My Father's Shoes - Our Coffin Story, Pages 76 - End.

pond. It was one of those brilliant winter days, cold and clear, that are almost standard in New Brunswick. Exhilarated by our once-in-a-lifetime ride, the two of us, who were normally a gabby pair, just lay back on our sleds, gazing silently at the beauty around us, the blue sky, and glistening hills, created an unforgettable scene, and a moment of companionship too exquisite for words".

Robert was also a keen fisherman, which brought forth the following story of the boys' search for adventure. "Once when Bob and I were both pre-teen we went on an overnight fishing trip up Burntland Brook, which empties into the Tobique River about 12 miles north of Plaster Rock. Finding the woods un-penetrable, we proceeded on by wading up the brook. The travelling was slow going and forced us to miss our intended destination of a cabin further up stream, before nightfall. We were forced to spend the night on a sandbar with no shelter but one blanket each. As luck would have it, it poured rain all night. In the morning, soaked through to the bone, we discovered that we had no dry matches to light a fire. To make matters worse, hunger was setting in and the only food with us was a can of dry cocoa and our raw fish. As we spooned the dry cocoa into our mouths we became giddy with fatigue and hunger and soon found ourselves throwing the cocoa in each other's faces. Covered in powder we then began dancing around the sandbar, laughing like fools, and scaring any animals that were in earshot. Later we composed ourselves enough to try eating the uncooked fish we had caught, it didn't go down well. Alternating from silly to cranky, we staggered down the brook. By mid afternoon we emerged from the woods, a sorry sight, to greetings from our pick-up".

As a boy Robert had numerous pets around the house. Many were cats and dogs however, many more were of the barnyard type, including chickens, ducks and even a cow. These animals were the result of payments made to Robert's father, for medical services. Robert always had a kind heart for animals throughout his life, although he loved to tease them.

By the late thirties, Bob attended the Tobique Valley High School in Plaster Rock, but by the time he graduated the outside world was casting a dark shadow on the young men of his generation. Hitler was leading Germany toward a war that was far reaching. Young Canadians were enlisting at a rapid pace. Robert's brother William was among the ones to enlist. His choice was the air force. Later he became a Spitfire pilot, receiving his training in southern Ontario. Robert was only seventeen when he first tried to enlist in the army at Moncton, New Brunswick. He was quickly refused because of his age and went on to Fredericton to attend university at the University of New Brunswick. While attending university, he stayed at the Lady Beaverbrook residence with his old friend Bob Nielsen. The following summer he found employment as a student engineer with the Department of Transport, building the Sept Isle airport in Quebec. Before returning to university he tried enlisting once again in the army, but this time he went south of the border to the U.S.A. to do so. Americans who volunteer, could pick the service they wished to enter. Robert was interested in becoming infantry. Once again, to his dismay, they refused to take him. Flat footed soldiers make poor marchers, he was told. Later on in life he

- Page 76 -

would say that he was a successful draft dodger, thanks to his feet, but in actual fact he was very good in sports, especially track and field.

Robert carried on at U.N.B. working towards a degree in engineering. During the summer months he worked for the International Nickel Co. in Copper Cliff, Ontario installing switchgear and gang wiring cranes. Upon graduation he became employed by Bell Canada in 1946. After relocating to Montreal, Quebec for a short time, he was transferred to Sherbrooke, Quebec and then Ottawa in 1947. While in Ottawa, Robert met a lady named Frances Sharkey, daughter of Norm Sharkey and Laura O'Dair of Ottawa. Frances was born February 22, 1926, and was a nurse at the General Hospital in Ottawa. While in Ottawa, Robert lived with his brother Bill, in the Bronson Street area. By 1949, he was transferred once again back to Montreal, where he was assigned to design equipment for the Defence Department of Canada. Later that year he was selected to be part of the team that designed the telecommunications used on the Royal train during the 1951 visit of King George.

