The 1850's on the Island were important years for the residents. After 90 years of laying down the ground work for a civilized society, trade and industry were developing at a rapid pace. Telegraphic communications were laid across the Northumberland Straits in 1852 enabling news from the mainland to reach the Island residents faster than the old mail service. Prince Edward Islands first ferry service was set-up with the ships "Princess of Wales" and "Heather Bell" between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. The agricultural society that had been formed in 1827 was developing newer and hardier breeds of livestock along with much improved seeds for the farmers. Machinery such as horse powered threshing machines and improved carriages were becoming more frequent on the scattered farms. The Government required all Island males between the ages of 16 and 60 to build and maintain roads four days per year in their various lots throughout the Island. Stage coach service would reach most parts of the Island at least twice weekly when the roads allowed such passage. The census of 1861 showed there were approximately 80,000 residents on Prince Edward Island. Of this number 78% were born on the Island with 90% of that number being rurally located and only 10% being urban. William's family lived in King's County where the population stood around 20,000.
The rural life in the small towns and farms took on many different faces. The children attended a one room log building that served as the school, when their parents' farms could afford to do without their help. Many teachers complained about the erratic attendance, however, they understood the importance of the family farm. Buildings and houses in the 1860's were beginning to see the introduction of frame construction along with plaster walls in the interior. Keeping the family clothed and fed took-up a great deal of the family's time. Most of the food would be grown and processed at home. They would cure pork, smoke fish, churn butter, preserve berries and make yeast from hops. Other duties included shearing sheep, knitting and sewing clothes not to mention the washing of clothes. They made laundry soap out of tallow and lye and scrubbed the clothes on washboards. The men went to sea to fish or to the fields to farm and more often than not they would do both. The surplus of food served as currency or found its way to markets such as the Old Pound Market House in Charlottetown. To get to market on time, the farmers would have to leave their farms before sunrise and most days return after sunset.
Although, it would seem that this lifestyle was all work and no play, it was not. The communities were close caring neighbours who enjoyed the rewards of their labour. Community fairs were often the source of their gatherings, serving not only as social events but also as important exchanges in bettering their farms. Weddings were also welcome gatherings, where everyone would gather to sing, dance and indulge in food and drink. Often the weddings would go for two days, one day at the bride's house and one day at the groom's house, where the last guests would leave exhausted. Marriages between kin were common, as the selection of mates in the rural areas were limited. In general the Islanders were a healthy and happy group of people and had strong ties to their church. Their main foes were diseases such as small pox and diphtheria which took their toll on the surrounding population.
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View Lot 40 Map
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View 1838 St. Peters Bay Map
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On September 9, 1869, with Reverend Thomas Duncan officiating, William now twenty-nine, married his niece, Mehetabel. I believe this was a rather hastily arranged affair seeing as their first newborn, Ida, was born a few months later. Although Mehetabel or Hetty, as she was referred to, was William's niece, or step-niece, if you like, she was only two years younger than her new husband, again because of the vast difference in the age of the members of William's family. The newlywed couple continued to live at Greenwich and although it is only speculation, I suspect William was becoming involved in the retail grocery business, possibly with the Sterns. William Sterns, Mehetabel's uncle, owned a large store in the nearby town of Morell. William in later years followed Mr. Sterns example and opened his own store in Charlottetown.
In the 1860's survey maps show William's property being reduced in size by about half. The Coffins now owned acreage from St. Peter's Bay to only Greenwich Road, beyond the road, James McEwen is shown as the new owner, and upon the McEwen property, McLean's store has taken over William's house. William's new residence is shown as being on the south side of Greenwich Road, however today, there is only a farmer's field in this location.
