Dear friends, Welcome once more to Tantramar’s historical watering hole. And in this issue, we deal specifically with one of Sackville’s long-standing watering holes; one that we’ve all known for a long time and, for many of us, still use on a regular basis: the Booster Pump along East Main St. in Sackville. You will likely be as surprised as I was to read what a long history, and the many transformations, this source of pure refreshment has undergone in this Town.
And then follow Al and his mother on a journey our ancestors regularly undertook by sail but, once Henry Ford came into the picture, we continued to pursue by motor vehicle once the necessary roads made it possible. It is a journey that I am sure many of you have undertaken before the trans-Canada and the I-75, as we know them today, were completed and paved (and likely used more than once!). Remember it one more time with us and let us know about your own travel experience(s) to the city of Boston.
And then there is Colin MacKinnon who continues to discover and paint for us scenes and the personalities of pioneer life when grist mills and saw mills were part of the now-reclaimed Tantramar landscape… a landscape which had its very own Swamp Elephant!
Did you know…?
- Did you know that by June 1909, there were eight motor cars in steady use in Sackville? D.W. Fawcett had two, and F.B. Black, J.W. Black, F. Ford, W.T. Wood, R. Ryan and H.E. Fawcett had one each?
- Did you know that Town Council first adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1934 and that it only applied to the months of July and August?
- Did you know that in 1926 no motor vehicles were allowed on any of the streets, roads, highways, lanes or alleys of the Town of Sackville in the spring of the year when the frost was coming out of the ground without the permission of the Mayor?
- Did you know the first STOP signs in the Town were erected in 1926 on Sackville’s principal streets where they joined Main and Bridge Streets?
- Did you know that Sackville has been a “ducky” Town for quite some time? At the Town Council Meeting held on April 12, 1954, Alderman Warren asked — can anything be done about the ducks quacking in the Town, and disturbing people early in the mornings?
- Did you know that efforts to build a Chignecto Canal across the Isthmus were still active in 1960? On March 14, 1960, Sackville Town Council authorised $40 in support of the expenses of the Cumberland County Chignecto Canal Committee?
- Did you know that Frosty Hollow was formerly known as Mapleburg until the name was changed in May 1927? A post office operated there from 1910 to 1938?
- Did you know that Fairfield was also known as Fairview? A post office, known officially as the Fairview Post Office, was established there in 1885 and operated through to 1909?
The Booster Pump
by Al Smith
Twice weekly, the late Harold Geddes walked to the Booster Pump with his 4-liter plastic jug in hand. Upon filling the jug he would often hitch a ride back to his Bridge Street apartment and several times during the past few years I would pick him up on my way into town. Harold often commented about the “foul taste of town water and remarked that “the only place to get a decent drink was from the Booster Pumpî. It never occurred to me to quiz that long time resident of Sackville about the history of “the pump” nor did it ever cross my mind as to why an old overflow well should have the strange name of “Booster Pump”. Like many other residents of town I have been stopping at this watering hole since I was old enough to drive a bicycle, but until recently had no knowledge of the history of this Sackville landmark.
The story of the Booster Pump goes back to the year 1901 when Josiah Wood led a movement to incorporate the Sackville Water and Sewage Company. The Village was growing rapidly and needed water and sewer services along with better fire protection. A 14,000,000 gallon reservoir was constructed at Beech Hill and an eight inch water main supplied water to the town and a network of 20 fire hydrants. When the Town incorporated in 1903, one of Council’s first actions was the purchase of the assets of the privately-owned Sackville Water and Sewage Company. Since Josiah Wood was both mayor of the Town and president of the utility company, the sale went through with ease in October, 1903 for the price of $66,500.00.
With the town population growing in the early 1900s, along with an increased need for water to service the expanding foundries and Mount Allison institutions, water supply and pressure problems were soon evident. By 1913, water pressure at several fire hydrants within town was so slight that firemen had difficulty operating more that one fire stream (hose) from a hydrant. Larger fires would usually require four streams and, if the firemen did that, the pressure was reduced to about 25 pounds, not enough to throw water onto the roof. By 1915, water pressure woes were so critical that a joint committee of the Sackville Board of Trade and Town Council was formed to investigate corrective options. That committee reported to Council on May 6, 1915, strongly recommending that Council seek expert advice on a scheme that would see the purchase of a piece of land at Mahoney Brook upon which to erect an automatic electrical pump in connection with the water main. Later that summer, Town Council hired the firm of Doane Engineering of Halifax “to investigate the condition of the water system regarding quantity, available fire pressure and the best means of increasing both”.
