CAMP BRUNSWICK - Inner City at Camp
THE HOMESTEAD AND ITS MEMORIES
The House, Itself
The big , old country home at East Chezzetcook, Halifax county, which, since the summer of 1954, has been the camping retreat for the congregation of Brunswick Street United Church and Mission, Halifax, has an interesting history which is traceable to its builder and first occupant, one of the earliest white settlers in East Chezzetcook. When the property was purchased by the church, we were not in possession of this story, and there were certain features of the old home which seemed unexplainable, raising tantalizing questions. We did not know then, but the house even had a "ghost" which must have been laid by vigorous, healthy, and competitive youth, as no strange bumpings and knockings in the night, unexplainable lights, or slaps out of nowhere on the face while eating have ever startled our campers. A church bulletin from 1956 gathers up the story as then recalled by John Dukeshire, a resident of the community who was, at that time, caretaker of the camp, and is since deceased. I quote from the bulletin:
"An air of antiquity and secrecy pervades this building which, in summer months , rings with the voices of successive groups of campers. Its exact age is unknown. It was built and occupied by Captain John Smith who raised his family there, and took a prominent pat in community life. A son of Captain Dennis Smith, Captain Smith lived in East Chezzetcook all his life and died fourteen years ago at the age of ninety."
Here we take leave of the bulletin, as we have discovered a descendant of the first John Smith who is able to establish the age of the building and fill in generations so apt to be missed by those who have only memory to help them.
At that time we were very happy with Mr. Dukeshire's information, very grateful for it, and still are; but memory alone is apt to telescope time so that periods or even generations may be missed. Finally descendants now come to our aid with more exact records.
George Young, and his wife, Gertrude, now residing in Northwood Towers, and discovered by Blanche Creighton, were the first of these more immediate informants. George is a great-great-grandson of the first Smith in East Chezzetcook. I have had the pleasure of conversing with this alert couple, and receiving a written record from their hands.
Another descendant of the first Smiths, Mrs. Katherine Misener, a great-great-granddaughter, lives close to the camp, has a keen familiarity with the family story, and is delighted to share her information. I was given her name by Mrs. Lena Ferguson of West Chezzetcook, a local historian, who has also helped me.
I have consulted Rev. Father MacDonald, the parish priest of St. Anslem's church, West Chezzetcook; and a former parish priest, the leading historian of the community, now Monsignor Melanson of St. Stephen's Church, Halifax. The gradual picture drawn from these sources adds a colorful background to our camp history. It seems providential that I should have been stabbed into greater research before writing merely what we had learned in the past.
The Family Story.
John Smith, of English stock, but hailing directly from the Bay of Bulls, Newfoundland, was the first Smith to come to East Chezzetcook. He arrived in 1782 with his wife, the former Bridget Doyle, and a baby daughter. their second child, Dennis, was born in, or about, 1786, their third, a girl, in 1789. He built his home on the hill opposite what would be almost in the middle of the present but then non-existent highway.
Purchasable supplies were dependent on the schooner trade along the coast. It is recalled that Smith, when the family was waiting for needed supplies, would climb a tree on the hilltop to watch for the incoming sails. When they appeared, he would rush in and shout, "They're coming, Bridget! They're on their way in!"
This John, the original Smith, died in 1806. It is a firm assertion made by the family that he was the first white man to be buried in the first St. Anslem's Church Cemetery, West Chezzetcook, a small log cabin church in Grand Desert, shared by Indians and Acadian French.
Dennis, the son, became a sea captain and a boat builder and it would be reasonable to surmise that his father had started the ship building enterprise in the very spot where his successors worked - down on the shore below his house in the area to which our deed gives us right-of-way, as this, I am told, is the location of the shipyard which came to be. This surmise is based on the fact that travel was by water and the Smith property had a vast expanse of such timer as the coastal area provided. I am told that for the ship's "knees" they had to go to Porter's Lake and use four oxen for the power to transfer them.
