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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From our correspondent in Canberra, Australia

On 25 February 2012, The Canberra Times, in Australia, published “At Home with Elizabeth Bishop,” by Moya Pacey. This piece was adapted from Moya’s “First Encounter,” which was posted here a short time ago. Moya scanned the page of the Times and sent it to me. When I asked her if I could post the photos, she said yes. It is delightful to see Bishop’s Nova Scotia making a bit of a splash “down under” – to know that Great Village and Nova Scotia’s EB100 celebrations are remembered so fondly by Moya, who was involved in the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Arts Festival in August 2011 – indeed, she is the winner in the Adult Category of the writing competition. Moya was such an engaged participant in the festival that she established her place firmly in the hearts of all who meet her. I was delighted that she felt compelled to share her Nova Scotia/Elizabeth Bishop experience with her family, friends and neighbours in Canberra. You are welcome back any time, Moya!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Bard of Great Village and the Christophian Literary Society

Or cold night winds that blow from yonder bay ─
All’s silent here:─o’er head is God’s profound.
Out through the trees
Home-lights flare forth; inside are families ─
Their day’s work done ─ within the ingle’s glow.

Rev. A.L. Fraser

The love of music and theatre in Great Village speaks to another passion of its residents: literature. Mrs. T.D. Blaikie’s library in the Masonic Hall is patronized with such regularity by young and old that her nominal lending fee raises quite a bit of money for the Mission Band. Her collection of books comprises the great Romantics and Victorians, as well as the classics from Shakespeare to Spencer, even some Blake. Of an evening, if you peek in the parlours of Great Village homes, you will as easily find someone reading Tennyson as the Bible or the newspaper....

And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ’tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott....

Villagers have long been keen about education beyond the basic 3Rs. From the time they enter primary, the village children begin to memorize the mighty poems of the British Empire. Over the years the thriving schools have succeeded in instilling an interest in and love of poetry and prose of the highest standard. When the young people graduate their minds are filled with verses and epigraphs ─ whether they can recite them or not. Remarkably, many keep the lilting iambic pentameters of Keats or Mrs. Browning at the ready for years.

The devotion to literature reached a pinnacle in Great Village during the past decade with the formation of the Christophian Literary Society. As with many other activities in the village, the war has diverted attention away from this society, but its memory and influence is still lively. Even if people must turn their thoughts and hands to more practical activities, the need for literature does not diminish during dark times, indeed it can be argued that the comfort and inspiration of art is more important than ever. Most social gatherings, concerts and ceremonies in the village continue to include recitation of poems and stories as surely as they do music.

Folks here still regard Rev. Alexander Louis Fraser as the Bard of Great Village.(1) Though Rev. Fraser left the Village in 1914, he continues to visit in the summers and on occasion some of the former members of the Christophian Literary Society gather with him for an evening of Milton or Dante. Rev. Fraser and his family are expected to return for a few week’s visit in August. Many are hoping he will do a service or two, as Rev. Gillespie will be away on his vacation, and hope, too, that he will host a few literary soirees.

Rev. Fraser took charge of the Presbyterian church in 1905, replacing Rev. J.W.M. Crawford, who had served since 1901. Rev. Fraser arrived to find the Christophian Literary Society well underway. He fit right in being a distinguished poet and man of letters in his own right, with many poems published in literary magazines across Canada. A few years after settling down in the village he published his first volume of poems, Sonnets, and other verses, and has been steadily bringing them out ever since. Rev. and Mrs. Crawford had been involved in the formation of the Literary Society, but under Rev. Fraser it, not surprisingly, flourished.

One of the liveliest activities Rev. Fraser contributed to was the inauguration of “Burns’ Night,” a celebration of Robert Burns’s birthday in January. Under his guidance, this event was grand indeed. Since Rev. Fraser left and the war began, these nights have fallen off; but villagers hope that when the war is over “Burns’ Night” can be reinstated.(2)

Robert Burns

Villagers still remember one of the grandest “Burns’ Nights” of them all, the first one in 1910. The Truro Daily News gave it a full description in its columns on February 2:

“A Burns’ Night at Great Village” — The regular meeting of the Literary society being due to occur on the 25th inst., and that date being the anniversary of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robbie Burns, it was decided to deviate from the usual course and celebrate the occasion by a public evening’s entertainment in honor of that illustrious bard. Accordingly, at 8 p.m., on Tues. the Town Hall was filled to overflowing with an expectant and somewhat enthusiastic audience, from this and adjoining villages as a “Burns’ night” is a new departure from what has hitherto been observed in our town. The meeting being called to order by the chairman, Rev. A.L. Fraser, President of the Society, two solid hours of genuine pleasure was afforded by a well directed and efficient body of entertainers, when the following program was carried out:

Scotch National Anthem — “Scots Wha’ Ha” (chorus & violins)
Life of Burns — Mrs. W.G. Blaikie
“Hundred Pipers” — (violins)
“My Love is like a red, red Rose” — (violins)
“Coming thru the Rye” — (solo & violins)
Address on Burns — Rev. A.L. Fraser
“Bonnie Doon” — (chorus & violins)
“John Anderson my Jo’ John” — (violins)
“Afton Waters” — (solo & violins)
Reading selection from Burns, Mr. Brownie (Scotsman)
Reading selection from Burns, Mrs. L.C. Layton
“Here’s a health to one I love, dear” — (solo & violins)
“Will ye na’ come back again” — (violins)
“O wert thou in the cauld blast” — (Duet & violins)
“My love she’s but a Lassie yet” — (violin duet)
Imitation bagpipes (violins — Dr. & Mrs. Doherty)
“Auld Lang Syne” — (closing — chorus & violins)

Two gentlemen direct from the heather were present, Mr. Brownie, referred to above, and Rev. McKendrick, of Economy, who faced the inclement weather to be present, and who in the course of a few remarks, stated that he had never yet failed to be present at a Burns celebration, and it afforded him pleasure to attend here by special invitation.

