Reminiscences of an Octogenarian


The following memoirs courtesy Gary Carroll, and Rodney Ling appeared
in THE PATRIOT, 15 June, 1904, page 2.

REMINISCENCES OF AN OCTOGENARIAN.

Mr. Dugald Henry of Stanley, Gives a "Sojourner" Some Local History

One by one the early settlers of this Island are passing away. Most of the men and women who wrestled with the stumps in the virgin wilderness are now sleeping in quiet country church yards. And with them now lies buried much valuable history. It is a pity that there have not been more rural historians to take down from their lips the simple but fascinating story of how they struggled and achieved. Something along this line has been done it is true, and it is not yet too late to do much more. For in almost every hamlet and village there still survives a solitary octogenarian, haunting the fireside in winter, basking in the sunlight in summer, the chief pleasure of whose declining years is to recount to youthful ears the story of a past life and of friends who have gone beyond the bourne.

Until within a very few years ago the picturesque village of Stanley Bridge and its vicinity could boast of several residents of advanced years, men and women of the elder time, who came out of the era when Napoleon like another scourge of God, was painting his red trail of carnage across the continent of Europe. Men and women they were of strong individuality, tenacious of memory, fond of the fireside tale, humorous, witty and interesting. Green be the sod above their graves! A few, a very few, of them still are with us. Of this number is Mr. Dugald Henry, born in 1817, who will accordingly be 87 years of age on the 19th day of the present month of June. Still hale and hearty except for occasional attacks of rheumatism and the conditions incident to an advanced age, Mr. Henry continues in large possession of his faculties, barring the weakness of his eyes, but especially is his memory strong. His trade being that of a blacksmith, for about fifty years he pounded an anvil in different sections of the island, for most of the time in the village of Stanley where on the bank of the lovely river he set up his rooftree in view of an expanse of land and water whose charming combination make a bit of scenery as picturesque and pleasing as many a landscape that hangs in the great picture galleries of the world.

The following notes were gleaned from Mr. Henry in the way of conversation and may be of interest to not a few readers of THE PATRIOT:

" I left the land of my birth, Malpeque," said Mr. Henry, "sixty-four years ago, the fourteenth of June and came to Cavendish, where at that time shipbuilding was being carried on by Alexander and James Simpson. They used to launch from their yard two vessels a summer. My brother was their blacksmith. I went to learn the trade with him and was there five years. From Cavendish I returned to the land of my birth where I finished out my trade. From there my next move was to the Winsloe Road -to a man named William Buxton who was building a stone house. After that to Charlottetown to work for a man named Charles Chipman Davies whose blacksmith shop stood at the end of Queens wharf near Peake’s store. It was built upon blocks and the tide used to come in under it. The site is all built up now and has houses on it. This was about the year 1846. I worked for ten months in Charlottetown part of the time with Thomas Robertson. That was the summer the old Colonial building was built. Pierre Lacey and I made the iron doors and the vault that went into it. While I was working with Robertson he had the job of building the Point Prim lighthouse. I was one of those sent out there to put up the lantern. The lower part of the lighthouse was of brick. The window sashes were all made of iron. This would be about the first lighthouse on the Island. There were none then at Malpeque, New London, Rustico, Georgetown, Souris or Summerside either. On Governor’s Island there was a spar light on which they used to hoist the lantern by hand. At that time old Capt. Dodd, father of Thomas Dodd and grandfather of Dr. Dodd, now both dead was the harbour master. That same year we mounted the buoys - that is, hooped them, put the chains and swivels on them and made ready for placing. There were nine of us working in the blacksmith shop. We had five fires going. The work went ahead like a streak and there were plenty of us to handle all the heavy jobs. Shipbuilding was active. Up every river vessels were being built. In fact shipbuilding was the people’s whole living, you might say, for there was very little farming. Only little strips of fields along the rivers were cultivated. The inhabitants got their tea, sugar, moccasins, shirts and supplies in general mainly through hauling timber to the shipyards. No one kept more than one horse but many had a yoke of oxen and no horse. The oxen were slow brutes but it was wonderful what they would haul. A team of them would draw a huge log or twitch out a green stump with a chain after its roots had been cut. I’ve shod oxen many a time. These brutes were fine for ploughing new land, they’d go along so steady."

"But as I was saying shipbuilding was going on briskly all over the Island. In Charlottetown, prominent among the shipbuilders were Peake, Duncan, Welsh, Lord and Nelson. It was then a pretty small town, plenty of woods out the Mt. Peters and Malpeque roads. Richard Heartz was carrying on a tannery near where Henry Smith’s buidings are now."

