Merry meet all,
My grandmother recounts what life was like for her growing up in northern Cape Breton during war time.
Today, here in Canada where in most places, we have electricity and all the modern conveniences that goes with it- can you imagine eg., washing towels, sheets, etc., on a washboard? Well let’s go back to my childhood, when my mother raised 8 children without any of the modern conveniences. So how did she get the clothes washing done? First all of the water had to be put in large pots on the top of the old waterloo to heat. Then the water was put in a large washtub where each item was scrubbed on a washing board. Sunlight soap came in large bars. The family usually pitched in when it came to wringing the soap deposit out of the clothing. Then stage two, more water was brought in and the clothing was put in the tub to be rinsed, finally, to the clothesline. The rinsing tub which was quite big was never put aside for long. It was our ‘bath tub’. When it was time for our bath the tub was put in the dining room-filled and everyone forbidden to enter.
We had an old horse- so gentle, we all loved him. We would spend time curry combing him and braiding his hair. He appeared to be asleep most of the time during his beauty treatment. We would throw an old blanket over his back and three of us would go for a ride. Our mother used to have him up and she would go up to do her shopping. No bread could be bought in stores in those days. The most delicious bread and bannock. I can still see her making this cake she’d make a cake dough, put it in the big iron fry pan then mix brown sugar, butter and some – put this on top of cake corn and for a treat a special pudding in the fry pan cake. Just the simple things of life but to us they were anything but.
Do you like fudge? When our children were small and we lived on a farm on the magical island of Cape Breton, fudge was the only sweet they knew. This one particular day the girls kept asking. “Mom, would you please make us some fudge?” Finally I said yes. I went to the pantry to get the bag of brown sugar and guess what? There was only a little mouse in the bottom of the bag. I had to break the bad news to the girls, however, I promised Papa would go up to Robbie Moore’s store in Red River soon.
So they decided to go visit their Papa who was down the road at his boathouse. Ever so gently they pushed the door open and there was their Papa hammering away on a boat he was building. He hadn’t heard their arrival. Then he noticed their little blond heads. “Hello girls, would you please go up to Robbie’s for some brown sugar. Mom doesn’t have enough to make some fudge.” What, hitch up old Nelly to the sleigh and go all the way up to Red River just for a plate of fudge.” “Sorry girls, not today you know Samuel Hinkley needs his boat to be ready for lobster-fishing and Papa has to work hard to have it finished in time.” The girls were so disappointed. Usually they would climb into the boat-would pretend they were fishermen today.
They left for home, feeling very sad. When they opened the door there was Mom all smiles.” Did you notice if the fudge was hard, I made just a wee bit, go check, I put it out on the back door step. Out they dashed. Lots of snow on the step but no plate of fudge. “Mom,” they called out, “There’s no plate in sight. Oh dear wherever could it be. Then all eyes turned to our old milk cow with such a happy look on her face she kept licking her lips she kept licking her lips with her long pink tongue. Ah huh-for sure she was the guilty one.
In the meantime, Papa was starting to feel a little guilty about refusing to go up to Robbie’s. You see he really loved his children and hated to see them looking so sad. So right then and there he decided to go home early for supper and surprise them. He waited until everyone had eaten, then asked,” Who would like to go for a sleigh ride?” “Me, me, me,” they called out. So they got dressed nice and warm and raced down to the barn There was old Nelson, munching away on a big mound of hay. Papa led Nelson outdoors and harnessed him up to the sleigh then called out “All aboard.” They climbed up and sat on the big wooden seat and snuggled under the big old quilt and headed up to Robbie’s. “Whoopee!” Nelson was old and slow then Papa called out “Giddy up old fella” And sure enough Nelson started to trot and all we could hear was the beautiful sound of the sleigh bells then Papa started to sing country songs and then he would yodel. How the children loved to hear him sing. Anyway we eventually forgave Molly, you see later on, she presented us with two beautiful gifts. Ah but that is another story for another day.
We were a family of nine- six boys and three girls. We were never bored-everyone had to pitch in survival I guess- no shopping centers. It was amazing what my Mother could put on the table to feed so many of us. We were poor, but do you know what we never knew we were poor! We were all pioneers.
Winters were hard. It seems to me now that we had way more snow and the ice, well, it had to be seen to be believed. My job, when I was about ten years old was to hitch up our old horse to a stone boat and pick up the stones in the fields. I can still see evidence of my work to this day. We picked bags of hazelnuts, stored some, later, we cleaned them Mother to use for baking.
We used to cut firewood- wait til it snowed then we would bring it home by sleigh. Later on we would cut it in stove lengths. A group of people would gather and then we would have a splitting frolic. Happy, happy memories. No splitting machines then- My Dad used to grind the axe blades every night ready for the next day. We had an old Waterloo stove. It had a warming oven on top, I remember we would put our mitts there every night and they’d be toastie warm in the morning. At the top end there was a tank for warming.
