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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Blaikies, Ships and Cows; Cargoes and Cream

John M. Blaikie and his ships

There is an extra buzz in Great Village today because the schooner Prescott is at the wharf being loaded with deals by Mr. Vernon Smith of Eastville. The cargo is bound for Mr. Newton Pugsley in Parrsboro, and some of it will be transferred there for export to Boston. Ships still dock at the government wharf in Great Village,(1) but not so many call to these shores as once plied the waters of Cobequid Bay, Minas Basin and the great Bay of Fundy.

Several of the lads go down early to the wharf to watch the activity. The Prescott will not cast off until high tide later this afternoon, so the boys will be out there again, after school, to watch the laden ship set sail. Navigating the Great Village River and the treacherous tides of Cobequid Bay is no mean feat for a captain, he has to know just what he is doing.

There was a time when vessels came and went at the wharf every day, taking away cargoes of iron ore mined at Acadia Mines, agricultural products and lumber from the surrounding countryside, and bringing in goods and passengers from far and wide. Many old timers in the village also remember when every year a new brig, barque or schooner(2) was built at the Great Village Shipyard, and at the other yards which dotted the coast as far down as Advocate. The heyday of shipbuilding and shipping has long gone, but even today a schooner or two will call at the wharf during the summer and take on lumber, which is still an in-demand primary resource in the area.

The romance of the age of sail might have faded in memories, but much of Great Village’s current prosperity is founded on the decades of shipbuilding which the community supported.(3) And there was no greater shipbuilder and owner in the village than old Mr. John M. Blaikie, long retired but at 79 still hale and hearty and always willing to reminisce about the beautiful vessels he and his partner, the Hon. A.W. McLelan, commissioned. Of course Mr. Blaikie and Mr. McLelan didn’t actually build the ships, they financed their construction. Their master builders were Joseph Geddes and David Morris. Most of the timber used in the ships came from Westchester Mountain, with some from Wallace River. Shipbuilding in Great Village employed many men for many years and fostered the creation of a wide range of skills and trades: carpenters, blacksmiths, caulkers, riggers, shipwrights, loggers and sail makers. Mr. Blaikie and Mr. McLelan also erected a steam saw mill at the shipyard to do some of their own dressing of the timber. Indeed, Great Village boasted several such mills. In the old shipbuilding days from 80 to 100 skilled men were employed all the time, and the place at noon hour, and when the men scattered to their homes after work at night, was equal to a small Glasgow.

Mr. Blaikie was born in Stewiacke in 1837. About 1850, he came to Great Village from Maitland, another great shipbuilding town, landing at Spencer’s Point. In 1854, he began a mercantile business with Gould Wilson McLelan and married his daughter in 1859. Later on Mr. Blaikie set up his own store which he operated for ten years. Then he joined forces with G.W. McLelan’s son, A.W. McLelan, a federal cabinet minister.(4) During the 1870s, Blaikie & McLelan built some of the finest ships on the shore: Cleo, a 257 ton brig, in 1863; Wave King, a 750 ton barque in 1872; Wave Queen, a 900 ton barque in 1873; Chieftan, a 933 ton barque in 1874; Monarch, a 1200 ton barque in 1876; Peron, a brig in 1878; Sovereign, a 1250 ton schooner in 1879; President, a 916 ton barque in 1881; Peerless, a 316 ton brig in 1882.

In 1885 Mr. Blaikie on his own commissioned the great four-masted 2000 ton barque the John M. Blaikie. It was the first vessel of its kind built in Canada. The John M. Blaikie was designed and built by Joseph Geddes. The model and miniature framework he made, preliminary to building the ship, especially the latter, were unique and novel, and were among the most prominent exhibits at the great London Exhibition of 1886, and in 1900 they were on exhibition at the World’s Fair in Paris. Captained by David Faulkner, the John M. Blaikie sailed the 10,264 miles from Montevideo to New Castle, Australia, in 50 days, a near record for the time. Sadly, in 1892, it ran into a reef in the treacherous Strait of Malacca in the China Sea.

