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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Commerce and Contemplation: The Laytons and the Hills

The heart of Great Village lies just beyond the bridge, the spot where, as some villagers say with a smile, “all roads meet.” Actually, it is just three roads. It is the spot where the road from Truro and the road from Parrsboro link up. It is known as the Old Post Road, the principal highway for over a hundred years. Here, too, the Old Cumberland Road begins. This road takes folks up Scrabble Hill and through the Cobequid Mountains. At this convergence of roads is the common or green, the hub of village life ─ especially worship and business. The Presbyterian church towers over all activities, reminding people what is vital for well-being; but it has its say only one day a week. All around it the hustle and bustle of commerce is conducted the other six days.

Much of this commerce is conducted by two prominent families in Great Village: the Laytons, staunch Baptists, and the Hills, strong Presbyterians. The Laytons and Hills operate successful mercantile firms, providing villagers with just about everything they need and want, from apples to zippers.

The Layton store is located right at the corner, where the Old Post Road makes its right angle turn from Truro to Parrsboro. The Hill store is across the common, near the church on the Old Cumberland Road. With Arthur Bulmer’s tinsmith shop opposite it (on the corner of the Old Post and Old Cumberland Roads ─ a spot once known as Tan Bark Corner, when his father William Bulmer ran his tannery), the hub of Great Village is a lively place.

Both these firms have been operating for over forty years, and one could say Great Village wouldn’t be the same without them. Nearly every villager takes time out of his or her day to stop by the stores ─ they might drop off some eggs for credit, buy some thread or shoe polish, or inquire of the latest news, or gossip. Like the post office, the stores are the places to get the most up-to-date information on just about anything. Today everyone is talking about the election. Whatever the reason, rarely does anyone pass by the stores without stopping, even if it is just to say Hello.

L.C. Layton & Sons Limited

The year is 1774 and a hardy band of Yorkshire settlers, aboard the ship Two Friends, lands in Halifax. On board is Francis Layton, his wife and infant son. Also on board is John Bulmer, his wife and three brothers. Though they settle in different areas of Nova Scotia, the Layton and Bulmer families continue to have strong ties with each other, and eventually, branches of these families come together again in Great Village.

Francis Layton settled his family at Mount Denson, Hants County. In 1801 his son, also named Francis, married Abigail Stevens of Onslow, Colchester County, and they moved to Great Village. Francis Layton (2nd) was a blacksmith and farmer and the Layton home, situated on Layton’s Hill, was a stopping place for travellers. Francis and Abigail were Baptists and it is said that the first Baptist services in Great Village were held in their home.

Francis and Abigail had thirteen children. While many of them remained in Great Village, one of their sons, Jacob, moved to Upper Stewiacke (an area where some of the Bulmers also settled). Jacob raised his family there. As an old man, however, in the late 1860s, he returned to Great Village, bringing two of his sons, L.C. and A.N. Layton.

Mr. L. Carson Layton was born in Upper Stewiacke in 1848, so when he arrived in Great Village he was a young man with energy and ambition. He attended school in Upper Stewiacke and Truro, after which he began in the business world as clerk with the late Sheriff L.J. Crowe of Truro. He gave up this work to teach for a couple of years at Upper Stewiacke and Lornevale. Following this he spent a year with B. Douglas & Co., general dealers, of Amherst. By 1870, when he reached Great Village, he set up shop for himself as a merchant. In 1870 Great Village was a bustling community with shipbuilding reaching its height, employing many men and bringing continuous prosperity to the area. Mr. Layton began his business with a ready market and he prospered too.

Mr. Layton’s first premises were located in the building which now is occupied as a residence by Arthur Bulmer and his family, right next door to the tinsmith shop. But soon Mr. Layton moved across the common to the building the store now occupies. Mr. Layton opened his store in May 1870. In 1874 he joined in partnership with his brother-in-law, J.A. McDorman, and Layton & McDorman operated until 1898, when Mr. McDorman retired. In 1912 Mr. Layton brought into the business his three sons, Max, Raleigh and Welsford, and L.C. Layton & Sons Limited was born.

L.C. Layton's Store

From the beginning Mr. Layton not only exported and sold local produce (potatoes, apples, lumber), but also imported an extensive range of dry goods and merchandise. One of his early handbills announced, “We are now receiving from English, American and Canadian Markets a well selected stock of general goods, suitable to the country trade comprising dry goods, French merinos, lustres, winceys, cotton, flannels, fancy woolen goods, hats, hat and bonnet flowers, and a good assortment of fancy small wares.” This advertisement also announced that the firm accepted butter, eggs, pork, feathers, oats, cloth, yarn and other local products in exchange for goods. Barter was alive and well in the country trade of the day. Today, these goods are exchanged for credit, an amount of money which is used towards the purchase of other goods in the store. Wanting only the best and most relevant merchandise for his customers, Mr. Layton himself made regular trips to England to buy his wares. He also regularly visits the “Sample Room” at the Elmonte House.

From the beginning Mr. Layton’s motto was always “a square deal” ─ and his honesty and integrity have earned him the best respect of his many patrons. One amusing story which he still tells is that in the early years of the business a man gave a hearse as payment on his bill. Mr. Layton thought the hearse was worth $2.00, but he was offered only $1.00 for it by another fellow. After some discussion they agreed to split the difference and Mr. Layton got $1.50!

Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Layton offers the market what is most in demand. One of the most popular additions to the store was a millinery shop, which Miss Eleanor Spencer has been operating for some years, in a cosy room off the main part of the store. Many a fine hat has walked out of Layton’s store. There has always been a tailor and shoemaker in the village, and the ladies’ heads cannot be neglected. Mr. Layton was also one of the first in the village to install a telephone in his store in the 1880s. In 1898 he modernized his home with the same convenience. Moreover, Mr. Layton was a firm believer in the power of advertising, and continues to be a liberal user of the printer's ink, his advertisements being regular features in the columns of all the local newspapers.

Mr. Layton has not only been an active businessman but he has also been a dedicated citizen. He has been a deacon in the Baptist church since his arrival in the village, and superintendent of its Sunday School for almost as many years. He immediately joined the Iron Age Division, Sons of Temperance, and has held numerous offices in that organization. He is one of the staunchest supporters of its principals. He was involved in the Reform Club when it was active in the late years of the last century. Mr. Layton is ever ready to assist his friends, neighbours and customers when they are in need. His own family of three sons and two daughters (Una and Elsee) are equally generous and active. Una is a nurse and has spent time in Boston training and working. She is home right now, but intends going back to the States soon. Elsee is going to Acadia College in September. Both are lively and bright young women with promising futures. The Laytons own one of the few automobiles in the Village and it is a common sight to see Welsford or Max motoring about with one of their sisters. Invariably, they are accompanied by friends or neighbours, who need a ride.

The Laytons are often involved in raising money for the Baptist church and its various organizations. Some of the most anticipated events in the village are the musicales and concert nights held at the large Layton house. As with most other folks in the village, music and song are never far from any gathering at their hospitable home.