A vote of thanks was tendered to Miss Morris, violinist, of Londonderry, and also to Miss Abby Spencer and others, including the orchestra, for their generous assistance.

Miss Annie Gould presided at the organ. The violinists included Dr. and Mrs. Doherty, Mrs. D.W. Blaikie, Misses Winnie Morris, Belle Chisholm and Hattie Carter. The soloists, Misses Abby Spencer, Annie Moraesh and Maggie Chisholm.

Whilst leaving the hall the idea suddenly occurred to Mr. Aubrey Smith, of Londonderry, that Great Village had a really truly living poet, in the person of Rev. A.L. Fraser, author of “Songs and Sonnets,” and other poems (the latest being part of his address on “Burns” in poetry, which we hope will be reproduced in print), where upon three cheers for “Our Poet” were called upon for by Mr. Smith and the building resounded with hearty good cheers and a “tiger.” Thus was brought to a close what proved to be a successful and enjoyable evening'’ entertainment in honor of the immortal bard Burns. One Present.


Rev. Fraser’s departure was a blow to villagers, but many homes have copies of his books. He wrote and published three volumes during his years in Great Village. It is an especial source of pride for villagers to have a poet write so eloquently about their home. And everyone welcomes him and his family when they visit. Rev. Fraser has not forgotten the Literary Society. He speaks about it on many occasions. Recently, he wrote, “We found the little club worthwhile. We had college graduates, teachers, doctors of medicine, housewives, merchants, school girls. It gave colour to their lives, and there are people from Halifax, N.S., to Vancouver, B.C., to recall with pleasure and profit the discovery of great lines and the hearing of great music.” You can be sure every meeting of the Christophian Literary Society included a piano or violin. Rev. Fraser loves the landscape and people of Great Village and Colchester County. He writes nostalgically about his memories and majestically about its history and geography in many poems, and Villagers are anticipating his next volume.(3)

Now that the spring has come, I’d like to go
And follow her across Acadian fields
To well-known haunts where first the Mayflowers blow,
And drink the fragrance that the forest yields.
To go and sit where old Atlantic beats
His endless music ─ walk beside the bays,
Upon whose bosom Fancy saw strange fleets
Set seaward ’neath the skies of yesterday.

Rev. A.L. Fraser


1. Rev. Alexander Louis Fraser (1860–1936) was the author of a number of books of poetry:

*Sonnets, and other verses (1909)
*At Life’s Window (1910)
*Fugitives (1912)
The Indian Bride (1915)
Aftermath (1919)
God’s Wealth (1922)
The Drained Cup (1925)
By Cobequid Bay (1927)
People of the Street (1929)
By Eastern Windows (1932)
*volumes written during his years in Great Village

2. Indeed, that is just what happened, and “Burns’ Nights” continued in Great Village throughout the 1920s. Elizabeth Bishop remembered that one of her mother's favourite poems is the achingly sad "O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast," which Mendelssohn set.

3. Not until Elizabeth Bishop wrote her poems and stories about her childhood in the village did a poet evoke so lovingly as Rev. Fraser the textures of land and life in Great Village. Bishop would have been very aware of Rev. Alexander Louis Fraser’s presence. They were present together in Great Village on at least two occasions: the summers of 1917 and 1919. Rev. Fraser’s poems possess the characteristics and conventions of late Victorian and Edwardian formal rhyming verse ─ he did not adopt the radical styles of the war poets and the nascent modernists who were stirring up such controversy in Europe. While Bishop was indeed influenced most by these modernists, her childhood was steeped in the formal rhythms of Victorian poetry, and their influence is seen in many places in her poems. She once described herself as an “umpty-umpty” poet, and a “late, late World War I poet.” Indeed, some of Rev. Fraser’s poems resonate in startling ways with Bishop’s late twentieth century work, in both content and form. His “Summer Rain” sounds uncannily like a forerunner of Bishop’s “Sestina”:

The rain is on the roof; it taps
against the pane.
It brings to mind a roof where I
could hear it plain;
There I knew childhood’s sleep, ─ a
sleep that has no fears,
But childhood’s happy sleep becomes
disturbed with years....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Rev. William Murdoch Gillespie and the Presbyterian Church

When Rev. William Murdoch Gillespie married Helen Corinne Harrison in the Presbyterian church on June 19, 1914, a good number of the congregations from both churches turned out because this young and elegant couple would be settling in the manse come February.(1) The whole village was curious to see just who was taking the place of the beloved and respected Rev. Alexander L. Fraser, off to farther spiritual and literary pastures. Though he would be keenly missed, Rev. Fraser assured the village that Rev. Gillespie was a fine pastor, an active citizen and a grand speaker, who would offer the congregation a “whiff of the heather.” Though his widowed mother is long settled at Maccan, he and his several brothers still have the heart of the Highlands in them.

Duly, on February 3, 1915, Rev. Gillespie was inducted in the Great Village Presbyterian church, and he and his wife moved into the manse. And villagers accustomed quickly to their lively and dedicated minister.

The Presbyterian Manse

The Presbyterian church is literally the centre of Great Village and the heart of the community’s activities. It houses the founding faith of the village itself, brought by the first English settlers in the 1770s. The church is an impressive building; its 112 foot steeple towers over the little valley in which the village is nestled. There has been a church on this site since 1845. The one built then was even larger than the edifice which stands now. It was 75 feet long and 50 feet wide and sat 1200 people. That church finally got a bell, all the way from Boston, in 1871. The congregation built its commodious and comfortable manse in 1877. The church flourished.

