The White Fence, issue #11

Spring 2000


Dear friends, When I first came to the Tantramar area in 1969, the first thing that stood out for me, as we turned off the highway towards Borden’s Diner, was the High Marsh and its “speckle” of weather-beaten grey barns. It’s a picture I still love; I never lost interest in the stories that those barns told me about past generations of this interesting region. And now Colin tells us of their passing…

And for the four years that I was a student at Mt. A (1969–1973), spending a considerable amount of time on the High Marsh learning about “disturbance ecology” from Dr. Heinrich Harries, I never really knew where areas like Cookville were (or much of anything about it). The late Mr. Ernest Estabrooks, via his grandson Bob (from Amherst), was able to finally correct this!! Bob gratefully gave us permission (via Al Smith) to write his grandfather’s interesting story. From all of us at The White Fence, thanks Bob!

Ernest Estabrooks’s Cookville History is a historical document in itself! It was recently discovered in Bill Prescott’s house in Baie Verte and Bill contacted Al about it who then called Bob Estabrooks for permission to present it here. We owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Prescott who typed the article in electronic format so that it could be passed on to Al and then to me (you see modern technology can really come in handy to history buffs who remember all too well how long something like this would have taken before the computer age! Thanks Bill and Al!). Ernest Estabrooks’s history of Cookville which you are about to read, was originally presented by Ernest to the Cookville Baptist Church on November 4th , 1951.

As you will see below, other historical tidbits were passed on to me at the white fence: Bud White had a story about King Seaman and Evelyn Coates had childhood memories of Dorchester to tell us about. As usual, please enjoy!

Over the last few years, I have learned a great deal from reading stories like Ernest’s and listening to Colin and Al at the white fence. And with some distress (i.e. reading about the barns), but also much enthusiasm, I am happy relate to you another fascinating chapter of the Tantramar story.

—Peter Hicklin

Did you know?

Did you know, that the largest vessel ever constructed in Sackville was the “Sarah Dixon” built at the Dixon Shipyard (next to the Old Town Wharf off Landing Road) in 1856? The ship was named after Charles Dixon’s wife (Sarah Boultenhouse); it was a full-rigged ship of 1,468 tonnes and was slightly larger than the Cutty Sark but smaller than the Marco Polo. Once the vessel was completed it sailed to England where it was sold. In 1857, it carried 600 settlers to Australia and was later (1859) lost off Rangoon.

Did you know that the route of the original Stage Coach which connected Sackville to Nova Scotia came up Squire Street, past Campbell’s Hill and along the ridge to Mill Creek (Morice Creek) crossing at the aboiteau and on to Campbell’s Corner then connecting with the High Marsh Road via Anderson’s Lane (Whew!)?

Did you know had it not been for Lt. Governor Michael Franklin and the Yorkshire settlers who responded to his 1771 offer of land purchases in Nova Scotia, there may well have been no Eastern Canada for the Loyalists to come to?

Did you know that Mount Allison’s longest-serving president (1923–1945), Dr. George Trueman, was a direct descendant of Yorkshire settlers William and Ann Trueman who arrived on the brigantine Albion on 17 May 1774 and purchased land at Pointe de Bute? The farm (known as Prospect Farm) continues to this day to be owned and operated by Trueman descendants.

Did you know that George and Pat Finney’s large house in Sackville (33 Lansdowne) was built by Frank Wry (see last issue of the White Fence — No. 10 — prior to this one) in 1907 at a cost of $1,968.00?

The Marsh Barns of the Tantramar: End of an Era

by Colin MacKinnon

I have heard that there was once upwards of 400 barns on the reclaimed “Tantramar Marsh” and possibly many more. I am sure that many readers recall those days when many of the small hay barns dotted the landscape between Sackville and Aulac. Over the past 25 years, I have watched the gradual disappearance and decay of many of these structures through lightning strikes, vandalism and the ravages of time. Three recent events prompted me to write this article on the Tantramar barns: i) the final collapse of the “leaning barn” on the High Marsh Road, ii) the “raven nest” barn brought to its “knees” by a recent windstorm and iii) the collapse of the building owned by the “Save the Barns” committee. As each structure crumbles to the ground and the barn board gnomes make off with the scraps, it will not be long before the barns of the Tantramar become but memories of our past.