The 1870's brought on a new chapter for the people of P.E.I. With the promise of completion of the Island railroad, along with assurances of continuous communications with the mainland from the Canadian Government, P.E.I. joined Confederation in 1873. At this time the Coffin family decided that a move to Charlottetown was in order. It would mark the end of the farming era for this branch of the family, and the beginning of a more urban lifestyle. The Coffins were not alone, many families were being forced to the larger towns in search of work, and thus the family members began a trend of migration, that for some, saw them leave the Island for good. Shortly after the Coffin's arrival, their second child, Joseph Davison Coffin was born. The name Davison was given to Joseph in honour of Margaret's first husband, Robert Davison. According to Tear's Directory for 1880-1881, William Coffin was running a grocery and provisions store at 82-84 Hillsborough Street in Charlottetown. By the time of the Island census of 1881, the Coffin family had grown substantially. Along with William and Mehetabel the census showed Margaret, (William's mother and Mehetabel's grandmother), Ida, age eleven, Joseph age eight, Franklin age six, Florence age four, Earnest age two and baby Robert, three months. A tenth person, Miriam Hacock, age 24, was probably a boarder, store help or a nanny. William is listed as a Presbyterian of Scottish origin. His occupation was listed as a grocer and he was 42. It is most probable that William was only leasing this property, however it may have been the property that his mother inherited from her deceased son Robert. In 1887 according to the book "Charlottetown, The Life in its Buildings". William hired Phillips and Chappell to design, and John Evans to build his new store and dwelling just down the street at 110 Hillsborough Street on the corner of Grafton and Hillsborough. William and Mehetabel were a religious family who attended the old Zion Presbyterian Church which stood on Richmond Street opposite of St. Paul's Anglican, it was also recorded that they contributed generously to the needs of their church. Their children attended West Kent St. School in Charlottetown. William's business was called "Coffin and Company" and
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the words "High Class Groceries and Dealers in Country Produce", was written on their letterhead. By most accounts his business was quite prosperous in the 1890's, however, I have documentation showing some legal battles concerning various suppliers. On March 12, 1893, William's mother Margaret passed away at the age of 93. Margaret was laid to rest, with her husband, William in the Midgell Cemetery, back on the shores of St. Peter's Bay. Shortly thereafter, in 1894, William and Mehetabel suffered another loss with their son Franklin, who died at the age of 19 of an undisclosed illness. The Daily Examiner, Sept. 17 1894 reads as follows,"Died, In this city on Sunday evening 16th inst.,after a short illness, W. Frank Coffin, in the 19th year of his life." Frank was buried at the People's Cemetery in Charlottetown.
Joseph and Ida, despite the family losses were showing good promise, with Joseph achieving award winning grades at Prince of Wales College and Ida was courting a Presbyterian Minister named John Murdock MacInnes, who was from Western Minnesota. On October 18,1897 they were married. Shortly after they left P.E.I. to live in California, where the Reverend became known as the scholar of the Presbyterian pulpit in Los Angeles. Ida became, in the words of the Maple Leaf magazine, "an excellent homemaker, who adds grace and dignity to the clergyman's home". Upon graduation Joseph taught school for awhile at Wheatly River, a small town east of Charlottetown before leaving P.E.I. to attend McGill University to study for a Medical Degree. The Coffin's son Robert, also left the Island, for the United States, to pursue a career in banking. Ernest and Florence helped their parents out in the home and store.
On Febuary 5, 1904, William became very ill and died. The fact that his will was done on the day of his death gives evidence of how suddenly the end came, my guess would be heart failure. A note on his will states that he died before he was able to sign the document. His will also mentions that his estate was valued at $10,567 before expenses, with the majority going to his wife and family still on the Island. The will mentions property that he still owned in St. Peter's Bay. William was buried with his son Franklin in Charlottetown's People's Cemetery, stone 1413 which reads, "William M. Coffin 1840-1904 Peace, Perfect Peace". Mehetabel continued on in Charlottetown until her death in the spring of 1909 and is buried beside her husband.
As a footnote to this family while doing research in New Brunswick in 1995, I came across a letter from Ernest to his brother Joseph, dated December 30, 1909. Mehetabel had died that year and with Ida in California, Joseph in New Brunswick and Robert in Cleveland, one cannot help but feel the sense of despair in the letter. He tells of the paralysing winters and poor profits of his family's store along with the vastness of the empty house that he lives in. He expresses a desire to leave P.E.I. as others had done, however, he realizes the poor prospects of selling such a business at that time. Later, history shows that he did remain with the business and managed to make the store profitable again. Thirty-five years later, a Lebanese merchant's son by the name of Joe Ghiz was born in the old Coffin store. Ghiz became Premier of P.E.I in 1986 and is remembered as the premier who signed the "Confederation Bridge" deal, linking the Provinces of New Brunswick and P.E.I. together with a twelve kilometre bridge.
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Ernest married Della Saunders and raised two daughters who by last account still live on the Island near Marshfield preserving the lone leaf, of this branch of the Coffin family in P.E.I.
