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The guardian of Blackville's tallest historic landmark

Tuesday, May 11th 2021, 4:25 pm - Alvin Stewart saved a fire watchtower in 1980 and moved it to his home near the Southwest Miramichi River.

For nearly four decades, Alvin Stewart has been the caretaker of the tallest structure in Blackville.

In the winter of 1980, he rescued an old fire watchtower that was slated to be torn down in Bettsburg, another Northumberland County community, about 50 kilometres to the southwest of his home.

"I heard they were going to tear them all down," said Stewart. "So I decided to try and get one from them."

He put in a bid of $110 to purchase the tower. His was the only bid.

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In the spring of 1981, he moved it piece by piece to his backyard in Blackville.

It took until the summer of 1984 to completely resurrect the tower. Today, it's still the tallest structure in Blackville.

"It's 104 feet of steel, plus the house," said Stewart. "So, it's quite high."

Fire watchtower/Shane Fowler/CBC News Alvin Stewart's fire watchtower has stood in his backyard since he rescued it from being torn down back in 1980. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Originally built in 1929, the tower was part of a network of watchtowers stretching across Canada. They'd been used by forest rangers until the early 1970s to scan for billows of smoke indicating a potentially devastating forest fire.

A ranger who did spot smoke would radio a second watchtower to triangulate its location and dispatch firefighters.

The towers were rendered obsolete once patrolling aircraft replaced them.

Watchtower/Shane Fowler/CBC News Alvin Stewart's rescued watchower still stands in his backyard nearly four decades after he rebuilt it. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

From the top, Stewart's tower offers an unobscured view of the Miramichi River and the entire village of Blackville, a community of fewer than 1,000 people. In addition to the view, Stewart has used his tower for a Christmas light display and for watching fireworks at eye level.

"You could almost look down on the fireworks," he said. "And after the big boom of the fireworks, you could actually hear the sound wave go by you and echo way out across the land."

Over the years, Stewart said, surveyors, as well as RCMP, have asked to use the tower for a variety of reasons.

He said a lot of people have attempted to venture up the tower, but most get physically exhausted before reaching the top.

"That's why about halfway up, they stop," said Stewart. "And a lot of people wouldn't go no further. They just come back down."

Alvin Stewart/Shane Fowler/CBC News Alvin Stewart spent three years reconstructing the watchtower in his backyard in Blackville, about 50 kilometres southwest of Miramichi. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Now 72, Stewart hasn't been up in the tower for two years. But he said he should go back up sometime soon to replace the rotting plywood floor.

And after looking after it for nearly 40 years, he still can't explain exactly why he bought it.

"I don't know, I was just young and had that kind of energy to spend on it," said Stewart. "I just thought it was kind of an unusual thing to do, so why not?"

The article, written by Shane Fowler, was originally published for CBC News.

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