The Layton family home

Mr. Layton is always keen to keep his business au courant. Earlier this year he did considerable concrete work around the store ─ clearly L.C. Layton & Sons Limited is a solid establishment which is here to stay for awhile. He also painted the inside of the store, a fresh sparkling white, which makes it look cheery and bright.(1)

Mr. Layton is always at the store bright and early, but this morning he is a bit behind schedule. The excitement of the election yesterday kept him up later than usual, and last evening he also paid a visit to the Bulmers. The Laytons and the Bulmers have a long standing connection. The Two Friends, which brought their ancestors from Yorkshire, speaks aptly of their relation ─ these families are friends. When Jacob and his sons returned to Great Village, L.C. met William Bulmer and Elizabeth Hutchinson, who married only a few months after the young entrepreneur set up shop. L.C. himself was not long a bachelor. And their families grew up together. The store being right next door to the Bulmer house meant daily contact. And Sundays saw the families worshipping and socializing at the Baptist church. Mrs. Bulmer and Mrs. Layton were active in the Missionary, Sons of Temperance and W.C.T.U. societies, and entertained each other frequently in their homes. Their children ─ five in each family ─ are close, especially the daughters. Una and Grace are especially good friends, and have shared the experience of nurse’s training in Boston.

During this past winter, when Gertrude was so ill, Mr. Layton was called to the Bulmer house on a number of occasions to help try to calm her down. Gertrude is very fond of Mr. Layton and responds to his gentle but practical manner. He is a no-nonsense sort of fellow. Mr. Layton is also very fond of Gertrude, having watched her grow up. She was always running into the store to say hello, and more than once he’d give her a humbug, her favourite candy. Mr. Layton doesn’t sell as much candy these days, but he always takes Gertrude some humbugs. That’s why he went last night, to give her a bag to take on the train. Just after the polls closed and before the results started coming in, he went over to the house with Elsee. Gertrude was calm, but he could tell she was interested in the election and wanted to discuss it. But he knew it would only agitate her. So they didn’t stay long.

This morning he keeps checking out his office window, which looks towards the bridge, to see when William, Gertrude and Grace set off for Londonderry Station. Along with the humbugs, Mr. Layton took a little doll for Gertrude’s daughter. The wee Elizabeth would be upset to see her mother leave. But Mr. Layton knows well that the Bulmers are the kindest of people, and she will be well cared for.

Amos A. Hill Limited

There has been a store where the Hill brothers operate their establishment since before the 1850s. It was first owned and operated by R.N.B. McLellan. In 1859 Amos A. Hill and Suther Spencer joined the firm and McLellan, Hill and Spencer did business until 1872. At that time Mr. Hill took sole ownership of the store, and Amos A. Hill Limited has been operating ever since. This business conducted a busy trade especially with the farmers in the area, not surprising since Mr. Hill’s sons, Barry and Lucius, who took over the business in the 1890s, along with their sister Ruth, are two of the most active farmers in Great Village. Hill’s store offers a wide range of grocery and dry goods, but they also retail in hardware and farm equipment.

Hill's Store

Barry P. Hill is one of the most active breeders of Guernsey cows in the area, having caught T.D. Blaikie’s fever for these productive bovines. The cream from his herd of a dozen cows goes directly to the Blaikie creamery, but his biggest trade is in buying, breeding and selling stock. Like Mr. Blaikie, Barry Hill is winning lots of prizes for his Guernseys. Lucius Hill spent two years in California at the end of the 1890s, but couldn't stay away from home for long. He is more involved in the operation of the store than his brother, but he is also busy with animals. His love is horses and horse racing. One of his best is Captain Purdy by Captain Aubrey. Lucius Hill is always talking horses with the fellows who stop into the store. Miss Ruth Hill works as the main clerk at the store. She and her brother Barry live in the old family home, just behind the store and church, the lovely rambling Hill house, up on the little hill. Lucius, who was married in 1905, lives in a cosy cottage on Pleasant St.

Ruth is a friendly, pleasant woman. She attended the Ladies College in Sackville, N.B., and her gentle manner brings a touch of real class to the store. She is active in many community organizations. One of her favourites was the Literary Society. She hosted many meetings of this merry band when it was at its height just before the war. She also helps out regularly at the church. Barry and Lucius Hill are active with the I.O.O.F, Barry serving as treasurer for this secret brotherhood.

Like Layton’s, Hill’s store is experiencing prosperous times. The business went through a rough patch at the turn of the century, but the brothers turned things around. They have been busy with renovations to the building. They added a concrete platform for unloading goods, and put an extension on the back for storage. There was real excitement when they installed a large refrigerator, a still uncommon machine in the village. Lucius Hill has also built a new barn, which he painted as green as his fields. Barry Hill made extensive renovations on the barn at the home place, and has one of the finest farms in the village, rivalling Will Bowers’s place. Everything in the Hill barn is 20th century.(2) The Guernseys even have their own individual cups for feed and water.

The Hills are also very close neighbours and friends with the Bulmers. Indeed, Ruth and Gertrude are the same age and are best friends. They sat together in school all the while they were growing up. Lucius’s son Seth is the best friend of Arthur Bulmer’s only boy Billy. They are almost inseparable. Like the Laytons, the Hills have been concerned about the troubles the Bulmers have had lately. Ruth has been in to see Gertrude nearly every day for some weeks.

Gertrude Bulmer Bishop standing in front of the Hill family home

Ruth herself opens up the store in the morning. All the hubbub about the election has left the front stoop littered, so she’s out sweeping up the debris. She sees Mr. Layton open up. They wave. Ruth knows he too is only partly paying attention to his usual morning tasks, because William is outside getting his horse and wagon harnessed. Ruth notices Dr. Johnson’s automobile out front. She thinks to herself several times during the busy day that she will write to Gertrude while she is at the hospital. Surely they will allow letters. And surely Gertie won’t be there very long. She has much reason to get well ─ not the least of which is that darling little girl of hers, who is always lingering at the store windows, curious about the displays Ruth puts there, a new one every week in the summertime.


1. Layton’s store was designated a Provincial Heritage Property in November 1989. A celebration of this designation took place in Great Village in August 1990. The store received national heritage recognition a few years later.

2. The Hill brothers set up the first electric light company in G.V. in 1922, the Village Light & Carbon Co. Limited.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Miss Eleanor Spencer, the Milliner

It is not surprising, considering all the concerts, lectures and meetings, the parties, musicales and balls, the teas, suppers and church services held in Great Village, that the ladies and gentlemen, young and not so young, are concerned with the latest fashions. At any one of these gatherings, when the village turns out in force, the sight is impressive: men in their dark vested or elegant pin-stripe suits, the laddies in their Highland regalia, the ladies in their long skirts and full-sleeved embroidered blouses, the young girls in their starched shirt waists, and the wee tots in their sailor suits. But what is most impressive about a congregation of Villagers ─ or just a view of them strolling along the street ─ is their hats. The folks in Great Village love hats, and the person who keeps them well supplied is Miss Eleanor Spencer, milliner extraordinaire.