The Children of William and Mehetabel Coffin:
Ida Coffin, married Reverend John Murdock MacInnes and had six children, David, Florence, William, Mary, Gordon and John. Two of their sons also became ministers. Ida died in 1959 at the age of 89. The MacInnes's lived most of their lives in California.
Dr. Joseph Coffin married Helen Robinson and had two sons, William Montague and Robert Fisher. Joseph died in 1962 at the age of 89, in Plaster Rock New Brunswick.
Franklin Coffin was born in 1875 and died in 1894 at the age of 19.
Florence Coffin was born in 1878 and died in 1976 in Charlottetown, at the age of 98. Florence never married.
Ernest Coffin married Della Saunders and had two daughters, Patricia and Phyllis and died in 1961 at the age of 79. Ernest was involved in fox farming along with operating his store.
Robert Coffin married Gertrude Driscoll and had one daughter named Janet. Date of death unknown. Robert was a banker in Cleveland.
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DR. JOSEPH COFFIN
Pioneer of New Brunswick Medicine
Joseph Coffin was born in Charlottetown, P.E.I., on November 28, 1873. He was the second child of William and Mahetabel (Sterns) Coffin.
Joseph was born during the year that his parents moved from St. Peter's Bay to Charlottetown. His father William was a grocer, his mother was a homemaker. The family was living on Grafton Street, where Joseph and his sister Ida, attended primary school. When he graduated from High School, Joseph attended Prince of Wales College in the early 1890's, where he became an honour student. His scholastic achievements were rewarded by a medallion presented to him by the College. In 1995, I had the pleasure of seeing the award which is now in the keepsake of his son, William. By the 1890's, Joseph had three brothers, Franklin, Ernest and Robert, and two sisters, Ida and Florence. His brother Franklin, however, died in 1894 of an undisclosed illness.
Upon Joseph's graduation from Holland College, he became a school teacher in the small town of Wheatly River, P.E.I. The Daily Examiner dated June 20, 1894 lists Joseph Coffin as scoring 964 points on the teacher's exam and in turn he obtained his first class teacher certificate along with his classmate Lucy Maude Montgomery. Coffin taught in the small one room school house across from the church. After a short period of time, he went on to pursue his real interest which was medicine. In 1896, he attended McGill University, in Montreal and in 1900, Joseph graduated with a medical degree. He was a young man of 27 when the opportunity came upon him to set up his first practice. The location turned out to be in the north-west region of New Brunswick, in the tiny village of Arthurette. In later years his son Robert disclosed to me that in those days the need for a doctor, usually overrode the desires of the doctor, therefore he was sent to Arthurette to fulfil the region's urgent need for his services. Dr. Coffin's first impressions of his new home must have been one of total isolation, especially coming from a city such as Montreal. His practice covered a vast, rugged area in the Province. Many of his patients were located in the rural areas along the Tobique River. Joseph was the region's only doctor for many miles. He covered an area northward to Riley Brook, and as far south as Perth-Andover, a distance of 80 kilometres. Eastward, he saw people as far away as the banks of the Saint John River, a distance of 50 kilometres.
Although Joseph based his office in Arthurette, a great deal of his time was spent in the region doing house calls. Dr. Coffin had hundreds of patients, if not thousands, to care for. An article written about the doctor states, "The stories through the years of this caring compassionate doctor became legion of how he would never refuse a call, night or day, summer or winter. Often he would hitch up his horse and pung in the middle of the night, heading out to a sick patient or expectant mother, and this at a time in history when the roads were little more than a
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trail cut through the forests. If his horse became played-out, he would stop at a farm to exchange for another".
In 1903, the nearby town of Plaster Rock, became the site of a large lumber mill, operated by the Fraser Co. This new mill created many new jobs for the region. In turn, Dr. Coffin saw the opportunity to relocate his practice to a larger town.