St. James Presbyterian Church, circa 1890s

Tragedy struck in 1882 when this grand church was burnt to the ground. Undaunted, the congregation set to work erecting a new church on the same site. The building committee hired J.C. Dumaresq, a well-known architect, to design the building. Though smaller in size (55 by 40 feet), this church was equally impressive in its neo-gothic style with pseudo-flying buttresses.(2)

The dedication service in 1884 was a joyous and crowded event. The bell, which had fallen and cracked in the fire, had been sent back to Boston to be melted down and recast, and returned to ring again, not only to call parishioners to worship, but also as a fire alarm! On a clear calm Sunday morning it can be heard from miles.

This church was threatened by fire too, in October 1895, when a neighbouring barn burned to the ground; but the damage was slight and services were not disrupted.

The congregation of the Presbyterian church is one of the most active in the county. It supports several charitable societies which have operated for years. In 1877 a Ladies Aid Society was formed. Ten years later a branch of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was established. Two years latter, in 1889, a Seed Sowers’ Mission Band was formed and around the same time the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour began its work. The church also has an active choir, which is currently raising money for a new organ.

These groups keep themselves busy raising money for charity and missionary work, as well as aiding the congregation as a whole, especially the Social Committee, in raising funds for the church itself. The Women’s Foreign Mission Society holds a very popular garden party on the manse lawn at the beginning of July, in time to offer the best strawberry shortcake anywhere. These ladies meet every Thursday afternoon in the pastor’s room of the church, but also gather in parlours, especially in winter when the church is cold, its two furnaces stoked up only on Sunday. The Mission Band is famous for its Christmas sale, an event they prepare for all year, collecting a vast array of goods from aprons to preserves, chow chow and quilts. They meet every Saturday afternoon in the vestry of the church. The Ladies’ Aid Society devotes much of its time to visiting sick parishioners and making sure they are not in want. They work closely with the Social Committee and organize lectures and teas.

The Christian Endeavour taps all the energy of the young by organizing musicales: readings, recitations, songs and instrumentals, which provide great pleasure to the usually packed houses. The Christian Endeavour are meeting tonight in the Sunday School room, just before the big lecture, to discuss their part in a grand musicale, which will be held in mid-August in cooperation with the choir. Rev. Gillespie’s young brother James, a well-known violinist, has agreed to perform solo and in duet with Donald MacLachlan. These two alone will guarantee a large crowd. The programme is extensive however, with the principal of the school, Mr. R.N. Bagnell, set to sing and read, and Miss Bella Hill, Miss Clara Kent, Miss Ethel Doyle, Miss Ruth Peppard, Miss Belle Chisholm, Miss Harriet Carter and Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson Hill all contributing their considerable musical and oratorical talents. Even Rev. Gillespie has agreed to sing “Jock O’Hazeldean,” a treat any time. The organ fund will be amply augmented.

The church is also a prime location for lecturers, who come to town regularly to speak. The church still seats more people than any other building in town, nearly 1000, so when a popular speaker stops by, the church is the spot. Tonight is a very special lecture. Mrs. Gillespie’s sister, Miss Harrison, is a missionary. She arrived for an extended furlough in November last year. She has given a number of talks to the Women’s Missionary Societies of both churches, but these have been for the members alone. This evening she will give an illustrated public talk about her missionary work in India. She is due to return to the foreign field in August and this will be the only opportunity for the whole community to hear about her work in this distant country.

The Rev. and Mrs. Gillespie are held in high regard by all the villagers now, their home a welcoming place for family, friends and neighbours. The Rev. is such a lively fellow, and always has a smile and hello for everyone, big or small. As soon as the roads dried out this spring, Rev. Gillespie could be seen wheeling around the Village. Cycling has always been popular in the village, but to see a man of the cloth making his visits on a bicycle was a bit of an excitement and surprise. Everyone is used to it now, except for a few of the old ladies and gents who still consider it undignified.

Rev. William Murdoch Gillispie in Buenos Aires

As soon as Rev. Gillespie settled into his charge, he was involved in many community activities. He sealed himself in the good will of the village when he organized the Boy Scout band. He is enthusiastically promoting it among the lads. While he is a serious spiritual leader, Rev. Gillespie has a twinkle in his eye, and even the most staid parishioner appreciates a sense of humour ─ and especially the lads in the Boy Scout band.

One of the regular practices of the ministers from both churches in the village is to exchange pulpits with each other and with the pastors of neighbouring communities. Sometimes it seems like musical pulpits, especially during the summer and fall when the roads are good and travel is easiest. This Sunday Rev. Gillespie will change pulpits with Rev. L.P. Archibald of Central Economy. Rev. Gillespie’s sermons are always deeply appreciated. He has given much comfort and hope to his parishioners who have watched their sons, brothers and neighbours march off to war. Rev. Gillespie himself knows directly the feeling this provokes as one of his own brothers, Robert, enlisted and is now in France. The casualty lists have started to come in earnest, and the patriotic fever of the early months of the conflict are being tempered with concern and growing sorrow.(3)

Today Rev. Gillespie is busy in his usual way. He spends the morning in study and writing. After lunch he makes his usual rounds of visits to see sick parishioners, and several of the ladies of the Missionary Society, drinks more tea than he knows he should. He also stops by Hill’s store to talk with Ruth Hill about her Sunday School lesson, bringing her some pamphlets he received from the Presbytery. Corinne and her sister are hosting a small afternoon tea, so supper will be late. The lecture begins at 8:00 p.m. The gentlemen of the Social Committee will be at the church early to open it up, so Rev. Gillespie can wait and stroll down with his wife and sister-in-law. As he wheels around town on his bicycle he passes the Bulmer house several times. Elizabeth Bulmer is a staunch Baptist, but William, who Rev. Gillespie always enjoys talking to, attends both churches, a not uncommon practice for some of the older folks in the village. Rev. Gillespie knows today is a difficult one for the Bulmers, having their daughter, Mrs. Bishop, go off to the hospital in Dartmouth. Mrs. Bishop’s little daughter, Elizabeth, plays in the yard as he passes by in the afternoon. The Rev. always smiles when he sees her bright face. Today she chatters to herself and her dolls near the flower beds Elizabeth Bulmer is so famous for. He wonders if she really knows what has happened. As he passes she looks up. He smiles and tips his hat. She smiles back at him and waves her little hand.


