Moose tails – New Brunswick style

This was the first magazine length feature story I wrote for my third year print class.  I have a great fascination and respect for this creature and love hearing the folk tales.  I wanted to combine them with some interesting facts about the moose.  I hope you will enjoy this piece.


Margaret Rowney at the post office told me about it first, and local artist and musician J. Alex McGibbon backs her up.  They tell the tale of the government salt truck overturning years ago, leaving behind a load of salt.  Legend has it the salt leached down into the mud.

“Deer and moose and cattle and that, they just love salt and apparently it helps keep their electrolytes going or whatever salt does,” McGibbon said.  “So that attracts them out and whenever they need a fix, of salt as it were, they’ll come out there.”

Hundreds of slender white birch stand tightly like soldiers along both sides of the highway at Sucker Brook near the village of Gagetown.  A few relics of the towering pine or stately spruce are all that remain from the once lush forest destroyed by fire in the 1980s.  This is another draw for the moose; the young shoots are exactly what the awkward-looking beast loves to browse on. 

The highway curves tightly and slopes towards the brook.  On the lower side a salt reserve is created from the highway’s winter runoff.  Water, salt and fresh shoots add up to a moose haven and a driving hazard.  Fortunately, the locals are aware of it. 

Dubbed "Biggy Forsythe Moose" This big fellow watched us as we took a late winter walk up a logging road in Gagetown, NB. February 2009

 “The moose were just kind of, you know, topics of conversation… everybody knew they were there, every time you came around that turn you kind of took a little care,” said McGibbon.

McGibbon’s eyes light up as he tells me tales of growing up in Gagetown and of coming back to retire after a career of teaching art.  He talks of one fateful day when his wife’s bad luck turned into his good fortune.

“…it was a Sunday morning and my wife attends the Anglican Church…I get this call… and she says I locked my keys in my car, could you come up and open the door?  So I went up… and on the way up I saw two moose at Sucker Brook… and on the way back there were three there… the bull and the cow and the calf, and I said it’s a wonder that no one’s ever written something about the Sucker Brook moose, even a song.”

McGibbon hums and plucks at the strings of his Takamine guitar.  The bald eagle motif circles the sound hole as his fingers work out the chords of the moose song he wrote that day.

“I think I can remember all the words,” he says giving me a private performance. 

McGibbon divides his retirement time between music and art.  A member of the trio, 3 Point Hitch he and his band mates play local jamborees and perform regularly at the Creek View Restaurant in Gagetown.  While all three members dabble in writing McGibbon takes the credit for one of the group’s most popular tunes.

On a Saturday night in March you can feel the grips of Old Man Winter begin to loosen but folks still prefer to gather indoors.  At the Creek View tavern they’re out to support the local boys.  They clap and sing along with the mixture of cover tunes originally performed by greats such as John Prine, Gary Fjellgaard and Marty Robbins.  But the fans really get rocking when their beloved moose song is played. 

Sue McGibbon laughs and blushes when her husband gets to the third verse.  Alex McGibbon admits this part is fiction, but it’s fun nonetheless.

One day my girlfriend, Sue and I, a-courtin’ we did go
            We found a road out by the lake and we drove in real slow

Well, we were making out real fine, she offered no excuse

But standin’ there a watchin’ us was a great big jeezly moose.

The mostly white-haired crowd of about 50 sings along with the chorus while a plush moose toy dangles from McGibbon’s mic stand, a gift from a fan he says.

 His legs are long and his eyes are black and his horns are all amok

The biggest bull you’ve ever seen, the moose at Sucker Brook

The crowd thins out as the evening wears on and as people leave someone invariably cautions them.  “Watch out for the moose.”

Highway travellers are wary of the moose especially in the early morning and after dark.  Their black colouring makes them extremely difficult to see.  Although their eyes glow like deer, their height generally prevents headlights from reaching them.

For most people moose are a fleeting sight along the highway but for Dwayne Sabine they occupy most of his waking hours.  Sabine is a biologist specializing in moose.  He tallies the provincial moose population and calculates the number of licenses issued to hunters to keep the herd healthy.        

New Brunswick doesn’t have wolves so the moose have few predators.

“The only predator I think we really have here for moose is black bear, which will occasionally take new born calves in the spring.  That’s it, and then humans,” Sabine says. 

