MARCH 2, 1927
MEN AND EVENTS OF 50 YEARS AGO
BERWICK AT CONFEDERATION
In 1867, when Nova Scotia became an integral part of the Dominion of Canada, the village of Berwick consisted of Main Street, with about twenty-five families, and on the road running south, now Commercial Street, were the Baptist Church and two houses, those of Dudley Woodworth and Doctor Marsters. These residences were both made to face north, looking down on the busy hamlet below the hill. It was not thought anyone would venture into the wilderness to build a home further south. A trail or woods road led through swamp and alder bushes past where the Royal Bank and Town Hall now stand, thence through a virgin forest of birch, beech and hemlock over the hill to Lees Corner on the post road. Commercial Street has no worded "layout." It was evidently in the beginning a foot-path from Main Street to the post road, and is held by the public through many years of occupancy.
The junction of Main Street and Commercial was popularly known as "The Corner." Here a much travelled thoroughfare ran over the mountain to Harborville. In those days, as Brother Kappelle would like us to believe now, Harborville was the "seaport of Berwick." Over this road ox-teams hauled potatoes and produce, cord wood and lumber for shipment to Boston and New England ports. My father has told me of seeing fifty teams loaded with potatoes, on the road near Harborville, waiting in line to discharge into schooners lying at the wharf. These vessels brought back flour, molasses and household necessities for distribution to the people of the country round.
Just south of the corner stood Ilsleys store, where the pellar of its successor may still be seen. This was the principal business stand of the countryside. Ilsleys was a typical country store and carried a general stock well adapted to supply the needs of the farmers round about. The shelves were filled with calicos and cottons, groceries and sundries; the back shop showed casks of molasses and oil and a stock of farm tools and hardware; nothing elaborate, nor shoddy all plain and substantial. The hardy pioneers of pre-Confederation days were, from the force of circumstances, bred to economy. Verily economy was so ingrained in the nature of the writer, that now in his second childhood he may be pardoned if it breaks out occasionally.
The farmer of sixty years ago lived mainly from the farm and lived well too. Vegetables of all kinds there were in plenty. A fat pig or two, was laid down in sweet pickle to supply ham, bacon and pork for the year. The corned beef barrell was never empty on well regulated farms. Home grown wheat, rye and corn made a brownbread that, if Bezanson the Baker could get the recipe and supply the public demand, his fortune would be made. Lamb in season and fowls the year round could be found in many homes. Oh! to taste again the mince pies and doughnuts that used to grace the larder in the old homestead before Confederation. The cows produced milk, butter and cheese in abundance. Wool from the farm sheep, spun and woven at home, clothed the farmer and his family in warm, substantial garments. The hides from home-slaughtered beef were tanned in the local tan-yard, and the itinerant shoemaker, setting up his bench in the farmers kitchen, turned out boots and shoes for the farm girls that would make the modern flapper turn green with envy. Then the annual trip to Halifax, usually timed to get home the day before Christmas; the two farm horses and market wagon loaded with pork, lamb, eggs, butter and cheese; the driver carrying food for himself and team. Leaving home at four oclock on a Monday morning, and meeting a brisk market, barring accidents, arriving home on the following Saturday.
"Barring accidents" is right. The tale of one unexpected hold-up was told by the old kitchen fireside sixty years ago. A half dozen weary market men, homeward bound with supplies for the Christmas-tide were held up near Mount Uniacke by an early winter blizzard. For two days and nights they waited for it to blow by. When the end finally came the road was piled mountains high with snow and winter was on in earnest. Our pioneer fathers were resourceful and energetic. Trifles like this did not for a moment phase them. Expert axemen all, and born mechanics, axes were procured; timber was in abundance all around them. A giant sled was hewed out, bound together with withes; wagons and contents loaded on the improvised outfit, and with six teams of horses attached they smashed their way through drift and snow to their homes.
The supplies for the year were contained in the wagons; a quarter hundred weight of brown sugar, ten gallons of molasses, five pounds of tea, raising, currants and spices, calico and gingham for the girls of the house, and possibly if the trip had been particularly profitable, a black silk gown for mother. In the locked box under the wagon seat were six oranges and a pound of hard candy for Santa Claus to use on Christmas Eve.
Down to "the Corner" to Ilsleys store, the busy housewives of the neighbourhood brought their eggs and butter to exchange for groceries and household necessities. Eggs were worth ten cents a dozen and butter fifteen cents per pound if paid in trade; if cash, eight and twelve respectively. Here in the long winter evenings the men of the community gathered to discuss farm economics, religion, politics, and temperance. There were strong men in those days in brain as well as brawn by the dim light of a tallow candle were a liberal education to the interested listener. There was no daily paper in every home, as now, nor was it in evidence here. The "Nova Scotian" edited by Joe Howe, and the "Colonist," the organ of Toryism, came by coach from Halifax weekly. This was the forum where public opinion was moulded. Here and in a hundred other corner stores from Yarmouth to Cape North, Confederation was the burning question; the "Botheration Scheme," as it was dubbed by Joe Howe in the Morning Chronicle, then as now the organ of the Antis Here the populace were lashed into frenzy by the flaming eloquence of Howe, who went up and down the countryside rousing the people by his fiery words. Here in these corner stores in the days of fifty years ago, was engendered the bitter political feeling that even yet pervades the country where Grit and Tory, once Antis and Confederates met in the contest for political supremacy.
Ilsleys old store is gone, or rather, rebuilt, is now a comfortable dwelling opposite the Camp Ground gate. Its successor burned years ago the common fate of all Main Street stores. Nothing is left to mark the place save a grass-grown hole that was once a cellar. Down in the cemetery repose both those who won and those who lost the Confederation battle. Confederates and Anti-Confederates lie side by side, and few of us remain who even know the names of those stalwarts who sat round the stove at Ilsleys. More soon.
S. C. PARKER.
Berwick, N. S., Feb. 25, 1927