By Eva Ella Blaikie
February 1, 1987 – My family has asked me to write a few things about the family at the home where I was born in East Mines Station, and about the years that have followed:
When I was young there were three generations living in our old farm house. There was my grandfather on my Dad’s side of the family, Charles Gray (born March 27, 1835, and died Jan. 5, 1919), his wife Margaret Jane Bond (born around 1840 and died in April 1927).
My father, Harvey Gray, was born on the home farm on Dec. 6, 1867, and died there on Oct. 7, 1917. My mother, Elizabeth Ann Murray, was born on Old Harriott Road, Springhill, Cumberland County, on Feb. 15, 1879 and died at East Mines on June 27, 1923. Her mother was Harriet Weatherbee. I do not know where she was born. She lived into her late eighties or early nineties and died at the home of my mother’s half sister, Elsie Robinson, East Village.
I do not know anything about my maternal grandfather. He was Jeremiah Murray from Springhill. He moved his family to the U.S.A. when my mother was an infant. There her brother Perley was born. When Perley was about two years old, (the father) left his family. As far as I know, they never heard from him again.
Grandmother’s family rallied around her, and raised money for her passage home to Nova Scotia, where they lived with various members of the family. Seven years later she married James Roblee of Victoria, Cumberland County, and had five children by her second marriage, Emma, Elsie, Perley, Alice and Sarah.
Harvey and Elizabeth had five children: Charles Ira, born March 28, 1901, and died in January 1969. Fred Logan, born 1905, and Harry Gordon, born 1907, both died as infants — a few months old. I was born April 5, 1910, Eva Ella. My sister, Ida Verna, was born June 4, 1912.
We lived on a large farm, well stocked with horses, cows, young cattle, pigs and hens. At an early age I learned to work out of doors, helping to care for the hens, or any chores I could do around the barn. That was always my favourite work. I never cared to work in the house. By the summer I was seven years old I was able to drive the horse to rake the hay. I was happy being out in the fields with my dad.
I, my sister Ida, and two neighbourhood girls, started to school at Hardwood Hill in August of 1917. It was a one room school. Bessie Dill of Great Village was the teacher. She had a very large enrollment — all the grades from primer to Grade 10 or 11. We had quite a walk, over two miles. No school buses then — oil lamps, wood stove and outdoor toilets, water bucket and tin cup. All double desks, no fancy fixtures. A large box stove in the back of the room for heating.
The older pupils took turns keeping the fire on. No warm cloak room. Left coats in the main entry. In winter they were icy cold when we were ready to go home.
During the summer, I helped to rake the hay. I was always following Dad around the farm, getting the cows from the pasture, picking berries, always outdoors. While gathering raspberries in the corner of the field I stepped on a hornets’ nest and got badly stung. Grandpa was working nearby and hearing me cry he came and carried me home, then went to the swamp for black mud, covering my face, arms and legs with it to ease the pain of the stings.
Early in October my Dad went to the Halifax Exhibition. He was interested in pure bred cattle and he intended to be gone til the end of the week. But on Thursday night when we were eating supper he walked into the house, coming from Halifax by train and walking from East Mines. Mother asked why he came home sooner than planned. He said he had a boil in his nose and had gone to Dr. Kenneth MacKenzie who advised him to come home.
Though it was uncomfortable, he helped with the chores. And on Saturday, Oct. 6, he helped put potatoes in the cellar and played with us before we went to bed.
What we did not know was that the infection had turned to blood poison. During the night be became very ill. Dr. Johnson was called from Great Village. By then the poison had gone into the brain. Not having any of the drugs that were available in later years, there was nothing that could be done for Dad. He passed away at 6 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 7. That was the first sad thing in my life.
Sunday was a beautiful sunny day. The weather turned cold Tuesday when the funeral was held, very cold. We had to drive to the cemetery in Great Village in horse and buggy.
December 6 of that year was the Halifax Explosion. We were all in the kitchen. Suddenly, it sounded as if a car had left the road, smashing into the front of the house. We rush out of doors. There was no one about but a roaring noise could be heard in the distance. Not having a telephone at the time, we did not know until late afternoon. One of the neighbours told us the news had come to the station of the disaster in Halifax.
I do not have any remembrance of Christmas that year. I do remember that 1918 started in a very bad way. There was a bad epidemic of influenza, which made it very hard to get hired help for the farm work. Some of us were very sick with it. There was a lot of snow in our barnyard, making it very hard to drive the cattle to the brook to drink.
Grandpa died on Jan. 5, 1919. He was nearly 85 years old and had cancer of the mouth. The last few nights he lived he was hard to manage. His brother, Uncle Mac Gray, and a neighbour, Everett Fletcher, stayed nights with him.
My brother Charles was not a born farmer. He would not take an interest in the farm at all. Then in September 1919 mother was married again to Tom King. He stayed on at home but things never did work out very well. Our home never seemed happy again.
