The White Fence, issue #10

January 2000


We have now entered into a new millennium and I hope that our exchanges of Tantramar stories will continue at the white fence long into the new century!

I am late for delivery with this issue because I had no “did-you-knows” for you! But then, Al Smith and Bud White came through for me. Thanks Bud and Al! It’s probably just as well that I got so few since I needed the writing space anyway in order to bring to you reminiscences of Sackville that have waiting to be told for 65 years!

A few months ago, Mrs. Pauline Spatz brought me a copy of a handwritten manuscript which had been written in the hand of her grandfather, Mr. Willard Wry in 1934. Mr. Wry was a farmer (“the brother of aunt Tilley (Matilda Wry) and Mary Wry”) who was clearly very interested in the community he lived in and its history. I made only a few minor changes to Mr. Wry’s manuscript just to ensure clarity (all words in square brackets were added by me for example) but, overall, Mr Wry’s recollections are written as I received them.

It appears to me that this document was likely the first draft Mr. Wry wrote and it has remained essentially unchanged since he first put his pen to paper. I view this as a “word-picture” (a snapshot) of Sackville as seen through Willard’s eyes (and rich memory) in 1934. If readers have similar treasures from different parts of Tantramar at home, send them in! Thank you Pauline (and Mr. Wry!).

Peter Hicklin

Did you know?

Did you know that in 1690, the first dry dock in Canada was established on the Aulac River near High Marsh Road?

Did you know that electric power first came to Sackville in 1900 — two years before the cities of Moncton and Fredericton and five years before Saint John? And did you know that in that year, the power was supplied by a gasoline generator? And that by 1910, the system had grown to two generators, a 125 kv generator powered by a 225 hp engine and a smaller 40 kw unit powered by a 50 hp diesel engine?

Furthermore, did you know that by 1927, the generating equipment was retired because a new transmission line was built between Amherst and Sackville and the local utility (then owned by Canada Electric Company) began buying power from the Maccan, N.S., coal-fired power plant?

Did you know that Mel’s Tea Room in Sackville was founded by M.E. Goodwin and was located in the Tracy Block on Bridge Street? And did you know that in 1925 it was moved to the Goodwin Block and later to its current location in the Cahill Block on Bridge Street in 1944?

And did you know that Sackville once had a Custom’s office? The Port of Sackville, Custom’s and Excise Office was opened prior to 1868 and was maintained in Sackville until 1971?

And now for Mr Wry’s interesting reminiscences:

Some of the Conditions that Existed as I Remember Them as a Boy

by Willard Wry (1934)

In the early sixties [1860s], there were no trains running in Sackville, but the line was being built between here and Moncton which, at that time, was called “The Bend”. Passengers and express were carried by coach and freight was carried by coasting schooners from different places. However, in 1868, the trains were running as far as Sackville, and I remember going to the station with my mother to see the train come in, and what a wonder it was!

Portrait of Mr. Willard Wry (1933)

Mr. Willard Wry (1933)

There was a turntable below the station where the crew turned the engine. At that time, wood was used as fuel and I remember the large shed that stood to the north of the station with the long tiers of hardwood in readiness to get up steam.

The I.C.R. (Inter-Colonial Railway] was being built each way at the same time, that is to say, from Truro to Amherst and from Sackville to connect with the other part. I think the first railway bridge over the Tantramar River was built in 1868 and the roadbed [and], sleepers and rails were laid. [The roadbed was] ready to gravel, when the great Saxby tide and gale came on the 4th of October 1869, turning rail sleepers and all into the north ditch. In fact, anything that was loose had (moved). Barns and even small schooners were driven up on high land and dykes were torn down in all dircctions, necessitating a heavy expense. Farmers lost nearly all their hay which was in stack (there being few barns on the marsh at that time) along with cattle and sheep pasturing on the marshlands. One particular incident happened in which a mare and her nursing colt floated on a haystack bottom across the Bay of Fundy to Rockport, alive and well. With extra work and expense, the farmers got the dykes rebuilt and gathered enough hay to get through the winter and stock came out well.

