Little did I know that this year I would be celebrating Christmas with strawberries in mind! And, once you read this newsletter, I hope that you too will think of celebrating Sackville of the 1920s with strawberries gracing your holiday table. Because that was the last decade when strawberries were still being gathered in Middle Sackville, from the fields of W. B. Fawcett, by the children of this town. In 1928, the Sackville Tribune of 13 August wrote a cover article on this extensive and successful strawberry business run by W. B. Fawcett and of which little remains today.
To the folks of Hedge Court in Sackville: did you know that that the “hedge” referred to in your street’s name relates to spruce hedges which were originally planted as wind breaks for the extensive strawberry fields located where your houses and paved driveways now sit? And on the other side of Main Street, where the Doncasters have their farm (Highfield Farm) there were once acres and acres of Fawcett strawberries.
Read about the man who originally owned the land from which he produced basket upon basket of these juicy red berries; berries grown, picked, packaged and sold from our small town. My great surprise about this is that it was not that long ago … and virtually nothing remains of it! Our dear friend and colleague, Al Smith, remembers picking berries on those lands as a child. I am quite sure that many other very successful businesses once existed within our borders and of which we know little-to-nothing about, nor the good folks who ran them. So I ask you readers to let me know about these so that I may tell our growing readership about interesting businesses of past years that Tantramar fostered and of which many of us know too little about. And the sources might surprise you. While digging into the old newspapers in the Mt A†archives, Al Smith came upon the W.B. Fawcett story and passed it on to me. And by painting those words on the White Fence , everyone can now read about this fascinating story.
And speaking about fascinating … in our last White Fence, Kenneth Lund told us about his father and grandfather and now that you have all been informed about these fascinating gentlemen in issue no. 29, I now have the honor of introducing you to them. After the article was written, Kenneth’s brother Daniel Lund showed Al pictures of his dad and granddad in uniform and when Al showed them to me, I felt that it was important to introduce them to you. So please look at the photos herein but then have another read in The White Fence No. 29 and learn again about these fine gentlemen from our recent and proud past.
Throughout this issue, you will notice attractive little Christmas cards which were provided to us by Mrs. Helen Smith. These are Christmas wishes received by the Hicks family between 1916 and 1920. What I find especially interesting about them is that inside the cards are individually-printed Christmas wishes, attached to the folding covers with either a ribbon and/or colorful piece of string and, in some cases, the senders’ family name was printed. This shows how much time and attention (and cost!) was devoted to producing these good wishes and, consequently, probably sent to just a few friends and family rather than en masse mail-outs which have become more traditional today. Thank you Mrs. Smith for sharing these family best wishes with us and, to you and all our readers, please accept the Tantramar Heritage Trust’s most sincere good wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.
And please continue reading The White Fence throughout 2006 … and, if you can, enjoy some fresh strawberries over Christmas and throughout the new year!
Best wishes to all
Boultenhouse Heritage Centre Capital Campaign
- Fundraising target: $60,000
- Raised to date: $42,386
- Friend of Boultenhouse: 28
- Schooner: 21
- Brigantine: 5
- Brig: 2
- Barque: 1
- Full Rigged Ship: 2
Pioneer Strawberry Grower of the Tantramar
Interesting Sketch of the Career of Mr. W.B. Fawcett, Who Has Always Dearly Loved to Play at the Game of “Doing Things”
(By Samuel Clarke in “The Farmer’s Guide”)
Whether he was the first or not is perhaps not open to much doubt, but history certainly records Joseph de la Loutre, that determined opponent of British rule in Acadia caused aboideaux and dykes to be built for the reclaiming of some small sections of the tide washed lands along the Cumberland Basin and its tributary waters.
De la Loutre was evidently in large measure aware of the fertile nature of these tidal deposits. His astuteness in this regard has been amply confirmed by the British settlers who came to occupy these lands many years after. Soil fertility the equal of the dyked lands of Tantramar exists in few places, but the reclaiming of these lands from the mighty tides of the Bay of Fundy has been a job of real pioneering.
After about a hundred years after de la Loutre made his attempt at reclamation, there was born in the village of Upper Sackville, William B. Fawcett, probably none of the old pioneer farmers of New Brunswick (now living) have a wider experience in livestock, and mixed farming.
His seventy years of life is only a short space of time. But into its swift passage have been crowded more of the wonderful changes in our everyday life, than were witnessed by four or five such lifespans of former generations.