On May 24, 1950, Robert married Frances Sharkey in Ottawa. Frances was a Catholic, of Irish descent. Robert was a member of the United Church as a boy, however it was questionable to what degree he was a religious man. After their wedding they moved to the Montreal area in a town called St. Anne de Bellvue. St. Anne was located on the shores of Lake of Two Mountains, on the Island of Montreal. It was a mix of French and English, which was not much of a problem in the 1950's. The two cultures lived quite happily amongst each other, however toward the end of the decade, with the emerging of the separatist movement, relations between the French and English began a downward spiral. By the early 60's, Montreal was being threatened by a small band of separatists known as the F.L.Q. These terrorists were using bombs to threaten the English population. They blew up mailboxes and english establishments, killing and maiming innocent civilians. As a child I remember the tensions between the English and French. The curfews would go into effect at the sound of the air raid sirens, and the insults and snowball fights at our school bus stop, were a few of the signs of the ever widening distance that the two cultures kept from each other. My father must have thought that the tensions would subside seeing as he designed and contracted a house to be built in the nearby village of Senneville. Here at 12 Muir Park, the family settled in during some eventful years with the assassination of the American president John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1963 and the explosion of rock and roll, with the Beatles. Beatlemania, as it was called, helped to ease the political situation, the music of the Beatles seemed to unite everyone.

By 1966, Robert was now an Engineering Supervisor with the special services of Bell. His responsibilities included technical direction, administration and training of personnel. His office was located in downtown Montreal, on 1600 Dorchester Street. He would commute back and forth from work on the train, which made for very long days. It was during these years that the exodus of head offices began, due to the political climate. Seeing as how the situation between the French and English was not improving, Robert was quite relieved when word came

- Page 77 -

of his transfer to Ottawa.
His wife Fran, was also pleased to be going back to her hometown, where her mother and father lived.

After settling in the west end of Ottawa at 9 Queensline Drive, Robert settled into his work and family life which included his passion for golf. He joined the newly opened Cedarhill Golf Club, where, along with his family, relaxed on weekends and holidays.

In the early 1970's, he brought his mother Helen, up from New Brunswick, to live in Ottawa. Helen was now in her late seventies, and suffered from Parkinson's Disease. She was cared for at New Orchard Nursing Home, a short distance from her two sons' homes, until her death in November of 1973.

In 1978, Robert decided to take early retirement from Bell. This decision was in part due to the health of his wife, Frances, and the fact that his employer put more value in their young up and coming employees rather than the older experienced ones. The last few years of his employment were not fulfilling. Shortly after his retirement, he contracted out his services to a company. His contract would take him on a once in a lifetime trip around the world, promoting a mobile phone system. His tour took him to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America and Mexico, over a period of a few months. When he returned to Canada, he helped finance and set-up a furniture making outfit, with his sons David and Ross. Woodsongs Ltd., was first established in July 1979. The company manufactured solid wood reproduction furniture, and was located on the corner of Main and Abbott Streets in Stittsville, Ontario.

The eighties were quiet years for Robert and Frances. They travelled some and enjoyed their retirement. In 1987 during routine surgery, Frances was found to have breast cancer. Not wanting to spoil the plans for her son, Ross' wedding, she swore Robert to secrecy. The wedding took place a few months after her surgery with a perfect performance from her portraying a perfectly healthy mother. Few people really know how ill she was. Frances died April 16, 1990 in Nepean, Ontario.

Robert had always wanted to move back to New Brunswick, to the town of St. Andrews by the sea. With the death of Frances he decided to go east and visit his old friend Bob Nielsen, who had recently retired and was now living in Perth Andover, New Brunswick. Upon Robert's return to Ottawa, and with the real estate markets doing well, he was positioning himself to sell his house when his own cancer was discovered. After what was considered a successful surgery, Robert spent the next eight months recovering slowly but steadily until the sad day in October when the Doctors revealed that the cancer had returned and no more could be done for him. To his family he just simply said, "I've had a good life with no regrets," and he continued on.

As the sun set on a beautiful spring day, April 28, 1992, with his favorite music playing on

- Page 78 -

Dr. J. D. Coffin
Home and office of Dr. J. D. Coffin, Plaster Rock, N.B.

- Page 78b -

the background, Tony Bennett, and surrounded by his family, I witnessed my father gently pass on with dignity, as he requested, in his own home.

