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February 10, 1949

Romantic Notes of the Gay Nineties

(By Leora Webster Cross)

Former pupils of the Cambridge School will be pleased to learn that the old schoolhouse on the little hill has recently been transformed into a very up-to-date four-apartment building, to meet the needs of the fast growing community. They would be amazed too, to se the change in the surroundings. Just across the road, is another kind of school – a Flying school, at the "Sky Gardens". Connected with the airport, is a very popular "snack bar", where pupils may regale themselves at the lunch hour.

I had come to my last year in the old schoolhouse. My carefree days were over. No more playing tee-taw-tex on my slate, nor gulping down my dinner at noon to hurry back for the exciting game of baseball; and there would be no more skating after school on the old mill pond, nor coasting down the steep hills and across the bridge spanning the old mill stream. I must henceforth apply myself assiduously to the task for which I had been dedicated.

My teacher was Winnifred Webster, daughter of Uncle Sam. It was her first term, but it gave promise of the many successful years which followed at Kentville, where she ultimately rose to the position of Principal. "Winnie" is now resting on her laurels at the home which her late father acquired from F. Ratchford. Her sister Gene, of Brooklyn Street, and Ruperta Woodward, daughter of father’s sister, Mary of Nictaux Falls, came to Cambridge to join the class. (Father had one other sister – Maria, Mrs. Colin Smith, of Nictaux Falls – the only surviving member of the large family.)

For me, it was a successful, though very busy year. Besides helping with the regular household chores, I had to bear my share of the burden of "keeping the wolf from the door." Like the Habitant. "We hadn’t much monee, but we’d plenty good healt." Heretofore, we had obtained much of our living by means of "barter", trading butter, eggs, and other produce, for groceries. But now, there was looming up a new source of income. The apple industry was coming into its own.

School had to take second place during apple-picking time. All our energies were bent on meeting the deadline for the next shipment of apples overseas, and on harvesting the crop before Jack Frost got it. There was something exhilarating about the game, and we managed to squeeze in a bit of fun.

Mother had a sense of humor and was such a good sport that we liked to play practical jokes on her. One day, Ethel Craig, sister Grace and I, masquerading as "gentlemen", paraded out to the orchard where mother was working with sister Alberta, ready to act as "announcer". As we anticipated, we were taken for apple buyers and got the proper reception, until close range revealed our identity.

With Joyce Kilmer, I could sing, "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree", especially, when laden with crimson fruit. I wonder how we ever managed to produce such wonderful apples, without a spray outfit or artificial fertilizer. We had plenty of the natural kind. I guess, as we always kept stock in the barn and a pig and hens.

I think too, our orchard, now the property of Jack Webster, son of Cousin Joe, produced the very best kinds of apples. First came the most lucious Bow Sweet, Astrakhan and Strawberry; then, Gravenstein; rosy-cheeked Bishop Pippin; large Red Kings and Russets. And our Snow Apple was just about on a par with the new celebrated Mackintosh Red. There were only a few trees, like the Emperor, and perhaps Baldwin, that I would be willing to have the government pull out as they do nowadays.

Warehouses were springing up all through the Valley. Cambridge had the advantage of being in the centre of the apple belt and along the line of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, that part of the C.P.R., extending from Yarmouth to Halifax. As the best orchards grew on the land next to the North Mountain, a number of farmers from that locality built a co-operative warehouse near Cambridge Station. I have heard that a firm from Upper Canada bought up the apples, tree run, stored in this warehouse, and then failed up.

Before long, J. Howe Cox, one of our outstanding citizens, acted as agent for the firm of Fox & Co. of London, which owned a warehouse there. His son, George, now living in the house built by Thomas Craig, carries on the tradition as inspector of apples for the Valley.

Like his father before him, George, too is active in church work ad community effort, and is ably assisted by his very capable wife. In his later years, Howe established a Tourist Centre, with over-night cabins, at the East end of Cambridge, now owned and operated by Mr. Lester Robinson.