I have a great fondness for maps (and especially early maps) of the Chignecto Isthmus. As part of my collection, I have a series of three 1:50,000 scale topographic maps that are based on aerial photographs from (around) 1950, 1959 and 1979. These maps show the locations of all the marsh barns in the year that the aerial photos were taken. With the assistance of Miss Laura Reinsborough (Tantramar Regional High School Co-op student), I sub-divided the marsh into eleven units (see Table 1) which represented a total of 6,723 ha (16,613 acres). From these maps, Laura counted all the barns situated on the dykelands (and not those on adjacent upland farms or fields). Each marsh unit was based (more or less) on historic marsh divisions, such as the Westcock and Ram Pasture marshes, and the area of each unit was calculated from the topographic maps. This division allowed for a better comparison of “barn loss” over time and reflected on the active agricultural used in former times, excluding bogs, lakes and adjacent uplands.

To this day, every time I cross the High Marsh Road, I realize that there are fewer and fewer barns. However, the extent of this gradual loss has been very difficult to really grasp. When one looks around today, there are still a good number of buildings in view. But even so, it is difficult to visualize what the Tantramar must have really looked like in its “hay days” at the turn of the century. At that time, the Coles Island and Ram Pasture marshes would have been protected by dykes and no doubt supported a number of barns as well. Based on our counts, the rate of loss of the marsh barns is striking, with 362 barns in the early 1950’s reduced to a mere 28 today (see Table 1) !

From the 1950’s to 1979, the disappearance of marsh barns occurred at a nearly constant rate with only 100 buildings remaining in the 1970’s. I recently spoke with Mr. Reg Acton, who knows the marshes here as well as anybody, and he said that many of the Tantramar barns were already gone by the 1950s. Imagine what the view must have been like when there were fifteen or twenty times more barns than exist today! I find myself frequently trying to picture events and landscapes of the past. With accurate information (and a little imagination!), this is actually easier than one may think. I would like to issue a challenge to our arts community to try to capture this historic view of the Tantramar-of-the-past on canvas in much the same way as the “Parker” paintings depict Fort Beauséjour 250 years ago.

One thing that stands out in this exercise is how the loss has actually not been constant between the various marsh bodies. If one is to try to get a feeling from the past, it looks like the Westcock Marsh and the marsh between the Goose Lake Road and Route 940 (Forks Marsh) have the highest density of barns remaining from the early 1950s. The Westcock Marsh retains six (33%) of the eighteen barns that were standing there in the 1950s while on the Forks Marsh, sixteen percent remain from fifty years ago. These places just give a taste of yesterday!!

The future of the barns does indeed look bleak. Technological advances in hay production and storage, as well as the high maintenance costs of buildings that have outlived their usefulness, may be factors beyond our control. Those marsh owners who are fighting time and have put resources back into these icons deserve to be congratulated as the work is probably more a labor of love than any expectation of financial reward. Some farming families, such as Robert and Gladys Estabrooks, have gone so far as to move a barn from the marsh to their farm where it will be protected, used and maintained.

The only constant is change and the Tantramar is no exception. Much of what has gone before will not come again and thus becomes the stuff of history. The next time you cross the High Marsh Road, stop for a while… and imagine…

Table 1. The numbers and distribution of barns on the Tantramar Marsh as interpreted from topographic maps (air photo dates 1950, 1959 and 1979) and ground-truthing (year 2000). The area is denoted in hectares (ha) (note that one ha = 2.47 acres).

Location (ha) 1950 1959 1979 2000
Westcock (322) 18 11 6 6
Ram Pasture (920) 2 0 0 0
Dixon Island (106) 3 3 3 0
Coles Island (235) 1 0 0 0
Aulac Marsh (south of railroad) (420) 24 17 1 0
Aulac River (1157) 59 43 12 3
Lower Tantramar River* (1073) 71 62 20 3
West Marsh (914) 46 39 15 4
Community Pasture** (1345) 78 51 22 5
West Goose Lake Road (east Midgic Road) (543) 38 32 14 6
N. of Midgic road (rt. 940) (516) 22 16 7 1
Total ha: 6723 362 274 100 28

*east of river and south of High Marsh Road.
**east of Goose Lake Road and north of High Marsh Road.

Childhood Memories of Winter in a Prison Town: Dorchester N.B. (1932–1943)

by Evelyn Coates

“You will not be going to school today, the storm is dreadful and getting worse”, our mother would say. And looking out, one could hardly see the next house in the “guard row” only a few feet away. With snow and high winds, beautiful drifting snow was filling the roads (we had no plows then) until spring and school was a mile off.