Besides death by hunter, there are approximately 400 moose killed on the province’s highways each year.  The other problem for moose is much smaller than man or machine, but it’s deadly just the same.

”The other big issue for moose is a disease called Parelaphostrongylus tenuis or P. tenuis; it’s also called brain worm.”    

Sabine describes the brain worm as a little nematode which uses deer, snails and slugs in its reproductive process.  The deer have evolved to tolerate the brain worm, but if moose, caribou or elk accidentally eat an infected slug or snail it can be lethal.  

“… [About] 40 to 50 per cent of all moose that get infected will die,” he said.

Sabine laughed when I asked if he’d had any encounters with moose.

“Well once, yeah I was doing bird surveys and I just happened to walk up on a cow moose with a calf probably a week or so old.”

It was near dawn on a clear day, Sabine was working as an ornithologist.  He was listening to the different bird calls to identify the species in the area to determine how they might be impacted by the proposed highway plan.

“I kind of surprised her and she kind of surprised me.  I stopped, anyway she looked at me for a few minutes and then decided she really didn’t want me around.”

Sabine was about 30 metres from her when they spotted each other.    

“As soon as the calf stepped out of the bushes and next to her, the hair on her neck and hump stood straight up and she laid her ears back, then she started coming.  No trees to climb so I ran.  It was the strangest thing, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t attacking me… I had to run a few hundred yards back out to the road where my vehicle was.”

Sabine heard the bushes and trees crashing behind him as he ran for his life.

“I couldn’t figure out why she hadn’t caught me yet and when I ran up on the road and turned around she climbed right up the bank behind me…”

By the time Sabine made it to the road the cantankerous cow was only six or seven metres away. 

“Luckily a car came by and she moved across the road and I went to my truck.  It was only at the road that the broken leg was visible… hind leg broken about mid-way up and hanging by a couple of tendons. She was running on three legs.”

Sabine escaped what at best could have been a bad beating and possibly even death.

At this time of year the moose aren't typically aggressive. This same bull in the fall would be a different story. Photo by Tammy Murray

“Bad for her but good for me,” he laughs. “I waited about 20 minutes at the truck and then headed out again for my surveys.”

Sabine says there’s merit if not concrete evidence to the legend of Sucker Brook.  He says the moose require a source of sodium as part of their habitat and the cows especially need it for producing milk. 

“Sodium’s an element that’s in short supply naturally… so there’s [sic] a few places where you have natural salt licks where the bedrock has some salt in it,” but Sabine says these are rare.

“For moose they get a lot of their sodium actually from certain aquatic plants that tend to accumulate it in their roots and one in particular is… the yellow water lily, the pond lily.”

Hunters in search of moose must first win the yearly lottery draw for a license, then while the clock ticks down the mere 72-hour season use every trick in their rucksack to tag one. 

Mike Makepeace strokes the ears of his black lab as he sits at the kitchen table with his coffee and cigarette telling me his favourite hunting stories.

“They’re a pain in the ass until they get to the plate.”

Makepeace says planning is an important part of hunting these big beasts.

 “If you’re way out in the middle of nowhere and you get a big moose down, you gotta do something with it quick, you just can’t let it lay there.”

Makepeace relives one occasion where getting his moose from the forest to the freezer was extra challenging.

“It’s a pain in the ass, you got a moose a 150 feet out in the middle of the beaver pond – dead,” he pauses for effect.

“And you gotta get it out of there… [you] head down there in the woods with the tractor, end up getting the tractor stuck, then you end up getting it unstuck, finally getting to the moose with about 200 feet of rope, chain and stuff – get the moose pulled up close enough to the tractor to haul it out, then the tractor gets stuck again, and you can’t get it out,” he pauses again.

“So then you’re beat, you gotta get something to get it out of there right then…so then you go get the truck and the float and you load the bull dozer on and you bring it down and you unload it and you go down and get the bloody moose, you gotta get it up to the house… pain in the ass,” he says again, shaking his head.

The moose hunt begins on a Thursday in September, when the moose are rutting and calling for a mate.  Most hunters use moose calls while patiently waiting from a tree stand, for the beast to walk into their sights.  Makepeace is not like most hunters.

“Flashlight,” he says.  “Flashlight works best.  Wednesday night, avoid the rush.”

