"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Coming and Going, Travellers

It is a truism among folks in Great Village among most Nova Scotians that as much as they are content to stay at home, as dear as home is, so too are they eager to travel, to see the world and all its strange sights. There are folks in the village who have lived here their whole lives, never venturing beyond Truro or Parrsboro (they are just as content for that); and there are many folks who have travelled to far places to settle or just to visit; there are new folks who have recently arrived and plan to make Great Village their home; and always there are stranger passing through. Across Canada and the United States, especially the “Boston States,” Great Villagers and Nova Scotians are to be found in many communities. Sit outside the post office any day in the summer and you will see a pretty large slice of the world go by.

Great Village wharf

No one around here is surprised by all this activity and mobility. People have been coming and going as far back as anyone can remember. Certainly John M. Blaikie can attest to this toing and froing because the wonderful ships he built were responsible for many neighbours and strangers crossing paths on the Great Village wharf. From the earliest days of settlement Great Village was a port: the Port of Londonderry. While lumber and potatoes, fine china and bolts of silk or flannel were the principal cargoes, the ships also carried folks to and from this shore. The port was a direct link to the world, especially in the mid-19th century, when land travel was still arduous. When the railroad finally threaded its way from Halifax to Montreal (indeed, by the late 1870s it spanned the entire Dominion), this mode of transportation began to replace sailing ships as the principal means to leave and arrive. Londonderry Station is one of the busiest spots in the county, often rivalling market day in Truro the hustle and bustle of passengers and freight keeps the truckmen and Mr. Albion Kent’s “Ferry” busy.

More and more automobiles are seen chugging out to the station. They are also seen along all the roads these days. What is still a bit of a surprise is to see a strange automobile arrive at the Elmonte House and to hear that the driver has motored all the way from Fredericton or even Boston! Such journeys are becoming more regular, and many villagers have themselves taken up motoring and long distance trips with enthusiasm; but still most folks prefer to take the train. Some have suggested that after the war a person will be able to get from Truro to Halifax by airplane! That is something most villagers find hard to believe.

With the arrival of the cross-Canada railroad in the late 19th century, which opened up the West, Easterners, including many young men from Great Village, headed off every August on the Harvest Excursions. A special train travels from Halifax, picking up excursionists all along the route. Late in October and early November these young men arrive back home with cash in their pockets, having worked hard, seen this vast Dominion, and met all manner of people. The harvest excursion this year will not see as many young men head off, for they have already departed, or will soon depart, on a more dangerous excursion overseas. The war is taking many of our lads on their first journey. Watching the young men set out on their travels (first to Truro, then to Aldershot or Valcartier, then to England and France), produces mixed emotions among those who wave goodbye: pride in their willingness to do their duty, admiration for their bravery; but already many of them have left never to return, so that watching them depart there is a shadow on many hearts, especially of mothers, sisters and wives.

 Steamships and Railroads, Yarmouth, N.S., 1910

The absence of these young men is keenly felt in the village, but it is, after all, June 21, the first day of summer, and the tourist season is already well underway. This means a steady stream of folks passing through or pausing to enjoy the beautiful views and pleasant weather. The Elmonte House is always busy (for one thing, it has a large regular clientele of travelling salesmen), but in the summer it is positively hectic. Mrs. Smith hires on several extra fellows to help her out in the livery stables, and young ladies to help out in the kitchen and restaurant. There has been a fine hotel in the village since the mid-1800s. Being such a pretty spot on the busy Post Road, which runs along the shore from Truro to Amherst, Great Village has naturally been a stopping place for all kinds of travellers. The Londonderry Hotel was, and now the Elmonte House is a fine establishment the latter’s good reputation extending well past Nova Scotia's border, that tourists come to the village just to experience its amenities: fine service and a fine setting make the Elmonte a popular spot.

Summer also brings home all those villagers who have left and settled elsewhere, but who still have family and friends here. For decades Great Villagers have gone off to further their education or find work; they have settled in far flung places one of the places most frequently chosen is New England, especially Massachusetts. Every summer these teachers, nurses, factory workers, accountants, clerks, doctors, lawyers and musicians return to visit their old haunts. This summer migration has been happening for as long as anyone can remember. And this summer folks expect an even busier time. With the news of the war filling the front pages of every newspaper, ex-villagers want to reconnect with family and friends. Visiting Great Village is a tonic at any time, but in war time it is even more comforting to the extensive diaspora.

Just as the scattered flock of villagers return home in the summer, for a few weeks’ or months’ vacation, so too do villagers themselves head off on vacation. The reverse is often the case here, villagers head to Boston or New York to spend a few weeks with family or friends in the “big city.” Combine all this long distance migration with the daily toing and froing, and the bustle is quite something to see. Looked at from a distance, on a summer day, the village is like a bee hive, people constantly coming and going. The hum is amazing.