1. A notice for this wedding is found in the Truro Daily News, 19 June 1914, 8. However, in the Oxford Journal News, 11 June 1914, the following notice appeared (the discrepancy is puzzling indeed).”An exceedingly pretty wedding was celebrated in the Presbyterian Church, Maccan, on Tuesday afternoon, June 2nd, between the Rev. William Murdock [sic] Gillespie, B.A., the minister of the Presbyterian Church, River Hebert & Miss Helen Coridine [sic] Harrison, youngest daughter of Jeptha Harrison, Esq. of Maccan. The officiating clergyman being the Rev. John Urwin Bell, brother-in-law of the bridegroom, Cunard. The bride was attired in a beautiful white charmeuse silk dress with trimmings of white minion & bridal veil wreathed with orange blossoms.”

2. In 1995 the Nova Scotia Provincial Government, Heritage Division, designated the Presbyterian church (now the St. James United Church) a Heritage Property. Ceremonies were held in conjunction with the church’s 150th Anniversary.

3. In September 1916, Rev. Gillespie received word that Robert was severely injured. He survived and returned home. On November 8, the following account appeared in the Truro Daily News: “Rev. Murdoch Gillespie gave an exceptionally interesting address last Sunday evening on the text Jer. 8:30 [sic], “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” The Reverend gentleman took as his subject the harvest of this war, which he pointed out, will be a plentiful one before the winter is over; yet he urged his hearers amid all their tears for the loved ones now so far away, to “keep the home fires burning,” and by bright letters and well-filled Christmas boxes to cheer the brave laddies in their honorable fight for liberty of our British Empire.” Rev. Gillespie had a most interesting connection to Elizabeth Bishop. Prior to his marriage in 1914, it appears that Rev. Gillispie spent time in Brazil. He ministered at the Great Village Presbyterian church until 1919, and then he returned to South America, where he ministered in Bahai Blanca, Argentina. One wonders if “the little picture with big ears” over heard villagers talk about Rev. Gillespie’s South American sojourns.

{Ed. Note: Just a reminder, you can read this "A Day in the Life of Great Village" in sequence if you click on the "Nova Scotia Connections" link in the menu bar at the top.}

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Elizabeth Bishop birthday party, Halifax, N.S., 12 February 2012

On Sunday afternoon, 12 February 2012, a gathering of enthusiastic Elizabeth Bishop fans gathered at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia to celebrate EB’s 101st birthday (her actual birthday is 8 February). In spite of rather unpleasant wintry weather, the atmosphere was warm and convivial. There was the usual wonderful readings by a diverse group of artists, a toast to Miss Bishop and a hearty chorus of “Happy Birthday” lead by our stalwart and melodious John Barnstead, the cutting of the cake and the doling out of door prizes. I was completely surprised by a wonderful and generous gesture of thanks for my small role in instigating and guiding EB100 from the assembled group (along with many who were not able to attend), for which I am profoundly grateful. There was much reflecting on the exciting EB100 celebrations which are still being talked about in Nova Scotia. Many of those present were directly involved in that year of creative tribute to our beloved poet. Thanks to all who braved the city’s icy streets and sidewalks to be part of what is now an ongoing tradition of honouring Elizabeth Bishop’s natal day. Here are a few images from that gathering, courtesy of Susan Kerslake.

The attentive audience

The wonderful readers

Suzie LeBlanc and Jasmine Pannozzo Oddy

The door prizes

Raising our "glasses" in a toast to Miss Bishop

Carol Bruneau, official (and expert) cake cutter

Evidence of indulgence!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Fair and Square, the Provincial Election of June 20, 1916

When big events happen the talk is always lively in Great Village. When the event is politics, villagers are as keen to discuss and debate as anyone. The war has had a strange effect on the provincial election, which was called a few months ago. Some folks worried that it would be too much of a distraction from the war effort, but many felt that it was more important than ever for people to have a say about how they are governed. After all, the boys are fighting in France for this kind of freedom.

The Liberal party has been in power for over thirty years. When Premier George H. Murray (1) called the election, the Conservative party, (2) as you might imagine, were keen to get on the campaign trail and fight a good fight under their leader Charles E. Tanner. (3) The Colchester Co. Conservatives nominated Col. Frank Stanfield and R. H. Kennedy (4) to do battle with the Liberal candidates G.H. Vernon and Capt. Fred B. Schurman. (5) Election day was set for June 20, 1916. As June progressed rallies across the province stirred up excitement and interest, newspapers daily carried advertisements and articles from each party, as well as by individuals and groups wanting to press on all the candidates their concerns about issues. One of the hottest debates was about temperance reform.

The Tory position from the start was to point out the problems of a “Go-as-you-please provincial government (34 years in the Saddle).” The Grits, of course, responded by arguing that this longevity meant experience and demonstrated the trust Nova Scotians had in the government’s policies. The Tories countered this argument of experience and trust with accusations of rampant patronage. The Grits countered by pointing to the Workmen’s Compensation Act, due to become law in October 1916, as evidence that the Murray government cared about ordinary people, not just political “friends.” The debate went back and forth for weeks, while folks attended the rallies, read the newspapers and talked politics on the streets, in their parlours, at post offices, barber shops and general stores.