The John M. Blaikie (Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management)

The last ship Mr. Blaikie built in the Great Village Shipyard was the 125 ton schooner Adelaide, in 1891. Mr. Blaikie still chuckles when he tells the story of its launch: “Many people were standing on the marshland west of the shipyard and when the vessel took the water it created a tidal wave that swept them off their feet and they had to be rescued.”(5)

Great Village Wharf

Mr. Blaikie was so successful with his business that he built one of the finest residences in Great Village in 1889, not too far from the shipyard. He lives there today and is a most generous and welcoming host. In 1897, his first wife died and a year later he married the widow of Captain Gould.

The Blaikie House

Like many of the other gentlemen and farmers in town this summer, Mr. Blaikie is in the process of making repairs to his fine big house, with plans to paint it in August, no small task as it is 22 storeys high with an impressive tower. On this fine long first day of summer, Mr. Blaikie follows his usual routine: an early morning walk along Wharf Road, breakfast, business letters, a trip to the post office, lunch, checking with the workmen making repairs to the carriage house, tea and then the missionary lecture in the Presbyterian church. Yesterday he had taken a run to Truro with his son David, to get first-hand information about the election. There will be lots of talk about the Grits holding on, an outcome not approved of by the Blaikie men.

It is no surprise that one of Mr. Blaikie’s sons, Arthur Blaikie, became Customs Officer for the Port of Londonderry, as Great Village is also known, in 1889. He still holds this office, though he himself is close to retirement. Like many other fathers in the village, Arthur watched his son Joseph Blaikie march off to war earlier in the year and waits proudly and anxiously to get word from him. The Customs House is a cozy spot up the road from the Elmonte House. It, too, is often host to lively social evenings.

Great Village Customs House

T.D. Blaikie: Cows, Cheese and Cream

What might be surprising is the business of one of Mr. Blaikie’s other sons, T. David Blaikie. T.D. owns and operates the Great Village Creamery, arguably the best establishment of its kind in Nova Scotia, or even the whole Dominion. As shipbuilding declined agriculture grew in importance in the village and surrounding countryside. Dairy farming has become the most lucrative side of this industry. By the 1890s, the region boasted upwards of 3,000 cows within a six mile radius of the village.

Seafaring might not be in T.D. Blaikie’s bones, but his father’s acute business sense is, and he saw the potential for the creamery, which he opened in June 1895, just shortly after he graduated from Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. For the first two summers he made cheese, then for the next decade he made cheese in the summer and butter in the winter. But since 1907, the butter-making has gone on year round.

The creamery was built on the banks of Peppard’s Brook, an ideal spot with a constant supply of pure water. Mr. Blaikie equipped it with the most modern machinery: an engine boiler, separators, vats, churns, presses. His first cheese master was John Mills from Sussex, N.B., another renowned dairy district. Today Thomas Murray is his capable manager.

From day one the creamery turned out a splendid product. When a reporter from the Truro Daily News visited the brand new operation in August 1895, he reported an impressive sight: “The News saw on Monday last some 215 cheese ─ over six tons weight ─ that were magnificent in appearance, in colour and taste. From the cheese of 35 pounds, up to the great mass over 80 pounds there, they were arranged along in rows, and in their rich golden tint were a handsome sight. The Creamery turns out cheese at a rate of five per day.”

This high quality continues to today with both the cheese and the butter. Indeed, Great Village Creamery butter has won first place more than once at the Provincial Exhibition.(6) It is known far and wide for its purity and sweetness.

The creamery has been the means of putting more ready money than they ever dreamed possible into the hands of the farmers all along the shore. From Economy to Debert, horse-drawn team, and more recently, auto truck, are kept on the go to gather cream. Cyrus Peppard is in charge of most of this pick up an delivery. Depending on the size of the farmers’ herds in a given year, Mr. Blaikie pays out between $40,000 and $60,000 a year. One of the biggest producers is Perely Davison up on Portapique Mountain. The creamery’s products are shipped to Halifax. The operating is done on the co-operative system. Mr. Blaikie charges his patrons four cents per pound for butter and two cents for cheese. The price farmers average for milk in this way is about 80 cents per 100 pounds. At some seasons of the year it comes down to about 60 cents per 100 pounds, at others is up to $1.12.

