The White Fence, issue #32

May 2006


Dear friends,

As many of you are aware, the early trading history of the maritime towns and cities throughout the 1800s was closely connected with the city of Boston. I’ve long understood that members of many families left small towns like Sackville to seek their prosperity in the United States via the city of Boston, and over generations, the connections remained. Read below the interesting correspondence between George and Samuel Etter in 1849–1850 and see how much George depended on Samuel in Boston to send him the commodities which we take for granted today; it all reflects the important sailing connections New Brunswickers had with this city in the middle of that century. For example: flour, corn meal, wheat and bran, butter, boots (probably the fancy varieties not made in Sackville!), hats and syrup were obviously not that easy to come by in Sackville in 1849.

But even more fascinating, just read how complicated the trip on New Year’s day of that year was! We complain about taking bus trips that make too many stops; they “ran into a dozen harbours from Lubec to Boston”! I do hope that Samuel did find prosperity in Boston; if not, he probably regretted that he never did go to California to dig for gold!

Our thanks are due to Mrs. Marion Wells of Sackville who made the letters available to Al Smith and who passed them on to me.

And the final installment about Leonard and Lionel Eastabrooks, the dyking-spade makers by Colin MacKinnon is in this issue as we had no space left for it in the last White Fence. So you can all relax now as Colin finishes his great little story about those super little spades made in, and for, the Tantramar area.

Al Smith also dug deep into the historical vein of our Tantramar mine and uncovered a short note in The Sackville Post dated May 13, 1932, about another “big” business in Sackville’s past: shipbuilding. It’s not long but he notes the size of the workforce, pay and source of lumber. It’s all quick but interesting reading.

In the next issue: In issues of The White Fence numbers 18 and 25, we wrote about the Standard Manufacturing Company in Middle Sackville. Interestingly, Mrs. Virginia Harries came upon the transcription of an interview with Mr. Cecil Grant (circa 1980?) who worked at that company and provides some interesting insights about the company and how the leather was tanned and prepared before shoes and boots could be fashioned (even if Samuel Etter preferred the Boston shoes to his home town’s own wares!). I was also unaware that the work force was as large as he states in the interview!

Finally, we received a note from Kenneth Lund of Toronto who sent us a remembrance of an old school chum, Laurie Legere, from Sackville who passed away in January 2005. The Legere family was very well known in Sackville and some of our readers may be very interested in reading about this far-wandering member of the family. There’s never any shortage of stories from this deep mine shaft we all know and love as the Tantramar region!


—Peter Hicklin

Rotary Wine Tasting Evening

Friday, May 5, 7 to 9:30 p.m. — Tantramar Veterans Memorial Civic Centre

Join the Rotary Club of Sackville for their 2nd annual Wine Tasting Evening, which will raise money to support the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre’s Education Room. In addition to choosing from 70 wines from all over the world, the event features a wine raffle, Silent Auction and vendors of chocolate, cheese, books and other “wine-related” items. To celebrate the Club’s 75th “diamond” anniversary, there will be a draw for an estate diamond ring. Add the live musical entertainment, and it is sure to be an exciting event that will raise funds for both Boultenhouse and the Rotary Youth Exchange program. Tickets are $30 each and available from Rotary members, by calling 536-1285, or at the door.

Etter Letters (1849–1850)

Transcribed by Al Smith

Samuel Etter left his home at Westmorland Point (presently Etter Ridge Road) in December 1848 and travelled by coastal boats to Boston to seek his fortune. His brother George Etter remained at home operating a store that was located near the Etter home (the large stone house just off the Trans Canada Highway). Five original letters written by the two brothers have survived and are owned by Mrs. Marion Wells of Sackville. She has kindly given permission to have them printed in The White Fence. These early letters give a good deal of insight into the business connections between this region and Boston along with personal thoughts shared between the two brothers.

portrait of George Etter

George Etter

Transcribing letters from the original handwriting is difficult and blanks indicate indecipherable words. The transcription includes spelling as written by the author, transcriber’s additions are in brackets.

Letter #1: Addressed to George Etter Esq., Westmorland point, N.B. The letter is postmarked Boston Jan 4, 10 cents (no stamp) and also postmarked Sackville NB Ja 11, 1849. One has to wonder if the writer mistakenly wrote 1848 instead of 1849.

Boston, January 2, 1848 (most likely was 1849)

Dear Brother

photograph of hand-written letter

Arrived in this port on Newyears day. I am going to state to you about my passage. Left the port at Sackville the 13th (December?) Arived at St. John (Saint John) about 10 oclock for 9/11 (9 shilling 11 pence?) for my passage. Remained in St. John until the 16th then sailed for Eastport in a small craft ran into the river Latang (Letang River) laid (anchored) until the 17th then sailed to Eastport.

