Sea Winter Salmon – Chronicles of the St. John River

by Mari Hill Harpur with Eileen Regan McCormack

Sea Winter Salmon: Chronicles of the Saint John River is the story of a wealthy man's fishing camp and his family's passion for nature. The book describes a place of leisure; where vacation time involves interacting with the environment and the wildlife within it. The sense of what nature bestows brings about the realization that one has the ability and a responsibility to help ensure the environment’s health and continuity as a means to reciprocate the favour.

Much has already been written about James J. Hill, the Empire Builder, and how he contributed to the settlement of the American North-West. This book will support those publications but rather than focusing on his business and agricultural skills, Sea Winter Salmon is about Hill’s personal passion for fishing with good friends and his family. This is a chronicle of how the camp came to be and how Hill spent his leisure time.  It is a rare glimpse into how a great man relaxed.

That said, the book is an accurate historical document thanks to the preservation of Hill’s archives that exist with the Minnesota Historical Society and with various private collections.The task was to bring the facts together and assemble them into a comprehensive narrative. This challenge was undertaken by Mari Hill Harpur, James J. Hill's great-granddaughter and co-keeper of the family’s Hill Camp flame.  She felt the need to revive this story re-assemble it, and uncover generations of dust. This proved to be a daunting journey during which a fervent archivist in the person of Eileen McCormack, her co-author, accompanied her. Together, they weave a story which is sometimes dramatic, occasionally tragic, often amusing and, at other times, informative with regard to the challenges of this remote and delicate region. This book addresses itself to historians, biographers, conservation biologists and no less, to fisher women and men everywhere.

As this story unfolds it takes us through a thorough documentation of five generations of family ownership and management of this river. This is the story of that particular river and the people who have been touched by its magic.  For anyone with an interest in fly-fishing and a river’s ecology, the history of a river’s life, this is a tale worth exploring.


“It is a story that needed to be told” Mari maintained. Sea Winter Salmon is a book about an Atlantic salmon river in Eastern Canada.  About twelve miles upstream, on the banks of that river, there is a log camp that has been in the Hill family since 1900. The camp is unique in that it has been under one ownership for over 100 years. For over five generations, this property has nurtured a relationship with the river’s most illustrious resident, the Salmo salar.

The story of this river would not be complete without the use of photographs and illustrations. As luck would have it, a visual artist's streak runs in the Hill family, with a particular interest in photography dating back to the late 19th century. This accounts for the extraordinary visual storytelling within. If a picture tells a thousand words, this book is indeed epic. Since Mari’s academic and professional background is in artistic photography, this book is punctuated with her stunning images, offering the reader an insight into a subject whose beauty and mystique would otherwise be difficult to put into words.

ISBN: 978-1-927535-68-4

170 pages

Trade paperback

141 black & white photographs


96 colour photographs

3 black and white illustrations

37 coloured documents.

9.5 x 9.5 inches.

Sea Winter Salmon is published by Linda Leith Publishing.

© 2014 – Mari Hill Harpur

Design: Studio Lézard