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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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SNOWBALL, JABEZ BUNTING, lumber company head, MP, and senator; lieutenant governor of New Brunswick; b. Lunenburg, N.S., 24 Sep 1837, s/o John Snowball and Sarah Ann Wells; m. 1st, 1858, Margaret Macdougall, d/o John Macdougall and Jane Smith, and 2nd, 1873, Margaret Ellen Archibald, d/o Robert Archibald and Ann Hutton; d. Fredericton, 24 Feb 1907.

Jabez B. Snowball, who was named in honor of an English Methodist leader, was educated at the Wesleyan Academy at Sackville. He visited his parents while his father was superintendent of the Miramichi circuit and later made Chatham his home. In 1858 he entered into a business partnership with John Macdougall and also married Macdougall's daughter Margaret. After his father-in-law's death in 1866 he became sole proprietor of the Macdougall & Snowball store in downtown Chatham.

In 1872 Snowball built a huge steam sawmill on Water Street in Chatham, thereby launching one of the largest lumbering, milling, and shipping businesses in the province. He later acquired smaller mills at Bay du Vin, Tracadie, Red Bank, and elsewhere. In 1879, when 256 ships took on cargoes of lumber on the Miramichi, the largest shipper was the Snowball firm with fifty-eight vessels, or more than twenty per cent of the shipments. In some years the company was responsible for upwards of thirty per cent of all lumber exports. In 1896 the Snowball company ranked first among a dozen larger lumber firms operating on the river. The business was incorporated in 1900 as J. B. Snowball & Co. Ltd.

Snowball built a number of steam-powered vessels at Chatham for use in his business, which included an interest in the fishery as well as in retailing and lumbering. In 1879 the firm shipped more than 100 tons of lobster from the port of Chatham, or about seventy per cent of all lobster to leave the port that year. For a number of years the company operated lobster canneries on Shippegan and Miscou islands.

In 1873 Snowball was an original stockholder in the Chatham Branch Railway Co., and in 1876 he became sole owner of it. The eleven-mile link, which connected Chatham with the Intercolonial Railway, proved to be a money maker, as it carried a larger and larger proportion of goods formerly shipped in and out of Chatham by water. In 1884 he joined with Alexander Gibson of Marysville in building the Northern and Western Railway from Chatham Junction to South Devon. Gibson's crews worked up the line, while his men labored in the opposite direction, until they met at Doaktown. He was a partner in the operation of this line from its opening in 1887. In 1890 he sold the Chatham Branch Railway to the company, and the line was renamed the Canada Eastern Railway. He kept his interest until 1893 and then sold out to Gibson, after the two men had quarreled. The line became part of the ICR in 1905 and of the CNR in 1923.

Other businesses in which Snowball played a major part included the Miramichi Steam Navigation Co., of which he was a founding director in 1884, and the Chatham Electric Light Co. and Miramichi Telephone Exchange, firms which were amalgamated and incorporated in 1888. He had brought the first telephones to Chatham in 1880, when he bought four Bell Telephone Co. sets and installed them on a line linking his office, mill, and residence, as well as the railway station. The first electric lights in the town were also introduced by him at his sawmill in 1887.

Snowball conceptualized on a grand scale, but at the same time he never overlooked the particulars. "Not a man could be out of his place, not a board neglected where it had fallen, not a tool left uncared for, not a nail or spike dropped by a workman and left on the floor or the ground that Mr Snowball wouldn't see it." It was "this combination of breadth and narrowness of vision," stated the Chatham World, "this grasp of both principles and details that made him so successful as a man of business."

As a young man, Snowball was an officer in the militia, being promoted to captain in the 1st Battalion in 1866. In the 1870s he was French consular agent for the port and president of St George's Society of Miramichi. He sat on the boards of trustees of the County Grammar School and St Luke's Methodist Church. He entered politics in 1874 but failed to defeat Peter Mitchell in the contest for the Northumberland County seat in the House of Commons. He secured the seat from him in 1878, however, when he ran as an Independent. He did not seek re-election in 1882. In 1891 he was named to the Senate. When Chatham was incorporated as a town in 1896 he was a candidate for mayor but lost by two votes to Dr Joseph B. Benson. His stalwart opposition to organized labor over many years was judged to have been a factor in his rejection, which he found humiliating.

Snowball resigned his Senate seat in 1902 to accept the lieutenant governorship of New Brunswick, which he held until his death five years later. He was honored in 1903 with a DCL from Mount Allison University. His death in 1907 occurred suddenly on a Fredericton street when he was on his way to church.

Snowball was "a pleasant, kindly man," stated The World, "who liked to dispense hospitality and be on good terms with everybody about him." The economic and social standing which he enjoyed in Chatham is reflected in "Wellington Villa," the gothic-style mansion which was once the family home, and in the magnificent monument, one of the grandest in the province, which stands in his memory in Riverside Cemetery. A daughter and two sons of his marriage to Margaret Macdougall, and four daughters and one son of his marriage to Margaret E. Archibald, lived to maturity. William B. Snowball was among the former and Robert A. Snowball among the latter.


[b] Times 21 Feb 1879 [m] Gleaner 31 Jul 1858; Advocate 12 Mar 1873 [d] World 27 Feb 1907 / Advance 6 Nov 1879, 4 Jun 1903; Advocate 14 Nov 1877, 19 Nov 1879, 14 Jan 1880, 10 Aug 1887, 1 Apr 1896; Bird; Commercial World 15 Aug 1940 (article by Fred H. Phillips); DCB; Fraser (C); Gleaner 1 May 1858; Graves; JHA 1867 (appendix re. militia); Kee; World 3 Dec 1884, 13 Jun 1885