The White Fence, issue #2

May, 1997


This is the second foray into our historical venture of Tantramar. After telling you about “the white fence” in our first issue, I learned much about this little Sackville “landmark”. Indeed many stories had been exchanged there between storytellers who are no longer with us, but the children of those times brought back their memories for me to record. They, like Bob Milton, are today’s storytellers. Since the first issue of this newsletter, I learned much about people, horses and plane crashes in Tantramar. It is truly a Pandora’s Box of history! And we’ve just cracked open the lid, so hang on!

I met with Mr. Milton on Good Friday last and my understanding and appreciation of Happy Hill of Sackville’s past grew in leaps and bounds. There was more to the white fence of East Main street than just tales of storytelling. First, to start at the beginning.

The white fence was built when Bob Milton attended grade 4 at the Ogden School in 1932. Surely you remember where that school was: next to “Money Art” Estabrooks’ farm near the top of Happy Hill where the road to Tantramar Regional High School is now.

The school’s location would have provided a clear view to the Ogden School students of the meeting place known around town as “the white fence”. Prior to the white fence, there was an old wire fence there which was removed in ’32 and replaced with a wooden fence painted white. According to Mr. Milton, many bicycles rested along the white fence and cars were parked along the road-side as many a tall story was told by the storytellers leaning on the fence under the windy skies of Tantramar.

But not long after the white fence was completed (when Bob Milton still attended the Ogden School), and during a football game at Mount Allison, Charlie Fawcett Jr. and a friend flew over the football field in a biplane rented from the Moncton Flying Club to do swirls, loops and other tricks over the football field! In the course of their aerobatics, a clip on the plane’s manifold broke, and the two acrobats had to do an emergency landing, which they did in a hayfield just above the white fence! Bob Milton was at the Ogden School playground at the time and witnessed this event. Once Mr. Fawcett and his friend fixed the manifold, they rode their plane up the hayfield towards Moncton, turned towards Amherst, and prepared for take-off! Bob Milton watched the biplane roll down the field towards the white fence. It started to rise but was unable to gain much elevation and down it came! Again! About 100 feet from the white fence, the biplane crashed nose first and smashed both wings. The two pilots escaped serious injury and walked out. Kids playing at the Ogden School witnessed this event and this story must have been re-counted many times at the old white fence!! And so, I think that we will keep the subtitle of this newsletter as “the white fence”; a unique place to exchange great stories from this area.

After our first issue appeared, I received a telephone call from Pat Finney in response to my request for assistance. Pat wanted to help in any way she could, so I asked her to interview Mr. Dick McLeod in Westcock about his stories of horses in this area. I knew from long ago that Dick had a love of, and knowledge about horses in this region, that was unequalled. I was not disappointed. Dick and Juanita had already written a small book entitled “Tales of the Horse” which they have given us permission to excerpt in “the white fence”. Part I of Dick’s fascinating account appears below, along with Part II of Nathaniel Smith’s (1774–1789) letters, a continuation of that series begun in our first issue. I also received a call from Leslie Van Patter, one of the creators of our logo, to assist with this newsletter. And when I approached Sandy Burnett to help us with stories he did not hesitate to say yes. So, with all the interest in this newsletter about Tantramar’s past expressed to me since our first issue, and the expert help now on board, we have a great future ahead of us!


In our first issue I made a mistake which I would like to mend here. In my discussions about my visits with Mrs. Godfrey, I had reported in the first issue on her telling me about the “former” Once-in-a-While Club. The Once-in-a-While Club is still very much active as Mrs. Joyce Ferguson, the club’s current president, pointed out to me. So to make amends, I’ve asked Mrs. Ferguson to prepare a brief history of the club which I will discuss at our next meeting at the white fence.

—Peter Hicklin

Did you know?

When I first came to Sackville, my job with the CWS was to participate in assessing the impacts of proposed Fundy tidal power generation on wildlife in the bay. But I was unaware how long the topic of tidal power had been discussed in the area. For example, did you know that on August 30, 1906, the Sackville Tribune Post reported that Mssrs. Wilber J. Webb of Boston and Geo. H. Cove of Roxbury “arrived in town yesterday” and were “interested in a scheme for utilizing the tides of the Bay of Fundy to generate tidal power.” They found that the Tantramar River was “singularily (sic) well suited for the proposed project and the possibilities of the scheme stupendous.” The article closed with the optimistic comment that “Sackville may yet become the great industial centre of the Maritime provinces”. Well, we did get an industrial park 80 (or so) years later….

But following this article, an interesting editorial appeared the next month which illustrates how seriously tidal power development was considered in this area. The editorial is reproduced in full below:

September 1906 — Editorial: “As to the invention of Messrs. Cove, a word may be said. The plan involves the building of three large dams across the Tantramar River. The first two will form the south-west and north-east boundaries respectively of an immense reservoir, which will be filled twice every twenty-four hours by the incoming tide.

