The White Fence, issue #56

May 2012


Dear friends,

As I have long known since I first walked on the Tantramar marshes and met people of this region, this small part of Canada is full of interesting and innovative people. Jeff Ward has also known this for a long time and over the next few pages, follow Jeff’s account of some of these folks and their accomplishments, from the invention of Berry Boxes to a possible cure for cancer! This special issue begins back in the 1890s with the exploits of Jeff’s “Grandpa Ayer” and extends to the present time with the ongoing work of Soricimed Biopharma Inc. in Sackville. Did you know that the railway snow plow was invented in Sackville? Had you heard about Norman Hesler’s unique bathtub? And can you recall our story of W.B. Fawcett’s highly successful and wide-ranging Sackville strawberry business written up in The White Fence No. 30 in 2005? Well look no further if you have long wanted to know where and when “Berry Boxes” were invented. It’s all right here!!

In The White Fence issue no. 13 (December, 2000), we published a copy of a letter, transcribed by Rhianna Edwards, which had been written in 1851 by Sarah Pride in Dalhousie NB to Lois Estabrooks of Middle Sackville. In that newsletter, Rhianna had asked readers if anyone had any information about Sarah Pride. Eleven years later, Rhianna got an answer… see below.

And then we received this fascinating letter from Don MacNeil of Ottawa who told us about the exploits of his father, a pilot who flew with the Tantramar Air Services based in Amherst. Yes… you heard me correctly… the Tantramar Air Services!?! Furthermore, not only were the stories of these innovative people brought to us by Jeff Ward but one especially interesting letter that we received prior to the completion of this issue was based on Jeff’s publication Head of the Bay. We present this letter to you here, more as a full article than just a piece of correspondence. It fully deserves that treatment! You”ll see what I mean… Thank you Don for this fascinating story of your father and for forwarding this beautiful photo of him, his assistant, and that beautiful craft!

So, from this time on, I will be referring to this most interesting issue of The White Fence as the Jeff Ward issue…


—Peter Hicklin

Grandpa Ayer Had a Harness Shop

by Jeffrey P. Ward

“Grandpa Ayer had a harness shop.” So said my grandmother, Mary Smith Lockhart in August, 1998, less than a month before she died. Born in 1906, she remembered J.R. Ayer clearly, even though he died when she was very young. “He sold shoes” she said, ìand we would take our skates to him to have them sharpened. We loved Grandpa Ayer; he was a real grandfather to us.”

James Ross Ayer had, in fact, been highly successful in his field and was much more than a simple shoe and leather merchant. In his History of Sackville, W.C. Milner states that he was “a very energetic business man; he built up a large manufacturing concern giving employment to many hands. He was the first to introduce the steam engine and boiler into the tanning business. He was the inventor of the tanned oil moccasin which became a standard article of trade all over Canada.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to find evidence of any Ayer patents. By 1895, his operation in Middle Sackville was a very successful business. In a letter to the editor of the Sackville Tribune that year, he said he employed a staff of 175. The Tribune also reported that “J.R. Ayer is moving to his new store in Middle Sackville in time for the Christmas trade” (12 December 1895).

Lucy Black Ayer, first wife of J.R. Ayer

Lucy Black Ayer, first wife of J.R. Ayer

J.R. Ayer was born in 1835, the son of James Ayer and Elizabeth Chase. He married Lucie Black who was born around 1838. They had two daughters, Mabel (born in 1871) and Emma (born about 1878). Lucie died in 1887 at the age of 49. A few years later, James married Annie Ogden. They had two daughters, Mary Marjorie (born in 1894), Doris (1896–1915), and a son, Amos who was born in 1898.

Ayer sold his business to A.E. Wry in 1902 (see The White Fence No. 44) and it carried on for several more decades under the name Standard Manufacturing. Given Mr. Ayer’s prominence in the community, when he died on Valentine’s Day, 1910, remarkably little about his career was told in the Tribune. Of his business, all the paper said was, “Mr. Ayer possessed much native ability and his business enterprise was notable.”

