Snowball, Jabez B

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Snowball was born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on September 24, 1837. His family came to the Miramichi Valley when his father, a Methodist Minister, answered a call to St. Luke's Church in Chatham.

Snowball started his working life as a clerk in a dry goods store in Chatham, owned by John MacDougall whose daughter he married. When MacDougall died in 1866, Snowball, at the age of 27, took over the business and expanded it. In 1871, he was a founder of the Miramichi Steam Navigation Company which soon built and operated six small steamers on the river. On his own account he purchased and operated several others. The next year he built the largest steam sawmill in the Province, milling some 170,000 board feet (400 m³) of lumber per day. He soon opened sawmills in Tracadie, Bay du Vin and Red Bank, operating a grist mill in the last community as well.

Fish attracted his attention as well, and soon Snowball had canneries on Shippegan Island and Miscou Island. In 1879, he sent 200,000 lb. of lobster to the United Kingdom.

Snowball was a tough master, hard working and expecting the same from all his employees. He vigorously put down any attempts to unionize. By the 1880s, Snowball was the second largest exporter of lumber in New Brunswick, and employed 1,000 men in his various enterprises.

In 1886, Snowball constructed the Chatham Branch Railway connecting the town with the Intercolonial Railway some six miles away. Along with Alexander Gibson, Snowball constructed an extension of the railway to Gibson, N.B., some 95 miles away. In 1893, he sold his interest to Gibson.

In 1887, he was a founding member of the Chatham Telephone Exchange which was later expanded into nearby Kent, Gloucester and Restigouche counties. This enterprise was sold in 1905 to the Central Telephone Company. He also founded the Chatham Electric Light Company in 1888.

He represented his area in the Canadian House of Commons as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada from 1878 to 1882. After a period in the Canadian Senate, he served from 1902 – 1907 as Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.

Snowball was active in securing incorporation for the town of Chatham, and when he ran to be its first mayor in 1896, he was defeated by a local doctor by two votes. Perhaps he had made too many enemies on the way up!

Snowball and his wife (called "Lady Snowball" by the locals) maintained a splendid town residence called "Wellington Villa" at the town's most important intersection, and lived in great style, entertaining often with lots of servants and fine furniture.

Snowball died in Fredericton, New Brunswick on 24 February 1907 at the age of 69, a wealthy and influential man. But, changing fortunes and a lack of the same great entrepreneurial flair in the next generation prevented a dynasty being established. His businesses were divided among his children and gradually frittered away.

Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Political biography from the Library of Parliament

This text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. For more information, select the following link:


                                 HEROS OF NEW BRUNSWICK
                                 JABEZ BUNTING SNOWBALL

The following article, part of a series on “Heroes of New Brunswick” written by Arthur T. Doyle, is reprinted from the Fredericton Gleaner. It was contributed by Mrs. Josie LeMarquand of Chatham. The Snowball house still stands at the corner of King and Wellington Streets in Chatham.

In late 19th century New Brunswick some of the most powerful and respected figures were the “Lumber Kings”. There were the McLeans in Bathurst and their Bathurst Pulp and Paper Company and the Frasers with their vast lumber interests; and of course “Boss” Gibson in Maryville.

One of the greatest lumber kings of them all was Jabez Bunting Snowball on the Miramichi, a distinguished figure who wore a white beard, a stove pipe hat, a cut-away coat and striped trousers. At a time when Chatham and the surrounding Miramichi area was one of the great business centres of the province, Snowball was its driving spirit, both in business and public life.

At the time of Confederation when the young Snowball was launching his business career the Miramichi had long been recognized as one of the lumbering centres of the province. Beginning soon after the Loyalists had landed, literally hundreds of enterprising individuals had sought their fortunes by starting small sawmills and exploiting the region’s vast timber reserves. Many made handsome profits, but just as many lost everything as the British markets fluctuated from one extreme to the other. Only the shrewdest and most enterprising survived and flourished. Snowball was one of that rare breed.

Born in Nova Scotia

Jabez Bunting Snowball was born in 1836 in the town of Lunenburg, N.S. His father, John Snowball, a Yorkshire Englishman, was a Methodist minister who was later transferred to Newfoundland and then to Chatham. The young Snowball graduated from Mount Allison Wesleyan College in Sackville and returned to Chatham, going into the general store business with John MacDougall. From the outset of his career, Jabez Snowball worked tirelessly and when he was 30 he negotiated the purchase of the general store from MacDougall. Using his enterprise as a base, Snowball branched out in a number of directions. He opened a sawmill, then another, and another, and in time became the second largest exporter of lumber in the province.

He developed a fleet of tug boats to carry the timber to his mills, built a railway to connect Chatham with Newcastle and later went into partnership with the great “Boss” Gibson to build a railway from Chatham to Marysville.

Electricity and Telephone

Jabez Snowball also played an important role in bringing electricity and a telephone system to the Miramichi area with his Chatham Electric Light Company and the Miramichi Telephone Exchange. And at the height of his career he also owned a number of canneries on the Bay of Chaleur.

Snowball’s dominance of the merchandising, shipping and railway enterprises gave him enormous economic power on the Miramichi. Wholesale merchandise products shipped into the region often came on his railways and much of what was exported from the region went out on his railways and ships. On a busy day, at Snowball’s wharf at Chatham ships lined up several deep waiting for lumber to be loaded.

Magnificent Mansion

Befitting his prominence in the community, Snowball built a magnificent mansion for his family. He employed a fulltime landscaper, gardener and “Snowball’s garden parties” were the talk of New Brunswick at the turn of the century. His wife was nicknamed “Lady Snowball” and was a leading socialite, church leader and charity worker on the Miramichi.

Jabez Snowball did not spend all of his time with his business enterprises after they were firmly established. In 1874, at the age of 38, he ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for the House of Commons against Peter Mitchell, one of New Brunswick’s most respected political figures.

Appointed to Senate

But four years later Snowball succeeded in defeating Mitchell and sat as a member of Parliament until 1882 when he declined to reoffer. In 1891, the Federal government appointed him to the Senate. Eleven years later he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. He held that post until 1907 when he died unexpectedly, collapsing on a street in Fredericton, on his way to church services at Christ Church Cathedral.

The great business enterprise that Jabez Bunting Snowball had created in the last half of the 19th century soon disappeared in the years after his death, the last of his great mills closing in 1923. But Snowball would be remembered generations later as one of the Miramichi’s most distinguished citizens and greatest entrepreneurs.

Source: Northumberland News – October 03, 1984

This text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. For more information, select the following link:

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