Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cajetan Arsenault House, St. Chrysostome

I visited this house on July 20th, 2009 and met the owners, Gavin and Irene Arsenault, who had lived here since the early 1960's - they sold the house this past summer.  The property is located at 59 Gavin Arsenault Road, just off the Harmony Road (Rte. 128/Rte.11) in St. Chrysostome.  When Gavin and Irene bought the house it was in very poor shape and was used seasonally by fishermen from western Prince Edward Island who came to fish the local waters.
Father Albin Arsenault (currently Priest at St. John the Baptist Parish, Miscouche) filled me in on some of the history of this house as it was the home of his maternal great-grandparents.  Father Albin, son of Joseph D. Arsenault and Aline Arsenault (dtr of Denis & Melani Arsenault), grew up next door to here.  The house was owned by Cajetan and Veronique Arsenault and was built sometime between 1834 and 1838 - the house is known locally as one of the oldest in the area.  Cajetan and Veronique raised 18 children in this house.  For more information about the Cajetan family see:
Above:  I drew out the asfound floor plans and elevations for this house.  To the left, the kitchen and porch were later additions to the house along with the front/south steep gable dormer.  This house would likely have looked much like the Doucet House in Rustico.
Above: Front/South view of Arsenault House / Below: Front view of Doucet House.
 Below: Rear/North view of Arsenault House.
 Below: End/West view of Arsenault House.
In all the years I've been investigated historic Prince Edward Island homes I've never seen a main floor framed in the way this floor is framed.  There are main floor beams spanning the main floor, north-south, and spaced about 24" and filled-in with short, half logs with the tops squared to make a smooth floor to walk on.
Below: A section of the main floor with later board framing.  There was likely a center fireplace and chimney in this house, however, there is no evidence of this other than a section of the main floor filled-in with boards.  The house has a poured concrete foundation which erased the original foundation, etc.
Below:  The end of the short, half logs have their ends cut flat to set on top of floor beams.
As often said about Prince Edward Island and it's people - when something happens around the world there's a connection to the Island.  Well, the oldest person in the USA and the second oldest person in the world, Mary Josephine (Arsenault) Ray, who died on March 7th, 2010 at the age of 114 years and 294 days, was born on May 17th, 1895 in Bloomfield, P.E.I. and the daughter of Sabin and Lydia Anne (Blanchard) Arsenualt.  Mary Ray's father, Sabin Arsenault, was a brother of Veronique Arsenault (children of Fidele Arsenault and Agnes Arsenault).  When Mary was 3-years-old her parents moved to the USA.

For more information about Mary Ray refer to the following:
Above: Mary Josephine Ray during her 111th birthday party in Westmoreland, N.H.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Connector, by Jane Ledwell

Jane Ledwell interviewed my friend Arnold Smith and wrote the following article which appears in the January 2012 edition of The Buzz.

by Jane Ledwell
Profile:  Arnold Smith
With roots in Pleasant Valley that go back to 1780, Arnold Smith can stand on a hill and in one direction see where his father was born; in another, where his mother was born. He can point to the home places of four grandparents, all eight great-grandparents, “and a good part,” he says, of his 16 great-great-grandparents. “When this side married that side, then I was related to everyone,” he chuckles.
He’s powerfully connected to his heritage—even his home, where he helps care for his parents, is a renovated 1860 house that had been slated for demolition but that he had moved to the “home farm” and painstakingly restored with heritage style. But when Arnold comes down the hill, he is constantly working on projects to actively preserve history and historical objects, to make them available to all.
“I’m a person who likes to take a few bits of this and a few bits of that… and if you can be a bit clever or a bit creative with it, you can make something out of it,” says Arnold.
            “I’m a terrible person if I go to a museum,” he says. “I always want to learn something. I always want to know, now, how do you make that?” Insatiable curiosity and an eye for detail have led him to learn woodworking, building, cooking, and sewing. “I wanted to be an architect, and I’m still thrilled exploring old buildings—I love that,” Arnold says, “but I don’t have that ability. I’m the one crawling into the corners with a tape measure.”
Whether he is working on the restoration of Doucet House and Farmers Bank in Rustico, where he helped Carter Jeffery go through buildings “with a magnifying glass to find the details,” locating notches in a beam to provide the exact location and width of the original staircase or the exact hole the chimney went through; making chicken fricot in the fireplace at Doucet house (“It had two key ingredients: woodsmoke and soot,” he laughs.), or recreating dresses from L.M. Montgomery’s wedding trousseau for the anniversary of her marriage, Arnold wants a hands-on role in heritage.
When he started to study history, Arnold says, “I found my roots in those stories.” The historical displacement of some ancestors—in Highland clearances, French Huguenots escaping discrimination in France or sent to Ireland, United Empire Loyalists dislodged by revolution—gives Arnold true appreciation of connection to place.
As co-owner of the Bay Vista Motel in Cavendish, he meets many visitors to the Island who are looking for connection, and many have come here as a result of L.M. Montgomery’s writing, which for Arnold is another “window into Island life” and heritage. “When you read Montgomery’s stories, you see your own ancestors in there too,” he says.
           The books get visitors here, but Arnold tries to help them find their passions expressed in Island culture and heritage. “Experiential tourism,” he says, means “getting more than you originally thought you were going to get.”
Working in tourism in the summer and retail in the winter, with year-round caregiving responsibilities, and fulfilling volunteer roles with the Montgomery Theatre and the Heritage Review Board and more, Arnold says, “I’d have to live to 150 to do everything I want to do.” He hopes to take after forebears of whom it was said, “They’re too stubborn to die, and poison agrees with them.”
Arnold reflects on the need to preserve Island agricultural heritage and eat local food by saying, “There’s a connectedness to knowing where things come from. When I grew up on the farm, when it was time for supper I knew this was the red heifer or the brown steer or the spotted pig or something we had given a Christian name to.” But his search for connection relates to more than food—or clothing or buildings, for that matter.
“There’s always a way to connect,” he smiles, summing up an inclusive and hands-on vision of heritage that hand-crafts joy and appreciation in the present.