The engineering firm reported its findings to Council in September, 1915. They found the water system suffering from neglect and in very poor condition. Simply by flushing and cleaning of the mains a noticeable increase in pressure was obtained at all hydrants. Doane Engineering also recommended that in order to increase the quantity of water supplied to the town one of the following steps would be necessary:
- Purchase of a fire engine to connect to a hydrant and pump water for fires.
- Install a distributing reservoir near town to be a source of water for fires.
- Secure an additional source and supply of water to be brought to town at good pressure.
- Install a new supply main from the reservoir and increase the size of some distribution mains.
- Install a “Booster Pump” at Ogden’s Mills on the present 8-inch supply main to force more water up over the hill at Ogden’s Corner and into town.
Of the five options listed, the installation of a booster pump was by far the cheapest. The engineering firm suggested that a 60 horsepower pump, either gasoline or electrically driven, would boost the pressure in the present system to about 64 pounds with four or five fire streams in operation. That would be a vast improvement over conditions that existed in 1915.
Town Council and the Fire Committee chose to further study the problem of increasing water pressure. Finally four years later on September 2, 1919, Council recommended “that a booster pump and electric motor be purchased and installed at or near Mahoney Brook” and that the cost “will not exceed $2000.00”. Subsequently, the Fire Committee was empowered to purchase an Allis Chambers “automatic booster pump” with a 40 horsepower electric motor at a cost of $1600.00. Once the pump was ordered, tenders were then solicited for the construction of a 14 x 12 foot concrete block pump house. Only one tender was received, that of $375 from Harry Cogell. The Fire Committee considered that amount excessive and after a chat with Mr. Cogell, and minor changes made to the plan, a more reasonable contract for $350 was signed — a saving of a whopping $25!
The recommended site near Mahoney Brook (the small brook that crosses Main Street just west of the booster pump) was apparently chosen by the local Fire Committee. Unfortunately the Fire Committee did not have the foresight to secure the land before signing the tender for the construction of the building. The preferred site to erect the pump house was on the side of the road on the town side of the brook near the Ogden farm. So with the contract signed for the building in late October, and the pump due to arrive within two weeks the push was on to secure a piece of land and get the pump installed before winter set in. The Chairman of the Fire Committee met with landowner Willard Ogden to secure permission to erect the pump house. But Ogden adamantly refused to co-operate with the town. With their “backs to the wall” the committee investigated a site on the other side of the brook in a field owned by Mrs. F.J. Wilson. After numerous meetings with Mrs. Wilson and the Road Commissioner, the matter was resolved. Mrs. Wilson refused to sell the 25 x 25 foot square property but agreed to a 20-year lease at ten dollars a year.
Contractor Cogell completed the pump house in late November 1919, but delays were experienced in completing the foundation and installing the pump. The Allis Chambers Company, the pump supplier, was very slow in providing the pipe fittings to connect the pump to the eight inch water main. Finally, in the spring of 1920, the necessary connections were made and the pump installed. However, connecting the pump’s 40 horse power, three-phase electric motor to the Electric Light Company’s supply lines was another matter. Such a connection required the purchase of two transformers and the utility company advised the town that it “could not afford to spend $500 for the purchase of same”. The matter was finally resolved with the town agreeing to share the costs of the transformers. Power was connected to the pump in late August, 1920.
Tests of the system were made on September 2, 1920, under the supervision of Mr. Smart from the Allis Chambers Company. Water entering the pump from the 8-inch main was at 55 pounds pressure and with the pump operating a delivery pressure of 130 pounds was achieved with the discharge pipe closed. When the discharge pipe was opened to the distribution system the water pressure was boosted to nearly double. Readings of 96 pounds were recorded at three gauges at the Fawcett foundry. Fire hoses were connected to the hydrant at the foundry and splendid streams obtained with a sustained pressure of 80 pounds with hoses operating. Similar tests were conducted at a hydrant at the Post Office again with excellent results. The pump was turned over to the Fire Department with great optimism that a very valuable piece of equipment was finally in operation.