At that time, shipbuilding was carried on quite extensively. Messrs. Wood and Ogden were building, also Christopher Boultenhouse and down at Westcock, Mr Henry and sons were also building and at Wood Point, Mr Charles Barnes, Clifford and Henry Atkinson built one or more schooners.

Messrs. Wood and Ogden built the following Barks that I remember under the guidance of Mr Edward Ogden: Bark Onaway [1877] commanded by Cptn. Wilmott, Kwasind commanded by Cptn. Charles Moses, Siddartha (1880] commanded by Cptn. William Sprague. There was also a brig called the Herbert. She was commanded by Cptn. Elisha Towse. The ships were all built in Sackville; the Bark John Black was built by the same people at Baie Verte and commanded by Captn. William Pringle. Cptn. B.A. Reade built the Annie Maude in 1873. The Dixons and Andersons were builders but it was a little early for me to remember. Since 1876, Messrs. Thos. Egan and sons have built a number of schooners in Sackville. The first was called the Minnie E [1879], followed by the Alaska (1884], the Iona [1885-86], Two Sisters [1896], Bobs (1894], Otto and Roy, Three Links [1898]and others.

In the early days there were a number of coasting schooners carrying supplies to-and-from Saint John and other ports. One was called the Effa commanded by Cptn. Wilson Estabrooks, and at one time the Methodist people held a Sunday School picnic at Rockport and this schooner was engaged to carry the party. The day proved wonderfully fine and we all had a good time, enjoyed by both young and older folks alike. Cptn. Estabrooks had for his crew Amos Hicks, Alexander Gray, and William Bulmer, about 55 years ago.

The farmer’s time in the early days was taken up with ditching and dyking marshlands in summer, also breaking up their farmland and looking after crops, and in winter drew hay, wood and shiptimber. Most farmers kept a large stock in order to enrich their land. There was no fertilizer on the market at that time, from $30 to $60 per ton of which people have received very little return in late years.

People lived a quiet social life and did a little visiting in the slack time of the year. The family in most cases were dressed from a good flock of sheep, and the clothing was manufactured by the family except the carding of wool, while the lambs supplied plenty of fresh meat for the table. In fact, the greater part of farm work was done by hand in those days. Men would mow, rake and pitch the greater part of their hay and grain by hand; the work was slow but well done. The women would have a few neighbors in the afternoon and would have a quilting or mat-hooking with a social chat and tea and would then go home well pleased. Everything seems so different from those days. I think the social part of life has been lost to a great extent.

The women-folk these days get together to play bridge or some other form of amusement in a great many cases, but of course, not all. At the present time, farm work is done largely by expensive machinery and the younger men are looking for a position that carries a good salary, a short day and a free pass where possible.

However, times have changed all around and it is just doubtful if people are as happy as in earlier years. In the early days, the different kinds of manufacturing (that I remember) was carried on by the following: Mr. Charles Fawcett made stoves and tinware in his plant; Messrs. W.B. Dixon and Edward Cogswell built a small plant for the same purpose where the Enterprise Foundry now stands; Mr. James R. Ayer, of Middle Sackville, built and carried on a tanning factory [and] also manufactured harness and oil-tanned moccasins; Mr Abner Smith conducted the same kinds of operations; Mr. Stephen Ayer conducted a harness shop which I believe was burned and which he afterwards located on Bridge Street [where] Mr. A. Rq. Ayer now resides.

The different parties who owned and operated sawmills for the manufacturing of lumber were Messrs. J.M. Hicks, Mariner Hicks, David Wheaton, Harvey Copp and John Robinson who operated in Midgic while A. and W. Ogden owned and operated a mill on what is known as the Ogden Mill Road; Mr. George N. Bulmer owned and operated a saw and grist mill in Frosty Hollow, afterward run by Mr Seth Bulmer (who died since writing).