No one quite remembers which came first, Miss Spencer’s talent, which converted the village to bonnets, turbans, fedoras, panamas or straws; or the villager’s passion for chapeaux, which convinced Miss Spencer to set up shop and fill the great demand. Miss Spencer does a booming business.(1)

Miss Eleanor, known to her close friends as Ellie, lives on Scrabble Hill Road just a few doors up from Hill’s store, on the other side of the street. She and her sister Cassie keep a trim and inviting little house the front window of which always displays some of Eleanor’s latest creations. But Miss Eleanor principally works out of Layton’s store. Mr. Layton, with his acumen for business, realized a few years ago the benefit of adding a millinery shop to the premises. Miss Eleanor herself is not only an artist of high standards, but she is also a good business woman. Every spring and fall she attends the various millenary openings in Halifax, Truro, and even as far as Moncton. One of the reasons the ladies of the village patronize her so thoroughly (after all, Truro is not so far away) is because she offers the latest styles of hats and trimmings with her own imaginative adaptations.

Scrabble Hill Road, Great Village, N.S.

Misses Eleanor and Cassie’s household is a busy one, not only with friends and customers, but also with their nieces. Their sister, Mrs. Henry MacLean, of Amherst, often sends her daughters to the village. Next week Miss Pearl MacLean, who teaches in Amherst, will be coming to spend a few weeks of her summer vacation with her aunts. Frequently, Miss Ollie MacLean makes flying visits from Truro. Both young ladies enjoy helping out with the shop and they are well-known around town as a result.

Today Miss Eleanor is taking a much deserved break from her busy days ─ the past few weeks have been a steady steam of ladies ordering and picking up new hats for the upcoming Dominion Day festivities. Miss Eleanor is motoring to Five Islands with Mrs. Truena Batchelder and Mrs. Beletta Urquhart for afternoon tea at Broderick’s Hotel. They are back in plenty of time for the lecture at the Presbyterian church.

The MacLachlan family wearing their Sunday-best hats

Miss Eleanor is up early because she must go over to Layton’s store as soon as it opens to put out several hats due to be picked up today. Since she will be away only for the day she has not asked any of the many young ladies in the village to tend the shop, a cosy room tucked in the corner of the store. Most of the young ladies in the village are eager to help her out, to spend time in the shop filled with ribbons, veils, bows, beads and feathers ─ and every style of hat imaginable. When she’s away at the openings she usually hires one of the Peppard or Johnson girls to tend. Cassie is always too busy just looking after the house and tending to the customers who stop by there.

As Miss Eleanor walks past the Presbyterian church towards Layton’s store, she glances at the Bulmer house. Everything is quiet there right now, but she knows that Mr. Bulmer and his daughters must be on their way to Londonderry Station ─ the train to Halifax at the Station arrives around 10:00 a.m. Mr. Layton is busy opening up the store and getting things sorted out after the hubbub of election day. Miss Eleanor thinks that the effort by suffragists in Canada to get women the vote is a good thing. The war has diverted everyone’s attention from this issue, but she sees all the war work women in the village are doing, knows it is replicated across Nova Scotia and the Dominion. She thinks it is about time women were allowed to vote. She says nothing of these thoughts to Mr. Layton, who greets her warmly, though he seems slightly sad. She knows how sorry he is about Gertrude Bishop’s illness.

After arranging the new hats and giving Mr. Layton the list and bills, Miss Eleanor walks back home. She waves to Ruth Hill bustling around inside Hill’s store. As she dresses for her outing she glances out the window and sees Gertrude’s little daughter Elizabeth run by trying to keep up with her cow, Nelly.(2) She thinks it is a good thing that the Bulmers are keeping the child’s routine intact. Usually that annoying creature ─ the cow ─ makes a shambles of the big lilacs at the front of the house, rubbing herself against them to swish off flies. But this morning the cow ambles by without even noticing the bushes. Elizabeth runs after her with the switch. As she comes into the kitchen, Cassie, who has seen them too, pours tea. They sit down to their late breakfast and discuss hats, elections and the sadness at the Bulmers. Miss Eleanor says that she thinks she’ll make a hat for the child, since she often sees her staring intently at the display in the window ─ a little sailor’s hat with a flowing bow at the back.(3) Truena and Beletta arrive just after 11:00 a.m. and the trio drives off in the big Chevrolet Truena tours around in everywhere, their faces veiled, their hats tied down securely with bright ribbons.


1. Not everyone in Great Village got a made-to-order hat from Miss Spencer. Elizabeth Bishop remembers one Great Village lady who created her own hats and created a sensation with them: “Mrs. F.’s hats were a joy to all church goers. I had heard the women in my family discuss them for many Sundays ─ usually in a hard hearted sort of way. The Francises lived about five miles out of the village up towards Peek-A-Boo and except for the marketing done once a week by Mr. Francis, [it] was usually their only trip to town. As if to make up for their scarcity by really impressing these visits upon the villagers, Mrs. F. had devised the wonderful idea of wearing a new hat every time ─ or at least as new as she could arrange it. Instead of wearing her heart on her sleeve Mrs. Francis twists hers on her head at different angles.” (“Reminiscences of Great Village”)

2. Elizabeth Bishop remembered Miss Spencer in “In the Village”: “We are approaching Miss Spencer’s house. Miss Spencer is the milliner the way Miss Gurley is the dressmaker. She has a very small white house with the doorstep right off the sidewalk. One front window has lace curtains with a pale-yellow window shade pulled all the way down, inside them; the other one has a shelf across it on which are displayed four summer hats. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that there is a yellow chip straw with little wads of flamingo-colored feathers around the crown, but again there is no time to examine anything.” (Collected Prose, 262)

3. Coincidentally, Eleanor Spencer died in October 1934, the same year that Gertrude Bulmer Bishop died. Her obituary read: “Miss Eleanor Lynds Spencer died at Victoria General Hospital, Halifax, on Tues. October 23rd at the age of 72 years. She had been ill since spring and entered the hospital about a month ago. She was a life long resident of Great Village, where for many years she had conducted a small millinery business. Miss Spencer was active in all church activities and had a gift for friendship which endeared her to a wide circle. She leaves in her immediate family one sister, Mrs. Henry MacLean, now of Halifax, but formerly of Glenholme. J.S. MacLean, the popular accountant at the Halifax Chronicle is a niece of the departed. The funeral service was held in St. James United Church Thursday afternoon and was attended by a large number including folk from Bass River, Shubenacadie, Truro, Halifax and Dartmouth. Rev. E.A. Kirker gave a brief but touching tribute to the departed and the choir sang “The Lord is My Shepherd” and “Peace, Perfect Peace.” Many floral tributes were further evidence of the place which Miss Spencer held in the hearts of her friends. Interment was in Great Village Cemetery.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Red Cross

With the coming of war in August 1914, most of the eligible young men in Great Village quickly signed up to go overseas. Many of them first drilled in Truro, then trained further at Aldershot or Valcartier. By early 1916, quite a few of the lads had already crossed the Atlantic to England, then the Channel to France.

Almost immediately the women of Great Village, like most of the other communities in Nova Scotia, got themselves organized to help the Red Cross,(1) which does such good work for all the boys in Europe. The overwhelming desire was to do something tangible to support the brave lads. Since the early months of 1915 the Great Village Red Cross Knitting and Sewing Society has been meeting every Monday evening.