I’m not sure he’s joking.  

Makepeace says he’s not convinced of the legend of the overturned salt truck at Sucker Brook.

“They do lick the salt off the road and you can bait them with salt.  That’s what the Indians are doing down here… they would throw salt down in that little wet hole.  I used to do it out at the beaver pond too.  They’d come muck around in it, sip it and taste the salt.”

Makepeace has encountered moose on the highway, in the forest and even in his front yard by his daughter’s swing set.  He likes them best on his dinner plate.  Makepeace says he’s never been charged by a moose but he’s been circled by some bulls posturing for territory.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle, pretty safe when you got a rifle…it’s quite an experience when you get two bulls or three bulls right within 50 feet around you and they’re all kind of jockeying for position… actually it’s a heart pumper for sure.”

While he feels confident holding a rifle, he knows driving his truck is not as safe.  Like most of the locals Makepeace thinks moose when he’s on the road.

                                                * * * * * * * *

There aren’t any flashing lights and the lines of this crosswalk are faded.  You can tell who’s “from away” simply by how fast they’re driving.  Local traffic slows down here, especially when it’s dark.  The muddy tracks are generally contained within the lines but some stray up the centreline of the highway before they cross to a logging road.  Sucker Brook is more than just a place where the moose savour the salty mud; some argue it’s also the site of Canada’s only moose crosswalk.

Legend has it the crosswalk appeared overnight, painted on the highway as a joke by some of the locals.  Nobody will say who painted the lines originally, nor can they say how many years have passed since the paint was fresh.  Some would like to see the crosswalk repainted for the safety of the moose and drivers.  Others like Alex McGibbon would like it done to highlight the novelty of the Sucker Brook moose. 

“I’d go down and do it myself,” jokes McGibbon

Depression and suicide: Henick speaks out

The crowd hadn’t yet settled into their seats when Mark Henick said:

“I was in the eighth grade the first time I tried to kill myself.”

The room became quiet. Henick paused for a moment, allowing his opening statement to sink in, and then he introduced himself.

Henick’s lecture on depression and suicide is a personal subject. He’s knowingly lived with for 8 years, although he believes he’s been unlike most people his entire life.

Mark Henick reviews his notes before his speech. Photo by Tammy Murray.
“I was a bit of a strange little kid; I liked to be alone a lot… I liked to play by myself. I was perhaps a little bit different than other kids – that signs very early on would have been evident for anybody who was looking.”

As a teenager trying to cope in a blended family in a rough neighbourhood in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Henick realized nobody was looking. Nobody looked until he pulled a knife from his bag while sitting in an office with the guidance counsellor.

“He just asked me, he recoiled a little, I remember that, he just asked me what I was going to do. I could hear his, I could hear the quiver in his voice as he asked me what, what I was going to do.”

Henick had left his classroom and wandered down to the cafeteria to ask for a long knife. He told the teacher there he’d been sent to get one to cut a cake in class. Henick’s requirements for the knife were quite specific; long, straight edged and non-serrated.

After securing the knife, he wandered around the school for awhile eventually going to the counsellor’s office.

“I went in and I was having this fight with myself. Well what am I doing now? I had this all planned out, but it didn’t seem like a great idea anymore.”

Whether too stubborn to give up on the idea or too desperate in his darkness to carry on Henick didn’t say but he twice refused the counsellors request to give up the knife.

“As I said ‘No’ I held the knife by the blade, I don’t know why, it had a handle,” he paused and chuckled. “But anyway, I held the knife by the very end of the blade… and I squeezed the knife in my fist, and I held it up to my throat… I could feel the blood dripping down my hand and down my arm because I was squeezing the blade. He said my name, he said Mark could you give me the knife please, then I said ‘No, I can’t do that. I need to do this’…”

Henick said they sat there for what seemed like forever until he got to a point of “almost clarity.”

“I came to a point where I just stopped thinking. I took a deep breath, I closed my eyes, and just before I pushed it into my throat he tackled me.”

Henick’s graphic testimony of this, his first of many attempts to commit suicide, is deliberate. He knows if he’s still feeling uncomfortable talking about it and the audience is uncomfortable hearing about it then there’s still a lot of work to be done de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Students, faculty and other guests crowd into the auditorium at Brian Mulroney Hall. Photo by Tammy Murray.