Mother worked hard trying to keep the farm going as it now belonged to Gramma Gray. It was really hard for her. Her health was not the best. In the winter of 1923 she had the flu and never seemed to get over it. In June she became really ill with pneumonia and passed away on the 23rd.
She was buried beside Dad and the two infant boys in Glenholme.
Charlie came home for a time, then rented the farm out. The folks who took it over were not able to clear things financially. They sold the cattle and the farm machinery and then went to the U.S.A. Gramma, Ida and I stayed on at the farm for a while longer. By then things were pretty bankrupt.
People were put on the place to care for Gramma. Ida went to a Swan family in Debert to help with the children and to be company for Mrs. Swan while her husband worked in the woods, lumbering. I had arranged to take house work in Onslow. When the time came for me to go, the family had taken scarlet fever and was under quarantine.
That meant I was without a place to work. Then I went and stayed with my Aunt Elsie Robinson at East Village – helping in both the house and on the farm. Uncle Clive had taken the team to work in the woods for the winter.
They were a family of six children, the eldest a boy of twelve. So there was lots of work and not much time for pleasure.
The Giddens Family
I stayed until March 22, 1927, when I left to go to Ward and Odessa Giddens’ at Londonderry Station. That was such a change – no outdoor work to do. True, there was lots to do in the house at times. There were eight of us all the time, and one never knew how many extra there might be till the meals were on the table. Besides myself, there was Hibbert, 18, Arnold, 17, Aubrey, 15, Irene, 13, and Beulah, about 12.
Elmira Blaikie, Morris and Eva Blaikie, Odessa
and Ward Giddens, Londonderry Station 1942
This became a real home for me. I came to look upon them as a real family, mother, dad, brothers and sisters. None could have been better. It meant so very much, for life had not been very easy since my own mother died.
Dad Giddens was a lumberman. That summer his mill was set up across the tracks at Londonderry Station, near enough to get his meals at home. Obituary: Ward Giddens
Several of the millmen also got their meals with us. We had a busy but happy summer.
That fall Ida had gone to Mrs. Dan Lund’s in Sackville, N.B., to be company for Mrs. Lund and to help with the children. She began to feel she would like to have me closer to her. When there was an opening in January 1928 for a helper at Palmer’s Restaurant, across from the CNR Station, I went there, and roomed with Ida and the Lund family. There were Gertrude, Dan and the two children, Eileen, around eleven, Danny, seven, and a niece, Louis Baird, about four.
I had over a mile to walk to work at Palmer’s Restaurant. I helped in the kitchen and served tables. The hours were long and the pay $22 a month. When vacation time came, the Lunds no longer needed Ida. She got work with a Cogswell family in Port Williams, N.S. I then took a room down Squire Street with Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Hicks. They had two girls, Essie, 11, and Phyllis, 9 past. It was a lovely home. They were very kind, made me one of the family. I stayed in Sackville until early October 1928.
When my mother died in 1923, I had to leave school. I had lost part of the previous year due to illness and had only made the fifth grade.
Realizing what the lack of education was in my life, I decided I would have to find work where I could have an opportunity to go to night school. At that time night classes were only available Saint John and Halifax. I decided on Halifax.
Rev. Frank and Mrs. Milligan were family friends, he being the minister in Glenholme from 1914 to 1919, but they were now living in Halifax. I got in touch with them and they greatly encouraged me to better my education. They found work for me in the family of Prof. and Mrs. Hugh P. Bell on Murray Place, doing housework and helping care for the three children, Peggy, 11, James, 4, and Janet, around one year.
After spending a few days at home with Mother and Dad Giddens I went to Halifax around Oct. 8, 1928. The Peppard family moved to Dartmouth the same day.
We all went down on the same train, Minnie joining her husband, Arthur, employed at Silver’s Farm, and four children, Sadie, Ross, Florence and Bill. The Bells met me at the station. It was quite an experience for me going to a strange city and home, not knowing anyone. I soon learned to find my way around. The Milligans took me to Fort Massey United Church and had me meet Dr. Jean Whittier and her Aunt Ida, who went to Fort Massey also, and lived just down South Street, being company for me until I made friends in the Y.P.U. group.
Shortly after getting settled I registered for night classes in a general school course of English and Arithmetic. Our classes, twice a week from 7-9 p.m., were in the old Morris Street School. We had an excellent teacher, Miss Alice MacKinnon. We had to really study, which was not easy getting adjusted to. I really enjoyed the classes, and the opportunity to get a better education.
There was quite a large class. A few were new Canadians learning to speak English. When our class closed in April I was awarded the certificate for the most progress. I can still remember what it was like for me when my name was called to receive the award — a piece of paper. But at that moment it was like a fortune to me! I realized my first term’s work had not been in vain.
Shortly after classes closed, I was taken to the Victoria General Hospital for an operation for appendicitis I was off work for a time and up home for a couple of weeks. Then I was back with the Bell family until Oct. 4, 1929.
