912, 5 Jun 1918