Meanwhile, it reported the details of his passing with more vigor: “James R. Ayer dropped dead at his home in Middle Sackville about half past eleven this morning. A short time before his death he was in the office of the Standard Company where his apparent good health was commented upon. Then he returned home and a little later while in the yard of his property he fell to the ground. When picked up by Mrs. Ayer and one of his employees, Mr. Ayer was beyond help. Medical aid was summoned but it was too late.î Parenthetically, this event was one of Mary Lockhart’s earliest memories.

As she told my cousin James Blight in a recorded interview in 1994, “He fell dead. And I recall Mother calling her maid to come and get me. I didn’t want to leave.” She would have been about four at the time. Ayer”s widow, Annie died in 1938.


When Ayer remarried, it is believed that his daughter Emma became estranged from her father and soon after she fell in love with Aubrey Smith, son of the Mount Allison Professor of Classics, A.D. Smith. The following news item from the November 21, 1895 edition of the Saint John Daily Telegraph tells of their marriage on November 9, 1895.

A Sackville Romance

Society circles in Sackville and Truro are just now discussing a wedding that took place Saturday in Acadia Mines, N.S. The bride Miss Emma Ayer, is a daughter of Mr. James R. Ayer, of Sackville, and the groom Mr. Aubrey Smith, son of Prof. Smith of Mount Allison institution, Sackville. He has held a clerkship in the Merchants Bank of Halifax agency at Truro. The young couple had been lovers for a long time. On Saturday Miss Ayer left her home, telling her parents she was going to Dorchester and would return in the evening. She did not get back until Monday and enquiry showed that she had gone to Acadia Mines and had there been married to Mr. Smith. The intention of the young couple was to keep the affair quiet for a year or two, until the groom was in receipt of the salary which banks require clerks to have before marriage is permitted. The facts leaking out rendered it necessary for him to resign his position, which he did at once. Mrs. Smith is now at her father’s home and her husband is in Truro, her father having declined to receive him.

Fortunately, the animosity caused by the dramatic elopement was not long-lived. Aubrey Smith soon became an employee in the Ayer family business and he worked as a commercial traveller for most of his career, selling products for his father-in-law and later for Joseph L. Black & Sons.

Those inventive Sackvillians!

by Jeff Ward

After Bill Snowden’s article about the inventor Charles Barnes in last issue of The White Fence (no. 54), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what other inventions might have come out of Sackville over the years. As a university town, you might expect Sackville to be full of inventive types and technological innovation. But Mount Alison is not a technical university; it is mainly an arts university, and most professors and students are more interested in abstract ideas than concrete ones. There is a chemistry department, which has generated some patents, but while you could probably document a whole library of books and papers coming out of Mount Alison over the past century and a half, you will find fairly few inventions stemming from the university itself. Instead, it is elsewhere in the town that the technical innovations have tended to occur. And Sackville had many, it turns out, mundane though some of them might seem today. Indeed the most fertile source of ideas seems to have been the Fawcett Foundry, which produced stoves, furnaces and plumbing fixtures for many years. It is these products for which the most frequent innovations seem to have occurred.

In this article, I will enumerate some of the many patents that were granted by Canadian and US patent offices. All the numbers below are US, though usually there was also a corresponding Canadian patent. The list I present does not pretend to be exhaustive; rather it tries to cover the breadth of patents from the distant to the very recent past. Presented chronologically, it provides an interesting view of the changing technological perspective within the town, and society in general, over time. I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Al Smith, who provided the information about Azor Wentworth Davis and his Berry Box.

Type-Carrying Belt for Addressing Machines (Patent No. 870,778), patent granted to Frank Allison Harrison, on November 12, 1907. In the days when typesetting was carried out by hand, any innovation to simplify the chore was welcomed. Frank Harrison developed this innovation to simplify the repetitive task of adding addresses to printed materials, in this case, no doubt, the Tribune.

Railway Snow Clearing Machine (Patent No. 924,902) awarded to Frederick Clinton Harris on June 15, 1909. This was an improvement on the railway snow clearing machine pushed in front of an engine to clear snow from the railroad track. The device was essentially a pair of adjustable deflectors mounted to the side of the machine to widen the cut. The adjustable nature of the device allowed it to be retracted when passing a narrowing up of the passage, as at a bridge. Mr. Harris (1851–1927) was identified in Cyrus Black’s family genealogy as having been at one time a mechanical superintendent at the Peters Combination Lock Company in Moncton. He was married to Emily Crane Chapman, daughter of the barrister Thomas Carter Chapman.

