Is What You Read Always Correct? The Case of the Mysterious Town Seal

In previous Flashbacks published on Aug. 14 and Dec. 4, 2002, the steps leading to the incorporation of Sackville were outlined. Today, and still with the same subject, The Case of the Mysterious Town Seal takes centre stage.

Recently, on receiving a telephone call from a local resident, I realized that there was another story waiting to be told. He asked me to explain How the town celebrated its incorporation on Jan. 4, 1903. Since the ratepayers had not by that date voted in favour of incorporation, there was some doubt that this information was accurate. Following my request for evidence the caller suggested that I take a look at the Town Seal.

This advice was followed. Before going further, each reader should stop and look carefully at the accompanying illustration. At first glance, it seems clear that incorporation took place in January of 1903. Assuming for the moment that this is correct; two questions emerge: What was the actual date in January, 1903? Why was the phrase Act of 1896 included?

To make certain that I was not missing something, I requested help from a totally unscientific sample of seven local citizens of repute. They were asked to study the seal closely and tell me the date of incorporation. Four replied with certainty in their voices: Some date in January 1903. The remaining three said: It must be 1896, because Act of 1896 is printed in bold type. I then realized that any public opinion survey, even one with a 2.8 margin of error, 19 times out of 20, would not help. I would have to go back to the archival catacombs.

My first discovery came in finding the record of a Town Council meeting in Fords Hall on April 24, 1903. It had been earlier recognized that an appropriate seal was, for legal reasons, required by the new town. A special committee of Council under the chairmanship of Alderman Frederic Ryan had completed its work. Tenders were called; and responses from two Saint John printing firms were considered at this meeting. The tenders filed would amaze any 21st century communications or advertising agency. Barnes & Company quoted a price of from $7.00 to $15.00; while the successful bid by R.H. Green & Sons came in at $7.50.

The symbolism on the proposed seal was both striking and appropriate. The shipbuilding era was remembered in the sketch of a brigantine in full sail. An open book transposed on the globe highlighted the importance of Mount Allison University; while a parlour stove and plow focussed attention on two of Sackvilles important industries; the manufacture of stoves and agriculture.

Now the plot begins to thicken. On motion of Alderman Frank Harrison, seconded by Alderman Alexander Ford, Greens design was adopted subject to a slight change. Around the outer edge of the seal the words: Incorporated Jan. 1903, should appear. Was this the end of the mystery? Not yet; as I was soon to find out. There was obviously something behind the addition suggested by Town Council.

To make matters more complicated, I had by this time, uncovered the actual date of Sackvilles incorporation. Proof was found in the Journals of the House of Assembly and Sessional Papers. Following legal requirements, the Westmorland County Sheriff Joseph A. McQueen officially informed the Provincial Secretary that: An election [on the matter of incorporation] was held Monday, January 12, 1903 A.D. The number of ballots marked For was 167; and the number of ballots marked against was 137 with one rejected. Communication was slower in 1903 than today; thus some time elapsed before this official notice was acted upon in Fredericton.

Eventually an order-in-council was prepared for signing and proclamation by the Lieutenant Governor. It read as follows: I do therefore proclaim that the said town of Sackville, comprised of boundaries herein before described, be incorporated under and by the provisions of the Towns Incorporation Act. Given under my hand and seal at Fredericton, the fifth day of February one thousand nine hundred and three and in the third year of His Majestys reign.

In a ceremony held in Fredericton on the above date, His Honor Lieutenant Governor Hon. Jabez Bunting Snowball (1837–1907) affixed his signature and Sackville was now officially incorporated. Incidentally, His Honor, a lumber baron from Chatham, and former MP and Senator, had a number of interesting links with the new town.

A graduate of Mount Allison Academy, he was an active supporter of that institution and after 1862, the university. His father Rev. John Snowball, a prominent Methodist clergyman, served as minister of Sackville Methodist (now United Church) from 1861 to 1863. At this point Rev. Mr. Snowball retired from the ministry but continued to live in Sackville.

The Lieutenant Governors sister Mary Ann married Joseph Lawrence Black (1829–1907), a prominent Sackville businessman. Later their son, Hon. Frank Bunting Black (1869–1945), became president of the family business; J. L. Black & Sons Limited. He served in turn, as a member of Town Council and Mayor. Black rounded out his political career as an MLA for Westmorland and from Nov. 25, 1921 until his death he was a member of the Senate.

Meanwhile, a further check of government documents for 1896 revealed that during the legislative session of that year, a bill entitled The Towns Incorporation Act was passed by the legislature. It provided the ground rules for incorporation of towns throughout New Brunswick, and explains the presence of the phrase Act of 1896 on the seal.

Still one question remained. Why did Town Council insist on the additional wording Incorporated Jan. 1903? By April 30th, they most certainly had in their hands a copy of the order-in-council and proclamation by the Lieutenant Governor. The solution to this aspect of the mystery must be credited to journalistic sleuthing by a former editor of the Tribune — C.W. Scoop Moffatt.

Because of his interest in local history, I reasoned that Moffatt might have had something to say concerning the mysterious town seal in his Tribune column When Was That? After scrolling through several issues, I discovered that he was very much aware of the discrepency in dates on the Town Seal.

Ever the investigative reporter, Scoop set out to determine what had actually happened. In his quest, he enlisted the help and support of Lloyd Folkins, then MLA for Tantramar. The latter had more than a passing interest in the subject. Before entering provincial politics, Folkins had served for ten years on Sackville Town Council and was elected mayor in 1952. He, in turn, sought the aid of the Provincial Archives staff. The documents uncovered proved that Sackville’s natal day was Feb. 5, 1903.

But even more, the Moffatt/Folkins investigation revealed why the date Jan. 1903 was so permanently and incorrectly fixed. It was because of a typographical error in the Royal Gazette of Feb. 11, 1903. The usually reliable Gazette in an example of sloppy editing had substituted the date January 4th in place of February 5th. The 1903 Town Council, did not correct the error; and merely copied the date as printed in the Royal Gazette.

The last word must go to Scoop: All of which proves that you cant always believe what you read. Although the Trib and Town Council of the day accepted the date in the Royal Gazette without question, an alert editor would have caught the discrepancy in dates. The proclamation of an event eight days before it actually happened could not be made even by order-in-council. So for all future historians, the town of Sackville was officially incorporated February 5th, 1903. Q.E.D.

During 2003 it is my hope to devote several Flashbacks to highlights of the past century in Sackville. If you have topics to suggest; or better still, material, photographs or information to share, please get in touch.