DOBSON ON RIVERVIEW - 1980
It's come a long way since '33. The man who practically built the town takes a fond look at Riverview's short, but interesting history. Laurie Armstrong.
Interview: When Byron Dobson and his father Joseph bought the Sanford Ryan farm in 1933, farming was the only industry in what is now Riverview. "Then it was called Middle Coverdale," Mr. Dobson recalls, "between our place and Chappel's store there were only three or four houses."
These 'pioneers' of the twentieth century bore traditional Albert County names such as Smith, Adams, and Blakney.
Mr. Dobson was born in Stoney Creek "with my lumberboots on" and brought up on a farm. When he turned 16 he said his brother married and took over the farm so Byron and Joseph Dobson moved "up the river."
The Stanford Ryan farmhouse, which was located on Coverdale Road between McClelan and Downey Avenues, is the focal point of Riverview's history. Sanford Ryan was a well known New Brunswick MLA at the time. Mr. Dobson said the original farm consisted of 200 acres extending from the Pine Glen Road westward to the present Montgomery Avenue and southward about two miles from the Coverdale Road. Mr. Dobson and his father took up mixed farming specializing in dairy cattle and market gardening.
The area that was later known as Riverview Heights (the boundaries are the Golf Course to Trites Road) consisted of about eight homes in the 30s but the number soon rose in the 40s when Mr. Dobson decided to go into construction. It was mainly Mr. Dobson's knowledge of the lumber business, something in which he is still involved, that got him interested in construction. "I built the first home in 1944 on the corner of Wilmot Avenue and the main road." Mr. Dobson added "It's still standing. I started out gradually," he continued, "building on house a year and then in 1947, I built 49 homes." That same year, realizing the growth potential, Mr. Dobson offered a lot of land as a prize in a community-naming contest. The name "Riverview" was chosen. He moved from the farm after he built a store (it now houses Pizza Delight and several other businesses) in 1948. The farm house was sold and he and his wife of 41 years, Mary, lived upstairs and ran the general store for five or six years.
Middle Coverdale became known as Riverview Heights in 1953 when the province recognized the area under the county government system as a local improvement district.
In 1954, Joseph Dobson died and the farm was subdivided. "The balance has since been sold for the Industrial Park," he said. Mr. Dobson has also given away land of the years: the Salvation Army was granted eight acres for a senior citizens' home on Suffolk Drive, and 35 acres of land was given to the town to build the Riverview Arena.
Between 1954 and 1955, Byron Dobson sold the store and went into construction business for keeps by forming Dobson Construction Ltd., The company has built between 700 or 800 homes (Mr. Dobson said he doesn't like to refer to them as houses) in Saint John, but since then its sole interest is Riverview. "I would say we built 80 percent of the homes in Riverview. That's Riverview Heights, not what's Bridgedale and Gunningsville."
The growth of the Riverview area was quite slow until the 50s when Mr. Dobson said there was a "steady growth." In the beginning the company was building 25 to 30 homes a year, but there were also more productive years. "We built over 100 homes some years." He added about 13 farms were purchased to make up the residential part of Riverview. As a point of interest, Mr. Dobson said many of the homes are built on gravel "scowed up" from Martin Head in Fundy National Park.
"Schools were a big problem in the beginning," Mr. Dobson explains. "There was only a one-room school called the Middle Coverdale School." Children had to walk up to a mile each way in order to receive their education. "The first four room school was built in 1949. Its the front part of the Riverview Junior High School. The second part came in 1951.
Not restricted to business matters, Mr. Dobson served on village council (Riverview became incorporated as a village in 1966) under Mayor Harold Findlay when amalgamation was being discussed. Mr. Dobson claims he was and is firmly against "amalgamation with the City. Riverview is capable of standing on its own feet. Nothing is to be gained by amalgamation today."
Before the days of the now infamous causeway, both Mr. and Mrs. Dobson were fans of the Petitcodiac River. "I always loved it," said Mrs. Dobson who was born in Hopewell Hill. Mr. Dobson said "It was always muddy. Down the river there was a lot of shad and drift net fishing. Once the causeway was put in it eliminated that." Mr. Dobson clims "I did everything possible to have a bridge put in rather than a causeway," but adds, "I wouldn't want it taken out now."
Riverview has changed a great deal over the years. In 1973, Riverview became incorporated as a Town, taking in the areas of Bridgedale and Gunningsville. The population has gone from a handful of people to become the fifth largest municipality in the province with a population over 14,000.
In 1980, the Sanford Ryan farmhouse, which had deteriorated considerably in recent years and was the victim of vandalism, was torn down and a restaurant now stands in its place.
Even the people have changed, going from large dairy and vegetable farmers to transient business people. "The first part of the people in Riverview weren't transient," Mr. Dobson said, "and the bigger percentage of them are still here. the whole world is like that. Its far more transient." Mr. Dobson said he feels Riverview grew "because the cost of housing is lower in the Greater Moncton area than it is anywhere else in the country. Everywhere else homes are much higher. I'd say 50 percent higher." He admits he does not like the label Riverview has been given as a 'bedroom community.' "I don't think we should be called that. There's lots of work here for people."
Some things haven't changed though. Mr. Dobson is still active in the construction business aided by his three children, Wayne, Philip and Virginia (Westrup). And Riverview still has a Byron Dobson, a true 'Albert County Boy.' "I was born here, lived here and I'm going to be buried here."
Footnote: Since this article was written in the 1980s, both Mr. and Mrs. Dobson have passed away.