Oscillation Generator (Patent No. 1,624,537) applied for on February 1,1918, and patent obtained on April 2, 1927, by Edwin Henry Colpitts of Point de Bute. This was an electrical circuit he devised for broadcasting radio signals on a specific frequency. It is part of a large family of oscillators, many of which are named after their inventors. To this day, the circuit he designed is known as the Colpitts Oscillitator and patents are still being filed which improve upon and expand the functionality of this invention. The Colpitts Oscillitator remains popular due to its simplicity. Born in 1872, Colpitts attended Mount Allison University and later studied physics and mathematics at Harvard. He worked for Bell Laboratories and in 1907 joined Western Electric. Between 1900 and 1920, he filed about 20 patents either alone or with others. Colpitts spent his entire career in the US, becoming a US citizen, and achieving the position of vice-president of Bell Labs, but after his death his body was returned to Canada where it was interred in Point de Bute cemetery.

Design for a Bathtub (Patent No. D93716) obtained by Norman Hesler on October 30, 1934. This is a design patent featuring hand grips at the midpoint of a bathtub. A very practical design, it is interesting because the patent was cited in 1982 in an American Standard patent and by several others subsequently as this style of tub became trendy at that time! Dr. Hesler was president and managing director of Enamel and Heating Products Ltd. (Enheat). Phyllis Stopps notes in her historical walking tour of Sackville that Hesler was also the Mayor of Sackville for four terms and the first president of the Sackville Rotary Club, founded in 1931. He lived at 42 York Street.

Hesler tub

Pipeless Furnace (Patent No. 1,520,900) obtained by Louis Wheitzel Daman on December 20, 1924. This was an important improvement to the home furnace, which eliminated pipes at the top of the furnace and effectively allowed it to push air directly into the living space from the basement. It had a grill in the floor, and as Mario Theriault wrote, “Many a child lost marbles and crayons through the openings of the large floor grill.” Mr. Daman was probably of German birth and he was likely employed as a designer by the Fawcett foundry. Previously, in 1907, Mr. Daman had obtained a patent for a type of flask used in foundries for molding and casting objects. By 1930 he was living in Outremont, Quebec where he continued to make improvements in the field of home comfort technologies.

Berry Box (Canadian Patent #377240) was issued Oct. 18, 1938 to Azor Wentworth Davis (1862–1944), the owner and operator of the Sackville Paper Box Company Limited. The patent was for an improved one quart berry box container. Cut out of a single piece of waxed cardboard, then folded and stapled, the container was considered to be one of the best in the industry for its construction, appearance and rigidity. Production runs at the factory ran over 1,000,000 boxes as it was widely used in the wild blueberry industry. The Sackville Paper Box Factory opened in Sackville in January 1907 in a three story building originally built as a carriage factory. For many years it housed Sackville Home Hardware and is presently the home of Mr. Movie, Downtown Digital and Black Bowser Comics. Originally equipped with modern machinery, the factory produced a wide variety of boxes for Ganong Brothers, T. Eaton Co., LaSalle Confectionery of Shediac and a number of other prominent businesses. The business closed in the early 1960s. A small display on the business and a copy of the original patent document can be seen in the Merchants & Manufacturers Room at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre in Sackville.

Berry box

Automatic Control for Aircraft Equipment (Patent No. 2,342,184) awarded to Charles C. Fawcett on February 22, 1944. Interestingly, the patent application was filed on May 20, 1940, but it was not awarded for more than three years. By that time, the recipient was dead. Charles Cavour Fawcett was a Lieutenant in the Canadian Navy during World War II when the corvette he was serving aboard was torpedoed at sea. He and the rest of the crew perished. Before the war, he was a naval designer and an avid aviator. (See Al Smith’s interesting article on Mr. Fawcett in The White Fence No. 48) It was likely while Fawcett was working with the Canadian Vickers Co. in Montreal that he developed this device to control “in response to the true airspeed of the craft or its altitude, equipment which the pilot customarily operates manually.” The invention was intended to come into play during takeoff and landing when operational complexity is greatest. The patent was cited as recently as 1976 when the Boeing Company found it helpful in filing their patent on an engine control system for STOL aircraft.