But all the children would dress knowing the prison teams would come. Tall sturdy horses with sleighs filled with sweet hay and straw and a prisoner and guard, would always call and we would wait and watch hopefully. They always came. Not to go to school! How little grown-ups knew of our delight.

We waited and waited, and then we could see through the blowing wild storm the sleighs and the horses. We would stumble out, hardly able to get through the drifts and fall into the hay with the other kids (bursting with happiness but not expressing how one felt) and off we would go. The prisoner would tuck us in with buffalo robes so tenderly, we might have been his own children. All one could see was the number on the prisoner’s faded blue uniform and the backs of the great beasts, up to their bellies in drifts.

We never talked too much to him, being shy and knowing he was so different from our fathers. But we became friends with many of these kind men and I have since thought “this could not happen today”. A kind of trust was there and I suppose “Authority” never dreamed how much good they were doing to us and THEM. But, you see, they couldn’t have escaped; where could one run off to with horses and sleigh on roads unplowed in such weather? And then we would be called for in the darkening afternoon to return home, the storm over and the tracks of the morning obliterated by drifts but greeted with love and kindness by our prisoners.

“You will not go to school today” Not go to school? Who could stop us?

An Historical Account of Cookville in the Parish of Sackville, N.B.

by R. Ernest Estabrooks (delivered to the Cookville Baptist Church, November 4th 1951)

Cookville is a community in the Parish of Sackville lying some 12 miles north of the Town of Sackville, and at the head of the Tantramar Marshes. It was at one time a very prosperous farming community with saw-mills in addition to its well-tilled farms. As most of the early settlers of Cookville were from the Township of Sackville it will be necessary to review briefly the history of Sackville. And by Sackville I do not mean just what is known as the Town of Sackville, but all that scope lying to the east of the Aulac River which was organized into the Township of Sackville in 1759.

As you all know, that locality was settled by the french in the seventeenth century, and a roughly semi-circular strip of upland between Westcock and Upper Sackville, or Tantramar, as it was then called, cleared, and some of the marshland drained and enclosed.

After the fall of Beausejour in 1755 the French inhabitants were expelled, and distributed along the New England coast. Upon their expulsion, the Nova Scotia government advertised for settlers to take up the land left vacant, and a number of new settlers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut in 1762-3 settled here. Many of the new settlers wanted to locate as near to the pond as possible, as this was the only source of mechanical power known to them at this period. This is what is known as Morice’s Pond, or more euphoniously as Silver Lake. This had evidently been a source of power for the French inhabitants, as I find that the first division of this land into sections Letter “A”, Letter “B”, and Letter “C”. Letter “A” division took in, roughly, what is now Westcock, and the town of Sackville; Letter “B” division extended from Letter “A” to the Old Mill Dam, and Letter “C” took in all of the Pond. If the Letter “B” extended to the Old Mill Dam there must have been a mill operated there before the expulsion.

In order that a few of the settlers should not monopolize all the cleared land and leave the next lot to make their homes in the virgin forest, the committee in charge divided the cleared land into lots of from 7 to 14 acres, and each settler was allotted one lot of cleared land, one or more small lots of marshland, and the balance of his grant of 500 acres in woodland between Sackville and Dorchester. This, I think, is why the Sackville farms are so small.

The English immigration began in 1761-2. As most of the incoming settlers were from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and as Rhode Island was, at that time the center of Baptist sentiment in America, this probably explains why this section has always been a center of Baptist Sentiment.

In 1763, a Baptist Church was organized in Swansea, Mass and the members, in a body, 13 in number, moved to Sackville. The organization has existed to the present time. The Main St. Baptist Church in the Town of Sackville, and the Middle Sackville Baptist Church continue to exist as the original organization, the oldest British Baptist Church in Canada.

In a grant of land made on the 18th day of October, 1765, appear the names of Valentine Easterbrooks, Israel Thornton, James Easterbrooks, Josiah Tingley and Axel Carpenter, all connected in some way with the history of Cookville.

In another grant made on the 25th day of January, 1775, appear the names of Nicholas Cook, Joseph Cook, Jesse Cook, Eliphlet Read, Joseph and Samuel Hicks. I have reason to believe that these men came from the same locality as the first English settlers, as, in 1759, a John Hicks from Rhode Island was in Halifax looking for land for settlers from that state.

