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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections – A Day in the Life of Great Village – Neighbours, Communities Nearby

Miss Harrison’s missionary lecture tonight in the Presbyterian church will draw an audience not only from Great Village itself, but the organizers also expect people from neighbouring communities. Folks will come from nearby Highland Village, Spencer’s Point and Glenholme, a good number from Londonderry and Londonderry Station. A few are even expected from Masstown, Truro, Portaupique and Economy. Villagers are always assured of support from their neighbours, and their neighbours are likewise assured that villagers will turn out for their events: concerts, bazaars, suppers, theatricals and society fêtes of every description. The village has close relations and interaction with all its neighbours a daily and lively commerce, which keeps them all hopping.

Highland Village is more or less an extension of Great Village itself, where one ends and the other begins only the locals know. Highland Village’s farmers’ focus is mostly on the stores and the creamery in Great Village. More than one family has a house in Great Village and a farm in Highland Village.

 The Road to Highland Village, Spencer's Point, Bass River

Spencer’s Point seems more apart, being out at the mouth of the Great Village River, right on Cobequid Bay. But the Point is a favourite spot of Villagers, who gather there in the summer for picnics and bacon frys, and for swimming. The Y.M.C.A., the Boy Scouts, Sunday School classes, and many other groups all have gatherings at the Point. It is rather like Great Village’s own summer resort spot. Though not as long settled as Great Village, Spencer’s Point has an interesting history. The location made it a good stopping place for ships in the late 1800s. In 1863 Spencer’s Point got its first light: a lantern hung on a pole. As the years passed, this light was improved, and in 1870 Mr. R.A. Spencer was officially appointed the keeper of what the Dominion government, on its official maps, called the “White Light visible eleven miles.” Mr. Spencer kept the light for decades. In 1913 his daughter, Miss Amelia, took over, and she is doing an admirable job, along with her sister Miss Annie, guiding ships through the treacherous waters of the Bay.(1) Besides being a port of call for ships, Spencer’s Point is also a farming district. However, the immense tides of the Bay never cease their work, and gradually, over the years, the cliffs and banks have eroded so much that some of the farms have actually been washed away. This relentless erosion continues and threatens the remaining farms.(2)

 The Road to Truro

Though the name was officially changed to Londonderry in 1903, most folks around still call it by its old name, Acadia Mines or the Mines, especially when talking to strangers. Londonderry Station, a separate place, is usually called the Station. When you add Londonderry Township, the old name of the whole district (which is now part of Colchester County, the township long ago abandoned as individual communities grew into their own identities), and Port of Londonderry, as Great Village was called in the 1800s well, it is little wonder that visitors to the area get a little confused. In the late 1800s, Acadia Mines was the most bustling, populous town in the county outside Truro. For some years it was the site of the largest iron ore mines and works in the eastern part of the Dominion. Though the mining and smelting have ceased, Acadia Mines is still abustle with activity and folks are always hopeful a company will come in and start things up again. Companies have been mining iron ore in the area since the late 1840s, and by the 1870s steel mills were built to process the ore on site. It was in 1872 that the railroad was completed, with a station constructed in 1873 near Acadia Mines, which was named Londonderry Station. A community grew up around this busy spot ore, steel, lumber, goods and passengers moving in and out at a great rated during the 1880s and 1890s. At one point in the 1890s there was talk and some planning around the construction of a rail line from the Station to Parrsboro, via Great Village and along the shore road. Nothing ever came of it mostly because the mining and smelting began to dwindle at the turn of the century. The miners and labourers who had devoted their sweat, and sometimes blood, to the industry began to return to Sydney in Cape Breton, and the busier mills there. Being on the ocean, Sydney was a more economical location for manufacture. Deep in the heart of the Cobequid Mountains, Acadia Mines always struggled with the problem of how to get the ore and steel out to the wider world. The iron works closed finally a few years ago (around 1910); the steel mill closed in 1912; the big pipe foundry closed in 1914 and its operations moved to Quebec. These closures have had a profound affect on the entire county, the province and even the country. Over the years approximately 2,000,000 tons of iron ore was mined in the area. It grieves many of the people in the town and the surrounding communities to see Acadia Mine’s many homes, stores and mills sitting idle, falling into decay.(3) Some hoped that with the start of the war, there would be renewed interest in the ore still buried in the mountains. But the Dominion government's attention is in other quarters. Many of the residents who remain in the town have not given up and are turning from mining the hidden ore to harvesting the extensive forests. Lumbering has always been an important activity in the area, but it is taking off as a profitable substitute to the glory days of industrial manufacture.(4) Turning back to this primary industry has brought some renewed hope to those who remain in the town. Londonderry Station has also diminished, of course, but the trains keep running indeed, with the war, there are many more of them, bringing people and goods along in a steady stream. And like the Mines, the Station is seeing some new life with increased lumbering.

