Memories of Long Ago, by Benjamin Bremner - Page 6
A Few Chestnuts
Before the ballot act was passed, there was open voting at
elections, and the candidates were expected to make their speeches on
Nomination day from the hustings, which was erected in front of the
Court House or some other public place on the square. There was
generally a colorful time on those occasions, when throngs would
assemble to listen to the speeches. The orators had often to submit
to some severe heckling from individuals in the crowd, and funny
interjections made it difficult for the speakers to proceed.
Occasionally there would be a free fight, the diversion sometimes
putting a temporary stop to the proceedings. Mostly it would end
good-naturally, especially when some one would shout: "Come boys, and
have a drink!" when could be heard the response from --- "An angel
spoke!", whereupon the two sides would repair to the nearest place of
refreshment, there to get ready for another sortie
A yarn that I have heard, having done service for some years before
and after Confederation, was caused by the appearance of a gentleman
on the hustings, well dressed and with a pair of knee boots, well
polished to the tops. Being bad weather, the long boots were
necessary. In addressing "the gentlemen electors" he opened his
speech with: "I'm opposed to Confederation on any terms whatever."
Whereupon, a noted Irishman in the crowd shouted: "Who made yer
boots?" This caused a lull in the proceedings, while a friend of the
Irishman said: "Ye shouldn't say that, because he's on our side." The
other then shouted: "Doesn't matter a d---, who made yer boots?" This
seemed unanswerable, and the candidate was non - plussed for a time.
Another story was of an elderly, humble-looking clergyman of the old
school, and a business man, who happened to be standing near each
other while listening to the candidates' speeches, when one of the two
took exception to a remark of the speaker. This caused an argument
between the two listeners, which led to a heated discussion, and
eventually caused the business man to shout at the other: "If It
wasn't for your age, I'd smash your face." Whereupon the meek and
mild old clergyman, answered, while starting to remove his clerical
coat: "We shall waive the matter of age, and proceed to discuss the
subject on its true merits." The other man quickly disappeared!
I mentioned, in the opening chapter, the name of Col. Cumberland, a
kindly Christian gentleman. He was very fond of gardening, and took
great pride in having a well cultivated garden. He regularly held
family worship, at which the household, including the servants, were
expected to attend. A story is told of him, that when the household
was assembled for devotion one beautiful summer morning - the window
being wide open, overlooking the garden, some pigs were heard, below
the window, grunting and rooting around. The Colonel was finishing the
prayer, when he heard the provoking noise outside. After saying
"Amen," he exclaimed: "D----- those pigs!" Human nature, I presume.
Just prior to the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860, the National
Anthem was being rehearsed in one of the Sunday schools, and the
question arising - how should "Albert" be pronounced - "Albert" or
"Allbert"? A gentleman present, who was generally ready to give
advice, suggested: "if there was another "hell" it would be"Hallbert."
That settled it.
The Fenian Raid of 1866 caused quite a stir in Canada at the time,
and it was considered necessary in P.E. Island to put the Militia Act
into full operation by requiring every able-bodied male from the ages
of 16 to 60 to join up with the Volunteers, or be drafted into the
Militia. Those from 45 to 60 who were drafted were called the
"Sedentary Militia," and had to attend drill, and were liable to be
called out in case of hostilities. The latter never materialized, but
many amusing scenes were witnessed on Rochford Square during the
drills of the "awkward squad." The drill instructors had quite a
trying time endeavoring to bring order out of chaos with these older
"citizen soldiers." One can imagine the rhythm of step when the order
was given to "mark time" or "forward" as the case may be, when rarely
two men would step together. The roars of laughter from the onlookers
did not improve matters either. As the instructor would
shout - "Dress by your right," the line would be about as straight as
the proverbial "Ram's horn." One old Irishman, in particular, seemed
to give the drill sergeant a deal of trouble. The latter lost
patience and yelled - "Come into line there, Mr. O'Toole, what are you
here for?" the old chap replied quite casually, "Oh! I suppose to
free Ireland!" Further howls from the crowd!
Prior to the establishment of Stipendiary Magistrates' Courts, cases
of petty offences were tried before Justices of the Peace or ordinary
magistrates. In Charlottetown, two magistrates would sometimes sit on
a case of petty larceny or drunkenness, the evidence being frequently
given by a police constable, and sentence pronounced on the one found
A story has been told of a celebrated character of old times who was
frequently brought before the court in Charlottetown charged with
being a nuisance, owing to a too free indulgence in the contents of
the "flowing bowl." On one occasion before receiving sentence he was
asked by the court if he had any defence to make, when he thus
addressed one of the magistrates:---"J----B.-----S.-----, ye
delapidated scion of a rotten aristocracy, I despise ye!" Then
addressing the other magistrate, who had been rather friendly and
lenient to him in the past, he said: - "and Tom, it's little ye care,
when toastin' ye shins and sipping brandy in front of yer comfortable
fire, of poor Jim, whom you incarcerated within the walls of the
common jail!" "Three months."