The people of Colchester Co. take their politics no less seriously than any other place, and that is true of Great Villagers. In Truro the Conservatives held several rallies at the Princess Theatre, the Liberals at the Orpheum. Folks from Great Village regularly drove into town to attend and take their own measure of Messrs Stanfield and Kennedy, Vernon and Schurman, though Capt. Schurman was more or less a candidate in absentia, being away at his war duties for most of the campaign. However, he published several open letters to the people of Colchester County during the campaign, and thus had his say. People were divided as to what the affect both his absence and his war work would have on his chances. He was exhibiting a strong commitment to duty, but not being on the hustings meant that the Liberals were without one of their candidates persuasive voices.

The Truro Daily News had an open door policy to both parties; its pages carried advertisements from both in equal measure ─ its view being that since it is the principal newspaper for the county it must be as impartial as possible. Yesterday, the offices of the News was the hub of activity in Truro, as it was the site for collecting all the information about the results, not only from Colchester Co., but also from across the province. It was the place to be as the evening wore on and it became clear that while Colchester County went with the Conservatives Stanfield and Kennedy, the Murray Liberals were once again re-elected. The Grits would hold the reins of government for at least one more term. The final tally was an impressive one for the Grits:

Provincial Results:
Liberals 31
Conservatives 12
Majority 19

Colchester Co. Results:
Kennedy (Conservative) 2664
Schurman (Liberal) 2154
Stanfield (Conservative) 2756
Vernon (Liberal) 2218

Word spread like wild fire last night as the full picture became clear, though the details followed more slowly. In Great Village and its surrounding communities (Glenholme, Highland Village, Londonderry, Debert, Masstown, Mount Pleasant, Little Dyke, etc.), Messrs Kennedy and Stanfield took the vote but only by slim majorities. Still, it contributed to the overall win for the Tories in the county. However, these gentlemen would take their seats in a sea of Grits in the Legislature in Halifax. What would that mean for the county?

Telephones rang all over the county last night, and as soon as Amelia Spencer got to her switchboard this morning, they began to ring again. Great Villagers one and all wait eagerly today for the Truro Daily News, to read the account of the lively time in Truro:

The Hon. George Murray has again received the endorsation of his Government and his public policies in all departments by the people at the Polls. The election on Tuesday, though fought in war time, was carried on with much interest and a very large vote was polled all over the Province. There were some surprises as there are in all elections. The Liberal Government will now have 31 supporters in the House of Assembly of 43 members.

Generally, a fare and square election was carried on. There were some appeals that are to be regretted and probably both sides were to blame for these. Where the attacks on personal character was foolishly introduced, the attackers got their answer by a straight condemnation by the people. When will these novices in politics learn that the people take no stock in these personalities on the eve of an election.

Premier Murray is to be congratulated on his victory. The people have spoken out strongly for him and for his further regime, and good citizens all over the province should be satisfied for “Vox populi” is said to be “Vox Dei.”

These general observations were accompanied by a detailed account of the particulars in Truro, and readers always have a thirst for the specifics:

As was expected, a rush was made for the Truro News, as soon as the polls closed at 5 o’clock, and the big bulletin board in the News windows were ready for the returns from Colchester Co. The Polls had hardly closed before by telephone came the returns from Five Islands ─ the furthest District from the News office, and yet these returns were the first to be received. Many thanks to the sender; and here we thank very much the Deputy Returning Officers in the county who sent us in prompt and quick returns. We had more trouble in getting the returns from some Polling Districts near Truro, than from those in distant parts of the county. The returns from Upper Londonderry (Debert), and Salmon River and Tatamagouche West were not received without very great exertion on the part of both the News and the Central Telephone.

The figures posted on the News Bulletin Boards soon showed that the Liberal-Conservatives would be elected but few expected such large majorities for Messrs Frank Stanfield and R.H. Kennedy. The losers made a good fight and the candidates themselves carried on a good-natured and fair contest in every way. It is to be said for Capt. Fred Schurman that he put up a fine fight considering the little time he was in the county. He is fighting our battles in khaki and had but little time to consider his own political interests. We congratulate the Colchester winners, and we only wish the Opposition, as long as the Murray Government is sustained, was larger. A strong Opposition always makes good government.

When Colchester was settled, then came returns, largely over Western Union wires, from all over the Province, and the results were such that the cheering Tories in front of the News office by hundreds became sad and silent, and the good Grits began to cheer to “Beat the Band” and crowed louder than the Morning Chronicle’s old rooster, over the glorious results they heard from all over the Province, as the Murray Government was sustained by an increased majority and the “old horse Government” ─ apparently a pretty lively “34 year older” ─ has to bear Provincial burdens for another 4 or 5 years.

Our town returns were either brought in by some of our own Staff, or telephoned in by interested friends, and we extend especial thanks for prompt work. The Central Telephone, the Western Union especially, and the C.P.R. gave as much assistance in getting before the public prompt and accurate returns. The bicycle-mounted messenger boys of the Western Union did their work in fine shape ─ they would make fine scouts for the front, and we can recommend them to Col. Stanfield and Major Innis for fast field work if such are wanted.

By 9.45 the News bid good night to the crowd outside the office building ─ the hundreds departing with the knowledge that the Murray Government had been sustained and that Colchester had continued Liberal-Conservative but by enormously increased majorities.