In 1786, a memorial to Governor Thomas Carleton, the first Governor of New Brunswick, asking that their lands be not escheated, appear the names of Andrew Kinnear, Valentine Easter-brooks, Daniel Tingley, Josiah Tingley, Eliphlet Read, Samuel Hicks, Irey Hicks, Joseph/Josiah Hicks, and Angus McFee. It is quite possible that the Easterbrooks, Tingleys, Reads, Hicks, and McFees of this locality can all trace their ancestry back to these pioneers.

In the spring of 1830, a small boat, propelled by a husky young man, might have been seen going up the North Lake at the head of the Tantramar marshes. It entered a stream entering the lake, pushed onward under over-hanging trees, and finally came to rest at a spot not far removed from where the Cookville Baptist Church now stands. This young man was David Cook, the first settler in Cookville, and he might well have made use of the words, afterwards used by Longfellow; “This is the forest primeval; the murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss and in garlands green, indistinct in the twilight, stand like druids of old with voices sad and prophetic; stand like harpers hoar with beards that rest on their bosoms.” David Cook had come to carve out, for himself, a home in the wilderness; and besides bone and brawn he brought with him a vision of the future which buoyed him up amid all the hardships and discouragements. He was the first settler and the locality was named after him.

The nearest house was that of John Towse on the Aboushagan Road. In a short time he had a trail blazed to Towse’s Corner, and as he soon after married Miss Charlotte Towse, I presume we may think of this as his “sparking trail”. Later, he trimmed this into a bridal path and his wife frequently took her young child in her arms and rode on horseback to her father’s residence. This trail was later made passable for ox-carts and was the first road to Cookville. Later a road was made to Harper’s Brook, and another, less used, the Terris Road to Centrevillage.

David Cook had seven sons: John, George, Christopher, James, William, Isaac, and Charles, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.

The second settler was Angus McFee. He settled just above what is known as “The Polly Place”. He married a Miss Thornton, probably a daughter of Israel Thornton, one of the first settlers in Letter “C” division of Sackville. Isaac and his wife had three sons; Stewart, Isaac and George, and four daughters; Jane, Rebessa, Olive and another whose name escapes me. Stewart married a Miss Leake and lived where his son, Cyrus afterwards lived. Cyrus learned the Carriage trade with David Estabrooks of Middle Sackville. Later he worked as a carpenter for the Intercolonial Railway before he settled down as a farmer.

Other early settlers were Gideon Estabrooks, John Wheaton, William O’Brien, Isaac Tingley and George Lund.

Gideon Estabrooks married Hannah, daughter of Tolar Thompson, one of the most progressive farmers of Upper Sackville; a man whose recognition of the value of the marshlands was far in advance of his time. Gideon’s first son was named Thompson. Other sons were John, Allen, Hazen, William and Jeffery. He also had two daughters: Jane and Mary.

John Wheaton married Zilpha Cole and had four sons: Andrew, Edward, William and Howard, and three daughters: Margaret, Jane, and Charity who married Robert Kay of Centrevillage.

William O’Brien married Lucy, Frederick Sears of Upper Sackville. This was the “Brother Sears”, who, in 1823 was “voted”, by the Baptist Church of Sackville; “To have an eye on the misdemeaners in the time preaching, and to publicly expose such persons.”

Edward and his wife had 4 sons; Edward, Fred, Watson and Milton; seven daughters; Mary, Eunice, Prudence, Any, Judith who married Lennon Kinnear, Zillah, Fanny and Ann.

Isaac Tingley married Caroline Anderson of Midgic and had four sons; Job, Ami, John and James, and two daughters; Annie and Victoria.

George Lund, whose wife was a (Mrs.) Ibbitson had one son, George and two daughters; Fanny and Ann. He also had a stepson, George, who had a large family, namely Daniel, Wesley, George, Charles, Gilford, Blair, Mary Jane, Isabel, and Ellen.

This list of early settlers I gleaned from notes by the late George Cook, M.D., and as we took his pills and powders without question, so, I also shall have to take this list.

There are many names I remember of about 75 years that are not included in this list, and I should like to know when and whence they came to this community. I recall James Distant, William Kinnear, J.P., and his son Boyd, Lennox and Horatio Kinnear, Joseph Hicks, Charles Robinson, and James Hargraves, Douglas Polly, Chapman, William Polly, Ephriam Murray, and a Mr. Read. There are probably many other names that have escaped me.