Great Village has had a sewing club for decades. Mail order catalogues mean that some folks can order their clothes ready-made, and several village merchants offer a wide range of clothing and footwear, and the professional tailor and dressmakers have plenty to keep them busy; yet many families still must produce their own shirts and dresses and underwear. The village has some of the best seamstresses in the county. It only seemed logical and patriotic to carry over the work of the sewing club to war work. The war has swelled its ranks though, and since the first meeting a membership of over forty ladies, single and married, have been knitting and stitching at a great rate.

The Great Village Red Cross Society is only one of dozens in Nova Scotia, hundreds across the Dominion, giving thousands of women purposeful and practical work in aid of the war. To keep the boys warm, dry and clean, to bring them comfort of some kind, is an expression of patriotism its members fully endorse.

The army needs every pair of socks the members can knit and the Great Village ladies have already knit 215 pairs. But the society members do much more than knit socks. Members make surgical gowns, pyjamas, convalescent robes, pillow cases, and miles and miles of bandages and dressings. There has even been an occasional quilt. Every six months or so the members pack up the socks and bandages and ship them to headquarters in Halifax.

Each society raises all its own money to buy materials by holding suppers and sales. But there are also subscription drives for special projects. Last year a campaign was conducted by all the Red Cross Societies in Colchester County to buy machine guns for overseas. $3,000 was raised for the purchase of three Lewis guns. This local effort was part of a larger national one, which raised a large amount of money. This spring one of the guns was allotted to the 64th Battalion, Lieut. Col. J. Montgomery Campbell commanding. The other two guns went to the 40th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The Great Village Society is now conducting its own subscription campaign to raise money for the purchase of another gun, a Bren gun. A number of the young ladies are out and about collecting the money, and so far they have succeeded in getting over $50. The children of the Great Village school have pitched in wholeheartedly too, and are raising money by holding a fair and sports day, which includes an auction of old toys brought in by each child. It will take several more months to raise the full amount, but the Society hopes to forward the money early in 1917.(2)

Society members knit and sew in their homes every day, but the weekly meetings give them a chance to come together for encouragement, advice and even a bit of rivalry: who can knit socks the fastest? who can knit the most pairs of socks? Meetings are always lively social occasions, each member taking a turn hosting. Since the number is large this means the burden of entertaining comes to a member only once a year. A refreshment committee ensures the tea and sweets are plentiful for the always large turn out.

Great Village women have always gathered regularly because there are so many activities to bring them together: quilting bees, missionary and church meetings, temperance and literary societies. But the war has brought a stronger incentive to congregate. The meetings are times to support each other. Nearly all the members know a lad overseas: a son, a brother, a father, a nephew, a cousin, a neighbour, a friend. The meetings are a chance to talk about the latest news in the papers and share the letters which have started to come from the boys. The recent election has also generated lively debates among the ladies about the effort of suffragists to secure the vote for women. Opinion is about evenly divided among the ladies as to the necessity and benefits of this idea. Most women feel that getting too worked up about the vote is a distraction to war work, but some in the village feel that women are contributing so much to the war effort that they have proven their ability to take charge, organize and get results. A few even suggest that women are better at this sort of thing than men. These times are also for gossip and there is always singing. So many of the Great Village ladies are musical and nearly every home has a piano or organ. The hymns and patriotic songs can be heard after the knitting and sewing is put away and the strong tea and sweet cake is served. And the evening closes around 10:00 p.m. with “God Save the King.”

Mrs. Isaac McKim, Mrs. Lucius Hill, Mrs. R. Carter, Mrs Angus Johnson, Mrs. Boyd, Mrs. L.C. Layton, Mrs. James Peppard, Mrs. Cyrus Peppard, Mrs. Dr. T.R. Johnson, Mrs. Bernard Read, Mrs. Stewart Gould, Mrs. Robert Dill, Mrs. J.A. Blaikie, Mrs. A.G. Peppard, Mrs. William Bulmer, Mrs. Rev. Francis, Mrs. Fred Hill, Mrs. Lawrence Blair, Miss Harriet Carter, Mrs. Cyrus Peppard, Mrs. Carrie Spencer, Mrs. Edward Johnson. And the list goes on and on of the good ladies who are doing good work.

Today is not a meeting day; the ladies gathered at Mrs. Donald MacLachlan’s two nights ago. This very popular and talented woman played beautifully for the appreciative audience. Her “Abide With Me” made them all misty. Still, the members are busy because they are due to ship another box of goods to Halifax and several of them meet at Mrs. Albion Kent’s in the afternoon, a roll-up-the-sleeves packing session. One of the topics of conversation is Gertrude Bulmer’s departure. The story is that Gertie has been upset about all sorts of things, including the war and the agitation for the vote. Everyone knows where she is going, knows why Grace goes with her. When William comes back from Londonderry Station alone, around noon, he looks so sad. Most folks just nod or tip their hats and let him be. Several of the ladies intend to drop in to see Elizabeth Bulmer tomorrow, for they know she is feeling just as bad as Will.

The ladies also know that Grace herself is going back to the United States soon and will take up nursing duties in New York City for the American Red Cross. They have heard that Grace and Una Layton wanted to head overseas to do nursing work in England, but Elizabeth and Will objected. With Gertrude unwell, to have Grace so far away seemed just too much. Mrs. Kent tells the assembly that she spoke with Grace earlier in the week and though she’s disappointed, she understands her parents’ concern, and says she’ll still be able to do good work wherever she is. Grace is a most sensible young woman and always makes the best of any situation. Her nursing skills will be a boon to any branch of the Red Cross.


1. The Red Cross movement was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, by Henry Dunant. He organized help for the wounded at the Battle of Solferino (1859), and wrote a book about his experiences which caused worldwide concern. Dunant’s work resulted in the signing of the First Geneva Convention (1864), which provided for the neutrality of medical personnel in war and humane treatment for wounded. The Red Cross was brought to Canada by George Sterling Ryerson, who, during the North-West Rebellion of 1885, used a red cross to protect his horse-drawn ambulance. In 1896 he organized a Canadian branch of the British Red Cross Society, which raised money during the Spanish American War and the South African War. The federal government passed the Canadian Red Cross Society Act in 1909, which established it as a corporate body. During World War I the Canadian Red Cross Society raised $35 million in relief. The society also maintained five hospitals in England and one in France. In 1927 the International Commission of the Red Cross recognized the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) as an independent national society, separate from the British organization. During World War II, the CRC contributed $80 million in goods and money. In 1986 The International Commission of the Red Cross changed its name to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. There are 175 recognized Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the world (Canadian Encyclopedia, p. 1982).

2. After the war the Great Village Red Cross Knitting and Sewing Society disbanded, but an auxiliary was set up which continued to provide comfort and support for the returning veterans. The need for the Red Cross was fully established and secured by the war, and it has been in active operation ever since, expanding its activities. During the 1920s, after her marriage to William W. Bowers, Grace Bulmer conducted many Red Cross nursing and first aid classes in Great Village and Glenholme.