Industry and Thrift Fashionable
From the profit and pleasure now derived from all our modern modes of speedy travel and transport, he can look back to his own, and the common use of ox-teams, home-made wagons, sleds, saddles and wooden skates, for all such purposes, up to forty years ago.
He commenced at an early age assisting in clearing a farm out of worthless upland brush, and reclaiming bogs and lakes, into fertile hay lands, by the skilful manipulation of the muddy tidewaters of the Tantramar River.
Always frail and delicate, his school years were irregular and badly broken into with sickness, and enforced staying at home, “doing chores” and other light work, both winter and summer.
Rigid economy and untiring industry were fashionable those days, both indoors and out.
Many a day he spent helping his mother picking wool, winding yarn spools, and passing the warp through the reeds of the big old wooden loom, to weave into the “unshrinkable” homespun, which she cut and tailored into suits, and overcoats, worn by father and the three boys.
The only cash crops his father had to sell in those strenuous days, were a pair or two of fat steers, two to five fat hogs, a few turkeys, and five to eight firkins of prime butter mother managed to save from four to six cows, pasturing in the bush.
In a few years, however, those magical tides brought a considerable acreage of the bog, and lakes into heavy crops of hay, which (with what turnips could be grown) enabled his father to increase his annual sale of fat cattle to two, or three carloads, besides a few cars of market hay occasionally.
When a bit past twenty years old, he worked his passage on a cattle steamer from Halifax to Liverpool, just for fun and “to see the world”.
In the next few years he was sent on seven or more trips to different parts of Great Britain, entrusted with the care, and sale of one hundred to one hundred and fifty fat cattle, each time, belonging to his father, uncle, and two or three neighbors.
These trips afforded him wonderful opportunities of personally inspecting in all the best stock markets the results obtained by generations of British farmers in their experimental breeding of all the standard breeds of beef and dairy cattle, horse, sheep and pigs.
Keen Public Interest
Before these trips ended he was repeatedly elected as one of the three Commissioners, in charge of the Tide Canals, ditches, roads, and fences on the Seven Thousand acres of Hay Lands, called No. 6 in Upper Sackville.
The standard wage paid to expert tradesmen in those public works was $1.25 per nine-hour day. The men traveled often three to six miles from home. The Commissioners were limited to $2.00 per day. Certainly these were no great extravagances.
Meanwhile, he was actively assisting until thirty years of age in adding to the home farm as well as buying other property for the two younger brothers, and two sisters. About this time his father and mother retired to live nearer town. As the younger ones had all left and settled; it seemed necessary for him to marry, or go it alone.
Operating largely on borrowed money, and with farm produce bringing small prices, progress was slow the next ten years. Quitting the European trips, and the Commissioner’s duties, and with closer application and hard work, the annual output grew to three or four carloads of beef cattle, and one hundred tons or more of market hay and a few acres of strawberries.
Success and Disaster
In the meantime further borrowings were made by him, and his second brother, and invested in cattle ranching in Alberta in partnership with the third brother lately settled there.
The next ten years of extension both East, and West, was easier, and at times afforded some recreation. In all, twelve trips were made to the Western ranch being several times accompanied by members of his family.
For six consecutive years he and his brothers sold annually from the ranch 200 fat cattle, and a carload of horses. But in 1906 when the stock had increased to 1000 head, and everything looked bright with the American market opening up, he met his “Waterloo” in the loss of his only remaining child, a fine boy of eighteen, who, at the time, was visiting the ranch with his father.
Broken but Undismayed
Utterly broken in health, and courage, sadly shattered, the ranch was eventually sold, and he continued to operate the home farm in beef, hay, and small fruits. His berry patches were soon increased to eight or ten acres, not so much for the money he might make, as for the diversion that constant work afforded toward living down his grievous family losses.
Inside of the two years more, the doctors ordered him to quit work immediately, or prepare for his own early funeral. Leasing the farm for three years, he moved to town, but could not be persuaded to remain so long away from his berry fields, or to give up his “hobby” of exporting strawberries to United States markets. Calling in twelve of his neighbors, he urged them to plant their best fields to berries, and to help him to load iced carloads for Boston. Four or five responded handsomely, but still there were only half enough grown to load full cars.