Another warehouse owned by Howard Bligh & Son, of Lakeville, and Halifax, did a leading business. Mr. Bligh had the sagacity to engage Craig Caldwell, when a very young man to take charge of his business. Craig had natural executive ability and stuck with the industry until shortly before his sudden passing at his home in Berwick, a year ago, when he resigned as secretary of the Apple Marketing Board, which position he had held from its inception.

James Durno, living on the Omar Woodman place now efficient manager of the Provincial Sanatorium at Kentville, was associated with the industry for some years. (Craig and "Jim", both showed their wisdom and good taste in choosing their "better-halves", viz., Renna Ratchford and Gladys Bullerwell, respectively, from the fair ladies of their own community).

The next important move by our progressive farmers was the formation of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association. After my marriage, I had the privilege of acting as their stenographer at the meetings of this Association for a few years, and became much interested in the speeches and discussions. The only thing I can remember is hearing the late W. W. Pineo, of Waterville, tell about the wonderful results he obtained by feeding apple culls to his pigs.

Our farmers pioneered in another forward movement – the rural cooperative, when they built the Cambridge Club Store. They were fortunate in being able to secure such a capable man as Mr. James Durno, (father of "Jim") as manager. Mr. Durno had all the fine qualities of a Scotchman, and was very highly respected in the community. His son, Alex, living in the house built by Craig Caldwell, carries on business, independently, in the same store, and also holds the prominent position of Warden in the County Council.

The apple Industry has had its ups and downs, its good years and its lean years, from the beginning. Some fifteen years ago, the noted American author, T. Langstreth, after touring around Nova Scotia, wrote a book in which he had the following to say about our apple industry: "Worrying along with an apple orchard from April till harvest, makes raising the quintuplets child’s play in comparison. I missed the explanation as to just how it happens that the apple grower after these fearful battles with bugs at home and buyers abroad, manages to emerge from his ordeal with a large bank account. One expects breadlines and finds Buicks – another economic puzzle."

Well, in those early days, we didn’t have Buicks or even Fords, but neither did we have breadlines.

Down in the hollow, beside the railroad, stands a ghost, represent – a very laudable attempt to establish another industry in Cambridge, in the form of a jam factory. I remember the thrill I got when we went to visit this plant soon after it began operations. The proprietor, Mr. Lorengo Jones, showed us around, proudly demonstrating its workings. Not long after, the wheels began to slow down and then suddenly ceased – according to rumor, squeezed out by outside interests. Our grievances were beginning to pile up against Upper Canada.

Since my recent article on the "Gay Nineties" appeared in The Register, I have had letters from far and near expressing their deep interest in their homeland. The following excerpt from a letter is typical: "I think we were very fortunate to be born and brought up in Cambridge. Although it is many years since I left home, I’ve never found another place that could take its place in my heart."

Mrs. Edith Skinner, of Vancouver, suggests that we have an Old Home Week in Cambridge this coming summer. In this connection, I am sending herewith a list of former citizens of Cambridge of the period of the Gay Nineties now living outside Nova Scotia:

Margaret Caldwell-Cunningham, New York

J. Harris Cox, New York

Alberta Webster Cox, New York

Dr. David Webster (Eye Specialist), New York

Dr. Archie Webster (Dentist), New York

Mabel Caldwell Armstrong, New Jersey

Nellie Webster Nickerson, New Hampshire

Gertrude Webster Orrall, Massachusetts

Borden Cox, Massachusetts

Minnie West Sprott, Massachusetts

Alden Webster, California

Edith Woodman Vernon (ex-missionary), California

Bertha Whitman Spears, California

Rev. Norman Whitman, New Brunswick

Kate Craig Borden, New Brunswick

Edith Webster Skinner, Vancouver, B. C.

Jennie Webster Robertson, Vancouver, B. C.

Ethel Craig Howell, Victoria, B. C.

Myrtle Caldwell Archibald, Quebec

Jessie Durno Mills, Saskatchewan