[Ed. Note: Again, a reminder that you can read all the "A Day in the Life of Great Village" items by clicking on the Nova Scotia Connections link in the menu at the top.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Village Blacksmith

One of the busiest spots in Great Village is the blacksmith’s shop, run by Mayhew T. Fisher (folks call him Mate)(1), from Bass River. Mate came to the Village a couple of years ago, setting up in the shop once run by Oscar Hill, who’d been a farrier here for a number of years. Mate’s shop is near the green, just beside the Bulmer house ─ and the sound of his hammer and anvil can be heard for quite a distance on a still day. Even though automobiles are becoming more common, most everyone still has a wagon, buggy, or carriage and there are still many horses in the village and countryside ─ and all these horses need shoes. And with so many of Great Village's gentlemen into horse racing, Mr. Fisher’s shop is always hopping: the bellows creaking, the coals in the forge white hot and humming, the big barrels of water cooling the iron shoes with a sharp hiss and a burst of steam, and the hammer and anvil clanging their distinctive song.

Mayhew Fisher (right) at the door of his shop

While horseshoes are Mate’s biggest stock in trade, he also makes many other things, especially wheel rims and nails. He uses old mill stones to make the rims and they lie like monuments outside the shop's door.

Mate puts in long days, starting early in the morning. It is not uncommon to see a line of wagons along the road outside the shop. He’s doing such a thriving business these days that he's hired a young fellow, Mr. McBurnie, from Glenholme, to give him a hand. Even his brother, Leo, comes down from Bass River at times to help out.

There is another lad in the village who spends time at Mate’s shop, Eugene Layton, Harry Layton’s son. Eugene has been interested in smithing ever since he was a wee lad, and he has also been spending time at Charles MacLeod's blacksmith shop in Bible Hill. With the race track nearby Mr. MacLeod’s is one of the busiest shops in the district. Eugene is going to apprentice there when he graduates from school next year. When he’s not in school or out at Bible Hill he's at Mate's soaking up everything he can learn.(2)

The Great Village Blacksmith shop when it was owned by Oscar Hill

A blacksmith’s shop is a marvellous place with all the strange tools of the trade: nippers, clippers, cutters, clinchers, calipers, hammers, knives and nails. And the piles of iron bars out of which the horse shoes are fashioned. There are hundreds of types of horseshoes for racers, trotters, jumpers, pacers; for show and work horses; for use on snow and ice. Indeed, each horse gets shoes made especially for it, and when a horse has problems with its feet, therapeutic or corrective shoes are custom made. Depending on how much work or racing a horse does, shoes can last awhile or need regular replacing.

The most dramatic part of the process is the hammering out of the shoe. It is not really brute force which shapes the iron. Indeed, the blacksmith is an artisan, taking the raw iron, alternately heating and hammering it, and creating a shoe just right for each horse. To cool down the fiercely hot metal, big barrels of black water stand nearby. It is said that this water is a cure for freckles and poison ivy because it contains so much iron oxide.

Mate’s shop is also a gathering place in the village. While Mate is efficient and expert, making a horseshoe is not a speedy affair, so the fellows collect at the shop and talk about events of the day or latest war news. Today Mate expects quite a bit of discussion about the election. Mate is also known in the area as a reciter of poems. He comes from an artistic family, which includes a published poet or two. His favourite poet is Tennyson and he knows many of his poems by heart, as well as lots of traditional ballads. Mate has also been known to since a song or two, but he saves that mostly for when he’s by himself, though he knows the folks walking by the shop can hear him anyway. His wife has tried to convince him to participate in one of the many musicales that take place in the village, but he’s too busy, too tired at the end of the day to stand in someone’s parlour or in the church singing.

Arriving just about dawn, Mate busies himself getting the fire going so it will be hot enough for his first customer, C.B. Spencer. One of his Clydesdales has a sore foot and he has a load of stuff to take to Truro later in the day, so he needs his horse taken care of as soon as the coals are hot. As Mate goes about his morning's routine, he notices activity at the Bulmer house. The doctor comes by, then Rev. Francis, and Will is outside getting the horse and wagon harnessed. He knows he’ll be seeing Will and Nimble sometime soon, as Will mentioned a few days ago that the horse needs new shoes.

He feels sad for the Bulmers with their sick daughter. He knows it is a difficult thing. His mother-in-law has been ill for some time and his wife has been going up to Economy regularly to be with her. Illness is never easy, he thinks. He wonders if Gertrude’s little daughter will drop by later today. Ever since they came back to the village the wee child has been visiting his shop regularly. She’s quite a curious little thing and her smile brightens the dark shop. At first she was shy and would only peek in the doorway, but soon she ventured in and seemed to like just to stand and stare at all the activity, though she does so only when the gaggle of lads are not milling about right after school. When he’s not busy he makes her little rings out of horseshoe nails.

They’ve become good friends this past year, and his heart aches most for her, with her mother so unwell and now leaving for goodness knows how long. Later, he thinks, he'll make her a chain of rings with some of the old nails. He pauses at the forge for a moment to think about his wife, who expecting their first child. In time, they will have their own gaggle of little ones and he hopes that their own heath will hold so that they can bring them up.

Mate doesn’t see Will return from Londonderry Station, but when he’s out getting some air in the afternoon he sees the wagon beside the house. And he sees little Elizabeth playing with her dolls and that funny dog of hers under the trees. She doesn’t stop by the shop, though he thinks it would cheer her up if she did.


1. In her iconic story “In the Village,” Elizabeth Bishop calls him Nate.

2. Eugene Layton did indeed go onto become a farrier. After apprenticing with Charles MacLeod he set up shop in Great Village and ran his business for some years. Then Eugene headed for the United States where he ended up in Ithaca, NY, and joined the Veterinary College at Cornell University. For many years he taught the art and science of blacksmithing. He was regarded as the best farrier in the East and offered a rigorous training programme at Cornell, helping to keep the trade of blacksmithing alive and current well into the twentieth century. His expertise was sought by many in the world of horse racing. Through the years he shod a number of famous horses, including Bombs Away, Adois Betty and Bonny Brook Dean. He continued to makes visits back to Great Village for the rest of his life.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Art inspired by Elizabeth Bishop

If you read my earlier post about the Elizabeth Bishop birthday party, which was held this year on 12 February, you might remember that I mentioned being overwhelmed by a generous gesture of support by many friends, both near and far, overwhelmed by a gesture of support that had a direct, tangible and practical impact in my daily life. The gratitude I feel for this support is beyond words, though I have tried to express some of it directly to each person who participated in this group effort. Another lovely part of this gift came from the wonderful painter Susan Tooke, when she presented me with a painting of the Elizabeth Bishop House which she had done en plein air during the “Paint Great Village” weekend that took place on 5-6 June 2012. Paintings from this weekend (including the one Susan gave to me) were exhibited in Truro, N.S., in July-August 2012 and in Great Village, N.S, during the Elizabeth Bishop Arts Festival from 19-21 August 2012. I wanted to share an image of this lovely painting with you. You can see more of Susan’s amazing art on her website: www.susantooke.com. Thanks so Susan Kerslake for this picture.

