An Overlooked Sackville Landmark

A century ago, a promising Sackville enterprise was hailed by C.C. Avard, the editor of the Tribune, as one of the town’s leading industries.

In 2002, this business is largely forgotten; except possibly by those who live in the vicinity where it was located. The firm produced a commodity that was destined to become as well known as either an Enterprise or Fawcett stove. During its brief time span, contracts worth thousands of dollars were fulfilled.

By now, some readers may have guessed that this is a reference to the Sackville Freestone Company which once operated a sandstone quarry on a 20 acre lot, between York and Charlotte Streets.

It all began in the mid 1890s when Charles Pickard accidentally stumbled upon an outcropping of reddish sandstone in a pasture on his farm. Later investigation revealed a rich deposit of marketable stone. The Pickard quarry was formally launched in 1898.

One of its first acts was to send samples of distinctive red sandstone to prospective clients. Three years later, on June 4, 1901, the quarry was incorporated as the Sackville Freestone Company with Pickard as the major shareholder.

Meanwhile, the quarry caught the attention of an important trade journal: The Canadian Architect And Builder. It reported: The stone extends through 15 to 20 acres of Mr. Pickards farm at a depth of 3 to 15 feet below the surface. The beds which lie in a horizontal position are from 4 to 9 feet thick The stone is a rich shade of light or reddish brown, which combines nicely with brick and will give a building a bright clean appearance. The stone has been pronounced first class in quality. Later studies by the engineering faculty at McGill University confirmed that the stone had a crushing strength of 9,130 pounds to the square inch.

During the summer of 1899, 15,000 cubic feet of stone was quarried in a matter of 50 days. Some of this was destined for a new mens residence on the Mount Allison campus. But equally significant, this contract was the beginning of a close relationship between the quarry and the university; a link that continues to this day.

During the first few years of the quarrys operation, teams of horses hauled stone to the railway. A stable for twelve teams and a blacksmith shop were erected on the property. Soon however, the construction of a spur rail line to the Tormentine branch of the Intercolonial Railway, rendered this operation redundant.

Pickard was described as a shrewd businessman, and this was evident in his creative marketing strategies and regular updating of the machinery used in quarrying and finishing stone. The quarry was equipped with two electrical gang saws, two steam drills and four steam derricks. During the period between 1903 and 1909 company shares rose in value from $50. to $100. Pickard also found time to serve a term (1908–1910) as Sackvilles second mayor.

The early twentieth century was marked by a rapid expansion in the erection of business and public buildings in all parts of Canada. In this era, stone was the preferred building material; especially for banks and post offices. Pickard was determined, despite stiff competition from quarries in other parts of Canada and the United States, to get his fair share.

His success can be measured in part, by examples of contracts obtained by the Sackville Freestone Company. These included buildings on the Mount Allison campus; as well as others in Moncton, Saint John, Truro, Wolfville, and Halifax. Further afield, local stone was to be found in major building projects in Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo in Ontario. Precut stone for fireplaces was also marketed and shipped as far west as Vancouver.

These achievements notwithstanding, all was not clear sailing for the Sackville company. The quarry was in operation for only six months each year. Hikes in freight rates made it difficult to compete in the major markets of central Canada.

Then, to make matters worse, Charles Pickard was critically injured in an industrial accident. Ironically, he was struck in the head by one of the labour saving devices installed in the quarry; a swinging attachment connected to one of the derricks. He lost the sight in one eye and never fully recovered. Charles Pickard died Dec. 30., 1912. This event signaled the beginning of the end for an industry that had shown so much promise a decade earlier.

Prior to his death, the quarry was producing between 700 and 800 tons of stone per day. A major deal worth a million dollars to supply stone for the breakwater at the new Cape Tormentine ferry terminal had just been signed. Although this contract was fulfilled, World War One intervened and a new series of problems emerged. Wages tripled, skilled labour was in short supply and taxes on the railway spur line were increased. By 1917 the firm was near bankruptcy.

These difficulties were compounded by a major shift in technology at the end of the war. Building stone, despite its assets and attractiveness, was being replaced by cement. During the 1920s it became abundantly clear that the company was no longer a viable operation.

In 1929 the Mount Allison Board of Regents struck a committee of two professors: Dr. H. W. MacKiel and Dr. Frank West to investigate the possibility of taking ownership of the facility. As a result of a positive report submitted on February 27, 1930; the quarry was purchased by the university. History was thus made; as Mount Allison became one of a very few universities to own its own quarry. Pickard stone was to continue enhancing campus buildings.

In the years that followed 1930, the quarry was to achieve fame quite unrelated to distinctive red sandstone. Slowly but surely, it became firmly fixed in the folklore of the university. For several generations of students it was; as one graduate delicately confessed: The place to go for a romantic stroll. He requested and was granted, anonymity!

This unofficial impact of the quarry was probably best explained in the reminiscences of the late Dr. Donald MacLaughlin who vividly recalled this piece of real estate from the perspective of a student and later as Dean of Men; longtime Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Arts and Science.

In his memoirs entitled Mount Allison So Fair, Dr. MacLaughlin observed: There are no rules in heaven or on earth that will prevent boy seeing girl. The old stone quarry might just as well be called the diamond quarry. On another occasion he was even more explicit. When asked for his opinion on residence life in more recent times; he quipped Oh, you can have your co-ed residences but we had the quarry

During this era, the quarry was also used for other more conventional purposes; as it became a favourite location for artists to sketch. A faithful Flashback reader, Mrs. Phyllis Rourke of Cap Rouge, Qubec; whose grandfather was an employee of the quarry recalled: It was a landmark of my first twenty years in Sackville. Although I was not allowed to swim in the quarry, my brother and all the neighbourhood boys learned to swim there. I remember well skating and clearing the ice, finding great strawberry patches in the summer and many a picnic on its banks.

In the 1970s, sandstone from Mount Allisons quarry was to make headlines in Toronto. The Ontario government was undertaking restorative work on the extension to the Provincial Parliament buildings. Replacement sandstone was required to match the original stone. This was subsequently supplied by Mount Allison and a plaque marking this contribution was affixed to the building.

The Mount Allison Record of the day commented: Alumni with a yen for the old days and whose memories of the quarry are sharp may place their hands on Sackville stone and receive a charge of nostalgia that only the old quarry could produce.

More recently, during 1998–99, a group of Mount Allison students enrolled in Geography 4521, a course taught by David Bruce, Director of the Rural and Small Towns Project, collaborated to develop a plan to revitalize the quarry as a public park. Those involved were: Stefan Hoddinott, Matt Jonah-Sheridan, Mike Bernier, Jeff Thompson and Paddy Kennedy.

They visualized the quarry as an extension of the present Sackville Waterfowl Park. Not only would this showcase the location; it would provide an interesting destination for eco-tourism. Because of its unique micro-climate, some rare species of plants are to be found within the quarry. They also suggested a trail around the pond, observation decks, two foot bridges, benches and a kiosk depicting the history and ecology of the area.

It was their hope that something might de done with the proposal to mark the Millennium in 2000. Since this did not happen, why not a revival of this creative concept to mark the centennial of Sackville in 2003?