Well, here it is: issue number 100! It is a special issue for me, not only as editor since our very first newsletter, but one in which significant people of the Tantramar, forgotten over time, are represented. It has been a pleasure for me, via our contributing authors, to bring them to your attention. In Annika’s article on Florence Cook, she points out that many formidable women are forgotten in our history. There is much room in this newsletter to assist in correcting this situation, although some attempts have previously been made, most notably Angela Hersey’s “The Women of the Tantramar Region: A Historical Perspective” (The White Fence #37, December 2007) and Rhianna Edwards’ reminiscences of Charlotte Dixon Hart and Minnie Cogswell (The White Fence #74, 2016). In this issue, Annika’s article about Florence Cook is an attempt to further fill this void and I, for one, am more than happy to help her remedy this situation by ensuring space in this newsletter for future stories about the forgotten women in Tantramar history.
Then we have Richard Snowdon’s fascinating story about a “forgotten champion” – the boy from Middle Sackville who roller-skated to becoming World Champion in 1885. I suggest that you sit in a solid armchair when you read this story – you will need something to grab on to as you read!
We end this issue with Al Smith’s continuing fascination with place names in this part of the world. In this case, we learn of another “champion” for whom a Sackville Street was named.
There is one special volunteer whom we must all thank with great fervour: Leslie Van Patter. Formerly living in Sackville and now in exile in Toronto, Leslie arranges and formats the individual articles to make them fit into this package we call The White Fence. Thanks, Leslie, for your continuing and always enthusiastic support!
Read on, learn and may you enjoy to continue reading the next 100!
The Case of Florence Cook
Uncovering Local Women’s History
by Annika Williams
Women’s stories are often excluded from historical narratives and Sackville history is no different: how do we bring women’s histories to light? Sackville holds archival records and museum artifacts that can illuminate women’s stories. If researchers and historians prioritize women’s narratives by considering evidence of their contributions, then visitors and interested readers can learn about women’s history. As researchers, we must consider what and who we include and exclude when discussing women’s experiences, and it can never be assumed that all women had the same experiences and opportunities. I argue that taking a narrative approach and exploring women’s roles through individual biographical studies allow us to reveal women’s experiences while also bearing in mind that these experiences are filtered through the sociopolitical identity of the woman whose story is being told. In this article I focus on the life and work of Florence (Davis) Cook to draw attention to women’s roles in mid-twentieth century Sackville.
Florence Cook (March 27, 1931 – January 25, 2018) grew up in Sackville where her family ran the Sackville Paper Box Company. The Davis family moved to Sackville in 1908 when her grandfather Azor Wentworth (A.W.) Davis was hired as foreman and eventually became owner of the new Sackville Paper Box Company. By the time Florence was born in 1931, the Company was booming. This success was further cemented with A.W. Davis’s 1937 patented berry box which became one of the best in the industry; the factory workers manufactured 1,000,000 box production runs.1 Florence worked at the Company from her grandfather’s death in 1944 until her father’s retirement and closure of the Company in 1962. In addition to her Company responsibilities, she was a Mount Allison Applied Arts alumna, member of the Sackville United Church and IODE Lord Sackville Chapter and active in the United Church Women’s group. In 1973 she married Harold ‘Hank’ Cook and in the following year they moved into the house he built for them on Main Street and in which they raised their daughter, Margaret. The family ran Cook’s Construction until Harold died in 1999; Florence passed away nearly two decades later in 2018.
The Paper Box Company was one of few local companies that employed a significant number of women throughout its 55 years of operation. A 1913 Sackville Board of Trade publication designed to provide an overview of Sackville businesses notes that the Company has “[a]bout a dozen hands employed and the output for the year 1912 was about $12,000. The majority of the [employees] are girls, who have steady work, good wages, at a clean, healthy trade.”2 The other businesses featured in this publication either refer to the number of men employed or advertise that they are looking to hire good men. When the Sackville Board of Trade writes about these companies with predominantly male employees, they often provide wage totals; yet there is no similar reference made to wages for the Sackville Paper Box Company. Women were not expected to work outside the home in the 1950s and though we do not have records of women’s wages at the Sackville Paper Box Company, it is probable that these women were paid less than the men. The gender pay gap is now recognized as something that needs to be addressed but at that time women were paid less in most workplaces.