Went ashore in letang stayed all night paid ⅓ for fare. In the morning sailed for Eastport (Maine) arrived about 10 oclock the 17th then boarded at Mrs. Furlongs for 50 cents for bed and 2 meals. 18th sailed for Lubec 3 miles from Eastport for 25 (cents?) then went on board the Robert Coltett (sp?) Captain Joudfrey master for $4 for my pasage. we ran into a dozen harbours from Lubec to Boston

I went out to Medford ___ my self into the spike mashiene __ I think I can make one dollar and half per day. It cost me about $10 for my passage and board from Sackville to Boston and for $2 for sasaperella and salt. I was not into Bowman & Eatons.

Messrs Lincoln & Beals used me well I pd (paid?) them the amount of your noat (note?) and I hope I will be able to pay the rest it is only $4.85cent. Mr. Joseph Reed fwd (forwarded?) $40 to them for you___. I had a great notion to go out to California for to dig for gold but I thought a wild spec. A Blacksmith can get $100 per mth (month) out in California Nothing more at present. If you rite me direct to the care of Messrs Lincoln & Beals.

Yours truly
Samuel Etter

Letter #2: Addressed to George Etter Esq., Amherst N.S. The outside of the letter is marked St. John NB SHIP LETTER and postmarked St. John NB Ap 21 1849 also postmarked Amherst NS Ap 22 1849.

Medford MASS. April 2nd 1849

Dear Brother

Perhaps you may think that I ought to have ritten before but I could not get time. I rote to you the first of January and I sent you two newspapers from Medford. I should have sent you more but I did not think it wile I worked in the spike factory five weeks and then cleared out.

I rote you I could make $1.50 per day but I could not stand it. I had 20 cents for lent then I went into a ship yard and worked 6 weeks for $___(possibly 15) per month. I should have paid Bowman & Eaton more but I laid out about $20 in clothing and I lent a chap some money and he cleared out but no live man gets any more. I have no time at present to rite you anything about the market.

Samuel Etter

(ps) for you rite me direct it to Medford Mass

Letter #3: Addressed to Mr. Samuel Etter Medford Mass (near Boston Mass) The letter is postmarked Paid at Amherst 11 _ (pence?) and Amherst NS Ap 14 1849, St. John Ap 16 1849, St. Andrews Ap 17 1849

Westmorland April 14 1849

Dear Samuel

I received your letter January 11th also my noat and received some of 2 newspapers on February 10th. Peters (brother) infare was on the eave of February 10th he has got hells clinch put on him (as the old Ayer used to say) with Miss Atkinson I was second best. I laugh said I the doctor laugh and we all laugh ho! ho! Also Edward Smith and Miss Lowther has come to the works.

I wrote you December 28th and enclosed £5 _____ say to the care of Messrs Lincoln & Beal.

I calculated when I received the papers it was a receipt for my letter and money. I mentioned to Messrs Lincoln & Beal in my letter dated January 11th about making payment to them. I calculated that you or they had sent me _____ corn meal by the Schooner Seamans was the cause of my stating about payment in my letter. Gilbert Atkinson has arrived bald headed and has given a full statement about you he said you worked in the spike machine one month and could not clear you teeth by that business. Also he says you are at present engaged in a shipyard for 3 years he states $150 first year $200 second and $300 for the last a first rate idea that is far preferable to his in my estimation he spent $100 and returned. Captain Lowerison will leave the 20 inst (present month) for Boston. I shall send an order to Messrs Lincoln & Beal for about 15 Bls (barrels?) Superfine flour 15 Bls meal & 6 Bls midlings (mixture of coarse wheat and bran?). If the price suits you send it by Cpt. Lowerison I shall send the order to you by Cpt Lowerison for them. Also I shall send for Messrs Bowman & Eaton 5 or 6 firkins (¼ barrel butter-tub) of butter and about $100 cash. You will also pay it to them and take a receipt for the same — get what you can for the butter. I have engaged with Scott to make you and I each a pair of cracked (sp.?) Boots as he had your measure. Also I wish you to send me enough oak tanned leather for the outsouls that will be (for) 2 pairs. You will get it at L.A. White’s at the corner of Blackstone & Fulton Street as small a quantity as you please I should judge about 3 _ F (feet) would be quite sufficient for the same worth 23 cents per foot. If you business binds you to no vacations or your bargains (?) confines you to loose no time please write me on receiving this and I will wright to Messrs Lincoln & Beal and also get Cpt. Lowerison to do my business. Charles Lowerison and Rich__ (Richard) is in his vessel. Please on receiving this send me the Boston Courier by mail as I should like to see the news and the state of the market. I have got 45 cords of wood paid for and Peter has engaged 30 cords the whole of it is __ Dorchester River (Memramcook River). I wish you to contract for it in Boston for $6.50 per cord or $6 per cord or contract for 30 cords itself. Do not contract for it in Roxbury as the Schooners do not like to go out. If you can obtain $6.50 per cord write me immediately by mail and I will load Cpt. Siddall and will also buy Charles Fowlers wood as he has 30 cords also tell the other crew of the Heroc (ship?) that wood is lo (low) but send me a letter by mail the real value of wood per cord. I shall send 3 otter skins and 3 minks by the Heroc they belong to John Munroe and I am to take what they neat (?) in Boston. You will also sell them and you understand about the bill as he wishes to see it say 15 percent less he owes me £20. I will send letters by Cpt. Lowerison Albert Chapman has left for Boston. I shall be on in June or July. Ho for California what a gold idea as you say. We are all well.