Home for the Holidays

I went to my parents in Alma for the Holidays.  As mentioned previous in this blog, they live in the house my great-great-grandfather built in the late 1860's.  My parents take very good care of the place and often hear the comment, "it's such a nice place".   Last summer a new friend from Scotland visited the homestead for the first time, she said, "it's a lovely house, it's like something from a storybook".
 The pasture fields and forest out behind the barn.
 Out behind the barn - a large spruce tree decorated with snow.
I'd like to extend best wishes to everyone for a happy 2012!

PS.  Here's two summer photos of the homestead and hope for an early spring!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Season's Greetings from Hunter River

Season's Greetings to all.  Below are photos I took around my home here in Hunter River, Prince Edward Island, on Old Christmas Day, January 7th, 2011
Below: The old Patterson Grist Mill.  To the right is the corner of the old blacksmith shop.

Below:  The old grist mill was restored a few years ago by the Parkman family.
A view of Bagnall's Pond on Hunter River taken from the covered bridge looking south towards the village.
 Below:  To the far left are the trees of my backyard.
Below:  The ducks can be seen all winter long on the pond.
Below:  a closer look at the mill. 
From the history of Hunter River: “James Patterson who came out from the old country and settled here in 1834, and who built a grist and lumber mill and store.  The mill was burnt but later rebuilt..." ; "On May 15, 1919, their visions were realized when the Hunter River Hydro Electric Company was established…Patterson’s grist mill was selected as the site…Mr. Wellington Patterson was engaged to operate it at no salary but with the luxurious privilege of free light for his mill and home.  It was Patterson who also installed and then maintained the street lights and, for a time, read the meters…"
Below:   the new covered bridge was built over the dam in 2007.  There is no tradition of covered bridges on Prince Edward Island.  This is probably the first.
The sandstones in the walls of the covered bridge were mostly salvaged from demolished 19th-century farmhouses.
When the mill was restored the owner, an electrician, put lighting rods on the old mill.
Below:  The Patterson farmhouse.  The following is from the History of Hunter River: “…the oldest house in the village of Hunter River.  The house was built on the property purchased from landlord Rennie by Mr. Patterson’s grandfather James Patterson who came out from the old country and settled here in 1834, and who built a grist and lumber mill and store.”
During the mid 1900's the house was operated as a Bed & Breakfast by Mrs. Patterson.  In 1970 the house was sold to the Makita's who also operated it as a B&B.  In the late 1980's the Richardson family purchased the house and for a time operated a dental office from the large porch built on to the south of the house.  Below is an old photo of the Patterson House from Barb (White) Morgan.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Ashton Winter Scene

In the early 1990's a friend use to take me up to an abandoned farm homestead in Ashton (near St. Peter's) - he dreamed about buying it and fixing it up.  At the time it was the only farmstead left in the community on the Ashton Road.  I took the photo below during one of those visits.  Not many years later everything was torn down and the site leveled.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