The village hosts guests for many reasons. Lecturers, musicians and travelling theatre companies often pass through. Sunday School Conventions and Teachers’ Institutes are regularly held here, bringing teachers from across the province. The many societies in the village also bring in visitors, sometimes in large numbers, from near and far: the Masons, the I.O.O.F., the Foresters, the Sons of Temperance, the W.C.T.U., and the Mission Bands all have district or provincial meetings in Great Village. One and all enjoy the village so much that it is anticipated many more such gatherings will be set for the months and years to come. It is hard to keep track of everyone appearing and disappearing!

Some journeys though are not lively vacations, purposeful business or acts of patriotic duty. The early morning wagon ride of William Bulmer and his daughters Gertrude and Grace is a solemn one. Their wagon trundles through the village stirring into another busy day. They head out to Londonderry Station. The train which stops to drop off and pick up passengers carries the sisters to a sombre appointment in Halifax. Every traveller has a story, and the people come and go in Great Village carrying their stories with them. Some people want to return, some don’t, some never do whether they want to or not. William Bulmer arrives back in the village as the sun is getting hot overhead. He knows what it is like to travel long distances. He remembers his long-ago trek across the Cobequid Mountains when he was a lad. He did that on foot. He remembers his sojourn in Pennsylvania before deciding finally to settle in Great Village. He never regretted that decision. He has watched his daughters go off to the Boston States and build lives for themselves. He has welcomed their return visits. Today he hopes that his dear Gertie will soon journey back home again, well and happy. In the afternoon he climbs aboard Arthur’s wagon and rides out to Glenholme with him, to help install a furnace. This trip has nothing attached to it except practicality, but he likes spending time with Arthur and the young lads who come along.

Several times a week, the columnist for Great Village gives an account of the doings in the village in the Truro Daily News. In the summer the comings and goings of friends and family fill this column. The lists have already started to grow, but Gertrude Bishop’s departure is not noted:

Newsy Notes from Great Village (Truro Daily News):
Mrs. George MacLellan and daughter Annie of Five Islands have been visiting Mrs. Bamford Johnson for a few days. Miss Annie left on Thursday for Calgary where she will make an extensive visit there with relatives.
Mr. and Mrs. Newton, Somerville, Mass., are visiting the latter’s parents Mr. and Mrs. David Spencer.
Miss Adela Fulton of Boston is visiting with friends and relatives in our village.
Miss Lula Creelman of Ottawa is the guest of her cousin Miss Belle Hill.
Mr. Cameron of the firm A.C. Cameron, Amherst, spent Sunday with Mr. and Mrs. Angus Johnson.
Mrs. Tupper of Willow Street, Truro, is visiting her daughter Mrs. Garnet.
Mrs. Horace Cummings and young son Robert of Chelsea, Mass., are visiting the former's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albion Kent.
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Mahon and family are spending a few days at the home of Mr. Mahon’s parents, Capt. and Mrs. J.A. Mahon.
Mrs. Charles Neal and daughter Ruth of Revere, Mass., are visiting Mrs. Neal's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Peppard.
Mr. Roy Spencer is home from the West for a vacation.
Mrs. Kent, who spent a few days with her son, W.W. Bowers, returned to Dartmouth last week.
Miss Aggie Spencer, who has been teaching in Vancouver, is spending her vacation with her mother, Mrs. Carrie Spencer.
Mrs. Dr. Johnson returned home last week after visiting in Tatamagouche for some weeks.
Miss Clara Kent of the firm L.C. Layton & Co., is having her vacation.
Miss Florence Johnson of the Amherst Boot and Shoe Co., has returned to Amherst after having spent two weeks with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Angus Johnson.
Mrs. Douglas of New York is visiting at the home of Mr. And Mrs. William Smith.
Little Miss Hazel MacDonald of Pictou is spending her summer holidays with her grandmother, Mrs. Louisa Corbett.
Pte. Frank Peppard, who was home visiting his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Peppard, “The Willows,” has returned to his duties at Valcartier, Quebec.
Mrs. J.G Millward (née Miss Alice Corbett) is home from the States with her daughter Mary, and is visiting her mother Mrs. L.D. Corbett.

And so it goes, back and forth like a weaver's shuttle. Great Village is a departure and a destination, like countless other communities in Nova Scotia, and across this wide Dominion. Time is a tide which takes people away and brings them home.

1 comment:

  1. Sandra, this is all quite fascinating! I think the newsy notes are brilliant! Now that I have the time I can see I am going to be a regular reader. Delightful. Best Regards TT.