Your sincere Brother
George Etter

(ps) I will write you on receiving a letter from you and direct it to Medford Mass. I am going to Amherst this evening we have had lots of sprees this winter and I hope will have one with you. I have a good supply of goose eggs and also sugars and ham. Geo Etter

Letter #4: Addressed to Mr. Samuel Etter Boston Mass, Messrs. Bowman & Eaton, Boston Mass N0. 47 Longwarf — no postmarks so probably carried and delivered by Capt. Lowerison

Westmorland April 25, 1849

For Samuel

I further send you 1 otter and 2 mink skins which I have received this morning. The otter cost $4 the large mink 30c (cents) which I have agreed to pay. Mr. Hurd Coates or Mr Rch Lowerison will give you the skins. I wish you to appropriate the money which you get for the skins to the purchase of tobacco and those articles that I have written for in my other letter. Purchase 1/8 ___(possibly keg) tobacco from Mr. Parker city wharf it will weigh about 26 __ also the Brinstone (could be a brand name) from Mr. Witter No. 4 Long Wharf and pay the balance to Bowman & Eaton. The doctor had Pon____ hired last winter he and Infeth (?) went to the woods (he) bot the Purdy lot. I have a good supply of grog (rum) on hand and sugar. I wish you to ask Messrs Bowman & Eaton about this wood and what they will give me per cord also I wish you to ask Mr. Timothy _____ No. 102 Milk St. if he does not want some wood also send me a letter or paper by mail as a countersign that the Heroc is in Boston. You have a couple of letters sent to you I understand the vessel sails tonight.

I remain & very sincerely yours
George Etter

ps. Let me know the price of soleleather. If you send me any papers direct them as you did last time to Westmorland NB.

Letter #5: Addressed to Hon (?) Geo Etter Esqr Mt. Whatley N.B. — also on the address side “Favoured by Capt. Lowerison’s __________

Boston May 15 1850

Dear Sir

I received your letter and Bill’s in Medford. There was not as many cags (? possibly kegs) as stated but it will be all rite. Tobacco is very high at present I shall send 20 gls (gallons?) 50 percent — and 6 gls Gin the amount endorsed on the noate is $122 and some odd cents I wass out of money and kept the $4 wich I got for the ____. I shall pay them about $50 soone — I have about $70 due me. I received the hats the crowns are to big at top and straw two coarse. I gave Charley the fine one it was two small for me. If you had sent finer ones or split straws I should have done better by them it is 2 late almost they have got their supplies. I should like 2 or 3 fine ones if you send them direct them to B. Eaton. I told Capt Laurence that I worked at the South End and told him I had to go to Medford to get the letters______. If you directed your letters first rate I sends my woman to it ______. Idea about California is a flat as a pankake. Always send an envelope over my letter. Please rite me what time you will arrive to the city. I sent you the Boston Courier today by mail and sent some 4 or five by Mr Fawcet. If a Messr Lawrence (?) is in _________ for I say you are a d____ _ ____ over. He left how he wants you should bring up $ loan and pay it out in goods.

Nothing more at present


Samuel Etter

Leonard Estabrooks and Lionel Estabrooks — Dyking Spade Makers

By Colin MacKinnon

In 2004 (The White Fence issue #23) I wrote about a father and son team from Sackville, Charles A.D. Siddall and Thompson A. Siddall, who made dyking spades. The following article describes an equally important duo who are also responsible for manufacturing what has become an icon of the Tantramar; the dyking spade!