Mr. George M. Mitton owned and operated a saw and grist mill on the Lower Fairfield Road and Messrs. John and William Morice owned and operated a saw and carding mill. This mill was also used for grinding grain. Located at Silver Lake, the mills were all driven by water power. The product was moved to the nearest shipping port and sent to Saint John by schooners or loaded on larger ships and sent to England except what was required for home use.

Mr. George Campbell, George Weldon, Hibbert and Clifford Black were carriage builders who looked after that line, while Mr. J.W. Dowell, Hiram and Silas Copp were manufacturers of building material for the different lines of work. The location of the factories was where the Town Park now is. This section also contained a skating rink owned by the Copp brothers.

The first rink that I remember was built by Nelson Beckwith and was located near St. Paul’s Church on Mr. Josiah Woods land. The building was round and quite large.

In the sixties and seventies, the mercantile interest was looked after by Messrs. J.L. Black, John and Dixon Beard, Mariner Wood, A. and W. Ogden, John Bell, Lainsery and Vickery, George E. Ford, David G. Dixon, C.A. Bowser, S.F. Black and John Ford Esq. (Mr. Ford was also undertaker at that time).

The medical profession was represented by Dr. Johnson and Dr. Knapp in the sixties and a little later Drs. Flemming and Moore located here. It was in their day that this county was visited by that dreadful disease Diphtheria which was so fatal from 1872 to 1882, in numerous cases claiming the entire family of children.

This community must have been a very law-abiding lot as the only lawyer that I remember was Mr. Christopher Milner. But in the seventies, Mr H.A. Powell and T.A. Kinnear opened offices for the practice of law.

The needs of the travelling public were looked after by Mr. Butler Estabrooks who constructed the Brunswick House which was burned in 1881 or ’82, also by R. K. Patterson, who conducted a Temperance Hotel, where Mr. and Mrs. W.A..Gass now live, from 1872 until her death a number of years ago. Sometime in the eighties, a Mrs. Chappell built and conducted what was known as the Sackville House near the I.C.R. station. It was later taken over by Mr A.W .Dixon. That too was burned with the Enterprise Foundry, I.C.R. Station, and other buildings in July, 1908.

As this county was under a licensed law previous to the passing of the Scott Act, the needs of the thirsty ones were well looked after by numerous vendors, and some of the scenes that took place would be difficult to describe.

The spiritual needs of the different congregations were looked after by the following clergy: the Anglican Church had as their rector Parson Roberts and a Mr. Mulvarney (and one or two others who were here only a short time). Then Dr. Wiggins came and he laboured faithfully for more than fifty years with his people and I am pleased to say we have Dr. Wiggins still with us at 88 years, also Mrs. Wiggins who is somewhat younger.

The Methodist people had for their pastor in the seventies the Rev Douglas Chapman, Dr. Pickard, Dr. Stewart and others, while the Baptist congregation had the Rev. Thomas Todd, G.F. Milner, Mr. Coleman, followed after by G.E. Good and D.G. MacDonald.

The Mount Allison Institution at that time consisted of the original part of the Ladies College, Lingly Hall, where the closing exercises were held, the male academy and a building standing near the Richardson Store, later used for the Engineering Department, also the President’s Cottage. The Charles H. Allison house stood where the Charles Fawcett Memorial Hall now stands and that house burned down a number of years ago. Centennial Hall was built in 1883 and the Conservatory of Music soon after and since that time, the different buildings and additions have been made until Mt. A has arrived to its present proportions.

There were no public banks doing business in Sackville in the sixties and early seventies but Mr. Josiah Wood was doing some business along that line in his Block. As I remember the first office to open for public banking business was a branch of the Merchants Bank of Halifax in the Dixon Block with Mr. Fulton MacDougal as manager. Sometime later, there was another bank opened in the old Music Hall block with different managers including our present town clerk. The banks have changed from time to time until we have the present three doing business here.