The Fire Department supplied an operator for the pump, installed a telephone at the pump house for better communications during fires, and added an electric heater to prevent freeze-ups. The first big test of its effectiveness came on June 9, 1921, when a major fire broke out in the McKenzie building on Bridge Street. The Sackville Tribune reported “Booster Pump Saved Situation”. Mr. Thomas Ehrhardt, who worked the pump during the fire, stated that a steady pressure of 85 pounds was maintained throughout the fire. The general comments around town was to the effect that the Booster Pump paid for itself in providing a good pressure of water with which to fight a fire that menaced the whole town “. The booster pump also proved useful during a prolonged dry spell in the summer of 1921 when it was operated for an hour a day so that homes in the higher elevations of town could get water for domestic use.
Despite the obvious usefulness of the booster pump to the town’s fire fighting arsenal, it was the subject of much debate. As early as January 1921 Fire Chief F.W. Wry reported to Council that “this pump will never prove the success intended until it has sufficient water to feed from, the only way to get this extra supply of water is a new main or have a supply stored near the pump for fire use”. Many options to improve water supply were looked into including the use of the basin in the Pickard Quarry and even Morice Lake. Some time during the 1920s, a steam-driven well drilling outfit was commissioned to drill an artesian well at the site of the booster pump. It was thought that if such a well could produce sufficient water it would augment the supply to the pump. Unfortunately, the well did not produce a sufficient quantity of water to make any meaningful difference to the water supply.
In the late fall of 1921, the Town purchased its first fire engine — a new Bickle Fire Truck with a gasoline pump. Immediately, some town aldermen suggested that now the booster pump could be disposed with. In early February, 1922, Alderman Charles McKenzie shocked the town by giving notice that he intended to introduce a motion at the next Council meeting to dismantle the booster pump. McKenzie contended that the pump was an unnecessary expense to the town. In response to McKenzie’s action, Sackville Tribune editor C.C. Avard wrote a very pro-pump editorial in the newspaper and the Fire Chief scrambled to produce evidence of the value of the pump. The Fire Department conducted tests on March 1, 1922, at the hydrant in front of the Methodist Church (now United Church) which showed that the 40 pounds pressure at that hydrant could be boosted to 80-90 pounds within five minutes of switching on the booster pump. Firemen connected a fire hose to the hydrant and with out the booster pump working the fire stream could not reach the eaves of the church. With the booster pump turned on, the stream would go right over the belfry. The Fire Chief reported that he was much in favour of keeping the booster pump. Alderman McKenzie withdrew his motion to “kill the booster pump” at the March meeting of Town Council.
Concerns over the possible increase in fire insurance rates for the town was likely the leading reason for McKenzie’s change of heart. The new Bickle Fire Engine could not operate for most of the winter months and the only way to achieve sufficient water pressure for fire fighting was to engage the booster pump. Tests conducted in May 1922 by the NB Fire Underwriter also showed the increased effectiveness of the new fire engine if the booster pump first boosted the water supply pressure. Thus the death knell for the pump was staved off until ten years later.
Early in 1929, Council again began debating the need for a larger supply main from the reservoir and engaged the services of Moncton city engineer, Mr. Eddinton. Sackville town engineer Professor Frank West reported to Council in October 1929 that “no real satisfaction could be expected without the construction of a new water main”. In February, 1930 Council approved a motion to borrow $150,000 and issue debentures for the purposes:
- Increasing the water supply to the Town, enlarging and improving the present reservoir, and erection, if necessary of a second reservoir.
- Replacing the present water main with one of much large size to supply ample water for fire, water and sewage purposes.
- For generally extending and improving the water sewage systems of the town.
In June, 1930, Town Council approved a plan to construct a new 14-inch water main from the reservoir to town and to construct a second reserve reservoir above the old one. It was suggested that such a system should supply water for a population of 7,500 and that it would no longer be necessary to operate the booster pump, thus effecting a considerable saving each year.
Tenders for the construction of the new system were called in July 1930. Successful bidders were Stephen Brothers of Halifax for installation and the Canada Iron Foundries pipe supply. Construction proceeded through the fall of 1930 and was completed during the spring/summer of 1931. Three new artesian wells were drilled at the reservoir site in the spring of 1933 to ensure an adequate supply of water during summer months. Thus at long last supply and pressure problems that had plagued the town for over twenty years had finally been resolved.