Typically, labour intensive jobs such as operating machinery were thought of as ‘men’s work’ and yet that was not the case in this instance. While Florence was working at the factory, she and many other women were responsible for running the machines used to produce the boxes. Florence would drive shipments of boxes to companies in the Cap-Pelé and Shediac areas when they ran out over the weekends. At the time of the Company’s closure in 1962, it employed twenty-seven people of whom over half were women.
While working at the Paper Box Company, Florence took night classes in Applied Arts at Mount Allison University. The Applied Arts program began as part of the Mount Allison Ladies College programming in 1906 and lasted until 1960. Though the Applied Arts stream began in 1906, art was first taught at Mount Allison in 1854 when the women’s branch of the Wesleyan Academy was opened; it was the Mount Allison Ladies College that grew Mount Allison’s reputation as an art and music school.3
Applied Arts study at Mount Allison engaged principles of design to create objects that were both functional and artistic. Mount Allison’s program grew to include courses in leather working, metal working, weaving, basketry, interior design, and embroidery, among other skills.4 Florence studied leather working and tin smithing and although Florence did not apply these skills professionally, she practiced them for many years, creating jewelry and everyday objects for her personal use.
Graduates of the Applied Arts program deployed their craft outside work, like Florence, or as part of their work in a variety of professions. Following the World Wars there was a huge need for occupational therapy and basketry was one of the most common forms. The Mount Allison Applied Arts department had a partnership with the University of Toronto’s Occupational Therapy department that allowed second year Applied Arts students to transfer into its Occupational Therapy department for their clinical experience training.5 The Applied Arts program was a critical part of Mount Allison University, especially for women, and the art created can still be found around Sackville today.6
After the Sackville Paper Box Company’s closure, Florence dedicated her time to the United Church Women. The UCW was formed in 1962 as the successor of the Women’s Missionary Group. She joined the Sackville branch in 1969 and was a member of Unit 2, a subdivision of the larger group, with roughly twenty members where she worked on fundraising. The UCW typically hosted dinners and social events as well as fundraisers to support various causes including a scholarship for graduating TRHS students, Christmas gifts for local families dealing with financial hardships, and church maintenance and business.
After Florence married Harold Cook in 1973, they started Cook’s Construction with Florence as the bookkeeper and secretary, but she continued to dedicate a great deal of time to the UCW. Florence was head of Unit 2 in 1988 and after that remained on the UCW executive in a variety of positions, staying on as leader of the Church in Society for three years from 1992-1995. Over the years Florence organized an annual book sale, clothing drive, and visits to the hospital and Drew Nursing Home.
The UCW were responsible for many outreach projects that benefited their church community and the Sackville community as a whole. One especially important project was a 1997 call for an examination of the role of women in the United Church. The Maritime conference of the UCW which was attended by representatives from Sackville, made a request to the General Council of the United Church that they launch an investigation into women’s roles. Presenters at the conference semi-jokingly offered ‘Unpaid Church Workers’ as an alternative interpretation of the UCW acronym, giving voice to unspoken assumptions that women should work for free.7 The UCW were working on many community and church projects, filling in the gaps where other groups did not have the time or numbers and yet, as women, unpaid labour was expected, necessitating the investigation.
Florence Cook’s story is one of many women’s stories that have gone untold. It highlights the Sackville Paper Box Company, the Mount Allison Applied Arts program, and the United Church Women, three organizations in which women played pivotal roles. The undervalued labour of women, paid and unpaid, has made a huge contribution to Sackville and to all neighboring communities. Bringing to light these untold stories begins to right the imbalance of inherited histories that prioritize men’s stories over those of women. It is important that we keep this imbalance in mind when studying history on all scales, global or local, and seek to correct it.
