I have recently had the great pleasure of spending some most interesting time with two very special citizens of Sackville, two members of the resident French community: Élise (Tootsie) (Légère) Landry and Éloi Lirette. Being partly of French Acadian family roots myself (don’t be misled by my very English name!), my connection with Tootsie and Éloi occurred not only because of our shared cultural heritage but also because of their intimate knowledge of a part of Sackville’s commercial history which few in Sackville know much about (I certainly knew nothing about it!): The A.E. Wry Standard Manufacturing Co. (formerly the J.R. Ayer Ltd. Boot and Shoe Company) in Middle Sackville.
Sixty-six years ago, as a young boy of 13 playing in the abandoned A.E. Wry store, Éloi Lirette found a ledger which had been left behind and which he kept and preserved all these years (see photo of ledger below). Eloi has kindly donated the ledger to the Trust, the contents of which will become a semi-regular column in later issues of The White Fence when space allows. So read on and learn what was purchased at at this commercial establishment on a typical winter’s day in Middle Sackville on 17 January, 1894, the first shopping day described in the ledger.
See the photos provided to us by Élise and Éloi and read of her account of the work conducted at these companies when she was a young girl.
And to round things off, read Mr. Cecil Grant’s account “Hair Today, Hide Tomorrow” of his work in the A.E. Wry Standard Manufacturing Company for a first-hand description of the preparation of the hides for the making of shoes and moccasins. His memories were captured during an interview with Mrs. Margaret Henderson when Mr. Grant lived at the Drew Nursing Home in Sackville; Margaret kindly gave me permission to print the account here.
This preliminary investigation in the early industrial life of Middle Sackville has been an eye-opener for your editor. I can foresee a future full issue of The White Fence devoted to the early days of both Upper and Middle Sackville. Thanks to those who were here before us and built a very special heritage for us to follow and build upon. Thank you Élise and Éloi for opening this first door of that unique heritage for us! Much of our heritage, and many other doors, still remain to be discovered and opened.
The J.R. Ayer Ltd. Boot and Shoe Company and A.E. Wry Standard Manufacturing Co., Middle Sackville
by Peter Hicklin
There was a time 100–150 years ago when Middle Sackville was a hub of commercial activity. J.L. Black and Sons in Middle Sackville (building standing but now abandoned) was a three-storey General Store where one could purchase groceries, furniture, lumber and clothing (to name but a few of the products sold there). At one time, if you needed good boots and shoes, you just ambled to J.R. Ayer Ltd. (later A.E. Wry’s Standard Manufacturing) next door, on the corner of Walker Road and Main Street (where the Middle Sackville Variety is now located), a business the family of Blair Leblanc would have known well (see photo of Blair standing in front of the old tanning shop where Cecil Grant would have worked).
In the old days, when many a Sackville family’s wage came from working in the woods over the winter months, a lumberjack’s feet, warmly wrapped in straw and snugly fit into tall leather moccasins, was the way to go!
From the late nineteenth century, right up to the 1930s, workers on the second floor of the J.R. Ayer Boot and Shoe Company, incorporated in 1865 in Middle Sackville, cobbled together leather moccasins for the Tantramar populace and beyond.
After the company came to be known as the A. E. Wry Standard Manucturing Co. (Albert Edward Wry was a book-keeper/manager at J.R. Ayer’s and, with others, bought out J.R. Ayer’s in 1902), Mathias Légère worked there as a Moccasin “stitcher” while wife Edmé stitched shoes. Both worked on the second floor of A.E. Wry’s (see photo), each occupying separate halves of the floor space (shoes and moccasins didn’t mix then!).
The tanning shop, where the leather was prepared and from which the moccasins were made, was located behind the factory (see photo of group of workers at A.E. Wry’s, circa 1910). It was there that the hides were soaked in pits with a solution containing ground hemlock bark which rendered the leather flexible and gave it color. Once the leather for the moccasins was cut to size, the stitcher used “waxed ends” (twisted, waxed leather “threads”) with an awl to stitch the tops and sides of each moccasin (see photo showing group of workers at A.E. Wry’s Standard Manufacturing with William Bourque, third from left, holding a moccasin and an awl).
Shopping at the J.R. Ayer Ltd. Boot and Shoe Company, Middle Sackville
17 January, 1894
So, that winter’s shopping day at J.R. Ayer’s developed as follows in the 1894 ledger.