Two years after Mr. Blaikie opened the creamery he himself got into dairy farming. He read about the Guernsey breed, how it is a large producer of butter fat on minimum feed, and in 1897 was the first farmer in the area to buy a pure bred Guernsey.(7) He was an immediate convert and his herd grew quickly. In 1906, he bought Jethro Bass, and became the first farmer in Canada to own a bull in the advanced registry. Mr. Blaikie is now one of the leading Guernsey breeders in the Dominion.(8) His reputation for raising large producers has grown ─ he had one cow produce as high as 618 pounds of butter fat. He has sold males and females to farmers across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, even as far away as Quebec.

Several of the other top breeders of Guernseys in the area include Dr. T.R. Johnson, Edward McCulough, Barry and Lucius Hill, James Forbes and Harold Geddes.

Mr. Blaikie is an agent for Deering Farm Implements & Machines, and has been instrumental in helping modernize farm practices in the area. Everyone still remembers when he introduced the new seeders in 1903, and Deering has had a strong promoter of its impressive machinery ever since: seeders, threshers, spreaders and tractors.

T.D. and his wife have no children, but they have lots of nieces and nephews. One of those nephews, Edwin, son of G.W. (William), is following in his uncle’s footsteps. He will soon be heading to Musquodoboit to take charge of the creamery there. He carries with him an extensive and expert skill, having spent so much of his time at the Great Village creamery, learning from one of the best operations around.

While his passion for raising Guernseys and making superb cheese and butter is legion, Mr. Blaikie’s greatest passion is horses and horse racing. His pride and joy is his beautiful mare Cambrai. She is just starting to reach her potential and Mr. Blaikie says he is looking forward to letting her have her head next year at the tracks in Truro and New Glasgow. He has been racing his fine standard breds on the ice track at Little Dyke for several years now. His intense but friendly rivalry with Dr. Johnson and Edmund Johnson causes lots of talk and excitement in the village on race day. These men have begun talking about setting up their own racing association and building a track in town, since there are so many fine horses in the village.

Like the rest of the Blaikie family, Mr. and Mrs. T.D. are active in the community. A social or musicale at their home is always a popular event. In the winter, Mrs. Blaikie hosts several skating parties which are the talk of the town. She is such a fine skater herself, and encourages the activity among young and old. That is how she and Gertrude Bulmer became good friends, Gertrude being one of the finest skaters ever to come from the village. Mrs. Blaikie is also an avid reader. A few years ago she opened up a library in the Mason’s Hall, offering patrons a week’s loan of a book for 2 cents. The money she collects goes to the Seed Sowers Mission Band. This library is well patronized because her collection is extensive and highly interesting. Mr. and Mrs. Blaikie were active members of the Literary Society in its heyday.

The Mason's Hall

Mr. Blaikie’s day is always busy. He rises with the roosters and checks on his beloved Guernseys, though there are several hands to do the milking. While Thomas Murray, his creamery manager, has his complete confidence, T.D. spends the morning at the creamery, checking on the cheese and butter, and dealing with the orders which come in everyday. He spends the afternoon with the horses and whenever he can he takes one out for a good run. It is said that if he meets Dr. Johnson on the road when he is out with Lord Wallace, there is an impromptu race down a back stretch. Mrs. Blaikie is going to the lecture tonight, but Mr. Blaikie and Thomas Murray must go to Truro on business. They will have lots to talk about with their friends, being keenly interested in the election results.


1. The first wharf in Great Village was built by the Acadia Charcoal Company in 1869. In 1886 the Great Village River was straightened for the convenience of navigation, and shortly afterwards, in 1891, the Dominion Government constructed the wharf which was still in use in 1916. There was also a wharf at Spencer's Point at the mouth of the Great Village River. Only a few remnants of the wharves remain to be seen in the Village today.

2. Brig: a small two masted vessel square rigged on both masts, but with fore and aft mainsail and main mast considerably longer than the fore mast. Barque: a three masted vessel fore and aft rigged on the mizzen mast, the two masts being square rigged. Schooner: a fore and aft rigged vessel formerly with two or more masts. The Schooner lies nearer the wind than a square rigged vessel, is easier to handle and requires smaller crews.