Plaster Rock was an old town, carved from the forests and hills back in the 1850's. Because it was located on the Tobique River, it was also attainable by water. The name of the town, Plaster Rock, was named for its abundance of gypsum being found in the area. The gypsum was used for plaster during construction of buildings as far back as the 1850's. Eventually, the prospects of the forests, overtook the gypsum industry and lumber camps started appearing throughout the region known as Victoria County. To travel this region today, one would be taken by its rugged beauty. The winding road from Grand Falls to Plaster Rock takes you through a path of rolling hills, trout streams, dark forests and potato farms. The fragrance of potato blossoms fill the air. About half way through the journey, one comes across the small historic town of New Denmark. In the mid 1800's, five families, totalling 27 men, women and children, came from Denmark and settled here, taking advantage of the government land grants for rural settlement. A reflection of how isolated this region remained can be seen by the fact that the Danish language is still used in this region. The road past New Denmark winds through forests, with only a few small farms until, out of nowhere, you round a bend and you're in Plaster Rock. The main street is called Main Street and runs parallel to the Tobique River. Across the river lies the Fraser lumber mill which is still in operation today. At the far end of town lies the Plaster Rock Tourist Park, which houses a small museum full of Dr. Coffin memorabilia. Among the articles on display are Dr. Coffin's medical bag, his son William's bomber jacket, and many of the doctor's notes. Most of the articles were donated by the McInnis family, who were acquainted with the Doctor. This museum also has many other artefacts from the region's history.
Upon Joseph's arrival in Plaster Rock in 1904, he took on contracts such as the Toronto Construction Co., which headed the construction and maintenance of the railways in the region. He was to care for the workers if they became sick or injured. He also had contracts with Transcontinental Railway, and the Fraser Lumber Mill. His office was located at 227 Main Street. The vast majority of his patients could not pay him in currency, but instead, would pay with farm livestock such as chickens, horses, cows and goats. Others paid off his services by working for him, or exchanging eggs or fur pelts. Recently, I came across a receipt from Dr. Coffin totalling $38.00, dated January 20, 1910, for services given to three men from the Transcontinental Railroad, showing that against today's standards, the fees were fairly modest.
Dr. Coffin soon became known simply as Dr. Joe, by his many friends and patients. He
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was a handsome man, with piercing blue eyes and distinctively straight nose. His receding hair had touches of grey, and was combed straight back, blending in with his ears. In most pictures I have seen, he was a sharp dresser, always in three piece suits with high collars, and pin striped ties. Although most of Joseph's time was spoken for by his profession, his son Robert told me that he was a flirtatious man with the women that caught his fancy. One such woman was the school principal, Helen Robinson. Dr. Coffin cared greatly for the community and knew that education was the key for Plaster Rock's future. It just so happened that the woman that shared this vision was also the one that Joseph had eyes for, Helen Robinson. It wasn't long before one of the vacancies for school board trustee was filled by Dr. Coffin.
Helen Maude Robinson was the daughter of Celia Fisher and Alexander Robinson of Marysville, New Brunswick. Marysville is a small town a few miles north of Fredericton. Helen Robinson was born on November 1891 in the town of Marysville, New Brunswick. She was the daughter of Celia Fisher and Alexander Robinson. Her mother Celia Fisher was born May 23, 1863 and was the daughter of Charles Cox Fisher (1814-1879) and Sarah Pond (1823-1904) from Marysville, N.B. Celia was a school teacher before her marriage to Alexander Robinson on September 16, 1885. Her father Charles, was born in Nova Scotia of Scottish ancestry and came to New Brunswick in 1836. Charles was part of the large Fisher family from Truro who trace their roots back to the first North American immigrant of that family, William Fisher (1716-1777), who emigrated from Ireland to New Hampshire but settled in Truro in 1762. Charles married Sarah Pond on December 14, 1843. Charles and Sarah had eleven children: George (1847-1872), Mary (1849-1885), Hannah (1851-1854), John (1853-1872) drowned while trying to save his brother George. Both perished. Charlotte (1855-1859), Martha (1857-1859), Andrew (1859-1861), William (1861), Celia (May 23, 1863) and Nella Maud (1866-1966). Nella moved to Montreal where as a boy I remember visiting her often with my father.
Charles and Sarah had a farm in St. Mary's Parish. Later, their farm became part of Marysville when it was created. Disease struck their family in 1859 and 1861, in both years two family members died within days of each other. Most members of this family are buried in the Methodist Cemetery on Canada St. in Marysville.