History of the Brae

I was going through some of my Prince Edward Island local history books and started to read through "Past and Present: A history of Brae".  Alot of the history of my grandmother's family, the MacNevin's, can be found in this book.  Below are some interesting excerpts about the early settlement of the community.
Page 6-7
     Early in the 1880s, an Indian family lived both summer and winter in (Red) Neil MacNevin's woods.  At first the family included Joe, his son Peter and Peter's wife.  Joe, a frequent visitor at several homes, accepted potatoe, vegetables, occasionally milk or eggs from the people he visited.  However, Joe was not a beggar.  His white friends would receive from him a brant, a partridge, some eels, berries, or even an axe-handle once in awhile.  After the camp was destroyed by fire, the Indian family moved to another location near Lockhart's book in Coleman.  A baby daughter, born to Peter and his wife while they lived in Brae, was named Grace in honour of Mrs. Angus MacEachern Sr. (Grace) who went to the camp to give assistance at the baby's birth.
     Descendants of early (Acadian) settlers in The Brae claime that relics of what may have been an earlier settlement along Brae River were found by the Scottish pioneers and by other settlers who came to Lot 9 a short time later.  Their story is as follows:
     Traces of small dyked areas along the river marsh lands were seen by the early settlers.  Several old log cabins with trees growing out through their roofs squatted in ruins near springs in the woods.  A musket, a bayonet, and a helmet of the type used at one time by French soldiers were discovered by Captain McAllar (one of the early Scottish settlers) in the remains of an old log cabin on his place of settlement.  Three old French coins were picked up by John MacLean Jr. while he was planting potatoes around a stump in his father's new land.  (This young settler had dreams of becoming a millionaire as he dug for days searching for other coins but he saw no more).  About 1830, an old medal on which was engraved the fleur-de-lis, the emblem of France, was found by Mrs. John McDonald Sr. among pebbles gather near the river bank.  The china head of a doll was dug from the ground by another settler who was clearing out what appeared to be virgin forest.  Anthony Downing (Antoine Downee), who was digging a small grave in which to bury his dog, lifted up with his spade the rusted remains of an iron pot, a gold bracelet, and a rosary.  On the bracelet, the word Marie was engraved.  The nature of these items discovered by the early settlers seems to indicate that people of French origin may have lived near Brae River at some earlier time.  Anthony Downing claimed (According to his grandson, James Delaney) that in a year between 1750 and 1760 his grandfather Downee and family fled to Gaspe from the area now called Brae in order to escape deportation to France.  Anthony also claimed that several times in his early youth he (Anthony) had accompanied his father and brothers on trips from New Brunswick across the strait to Prince Edward Island.  The purpose of these visits was to dig for coins and additional treasures buried by the grandfather Downeee and his fellow Acadians before they fled from their homes near the stream that is known to-day as Brae River. 

Page 17-18
     The Acadians who faced the struggle for existence in an unbroken wilderness along Brae River were well adapted for pioneer settlement in the forest.  Their habits were frugal and they could turn their hand to anything.  They cleared the land, built log cabins, grew oats, barley, corn, potatoes and beans, built their own furniture, chimneys and work tools.  They operated pit saws and exchanged lumber, which was taken away in a schooner by Anthony Downing, for some supplies.  They made all the clothes they wore and ate fish from the river, shell fish from the shore, and other wild animals and birds.
     The story of these industrious settlers sounds like a happy one.  However, all was not well here in the 1840s and before 1850s, almost all the Acadians of Upper Brae had moved elsewhere.  No record stating the reasons for their departure has been found but stories passed down through the years may throw some light on the subject.  Traditions says that Acadian pioneers, who had been living as squatters, refused to lease their small farms and were forced by the rent collector to go to New Brunswick.  Others, who had leased property, left Brae when the approach of the agent who came to collect their rent was more militant than diplomatic.
     Also, continues the tradition, the forces of nature seemed to combine against the Acadians.  Bears destroyed all but four sheep in Upper Brae during a spring that followed three successive years of crop failure in Lot 9.  This loss was a great blow to the settlers who depended on their sheep to supply wool, and raw material from which they manufactured cloth and yarn to be made into clothing and blankets.  Early in the autumn of the same year, it is said that a wild cat attacked two little Robichaud girls who were playing in the woods behind their home.  Before the animal was destroyed, one child lost an eye and the faces and arms of both children were badly torn... 
Page 24-25
     After the first crop was planted around the stumps, the farmer replaced his temporary shelter with a log house and erected a crude pole barn to shelter his livestock in winter.  Logs for the house were cut to lengths, squared to size, and notched at the corners in such a way that while the logs lay flat against each other, they were interlocked at the corners to keep them in place (called Dovetail corners).  The chinks between the logs were filled with moss and sods to keep out the draft.  The first door hinges were strips of home-tanned leather.
     The primitive homes of these first Scottish settlers (1826-27) were built with log ends protruding eight to ten inches at the corners, just as they were cut with the axe.  Acadian homes, built in the 1830s and 1840s, had the log ends sawn off in line with the walls and presented a neater appearance.  The earliest houses were built without cellars, foundations, or floors.  As soon as the farmer had opportunity to saw plank or boards he dug a pit inside his house and place a floor over the excavation.  Entrance to this cellar was through a hatchway in the floor.
    One pioneer farmer, John MacDonald Sr., brought with him some furniture and an iron stove.  It was necessary, however, for most of the earliest settlers to make their tables, benches, bed-frames, and cradles on the spot and to build stone fire places and chimneys.  An ingenious Acadian settler, Fabian Robichaud, built his chimney of straw, sticks and mud.  Windows of the first log houses were covered with animal skins scraped thin enough to admit light.  In time, each Scottish settled had glass placed in a window of the main room of his log dwelling, but he Acadian homes continued to be without glass for some years.