After thirteen years in service, the Booster Pump was no longer necessary. Council passed a motion on May 1, 1933, to remove the pump, demolish the building and to discontinue the lease on the land.
The 40 horsepower Allis Chambers pump was initially stored at the fire hall then in 1939 reconditioned and sold. Council neglected to cancel the lease on the land until July 1935 when Mrs. Wilson was advised that the town no longer had any use for the land.
While the pump and pump house were removed in the early 1930s, the old overflow well remained at the site. An old wooden catch barrel served as water trough for horses and humans traveling to and from town. The old (c1950) photograph of Bea Cormier and Margaret Sudds at the artesian well shows the site as it appeared through the 1940s and 50s. In 1962, the overflow was cleaned out and, with the addition of piping, was relocated about twelve feet closer to the street.
The Rotary Club of Sackville and the Town gave the site a boost in 1987 when a small shelter and parking lot were completed. A new stand pipe was installed and landscaping and tree planting completed in 1988. The project was dedicated in July 1988.
Like Harold Geddes, generations of Sackvillians have enjoyed the refreshing taste of the chemical-free water provided free by the overflow at the old booster pump. But like many other landmarks in this historic community there is a fascinating history and its kind of nice to know “the rest of the story”.
Later this summer, the Tantramar Historic Sites Committee will unveil a bronze plaque at the site that briefly encapsulates the history of Sackville’s “Booster Pump”.
Boston Bound in 1925
by Helen Smith
Even today traveling to Boston by automobile is considered by many to be a major trip requiring some ten to twelve hours. But imagine making that trip in 1925 over roads that were in places barely more than a cow path. One of my fondest memories of growing up in Sackville was just such a trip with my family and a great adventure for me, a young girl of twelve.
Dad (Harvey Hicks, 1883–1953) was the second oldest of ten children in the family of Albion and Cecilia (Scott) Hicks of Midgic, NB. Four of the ten children married and moved to live in the United States in the early 1920s. Dad’s sister Nita married Tom Oulton and they moved to California, while his sister Ada and husband John Snowdon settled in Newburyport, Mass. Two others, Walter (married Mabel Richardson) and Gertie (married Leslie Fillmore) resided just outside of Boston in Norwood, Mass. Going off to the “Boston States” to seek employment opportunities was a common occurrence for young folks from this area during the 1920s.
Early in the summer of 1925, Dad announced that the family would take a vacation trip in August to go visit relatives in the Boston area. Since no one from Sackville had ever undertaken such a trip by car, our neighbours and friends thought that we were very foolhardy to ever attempt such a venture. Undeterred, father commenced preparing our 1923 Chevrolet touring car. Since the car did not have a trunk, a large cargo carrier was constructed and attached to the running board on the passenger side to carry our suitcases, food and other essentials. A large tent was rolled up and stored at our feet in the back seat. Extra spare tires and a hand pump were tied on the back. In early August, 1925 the family, two adults and four kids, set off on our great adventure.
Dad did most of the driving, but brother Hollis who was 19 at the time, also helped out from time to time. Amazingly at the end of the first long day on the road, and over endless miles of twisty and dusty gravel roads, we stopped just outside St. George, NB. Dad went to a farmhouse and asked permission from the farmer to put up our tent in his field. The farm folks were very accommodating and even allowed Mom to use their stove for cooking. Bright and early the next morning we departed St. George and soon after entered the USA at Calais. Just outside Augusta, Me. the car broke down and we had to be towed into town. We stayed at a campground while the car’s transmission was repaired, which took all the next day. I remember going on walks in the town and Dad gave us a bit of money to visit a “dime store”. I purchased a little amber glass boat that I still have.
After our unexpected lengthy visit to Augusta we continued on without incident to Newburyport Mass., arriving on a Friday night and were greeted warmly by Dad’s sister Ada. We stayed overnight at Aunt Ada and Uncle John’s, and promising to stay longer on our return trip, we pressed on to Boston encountering very heavy city traffic on Saturday afternoon. While stalled in Boston traffic a policeman on horseback came by enquiring where we were from. Intrigued that we had come all the way from New Brunswick, the policeman gave Dad advice on routing through the city to the suburb community of Norwood. We were all greatly relieved to arrive at Uncle Walter’s home later that day.