View of Great Village from Hustler Hill

The dawn of June 21, 1916 ─ the first day of summer, the longest daylight of the year, a breezy, sunny morning ─ brings folks in Great Village much to discuss. As the village wakes up thoughts turn towards the election and the war, towards the many chores and errands, meetings and visits, comings and goings which will fill the day. The day passes in its usual way for most people ─ the Murray Government stays the course, the war continues, the fields are tended, the cows are milked, the clothes washed and tea made. Villagers tip their hats to each other and pause to talk about the recent excitement of the election, about what is playing at the theatres in Truro, about the evening’s missionary lecture. Election fever fades away quickly, when the next telegram arrives at the post office from the War Office.

And inside each house, families live their lives, privately and not so privately. Everyone knows that the wagon crossing the bridge early this morning is a difficult journey for the Bulmers. Will and Arthur Bulmer had taken time to cast their votes yesterday, but their civic conscience was rather distracted by the packing going on inside the house. Gertrude has been so agitated by the election campaign, arguing strongly that women should have the right to vote, hadn’t Manitoba just given them that right!? It was hard to calm her down when she began to talk women’s suffrage, then she’d collapse on the sofa as if she was utterly spent. Will was afraid that she would be agitated again when she heard the results, but she was remarkably quiet when she came downstairs, though she refused to eat breakfast. She already seemed far away. Little Elizabeth knew something was happening, but Lizzie had Mary keep the child occupied outside in the sunshine after she’d had her porridge.


1. George Henry Murray (1861–1929), barrister, was a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Victoria Co. from 1896–1923. He was Premier and Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia from 1896–1923. His services to Belgian Relief during World War I brought to him in 1920 the Grand Order of the Crown of Belgium (Elliott, p. 165).

2. The Conservative party was officially the Liberal-Conservatives, which made for some confusion in the papers. This name was eventually changed to the Progressive Conservatives.

3. Charles Elliott Tanner (1857–1946), barrister, was an MLA for Pictou Co. from 1894–1897, 1900–1908, and again 1911–1916. He was Leader of the Opposition from 1902–1908, then from 1912–1916; and was leader of the Conservative Party from 1909–1916. He was called to the Senate of Canada in 1917, where he served until his death (Elliott, p. 213).

4. Frank Stanfield (1872–1931), manufacturer, was an MLA for Colchester Co. from 1911–1920, and then again in 1925–1930, when he resigned. He became Lieutenant-Governor for Nova Scotia in December 1930, a position he did not hold long, as he died in September the following year (Elliott, p. 208). Frank Stanfield’s son, Robert, became one of Canada’s most prominent politicians. He was an MLA for Colchester Co. from 1949–1967. He was Leader of the Opposition from 1950–1956, and Premier of the province from 1956–1967, when he resigned and entered federal politics (Elliott, p. 208). Robert Hamilton Kennedy (1869–1951), farmer, was an MLA for Colchester Co. from 1911–1920. He was a Captain and quartermaster of the 78th Pictou Highlanders on active service overseas during World War I (Elliott, p. 108).

5. G. H. Vernon and Capt. Fred Schurman never served in the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Dr. T.R. Johnson

A community is only as good as its citizens, and Great Village is blessed with many fine people. None are finer than the doctor, T.R. Johnson. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. S.B. Johnson, who came to the Village years ago from Brule, where their son was born. After attending Truro Academy, where he was a top student, Thomas went to Dalhousie University and graduated from the medical school in 1904.

He came back immediately to the area and did a stint doctoring at Economy, but two years later he settled in Great Village and got married. He has been tending to the sick of the Village, indeed to many folks along the shore to Parrsboro, for ten years now.

Being a country doctor is no easy job — the travelling alone is arduous. Though there is an excellent road along the shore, Dr. Johnson often ventures into the mountains and there the going is rough at the best of times. But he goes about his work with enthusiasm and cheer, and a skill which makes him trusted by one and all.(1)

Dr. T.R.’s trusty companion for a number of years has been his magnificent trotter Lord Wallace, which he also races, his best time 2.28. Lord Wallace by Achilles (2.152) won his first race when he was two and a half years old on the track at River John in a five-heat event. Lord Wallace is a small horse, but big gaited, honest and good-headed, and a universal favourite among Dr. T.R.’s racing colleagues and his patients alike. You can say Dr. T.R. is as keen about racing as he is about doctoring.(2) This Saturday he takes Lord Wallace to the track in Truro to run with the other fine trotters in the area. Lord Wallace especially loves ice racing, and has been a consistent winner on the track at Little Dyke.

Ask anyone and they will say that seeing Dr. T.R. driving Lord Wallace is a comforting sight. He also has other race horses and several pure bred Clydesdales on his large farm, which supports his other passion, a prize herd of pure bred Guernseys. The rich milk of the doctor’s herd goes straight to the Great Village Creamery, owned by Mr. T.D. Blaikie. He and Mr. Blaikie have two of the best Guernsey herds in the Village. Mr. Blaikie is also Dr. T.R.’s chief rival in horse racing, though it is a very friendly rivalry.

If all these activities are not enough, Dr. T.R. is also involved in many community organizations and societies, especially the Masons and the I.O.O.F. He is the treasurer for the first and the Noble Grand of the second. Both brotherhoods do much good work for their members and the community generally.(3)

While Dr. T.R. continues to take Lord Wallace on some of his rounds, especially in the winter, in 1910 he moved his practice into the modern age when he bought an automobile. He was one of the first people in the Village to have this means of transportation. Though automobiles are becoming more common, they are still rare enough to cause something of a sensation when they noisily chug through town. Some horses still shy and bolt at these vehicles when they pass by. Dr. T.R. says that at a good head Lord Wallace is faster than any automobile, but he wants to save his pride and joy for the track.