Celia Fisher's husband, Alexander Robinson, was born April 25, 1864 in Milltown, N.B. He was the son of John Robinson (1831 -aft. 1900) and Phoebe Ann Cambell. John was born in Ireland and came to New Brunswick as a child around 1836. John Robinson moved his family to Marysville around 1862 to work for Alexander Gibson who had just purchased a lumber mill in Nashwaak. Gibson was married to Mary Robinson who was possibly related to John. Gibson renamed the site Marysville, after his wife and daughter. The mill prospered and employed many of the towns people including John, who found employment as a millman. Gibson was known as "Boss Gibson" among all that knew him. He later built many industries such as the railway, the lath mill, the cotton mill, and shingle mill and soon became very wealthy. By 1889 Gibson was the richest man in New Brunswick. Most of John Robinson's family found employment of one
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kind or another with "Boss Gibson". It's been suggested that John and Phoebe even named their son Alexander after "Boss Gibson's" in return for all the good fortune that he had brought upon their family. When Alexander grew up, he too became employed as a lumber shipping agent for Gibson. Alexander and Celia had seven children: Roy (b. 1886), Mary (b. 1888), Helen (b.1891), Florence (1894), John (1896) and Ronald (1899), Dorothy (b. 1902). Roy was employed for the railway and John and Ronald were killed in WWI.
In 1918, Joseph Coffin and Helen were married. They lived in the center of Plaster Rock at 227 Main Street. Joseph had an office in a separate building next door. In this office stood a very large black safe, that I can recall seeing when I was a small boy. Behind his desk was a very well constructed Captain's chair. I say very well constructed because after being in use by Dr. Coffin for many decades and then sitting idle in his son Robert's basement for another thirty years, surviving many garage sales, this chair lives on, refinished and positioned under me, as I write this history.
Along with Dr. Coffin's commitments as a school trustee, he also was a member of the Plaster Rock Board of Trade and a giving member of the St. Andrew United Church. Today his portrait hangs in the halls of the Plaster Rock High School and the Tobique Hospital. In the United Church, lies a baptismal font, and two vases, dedicated to his memory.
In 1919, Joseph and Helen had a son, which they named William Montague. Five years later, my father Robert Fisher, was born. At the age of 51, Joseph was not a young father, however what he lacked in youth, he made-up for in maturity. From all my research, Dr. Coffin and his wife, Helen, were described as kind, caring and giving people, who shared their warmth with their children, friends and community. The July 1930 edition of the Maple Leaf magazine writes, "Dr. Coffin's fine personality and years of experience in his profession, have brought the Doctor much success". Another article states, "Dr. Joe personifies that unassuming, yet invaluable symbol of the medical profession so often idealized in nostalgic fiction and in Rockwell's paintings of the old time country doctor". Another story writes, "He looked after patients and visited with them as often as possible. With his kind and gentle ways in the sick room, he was always very welcome." But perhaps the most convincing proof of Dr. Joe's true personality lies not in others words, but simply through his actions. One of my favorite lines written about Dr. Coffin states, "Dr. Joe announced his retirement from active practice as he neared his eighties - but it was no use. His old patients wouldn't believe him, they kept coming to his home for medical counsel, and still true to his profession, he never turned them away."
During World War I, Dr. Coffin tried to enlist in the army as a medic but was refused because he was the only doctor in the region. Although he was considered a fine surgeon and general practitioner, his real calling was in assisting childbirth. In his long successful career he delivered over 5,000 babies, a great many in backwood conditions. One such baby, Robert Neilsen, who later became a writer for the Toronto Star, told me that Dr. Coffin had to find his way across the
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flooded and treacherous, Tobique River, during the night, in order to make it to the Neilsen household, and the successful delivery. It has been stated that Dr. Coffin had successfully delivered over 2,000 babies before a mother lost her life. After the loss, Coffin was said to have taken it very hard. Recently, Mary Jane McInnis wrote me informing me that her mother sometimes would be called-in to assist Dr. Coffin during surgery or childbirth when the attending Nurse did not have the stomach to do so. Today we tend to take childbirth for granted with very low risk. It wasn't that long ago that without the advancement of modern medicine, complications often called on all the skills a Doctor could perform to keep both mother and baby from harm's way.