Elizabeth Bishop House, painting by Susan Tooke

Another exciting development concerns the wonderful composer John Plant – an American whose home is now in Head of Jeddore, N.S. John was actively involved in the EB100 celebrations: he composed fabulous settings of three Bishop poems for Suzie LeBlanc, “Sandpiper,” “Sunday 4 A.M.” and “In the Middle of the Road,” Bishop’s translation of a Carlos Drummond de Andrade poem. "Sandpiper" was performed at the Scotia Festival of Music in June 2012. "Sunday 4 A.M." and "In the Middle of the Road" were premiered at a finale concert for EB100 in Great Village in early October 2012. John has just launched a new website, www.johnplantmusic.com, and I wanted to let our readers know about it, in part because he has posted audio and visual recordings of the Elizabeth Bishop pieces – but for the most part because all of John’s work is exquisite and inspiring.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Blaikies, Ships and Cows; Cargoes and Cream

John M. Blaikie and his ships

There is an extra buzz in Great Village today because the schooner Prescott is at the wharf being loaded with deals by Mr. Vernon Smith of Eastville. The cargo is bound for Mr. Newton Pugsley in Parrsboro, and some of it will be transferred there for export to Boston. Ships still dock at the government wharf in Great Village,(1) but not so many call to these shores as once plied the waters of Cobequid Bay, Minas Basin and the great Bay of Fundy.

Several of the lads go down early to the wharf to watch the activity. The Prescott will not cast off until high tide later this afternoon, so the boys will be out there again, after school, to watch the laden ship set sail. Navigating the Great Village River and the treacherous tides of Cobequid Bay is no mean feat for a captain, he has to know just what he is doing.

There was a time when vessels came and went at the wharf every day, taking away cargoes of iron ore mined at Acadia Mines, agricultural products and lumber from the surrounding countryside, and bringing in goods and passengers from far and wide. Many old timers in the village also remember when every year a new brig, barque or schooner(2) was built at the Great Village Shipyard, and at the other yards which dotted the coast as far down as Advocate. The heyday of shipbuilding and shipping has long gone, but even today a schooner or two will call at the wharf during the summer and take on lumber, which is still an in-demand primary resource in the area.

The romance of the age of sail might have faded in memories, but much of Great Village’s current prosperity is founded on the decades of shipbuilding which the community supported.(3) And there was no greater shipbuilder and owner in the village than old Mr. John M. Blaikie, long retired but at 79 still hale and hearty and always willing to reminisce about the beautiful vessels he and his partner, the Hon. A.W. McLelan, commissioned. Of course Mr. Blaikie and Mr. McLelan didn’t actually build the ships, they financed their construction. Their master builders were Joseph Geddes and David Morris. Most of the timber used in the ships came from Westchester Mountain, with some from Wallace River. Shipbuilding in Great Village employed many men for many years and fostered the creation of a wide range of skills and trades: carpenters, blacksmiths, caulkers, riggers, shipwrights, loggers and sail makers. Mr. Blaikie and Mr. McLelan also erected a steam saw mill at the shipyard to do some of their own dressing of the timber. Indeed, Great Village boasted several such mills. In the old shipbuilding days from 80 to 100 skilled men were employed all the time, and the place at noon hour, and when the men scattered to their homes after work at night, was equal to a small Glasgow.

Mr. Blaikie was born in Stewiacke in 1837. About 1850, he came to Great Village from Maitland, another great shipbuilding town, landing at Spencer’s Point. In 1854, he began a mercantile business with Gould Wilson McLelan and married his daughter in 1859. Later on Mr. Blaikie set up his own store which he operated for ten years. Then he joined forces with G.W. McLelan’s son, A.W. McLelan, a federal cabinet minister.(4) During the 1870s, Blaikie & McLelan built some of the finest ships on the shore: Cleo, a 257 ton brig, in 1863; Wave King, a 750 ton barque in 1872; Wave Queen, a 900 ton barque in 1873; Chieftan, a 933 ton barque in 1874; Monarch, a 1200 ton barque in 1876; Peron, a brig in 1878; Sovereign, a 1250 ton schooner in 1879; President, a 916 ton barque in 1881; Peerless, a 316 ton brig in 1882.

In 1885 Mr. Blaikie on his own commissioned the great four-masted 2000 ton barque the John M. Blaikie. It was the first vessel of its kind built in Canada. The John M. Blaikie was designed and built by Joseph Geddes. The model and miniature framework he made, preliminary to building the ship, especially the latter, were unique and novel, and were among the most prominent exhibits at the great London Exhibition of 1886, and in 1900 they were on exhibition at the World’s Fair in Paris. Captained by David Faulkner, the John M. Blaikie sailed the 10,264 miles from Montevideo to New Castle, Australia, in 50 days, a near record for the time. Sadly, in 1892, it ran into a reef in the treacherous Strait of Malacca in the China Sea.

The John M. Blaikie (Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management)

The last ship Mr. Blaikie built in the Great Village Shipyard was the 125 ton schooner Adelaide, in 1891. Mr. Blaikie still chuckles when he tells the story of its launch: “Many people were standing on the marshland west of the shipyard and when the vessel took the water it created a tidal wave that swept them off their feet and they had to be rescued.”(5)

Great Village Wharf

Mr. Blaikie was so successful with his business that he built one of the finest residences in Great Village in 1889, not too far from the shipyard. He lives there today and is a most generous and welcoming host. In 1897, his first wife died and a year later he married the widow of Captain Gould.

The Blaikie House

Like many of the other gentlemen and farmers in town this summer, Mr. Blaikie is in the process of making repairs to his fine big house, with plans to paint it in August, no small task as it is 22 storeys high with an impressive tower. On this fine long first day of summer, Mr. Blaikie follows his usual routine: an early morning walk along Wharf Road, breakfast, business letters, a trip to the post office, lunch, checking with the workmen making repairs to the carriage house, tea and then the missionary lecture in the Presbyterian church. Yesterday he had taken a run to Truro with his son David, to get first-hand information about the election. There will be lots of talk about the Grits holding on, an outcome not approved of by the Blaikie men.

It is no surprise that one of Mr. Blaikie’s sons, Arthur Blaikie, became Customs Officer for the Port of Londonderry, as Great Village is also known, in 1889. He still holds this office, though he himself is close to retirement. Like many other fathers in the village, Arthur watched his son Joseph Blaikie march off to war earlier in the year and waits proudly and anxiously to get word from him. The Customs House is a cozy spot up the road from the Elmonte House. It, too, is often host to lively social evenings.

Great Village Customs House

T.D. Blaikie: Cows, Cheese and Cream

What might be surprising is the business of one of Mr. Blaikie’s other sons, T. David Blaikie. T.D. owns and operates the Great Village Creamery, arguably the best establishment of its kind in Nova Scotia, or even the whole Dominion. As shipbuilding declined agriculture grew in importance in the village and surrounding countryside. Dairy farming has become the most lucrative side of this industry. By the 1890s, the region boasted upwards of 3,000 cows within a six mile radius of the village.

Seafaring might not be in T.D. Blaikie’s bones, but his father’s acute business sense is, and he saw the potential for the creamery, which he opened in June 1895, just shortly after he graduated from Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. For the first two summers he made cheese, then for the next decade he made cheese in the summer and butter in the winter. But since 1907, the butter-making has gone on year round.