Sill Kit Assembly (Patent No. 4,156,325), patent obtained by Gerald W. McMullen of Sackville and Harold Upham and Edgar Edgett, both of Moncton on May 29, 1979. The invention features adjustable extruded aluminum wedges attached to the exterior door sill and the door that “align the crown of the sill with the bottom wedge of the door”, thus providing a better seal when the door is closed. The patent was obtained at a time when Canada was leading the way in innovation in home design for northern climates, a role it still excels in.

Underground reinforced soil/metal structures (Patent No. 6,050,746), patent granted to Michael W. Wilson on April 18, 2000. This is a method for filling soil around and over a corrugated steel culvert as a low cost alternative to building concrete bridges, especially in remote areas where concrete is difficult or costly to obtain. The technique uses layered soil reinforcements to provide a stable finished condition and to reduce the tendency of the soil to crush the steel culvert. This is one of several patents owned by Mr. Wilson who is president of the AIL Group (Atlantic Industries Limited) of Dorchester Cape.

Drip Counter (Patent No. 7,414,255) Associate Professor of Chemistry at Mount Allison, William Alexander Whitla was co-recipient of this patent issued on August 19, 2008 for a device that uses light-emitting diodes to accurately count liquid droplets over a specific period of time. The drop is an important quantity in experimental chemistry.

Antibodies to a Paralytic Peptide (Patent No. 7,745,588) granted to John M. Stewart and others on June 29, 2010. This is one of several recent patents obtained by Prof. Stewart based on his discovery and development of the peptide soricidin, derived from shrew venom. His company, Soricimed Biopharma Inc. (formerly BioProspecting NB Inc.) is developing the peptide for use as a cancer treatment, in neuromuscular therapy and as an insecticide. The peptide works by reducing cancer cell viability and volume. Soricimed’s laboratory is located in Sackville.

And there were other inventions and technological innovations from the area. In Head of the Bay, my book about the Maringouin Peninsula, I wrote about the Joggins Boat, an innovation in boat technology particularly suited to the production of grindstones in the Upper Bay of Fundy region. Designed like a dory on steroids and strong enough to withstand the weight of one ton of rock, its origins are lost in the mists of time. If anyone has a photo of this boat, many people would be pleased to see it! Another old design is the dyking spade, adapted from French and English antecedents and which Colin MacKinnon wrote about in The White Fence nos. 23 and 32. Colin also wrote about the ingenious marsh boat in The White Fence no. 43.


It is one thing to invent; it is another to patent. Simply stated, we apply for a patent to protect our ideas and to ensure that if others use them, we get proper credit and presumably a fee. It takes time and expense to get that protection, as the inventors must wait for the patent office to search other patents already on file to ensure it is a true innovation. But patent protection is not forever. Once a patent expires, if it has not been renewed it enters the public domain.

Sackville and the War of 1812–14

By Al Smith

On June 18, 2012 we will mark the 200th Anniversary of the declaration of war by the US Congress on Britain and its Colonies. Recently I have been asked by several members of the Trust if Sackville was in any way impacted by the War of 1812-14. It is a difficult question to answer as very little documentation is available.

Fort Cumberland (Beauséjour) was still an active military establishment but did not see any military engagement during the war. However, with the outbreak of war, privateering was rampant in the Bay of Fundy and that did apparently impact Sackville interests. Joshua M. Smith fully explores the naval war of 1812 in his book Battle for the Bay1 but the focus of that book is mainly on the region of Saint John and the western part of the Bay. According to Frederick William Wallace in his book Wooden Ships and Iron Men2 “Duncan Shaw was an early shipbuilder at Sackville, and built two vessels which were captured by American privateers during the war of 1812”. There was a Scotsman by the name of Duncan Shaw living in Sackville in the early 1800s but the shipping registers do not record the builders of most of the early vessels. However, if Wallace is correct, the two vessels in question were likely the 138 ton brigantine Rover built in 1811 and the 133 ton brig Susannah & Jane built in 1813. The shipping register specifically states the Susannah & Jane was “destroyed by enemy action in 1814.”3