Caring for the children and going to night school was a bit too much, so I decided to try another place without children and found work with Mrs. S. A. Morton, 45 Larch Street. She was a semi-invalid. He was principal of the Halifax Academy. Work was easier but Mrs. Morton was very fussy and exact about everything.
They lived in a house with Miss Lillian Marshall, a teacher, in the upstairs apartment.
Our evening classes were now held in the LeMarchant Street School, being much handier for me. Miss MacKinnon continued as our teacher. I attended night classes for five terms, then continued my studies by correspondence til I had my grade 10. At that time it was possible to take a course in maternity nursing at the Grace Hospital if you had grade 10. That was the goal I had worked for but disappointments lay ahead.
From the age of 12 I had a slight hearing problem, which worsened in my late teens, due to obstruction in the nose, leading to tubes in my ear. I was advised an operation would help, and if so I would be able to try the course at Grace Hospital. Following the operation by Dr. Arthur Doull my hearing became very acute but only for a short period of time, then suddenly went back to where it was before the operation, making it hopeless for me to do other than housework.
I stayed with Mrs. Morton until March 1937. By then she was ill a great deal of the time and very demanding, never wanting me to leave the house for any length of time. I had very few times to myself. I did try to take an active part in the church and Y.P.U. at Fort Massey where I joined the church on Jan. 6, 1929. Rev. John Nuttall was our minister. I was also a member of the Olympic Club at the Y.W.C.A. Miss H. Holreaker was our leader.
Those of us doing housework had Thursday afternoon off. When we finished up after dinner, generally from 3 p.m. til 10:30 p.m., the Olympic Club catered to us who had that day off. Each of us paid 15 cents into a kitty, Miss Holbreaker using the money to provide a supper for the club, cooked and baked free of charge by the kitchen staff. We did have some jolly times there.
Occasionally, we would meet there Sunday nights for a sing, followed with a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie in the winter. In the summer we went on picnics to Flemming Park, Point Pleasant, The Dingle, Dartmouth Locks — at that time it was a two-mile motor boat ride up the lakes.
Once a year we would go to McNab’s Island. To us that was a real treat. There we could make a fire on the beach, make tea and cook hot dogs. The ferry would not come back for us til evening. We could sit around the fire toasting marshmallows and have a singsong. The boat ride back across the harbour in the evening was to me a real joy, one I have always remembered.
There were many girls in our evening classes and the Olympic Club, but once we moved we soon lost touch except for the odd girl. There was one of my old school friends from Glenholme in the club, Reta Byers. She was working with the Lumsden family on Seymour Street til she could enter a hospital in Massachusetts to train for a nurse. We were close friends. Though our lives went in different directions, we always kept in close touch til her death from cancer in 1978 or thereabout.
Another close friend from the club was Mabel Kennedy Webber. She worked for a number of years with Dr. Jane H. Bell on South Street. She was an aunt by marriage to Prof. Hugh Bell, where I first worked in Halifax. After her husband, George, died, she sold her home in Halifax and built a nice one in Upper Stewiacke, next to her nephew, Ralph Fisher, where she lived until she was no longer able to care for her home. She passed away in the summer of 1986. The Gillies’ bought her home and still live there.
Early in March 1937 I left Halifax, going home to Mother and Dad Giddens for a short vacation, then to Truro later in March to work for Mrs. Frank Stanfield at her large home at 427 Prince Street as a cook. I was not too experienced in cooking for a family, being with the Mortons for so long.
I had to plunge in and do the best I could, though now I realize that was not anything to be proud of. Mrs. Stanfield was very exact about what was to be done, but kind.
Anna MacKenzie was the maid. Besides Mrs. Stanfield, her sister, Mrs. Ena Thomas, lived there. The son, Charles, did too. He worked at the Stanfield mill. Sons Robert, Gordon and Pete were in college. Frank, Jr., was married and lived nearby, Kathleen, the daughter, had a business book store on Prince Street in Kingston, Ontario. At that time Frank and his wife Beth had two children, Frances, and Paul, born in 1935. Paul was born with an enlarged head but he was a lovely child. He, with his nurse, Miss Sadie Scott, lived with his grandmother til about 1939. Later Frank and Beth had another son Tom, who is now president of Stanfield’s Ltd.
Trip to Cornwall
I had not seen my brother Charles for a few years as he had left us to fare on our own as best we could when mother died. We did not feel close or kindly to him.
Morris and Eva Blaikie, 1970s
He had married Bertha Turple of Admiral Rock, N.S., and was living in Cornwall, Ontario. They had a son Roy and later another son Keith was born.
Charles wrote occasionally, wanting me to visit them. In 1938 or 1939 I did go up.
I made a real trip out of traveling — went to Digby by train, crossed on the ferry to Saint John and took the train from there to Cornwall. I can never put into words what an adventure it was to be traveling on my own for the first time. My two weeks in Cornwall passed quickly, going for long walks and picnics on weekends with friends of Charles to beaches nearby and across the International Bridge to New York, U.S.A.