Much of the information about Florence Cook was generously provided by her daughter Margaret in an interview at the Boultonhouse Heritage Centre in December 2021. Also, I extend my sincere appreciation to Kathy Bouska, Karen Valanne, Dr. Linda Pearse, and the Mount Allison Experiential Learning Department for their assistance and support with this research.
Archival holdings for the United Church Women and Sackville Paper Box Company can be found at the Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters Regional Council Archives and Regional Council 15 and MC-12 A.W. Davis Family fonds at the Tantramar Heritage Trust archives respectively.
Sackville Tribune. UCWs Request Task Force to Review Women’s Roles in the Church, May, 1997.
Smith, Al and Peter Hicklin. The Geographical, Educational and Industrial Center of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. The White Fence no. 25 (May 2004). https://tantramarheritage.ca/2004/05/
Tisdale, Jane, Rachel Thornton, Kealin Lamb, and Judith Friedland. All Things Useful and Artistic: Applied Arts at Mount Allison University 1906-1960. Sackville, NB: Owens Art Gallery (2015).
Ward, Jeff. Those Inventive Sackvillians! The White Fence, no. 57
(May 2012). https://doi.org/https://tantramarheritage.ca/2012/05/white-fence-56/.
1. Jeff Ward, “Those Inventive Sackvillians!,” The White Fence #57 (May 2012), https://doi.org/https://tantramarheritage.ca/2012/05/white-fence-56/.
2. Al Smith and Peter Hicklin, “The Geographical, Educational and Industrial Center of the Maritime Provinces of Canada”, The White Fence #25 (May 2004) https://tantramarheritage.ca/2004/05/white-fence-25/
3. Jane Tisdale, “All Things Useful and Artistic,” in All Things Useful and Artistic: Applied Arts at Mount Allison University 1906-1960 (Sackville, NB: Owens Art Gallery, 2015), 15–24.
4. Tisdale, ibid., page 15.
5. Judith Friedland, “The Melding of Work and the Mending of Spirit,” in All Things Useful and Artistic: Applied Arts at Mount Allison University 1906-1960 (Sackville, NB: Owens Art Gallery, 2015), 25–28.
6. Mount Allison Applied Arts graduates’ work is available to view at the Owens Art Gallery and the St. James Textile Museum.
7. “UCWs Request Task Force to Review Women’s Roles in the Church,” Sackville Tribune, May 1997.
The Forgotten Champion
by Richard Snowdon
What you are about to read here is a fascinating record of achievement by a young Middle Sackville lad who became a world champion in his chosen sport and then quickly faded from memory for all but his family. James Alexander Snowdon was born in 1861, the fifth of the nine children of Gideon Snowdon and Martha Ann Estabrooks who lived just a stones throw from Silver Lake. As a youngster, Alexander, as he was known by his family, spent the winters on Silver Lake and quickly became a proficient long-distance skater. In his early 20s Alexander moved to the Boston area perhaps to live with his sister and likely to seek employment there. With his skating background Alexander became familiar with the sport of roller-skating which was then becoming a popular social activity for the younger population of America and other parts of the world. Rinks, pavilions and stadiums were being erected in all of the larger cities to enable the skaters to enjoy their sport year round.
Early roller skates were a clumsy affair as they were strapped to the footwear of the skater with leather straps and were simply cumbersome. In 1863, inventor James Plimpton introduced a new rocker-style skate with a higher lace up top and the skates were securely fastened to the sole of the boot. Each wheel of the skate contained lubricated roller bearings and a swivel or rocker mechanism that enabled the skaters to lean into turns at full speed with all of the wheels still flat on the skating surface. Being blessed with long, strong legs and with his time on Silver Lake paying The Forgotten Champion off, Alexander became proficient at roller-skating and began to enter long distance races where he achieved success.