Another case of plundering by privateers was reported by Sackville’s Frederick Jonah: “During the war of 1812 Commodore Ayer appeared on the Tantramar with an armed schooner and sacked the Dixon homestead. This was said to be wipe off an old feud between the Ayers and the Dixons which sprung up during the Eddy Rebellion of 1776”.4 It is difficult to say how accurate this statement is as Jonah does not give the source of his information. However, there was an individual named Elijah Ayer Jr., better known as Commodore Ayer, living in the area at that time who was the son of one of the 1776 rebel leaders Elijah Ayer Sr. Elijah Jr. married a daughter of Sackville’s Samuel and Thankful Hicks as did the son of Jonathan Eddy — the 1776 rebel commander. So clearly Ayer had strong connections to Sackville and likely also allegiance to the Americans.

Elijah Ayer is recorded to have constructed vessels, initially at Dorchester Island after he purchased the Island from Amos Botsford5 and possibly later at Sackville or Westcock. In 1807 he built the 113 ton schooner Dolphin and it was likely that vessel that he converted to an armed privateer. W.C. Milner also mentions that Commodore Ayer “was busy privateering”6 in 1812. So possibly Ayer did plunder the Dixon household but it seems strange that no mention is made of that in James D. Dixon’s 1891 book on the Dixon family.


  1. Smith, Joshua M, Battle for the Bay, NB Military Heritage Series Vol. 17, 2011, Goose Lane Editions
  2. Wallace, Frederick William, Wooden Ships and Iron Men, page 23, White Lion Publishers, 1973
  3. Armour, Charles A., Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, page 113, Tantramar Heritage Trust, 2008
  4. Jonah, F.C., “Early History of Sackville” in The Tantramar, Vol. 1 #5 published by the Sackville High School Association
  5. Bowser, Reg. B. Dorchester Island and Related Areas, 1986
  6. Milner, W.C., History of Sackville, N.B., Tribune Press Ltd. 1934



A cousin of my mother’s, Jean Cole of Sackville, sent us a clipping from the book entitled: “Head of the Bay” by Jeffery P. Ward. In it Ward describes what is thought to be the first mercy flight into the Maringouin Peninsula by aircraft (see below -ed.). This flight was conducted by my father, John A. MacNeil, co-owner of Tantramar Air Services of Amherst, N.S. We were very pleased to see this documented as it has been many years since I last remember my Dad talk about flights like this one. Your readers might like to know what happened to my Dad and his business so the following is a brief summary.

It was a struggle to keeping a fledgling air services business going after the war and eventually economic conditions led to Dad and his partner, Wally Allen of Amherst, going out of business. Dad re-enlisted in the RCAF having served as a photo reconnaissance pilot during the war flying the famous deHavilland Mosquito. Dad stayed in the RCAF for several years first flying Lancaster bombers with the Air Navigation School in Summerside, PEI, and then as a personnel selection officer in London, Ontario, where he sat on a panel with other officers and doctors to select personnel for officer commissions in the RCAF. At this time he also flew P-51 Mustang fighters from California to RCAF reserve squadrons in Canada. In the early 50’s, the RCAF let him go and he then enlisted as a helicopter pilot with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). With the RCN he flew helicopters, fixed wing transports and fighter aircraft such as the Sea Fury T-33 jet trainer. He was also assigned to be the Officer in charge of an air detachment which operated three helicopters off HMCS Labrador, Canada’s only ice breaker to serve in the RCN during arctic exploration work in the summer of 1956. He then went on to do the first flight trials of the first flight deck to be mounted on a Canadian warship other than HMCS Labrador. These trials were conducted using an experimental flight deck mounted on the Canadian frigate, HMCS Buckingham. This lead to flight decks being added to Canadian destroyers in order to operate the new helicopter of the time, the venerable Sea King (50 years old next year).

The RCN also decided to not give my Dad a permanent commission and offered him a much more attractive position in civilian life as the first Canadian Test Pilot for Canadian Pratt & Whitney. He left the RCN in 1956 to take up this new position in Montreal. Over the next 30 years he would grow Pratt’s flight operations department from himself as their only test pilot to an operation consisting of six pilots, office and maintenance staff who under his management were engaged in helicopter flight test work, corporate executive transport and experimental engine flight test operations.