Another name change that can cause confusion with visitors is with nearby Glenholme, which many around still call Folly Village (not to be confused with Folly Lake and Folly Mountain). The government changed the name by statute in 1909, but old habits die hard, and many of the older folks still prefer what they have always known. Glenholme is a small village with a few stores and one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in the province, Erskine. In the early years of settlement it was a very popular stopping place for the stage from Truro to Parrsboro. Farming and fishing have been and remain the principal activities in Glenholme. Fishermen come out from communities all along the coast: from Spencer’s Point, Little Dyke, Portaupique, Highland Village. They have fished the salmon and shad in the Bay for decades; but Glenholme is the centre of fishing in the area and has the steadiest group of fishermen: Messrs. J.B. Urquhart, G. Flemming, S. Stewart and H. Morrison. Fishermen have harvested the Bay in two main ways: with weirs of brush or twine, and with drift or gill nets (the fishermen position themselves at the head of the ebb tide and drift down, and then return with the flood tide. Shad is cleaned, salted and packed in barrels, then shipped at Spencer’s Point, mostly to Boston. Smelt, trout and gaspereau are also fished at various times, but these fisheries are not of any commercial significance. Still, they do give added income to an enterprising fellow (especially the local lads), who can sell trout and smelt door to door. The clam fishery takes place mostly further up the Bay.

One amusing story told in Great Village (with versions repeated in most other towns around) is how the smelts arrived one May Sunday during church service. A man opened the door and whispered to a friend at the back, who went out with his informant. A buzz passed through the congregation, which sensed immediately the cause of the departure, and one by one the gentlemen left. Finally, the buzz reached the minister, and he announced the closing hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River”!

Glenholme, Londonderry, Spencer’s Point, and the other larger villages and towns along the shore as well as the tiny communities such as Highland Village, Peek-a-Boo, Little Dyke, Masstown, Lornevale, and so on form a complex web of activity and connection with Great Village. Families are spread out among them, have intermarried, and commerce is strongly tied to each others' highs and lows. Gathering within and among communities occurs for a bewildering number of reasons. The Newsy Notes and Happenings columns in the Truro Daily News are read with interest by everyone along the shore. With the telegraph and telephone more common now, news gets around a little faster, word can spread quickly over greater distances; yet some think that telephones are not bringing people together in the same way as the mails have done for decades. Still, Colchester County is a land of close and supportive neighbours and folks hope this won’t change for some time to come.


1. Miss Amelia Spencer (not to be confused with the telephone switchboard operator, Amelia (Mealy) Spencer) kept the Spencer Point Light until February 1950, when Miss Annie was officially appointed and remained in charge until her retirement due to illness on December 31, 1958. In 1959 the Spencer’s Point Light was electrified.

2. Elizabeth Bishop’s memories of Spencer’s Point and its lighthouse remained with her for the rest of her life. In October 1963 she wrote to her aunt, Grace Bulmer Bowers: “I was tempted to cable you PLEASE BUY LIGHTHOUSE but have thought better of it! I don’t like the Geddes house I want an old farmhouse with the only improvements electricity and a good furnace or I'd put them in myself....I vaguely remember that house at Spencer’s Point but I think it’s a bit too out of the way and I’m not that mad about the Bay of Fundy. I love it, but I think it’s better to go to, or see from a distance not be right there with the rocks and mud....How much land goes with that lighthouse?”

Bishop always said she day-dreamed about living in a lighthouse, perhaps as Misses Amelia and Annie Spencer lived in the lighthouse at Spencer’s Point.

3. Further devastation occurred at Londonderry (Acadia Mines) when on May 30, 1920, a fire raged through the town destroying 54 buildings. Elizabeth Bishop remembered Acadia Mines (which she referred to as “Galway Mines”) in the 1920s, in her memoir “Memories of Uncle Neddy”: “Aunt Hat came from Galway Mines, a sort of ghost town twenty miles off, where iron mining and smelting were still carried on in a reduced and primitive way. It had once been more flourishing, but I remember boarded-up houses, boarded-up stores with rotting wooden sidewalks in front of them, and the many deep black or dark red holes that disfigured the hills. Also a mountainous slag heap, dead, gray, and glistening.” (CPr, 235)

4. One of the local customers for timber (unprocessed wood) and lumber was the furniture factory at Bass River, the Dominion Chair Company.

1 comment:

  1. The most wonderful thing about NS is that the words communities and neighbours still exist in society. Another wonderful read.