He soon became recognized for his skill and qualified to enter a six-days race to be held in the original Madison Square Garden in New York. The promoters advertised the race as being a World Championship event. Long distance roller skate racing was not for the weak or faint of heart. The promoters specified the number of days the contestants must skate, which ranged from 24 hours to as long as six days. Such competitions were called go-as-you-please long distance roller skate racing. In the early years, the competitors would skate as long as physically and mentally possible before stopping for rest and food. The skaters were provided cots or bunks near the track for rest or sleep. Scorers kept a record of the laps completed by each skater that were then converted into miles and recorded on a large blackboard at frequent intervals to enable each skater and the audience to see the positioning of each skater in the race. Following the death of two skaters from exhaustion in an earlier race at MSG and, consequently, a public scolding of the sport, rules were written which specified how long the skaters were allowed to be on the track before they were mandated to stop and rest. Alexander became known as J A Snowden when competing and this name and spelling (Snowdon with an “e” and not an “o” – editor) stuck with him for the duration of his racing career. The race at MSG took place over six days in May 1885. Sports writers for the New York Times covered the race in detail and reported that JA had covered 1,166 miles over the six days while the race favourite, William Boyst of New Jersey covered 1,148 miles for second place. The Times went on to say that Snowden skated a final exhibition round at 10 pm wearing a blouse labeled “Champion Of The World”. They also made reference to JA receiving a bouquet of roses from a “Boston” girl now living in Harlem. For his efforts Alexander received a silver belt valued at $200 along with $200 from his skate manufacturer and a small sum from the gate receipts. Following the MSG race, Alexander returned home to see his family in Sackville. A quote from an undated article written by R Ernest Estabrooks titled “Early residents Of Middle Sackville” goes on to say of himself: “Although only a boy I had the pleasure of meeting him [Alexander] and handling the diamond belt”. In March of 1886 Alexander travelled to Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota, to defend his title in a 48 hour race in both cities. At the Washington Rink JA again defeated Wm Boyst and all other competitors. The photo shown on the next page was taken following this race. His World Championship belt is shown in a case on the floor and a broadside listing his world records is also there.
An additional photo exists showing Alexander in full skating gear with the belt around his waist following his final race in London in 1892. The next defense of his title that is recorded was held at the Mechanics Pavilion in San Francisco in 1891. The San Francisco Call reported that Snowden skated an excellent race and again broke his own world record for a 24-hours race. JA never left the track except for a short break and completed the full 24 hours without sleep. In 1891, the British, in an effort to support their Champion, organized a 50-mile sprint, perhaps thinking that JA would be at a disadvantage at such a short distance. The race was held in April and again JA emerged the winner, defeating Wm Curtis, the British champion, in a head-to-head race. JA was awarded 50 pounds first place prize. A year later the Chignecto Post reported on April 14, 1892, the results of a six-day World Championship race held at Central Hall, just outside London where Snowden the American Champion won the race skating 804 miles, sharing a purse of 875 pounds. Of the fifteen starters only seven finished the race. Some time following the Central Hall race, family lore says that Alexander left Boston by ship to defend his title in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thereafter, nothing is known of Alexander’s life and history. Upon reading his mother’s obituary following her passing at age 94 in 1917 it states that Martha was survived by five of her children, one of which was Alex of Central America. Forward to May 1924 when Alexander’s sister, Frances Sears, passed away: her sibling survivors were listed as Arthur, Amos, and sister Mrs. John Tracy of Boston – no mention of Alexander. One can reasonably assume from this that the family had kept the thought of Alexander as being alive, if only for the emotional support of their mother. No doubt she lived in the hope that one day Alexander would come home. It was never to be… at the time of his disappearance Alexander held the world record times for all of the six races that were classified as long distance as well as for the 50-mile sprint.
As I read the details of the articles used in this writing I learned that all of the competitors in the races aforementioned travelled with “managers” who doubled as trainers, skate repairmen, physiotherapists, or whatever it took to ensure their man was able to focus on skating his best race. The question I kept coming back to was: how could a young man travelling with fellow skaters and support personnel just simply disappear without a trace or a public explanation? Rio, at that time was an absolutely lawless city ruled by gangs and other criminal element. A young man from Boston with some cash in his pocket and a silver belt with a few diamonds embedded in it would be a prime target for misfortune. There are answers to this mystery somewhere. Perhaps more newspaper research and attempting contact with the descendants of Alexander’s sister who lived in Dorchester, Massachussetts, might provide some missing details…. Stay tuned!