Page 28
     As the size of the farms continued to grow, frame barns were built to shelter an increasing number of livestock and to provide storage for grain and hay.  Much labor was involved in erecting a frame building, even a small-sized one.  Sills, studs, and rafters must be hewn by hand with an adze and the frame mortised and pinned with hand made wooden pegs.  Boards were sawn from logs placed over a saw pit; shingles were split from cedar or pine blocks with cutting instrument call a frow; square headed nails were forged by hand.
    Older residents of the district claim the first barn in Lot 9 was built by John McDonald St. in Lower Brae, about 1835....The saw pit over which the McDonald's sawed their lumber was described as an excavation approximately ten feet long, seven feet wide, and eight feet deep.  The log to be sawed was held in a horizontal position across a log framework with iron catch dogs.  The six-foot steel whip-saw, brought by Mr. McDonald from the Old Country, was held in a vertical position and operated manually.  A man standing on the framework guided the saw through the log in an upward direction while another man in the pit pulled it downward.  It was slow, hard work, but when logs were large, not many boards were needed to cover a fairly large area.
Image Above:  The Old Country Saw-pit. Photograph by Gertrude Jekyll. Old West Surrey (1904). Scanned image and text by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photograher and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

St. Patrick's R.C. Church, Grand River

This was in the Journal-Pioneer newspaper one day last week - I didn't get a chance to get it posted in time for anyone who might have wanted to attend the service.
The church is currently undergoing some restoration - work to the spire was carried out this time last year.

Brookfield Presbyterian Church

The Brookfield Presbyterian Church is located on the corner of Rte. 2 Highway and the Millboro Rd (Rte. 226)  in Brookfield.  The view below is southeast towards the corner.
The Brookfield Presbyterian Pastoral Charge includes the Hunter River Presbyterian Church and the Glasgow Road Presbyterian Church.
Note the various textures on the facade of the church - the tower and main gable display cedar shingles; board and batten sheathing; cut shingles in the octagonal pattern and belt trims.

The following information comes from:

Brookfield Presbyterian Church History
     Records indicate that Brookfield was named by Alexander Sutherland who was pastor of a church here in 1855. The first minister inducted into the Brookfield Presbyterian Church was Rev. William Ross in 1860. The present building was dedicated to the Glory of God on August 4, 1895. It was moved to its present site in October 1997 from near the corner. At that time the church hall was built complete with kitchen, wash rooms and space for Sunday School and a community hall.
     The original land was donated by Thomas William Johnston and additional land was donated in 1997 by the Bert Dykerman family.
     The present church building was built by the Schurman, Clark & Company. In 1997 the church was moved by PD Construction and the new portion was built by D&C Construction with Wayne Houston doing plumbing and Don MacLeod the wiring.
     In the early years the congregation was bilingual with Gaelic and English. In 1895 the pews were purchased by families but were deemed free in 1921.
     The pump organ which is still used by times, was presented in the early 1900’s by Donald E. and Neil Campbell. Prior to that psalms and hymns were started by a presenter. There is now a keyboard which was purchased by the congregation in 1999. Electricity was introduced in 1939 and in 1957 the furnace was converted to burn oil.
     There is a Gaelic bible dated 1872 a King James version with Rev. George Millar’s name 1895 – 1907, another presented by Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Hyndman 1900, and the present pulpit bible was donated in 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. Brenton Dollar.
     The church is well equipped with a TV, VCR, Overhead projector and screen also a sound system, infloor heating and a hot air furnace. The Brookfield church has been associated with various other churches throughout its history. At present the Pastoral Charge is comprised of Brookfield, Hunter River and Glasgow Road.
     Some of the extra activities that the church congregation has taken part in are Vacation Bible School and is hosted every third year in rotation with Hunter River and Glasgow Road. The world’s Day of Prayer is hosted every five years.
     The mission group has functioned consistently since 1910 and in conjunction with three other churches hosted the Atlantic Mission Society’s 128th Annual Meeting in September, 2004, the first time in recent history that a rural pastorate had hosted the annual meeting.
     Pastoral Charge Services are hosted on special occasions such as Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday and in January, 2005, for a Tsunami Relief Fundraiser. The most recent event was the hosting of Karuna Roy, a speaker from North India. A.M.S. Sunday School and youth Group meet on a regular basis. Bible Studies for the three congregations are also held.