Leonard Estabrooks was born in 1884, the son of Frederick (Fred) Estabrook and Ida May Wheaton. It is believed he worked as a blacksmith all his life and possibly started in his trade shortly after 1900. Leonard was married on 4 May, 1904 to Bertha McFee (1884–1973) with issue; Frederick (Fred), Ida, Lionel S., Ola, Verna and Leonard Jr. (Figure 1). Leonard’s blacksmith shop still stands today, a white shingled garage with a red roof. It is located at the fork in the road, as you cross the bridge at Silver Lake, on the way to Midgic. The shop and Leonard’s home are now owned by Leonard’s grandson, Frederick Estabrooks. I do not know when Leonard Estabrooks started making dyking spades, although if it was before 1921, he would have been in competition with Charles Siddall. As we will see, there are similarities between Siddall and Estabrooks spades. I have often wondered if Leonard was an apprentice to Siddall; or at least learned some ‘trade secrets’ from the older blacksmith?

Lionel and Fred Estabrooks

Figure 1. Lionel and Fred Estabrooks, c. 1912; Children of Leonard and Bertha Estabrooks.

Leonard Estabrooks also followed the practice of Charles Siddall by stamping his initials, just below the handle, in the back of the blade. Charles Siddall also attached a paper trade label to the handle of his new spades. I have never seen an Estabrooks label!

Lionel and Annie (Phinney) Estabrooks

Figure 2. Wedding photo, 1941, of Lionel and Annie (Phinney) Estabrooks

Lionel (2 Oct., 1906–1989), Leonard’s son, also took up the dyking spade trade and probably started as a young blacksmith in the early 1920’s. He worked as a blacksmith/dyking spade maker for upwards of twenty years and left the business around 1942. Lionel Estabrooks was married on 23 October 1941 to Annie M. Phinney (1913–1986) (Figure 2). Shortly after they were married, the couple operated a grocery store located close to the blacksmith shop. Around 1950, Lionel and Annie built the house at 394 Main Street and operated a general store where Annie also served as the Post Mistress. The building Lionel used as a store was later moved across the road from Harper Lane. After its move, Annie continued to work as Post Mistress until her retirement. Lionel and Annie had two daughters; Thelma, who lives in Kentville, NS and Mona, who lives in the home place in Sackville.

Figure 3. Stamp on Lionel Estabrooks spade. (A. Kennedy photo)

Figure 3. Stamp on Lionel Estabrooks spade. (A. Kennedy photo)

Lionel, like his father, also marked the dyking spades he made. However, as they had the same initials, Lionel appears to have stamped his “LE” initials upside down (Figure 3). There are also at least two spades known, without any markings, which match Lionel’s work so it is possible not all his spades were signed. Although Lionel stopped making spades after he was married, his father Leonard stayed at the bench until old age. There is a marvellous photo of Leonard, taken around 1960, working on the blade of a dyking spade in his shop (Figure 4). As stated, Leonard made spades, as well as other blacksmith products, for upwards of 40 to 50 years so his output must have been extraordinary!

Considering the size of the marshes (the Tantramar alone is ~26 square miles) and the need to do most of the dyking and ditching by hand, the demand must have been great as well. Of fifty spades I have examined in detail, 14% were made by Leonard and 6% were by Lionel.

In 1948, the Federal Government created the Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Act (MMRA). During WW II, many of the marshes had fallen into disrepair, and the MMRA was designed to help rebuild the dykelands for agriculture. This must have been a great boom for Leonard. I have been told that in the 1950s–1960s the MMRA purchased his spades by the dozen (at $2.50–$3.00 per spade). Leonard’s spades were sold through Dunlop’s Hardware in Amherst and I suspect local hardware stores as well. Estabrooks spades have also shown up with amazing regularity in the Annapolis Valley and one is on display at the Museum in Kentville, Nova Scotia. I suspect most of these spades date from the MMRA acquisitions. I believe Leonard was still making at least a few spades in the early to mid 1960s; just prior to his death in 1968.

Figure 4. Leonard Estabrooks (1884–1968) in his shop in Middle Sackville, c. 1960, working on a dyking spade.

Figure 4. Leonard Estabrooks (1884–1968) in his shop in Middle Sackville, c. 1960, working on a dyking spade.

Supportive of the link between Siddall and Estabrooks spades is the patterns each used for their blades. For consistency, the blacksmith used a metal template from which he cut out the spade blades. Once the sheet of steel was cut from the template, it was then shaped and formed, by various presses and on the anvil, to give it the characteristic curved shape. By comparing the template shapes, from various existing and marked spades, some trends appear. We know that Charles Siddall and his son Thompson Siddall marked their work, C.A.D.S. and T.A.S. respectively. Thompson Siddall used a spade template that was slightly different than his father’s and this is the same template that Lionel Estabrooks used for his blades!