The earliest recollection was when I was around two. My father had made a cradle for me. Now times were hard and money was scarce. So one had to really put their thinking cap on. So what he came up with was a rocking cradle. We had a wooden barrel. He set to and cut it in 1/2s length wise smoothened the edges then my Mom made a mattress. She made a pillow case stuffed it with straw. Then he made two rockers attached them to the cradle. I recall Simon Fraser rocking the cradle much to my delight. My younger brother and sister used the same cradle.
The women worked hard then no electricity- no washing machines or any of the modern appliances we take for granted today. First of all there were no clothing stores. We shopped by catalogue The T. Eston Company and later on Robert Simpson’s. My mother made a lot of our clothing. She was good with the knitting needles: socks, mitts, scarves, hats, sweaters, She was a good seamstress, we had a treadle sewing machine, a loom and a spinning wheel. Our own sheep too. How she ever did all she had to do with so many children- well today I just marvel at her courage, patience and devotion to all her family.
A mouse in the house no-no a mouse in the clothes pin box, which was attached to the clothes pole. You see Nana used to hang her clothes outdoors to dry. A little mouse took up residence unbeknownst to Nana who was scared of her own shadow never mind a little mouse. It happened this way- once more Nana put her hand in the box to get a clothes pin and yeah something soft & furry she looked down in the box and there, crouched in a corner was this dear little mouse who was scared. It immediately ran up her arm and jumped over not the moon but over the veranda. It headed home to spread the word- never, ever go near the pin box.
The many hours of hard work. No electricity- work was often done by the kerosene lamp, no tools like today. However, it was very rewarding. Just imagine going to the woods for wood for the keel and knees- – was bought from the main land. The part I liked was the steaming of the timbers- quite a process when we were small we’d go inside and help – the nails.
When the boat was finished, a couple of horses would haul it up to the old wharf- just to see her launched and bobbing-the water was quite a reward. See the long hours and hard work was quickly forgotten.
People visited and often to play cards, story telling, just old fashioned friendliness, unfortunately, our young people of today be missing out on so much, some are interested- sure couldn’t care less. We had no tv, no radio, we had no choice but to create our own entertainment. Some of the old folks would start telling ghost stories, well, we’d be scared to go upstairs to bed.
When someone died, in the home, the women would lay the body out and wash and dress the body. A coffin was made in the settlement by one of the carpenters. No money was given or expected. Then the coffin was set up in the parlor and the body waked. This is where fold would take turns sitting with the family till it was time to bury the deceased. Food was brought to the home during the grieving period.
It is a mistake to think once you are done with school, you need never learn anything new. Today women are doing things that their mothers would never have dreamed of. We should consider ourselves fortunate to be living in a time when there is always a future for a woman, no matter what her age. I’ll think the latter part is over. So, if you put on a little weight, fine! You need glasses, get a little pair, here and there brown spots on the back of your hands, don’t give up. Whoopee there is a fountain of youth. It is all in the mind. The creativity you bring to your life and to those around you whom you love. That is the secret. Once you have reached this way of thinking you know you are indeed on the right track.
Everyone in the settlement had at least one horse and several cattle, sheep, hens, and pigs. The gardens were a sight to behold. We had a cellar under the house and in the fall when the crops were harvested it was time to put everything indoors. We had bins of potatoes enough to last till the summer: carrots, cabbage, parsnips, plums, and lots of blueberries. Of course, there was a big family so we had to have lots. We had our own milk, cream, curds (read, cottage cheese). Sometimes our cows would go dry so we would have to go out to our – place at Fox Back as he always had a good supply. I loved my – my sisters and I would go for the milk and he would not let us go home without a piece of bannock and a glass of milk. He made maple syrup from his many trees. He crafted butter tubs so these 2 items brought him in some money. He died in our home when I was eleven years old. What a hard life he had. His dear wife Ellen Fitzgerald died during childbirth. They are buried out at Fox Back. He raised the children as best as he could under very different circumstances. Ellen’s sister married an English soldier and went to India, where she died and is buried at the bottom of the Himalayan mountains- hard to believe, eh?
My Mom used to knit and sew. We had our own sheep so the sheep were seared and the wool was sent to Prince Edward Island to be washed. We would skin the wool. Also we had a room upstairs for weaving. I used it to fill the shuttles. I believe I could still weave if I had to. We would like you to know Alfred was a very spiritual man who was in there with nature. He found beauty in his surroundings and was always amazed by nature.
Papa, as all his friends called him was born on October 29, 1919 at the home of Jimmy Frazer at the Lower end of Pleasant Bay. Maggie Kiah Hinkley brought him into the world as she did dozens of others. She was a mid-wife. She had no formal training. However, she was a wise, motherly lady with a heart of gold and skilled hands. I should add, she never lost a baby. After a few days he was taken home to Pollet’s Cove where he lived for three years. Then the family moved to what is known locally as the Lower End. Incidentally, his father, mother, and brother Dave who was fourteen at the time, rowed the small rowboat from Pollett’s Cove, to the Lower End. Archies, as we call it.
In 1940 Alfred and Herbie MacLean enlisted. They went overseas together. Alfred served in England, Italy and Holland. He was wounded at Monte Cassino, Italy. Herbie went on the stretcher before Alfred ws transferred to the field hospital to say “Hello.” Sadly, Herbie was hit by shrapnel and died the next day.