This was Henick’s fourth and last lecture at St. Thomas University. He graduates in the spring. Henick said when he first started the lectures he had only six or seven people listen to him, gradually expanding over the years.

“This was actually the biggest crowd I’ve ever had… I was pretty surprised when I looked back and saw that the room was full.”

Many students were present as well as some faculty and the director of counselling services for the University of New Brunswick.

Psychology students Erin Flower and Leanna Garrett waited their turn to speak with Henick after his lecture. Both had strong impressions of his story.

“It was really good to hear his experience and hear how he coped with it,” said Flower

STU student Samara Young talks with Mark Henick after his lecture. Photo by Tammy Murray.
 “I thought it was really touching and really heart warming that he’s able to tell his experience to all the university students and I think it touched a lot of people’s hearts and made them realize that people can relate to him too,” Garret said.

Samara Young is in her third year studying psychology and criminology. She has heard stories like Henick’s before while counselling youths in the Yukon, she admired his courage to be so open.

Henick can’t recall the exact number of attempts he’s made to take his own life but he did relive one which he said was the closest he’d come to dying. Henick put down his note book and prepared to climb up onto a table in front of the crowd.

Mark Henick. Photo by Tammy Murray.

“Actually I’m going to take my boots off so I don’t kill myself, that’d be kind of ironic,” he said to a chorus of laughter.

All joking aside, Henick was making it real, reliving his attempt to jump off a highway overpass.

“I climbed over the railing… I could feel the concrete, I could feel my toes dangling over, there was about five stories below me at least.”

Henick struggled with the memory more than once as he stood on the table, arms outstretched, eyes closed, face scrunched up with concentration. He describes the bridge being closed off and people lined up on each end. The bar crowd heading home, police officers preparing to intervene. Henick recalls one person yelling at him ‘jump you coward.’

“I again had a moment where I just cleared my thoughts, just stopped thinking… took a deep breath, took my hands off the railing, and I just let myself start to fall. It felt so good.”

Looking emotional, Henick relives his attempt to jump to his death from an overpass. Photo by Tammy Murray.

Henick paused a moment to clear his throat, apologized, and then carried on in a trembling voice.

“It was the first time I felt free in my less than two decades of life. Before I could fall I felt somebody’s arm grab me from around the back. I don’t know who it was, I still never did find out.”

Later Henick praised the unselfish efforts of the man who had saved him. He told his audience anyone of them had the power to change lives.

“The person who pulled me over that railing on the overpass, I never met in my life, never met him again. I don’t know his name, I’ve always wanted to thank him, but that’s not why he did it. He didn’t do it to be thanked. He did it because he saw somebody on the edge, and reached out. So I ask these things of you, to be the person who reaches out.”

New media option for New Brunswick

Stop the presses! There’s a new kid in town. Well really, it’s a new media source for New Brunswick.

The Brief is a one-page, double-sided publication printed on 30 per cent recycled paper. On average it contains five or six stories and a list of community events. Oh, and it’s a monthly publication with stories to get people asking questions.  Stories like “many felt it took too long to get police to respond to missing N. B. First Nations teen Hilary Bonnell.”

The Brief could also be considered the baby of the much larger and more sophisticated parent: This web based publication launched in August of this year.

Marie-Christine Allard with a copy of The Brief, a new publication in N.B.  Photo by Tammy Murray
Marie-Christine Allard with a copy of The Brief, a new publication in N.B. Photo by Tammy Murray

Marie-Christine Allard describes her position as being one of the founding members and a part of the editorial collective. She and other members feel it’s important for N.B. to have an alternative news source.

“The idea was that it would be accessible and it would be critical and independent,” said Allard.

Allard said the idea for the media co-op was inspired at the New Brunswick Social Forum in Sept. 2008 and was spurred on by the closure of the Carlton Free Press in Woodstock just one month later.

Click here for Marie’s audio comment

“Because of what we consider to be Irving’s anti-competitive practices. Which it’s very clear, legally they didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s very clear that they were just trying to get the Carlton Free Press out of business. So we kind of felt a certain sense of urgency there, that we really needed to get something together,” said Allard.

Via email correspondence and frequent meetings in Fredericton, the concept of the media co-op was formed.