The third dam will form the farthest boundary of the discharge basin, which will have twice the capacity of the reservoir. When the tide comes in, the reservoir will be filled but the gates of the discharge basin will be closed, thus preventing any water from entering. When the reservoir is filled, the gates are closed. At the centre of the dam are placed turbine water wheels, which are run by water in the reservoir.

As the tide recedes, the gates in the dam of the discharge basin are opened, thus allowing the water which has spent itself in running the turbines to escape into the river. When the tide is full again, the gates of the reservoir are opened, thus allowing the water to flow in and supplying the power which will drive the turbines until the next tide.

Some have thought that the plan would interfere with shipping but the reverse is true. The ships would come through the locks in the dam at high tide into the reservoir, and since the reservoir would not lower more than nine or ten feet at a time, the ships at the wharves would be afloat all the time instead of being aground at low tide as under present conditions.

The cost of the dams and equipment will be large, but the operating expenses will be small, a comparatively few men being required to do all the necessary work.” So dear friends, just think of what the Tantramar River might look like today had the Tribune-Post’s editorial of 1906 become reality!

The tales of tidal power never came to fruition , but back in 1906, the horse provided the town’s power needs. So, on this topic, enjoy Mr. Dick McLeod’s unedited autobiographical sketch centered around his love of horses in the Tantramar area:

Tales of the Horse — Part 1

I was born in the midst of the depression, 1933 to be exact and in our part of the country the horse was the main source of transportation and power. I was fifteen before we owned a truck so I developed a love for horses that remains with me yet and I hope it always will.

Young Dick McLeod and brother Donald on Sid

Young Dick McLeod and brother Donald on Sid

The first horse I remember was a grey horse called Sid. He seemed like a giant to me but my father later told me he weighed about 1150 lb., small by today’s standards for a farm but in those days he was considered big enough… We would rig plow lines to his halter and drive him around the yard, accompanied by threats from my mother and grandmother but this wouldn’t discourage two expert four and six year old teamsters. Another time we painted the old fellow a dirty yellow with a broom and drainage water from the manure heap…

By the time I reached school age, I knew every horse in the community by sight and name and I was fast friends with most of the owners or teamsters. The teamsters of the delivery teams… always seemed ready to talk to a young fellow and I made friends with many of them.

The grocery horse had the hardest life, I always thought. They were always hooked to express wagons with a breast strap harness, generally loaded heavy and trotted uphill and down six days a week. I don’t think we have horses today that could stand this treatment.

There were grocery horses, coal teams, farm teams, woods teams, driving horses and they all fascinated me. One gentleman I’ll never forget, the late Aubrey Hicks, delivered coal with a single horse. It was reputed he could land a ton of coal into places that would worry some teams. I saw him do some great teaming around the siding and coal scales and never touch his reins. He also claimed that in his lifetime he used and wore out 26 coal scoops (they don’t have men like this today either).

The local blacksmith shops were also fascinating places for a young fellow. There were three that I went to when I got the chance. Herman (Hum) Amos’, Stevie Smith’s and Will Teed’s… Will Teed’s shop was especially fascinating and he also kept and travelled two stud horses, a pure bred Percheron called Coalbar and a standard bred called the Worthy J. He also was a great storyteller and claimed to have a great memory. One story he told about his memory is as follows: He said he was born in Second Westcock and he remembered when they moved to Sackville. He was a baby in his mother’s arms, his father drove the horse and two sisters sat on the floor of the carriage, his brothers came behind driving cattle. He said they met a man leading a cow. He didn’t know the man but he said if he met the cow tomorrow, he’d know her (he was over 90 when I heard him tell this story).

What an experience to go to town on Saturday night. There were several areas where the men all seemed to gather to tell yarns, brag up their horses, argue and lie about the exploits of themselves and their horses. I think sometimes there was more work done in front of the Corner Drug Store on Saturday night than there was during the week at home or in the woods.

It would take a book to record all these old teamsters, the stories they’d tell, the horses owned and drove but some of you older readers probably knew them, their horses and their stories so I’ll leave them for now.

The Letters of Nathaniel Smith

In our first newsletter, I transcribed for you the first portion of Nathaniel Smith’s letter to his brother in Yorkshire relating the great dangers of crossing the Atlantic to Nova Scotia. Nathaniel had just written to Benjamin about the ship Adamant which he suspected had perished on “the Cape called Sable… the most dangerous place in all the passage from the Lande end of England to the Continant of America”.