Dr. T.R. in his automobile

On this pleasant late June afternoon, Dr. T.R. plans a run down the shore to Bass River to check on an elderly man who had a bad fall from his wagon last week. On his way home he stops in to see a young wife expecting her first baby in two months, and to see a little girl recovering from a bad case of the measles. Back in the village he visits the druggist to order a new supply of medicine. He meets Dr. Peel Doherty, Great village’s genial dentist, at Layton’s Store, and chats with him about I.O.O.F. business, as they walk back to Dr. Doherty's office. He stops at the post office before heading up Hustler’s Hill to his farm. His wife wants him to take her out to Londonderry Station to meet the evening train heading to Montreal. An old school friend is coming to visit her for a few days. It is a lovely day, not too warm, and the drive will be fine. After an early tea, he heads to the barn to check on the milking and to brush down Lord Wallace. He will take the carriage to the station and give Lord Wallace a good run in anticipation of Saturday’s race. Dr. T.R. is not upset about the drive, even after driving all day, because it means he won’t have to sit through the missionary lecture at the Presbyterian church this evening.

However, before his busy day gets fully underway, Dr. T.R. stops by the Bulmer house rather early. It is a sad call because today Gertrude is going to the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth. He has known Gertrude for a long time. They went to school together. He was there with Dr. Shatford a couple of days ago making out the papers. He has been to the house a number of times during the past winter and spring because Gertrude has been so upset. The tonic he prescribed for her just hasn’t helped. He was reluctant to write up the papers, but thinks that maybe at the hospital she will get help. Her bad episode last March was deeply disturbing. Her agitation about suffrage hasn’t helped either. He actually feels much the same as Gertie, that women should have the vote. He sees how hard all the women of Colcester County have been working for the war effort. But old ideas are hard to change, and Gertie takes everything so deeply to heart.

He feels sad for Gertrude’s daughter, Elizabeth, a pretty little girl who is quite bright. Dr. T.R. likes to chat with her about her chickens. She likes to tell him about gathering warm eggs.(4) He stops by first thing in the morning to check on Gertrude, to make sure she is calm enough to travel. He is surprised by just how calm she is. He is comforted to know that Grace, who is a capable nurse, is going with Gertrude to the hospital. He spends about half an hour talking with them. He helps Will put the suitcases on the wagon; they chat a bit about old Nimble, the Bulmer’s gentle work horse. Will says he must get Mate to put new shoes on him. They chat about the election. The Dr. is especially enthusiastic because Murray’s Liberals have prevailed in the province, though he would rather have seen a different result in Colchester. Then he gets into his car and heads off up the shore road thinking he will stop in to see Grace in a day or two, as she will be able to give a detailed report on how Gertrude is doing.


1. Dr. T.R. continued to practice in Great Village until the early 1940s. In 1919 he had a telephone installed in his house, linking him more quickly to his patients. His family grew to include two daughters and three sons. Two of his sons, Aubrey and Arthur, became doctors. Dr. Aubrey returned to the village and practiced there for decades. His third son stayed on the farm and eventually took over operations at the Blaikie creamery. Dr. T.R.’s daughters became teachers and married doctors. It was said that when the family gathered at home it was like a medical convention. Dr. Johnson held the office of the County Medical Health Officer and County Coroner for many years. In 1939 he was elected President of the Colchester-Hants Medical Association and for many years sat on the Executive of the Nova Scotia Medical Association.

2. Dr. T.R. continued to be involved in raising and racing horses. In 1920 the horse owners of Great Village got together and constructed a race track. The Cobequid Driving Club Ltd. was formed with Dr. T.R. as the President and T.D. Blaikie as secretary.

3. Dr. T.R. also had a taste for politics. In 1933 he contested one of the seats in the County in the provincial election. He lost. A life-long Liberal, he was active in the party long after he retired.

4. In February 1917 Elizabeth Bishop was sick with bronchitis, and was attended by Dr. T.R. Years later, she told her friend Frani Blough Muser about one of her encounters with the doctor: “Elizabeth said she always thought that the first time she got the idea of poetry was from a doctor. She was about four or five or something like that. She had the incipient asthma that was going to bother her later. She has suffered from a lot of colds. Elizabeth was in bed with something or other, and the doctor in telling her what was wrong with her or asking her to put out her tongue made a couplet, made a rhyme. It surprised her. She was tiny and she had never heard anything like that. She laughed. Elizabeth said she had never heard something so wonderful in her life. So then she began thinking about words that rhymed.” (Fountain and Brazeau 7)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Post Office and its Postmaster

Angus Johnson is the postmaster in the village. He has been sorting and stamping the King’s mail at the old stand for decades. He took over his duties way back in 1889, helping out now and then as a mail carrier. He’s done the delivery down the shore to Five Islands.

You see, the mail still arrives in Great Village from all directions by coach. Mail from Europe reaches Halifax by steamer and is put on the Maritime bound for Montreal. Mail from all points West travels to Nova Scotia by the Canadian Pacific train. These far away letters and packages reach Londonderry Station and are picked up by Albion Kent, who brings them the nearly four miles to the Village. Mr. Kent is one of the most obliging mail carriers in the county. His father, Daniel, did this route for years before him. The brightly painted two-horse wagon is called the “Ferry.” Mr. Kent will always take passengers for a small fee, 254 a head.

Even mail from Truro makes the trip by team. Though soon, people think, automobiles will replace the trusty horses. After all, Dr. T.R. Johnson has already traded his famous Lord Wallace for a Model T. Mr. Kent, too, bought an automobile a few years ago, but he has not yet turned over his run to it. He says his horses are still more trustworthy, especially in winter.

The post office is a busy place, with mail arriving several times a day; the big deliveries being with the 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Halifax bound-trains. Mr. Johnson says that he makes up and opens 22 mails a day. Little wonder, he says, the keys to the mailbags wear out; though he’s had the same keys now for ten years.