The original Smith property was of such dimensions that it has been casually said to me, "He owned all that land around there." It ran from the base line of the township through to the coast and probably was wide enough to include the land on which, later, gold was discovered and extracted by two mining companies. At the height of the gold era, which ran from about 1877 to 1910-1920, there was a man-made lake associated with the mining process, conveniently receiving water from little Goose Lake, one of nature's water bodies, which borders the camp property. Where this community stood, now grows forest, every trace of houses long since obliterated. the rear line of the original property, now the eastern boundary for the camp purchase, cut across a cove of Goose Lake, thus happily including a small portion of lake front in the lands of the camp.
It was the first son to be named Dennis who built the house acquired so many years later as a fresh air camp for the city folk. On November 27, 1813, he had been married to a Miss Helen Breen in St. Peter's Church, Halifax, now St. Mary's Basilica. This couple had three sons- John II, Dennis II, and James. Dennis I died in 1876 at the age of ninety, after living all his life in this comfortable home, which was built, it is assumed, early in the first decade of the 1800's. It is quite obvious that his choice of a life related to the sea should have grown out of his situation, and that his successors should follow in his footsteps until the days of the coastal trade were ended by the coming of the Dartmouth to Musquodoboit railway, which was opened in 1916. One cannot forbear to mention that this line was closed in 1984, ending yet another era, that in which the train had been ousted by motor transport.
Now the mystery of the more elegant touches found in the old home were cleared up! Many of Nova Scotia's coastal villages are rich in the mansion-like homes which were built by the great ship builders in the days of "wooden ships and iron men." This home, far from being a mansion, had these touches, slightly out of the ordinary.
Dennis I was succeeded in the property and in the two sea-related occupations by his eldest son, John II. He had married a Miss Margaret Young in 1895, and the couple had four daughters and one son. Captain John is the one closest to the memories of today's descendants, and seems to have added his generation's new enterprises to those of his father. He built many of the sailing vessels plying the coastal trade, but the Youngs also opened their house to the need of a hotel for the community. The gold mining boom would bring many guests the hotel usually housed the school teachers and the parish priest.
They also opened a store in the basement of their home. Mystery number two is now solved- the reason for a double door as the entrance to what is today a mere uninviting basement.
Open-hearted hospitality in the Smith family seems to have been accompanied by a strong family loyalty and affection. Captain Smith built a two-story home for his daughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Malcom, very close to the rear of his own big house, and attached to it by a housed-in walkway of a mere twenty feet, more or less. The Malcoms had three Robert, Leo, and Frances.
Captain and Mrs. Smith, still well-remembered, lived on to require nursing care and were ministered to by their eldest daughter, Alice, who had been a school teacher, and had given up her work to care for her parents and the demands of the home place.
On the death of Captain Smith, at the turn of the century, the property went to this daughter, Alice, and the pattern of sea-captain father and sea-captain son was changed.
However, Alice soon provided a sea-captain by a different name to succeed to the proprietorship. In her teaching in Petpeswick, among her students had been a youth who must have been of exceptional promise- Abram Hammond Young. he was now twenty-three, and she forty-three, but an unusual congeniality must have existed between them, despite the difference in their ages, they were married, and lived a very happy married life. special memories are mentioned of his great kindness to her in the later years when age would make a greater difference, and of what very "nice" people they both were.
Both Alice Young's sister, Mrs. Malcom, and her husband, the couple who were so much a part of the family as the lived in their attached house, became ill and died premature deaths. After this the Malcom children lived in the big house with their Aunt Alice and Uncle Abram. Their own how was taken down in sections and moved to a location south of the government wharf where it still stands and is occupied, I am told, by a descendant of the Malcoms.
The smith women are reported to have been exceptionally attractive, and Frances- or "Frankie" Malcom- a blonde beauty. This young lady went to the "Boston States," there met and became engaged to a successful artist and cam home to be married in East Chezzetcook in a very elegant wedding.
The site of the attached house was in the slight hollow back of the camp where the camp wash basins and children's swings are now placed. When the house was removed the basement was filled in, as was a well in the basement of the big house.
Just as the sea was very important to these early settlers, so also was the land. It provided food, some of which was a gift of nature, such as berries and wild greens, just waiting to be harvested; but most of which had to be produced by themselves in fields cleared and tilled. On this rocky Eastern shore of Nova Scotia, the final deposit of the last great glacier, the mounds of tillable soil are scattered. This farm had its share of fields scattered around. The gentle slope now covered with spruce leading up from the house to the highway was one of them. The tall spruce on the right of the lane were a carefully planted spruce hedge.
