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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: A Host of Pleasant Times

It becomes apparent quickly to any stranger who arrives in Great Village that this bustling little town is a musical place. Music is heard everywhere and not just on Sundays in the choir lofts though both churches boast exemplary choirs. Just about every house in the village has a piano or an organ, and not too many less also have violins. Musicians abound in memory and actuality and villagers always welcome and appreciate any performer touring the area. For a number of years the Village has had an orchestra. In the 1890s it was the Ariel Quartette Club, which used to perform with Miss Jennie Spencer. The club gave many recitals on its own, too. And Miss Spencer travelled up and down the shore, with several of her musical friends from the village, Truro and Acadia Mines, entertaining packed houses.

A few years ago the Great Village Orchestra an ensemble of the Chamber variety was formed and has been active ever since, holding concerts for its own benefit, but also offering its talents to the Baptist Church or the Tennis Club to help them raise funds. The war has taken a few of its members overseas, but several young ladies in Great Village have filled the spaces admirably.

Indeed, organized or ad hoc, any social gathering in Great Village can usually coalesce an orchestra, a quartette, a duet or, at the very least, a soloist.

With music often comes dancing. Though not as avid in this department, Great Village is well-known for its Masonic Ball. For some years around the turn of the century the Village also supported a Quadrille Club.(1) Among the older generation of Baptists and Presbyterians, dancing still holds a hint of the illicit. An amusing story, still told in the Village, today goes like this:

“A Presbyterian minister, who lived in Great Village many many years ago, was a very ardent preacher and most strict in his views. Dancing was, in his opinion, but a device of the devil to lure people from the path of righteousness. Accordingly, his daughter was forbidden to go to dances. However, her youthful spirit saw no harm in the good old quadrilles and polkas. One evening she slipped away from home and after a real good time arrived at the parental roof very early in the morning. On the doorstep she was met by her father with this reproachful greeting, ‘Well, daughter of the Devil!’ The only response was, ‘Well, Father!’”

Today, the disapprobation is rarely taken to this extreme. With so much music around, it is impossible to keep one’s toes from tapping. And even the most devout Baptist or Presbyterian families host musicales, where their guests trip the light fantastic to a jig, reel, waltz or polka.

Besides the many socials, concerts and suppers which societies organize, Great Villagers love to entertain and celebrate on a more intimate level. Every week someone is having an anniversary or birthday party, a wedding or baby shower. And sometimes music itself is enough to prompt a gathering. Many of the parties are got up as surprise parties. Great Villagers are addicted to surprise parties, a funny thing since the village is so small it is hard to keep anything a secret. Parties at the Blaikie’s, the Layton’s, the Peppard’s and the Hill’s are always highly anticipated. Monday evening Mrs. DesBrisay, who was a Layton in her youth, and is visiting for the summer, is hosting a musicale. It is her last such evening before she leaves for the West. She is such a fine pianist herself, her favourite composer being Chopin. But she has also invited the MacLachlans and several other musicians and singers. A lively evening is sure to be had by all who attend.

 The women of Great Village gather

While live music is still the preferred way to entertain, several families own gramophones. This novel way to hear music still amazes many in the village, and several parties, especially for the young folks, have been got up with the gramophone at the centre. Most of the older folks are still a bit suspicious of these interesting machines, because they have heard that some of the music being played is the new fangled jazz. Some musicians in Truro and Halifax are said to be able and willing to perform jazz, but Great Village musicians stick to their classical, folk, sacred and popular tunes.

The young folks in Great Village certainly keep up with their elders in the realm of parties. Taffy pulls and charade parties are the most popular. But what they flock to most of all is hay or sleigh rides, depending on the time of year. The Leap Year sleigh rides have been the most eagerly anticipated in the past, and many a young lad and lass has got engaged on those frosty February drives under the stars. There are also theme or costume parties during the year: Valentines Day, Arbour Day, Halloween. Actually, young and old have a penchant for dressing up in costumes. The fine seamstresses in the village are kept busy.

Great Village has also had a long Thespian tradition. Dramatic oratory and recitation is usually a part of every concert, but many folks in the village and surrounding towns participate in plays and other dramatic productions they have been doing so for decades. They have also crowded into performances of travelling theatre companies, which make their appearance mostly during the summer months. The Great Village school is responsible for instilling much of this interest in drama, as every year the students put on a big variety show just before Christmas with skits, farces, parodies, tableaux, readings, and do not forget, music and singing too! Even its programme for Empire Day, with its drills and recitations, give the students a taste of the stage, which many of them enjoy. Villagers have been performing for so many decades it seems that grease paint is rather in their blood.(2)

A Great Village Parade -- Donald MacLachlan plays the fiddle.

Over the years there have been some outstanding performers in Great Village, but few equal Mr. Charlie Taylor, who is perhaps the village’s most outstanding entertainer ever. His sleight of hand, ventriloquism and comedic bent keeps his audiences in stitches. He is very much in demand these days, doing shows throughout the county, and as far away as Halifax. He is set to give a series of concerts at the Temperance Hall in August and already the tickets are going fast. He has packed houses wherever he goes. He might have to add a performance to accommodate the demand. Layton’s and Hill’s stores are selling the tickets. Though Charlie outshines the best of any place, the Village also has a first class impersonator in Mr. A.W. Hill. He can be found at many a party making everyone laugh with his delightful renditions of local and famous characters.

Great Villagers prefer the comedy side of drama, and in times of great uncertainty and sorrow, laughter is healing. Even so, the serious side of the theatre is not neglected and the members of the Seed Sowers Mission Band are already discussing the programme for their Christmas tea and sale, and it is agreed that the play The Tree Triumphant will be the highlight of the evening. Some of the young thespians at the school are talking about rehearsing scenes from King Lear to perform when they go to the drama competition in Truro in November.

Live theatre is still the most popular kind of dramatic entertainment, but the cinema is making more and more converts with each passing day. There is no cinema in Great Village, but Truro has three: the Strand, the Orpheum and the Princess, where moving picture shows are daily offered to a growing audience. Some of the older folks have not yet absorbed the idea of sound recorded on round wax cylinders. They really marvel at motions pictures. But the young flock to the cinemas, for the young always embrace the new. They return abuzz with talk about Charlie Chaplain, Geraldine Farrar and Ethel Barrymore. A few young people are motoring to Truro tonight to see Blanche Sweet in “The Ragamuffin,” by William C. DeMille, at the Strand.

Whether music and song, recitations and plays, or parties, bees, pulls, etc., Great Village is a hotbed of entertaining activities. Villagers are often so busy planning the next "do" that a stranger might wonder how they get any work done. Indeed, Great Villagers are some of the most industrious folks in Nova Scotia.


1. A quadrille is a square dance containing usually five figures.

2. In the 1920s the Chautaqua came to Truro and Great Village for the first time. Its programme of music, lectures and entertainment was enthusiastically embraced by the local people, and it returned to the area several years in a row. The Chautaqua’s structure fit in perfectly with the kinds of performing which was already a well-established tradition in the region.

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