3. Shipbuilding in Great Village goes back to 1817 when the first vessel was put off the ways, the 14 ton schooner Mary the Lively, built by John Bulong. The next ship built was built in the Village in 1820 and has a lively story attached to it. The story goes that this vessel, a small schooner, was called Friday. Its keel was laid on Friday; it was completed on Friday; launched on Friday; captured by the French while sailing in French waters on Friday; and wrecked on Friday. The owner and builder, David McLellan, son of Peter McLellan, the first settler in Great Village, was lodged in jail on Friday and sworn out on Friday. The Friday was not registered.

4. Archibald Woodbury McLelan (or McLellan) (1824–1890), was born in Londonderry, N.S., son of Gloud and Martha (Spencer) McLelan. Educated at Mount Allison Academy, Sackville, N.B., he had a career as a barrister, shipbuilder, lumber merchant and politician. He was elected to the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly in 1858 as a Conservative representing Colchester Co. He served as MLA until 1867 when he was elected to the first Parliament of Canada. He continued in federal politics for the next twenty years, his final post being Postmaster General, 1887–1888. He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 1888, serving until his death (Marble, 286).

5. Dozens of other ships were built in Great Village from the 1830s to the 1890s.

6. The height of recognition for the products of the Great Village Creamery came in September 1924, when its butter won first in Canada at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.

7. Guernseys originated in the island of Guernsey, off the coast of France in the English Channel. This cow ranks between the Holstein and Jersey in size, milk production and richness of milk. Its milk is known for its yellow colour which originates from a yellow pigment in its skin (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 72-3). Jerseys originated on the island of Jersey, also off the coast of France in the English Channel. Jerseys are renowned for their rich milk, with an average butter fat content of 5.2%. Great Village farmers also raised Jersey cows, but not in the numbers of Guernseys or Holsteins (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 72). Holstein-Fiesians originated in the northern part of the Netherlands and are the most numerous breed of dairy cattle in use today. Holsteins are easily recognized because of their large size and distinct black and white markings. They are producers of large quantities of milk (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 71-2). The principal beef cattle raised by farmers in Great Village during this period was Shorthorn. Considered to have mild dispositions, shorthorns are also known for their milking ability among beef cattle. They cross well with other breeds and are best suited for areas with abundant feed (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 71).

8. T.D. Blaikie served as President of the Canadian Guernsey Breeders Association and as a Director for many years. In 1937 he and his wife were made “Honour Farmers” by the Nova Scotia Farmers Association. When he retired in 1944, he was elected Honourary Life Member of the Canadian Guernsey Breeders Association, the first member to receive that honour.


  1. It was a honor for me to know Elizabeth(Blaikie) Patriquin,married to Arthur Patriquin of Great Village,N.S.

  2. Elizabeth Blaikie Patriquin was my great grandmother!

  3. Hi everyone. I just found this article after researching the name on the bottom of a chair left in a cottage we bought in Parrysound Ontario. The name is Mrs. TD Blaikie. Great Village Nova Scotia.

  4. Hi Michael, would you mind taking a photo of the chair and inscription and sending it to daverpat@hotmail.com ??

  5. Just a note....the name is GLOUD...like cloud but Gloud.

    John M is my great grandfather. My father was named Arthur Gloud.

    Please correct the spelling for prosperity.

    Laura Blaikie

  6. Just a note....the name is GLOUD. Like cloud with a G. John M is my great grandfather and my father is Arthur GLOUD.

    Please correct the spelling for prosperity.

    Thank you for the lovely article.

    Laura Blaikie

  7. The Name 'Gloud" came to the Blaikie family from the McLelan family. Peter McLelan ,supposidly the first english speaking settler in Great Village was married to ? Wilson of the Onslow area. Her brother was 'Gloud Wilson" a weaver by trade. Peter's grandson was "Gloud Wilson McLelan" father of Archibald Woodberry McLelan. J.M. Blaikie went to work as a clerk in G.W. McLelans store, and later married Adelaide, G.W.'s daughter. Dick Akerman