Lots of other business is conducted at the post office, money orders being the biggest item. There is also a telegraph service, a telephone and a highly efficient Express Office. All the modern conveniences. Mr. Johnson is also agent for the Nova Scotia Home Underwriters’ Agency. And nearly every week someone stops by to engage his services as an auctioneer. He’s one of the most popular in the area. Mr. Johnson is also a truly civic-minded fellow, active in the Presbyterian church and a long-standing member of the I.O.O.F. He’s always willing to help out with fund-raisers, and finds place in the post office for the notices, posters and fliers announcing the many suppers, concerts, lectures and musicales, which take place not only in the village but all along the shore.

For all the hurry and bustle, it is one of the best kept offices in the Dominion. Now, during war time, mail service is even more important with so many folks waiting for word from the boys training at Aldershot and Valcartier, or those already in England and France. The newspapers also arrive at the office bringing the latest reports on the distant campaigns.

Great Village has had a “way” or post office since the early 1870s. The current building was built in 1903 by Mr. W.E. Adams of Mount Pleasant. It also houses the Savings Bank, though there is talk that the Royal Bank is going to open up a branch here in the Village sometime soon.(1)

The post office is Mr. Johnson’s home away from home. Even his six daughters have regularly helped out, especially Kate; and she’s just as good as her father with all the tasks.

The post office is a gathering place in the village. In the evenings the lads who are not yet old enough to enlist collect here to talk about the day’s events and watch the activity at the Elmonte House across the road. The merchants and farmers stop by after their days’ labours to see what the coaches have brought. Everyone stops to chat with Mr. Johnson, who always has the latest news of the comings and goings. Villagers trust Mr. Johnson to take good care of the precious cargoes entrusted to him, which have journeyed from far and near, bringing news of births, deaths, marriages, and of the war. He is one of the most respected and beloved gentlemen in the community.(2) Though he is 64 years old, Mr. Johnson is hale and hearty, and intends to stay on as postmaster for some years yet, and Villagers are glad about it.(3)

Yesterday was an especially busy day at the post office, because it was the centre for information about the provincial election results. There were even more people around than usual because of the excitement of voting. Several of the lads had motored into Truro late in the afternoon and stayed around the Daily News offices until the polls closed, and came hurrying back around 10:00 p.m. with the news of the Grit victory ─ though the Tories held the day in Colchester.

The excitement of election day over, this morning is still a busy one for Mr. Johnson. The morning’s outgoing mail is heavy with letters and packages for the lads in training and overseas. Mr. Kent is in early to load up the Ferry and be off to Londonderry Station. However, Mr. Johnson is going about his work with more solemnity than is usual for his genial manner. When he opens up the office for business (after the sorting and loading of the Ferry is completed), he looks up at the sound of a wagon coming over the bridge, not unusual in itself. It’s Will Bulmer and his daughters Gertie and Grace. He thinks to himself, “Ah, it’s today she’s going.” As the wagon passes by Mr. Johnson nods quietly to Will. He knows how he would feel if one of his dear daughters was not well. Poor Will and Lizzie. Poor Gertie. He’s known her since she was a wee bairn.

Mr. Johnson wonders how Gertie’s dear little girl will feel, her mother going off like this today. He knows Will and Lizzie are devoted to the child, proud as punch about their bright granddaughter, and will do all they can to comfort her. She is so young that perhaps she doesn’t really understand all that is happening, but with six girls of his own, he well knows how smart little ones really are. Surely, Gertie will get the help she needs and be home soon. Mr. Johnson always smiles when he sees little Elizabeth marching proudly behind the cow when they pass by his house on Scrabble Hill – though that isn’t often because most days he’s at the post office early and leaves late. She is an independent little girl. Mr. Johnson sighs as he watches the wagon trundle off. Every family in the village has trials and troubles these days with the war and so many boys off fighting in the trenches in France, and some of them already never to return. But he knows the hard time Gertie has had since her own Will died five years ago.

When he returns from the Station, Will stops in for the mail and Mr. Johnson chats with him, tries to cheer him up talking about the lively election.


1. A branch of the Royal Bank opened in Great Village in 1919. The building which housed the bank still stands in the Village, near the Presbyterian church.

2. So beloved was Angus Johnson that in 1930 one of his old friends, Mrs. Peter Hall, composed a poetic tribute to him รก la Robert Burns, and in 1933 he was honoured by a large gathering in the Presbyterian church:

God'’ blessing on ye Pastie man,
Ah Angus ye’er a prince o'man
To sort like you─
A bonnier lad I dinna ken.
God bless ye mon.
Ah, Angus, Ye’er a lad o’pairts
Master o’ a’ the winsome airts.
Ye’er deeds by a’ ye’er ain desairts
Will live for aye.
The benediction o’ oor hairts
Ye hae the day.

3. Obituary (Truro Daily News) ─ Angus Johnson died July 12, 1935, in Great Village. Born in River John in 1852, he lived for the last 61 years in Great Village. Mr. Johnson was a public-spirited man, keenly interested in the welfare of the community, and for 34 years he was postmaster there. He is survived by his wife, Mary MacLeod, daughter of the late Robert MacLeod, and by four daughters, Miss Florence of Toronto; Mrs. Neil MacLeod of Cochrane, Ont.; Mrs. James E. Dykens of Upper Economy, and Mrs. Donald Patriquin of Great Village; also by four sisters and one brother. He was predeceased by two daughters. The service at the house was conducted by Thomas Lamot, student minister of the Presbyterian Church, assisted by Rev. Mr. Kirker of the United Church. At the grave the service was in charge of the I.O.O.F. lodge, of which Mr. Johnson was a member for over half a century.

View of Great Village. Angus Johnson's post office is tucked among the buildings on the left; Hustler Hill and the road to Londonderry Station on the right.