Robert Coffin was 68 when he died. His body was cremated and placed alongside his wife's remains at Pinecrest Cemetery in Ottawa. On May 10th, a party was held as was his wish and his expense, in his honour at Cedarhill Golf Course. And for one last time as a group, we said farewell.

The Children of Robert and Frances Coffin:

Janet Coffin was born December 27, 1951 in Montreal, Quebec. In the early 70's she met Larry Gibbons, and although they never formally married, they continue to outlast most marriages. Janet has been involved in retail most of her life.

David Coffin was born July 16, 1954 in Montreal, Quebec. He married Glenys Reeves. They have two children, Lindsay and Michael. David works for the Region of Ottawa-Carleton as a water inspector.

Robert Ross Coffin was born November 13, 1956 in Montreal, Quebec. Ross married Catherine Lovaglio on July 30, 1988 in Hanover, New Hampshire. (Catherine was born on Jan. 17, 1963 in Long Island, NY) they have three children Sarah (May 12, 1990), Owen (September 26, 1993), and Robert (March 14, 1996). Ross works as a Cabinetmaker/Carpenter.

- Page 79 -


The following list consists of reading material that I found most helpful during the research stages of this essay, and is being included here to give recognition and thanks to the authors, who through their descriptive words and research, enabled me to complete this project with great interest and a better understanding of our history.

Tristram Coffyn - The Immigrant

Starbuck's History of Nantucket - Alexander Starbuck
Benjamin Franklin, The Shaping of a Genius - Arthur Bernon Tauntellot
The Coffin Family - Louis Coffin
History of Haverhill, Massachusettes - George Chase
History of Nantucket - Obed Macy
The Story of Old Nantucket - William Macy
Woodburn, Coffin and Allied Nantucket Families - Jean Henderson
A Sketch of the History of Newbury - Joshua Coffin
Ould Newbury - John Currier
The Early History of Nantucket - Mary Coffin Starbuck
Nantucket - Shirley Slater

Honourable James Coffin - Pioneer of Nantucket Law and Order

The Coffin Newsletter, Feb. '92 - David Coffin
An Island Patchwork - Eleanor Early
The Coffin Family - Louis Coffin
Starbuck's History of Nantucket - Alexander Starbuck
History of Nantucket - Mary Coffin Starbuck
Notable Events in the History of Dover - George Wadleigh
Landmarks in Ancient Dover - Mary Thompson
History of Nantucket - Obed Macy
Historical Memoranda of Ancient Dover - Rev. A.H.Quint

James Coffin - The Early Years of the Whale Trade

A History of World Whaling - Daniel Francis
Starbuck's History of Nantucket - Alexander Starbuck
The Coffin Family - Louis Coffin
The Whalers - The Seafarers
The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 - George D.J. Edmonds

- Page 80 -

Benjamin Coffin - The Quaker

The Story of Old Nantucket - William Macy
The Coffin Family - Louis Coffin
Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War - Author?
Red Coats and Rebels - Christopher Hibbert
An Island Patchwork - Eleanor Early

Captain Elisha Coffin - Leaving Nantucket for the Northland

An Island Refuge - Orlo Jones and Doris Haslam
Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War
History of Barrington Township - Edwin Crowell
History of Mt. Stewart - Frank Pigot
Place Names and Places of Nova Scotia - Mika Publishing
Loyalists of Massachusettes - The Other Side of the Revolution - James H. Stark
Three Centuries and the Island - Andrew Clark
History of World Whaling - Daniel Francis
The Cradle of Confederation - Lorne Callbeck
General John Coffin - Henry Coffin
The Coffin Family - Louis Coffin
An Intimate History of New Brunswick - Stuart Trueman
Shipbuilding on Prince Edward Island - N. De Jong, M. Moore
Quakers in Early Prince Edward Island History - Nathan Mair
Ivan Coffin - family papers.