Cookville has always had a good school. The first Schoolhouse was a log structure on the west side of the main road on a line dividing the property of Mr. Reg Acton, from that of Leroy Kinnear. It was torn down in 1858 and replaced by a frame structure that served both as a school and a church. This burned down in 1875 and the present schoolhouse was built in its stead and although the students did not have all the said-to education now provided for the rising generation, it has sent out a respectable number of students who measured up well with the produces of the city schools. Among them I may mention my old teacher, Mr. Charles E. Lund, P.L.S., Dr. George M. Cook, M.D., and Rev. John Lund.

To be continued in the next issue…

Amos Peck “King” Seaman 1788–1854

by Bud White

King Seaman was born in Sackville Parish in 1788 to poor parents. His father’s name was Nathan Seaman (Simmons) and his mother was Zena (Zeniah) Thomas. Her parents were John Thomas and Elizabeth Peck.

They lived in a log hut in a place called Wood Creek and later at Long Marsh. Ken Campbell tells me that both locations are in Woodpoint where they lived from 1791 to 1796.

When Amos was eight years old, he ran away from home barefoot because his parents were too poor to buy him a pair of boots. By canoe, in 1796, he landed on the shore of Minudie and here, he was taken in by an Acadian family.

He grew up to become the owner of an extensive commercial empire among which were grindstones which he shipped far and wide. Later, Amos dropped the name Peck because he thought it was too small (!) and insignificant.

His wife was Jane Metcalf (1793–1866). They had a large family and all were well educated. Amos was unable to get a formal education. Visit the local museum in Minudie to learn his complete story.


Yorkshire 2000: August 3–10, 2000

Celebrating 225 Years of Yorkshire Heritage!

Yorkshire 2000 will be the first ever gathering of descendants of the approximately 1000 settlers from Yorkshire, England, who immigrated to the Chignecto Region of New Brunswick & Nova Scotia during the period 1772–1775. This was a very significant settlement of people into British North American at a time when the population of all of Nova Scotia (which included present day New Brunswick) was only 17,000 people. That settlement generally known as “the Yorkshire Immigration” has had a profound effect on settlement patterns in eastern Canada, and may have significantly contributed to the political landscape of the Maritimes. Loyal Yorkshiremen helped British forces at Fort Cumberland (now Fort Beausejour National Historic Park) quell the Eddy Rebellion of 1776. A monument at Fort Beausejour, erected in 1927 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, pays tribute to role played by these early settlers. The Yorkshire pioneers were staunch Wesleyan Methodists and were responsible for establishing the first Methodist chapels in Canada. It is a fitting tribute to celebrate and remember 225 years after the completion of this immigration.

Yorkshire 2000 will have a homecoming focus with family gatherings, festive events, a two day Yorkshire Conference, displays, exhibits, re-enactments, theatrical presentations, genealogy research centre, tours, workshops, book and craft fairs, and much, much more.

Registrations are pouring in to the Yorkshire 2000 office with registrants coming from across North America and several from England. If you are interested in participating in the Yorkshire 2000 events and activities we encourage you to pre-register which will help expedite the registration process during the event.

For information and registration — contact the Yorkshire 2000 office of the Tantramar Heritage Trust and request a registration package:

Yorkshire 2000,
16 Lorne Street, Box 6301,
Sackville, NB, E4L 1G6

phone 506-536-2541, fax 536-2537 or email

New book

Pat Finney informs me that Sandy Burnett is busily finishing his editing of the first draft draft of a book in progress on The Letters of Nathaniel Smith. It will be subdivided into seven chapters:

  1. The Crossing
  2. Impressions of Cumberland County
  3. The War
  4. The New Englander
  5. Faith
  6. Yorkshire Roots
  7. Family Stories

This fascinating historical tale told to us by an early settler to Tantramar (in his own words — about 9000 words I am told!) should be of great interest to many of you. I know that I’m anxious to get my hands on it!

Remember, Nathaniel has already been at the White Fence (a busy spot!) because his early letters first appeared to the general public in this newsletter! So keep your eyes open and I’ll be telling you when it appears on the bookstands. Thanks Pat and Sandy.

Your friendly editor,

—Peter Hicklin