What’s in a Name?
by Al Smith
Plans are that “What’s In A Name” will become a regular short column in upcoming issues of The White Fence newsletter. It will focus on the historical background of Sackville street names and other local place names. Since 2022 is the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the first shipload of immigrants from Yorkshire, England, I will initially focus on streets named after some of those early settlers or their descendants.
Charles Street: Residents living on the street named it “Charles Street” in December 1886 in memory of the late Charles Dixon (1803-1864) as Dixon was initially responsible for establishing that street in Sackville. Charles Dixon was the eldest son of Edward and Mary (Smith) Dixon and a grandson of the original Yorkshire settlers Charles Dixon and Susannah (Coates) Dixon whose family arrived on our shores in May, 1772.
Charles Dixon was a carpenter and became a very skilled tradesman. He married Sarah Boultenhouse (1808-1884) in 1827, a younger sister of Christopher Boultenhouse. The couple initially resided in Windsor, Nova Scotia, returning to Sackville in 1831. Dixon was an excellent builder and architect who constructed many homes in Sackville. In 1850, with his business partner Mariner Wood (1806-1875), he established a shipyard at the end of Landing Road. Over the next six years he constructed six large vessels culminating with the launch on September 18, 1856, of the largest ship ever built in Sackville, the 1468 ton Sarah Dixon. That ship was loaded with lumber and sailed to Liverpool, England, and unfortunately sold at a huge loss due to a downturn in the market for sailing ships. That event bankrupted Dixon and ended his shipbuilding days.
Charles Dixon was very active in the community being a magistrate, promoter of temperance and a local preacher in the Methodist Church.
Source: Smith, Allan D., Aboushagan to Zwicker – An Historical Guide to Sackville NB Street Nomenclature. Publication of the Tantramar Heritage Trust (2004).
Tantramar Heritage Trust
Annual General Meeting
Saturday, May 28, 4 pm
Campbell Carriage Factory Museum
19 Church St., Sackville, NB
Rhianna Edwards, “What Arithmetic Copybooks Teach Us About Education in the Early to Mid 1800s.”
Thursday, June 2, 7 pm
Campbell Carriage Factory Museum
Launch of Ron Rudin’s book Against the Tides, a history of the 20 year (1949-1969) operations of the Maritime Marshlands Rehabilitation Administration (MMRA).
Sunday, June 19, 12-5 pm
Official Opening of Campbell Carriage Factory Museum for the summer. Entertainment, games, blacksmithing demonstrations, and the very popular annual Plant Sale.
Friday, July 1, 2-4 pm
Canada Day Social – Boultenhouse Heritage Centre. Join us for games, tours, music, and delicious homemade desserts.
July and August
Make It Workshops – Heritage-themed children’s workshops – details TBA.
July and August
Under the Sky Events – Community events at our museums – details TBA.
Friday, August 12 to Sunday, August 14
Yorkshire 250 Commemoration – Full schedule of events to come. Check our website or Facebook page for details.
Sunday, August 14, 12-5 pm
Heritage Field Day at the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum. Blacksmithing demonstrations, live music, dancing, snacks, artisan demonstrations, tours, and much more.
To keep up with what’s happening at our museums, follow us on Facebook or Instagram (tantramarheritagetrust) or Twitter (@TrustTantramar) or contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be put on our email list.
THT EXHIBITS WORK: CAN YOU HELP?
For our upcoming women’s history exhibit renewal, we’re looking for stories or first-hand accounts, artefacts, documents, and photographs relating to women’s work (both outside and inside the home); social involvement and volunteering and businesses that were run by or employed women. If you have anything to contribute, either as a donation or a loan, please contact Karen at email@example.com or (506) 536-2541.