Elisha Coffin - Farmer, Judge and Legislative Assembly Member

An Island Refuge - Orlo Jones, Doris Haslam
History of Mt. Stewart - Frank Pigot
Journal of the House of Assembly 1810
Tales from a Ledger - Dorothy Morris
Coffin Files - Fulton Underhay
The Coffin Family - H.D. McEwen
Politicians 1800-1830 - Andrew McEwen
Personal Recollections - Rev. Reg Phelan
The Cradle of Confederation - Lorne Callbeck
Land, Settlement and Politics in Eighteenth Century PEI - J.M. Bumsted
Map #1266 1810 - Public Archives P.E.I.
Shipbuilding on P.E.I. - N. De Jong and M. Moore

- Page 81 -

Captain William Coffin - Returning to the Sea

Tales from a Ledger - Dorothy Morris
The Coffin Family - H.D. McEwen
Islander News, December 30, 1842
Colonial Herald, June 24, 1843
Royal Gazette, July 18, 1843
Colonial Herald, July 1, 1843
Launched from PEI
Shipbuilding at St. Peter's Bay - D.J. McCarthy
Examiner News, April 6, 1863
Royal Gazette, April 23, 1850
Sterns Family File - Public Archives P.E.I.
Cradle of Confederation - Lorne Callbeck
Brief History of St. Peter's Bay - Pratt
Lake Map 1863
Anderson Family File Public Archives, P.E.I.

William M. Coffin - Charlottetown Grocer

Sterns Family File - Public Archives P.E.I.
Teare's Directory P.E.I. 1880 - 1888
Census of P.E.I. 1891, Charlottetown Royalty
Census of P.E.I. 1881, Charlottetown Royalty
Islander News September 10, 1869
Examiner News January 6, 1888
Trinity Unites Church Baptisms #3295

Dr. Joseph Coffin - Pioneer of New Brunswick Medicine

Maple Leaf Magazine - July 1930
Personal Reflections - Robert Coffin
Personal Reflections - William Coffin
Personal Reflections - Janet Coffin
Plaster Rock Tourist Park and Museum - B. Fawcett

Robert Coffin - Leaving the Maritimes

Personal Reflections - Ross Coffin
Personal Reflections - Bob Neilsen

- Page 82 -

Tobique Family Hosp., Plaster Rock, N.B.
Hospital Open.
Dr. Joseph Coffin (Right) at opening ceremonies.

- Page 82b -

I wish to give thanks to the following people who each in their own way helped with the project through the years. Fulton Underhay, Marilyn Bell, Barbara Fawcett, Bob Neilsen, Greg Hutton, Ruth Harper, Frank Pigot, David Coffin (CFN), William Coffin, Janet Coffin, Larry Gibbons, Eleanor Smith, Brenda Maxwell, Walter Hempey, Melville Coffin, Marjorie Coffin, Dave Hunter, Alan Anderson, David Coffin, The Manotick Public Library, the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library, The Baker Library Dartmouth College N.H. and the countless friends who shared information through the internet.

Special thanks to Donna Collings, Island Researcher, friend and special contributor to this book. Dave Hunter, a pioneer of computer genealogy and creator of "The Island Register", P.E.I.'s Premiere Genealogy Site. Also, special thanks to my wife, Cathy, who along with helping on the project, held the interruptions at bay to allow me time to complete the task at hand. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our early settlers, who in their wisdom, took the time to record their life and times, and in turn, contributed to this book in ways they'll never know.

Ross Coffin
2325 Century Rd.
North Gower, Ontario

- Page 83 -


Robert F. Coffin
Robert F. Coffin

- Page 83a -


As we left the music behind, the dance carried on
As we stole away to the seashore
We smelt the brine, felt the wind in our hair
And with sadness you paused.
Suddenly I knew that you'd have to go
My world was not yours, your eyes told me so
Yet it was there I felt the crossroads of time
and I wondered why
As we cast our gaze on the tumbling sea
A vision came o'er me
Of thundering hooves and beating wings
In the clouds above.
As you turned to go I heard you call out my name
You were like a bird in the cage, spreading it's
wings to fly
"The old ways are lost" you sang as you flew
And I wondered why.

Loreena McKennitt
from: The Visit

Ross Coffin
2325 Century Rd.
North Gower, Ontario

- End -

My Father's Shoes

Dave Hunter and The Island Register: HTML ©

Cover Shot and Text © Ross Coffin

Last Updated: 1/1/2006 4:43:48 PM
Return to Top!
Return to Family Page!
Return to Main Page!