We spent a wonderful week in Norwood and I experienced many new things. Aunt Mabel had a brand new electric stove — the first one that I had ever seen. We made several trips into Boston from Norwood but didn’t attempt to drive in the city again opting instead to travel on the city transit system. For ten cents you could travel almost anywhere in the city on the elevated trolley cars. Imagine how wide-eyed a little Sackville girl of twelve must have been in the big city.
After a week of visiting we headed home, this time by-passing Boston and directly on to Newburyport where we spent the weekend. The remaining trip home was without incident except for one time, in an area of new road construction, the car slipped off the road into the ditch. We had to be rescued by a local farmer who pulled us back onto the road. Mother was quite frightened by that particular experience and threatened never to do the trip again. However, in the summer of 1930, in Dad’s brand new Chevy, we again made the trip to the “Boston States”.
Editor’s Note — At 91, Helen Smith has been a life long resident of Sackville; she is an active supporter of the Trust and has been a member since its inception. This story was recently told to her son Al who recorded it for the newsletter. We very much encourage other Trust members to contribute their stories of life and times in this historic community. The White Fence is your newsletter and we would love to hear from you.
The George Hicks Mill Pond and the Swamp Elephant
by Colin MacKinnon
The 1851 Census for the Parish of Westmorland lists 20 sawmills and 8 grist mills. Along with the blacksmith, these occupations were an essential part of pioneer and farming life. The following article sheds some light on just one of these mill owners; Mr. George Hicks (ca. 1815 – 11 Jan., 1894).
The “Hicks Place” (see Figure 1) was once the site of an active farm and grist/saw mill. Most traces of the dwelling and works are now gone, the basement has been reclaimed by the forest and traces of the old mill dam are covered in raspberry, alder and wire birch. I don’t know much about the Hicks family. George Hicks, the miller, was born ca. 1815. He was married to Mary Lowe (b: ca. 1813). They had at least seven children (Sarah E., Amos, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Frances E., William and Jane); although there is some discrepancy in the census records.
I believe Mary Lowe was a daughter, or near relative, of Tom Lowe who operated a nearby mill (see The White Fence, No. 6, May 1998). The Hicks mill was located on a separate lot from the farm and I think possibly that the mill parcel once belonged to Thomas Lowe. It appears likely that it was through marriage that George Hicks entered the mill business.
A few interesting stories have been passed down regarding the “Hicks Place” as it was a regular site for Crossman family picnics (Figure 2). Where once children played, and there was a field large enough for a game of soft-ball, there is no trace. The Hicks family gained access to their farm through two roads. One, more recently referred to as the “fire road”, leads from King Street to the site of the Hicks farm. The other road, known as the “winter road”, followed a trail that once existed, across a swamp, as an extension to York Street. During the WW II era, this trail formed part of a formal ìShooting Rangeî with elevated mounds located at various distances from the target area. The backstop for the target was the hillside adjacent to the brook. This range was used by both the military as well as a local shooting club; the scores being published in the local newspaper.
The Hicks house was situated on a raised piece of land overlooking the Indian Brook. This brook is un-named on area maps; however, the story of its origin is that an Indian was buried on the brook bank. During the depression there were migrant Mi’kmaq family groups who often travelled through the area; one family had a cabin on the Crossman Road where the sand pit is located today. Two of the boys from that family were Peter and Edward Francis. It is not known if the brook got its name from an incident during this period or much earlier?
A short driveway leading from the house towards the brook was evident in recent years as a shallow, linear, depression lined with moss. Where the “driveway” met the “fire road” was a well lined with stone; it was destroyed by enlargement of the road a few years ago. The mill dam was located on the same brook as the house; however, it was situated about 100 m upstream. The earth filled dam ran at an angle to the stream across a narrow floodplain. The remains of this dam are only a meter or so high, so either it once was once much higher, or more likely the mill was operated by a bottom draw water-wheel. There is an interesting ditch that cuts through a rise in land immediately to the south of the mill site. This ditch, about 2 m wide by 1 m deep, was once probably much larger. As the story goes, George Hicks had finished his milling for the year but still hade a large reservoir of water behind the dam. The Ogden Mill was still operating and was running short of water (the Ogden Mill was situated on a different stream and watershed, located next to the Trans Canada Highway where the Ogden Mill Road makes a 90 degree turn at the bottom of the hill). The above ditch was dug by hand to transfer the Hicks Mill surplus, across the divide separating the two watersheds, and thus allowing the water to make its way downstream to feed the Ogden Mill (Figure 1).