Toward the end of the 1920's, Joseph and Helen decided that after thirty years of caring for the people of the Tobique region, it was time to try something new. Dr. Coffin was in his late fifties and had always dabbled in the stock market, not unlike his parents. With his wife encouraging the move, the Coffin's decided to move out west to Bellingham, Washington U.S.A., to open a brokerage firm. Upon their arrival, Joseph reopened his practice while arrangements were made to finish off his business back east. On one such occasion his business required him to head across the country. Arriving at a stop in Winnipeg, Joseph disembarked off the train to make a quick visit to the local brokerage firm. Once there he decided to gamble on a lucrative stock that he had been following closely. His investment must have been substantial because the end result nearly ruined him financially, and put a stop to any plans he had about opening a brokerage firm. The stock market crash in October 1929 ruined many financially, including Coffin. By the time the train pulled into Toronto, he was almost broke, and as his son Robert put it, "We later had to return to Plaster Rock, with our tails between our legs". The silver lining of the story was that the people welcomed him back with open arms, and once again he became Dr. Joe, the country doctor. Any future adventures after that were restricted to adventures of the medical kind.
With Plaster Rock growing as a community, the improved roads and telephone lines made Dr. Coffin's profession an easier task. His horse gave way to Plaster Rock's first automobile as the demands for his services grew smaller with the introduction of new doctors to the surrounding area. During the war years, Dr. Coffin was still going strong. Now in his late sixties, he watched as his sons and neighbours marched off to serve overseas. These must have been trying times for Joseph's wife Helen, having lost two brothers in the war twenty-five years earlier. After the war, with the rebirth of people's spirits, and the defeat of Germany, Dr. Coffin led the way to replace the Red Cross facility in Plaster Rock with a new twenty-six bed hospital for the community. He helped secure funding and officiated at the opening ceremonies, in which he cut the ribbon to officially open the Tobique Valley Hospital.
In the late forties Joseph himself, developed a mystery illness which worried his family and friends. Having been sick for weeks, and not able to eat, his family took him to Montreal where Doctors recognized his symptoms as Myasthenia Gravis, a disease of the nerves and muscles. His
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son William told me that his father was administered a shot of the drug Neostigmine and almost instantly was able to swallow for the first time in days. He recovered and returned home where after a short period of time he resumed his practice.
Dr. Joe's fiftieth anniversary as a Doctor in June 1950, was celebrated by the whole community. The nursery in the hospital was named in his honour. Later during a ceremony they brought the first baby that he delivered up to the podium, as well as his last. A complete set of encyclopedia was presented to the Plaster Rock High School in his honour and later a banquet was held in which he was showered with gifts and praise.
As the Doctor approached his eighties, the disabling effects of Parkinson's Disease forced him to announce his retirement, however as before mentioned, he continued to give council to his many patients. In 1960 he visited with our family in Montreal. I remember a frail man with trembling hands and a slow walk, and only now, as a grown man can I now reflect on the fact that I once met my grandfather whom I had heard so many stories about and had lived in such interesting times. During his long life, he witnessed the times of John A MacDonald, Louis Reil, Custer, the Wright brothers, World War I, the Titanic, Hitler and Kennedy along with many more. His legacy was five thousand lives brought into the world, many of whom, went on to good things. In 1995, I took my family to Plaster Rock. It had been thirty-three years since his death and the same number of years since my last visit. We waited outside the church, by the cemetery on a Sunday morning for the congregation to emerge. While we waited, my wife Cathy and our children Sarah and Owen searched the cemetery for my grandfathers grave. After a long search Cathy called out that she had found the marker. As I approached I read the inscription. Suddenly the tombstone beside my grandfathers toppled over, narrowly missing my son Owen. Still in shock, I turned to my grandfathers grave and sensing his anger, assured him that I would try and visit more often. I can't figure out how a two year old was able to topple a 200 pound stone. Heading back to the church I was hoping to speak to someone who remembered my grandfather, when I saw three elderly women coming forward. I introduced myself and immediately was greeted with warm smiles, "So your Joe's grandson" spoke one of the ladies, "He was a wonderful man", and later after a lengthy chat they offered to show me around. Even after thirty years since the name Coffin had been a part of the community, the people still remembered Dr. Joe and responded with kindness and hospitality. Another older gentleman turned to me and stated that Dr. Joe was "The last good doctor Plaster Rock ever had".
The book "Footprints in New Brunswick", by Emily Mae Earle states: "Today, when people look upon the rolling meadows, comfortable homes, with modern conveniences of Plaster Rock, they can realize how far they have come, a long way, from the log cabins, oxen, horses and tow boats. It is only then that we realize what we owe to our forefathers for their never-waning strength and patience. However poor, they never turned a hungry man from their door". It is my belief that the same hospitality remains today.