The creamery was built on the banks of Peppard’s Brook, an ideal spot with a constant supply of pure water. Mr. Blaikie equipped it with the most modern machinery: an engine boiler, separators, vats, churns, presses. His first cheese master was John Mills from Sussex, N.B., another renowned dairy district. Today Thomas Murray is his capable manager.

From day one the creamery turned out a splendid product. When a reporter from the Truro Daily News visited the brand new operation in August 1895, he reported an impressive sight: “The News saw on Monday last some 215 cheese ─ over six tons weight ─ that were magnificent in appearance, in colour and taste. From the cheese of 35 pounds, up to the great mass over 80 pounds there, they were arranged along in rows, and in their rich golden tint were a handsome sight. The Creamery turns out cheese at a rate of five per day.”

This high quality continues to today with both the cheese and the butter. Indeed, Great Village Creamery butter has won first place more than once at the Provincial Exhibition.(6) It is known far and wide for its purity and sweetness.

The creamery has been the means of putting more ready money than they ever dreamed possible into the hands of the farmers all along the shore. From Economy to Debert, horse-drawn team, and more recently, auto truck, are kept on the go to gather cream. Cyrus Peppard is in charge of most of this pick up an delivery. Depending on the size of the farmers’ herds in a given year, Mr. Blaikie pays out between $40,000 and $60,000 a year. One of the biggest producers is Perely Davison up on Portapique Mountain. The creamery’s products are shipped to Halifax. The operating is done on the co-operative system. Mr. Blaikie charges his patrons four cents per pound for butter and two cents for cheese. The price farmers average for milk in this way is about 80 cents per 100 pounds. At some seasons of the year it comes down to about 60 cents per 100 pounds, at others is up to $1.12.

Two years after Mr. Blaikie opened the creamery he himself got into dairy farming. He read about the Guernsey breed, how it is a large producer of butter fat on minimum feed, and in 1897 was the first farmer in the area to buy a pure bred Guernsey.(7) He was an immediate convert and his herd grew quickly. In 1906, he bought Jethro Bass, and became the first farmer in Canada to own a bull in the advanced registry. Mr. Blaikie is now one of the leading Guernsey breeders in the Dominion.(8) His reputation for raising large producers has grown ─ he had one cow produce as high as 618 pounds of butter fat. He has sold males and females to farmers across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, even as far away as Quebec.

Several of the other top breeders of Guernseys in the area include Dr. T.R. Johnson, Edward McCulough, Barry and Lucius Hill, James Forbes and Harold Geddes.

Mr. Blaikie is an agent for Deering Farm Implements & Machines, and has been instrumental in helping modernize farm practices in the area. Everyone still remembers when he introduced the new seeders in 1903, and Deering has had a strong promoter of its impressive machinery ever since: seeders, threshers, spreaders and tractors.

T.D. and his wife have no children, but they have lots of nieces and nephews. One of those nephews, Edwin, son of G.W. (William), is following in his uncle’s footsteps. He will soon be heading to Musquodoboit to take charge of the creamery there. He carries with him an extensive and expert skill, having spent so much of his time at the Great Village creamery, learning from one of the best operations around.

While his passion for raising Guernseys and making superb cheese and butter is legion, Mr. Blaikie’s greatest passion is horses and horse racing. His pride and joy is his beautiful mare Cambrai. She is just starting to reach her potential and Mr. Blaikie says he is looking forward to letting her have her head next year at the tracks in Truro and New Glasgow. He has been racing his fine standard breds on the ice track at Little Dyke for several years now. His intense but friendly rivalry with Dr. Johnson and Edmund Johnson causes lots of talk and excitement in the village on race day. These men have begun talking about setting up their own racing association and building a track in town, since there are so many fine horses in the village.

Like the rest of the Blaikie family, Mr. and Mrs. T.D. are active in the community. A social or musicale at their home is always a popular event. In the winter, Mrs. Blaikie hosts several skating parties which are the talk of the town. She is such a fine skater herself, and encourages the activity among young and old. That is how she and Gertrude Bulmer became good friends, Gertrude being one of the finest skaters ever to come from the village. Mrs. Blaikie is also an avid reader. A few years ago she opened up a library in the Mason’s Hall, offering patrons a week’s loan of a book for 2 cents. The money she collects goes to the Seed Sowers Mission Band. This library is well patronized because her collection is extensive and highly interesting. Mr. and Mrs. Blaikie were active members of the Literary Society in its heyday.

The Mason's Hall

Mr. Blaikie’s day is always busy. He rises with the roosters and checks on his beloved Guernseys, though there are several hands to do the milking. While Thomas Murray, his creamery manager, has his complete confidence, T.D. spends the morning at the creamery, checking on the cheese and butter, and dealing with the orders which come in everyday. He spends the afternoon with the horses and whenever he can he takes one out for a good run. It is said that if he meets Dr. Johnson on the road when he is out with Lord Wallace, there is an impromptu race down a back stretch. Mrs. Blaikie is going to the lecture tonight, but Mr. Blaikie and Thomas Murray must go to Truro on business. They will have lots to talk about with their friends, being keenly interested in the election results.


1. The first wharf in Great Village was built by the Acadia Charcoal Company in 1869. In 1886 the Great Village River was straightened for the convenience of navigation, and shortly afterwards, in 1891, the Dominion Government constructed the wharf which was still in use in 1916. There was also a wharf at Spencer's Point at the mouth of the Great Village River. Only a few remnants of the wharves remain to be seen in the Village today.

2. Brig: a small two masted vessel square rigged on both masts, but with fore and aft mainsail and main mast considerably longer than the fore mast. Barque: a three masted vessel fore and aft rigged on the mizzen mast, the two masts being square rigged. Schooner: a fore and aft rigged vessel formerly with two or more masts. The Schooner lies nearer the wind than a square rigged vessel, is easier to handle and requires smaller crews.

3. Shipbuilding in Great Village goes back to 1817 when the first vessel was put off the ways, the 14 ton schooner Mary the Lively, built by John Bulong. The next ship built was built in the Village in 1820 and has a lively story attached to it. The story goes that this vessel, a small schooner, was called Friday. Its keel was laid on Friday; it was completed on Friday; launched on Friday; captured by the French while sailing in French waters on Friday; and wrecked on Friday. The owner and builder, David McLellan, son of Peter McLellan, the first settler in Great Village, was lodged in jail on Friday and sworn out on Friday. The Friday was not registered.

4. Archibald Woodbury McLelan (or McLellan) (1824–1890), was born in Londonderry, N.S., son of Gloud and Martha (Spencer) McLelan. Educated at Mount Allison Academy, Sackville, N.B., he had a career as a barrister, shipbuilder, lumber merchant and politician. He was elected to the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly in 1858 as a Conservative representing Colchester Co. He served as MLA until 1867 when he was elected to the first Parliament of Canada. He continued in federal politics for the next twenty years, his final post being Postmaster General, 1887–1888. He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 1888, serving until his death (Marble, 286).

5. Dozens of other ships were built in Great Village from the 1830s to the 1890s.

6. The height of recognition for the products of the Great Village Creamery came in September 1924, when its butter won first in Canada at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.

7. Guernseys originated in the island of Guernsey, off the coast of France in the English Channel. This cow ranks between the Holstein and Jersey in size, milk production and richness of milk. Its milk is known for its yellow colour which originates from a yellow pigment in its skin (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 72-3). Jerseys originated on the island of Jersey, also off the coast of France in the English Channel. Jerseys are renowned for their rich milk, with an average butter fat content of 5.2%. Great Village farmers also raised Jersey cows, but not in the numbers of Guernseys or Holsteins (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 72). Holstein-Fiesians originated in the northern part of the Netherlands and are the most numerous breed of dairy cattle in use today. Holsteins are easily recognized because of their large size and distinct black and white markings. They are producers of large quantities of milk (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 71-2). The principal beef cattle raised by farmers in Great Village during this period was Shorthorn. Considered to have mild dispositions, shorthorns are also known for their milking ability among beef cattle. They cross well with other breeds and are best suited for areas with abundant feed (Encyclopedia Americana, 6, 71).

8. T.D. Blaikie served as President of the Canadian Guernsey Breeders Association and as a Director for many years. In 1937 he and his wife were made “Honour Farmers” by the Nova Scotia Farmers Association. When he retired in 1944, he was elected Honourary Life Member of the Canadian Guernsey Breeders Association, the first member to receive that honour.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Rev. F.G. Francis and the Baptist Church

Though a much smaller church and congregation than the Presbyterians, the Baptist faith has had a presence in Great Village since the 1830s and 1840s. However, the first official Baptist church was not organized until the 1850s, when a meeting house was built and the members decided on formal incorporation in 1856. The Laytons, Gourleys and Spencers were three of the prominent families to join this church, which steadily grew to become a vital force in all realms of the community. Baptist preachers being of a more itinerant nature than the Presbyterians, the church has had a long series if ministers over the years. Two years ago Rev. J.C. Spurr departed and his place was filled by the genial Rev. F.G. Francis, who has been serving his flock with dedication and compassion ever since.

Great Village Baptist Church

The Baptist church, perched at the top of Hustler's Hill on the road to Londonderry, is an unimposing building, but it has stood the rigours of time and weather well since it was built in 1852. It continues to house the many activities of its members with a homely grace, in its own way as affecting as the grandness of the Presbyterian church.

Like the Presbyterians, the Baptists have had trouble with fire. In 1903 the parsonage was destroyed by fire, but the congregation rallied and were able to buy another house the next spring. However, this expense put the church deeply in debt. So the various societies and organizations have been busy ever since raising money.

The congregation supports its own active Women’s Foreign Mission Society, formed in 1874, whose sales and suppers rival in every way those of the Presbyterian ladies. Imagine what a force these ladies are when they join together, which they sometimes do. In 1907, a Mission Band was formed and its work has been steadily increasing.

Because the congregation is solely responsible for its minister’s livelihood, the members are always busy raising money and collecting goods to pay his salary and support his family. The congregation holds an annual Donation Party and en masse visit the parsonage to deliver the bounty collected.

However, the preferred way to raise money is the way preferred by the whole village: concerts. The Baptist church has its own share of talented musicians and singers. Its choir is equally, if not more, dedicated than that of the Presbyterian church.(1) And its members gladly moon-light in the musicales and concerts the church groups organize.

The members of the Baptist church, like their Presbyterian counterparts, are also in the midst of raising money for a new organ and are planning a grand concert and social for next Saturday. Their programme is impressive by any standard, with a real headliner: Miss Elsie Francis, graduate of the School of Oratory in Sackville, N.B., will give several recitations. Mrs. William (Kate) Bowers, who has a voice like an angel, has agreed to sing several songs; Miss Mabel Johnson of Oxford, a fine pianist and singer, will also perform. There is also planned a parody on “Annie Laurie” by the Musical Mayflowers, a group of young men and women in the church. The Great Village String Orchestra will be on hand to accompany one and all, and perform their own selection of instrumentals. A light but delicious refreshment is guaranteed after the entertainment has concluded. This musicale will take place at the home of Mr. L.C. Layton, one of the scions of the church and village. He often opens his home for church concerts, being the head of a musical family himself.

Tonight though, the concert committee won’t be meeting as most of the members of the church will attend Miss Harrison's lecture on India.

Rev. and Mrs. Francis are a popular couple in the Village, willing to take part in many of the community’s events. Like Rev. Gillespie, they too have been touched by the war, their son Fred enlisted early and is a Corporal in the 239th Construction Corps, stationed near Windsor, N.S. He has not yet shipped out to England, but they expect that to happen soon. Just last week Rev. and Mrs. Francis motored to Windsor with Mr. Max Layton and Miss Una Layton, to visit Fred. It is rumoured that Miss Una and Mr. Fred are fond of each other. The Rev. and his wife expect to see Fred for a visit sometime towards the end of July, when he is on leave.

Just as Rev. Gillespie has his usual daily rounds to make, so too does Rev. Francis. This morning he has an extra task, an early visit to the Bulmers. He meets Dr. Johnson on his way out and finds Will in the yard fussing with the harness on the wagon. As he approaches the verandah, the Bulmers’ funny little dog, Betsy, a dachshund, runs around the corner and jumps excitedly around the him. He leans down and gives her a good scratch behind the ears.(2)

Elizabeth Bishop and Betsy

Elizabeth is busy at the sink washing the breakfast dishes. Her little granddaughter sits in the rocking chair by the window holding the cat and a doll, chattering quietly to herself. They are waiting for Gertrude and Grace to come downstairs. Rev. Francis does not stay long, only long enough to say a prayer and wish Gertrude Godspeed. She is withdrawn and quiet. About a half hour later, as he comes out of Layton’s store, he sees Will’s wagon cross the bridge and head up the hill. He says another prayer for the poor ill Gertrude and her dear little daughter. He turns towards the bridge and Hustler Hill, heads up to the church, where he meets with Kate Bowers to talk about ordering some new music. He remembers to ask Kate about her sister Helena Blackadar, who is also missionary in India, to find out when Helena will be back home, so the Baptists can plan their own lecture about her work there.


1. Elizabeth Bishop had vivid memories of the Baptist choir. In a March 23, 1964, letter to Anne Stevenson, she wrote, “All those who sung in the choir I remember very well because I spent so many sermons studying them one by one.”

2. One of Elizabeth Bishop’s most vivid memories of Rev. Francis is connected to Betsy. On March 23, 1964, Bishop wrote Anne Stevenson: “I had a dachshund, ‘Betsy’ ─ given to my mother when I was born, and she sent her to G.V. to her mother ─ the only dog of that sort ever seen there, of course, and a Village character. The ‘big boys’ hung around on the bridge, and she was afraid of them ─ so in order to cross the village to meet my grandfather on his way back from the farm, etc. ─ she would make a long detour and actually cross the river at a wide shallow place, on stepping stones. One summer Sunday afternoon, all the good Baptists in church, the doors open, Dr. Francis, the minister, was on his knees praying, when a patter-patter was heard and Betsy trotted down the aisle past our pew. She was fond of Dr. Francis and went right up on the platform and jumped to like his face. He opened his eyes and said, ‘Why, Hello Betsy’ and then went on praying."

Ed. note: Again, a reminder that you can read this series in sequence if you go to the Nova Scotia Connections link in the menu at the top.