I would have liked to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career as a pilot as well but a colour deficit put an end to that dream. However, our son is a fighter pilot in the RCAF, following his grandfather’s career path.

Attached is a photo of my Dad taken at the time of the mercy flight article in Mr. Ward’s book. Dad was a twenty-two years old at the time with what would be in today’s dollars a quarter of a million dollar business investment in aircraft, hangar, office equipment and aircraft maintenance tools and equipment.


Don MacNeil, Ottawa, ON

Quotation on the Maringouin Peninsula Rescue from “Head of the Bay” by Jeffrey P. Ward:

“One of the other doctors who made house calls on the peninsula was Dr. W.E. Hirtle, partner in the Sackville Medical Centre. He went to Rockport one wintry day in February 1948 to attend Herbert Tower who was ailing. Driving as far as Wood Point and travelling the rest of the way by sleigh. While at the Tower home he learned from Mr. Tower and his wife that their granddaughter in Johnson’s Mills was not well. Rather than travel to Johnson’s Mills and risk being storm stayed he returned home to Sackville.

There he made arrangements with John A. MacNeil of Tantramar Air Services who agreed to fly the doctor down the peninsula the next day. The weather was by now fine and the flight was uneventful. Equipped with skis, the plane landed in a field owned by Edith L Read, just a mile or two away from his destination. From there, the doctor got a lift by sleigh to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Laurie Smith, parents of the ailing child. After helping with their infant, he was returned to the plane and was back home before the afternoon was out. The newspapers touted this as the first mercy flight to the peninsula. There is as far as I know, no evidence of any similar flights.”

Pilot John A. MacNeil, owner of Tantramar Air Services

Pilot John A. MacNeil, owner of Tantramar Air Services

Update on the Sarah Pride letter

In Issue #13 of The White Fence (December, 2000) was published a letter that I had transcribed, the original of which is in the family archives of Barb Campbell. The original letter was dated 27 June, 1851, and was written to Lois Estabrooks of Middle Sackville; Lois later married George Campbell, owner of the Campbell Carriage Factory. The letter was from Lois’ friend Sarah Pride and she mailed it from Dalhousie, NB. Sarah and her family had recently travelled from Sackville to settle in the Dalhousie area and her letter is a delightful description of the trip and her first impressions of the place she would call home. The 1851 New Brunswick census return captures the Pride family shortly after their arrival in Dalhousie.

At the time of publication, I did not know who Sarah Pride was and I asked that if anyone had any information about her to please contact me. Fast forward 11 years and Bill Snowdon was reading back issues of The White Fence. He came across the transcription and contacted me because he could help solve the mystery. He provided information about Sarah, her family, and some of the people she mentioned in the letter.

Sarah Pride was the 19 year old daughter of Ann (née Barnes) and William Pride. William Pride was a blacksmith from Minudie, NS, and Ann Barnes was from Wood Point, NB. After marrying, they lived in Amherst Point, NS, and later in Minudie. For some reason, in the summer of 1850, they pulled up stakes and with their eight children moved to northern New Brunswick. They were accompanied on the trip by at least two other families, that of Rebecca and William Boultenhouse (shipbuilder) of Wood Point, and Sarah and John Bent of Sackville, NB. Bill Snowdon’s research was able to provide the link between the families: Ann, Rebecca and Sarah were sisters, daughters of Lucretia and Oliver Barnes of Wood Point. The Charlotte mentioned in the letter was probably Rebecca and William Boultenhouse’s 22 year old daughter.

Initially the Pride family was to settle in Escuminac, across the Chaleur Bay in present-day Quebec. The route described by Sarah makes it clear that she was not talking about Escuminac, NB. Sarah said in her letter that she went over to “Escuminac, our future home” and she found it to be a lovely place with a lovely river running down the mountain. But this must have fallen through because the family eventually settled in Jacquet River (Durham), NB.

There are still some mysteries. Who were Deborah Price? Uncle and Adebabe Biggs? And Thomas Carret? In fact, who was Submit Ayer, the co-recipient of the letter? I’ve checked the 1851 census for all of the above and so far haven’t found them. So, once again, if anyone has any information about these mystery people, I would be glad to hear about from you.

Rhianna Edwards or 506-364-0011