The first newspaper that I remember being published was called “The Borderer” and was issued weekly by a Mr. Bowes. He lived on the property now owned by judge A.W Bennett and the building that was used for a printing office also contained a Hall known as Bowes Hall and was used for public gatherings. This building stood on the corner of Bridge and Charles Street, later moved near the railway and converted into tenements and was burned a few years ago.

The Chignecto Post (as it was called at that time) was published in 1870 by Mr. A. C. Milner. The office stood about where Prof. West now resides on Bridge Street. This building was moved later and converted into tenements by the present owner of the Milner property, Mr A. E. Wry. At that time there were fewer streets than at present. The main street leading through the county town, also Bridge St., Charles St., Crescent St., Squire St. (at that time called “the back road”), York St., Foundry St., Charlotte Street, Upper and Lower Fairfield Road that about completed the number of public highways at the time. As the population increased, other streets were opened. The first that I can remember was Salem St. from Main through York. A little later, Union Street was opened. This street runs from Main and connects with Salem St. Soon after, Lansdowne was opened, connecting Union, Charlotte and York. The streets all represent good comfortable homes. Within the last twenty five years, Park and Estabrooks Streets have been opened; lots all sold and the Brunswick House farm is well covered with good homes.

Starting at Crane’s Corner, the land laying south along Main Street to where the Miller block stands, also along Bridge St., just beyond the Cape Railway was owned by Mr. Henry Allison, as a farm, and contained only one small building except the home and a schoolhouse occupied by Mr. Gray as a beauty parlor. That portion of land between Mr. Wood and Son’s store and Squire Street, running north to the marsh, was occupied and I think owned by Cptn. Touse and later sold to Dr. Weldon, who owned and occupied it for a number of years. The street received its name from the landowner and led to his private residence. Sometime in the late seventies, the front facing Bridge St. was sold to Mr. J.W. Dowell and he erected a woodworking factory and soon after Charles Dowell followed his brother in building another factory; later these factories changed owners and were conducted by Hiram and Silas Copp and I think these buildings were burned.

The remainder of this farm was sold by Dr. Weldon to Mr. Edward Trueman and later cut up into building lots and sold to different parties who erected good homes. Squire Street got its name from Squire J.L. Bent who lived about where Mrs.Weldon now lives and I think there were only six houses on the two streets until one came to higher ground and there were a number of good farms.

In the early seventies, there was a movement made by a few men to have a railway built to the Cape and I think Mr Josiah Wood was the main advocate, and sometime after there was a charter granted and a survey made. Work was started by Messrs. Gray and Wheaton and continued until the road was completed as far as Baie Verte in the year 1884; and in 1887, the road was completed to the Cape. A little later there was a survey made for a street from Bridge Street to the station and what is called Lorne Street was opened. The first building that was erected is owned by the Eastern Hay and Feed Co. This street represents some good business stands. After the death of Mr Henry Allison, his property was cut up into building lots and sold. Allison Avenue was opened through this property and a number of good homes erected.

The Sackville High School is located on this street. On the west corner, opposite the Royal Bank, stands the Dixon Block. This was purchased by Mr. Amasa Dixon who at that time conducted a drug store in a small building near the larger one, also the Post Office in another small building, with Mr Joseph Dixon as postmaster. These two buildings are still standing to the south of George E. Ford and Sons store. At that time, the remainder of this property was owned and occupied by Mr John Bowser as far as the Brunswick House, and later sold to Mr Ford. In fact, about all the land on the south side of York Street and a portion on the north side belonged to the Bowser family. Dr Pickard, also his brother Thos. Pickard, who was connected with the Mt. A Institutions, purchased one of these farms. This property is now owned by Dr Gass, John Fillmore and others and the free-stone quarry, which is on this farm, is owned by the Mt.A. Institutions.