Those who traveled regularly on the P.E. Island railway in the days
before autos came into frequent use, will not forget the quick-witted
and warm-hearted Irish conductor, who for a long period, ran the
western train. Several of his witticisms and caustic replies to "Smart
Alecs" still ring in the ears of those who were privileged to travel
under his guidance, and many of his sayings have almost become
"classics" of a sort. I shall try to reproduce some of his sallies,
as nearly as possible. (He ran the Murray Harbor train also for a
Old Lady. "Conductor, can't you go any faster than this?"
Cond. "Oh! yes, ma'am, but I have to stay by the train."
Timid old Lady. "Conductor, what end of the car shall I get of at?"
Cond. "It doesn't matter, Missus, both ends stop."
Smart Woman, (coming up the platform, and just back from Boston)
"Conductor, are there any seats left in the first-class car? Conn.
"They were all there, ma'am, when I left."
Smart Alec. (having been in Boston for a few months, and professing
ignorance of his own village) "How far is it to Bloomfield, George?"
Conn. (on his dignity). "How did you know my name was George?"
Smart Alec. "Oh! I just guessed it."
Conn"Since you're so d--- smart at
guessin', you can guess how far it is to Bloomfield."
Smart girl (just returned, after having spent a year in the States,
and approaching her flag station).
Conductor, will there be a cab waiting at the depot?"
Conn. "I don't think so, Miss."
Smart girl "How then, am I to get home?"
Conn. "Oh! I suppose in the same old
truck-wagon you came in before when you left."
One of the best stories about this conductor I have heard was a very
laconic reply he made to an inquisitive Yankee in the smoker, who was
pestering him with foolish questions when he was extremely busy. In
reply to the final question---"I say Conductor, how often do you kill
a man on this road?"
The reply came instantaneously - "Once!!!"
There were no further questions.
His good-natured reply to a question asked by a visiting Catholic
Clergyman from a neighboring province will not soon be forgotten. On
arriving at a way-station the agent met him with a telegram and said:
"Will you give this telegram to Doctor Sweeney, who is on the train?"
The conductor took the message and on seeing a stranger in
conversation with an Island priest, came up and asked: "Are you the
Rev. Dr. Sweeney, sir?" The stranger replied in the affirmative and
after delivering the telegram our Irish friend turned to go, when Dr.
Sweeney, who was fond of a joke and seeing the conductor was an
Irishman, called him back and asked:"Are you in the habit of asking
people their names as you pass through the train?" The reply quickly:
"No sir, but I have to keep my eyes open for suspicious looking
characters!" Needless to say, both priests roared with laughter, and
the joke on Sweeney was repeated by them for a long time after.
A fine old Highland farmer dropped into a shoe shop not long ago to
purchase a pair of shoes for his boy. When asked what size he
required, he said "Well now, I never thought of that, and he wants
them for next Sabbath." What's his age?" asked the shopkeeper. The
farmer scratched his head, and said: "Let me think now, there's Alec,
and Sandy, and Donald, and Hector, - Oh! I know now, he's in the 4th book."
Another hospitable soul said; "Mind now, you come and see the Missus
and me when you're out our way." The friend thus invited when
fulfilling his promise, thought it would please his host to bring a
bottle of something to cheer him. Placing the bottle on the table the
host looked pleased, but rather glum when his visitor asked for some
water. However, the water was produced and the guest poured some of
it into his own glass to mix with the cordial. The latter then asked
his host if he wouldn't have some in his as well, but the latter
replied: "No water for me, I'll take mine as the Lord made it!"
A celebrated Island character was Timothy ----, but, being rather
bibulous in his habits, caused great concern to his friend, the Parish
Priest of the locality, who was, by the way, a very sincere temperance
man. Timothy was frequently admonished by father ---- about his drinking
propensities and as frequently made good resolutions which,
unfortunately, were as often broken.
One beautiful morning in early summer, the priest and Timothy were
walking together on the country road and inhaling the aroma from the
clover and timothy fields, as the breeze gently wafted the odors
towards them. Our friend Timothy, whose breath was rather fragrant
from recent imbibings, walked on the leeward side of his Reverence.
The latter was enjoying the smell of the clover and would often
exclaim: "Oh! the clover! Isn't it delicious?" "Yes your Reverence,"
replied the other. Presently they turned the corner, and the wind
then came from Timothy's quarter and wafted a different odor. The
priest then exclaimed "but what do I smell now?" the other promptly
replied:"Timothy, your Reverence."
Talking of fishing: I remember when quite young of being in a boat
with two older people, fishing off trout Point. One of my companions
had just landed a beauty and was so excited as he shewed it to his
friends, that after removing the hook, he deliberately threw the fish
overboard, and dropped the flies into the basket! How is that for a
fish story? true, though for I was an eye witness.