In 1914 without consulting his friends, he purchased the late Governor Woods 200 acre homestead farm, the best in New Brunswick, as he himself will admit. Just to carry out his “fad” of making Sackville the best, and largest “strawberry point” east of Toronto. To better ensure his purpose, he incorporated this fine property, along with his other Sackville lands, as “Tantramar Fruits Limited” For the next few years, with two large farms producing, his annual crops ran up to 400 tons of stock and market hay, 100 head of beef cattle and 2500 bushels of strawberries, and as many or more bushels of oranges and grapefruit in Florida.
Although there were soon enough berries grown to load a few cars, the prices and demand in local markets were so good, it was not until 1921 that the first three iced-carloads were exported to Boston. One of these cars was entirely loaded by himself, and the larger part of the other two.
Seeing this old “hobby” fast growing into a profitable success, fully a hundred of his neighbors rushed into planting berries, little thinking these war-prices might soon drop to the level of other farm crops.
To the general surprise, Sackville’s soil, climate, and the skill of her farmers, all proved so very congenial to strawberry culture, that sixty five carloads were “billed out” from the depot in 1923, besides hundreds of crates from adjoining parishes.
Completely satisfied, at seeing “small fruits” added, as one more of Sackville’s farm crops already outstripping the production of this industrious manufacturing town in value of product, he was forced by severe ill-health to curtail operations, and to lease his Tantramar Fruit Farm, and other Sackville lands to his nephew three years ago.
When asked as to financial success he replied in characteristic reminiscent vein “while mistakes and losses have been many, on the whole, I have made some money, but labor, transportation, capitalists, and promoters of all kinds have got every dollar I ever made. No, not wealthy by any means, just land poor.”
And yet he manages, by careful planning and close attention to detail to dig up a paltry twelve hundred dollars in cold cash each year to meet the taxes assessed against the valuable properties which he has developed by tireless energy and acquired by purchase. Indeed as he would express it, the chief himself wealth he has, is in the experience he has gained, the land which he has made to produce better and the satisfaction which he has enjoyed in knowing that the pioneering work which he has done and even the financial losses which he has borne have in some measure shown the way to his neighbors and friends.
A review of the mature years of W. B. Fawcett, would not be complete without reference to his other activities. As a student of public affairs, he has few equals in his ability to blow aside the chaff of popular public opinions so frequently inspired by interested parties and winnowing out the plain underlying common sense truth of public interest.
The Game of “Doing Things”
While he has never felt that he had time to join his friends in the more fashionable pleasures and sports of the day, yet he has always dearly loved to play at the game of “doing things.” His highest ideal of a “true sport” is the man who best wins out in the strenuous race of service to his own community. His definition of a “crank” is, that which makes the wheels of progress go round.
While serving as Commissioner of District No. 6, Mr. Fawcett persistently advocated the further extension and of the Six Tide Canals on the Upper Tantramar so well designed and promoted by Tolar Thompson (and those pioneers who followed) to transform another ten thousand acres of bog and lake into prime dykeland.
Later on, during the few years he spent in the Town of Sackville, as an invalid, he was twice elected as Alderman in East Ward, and took an active part in doubling the reservoir capacity of the Town Water supply, as well as other improvements.
It was only natural that his energetic manner of promoting public improvements, which usually mean increased expenditures should meet with the usual oppositions and censure — even though the money be well and judiciously expended.
Occasionally, when relating old time incidents, Mr. Fawcett will mention what he terms the very best compliment among the few ever thrown his way. It came, he said, from a certain local newspaper, which publicly accused him of “dominating the Town Council.”
But he has not only been a thoughtful student of questions pertaining to the public well-being, but he has been a frequent contributor to the press. His letters have been universally lucid in expression, robust in style, as well as unequivocal and positive in their meaning and purport. His ndependence of thought has not tended to make him popular with those who claim for themselves an almost divine right to dictate public opinion but his sturdy courage has always commanded respect, even from those whose gods he has shattered.
As a sturdy fighter of three score years and ten who has achieved with and against the forces of nature more than an average measure of success, one can easily picture him as he becomes reminiscent of his fruitful years, repeating to himself —
Twas a glorious game from the opening bell, Good plays, bad plays and thrills pell-mell; The speed of it burned my years away, But I thank Great God that He let me Play.
Please note that on Heritage Day in February 2006, a compendium of the first 30 issues of The White Fence will be made available to all. So when the 2006 Heritage Day rolls by, please support your Tantramar Heritage and pick up copies for family and friends! In the meantime, have a great (strawberry) Christmas!
—Leslie Van Patter and Peter Hicklin on behalf of the Tantramar Heritage Trust Board of Directors.