Well, you could certainly get all the nuts and bolts at J.R. Ayer’s. It is unclear to me what the 8 x 10 “pairs of glasses” were, especially since they cost much less than the price of a few bolts! Were those “pairs of glasses”, ones that could be otherwise obtained at an optometrist’s? or were they drinking glasses? or two 8 x 10 panes (?) of glass to protect a framed picture? The latter is the most likely explanation.
As these orders were made in the depths of winter, I can see how 100 lbs of Bran purchased by M. Grace, along with two extra chimney sections for Thompson and Sons, would be important to keep the house and kitchen warm and healthy baked goods coming out of a hot oven. But could the bran have been needed for cattle feed as well as for baked goods (100 lbs would last awhile!)? Similarly, as this shopping day occurred in the middle portion of a Sackville winter, it”s not surprising that barrels of coal (at 45¢ a barrel) and oil (4 gals at 80¢; I assume lamp oil) were two of the most expensive commodities purchased.
And there would have been much bartering going on. Did Chase Fawcett pay for Philip Lerette’s purchase “by check” as part of a bartering deal between the two men or was Chase just being neighbourly? Similarly, was the trading in Broad Leaf hay between C.L. Cole, the Burk’s (Bourque’s?), Mark Landry and Herb Estabrooks, a form of serious bartering, involving an important commodity of the day (Broad Leaf hay — not just any old roadside hay!). It certainly looks to me as though a lot of “wheeling and dealing” was going on via J.R. Ayer’s little registry (i.e. cash register).
Now, I must admit to some difficulty I had with this old ledger. As shown in the accompanying photo, all of it was handwritten with pencil and I found some parts difficult to read. For example, near the bottom of the list you will see a note regarding “3 Mutton”; instead of two t’s, one might be an “l” (L) followed by a “t” but I can’t tell. If anyone can make an educated guess at what this might be (or any other commentary regarding this list), call me at 364-5042 (mornings), 536-0703 (evenings) or drop me a note at
firstname.lastname@example.org. So keep an eye out for the next newsletter! We will then all see what the next shopping day can tell us about life in Sackville in 1894. Or maybe we can talk during the Heritage Day festivities (see facing page). I look forward to it all!
Hair Today, Hide Tomorrow
by Cecil Grant*
Years ago, I worked in the A.E. Wry Standard Manufacturing Company which was situated from the corner of Walker Road along the road through Middle Sackville. In this establishment were a number of different businesses such as the collar making shop, a shoe store etc. I was mostly involved in the tannery and the making of moccasins. Hides were shipped in by rail to supply the business which employed nearly one hundred people. The process of tanning began by first getting rid of the hair. The hides were hung from racks and dipped into lime pits. Each hide was put into a lime pit for so long and then moved to another of weaker concentration. At the end of their time in the pits, the hides were put on a beam in the shape of a half-moon and they would use a blade about two feet long, sharp on one side only. The blade would be pulled over the hide taking the hair off as slick as you please. The sharp side was used for fleshing and the dull side for taking the hair. Afterwards, the hides were put on a great big wheel to remove the lime. They would run the wheel through fresh water to drive the lime out because leather isn’t any good with lime in it. The moccasin leather was put in a pit and changed over from day to day in a mixture of gambier and salt. The leather for shoes went through six different pits of hemlock bark solution. The bark was ground up and then steeped just like tea and what was left over was burned in the engine room along with the coal. As the hides were moved from one pit to another, there would be a gradual change in temperature. If you moved it too fast the leather would tan but it would crack so it had to be started at a low temperature and moved slowly.
I remember one time a fellow brought in this hide to Moody Wilson who was the foreman then, and it was all wired up tight. After it had been weighed the fellow left, taking his money, so much a pound. Well sir, Moody cut the wire and unwrapped the hide and there was a good-sized rock. The fellow made sure he got all the hide was worth, that’s for sure.
Someone brought a seal pelt in there once and they are awfully fat. Anything that’s fat will not tan so Moody had it tacked out on the floor upstairs and I asked him how he was going to get rid of the fat. He said he would use ordinary flour; sprinkle the flour around, scrape the hide and so on until it was clear. He told me that if he wanted to he could get that hide so dry you would have to use oil on it. Sometimes we would get Caribou in, and they were a nice skin. At the tannery they would use some kind of liquor as people would just want it tanned, they didn’t want the hair off it.
Anyway, the tanning process was only the first step in making a pair of moccasins. With practice one could cut out a pair pretty quickly. The moccasins were all sewn with a lock stitch for more strength. Before the leather was handled, tallow and oil were beat into it. It’s a little hard to explain but there’s the general idea of tanning.