A relative of mine, while in a friend's house, was looking at a
picture on the wall, of one of England's famous battles. He was a man
of artistic trend and was studying the picture with the artist's eye,
when the old servant approaching, took more particular notice of an
officer, in part of the picture , with an uplifted sword in deadly
encounter. The old man was not considering the artistic merits of the
picture, but exclaimed, "My!" my!" choppin h'off is 'ead with a
sword!"" The other replied solemnly and with a long face: "Yes,
Mr.------ he must have done something very wrong to merit such
punishment as that !"
Which reminds me of the appreciation by a young woman who, for the
first time, saw the grandeur of Niagara Falls, she apparently did not
take in the majesty of the scene, for she remarked: "Isn't it cute?"
Much more could be told of the celebrities of the long ago in
Charlottetown who helped to make life more cheerful by their witticisms
and eccentricities, but I realize that the foregoing series of sketches
and sayings is sufficient for the present. In fact, it has been
extended far beyond my original intention, so I shall end like the
"GOD SAVE THE KING!'
The engraving on the opposite page represents the bronze plaque to
be seen in the Legislative council chamber at Charlottetown. This
bronze is in commemoration of the Union of the Provinces now forming
the Dominion of Canada. I am particularly indebted to H.R. Stewart,
Esquire, Deputy Provincial Secretary, for the following very
interesting and scholarly sketch, descriptive of this tablet of
In the Legislative Council Chamber of the fine old Colonial Building
at Charlottetown, wherein was held the Charlottetown Conference on
September 1st, 1864, there is a mural bronze commemorating the event,
also on historic table around which the Fathers of Confederation sat.
The bronze is the work of one Hamilton McCarthy, a distinguished
Canadian sculptor, residing in Ottawa. Mr. McCarthy was not
commissioned to do this work until June 1st 1914, and the completed
tablet was in position on August 10th following.
A wealth of historic detail is contained in the design of the
tablet. On each corner there is a crest of one of the uniting
Provinces: top right - Quebec; lower right - New Brunswick; lower left
- Nova Scotia; top left - Ontario. At the top centre resting on the
folds of the Union Jack is the Imperial Coat of Arms, showing the
Great Oak of Britain and the small sapling representing the colony.
The Latin inscription reads "Parva sub Ingenti," - "Small under
Great." At the bottom centre is the Canadian Coat of Arms; on the
right appears the herald announcing the birth of the new union. The
inscription is the King's English at its best. The line reading
"Providence being their guide," is from Milton's Paradise Lost and
"They builded better than they knew" is from Emerson - Old and New
World writers, centuries apart, but in combination the words describe
accurately the result of the Conference.
The names of the delegates attending the Conference appear on the
ribbon in the margin. The five figures at the left represent Sir John
A. MacDonald from Ontario; Sir Georges Cartier from Quebec; Sir
Leonard Tilley from New Brunswick; Colonel Hamilton Gray, Chairman of
the conference, from Prince Edward Island, and Sir Charles Tupper from
Nova Scotia. Sir Charles is holding a pickaxe and his foot is a fish
representing the chief basic industries of Nova Scotia - mining and
fishing. He is pointing as if saying "Unity is strength." Colonel
Gray, the chairman, holds the Roman symbol of unity, - four staves
bound together, representing four Provinces united through the medium
of the Conference.
Sir Leonard Tilley holds a scroll bearing the word "Dominion" as
according to a tradition he quotes the Scriptures "Thy Dominion shall
extend from sea to sea."
At that time there was some uncertainty as to what to call the new
Union, whether it should be the "Kingdom of Canada," the Union of
Canada", the "Confederation of Canada," etc. Just prior to a
conference in London Sir Leonard had been reading the Scriptures and
came across the passage reading, "Thy Dominion shall extend from sea
to sea." He is also holding in his left hand the old flail for
threshing. "The torch and the sword of justice" is held by Sir
Georges Cartier, thereby indicating that much of the civil law in
Quebec to-day is French law. Sir John A MacDonald holds the symbol of
medicine in his left hand and in his right hand a scythe. There also
appears a sheaf of wheat and a locomotive, indicating the onward march
of civilization across the new country.
To the visitor the Confederation Room contains an atmosphere of much
interest to the student and the historian
Within one of the spacious chambers of the Colonial Building, the
Chamber now known as "The Confederation Room," the first conference of
delegates was held on September 1, 1864, to consider the proposal of
the union of the different British Colonies in North America, which
eventually led to the formation of what is now known as the "Dominion
The engraving on the opposite page shews the members of the above
mentioned delegation, at the time of their paying a formal call on the
Lieutenant Governor - His Excellency George Dundas, Esquire, at
historic Government House.