Dyking spade and unused spade handles made by Lionel Estabrooks

Figure 5. Dyking spade and unused spade handles made by Lionel Estabrooks. (C. MacKinnon photo)

Estabrooks spades can also be readily identified by the shape of the grip on the “T” handle and the smaller, shield shape, piece of metal that makes up the front of the blade. The “T” handle has a square mortise held in place by a small hardwood dowel. The handle is relatively large, flattened oval in cross section and slightly rounded across the top (dimensions of a Leonard Estabrooks spade handle; 11/8 × 13/16 × 4″ — 13/8″ high at the center; 5/16″ diameter dowel) (Figure 5). The shield shaped piece of metal is not symmetrical and this is most noticeable where it comes to a point at the top of the blade.Ivan Fillmore, Leonard Estabrooks’ nephew, provided the following recollections regarding the blacksmith shop, “As far as I can recall, I never saw Grandpa or Uncle Lionel make any spades as I visited them in the summer months in the late thirties, and the summer time was spent on farm jobs such as making wheels, fixing machinery, etc. I’m sure that most of the spades were made in the late fall and winter. I remember that they told me that the steel had to be ordered in from Montreal and as for the wood; I know that they made the handles in the shop, but did not know where they got the wood from. I was born in 1929, so I would be about 10 years old at the time.

When or where the spades were sold, or how much they cost, I do not know. Personalities??, to me they were two hard working men that were a joy to watch working, and learning of the things that could be made with a hot forge, a piece of steel, a large hammer, and MUSCLES!!!!! I was always treated very well when I was in the shop, and all my stupid questions were all answered”.

The Estabrooks spade makers, father and son, took pride in their work. Mona Estabrooks told me how, in his later years, when her father happened on someone working with a spade, he would stop and check to see if it was one of his! If you have an Estabrooks spade, or a dyking spade by another maker, please take care of it. These light spades were never designed for planting trees or rough garden use. Many spades show signs of such abuse, with broken handles and bends in the blade where too much leverage was applied. Modern machinery has replaced the lowly dyking spade and, like the marsh barns, their time will never be seen again. An old farmer once asked with disdain why I was interested in dyking spades. He told me he cursed the things as all they reminded him of was twelve hours of back breaking labour, six days a week! I told him that was exactly the reason for my study, to honour him, and those before who toiled on the marshes.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Mona Estabrooks for family photographs and information on her father and grandfather. I would also like to thank Ivan Fillmore for his recollections of visiting the Estabrooks blacksmith shop.

Shipbuilding in Sackville

The following article appeared on the front page of The Sackville Post on Friday, May 13, 1932. Mr. Arthur Snowdon of Point de Bute tells the Post when he worked on one of the local shipyards.

Mr. Arthur Snowdon, a highly respected resident of Point de Bute, was in Sackville a day or two ago renewing old acquaintances, and, while here, favoured the Post with a call. Mr. Snowdon is over 80 years of age, but is still wonderfully active, and as keen mentally as he ever was. Speaking of early days in Sackville, Mr. Snowdon stated that he had worked in one of the shipyards here when a lad in his teens. He explained that he acted as an errand boy, and said he was often sent to Andrew Ford’s store on Bridge Street or to Joseph L. Black’s at Middle Sackville. “And there were no cars in those days” Mr. Snowdon remarked, “I had to make these trips on foot, but I didn’t mind it.”

He told the Post that there were three shipyards in operation at that time: the Dixon yard, near the old wharf, the Boultenhouse yard a little farther down and the Purdy yard at Westcock. There must have been nearly 250 men at work in the three yards, he declared, and while the pay was not large — about $2 a day, times were good in Sackville and everybody had money. The bulk of the lumber used in these vessels was obtained in this neighborhood, according to Mr. Snowdon and farmers were busy in the woods during the winter getting out ship timber. During pay nights things were lively around Brunswick Hill. There were open bars and considerable drinking and sometimes one or more fights developed. But as a whole the men were fairly good-natured. Several of the carpenters were very powerful men and in this connection Mr. Snowdon mentioned a man named Fisher who became quite celebrated as a rough and tumble fighter.

Mr. Snowdon also remembers when the Intercolonial Railway reached Amherst, as he was working in that town at that time. He said the railway came to Dorchester in 1868, to Sackville in 1869 and to Amherst a year later.

Tantramar Heritage Trust — Annual General Meeting

Monday, May 29th, 7:30 pm; Sackville United Church Parlors

AGM — Business Meeting, followed by a program entitled Living The Dream — a powerpoint presentation on the development of the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre. All members are encouraged to attend.