Our Papa was a kind and humble man who cared deeply for his family. Never much cash in his pocket then but I can honestly say we always had good food on the table.
Many the days he walked from the Lower End at three a.m to the old wharf to go fishing. Walk home again, milk the cows, and perform the chores that had to be done daily. He never ever complained. Finally we were able to save $600.00 to buy a second – truck. We thought we were the cat’s whiskers. Our old horse Nelson finally didn’t have to make the long trip to Red River to Robbie Moore’s store for groceries and kerosene for our lamps. His job now was to haul the wood home and plough and bring in the hay. Of course, the children loved their sleigh rides.
Oh the stories- before I chose one. Papa was chosen to be part of an honor guard for the Queen Mom. Can you imagine a young man all the way from Pleasant bay guarding the Queen?
We stayed in Sydney overnight- left by the bus for Pleasant Bay the next day. Actually the bus only went to Cheticamp then Duncan- picked us up in Cheticamp and brought us to the Lower End. Plans had been made to have a wedding dance with Angus Chisholm as fiddle to be held in the community hall 2 days later. Viola made a lovely wedding cake. A nightmare – then a week later. A terrible forest fire was raging in the national park, which threatened the settlement. One day the smoke was so thick we had to leave the house and go down to the beach as Alfred’s Mom had asthma . We had been, however, all able bodied men had to go help fight the fires. Then word came that all women and children had to be evacuated to Cheticamp to safety. Tents had been set up. Some of us, however, where it was too rough to launch a dory to . So the boat left as did most of the people. I stayed at the house everyone except Alfred and I stayed so after a while a mountie came by and took me and all my worldly goods to Cheticamp. I should tell you at this time I wore my lovely white dress onto the beach, coming up one of the heels broke. I hopped slowly – style. Picture if you will walking with a perfectly good 2 /1/2 inch heel for the other foot. No heel at all. I must have been a comical picture. I stayed in the local hotel for a few days. At this point I cried a lot. I felt for everyone who had lost their homes. I really did-However, I was feeling so home sick. I felt like I knew no one even Alfred. Keep in mind we hadn’t seen one another for over a year. My Mom was in hospital very ill I didn’t know if I’d ever see his again. Self-pity set in. I wondered if I should leave but where would I go? So many people in the house Alfred and I never seemed to be able to be alone- if only we had our own home everything would have come together. So we got of to a bad start. Two weeks after the fire a lady in Red River gave us a little party. Peggy Wikie). Keep in mind several people had lost their homes, which was difficult – the Church and community hall was burnt down. We made our home with Alfred. Parents there were his two nephews staying there. So there we were six people. I had always lived within a short drive to -. Close home was in a little village (no longer small) and now I was living in the country-the scenery was incredible. I always thought everything would be ideal if only we had our own place. That wouldn’t happen until we went out to Alberta. I got a job on a – then he went out onto a coalmine. Then his sister wrote that he should come home as his Mother was not well. So home we went with our little ones, Heather and -. 9 months later Dave and Sylvia came along. We decided to go west again and in 56 to Edmonton where Deanne was born.
Ruled out as the ice was a reality and in wanted to go Cape North in Cheticamp one had to walk or go by sleigh, which could be quite an undertaking.
Needless to say everyone stocked up on supplies for the months November-May. A steamer came regularly with supplies to late fall resuming when the ice left in the spring. The mail man brought the mail from Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay. She was difficult for him in winter when he would resort to dog sleigh. Keep in mind most people relief on Eaton’s mail order for goods as there was no clothing stores here. Robin Jones Cheticamp kept a variety of goods. Buying bread, for example, was unheard of in those days as everyone baked bread for their own household. Today most people go to the store for their bread back then everyone learned from their mothers the art and an art it was.
In 19- my brother Everett took a severe pain in his side it got so bad we decided to take him to the hospital in Cheticamp. This was in ? So we set out from the Lower End of us. Everett was put on a sleigh with lots of blankets and we took turns hauling him over the mountains, which was 25 miles. Lots of snow we were sure tired but the thought of the pain Everett was in we carried on. At one point we thought he was finished, which made us more determined to push on. When we reached Cheticamp some people from Cheticamp met us and took over. Well Everett made it. However peritonitis had set in so he had to spend an extended period of time in the hospital. So many recollections, and so varied it is hard to know where to start. So this wil be a hip hop rendition.
On wash days my Mother would put a big wash tub full of water to wash our clothes. We had an even bigger tub that was used for our weekly bath. This was put in the dining room in front of the stove.
The times we all loved was story telling time. We’d all gather around the stove or the kitchen table. Where people’s imagination would really run riot! Ghost stories, tall tales. My Dad had once been shipwrecked of the U.S coast. We were tired of that one. The oil lamp would sputter and we’d all head for bed. Scared out of our wits to go the outside toilet in case something or someone would grab us. These were truly happy times. We, to this day, tell tales and try to solve all the nation’s problems. I almost forgot the singing, lots of it. Maybe we here in Pleasant Bay could try and get our young people involved in keeping our stories alive!
Blessed Be, Lady Spiderwitch )O(