"I moved a good bit through the Island and did almost every kind of blacksmith work, partly in the shipyards. We went to work at six o’clock those days and worked two hours before breakfast. We worked hard yes, and lived first rate. Some might call it hard - there wasn’t so much fresh beef those times but plenty of Labrador herring and a bottle of rum could be had for a shilling."

"Soon after leaving Charlottetown I was employed at Bell’s shipyard, two miles above the present Stanley Bridge on the Stanley River. The four brothers, William, John, Andrew and Ben Bell worked together in the shipyard. Andrew was the captain and sailed the vessels home to England. They built for over four years, generally two vessels a year, one year three. These vessels would be over 300 tons burden, some of them barques and brigs. They were built for the Peakes from whom the supplies needed such as money, oakum, canvas, etc., were obtained. The vessels were disposed of in England mostly, where they were sent lumber laden. You would see shipbuilding activity in every creek. Sometimes over 30 men were to work in Bell’s yard - sparmakers, caulkers, carpenters, blacksmiths and others. I was four years in their shipyard."

"Did they work at it all year round? Well, yes men went into the woods in the fall and got out the timbers. Then somewhere along about February when the frame of a vessel was all hauled out building commenced. Sometimes two vessels were on the stocks at the same time and were ready for launching in October. The men engaged about a shipyard had a cheerful life on the whole. Sometimes there was a fiddler or two in the gang and dancing was indulged in by times, especially at a launching. When this event came off, there were often gallons and gallons of liquor on hand with plenty of meat and everything cooked up for a celebration. Men and women gathered to see the craft glide down into the water. It was nice to see a vessel run off into the river, but sometimes hard to get them started. At night a big jollification would wind up the events of the day."

"We hadn’t to go far for timber then. It was solid almost from the river back, and the same from here to New Glasgow, only a road being stumped out through it."

"After leaving the shipyard, I moved down to Stanley, then called Fyfe’s Ferry, got myself a little place, built a blacksmith shop and settled down and I’m here still. There was no bridge here then; a big log canoe was the ferry and horses were swum across the river. The ferry canoe was run by William Fyfe whose house stood on the hill back of Tom Farish’s, by the bush. He charged three pence for a single passenger and eight pence for a horse. When people got to have gigs, the ferryman’s way of taking one over was to run its axle in on the canoe, the wheels being in the water on either side. It cost about a shilling for this. With the increase of travel the ferryman made a good bit of money. It was considered a great improvement when he got a big scow propelled by two long oars in place of the canoe. The government provided the scow and gave so much money bedsides for the service. In the scow a team of horses, waggon and all, could be ferried over at once. The route of the ferry was a little above the present bridge. I have often gone down to the shore at night with people on their way home from town and hallooed to the ferryman to come and take them over. The old man would mostly be on the lookout for passengers, but when he and his sons happened to be away, the girls would put a passenger over. People generally went to town on horseback then, two or three of them together the same day for company. They carried a bag on each horses’ back to bring back their little supplies in. Mr. Fyfe came from Paisley, Scotland, I believe, and was one of the first settlers in this place. He ran the ferry for a long time. As travel increased, something better than a ferry was needed. The late Hon. Jeremiah Simpson drew up a petition and got a liberal subscription towards building a bridge. John Anderson, Andrew Bell and I went around with the subscription list, each taking a section of the district. The people subscribed liberally. Then we got Engineer Manderson to draw up a plan of the bridge. The Hon. George Coles, Edward Whelan, Mr. Warburton and Alexander Laird came up and looked at the site where the bridge was to be built. It was a beautiful day when they came, and a very low tide. The residents were gathered to meet them. There was a nice little tent built in the bush on the bank with a choice supply of eatables and drinkables including plenty of scotch cheer. Speeches were made, joviality abounded and in fact the bridge was built that day.

William and Donald McKay, Charles Anderson and James McLeod together built the abutments at each side of the channel. Manderson built the draw bridge and John Doiron of Rustico, a shipbuilder of some note, inspected the work. They began building the bridge in the spring and had it finished in October. The first to drive a horse across Stanley Bridge was Hon. George Coles and with him was Edward Whelan. They came up to view its completion and there was another picnic held at its opening. When the ceremonies were over, the people there assembled gave three cheers for the Queen and three for Coles and Whelan. It is about 49 years since the bridge was opened to traffic."

SOJOURNER.


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