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Joseph Coffin died on Saturday morning, February 17, 1962, in the hospital that he opened. He was in his 89th year. For many it was hard to believe that he was gone. He had become a community institution over his long life and service, which spanned over six decades. He was remembered most fittingly at his church of worship, St. Andrew United, with the dedication of a baptismal font in his honour. He was buried upon the hill overlooking the Tobique River in the Plaster Rock Cemetery, where his marker simply reads, "Joseph Davison Coffin M.D. 1873-1962".
His wife Helen moved to St. Stephens shortly after Joseph's death, to live with her sister Mame. Later she was brought to Ottawa and was cared for by her sons Robert and William. She died on November 9, 1973 at the age of 81 and her ashes were returned home to Plaster Rock.
The Children of Dr. Joseph and Helen Coffin:
William Montague Coffin was born in Plaster Rock in 1919. Bill was a Spitfire Pilot during the war and was once captured by the enemy...the Americans (it's a family joke). He married Shiela Mutch and had five children, Cynthia, Karen, Blair, Sandra and William (Bill). The Coffins resided in Montreal and at present live in Ottawa.
Robert Fisher Coffin was born January 7, 1924 in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. He was a graduate of the University of New Brunswick in engineering. He married Frances Sharkey on May 24, 1950. They had three children, Janet, David and Robert (Ross). The Coffins resided in Montreal and Ottawa.
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William Coffin Store, Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Plaque marking the Crossed Keys Tavern.
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1893 Balance Sheet for William's Store.
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ROBERT FISHER COFFIN
Leaving the Maritimes
Robert F. Coffin was born in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick on January 7, 1924. He was the second child to Joseph and Helen Coffin.
Robert's first years were spent in Plaster Rock growing up on 227 Main Street, where his father, Dr. J.D. Coffin, had his home and medical practice.
When Robert was four, his family, which consisted of his parents and his older brother William, moved away to Bellingham, in the State of Washington, where his father had hopes of opening a brokerage firm. Due to the stock market crash in 1929, the plans changed, and after a short while, the Coffins moved back to Plaster Rock, where Dr. Coffin continued on in the medical profession. Robert attended elementary school in Plaster Rock where he became friends with Robert Nielsen. It is through Mr. Neilsen's colourful letters written to me shortly after Robert's death, that we can take ourselves back to the thirties, when two carefree chums, took on their world, with fun and laughter. Mr. Nielsen, who incidently, later on, became a writer by trade, comments, "The qualities that attracted me to Bob, were his intelligence and wryly sense of humour. He was an individual whose thoughts were his own, and not just echoes of those around him. A source of endless entertainment for Bob was the difference between things as they were supposed to be, and how they usually ended up. A perfect world would have bored him". Nielsen continues, "Bob was a connoisseur of the characters around Plaster Rock and especially fond of the character of one Harry Giberson. Harry was a teamster, who had piercing eyes underneath big bushy eyebrows. Harry provided the local boys with an endless source of entertainment, through his highly original sayings and prolific profanities. In one episode, Giberson and Ernie McQuaid, were leading a horse drawn sled with provisions aboard for a winter lumber camp. At one point the road became so uneven that both men had to brace the load from toppling over. Unfortunately for McQuaid, the supply of fresh water tipped, drenching the poor man from head to toe. With the weather being sub-zero, Giberson quickly fell to his knees and offered up the following prayer, "Oh Lord of Hosts and Holy Ghosts/and sweet redeeming Jesus/Please come to our aid and save McQuaid/Before the bastard freezes." This story inspired Bob to spend a summer on a forest job with Harry, so he could study the character further, he came back with a rich assortment of oaths (not, I should add, for use by either of us, we admired old Harry's originality and respected his copyright. Nielsen writes, "Although a writer by trade, I doubt I can find the words to express the magic of an experience Bob and I shared on New Year's Day, 1936. A Christmas thaw had been followed by a cold spell, leaving all the hills in the area, coated with ice. Bob and I hauled our double runner sleds up to the top of Tower Hill, the highest point of land near the village. After a short rest we boarded our sleds for an unforgettable ride down the hill, non stop, on a winding course for over a mile, reaching speeds of half of that of an Olympic bobsled. Upon the end or our ride, we slid out onto a large frozen
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