In the mid 1980s, a collection of letters written by Nathaniel to his relatives in England were recovered in Suffolk, England. The letters, in poor condition, were re-written by the owner, Jennifer Crabby, and studied by Anne Calabresi at Yale University in 1986 and recently (1994) reprinted by Ron Atkinson in Smith Family History in the Atkinson Lineage. Nathaniel’s letters relate many interesting facts and experiences of an emigrant farming family to 18th century Nova Scotia and we will excerpt passages from his letters as a regular feature of this Newsletter.

May 29, 1774 – letter to brother Benjamin in Appleton-by-Wisk, Yorkshire (cont’d):

Some of our people have made purchases and oathers are seeking after lande, Many of the Poorer Sort seems very discontented and not without reason as none is able to imploy them, altho their is such great need. The indulence of the people is the real cause of great poverty altho the land apears capable of producing every nesessary to support Human Life. Enough hath been said in favour of the land already theirfore shall make a few words serve, One thing I am eyewitness to, one gallon of Cream will yield as much butter as two in Old England upon the best of lande I was ever concerned with. I could say the cattle is small but their milk is exceding delitious and butter exceeds in tast and flavour any I ever tasted in England. The Marsh Land is tollerable rich, but I am under a mistake if C. Dixons report doth not exceed the truth, I am sorry to tell you the people are all in an uproar about his ears, and some brands him with a lier and worse, saying hes the real cause of their ruin, But he stills hold his integrity and says he hath spoak nothing but the truth, I verily believe some will return to Old England, those I doth not will bring a bad report of the Land and will be found in as great an extream as the oather, Some appears as tho they expected to have found provided for them a fine house and land cultivated to their mind without further trouble and because they are disappointed, murmours greatly, As to my own part I am no ways disappointed in my expectations. The report is, that its the best purchase that hath been made for many years bypast, and so fare as I have yet seen it agrees with the truth. The land both Marsh and Upland is the best in jenneral as I have yet seen, and by industory in a few years will be a beutiful estate, I am determined neighthor to persuade to, nor dishartain any from coming but let none come, save Man of Resolution and industory and such need not fear doing well. Mr. Frankland hath been at Cumberland and many are incouraged to settle upon his lands, Especially the poorer sort. The People, especially the Better Sort, as they are jennerally called, are very sivil, and I’m glad to tel you son Benj’n hath gained a good report among them, All in jennoral seams to have a good will toward him.

–to be continued—

And please note…

The Annual Meeting of the Tantramar Heritage Trust will be held at The Lion’s Den on Dufferin Street on May 20 at 7:30 p.m. The election of a new board will be held and reports from the directors summarizing all activities over the past year will be presented.

June Meeting of the Tantramar Historical Society

Centering on Sackville

Wednesday, June 18 at 8:00 p.m. in the Anglican Church Hall during the week of the “Marshland Frolics”, the Tantramar Historical Society will hold its fourth meeting.

Ask anyone where the centre of Sackville is and surely they’ll say it is our one and only stoplight. But as Jim Snowdon explained at our last meeting in April, at the time Sackville was founded as a “township” in 1762, the plan laid out three villages including Upper Sackville, Middle Sackville and Westcock. The centre, if anywhere, was to be Westcock!

Now we know that did not happen. But still the earliest settlement including our first stores and churches spread out in these three villages. So when did things shift into the central area that eventually was incorporated as the Town of Sackville? That is the topic for the evening of June 18.

None of the histories of our community spell this out very clearly, so we are going to try sorting this out for ourselves. There is no one guest speaker lined up for the evening, but a few of our members will begin by outlining major changes in the 1800’s and Paul Bogaard will conduct a general comparing-of-our-notes-and-dates-and-stories. The goal is to weave together a picture of when and how things came to centre on Sackville (as we now know it) by sharing the bits and pieces of information so many of us already have. There will be a number of maps on display to help us all in piecing this together.

This is a bit unusual as a way to conduct one of our meetings, but it could be a lot of fun and we could all learn something of how our community came together. Please come with your own dates and stories concerning churches and schools, businesses and houses, especially in the 1800’s.

Do you know where the first stores and churches were located? Do you know when the Methodists built a chapel in Lower Sackville? …when we got our first Post Office? …when Bridge Street first got its bridge? …and why it’s called Crane’s Corner?

Join us on June 18th and help put this puzzle together.

And a further note

It is my great pleasure to announce to all that our latest applicant for membership this year is Mrs. Clementina Godfrey. At 101 years of age Mrs. Godfrey has never lost her sparkle for the history of this town and region. This editor is especially pleased to make this announcement and welcome Mrs. Godfrey to the fold.

And Mrs. Godfrey, Bill Ogden would quite likely love to join in too…. After all, he moved into our house, across from your grandfather’s, in 1861; how I would love to interview him and his dear wife “aunty Bill” … Welcome to the white fence Mrs. Godfrey!!

Peter Hicklin
c/o Canadian Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 1590
Sackville NB E0A 3C0