*Mr. Grant was born April 28, 1890, in Little Shemogue. He came to Sackville as a youngster and from there, moved to Middle Sackville. He worked at everything from picking strawberries to being the shipper at J.L. Black and Sons.
On behalf of our readership, thank you Margaret Henderson for conducting this interview with Cecil Grant and allowing us to print it in this issue of The White Fence.
Heritage Day 2010 – The Global Village
Heritage Day Breakfast, Antiques Roadshow, and More in Sackville on February 13
Enjoy a hearty breakfast, browse through heritage displays, have your prized antiques appraised and learn about an interesting historical topic. Those are some of the events that await you as the Tantramar Heritage Trust hosts the 14th annual Heritage Day celebrations in Sackville on Saturday February 13, 2010.
The morning session, held at the Tantramar Regional High School, will feature a Heritage Day breakfast (7:30–10:30 am) that annually attracts between 300–350 participants.
Joanne Goodrich and her dedicated crew of volunteers will serve up a wholesome breakfast to start your day — a day in which you have an opportunity to enrich your knowledge of the region’s heritage. Tickets for the breakfast are available at the door or at Trust’s Office at the Boultenhouse Museum on Queens Road.
Displays (located in the alcove off the TRHS cafeteria) will feature exhibits from Fort Beausejour National Historic Site, Westmorland Historical Society, Cumberland County Museum and Archives, Tantramar Heritage Trust, the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame (focusing on the Olympics) and others.
Publications will be available from the Tantramar Heritage Trust and will include the most recent ones: Head of the Bay (second printing), Lord of the Land, Roberts Country — Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and the Tantramar, and Shipbuilding in Westmorland County NB.
Rounding out the morning session at TRHS will be the ever popular “Sackville’s Own Antiques Road Show” (10 a.m. — noon) again organized and emceed by Trust volunteer Ray Dixon. So bring along your treasured family heirloom, tell about your item and have the professional appraisers evaluate your antique. This is a highly educational and entertaining portion of the annual heritage day celebrations so come out and enjoy a great breakfast, browse the displays, chat with fellow heritage enthusiasts and stay on to take in the antiques appraisals — it’s a fun morning.
The venue for the afternoon session is Owens Art Gallery where the program will focus on sports history in the area (tying in with the provincial Heritage Week theme of “The Global Village” and also coinciding with the Olympic games). Commencing at 1:30 pm, Margaret Fancy, Librarian Emerita at Mount Allison University, will officially launch her new database, “The Chignecto Isthmus: Its History and Culture”, with a demonstration of sports-oriented searches. Margaret has been working on compiling this information for several years, and has just recently made it a live link on the Mount Allison Library website.
Steve Ridlington, well known Sackville sports enthusiast, will follow this presentation with “Sackville Sports History: Two Fans and a Top Ten List”, compiled by Steve and Wallie Sears.
The final event of the afternoon will be a presentation by Kip Jackson, “Three Cheers for Old Mount A: A multimedia presentation”, detailing extensive work done by Kip and others on archival materials pertaining to Mount Allison University sports. There will also be a raffle of a beautiful antique tea set donated by Barb Jardine, along with other items. The afternoon is sure to be an entertaining and enlightening experience for all, providing a colourful local context to coincide with the Olympic Games.
For further information or updates (or breakfast or raffle tickets — also available at the door) please call the Tantramar Heritage Trust office 536-2541 or drop in to the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre, 29 Queens Road (open Tuesday to Friday), or visit the Trust’s website,
Heritage Day Volunteers
The Tantramar Heritage Trust salutes the volunteers who have helped make past Heritage Day events successful. We hope we haven’t missed anyone — all volunteer efforts are appreciated. As usual, thank you all for your continuing interest, support and willingness to volunteer your time and assist us. And grateful thanks to Michael Bass for putting together this list.
- Leslie Van Patter
- Eugene and Joanne Goodrich
- Rob Summerby-Murray
- David and Dianne Fullerton
- Pearl Stone
- Meredith Fisher
- Richard and Vivien Sullivan
- Linda Estabrooks
- Eileen and Mitchell Smith
- Ray Dixon
- Blaine and Heather Smith
- Don Colpitts
- Al and Elaine Smith
- Sandy and Wendy Burnett
- Phyllis Stopps
- Barb and Ed Bowes
- Charlie Scobie
- Lorne Booth
- Jean Rawlins
- Mary and Paul Bogaard
- Alan Pooley
- Kim Beale
- Colin MacKinnon
- Michael and Vanessa Bass
- Peter Hicklin
- Scouts and Guides
- Barb Jardine
- Rhianna Edwards
- Marilyn Prescott
- Donna Beal