“It was mostly just people that were really concerned about this,” Allard said.

The project consists of the “editorial collective” and a “broader organizing body”. Allard said they are mainly based in Fredericton at this time but plan to spread throughout the province with an “advisory committee.”

“It’s a group of 14 people who are democratically elected, who represent just different sectors of underrepresented communities or issues in the province.”

Allard said they currently have representatives for gay and lesbian issues, women’s issues, Acadian and Francophone, First Nations and rural farming issues.

“It’s all these issues and communities that we feel are often underrepresented in the media.”

She said the job of these representatives is to ensure they’re not ignoring an issue or certain sector of society.

“The role of that rep is also to seek out stories or seek out people who could offer commentary or that kind of thing.”

Michael Camp is an assistant professor and the chair of journalism at St. Thomas University. He said the ability for citizens to write and publish things they care about on the internet, “is a wonderful thing.”

“There is definitely room and I think a desire, in this province in particular to have a completely free and unfettered journalistic outlet. We have a few, we could use more. So it’s a good thing,” Camp said.

Michael Camp has a look at the website for NB Media Co-op, a new online media option for New Brunswick.  Photo by Tammy Murray
Michael Camp has a look at the website for NB Media Co-op, a new online media option for New Brunswick. Photo by Tammy Murray

Camp said with internet access and word of mouth, small publications have the potential to reach an enormous audience.

“All it takes is a few friends telling a few friends telling a few friends that this new website for example is out there and suddenly you’ve got a core of people reading something that has as much reach as the Telegraph Journal. I think these can be explosive.”

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation was the guest lecturer at St. Thomas University’s annual Dalton Camp Lecture last week. Her assertion that professional journalism could survive alongside the volunteers on the internet was compelling but not entirely convincing. Many in the field are wondering just who is going to pay journalists to do their jobs when there’s so much news available for free.

While the organizers for The Brief and the website are currently all volunteers, Allard said they are working to change that.

“We do want to have a paid staff and be able to pay for stories. But that’s going to come when we’re able to have a solid business plan and can get some grants, get some funding,” said Allard.

The Brief and STU campus newspaper the Aquinian, side by side at McCain Hall.  Photo by Tammy Murray
The Brief and STU campus newspaper the Aquinian, side by side at McCain Hall. Photo by Tammy Murray

Allard feels the media concentration by the Irving empire in N. B. is a problem because some issues are glossed over or don’t get coverage at all.

“I do feel that a lot of things aren’t being covered in the Irving media and I’m not blaming the journalists at all… I’ve actually been talking to some former Irving employees or current Irving employees that said ‘Yeah, we do know who our employer is and you can’t help that’ and even if there isn’t that actual person looking over your shoulder, they felt there was a certain amount of self-censorship knowing that you can’t write certain things about the Irvings or you can’t cover certain issues or certain criticisms. We’re not funded by them so we don’t have that obligations, we’re member funded… so we hope to offer an independent perspective.”

Michael Camp understands the issue of media concentration; he started his career with the Irvings.

Click here for Michael’s audio comment

“Knowing some of the Irvings as I do, they feel that they’re helping New Brunswick… they feel without them this would be a much more troubled place with many fewer jobs… That’s the sort of bias I would have if I was an Irving, but it is a bias and I think it’s impossible for it not to rub off on the editorial and news content of their newspapers.”

Allard said it’s about accountability.

“I personally feel like that’s the role, like the role of media is accountability, to keep leaders accountable and companies, so that’s really what we’re going for… Not only do we have a media monopoly in New Brunswick, but the family that owns that monopoly also owns a really big part of the industrial base. That’s pretty much unprecedented in what we call the developed world. The company that’s supposed to bring accountability to those companies, they’re the same. It’s a really big conflict and a really big problem in our democracy.”

Allard describes herself as an optimist but concedes “grassroots” projects alone won’t fix the media monopoly in N. B.

The Brief is currently circulated in coffe shops, on campuses and other community outlets.  It's a tool to draw people to the website.  Photo by Tammy Murray
The Brief is currently circulated in coffee shops, on campuses and other community outlets. It's a tool to draw people to the website. Photo by Tammy Murray

“We need to have some legislation around media concentration, there’s some of that legislation pretty much everywhere except for here, from what I understand.”

See the NB Media Co-op website here: