The Sinking of the Nelson B

My, my, my.  This year we have something very special for you - it’s a story about a real shipwreck.

Now Nova Scotia is almost an island surrounded by rough rock. People who come here in the summer can’t even imagine the roar and crash of the waves in winter. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world and all that water rushing in and out makes that water strong like you wouldn’t believe. And then the wind ...  It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that children and small adults can’t go outdoors when it’s windy, for fear of being blown away. So this mix of rock and wind and rushing water can make for some pretty dangerous conditions on the water, especially in the wintertime.

Oh, we know you can hear shipwreck stories in every village around the coast of Nova Scotia. That crowd around Lunenburg and Chester will even have you believing that most of the ships that left port were lost at sea, attacked by pirates, or were full of golden treasure.

But the good folk of Yarmouth County, in the small villages like Port Maitland, are not a bit like that. They are not the type to be scaring the tourists or bragging themselves up. People of Port Maitland are sea people. They earn their living from the sea, work in it, or on it, or near it, every day. The rocks or shoals where boats are wrecked are right beside the places where they fish. Most of all, they understand that the treasure aboard a boat is not gold coins but the men and women on board.

The story we are going to tell you today is the story of the sinking of the Nelson B.

And who better to tell you this story than someone who was there? George Snow has lived in Port Maitland all his life and he is a great storyteller. At the age of 91 now, he remembers the details as if it were yesterday.

Folks will want to know the Nelson B was headed towards Weymouth in Digby County for a load of pulpwood  Friday the 13th day of January, 1967. Yes, that’s right, Friday the 13th.  It was a dark and stormy night ...

Here are some facts that might interest you:

The Nelson B was a steel cargo ship about 162 feet long and 28 feet wide. It had been built in Scotland in 1949 and was named Beauly Firth.

Then around about 1965 the boat was sold to Bouchard Navigation Ltd. in Quebec and re-named the Nelson B.

Here’s the notorious Trinity Ledge where the Nelson B came to grief:

These people tried to help the Nelson B the night it went down:

  • Staff from Search and Rescue Halifax
  • Staff from the radio direction finding station Rockville 
  • Seamen from the coastguard cutter Relay
  • Fishermen from a Cape Saint Mary herring seiner, Hubert Doucet captain
  • Seamen from a Manchester Line ship
  • Port Maitland fisherman Lyle Ellis
  • Volunteer firemen (most also fishermen) from Port Maitland - six boats:
    • Jesse Ellis captain
    • Ivan Thomas captain
    • Charles Ellis captain
    • Tom Smith captain
    • Edward Smith captain
      • Bernard Smith
    • George Snow captain
      • Phil Dennis
      • Glen Hersey
      • Donald Crocker

And this was the treasure aboard the Nelson B:

  • Alphonse Bouchard, captain
  • Victor Bouchard, chief engineer
  • Bernard Bouchard, second engineer
  • Odile Bouchard
  • Michelle Bouchard 
  • Ray Nichol
  • Donald Scott 
  • Raymond Bouchard
  • Fernand Tremblay
  • Two dogs - Mick and Dickie
If you think we’ve been telling you a tall tale, you’ll have to go and look it up yourselves. Try two newspapers: the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Monday January 16, 1967, and the Yarmouth Vanguard, Wednesday January 18, 1967. And have a look at the European shipwreck site “The Wrecksite” and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s online shipwreck database and Clyde Built Ships.

As usual, we have had help from many people. Thank you, George, for telling us the story. Phil and Gertrude Dennis were generous with their time and memories and loaned us their old newspapers. Megan Snow helped in preparation of the video and Chris Snow did the computer work.

Adam Graham of Adam Graham Photography made the video and we are very appreciative of his fine work.

Christmas 2014
Howard and Madeleine Snow

Arnold Ellis

Kindness: one of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon another.  If someone is in need, lend them a helping hand.  Do not wait for a thank you.  True kindness lies within the act of giving without the expectation of something in return.
- author unknown 

When Howard Snow was a little boy . . . now I’ll stop before I’m half started and fix that.  Howard Snow was never a little anything, not baby, not boy, not man.  

Howard weighed twelve pounds, four ounces on the day he was born.  When his mother asked the doctor if that meant Howard would grow to be large, the doctor said “Oh no, Mrs. Snow, Howard will be a normal size by the time he’s two years old.” That may not be the biggest lie ever told, but Howard’s second birthday came and went and Howard was still big.  In those days people said “big for his age” and Howard was certainly that.

Howard was so much bigger and stronger than the other kids that Marjorie and George Snow spent a lot of time teaching him that he should never hit other children.  They may have overdone this a little, because when Howard started school, he was the one coming home crying, saying that kids were hitting him.  Marjorie and George thought things over.  Finally they told Howard that while he still wasn’t allowed to hit other kids, he could lift them into the ditch beside the road.  If the kids kept hitting him, he should just put them back into the ditch until they stopped.  This worked liked a charm.  Howard didn’t have to set too many kids in the ditch before they changed their minds about hitting him.

Long before Howard went to school, George Snow had made his children a sandbox in the backyard where Susan, Howard, Roddy and all the neighbourhood kids spent lots of time.  Pretty soon the sand in the sand box started to disappear.  Well it didn’t really disappear, but every kid who played there took home a shoe full, or a pocket full, or an ear full until pretty soon there wasn’t enough sand in the sandbox to make giant castles or really high hills.  

The kids talked about what should be done to fix the sand problem.  As usual, it was Larry Stephens who had the ideas.  Larry explained that sand was made by rubbing rocks together.  First thing next morning Howard got busy making sand.  He rubbed rocks together and he rubbed rocks together.  First he tried the very big rocks.  When that was a bit slow, he tried some medium sized rocks.  Finally, he thought the small rocks might make the best sand.  He was sure that Larry was perfectly right about how sand was made, but sand making was very, very slow. 

As he rubbed the rocks together, he began to think of easier ways to get sand.  Now out his front driveway and one half mile downhill was one of the nicest beaches on the shoreline of the Bay of Fundy, with some of the loveliest sand to be found anywhere in the world.  And Howard knew just how he would get it home.  

Howard owned a wonderful wooden wagon.  Howard loved that wagon.  He loved how he could carry big loads in it.  He loved how he could do real jobs with it like bringing home heavy cans of juice from the store for his mother.  There was only one time that Howard wasn’t one hundred per cent happy with his wagon and that was when his brother Roddy got a shiny new wagon.  Roddy’s wagon was very flashy and nice looking.  But after a while Howard noticed that Roddy’s wagon started to look a little scratched and not so shiny.  Pretty soon Howard was back to loving his wagon one hundred per cent.

Howard and his wagon

Yes, Howard knew that his wagon would be perfect for lugging sand for the sandbox.  Marjorie Snow agreed to let Howard take his wagon to the beach as long he came home “before the men came home for supper.”  Howard set off down the hill with his wagon, walking only on the side of the road facing “traffic” - really just some half-ton trucks going to or from the wharf - as his mother had taught him.

Down the hill went Howard and his wagon.  First he passed Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Lester Perry’s house.  Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Lester were not really his aunt and uncle, everybody just called them that because they were both such kind people.  They always had a Pantry cookie - those large, crispy, ginger cookies with the fancy edge - for kids who came to visit.  Even Trusty-the-dog stopped off to visit them and, whether he was with the children or travelling alone, Trusty curled up on the floor under Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Lester’s kitchen table and ate his Pantry cookie.  Aunt Bertha, Lester’s sister, lived in the back half of the house and Lester’s brother, George Perry, a carpenter, lived in the workshop behind.  George Perry’s home was truly a fascinating place - Howard recalls it was a little like looking inside a trailer or a compartment on a train.  As tiny as George Perry’s home was, it had everything he needed and it was all perfectly organized.

Then down the hill to the entrance to Charles Street, then Stan and Winnie Ellis’ house where Hubert and his sister Barbara grew up and, even after Barbara married Carl Williams and moved to the States, she still came home every summer.  George Snow tells the story of old Mrs. Sam Perry who lived on Charles Street and used to watch his brother Doug Snow and Hubert play baseball by the hour.  “My, my, my, what will ever become of those two boys?” she used to say.  Well, both Doug Snow and Hubert Ellis earned doctorates in mathematics and taught for many years, Doug at Acadia University and Hubert at Queen’s University.

Howard went past the Curry house - it was a summer home for people living in the States.

Then Howard pulled his wagon in front of Aunt Frances and Uncle Les Delaney’s new house where they and his cousin Charlotte would soon live.  For now Charlotte and her parents were living with Howard and Charlotte’s grandmother at the end of Charles Street.

The swamp was next, then Bingay’s hill, called that because Mr. Bingay rented the hill for a couple of years to grow potatoes.  At the foot of Bingay’s Hill was the fire pond, dug by the Fire Department. 

Next was Dorothy and Charlie Ellis’ house where they lived with their children Arnold, Nancy, Brenda and, later, Bobby.  They were a nice family and George Snow tells this little story about Nancy who was a bit of a prankster.  When George was the local member of the legislative assembly and had just been appointed as Minister in charge of Housing, he was due to make a visit to one of the housing offices.  Housing matters were - as it might be delicately put -  in some disarray so the manager was especially anxious that the visit go well.  He had no idea that his employee, Nancy Ellis, and the Minister were both from Port Maitland.  Before George’s visit Nancy would tease her boss “When the Minister arrives, I’m going to call out ‘Hi George, how are you?’ ” “Don’t you dare!” said the manager.  Sure enough when George Snow arrived Nancy called out “Hi George, how are you?”  “Well just fine, Nancy,”  replied George and the two had a nice chat about Port Maitland matters.

Then there was Russell and Belle (“skinny as a kerchief”) Pitman’s house where they lived with their children Barbara, Junior, Joy, Gordon, and Dawn.  Then Mac and Ruby Thompson’s where they raised their sons Wayne, Dickie and Gerald.

In the gravel pit behind where the Fire Hall is now was the old ball field.  Behind the ball field was the meadow where kids and adults alike used to skate during the winter.  George Sollows was a wonderful skater and he always dammed the creek to make a skating rink on the meadow.  On winter evenings someone usually made a fire with wood or an old tire, so it was a great place to skate.  
Lillian and Kingsley Frost and their sons, Lyndall and Harry, lived in the house which is now just after the Fire Hall.  Kingsley was a boat builder and sometimes Howard liked to watch Kingsley working in his boat shop nearby.

Then there was Hollie and Edith Thompson’s home where their son Borden (Cap), his wife Amy and their children, Conroy and Patty, also lived.  Hollie Thompson sold gas at the shore and usually had a card game going in his shed at the wharf.  His sons, Borden and Mac Thompson, fished together. Borden’s dog, Bingo, was always around and was almost like Borden’s guard dog, growling ferociously if anyone got too close to him.  Bingo was smart, too, and would wait at home until somehow he knew that Borden and Mac’s boat was coming in for the day.  Bingo would then race to the end of the wharf to greet them.

Finally, Howard pulled his wagon across the road, passing by George Sollows’ store.  He came by Ivan Thomas’ fish plant, then two fish sheds, the first owned by Russell Pitman and the  second by Howard’s father.  Next was the tide gate.  Finally, across the road was the beach.

As soon as he landed on the beach Howard loaded his wagon.  He wanted his sand to stay put on the drive home, so he loaded that wagon with the wet sand that packs the best.  He piled the sand as high as he could, well over the top of the rails.  When he thought that he had every last grain of sand that would possibly fit in his wagon, he was ready to play.

As usual, there were lots of kids to play with.  They played in the sand, chased each other through the freezing waves and splashed in the warm pools of water left by the receding tide.  The hours slipped by.  

When the time came to take the sand home, it was all Howard could manage to get the wagon up over the bank.  He pulled with all his might to get the wagon headed uphill.  Inch by inch he pulled the wagon.  After half an hour he was still near the bottom of the hill.

Now any wagon owner will be able to tell you this: there is a world of difference between the work needed to haul an empty wagon downhill early on a summer’s afternoon to that necessary to lug that very same wagon, loaded over the top of the rails, uphill at the end of the day.  Wagon owners will also know that sand that is washed twice a day by the Bay of Fundy tides is heavy, very heavy indeed.

Not for a moment did Howard consider abandoning his sand.  Not for a moment did he think of leaving his wagon. 

Like an answer to an unspoken prayer, suddenly Arnold Ellis appeared.  Arnold was a big boy, perhaps eight or nine years older than Howard.  Arnold seemed to instantly understand Howard’s predicament.  In the kindest way possible, he asked Howard if he would like a hand.  Howard did not hesitate - yes, he would like help.

So one big boy and one big-for-his-age boy set off up the hill together.  One half mile of wagon pulling of heavy sand would not have been easy, even for a big boy, but Howard remembers how cheerfully Arnold pulled the wagon.  Arnold didn’t complain at all about helping Howard.  Most of all, he didn’t make Howard feel the least bit foolish for being unable to get his wagon home.

There were lots fewer buildings on the other side of the road.  First was Ivan Thomas’ fish freezer.  Then Donald and Alice Moses’ home.  

Bernard and Luella Smith and their children Glenna, Bennett and Kenneth lived in the next house.  Kenneth, who was Howard’s age, grew up to captain big ferry boats between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor and between Digby and Saint John. 

Then Edison and Elinor (Hollie and Edith Thompson’s daughter) Outhouse and their five  children - Burton, Carol, Iris, Crystal and David.  Edison was a cook on the big Coast Guard lightship which warned boats of the dangerous Lurcher Shoals, about 13 miles off Yarmouth.  Edison worked on the lightship for a month and then he came back home for a month.  

Back across the swamp.  The swamp was teeming with frogs but they were silent that afternoon, unlike the springtime when the pink-winks, the small frogs, seemed in constant cry. 
Olive and Ashton Thomas lived in the next house - their children, Frances, Shirley (Lew) and Blanche had grown up and moved away.  

Just across from Howard’s lived Ira and Laura Smith, Arnold’s grandparents.  Their children were Dorothy, Bernard, Leland (Bussy) and Edna, but those kids, too, had grown up and moved to their own homes.  Arnold’s aunt and uncles were certainly no strangers to hard work.  His Aunt Edna made such fine molasses cookies and brown bread that she had to start her own bakery to satisfy all the people who wanted her cooking.  His Uncle Bussy was just getting ready to build his own house on the shore hill.  And Arnold’s Uncle Bernard, well he fished for lobsters from Port Maitland for more than 70 winters, which has got to be some kind of record. 

Howard worried about what would happen when they came to his house.  Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to keep the wagon from rolling back down the hill once Arnold had finished pulling.  Howard needn’t have given that problem a moment’s thought.  Without being asked, Arnold Ellis pulled the wagon full of sand well into Howard’s driveway, almost to the sandbox. 

And then, as quickly as Arnold had appeared at the bottom of the hill, he left Howard’s yard and was gone.

Although Howard wasn’t very old and hadn’t even started school yet, he knew he had received a beautiful gift from Arnold Ellis on that fine summer’s day so long ago.

We received help with this story from many people.  George Snow was especially helpful with his knowledge of all things Port Maitland.  Susan Snow Moores and Charlotte Delaney Covert also remembered many details of Port Maitland people.  Megan Snow and Julian Smith assisted with the editing.  Chris Snow did the computer work.  Thank you all.

Howard and Madeleine
Christmas 2013

Buck and His Chickens

Back row: Larry Stephens, George Crocker, Kenny Gavel, Eileen Gower, Diane Hersey
Middle row: Unknown, Unknown, Carolyn Gavel, Charlotte Delaney, Geoff Hodgson
Front row: Howard Snow, Susan Snow - about 1952 

Children growing up in Port Maitland in the 1950's had a lot of freedom.  Parents might walk their children to school on the first day of grade Primary, but after that parents only went near the school for big trouble.  Nobody was driven to school, nor to any other activities.  As long as children were not saucy with adults, or didn’t break the neighbours’ windows playing baseball and they came home to eat when the noon whistle blew, kids could pretty much come and go as they liked.

One thing the kids liked to do was watch chickens being killed.  Now you have to understand that the animals of the 1950's had few, if any, rights.  If there was an S.P.C.A., it certainly didn’t concern itself with chickens.  It was a time when people looked after the needs of their household pets themselves.  If a family had enough cats, when the next litter came along, they simply popped the kittens into a burlap bag with some rocks and threw the bag off the end of the wharf.

Back to the chickens.  On Charles Street, in the house now numbered 21, there was a man called “Buck” (his real name was Lawrence Hersey) who had lived in that house all his life.  Buck worked as the manager of Frank E. Davis Fishery at the shore.  After a time Buck’s daughter Euda (Eudavilla Jean Barnes Hersey Stephens) moved back home with her children Linda and Larry.  Euda worked  for Mr. Guier packaging food to sell in Mr. Guier’s store, then Euda worked many years at the Royal Store in Yarmouth.

Now Buck had a building in his yard for his chickens.  This shouldn’t be confused with some of his other little buildings, like his woodshed or outhouse.  Buck’s outhouse was the same one where Roddy Snow came to grief one fine summer day.  Roddy had just strolled over to Buck’s yard when “bam”, he fell into the hole that Buck’s outhouse had recently covered.

Roddy’s mother, Marjorie Snow, was not a wasteful woman.  She had grown up in a large family in Montreal during the Depression and she knew the value of a dollar.  But when Roddy returned from Buck’s old outhouse hole, Marjorie didn’t hesitate.  She grabbed Roddy and whipped off every stitch of clothing he had on his body.  With the exception of Roddy himself, everything went in the barn stove, shoes included.

Larry Stephens - who was named for his grandfather Buck - was a natural leader among the children.  Larry had many, many ideas as to how the children should spend their time.  For example, it was Larry who thought of refurbishing the old wooden dory beside George Snow’s barn.  George even provided some old wood, nails and paint for the project.  As George remembers, the kids “sailed all over the world in that dory”.

Whether it was Larry who had the idea of the kids watching his grandfather Buck kill chickens, or whether one of the other kids thought of it, nobody can say.  But even now, some fifty to sixty years afterward, those grownup kids remember every other detail. 

On certain Saturday mornings when Buck got up and thought he might like chicken for his Sunday dinner, the word would go out among all the children: “Buck is going to kill a chicken.”  Before you knew it, every self-respecting kid in the neighbourhood was gathered in Buck’s yard. 

Now remember that no one cared too much what the kids were up to, and no one cared too much about the animals.

The kids formed a large circle around Buck.  And Buck, being somewhat of a performer, made quite a show of getting out his chopping block and his special double bladed axe.  With a great flourish, he brought that axe down hard over the chicken’s neck and off popped the chicken’s head.  Now the fun began for the children.  As that headless chicken flew crazily around the yard, the circle of children likewise moved.  Charlotte Delaney remembers, “You tried to get as close as you could to the chicken, but you stayed far enough away so that you didn’t get any chicken on you.”

And that is just one of the things the kids did growing up in Port Maitland in the 1950's.

Christmas 2010
by Howard and Madeleine with thanks to George Snow, Charlotte Delaney Covert, and Susan Snow Moores

Mrs. Guier’s Mittens and Mr. Guier’s Chips

Mr. and Mrs. Guier lived in one of the big houses on Hector Street that was really two houses stuck together.  It is now #12.

Mrs. Guier stayed at home and did things like knit.  Sometimes to earn a little extra money, Mrs. Guier knit mittens to sell to the lobster fishermen.  Mrs. Guier’s mittens were a bit special because Mrs. Guier knew a way of making mittens double, so while the cuffs of the mittens were not double, the hand and thumb had two layers. That made the mittens twice as warm as usual.  Some people think that Mrs. Guier learned to make her special mittens on Digby Neck where she grew up. 

Anyway, whether Mrs. Guier and the other women were making double mittens or regular shrinking lobster mittens (mittens that were very, very large at first, then got smaller and warmer as they were used), they could never make them in pretty colours.  No, the lobster mittens always had to be made from white wool.  If the ladies knit mittens in any other colour the lobster fishermen would not buy them.  The lobster fishermen believed coloured mittens would bring Bad Luck on the boat. Nobody wanted Bad Luck, so the lobster mittens were always white.

While Mrs. Guier was at home knitting mittens, Mr. Guier (his first name was Edmund but all the kids called him Mr. Guier) ran a little store on the Main Road near the corner of Hector Street at what is now 3198 Highway #1.     

One of the things that Mr. Guier sold in his store was potato chips.  Because Howard Snow loves potato chips very much, he remembers this story about Mr. Guier.  One day about fifty years ago, about the time that Howard was eight or nine years old and his sister Susan (whose name is now Moores but was Snow then) was ten or eleven, Howard took ten cents from his allowance of twenty-five cents.  Or maybe it was from the money he made selling raspberries he picked, or selling fish he bought at the wharf (Howard’s mother had suggested to him that he sell these things to Amanda Beaupre or Adeline Brown and they always bought the berries or fish that he brought to them).  Howard isn’t exactly sure how he earned the money but he is very, very sure that it was ten cents.  He remembers this exactly because in those days potato chips cost either ten cents for a nice chubby bag or five cents for a small bag and these chips were definitely ten cent Hostess potato chips.  He bought them at Mr. Guier’s store. 

These chips were not like regular potato chips. These chips did not make that crackly sound when he picked them up or bit into them.  These chips made no sound at all.  These chips were kind of soggy and they were bendy chips.  Anyway Howard told Mr. Guier that his chips weren’t right and asked Mr. Guier for a new bag.  Perhaps Mr. Guier was in a cranky mood as old people sometimes are, or perhaps Mr. Guier did not understand how bendy Howard’s chips were, or perhaps there was a different reason altogether, but Mr. Guier just said that it wasn’t his fault that Howard’s chips weren’t right and he would not give him a new bag.

Howard was very sad about the chips.  When he went home, he told Susan about the problem.  She decided right away that something should be done.  She knew that Howard was not as good a talker as she was.  As a matter of fact, a few years earlier she did not think he should start school because his talking was so bad.  He used to call her “Ean” instead of “Susan”, he called his cousin Charlotte “Larlot” and when he said Georgie Crocker’s name it sounded like “Dordzie”.  Anyway Howard’s talking was a lot better than it used to be, but she was still a much better talker.

Howard and Susan Snow - 1954 or 55

Up the hill she marched, carrying the chips, to Mr. Guier’s store. 

Now fifty years is a long time.  So long in fact that no one can remember exactly what Susan said to Mr. Guier about Howard’s potato chips.  But everyone remembers this.  Susan Snow threw that ten cent bag of Hostess potato chips on Mr. Guier’s floor and then she told Mr. Guier very loudly that neither she nor her brother would ever be back in the store again. 

And neither of them did go back.

Christmas 2009
by Howard and Madeleine

When the Whales Came Ashore

When you grow up in a small village you realize that there aren’t too many big happenings.  Howard Snow could think of only 3 big happenings during his entire childhood and people would have missed two of them if they had been away for the day.  In fact, Howard missed one of the big happenings - the sinking of the Nelson B. - just by going to town for the evening.  But the sinking of that ship is a story for another day.

So, the second big happening was the time the Wally Byam Airstream trailers came to town.  Well, the trailers didn’t exactly come to Port Maitland.  No, they were headed for a big get-together in Yarmouth and Bob Brooks was going to photograph them from a plane.  The trailer owners were supposed to park their trailers, all lined up nicely so the picture would look good.  Well trailer parking being what it is, soon there was a massive silver trailer backup on Highway # 1, from Darlings Lake clear through Port Maitland and up the line.

You might remember that Howard Snow’s mother was always thinking of ways to keep him busy and many of those activities involved little ways he could make money.  As it happened Marjorie Snow was making cookies on the day the silver trailers blocked the highway through the village.  She quickly realized that all those stuck-on-Highway #1 people might like a little snack.  So she gave Howard her cookies and he went up to the road with their dog Trusty.  Howard went from trailer to trailer selling cookies and visiting with the trailer owners and Trusty performed his little trick of shaking hands for some of them, in return for a small bite of cookie.

But the big happening we will tell you about - and what Howard says was the only proper big event in Port Maitland during his childhood - is the time the whales came ashore.  August 1, 1960 about sixty pothead whales (the real name is pilot, the pothead is just a nickname because of their fat heads) landed on Port Maitland beach.  Now these are very big whales, with the largest weighing maybe three tonnes.  Very, very big.  So picture around sixty of them on one regular size beach.  That was quite a sight and people came from all over to see it.  The people who do the counting for these kind of things said that twenty thousand people came to Port Maitland to see the whales.  Now almost everyone in Port Maitland will tell you that nothing before nor since, in all the history of Port Maitland, has ever caused twenty thousand people to come here. Since most of the time maybe five hundred people live in Port Maitland never, never could you imagine that forty times that number of people would drop by for a visit.

George Snow was coming back from fishing at the Lurcher the morning after the whales came ashore.  Ten miles off shore, about four miles outside Trinity Ledge, he came across another group of pothead whales jumping and diving in the water.  This was the one and only time he had ever seen such a sight in all his years on the water.

Howard and Rod Snow on whale 1960

At first people worried about the whales.  Some of the young men like Bryan and Jack Smith got right in the water and tried to get the whales to start swimming out to sea.  But nothing worked.  The next day, to put the whales who were slowly dying on the beach out of their misery, one of the men - George Snow thinks it was Fred Delaney - got his rifle and shot the whales.

Harry Thurston was a kid from Yarmouth who, like Howard, was about ten years old when the whales came ashore.  Now Harry Thurston was not like other ten year olds.  No, Harry Thurston grew up and studied biology and became a writer and even at ten years old he thought deep thoughts.  This is what Harry Thurston wrote in January 1995 in Canadian Geographic about the whales.

I well remember my mingled sense of loss and helplessness when 58 pilot whales fatally stranded at Port Maitland beach, near my childhood home of Yarmouth, N.S., in 1960.  I walked among the black corpses, bloodied by their own vain thrashings and the callous carvings of souvenir hunters.  Like so many coastal people before me, I asked myself: “Why had these magnificent marine mammals come ashore?”  And especially, “Why in such numbers?”

Now Howard thought more of the regular-little-kid-type thoughts.  He felt bad about all the whales dying, but not so bad that he wasn’t delighted that twenty thousand people came to Port Maitland.  He doesn’t remember anyone trying to get whale bones. Heck, like most people, he only got close enough to get his picture taken with his brother on the whale and then he stood back in case those whales had some disease that had made them sick. 

Charlotte Delaney was another little kid who remembers the whales.  She recalls the cars parked along both sides of the road from the shore most of the way up the hill and the steady stream of traffic.  But she was horrified at the sight of the whales’ dead bodies on the beach.  She carried on so much about it that her parents wouldn’t let her go back a second time.

Finally a grave was dug near the beach and the whales were buried.

So, while there were big happenings in Port Maitland from time to time, more than anything else those big things made the people realize that it wasn’t so bad to live in a small, quiet village.

Christmas 2011
by Howard and Madeleine with thanks to Charlotte Delaney Covert, Susan Snow Moores and George Snow

Frank Smith

One well-known person in Port Maitland in the 1950's and 60's was Frank Smith. Frank was born around the end of World War I, about ninety-five years ago. From the time Frank was a baby, people knew that he was different. The word people used to describe Frank then was "retarded". Retarded meant didn’t learn quickly or didn’t learn as much as other people. In those days children like Frank didn’t go to school. As Frank got older, he wasn’t trained to do any job, so he was never able to work very much. However, Frank could split and pile wood as well as anyone and, from time to time, he earned a little money that way. Frank was not too happy with the "brown" money - pennies. But he did love the "white" money - nickels, dimes or quarters - because then he could buy ice cream.

Frank lived at home with his parents until they got sick and died. Now back in those days there weren’t group homes, or special programs, or disability cheques. In fact, there was almost no help of any kind for someone like Frank.

But Frank had four good brothers who loved him. Frank’s brother Edward lived on the main road in the house that is now 3254 Highway 1. His brother John lived directly across from the school at 3071 Highway 1. Raymond lived a few houses from the school at 3088 Highway 1. Frank’s brother Bernard lived near the bottom of the shore hill at 3307 Main Shore Road.

Somehow the brothers made this plan to look after Frank. Frank began each month sleeping overnight and having breakfast at one brother’s house - say Edward’s. After breakfast Frank went to John’s for lunch. Later he had his supper at Bernard’s. Frank continued like this for the month, then everything rotated. On the last day of the month Frank could be seen walking along the road with his suitcase, moving from one brother’s home to the next.

When he wasn’t at one of his brother’s, Frank spent his time visiting. He walked through the village from one end to the other every day and he soon learned the businesses and homes where he was welcome. He stopped to visit at Les Delaney’s garage on Highway 1. He dropped into George Sollows’ store down by the wharf. One day when Frank walked in, somebody called out "Here’s the man that makes the wind blow." "Let her howl" replied Frank.

Andrew Bingay was another store owner who welcomed Frank and was usually kind to him. One day, though, Mr. Bingay and his son-in-law, Tim, saw Frank go into Mr. Bingay’s outdoor toilet, so they decided to play a little trick on Frank. Quick as a wink, they shut the latch on the toilet so that Frank was stuck in the small wooden building. Then, BANG. Before anyone realized what was happening, Frank kicked that door and sent it flying. Mr. Bingay and Tim were left to repair the outhouse.

Another time, some men from Tusket were in Port Maitland selling fish. They offered Frank a drive in their truck, but when the time came to let Frank out, they refused. Before they had any idea what was happening, Frank braced both feet on the windshield and pushed with all his might. It seems that all his walking throughout the village each day, and all the wood stacking, had made Frank pretty strong. That windshield didn’t stand a chance and Frank was soon going about his business.

Frank was a regular visitor at George and Marjorie Snow’s. Frank would happily sit and rock in the rocking chair in the kitchen while Marjorie cooked, or knitted, or sewed. Now Frank had a sweet tooth and Marjorie realized that Frank liked to have a cookie or two as he sat and rocked. Marjorie was very generous with her cookies. In the evenings George was in the kitchen knitting pot heads for his lobster traps, or talking on the phone with people who called with problems. Trusty, the dog, spent time there as well, in fact the kitchen and playroom were the only parts of the house that Trusty was supposed to be. Neighbours came and went. Snows’ kitchen was always a wonderful, warm, friendly place to be.

Susan, Howard and Roddy were always in and out too. Roddy Snow had a table hockey game which he played constantly and became so good at it that nobody could beat him. But when Roddy played hockey with Frank, because Frank was so very delighted to score a goal - he clapped and hooted and beamed from ear to ear - Roddy always let him win.

One summer Marjorie’s sister, Jean, was visiting from Montreal and she arrived before the Snows had returned from a camping trip. One particular day while the family was still away, Jean was home alone and upstairs. When Jean came down to the kitchen, she was taken aback to see Frank sitting in the rocking chair.

Jean knew nothing about Frank, nor his sweet tooth, nor his love of cookies. Frank just sat and rocked. Jean tried to explain to Frank that the Snows were away and weren’t expected very soon. Frank rocked on. Nothing Jean said to Frank seemed to make any impression. Frank rocked and he rocked. Finally, Frank left, not too pleased. Now Jean is a lovely kind woman, it’s just that being from Montreal, she wasn’t used to visitors showing up to sit and rock and eat cookies.

Frank loved Christmas and, when Frank was happy about something, he was just full of glee. At Christmas the people of Port Maitland were especially kind to Frank. They knew Frank liked a bit of money and he also loved pictures of Santa Claus. So, even when times were hard, Frank might receive a dozen Christmas cards, most with a picture of Santa and many with a one dollar bill inside.

Frank was never considered an important person during his lifetime, nor would he be considered important by today’s standards. Frank had almost no money. He didn’t own a house, or even rent one. He had no education. He wasn’t good looking and his teeth weren’t the best. He wasn’t charming or even a good conversationalist. Maybe Frank didn’t learn quickly, or didn’t learn as much as other people. But Frank understood important truths that even the most highly regarded among us never learn. Frank understood very clearly that his family would always be there to look after him. His friends added warmth and richness to his life. And Christmas was a time of love and joy all wrapped up to look like Santa Claus.

By Howard and Madeleine
Christmas 2012

As usual, we are very thankful for help from George Snow, Charlotte Delaney Covert and Susan Snow Moores. We are also most appreciative of Chris and Sarah Snow’s work in making the web site.