The building trades were carried on by the following masons and bricklayers – Messrs. George and Hazen Bulmer, Amos Anderson, Isaac Barnes, John Smith, contractors and builders Messrs. George Lund, John Estabrooks, Israel Atkinson, J.W .Dowell, Hiram and Silas Copp, Isaac and Thos. Wry and, I think, Charles Trueman.

Painters were Messrs. John E. Ford, C.B. Richarson, John Scur, and the blacksmith trade was looked after by Messrs. Ainsley Bowser, T.W. Bell, Alexander Macintosh, James Robson, Douglas Chase and Edmond Kinnear, while Mr Rodrick McLeod attended to the ironing of ships with the help of other men. The shipbuilding required a large number of men, there being so many different kinds of work to be done. And I have heard that there have been two hundred employed in Sackville at one time. Wages was small but plenty of work and nearly every person had a few dollars and kept their own bank at home. Many people had very little to worry about fifty or sixty years ago as far as I can remember.

Mr Nathan Lowerison and W.E. Barnes owned the first mowing machines that came to Sackville or were owned here. While I think the honour falls to Mr. Thos. E. Patterson to hang up the first horse fork for handling hay; the first hay press was installed and operated by Mr. John Stronach. This was called a beater press, as it worked with a hoist – the same as a spele driver and the weight was half a ton. The bales were large and nearly square and were secured with wood hoops similar to those used on apple barrels. Messrs. Thos. Dixon and Lebias Richardson followed soon after with another of the same kind. The hay at that time was moved to the press, while in the last forty or more years, the press has been moved to the hay since steam and gasoline have been used for power. In the old days, oxen were used mostly for drawing heavy loads and even for moving buildings and I have seen 50 or more yoke of heavy oxen attached to one building moving it along the road as one would a load of wood.

With the introduction of machinery on the farm, hand labor was considerably lessened but by the opening of the Inter-Colonial Railway, a large number got employment from that source and a large number went to the United States, particularly the young men, and after shipbuilding had about ceased in this place, the older men, to quite an extent, found employment with Uncle Sam. Also wages were low in any case, one dollar per day of ten hrs., or by the month with board from 16 to 18 dollars in summer and in winter 10, while the railway was paying the same rate for section men, with one pass a year. These conditions prevailed from forty to sixty years ago.

Prices of farm produce were also very low at that time. In our early experience, we have sold pork for 4 cents per pound, beef at 5 cents per pound and have loaded pressed hay at Sackville Station for three dollars and seventy-five cents per ton, choice seed potatoes for thirty cents per bushel at seed time, good lambs for $1.50 to $2.00 each, butter 18 cents and eggs as low as 8 cents per dozen. Turkeys brought 12 cents, geese and chickens 10 cents per pound; while on the other hand, some of the necessities of life were higher than they are today.

Heavy brown sugar cost 10 cents, while refined (as it was then called) cost 16 to 20 cents per pound and Ontario flour, 7 to 8 dollars per barrel. At one time, at least it went to 13 dollars. Think of a man working thirteen days for a barrel of flour! Boots, shoes and footwear of all kinds were cheap and some lines of clothing. However, we managed to get along and took conditions as they were and found no fault.

And now just a word with regard to present conditions which are no doubt bad enough, but there has been so much talk and so much advertising, that people have become alarmed of what might happen. But why be alarmed? There have been depressions before and will be again. There is always a silver lining to the dark cloud and will be again although it may not show up at once. So let us cheer up for the sun will shine again and let us profit by this experience and provide for the rainy day that always comes.

Celebrating Heritage Week 2000

Preliminary schedule of events

Saturday, February 19, 2000 — Tantramar Regional High School, Sackville, N.B.:

  • 7:00 to 11:00 am: Heritage Breakfast — Enjoy a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and toast.
  • 10:00 to noon: Antique Appraisals

Heritage Lectures

  • When Yorkshire Came to Nova Scotia —Phyllis Stopps
  • Towards a Yorkshire Studies Centre —Renee de Gannes
  • The Wesleyan Chair and Other Stories —Shirley Dobson