I am sure at this point the reader is wondering, who or what is the “swamp elephant”. Again we are fortunate to have a short story written by Frank W. Wry who grew up near the Hick’s Mill and had fond memories of George Hicks who was “the swamp elephant”! Frank was the son of William and Arabelle (Ingles) Wry and they lived at an earlier residence that was at 176 King Street. Frank Wry (6 Sept., 1880 — 27 Dec., 1963) recorded the following;
“I must have been very young… I remember opening my eyes to find my mother wrapping a good warm quilt around me. She took me outdoors into the cold, frosty night. Peeking through the opening left for my face I was aware of the darkness, stars and snow. We got into a box sled with straw on the bottom, which was pulled by a single horse. Mother sat down on the straw with me on her lap, and my father [William Wry], who, as I later learned, was a nurse, when one was needed, got in beside her. Mr. George Hicks had come to our house to get my father for Mrs. Hicks was sick and needed help. Mr. Hicks’ home was back in the woods, off the regular road. There were trees on both sides and it was like going through a tunnel. In later years I thought of it as a path like the blacksmith’s glowing forge when the sparks fly in the twilight. The sleigh bells stopped ringing as we came to the door of the house. We went inside and I was aware of Mrs. Hicks on a bed… then my eyes must have closed in sleep for I awoke the next morning back in my own home. As time went on I learned that Mrs. Hicks died and that my father had remained with her until the end. There were doctors in those days, but they were not always available when needed as distances were great.
“Mr. George Hicks was known as the ‘Swamp Elephant’, because of his large feet. It was claimed that his feet were so large that he could walk through a very muddy swamp, while others could not; and that he had no need for snowshoes. In selecting a homestead he chose a strip of rolling forest land, with a small brook with steep banks. He had cut his own road in from the main road and maintained this mile long length. He chose this site because of the brook, where he put in a dam between the narrowest banks, backing up the water. This became known as the ‘George Hicks Mill Pond’. Here he sawed logs into boards and ground wheat and other grains into flour. This pond of water contained lots of speckled brook trout. My brother Will, two years older than I, used to catch many here. The Hicks name was well known in those days. He was a good trapper and hunter. Mr. Hicks was always very kind to the Wry boys. Often after father died he told stories to us… mostly hunting adventures. I spent many happy hours in the vicinity of this Mill Pond.”
What I find interesting about this story is that the incident regarding the passing of George Hick’s wife can be precisely dated. Mary (Lowe) Hicks died on 4 March, 1883 (age 70) and she is buried next to her husband near the east side of the Sackville public cemetery on York Street. Frank Wry would have been around three years old at the time of this incident. It is only recently, however, that I compared the date of William Wry’s death to that of Mrs. Hicks. William Wry died on the 17 March, 1883; just 13 days after Mrs. Hicks! I have a copy of the bill for Mr. Wry’s funeral expenses, also dated 17 March 1883, from Mr. C. Freeman. The hearse and coffin cost $19! One has to surmise that nursing of the dying woman ended in his contracting something that resulted in an untimely death! (Figure 3). As Frank writes of fishing in the mill pond as a young boy, it must have still been operating, or at least still holding water, well into the 1880s.
We think George Hicks moved into town late in life as his abandoned house was frequented by university students as a “meeting place”. Aylmer Crossman, now deceased, had been told by his neighbour Delmar “Del” Crossman that one day he could see wood smoke coming through the trees from the direction of the Hicks’ Place. Del saw George Hicks on the Upper Fairfield Road (now King Street) and said, “I think there is a fire in around your house”. George apparently said, “it is, I lit it”! George Hicks died on the 11 January, 1894 so the house was probably destroyed in the early 1890’s.
I know nothing of George and Mary’s family and often wondered what happened to their descendants? Is there more to the story? Did a picture of the mill or farm survive? I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has additional information on the family and mill of George Hicks. I can be reached through The White Fence or at 506-536-4283.