When the homestead was in its heyday it had four barns on the grounds, a cattle barn, which housed cows, pigs, and included a hen house; a hay barn which held hay from the five or six large fields; a storage barn, which held wood for the stoves, with most of the wood cut from the property's own forest; and a carriage house, which housed the proprietor's own horse and carriage, and those of guests.
A third mystery has been solved by my present informants. I used to wonder why, in such a large establishment as our building seemed to be, the barn, our present craft house, and the only such building left standing, should be so small and insignificant- a one story shed. The answer is that this was merely the carriage house, which had been attached to the original large, fine-looking main barn.
The vigour of the Smith tradition was continued under the ownership of Alice and her husband. Captain Young was the one who built the large ell on the north of the original house, which is, today, the secret of its being a building large enough to accommodate camp cooking and eating space as well as a lounge and much of the sleeping area. It gave to the hotel a new dining room and kitchen downstairs, and, upstairs, under the flat roof, a large open chamber, used for sewing, quilting, and rug making. The entrance to this chamber, even today, is a challenge in itself- say sour or five feet high requiring a "duck under" position for entering. For the camp, this room is good only for storage, as it is so breathlessly hot in the summer.
The house was heated by a base burner, using hard coal, in the downstairs hall- to heat the upstairs- and wood stoves in the living room and kitchen. The Youngs used to hold large "chopping bees." All the people around would come, cut and chop wood, and "big feeds" were served to the gathering. there was no indoor plumbing. the kitchen pump brought water into the house, and each bedroom was supplied with a washbasin, pitcher and commode. Baths were taken in a portable bath. The lighting was by hand-carried oil lamps.
Successors to the Family
In the words of Mr. Dukeshire, "Captain Young lived in the house with his fashionable family for about twenty years." The establishment had become known as "Young's Hotel."
But times had changed very greatly. Now usable dirt roads provide land transport, and even motor cars were fairly common. Moreover, Captain Young started his thirty years as "Captain Abe Young" of the Halifax-Dartmouth ferry, and became a well known personality.
Around 1917, the Youngs moved to Dartmouth, but continued to own and use the house until the late twenties, when Captain Young sold the property to Mr. Coin Dunn of Dartmouth.
A discrepancy with Mr. Dukeshire's account should be mentioned here. He states that the Youngs sold the house to Mr. John McAffery, a well-known lawyer of Dartmouth, who lived in it for about four years and then rented it to a Mr. Parker Doyle, who occupied it for a probable four-year period.
Mr. Dukeshire's account now brings in Mr. Colin Dunn, a plumber of Dartmouth, who purchased it from Mr. McAffery, made his home in it for seven or eight years and died in 1955.
Research in the Registry of Deeds would settle this, which for my story, is a minor point. But the mention of a plumber owner may indicate when and by whom indoor plumbing was installed, even including a powder room with shower at the rear of the downstairs hall- today a very important item in the comfort of the camp.
The next owner, the one from whom Brunswick Street Church purchased the property in June, 1954, was Mr. Russell Giffen, who had occupied it for five years.
This warm story of the ambition and vision, the hard work, faith, hope, tragedy, and triumph, the young love and old-age peace which is the true story of our country camp home is very moving to me, personally, and a marvelous background for the work of loving kindness going on there today.
Surely the present use must be one that would be pleasing to the family of so many generations who shaped its personality, and within it lived out their hopes and dreams. I am glad to be able to report an aside in my research that the presence of our church camp in the community is very acceptable to its citizens, some of them Smith descendants, who commend the order and quietness of the camp life, and believe in its aims.
The camp may have laid the ghost, but all who now become aware of this story will have their own memory-ghosts flitting through their minds as they ascend the stairs, sit around the fire, cook in the kitchen, work at crafts in the old carriage house, or carry out any of the day's activities. These shadow were always there, but know we know them.
By the year 1954, the old home had such a store of intimate family life house within its walls that it seems almost an intrusion to have submitted it to a change of character; but again it has stood stalwart and strong, is premises adapted and itself enlarged and repaired to sustain the strenuous life of a country camp. Thirty-two years later it is in even better condition than in 1954.
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