Saturday, 12 December 2015

Tramping in Unfrequented Nova Scotia

Tramping in Unfrequented Nova Scotia
By W. Lacey Amy
The Canadian Magazine, 1915, February. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Dec. 2015.
This story is so interesting; we live in Nova Scotia and have travelled the Eastern shore just a few times. His description is one hundred years old but the remarks are so fresh they belong to today./drf

NOVA SCOTIA, almost equally with Newfoundland, is little more as yet than a coast-line. The great interior remains a hunting-ground, despite the existence along the coast for a century and a half—long before Ontario passed the forest stage—of a hard-working, serious-minded people, who have struggled, first to hold the country for England and latterly in some parts to hold existence in the face of commercial disadvantages. On the south coast from Halifax westward the tourist has begun to seize the scenery as his own, but eastward there is still no railway, no tourist traffic, and little in the way of real industry save cod fishing.
To see this country of unsearched rivers, untrod forests to the very water, and indentations that twist and wind behind an outpost of innumerable islands, you must forgo your chauffeur—and a lot of other things you may have become accustomed to connect with comfortable travel. It depends upon your point of view. So long as you refuse to lend yourself to the scheme of life that is on a fair way to make man’s legs merely historical—like the appendix and the tonsils—there are pleasures to be enjoyed along that coast that outweigh the absence of comforts. The Woman-who-worries[i] and I thought so. Three hundred miles of roadway—and four times that length of coast—was bound to open up new delights not obtainable where the dining-car menu faces you or the summer resort obtrudes its tiresome affectation.
Along that railwayless coast lives a thin line of fishermen—nothing north of them for fifty miles but man-less forest, nothing south but the ocean, nothing in life but the harvest of the water. Stores there are few. Boarded-up show-windows here and there tell of the inroads of the mailorder house, the cheapness of water transportation from Halifax, and latterly the parcels post. All along the road stand these mute signs of a dead trade, with empty houses thickly strewn. Steadily, year after year, the people have moved to the West, or died of the dread scourge, tuberculosis, which plays such havoc with the fishermen. Many of those who remain will tell you of depleted fisheries and repeat longingly the lurid tales of fortunate friends in the West. A kindly people and honest, with hands out to the stranger and an unaccountable lack of many of the ordinary comforts of life. Doctors are few and scattered, visiting their patients in summer by motor-boat and naturally dependent upon Halifax for surgery. The few stores offer few luxuries. The mail-order catalogue is the closest connection between the fisherman and the life we know.
Along that three hundred miles of coast there is but one road, with little off-shoots leading southward here and there to fishing villages on the peninsulas. The “coach road” has covered everything even the careless indulgence of a winking government could permit, but it couldn’t reach every cluster of houses on such a sinuous shore. There seemed to be no other limitation to it. Payment per mile has made the miles many. Hills that might have been avoided, with a saving of length, structural difficulties, repair, and climbing, are carefully included. The road glimpsed over simple country only a mile away wanders two or three to get there, for no reason save the extra mileage it means. One would think that the natural tangle of that coast would satisfy even a government contractor.
Thus it is that settlements appearing on the map four or five miles apart are really ten, and in the passage every physical feature of the surrounding country is encountered.
It is not mere rhetoric to assert that a new road could be built through every essential point almost as cheaply as to repair the old one. For years there has evidently been no attempt to repair the bridges over some sections; in one stretch of twenty miles there were missing culverts of an average much exceeding one a mile. How the mail driver overcomes them at night is a mystery; upon inquiry he merely grins and says the horses know the holes by this time. Right in the heart of Ship Harbour the roadway up a grade misled me into thinking we had wandered into the bed of a dry stream. Everywhere along the way springs use the road as the simplest channel for getting there. They ripple merrily along the trail, crossing unbridged at their leisure, fulfilling no purpose but the drainage of the Provincial Treasury and the convenience of the thirsty traveller.
Here and there are short stretches that show the possibilities of the road, and a few cement bridges were under construction over the more dangerous streams. And yet it was under more continued pseudo-repair than any road I ever saw. “Where will we reach decent roads?” asked one of the two automobiles we met in our walk more than a hundred miles east of Halifax. I referred them to the possibilities beyond Halifax; I had never been there.
It was a hundred miles of that kind of road we trudged—and walking was the only method of doing it with anything resembling comfort. It gave us time, and exercise, and entire freedom of action. The only other way to do it was by “coach”—what we would call the stage;—and we tried some days of it to the most kindly memories of the walking.
It was a lonely hundred miles—lovely and lonely, lonely and lovely. In that distance we met two automobiles—and they were sorry for it—and not more than a half-dozen vehicles outside the settlements. There seems to be no communication between settlements save by coach and telephone. It is explained by the fact that there is no inter-trade. Each village looks only to Halifax, where it sells its fish, buys its supplies, spends its holidays. Mile after mile there was evidence that nothing but the coach had passed that way for days.
We commenced our walk from Musquedoboit Harbour, a name we learned to pronounce with the greatest pride. Further along we came to a dozen villages that troubled us more that we mentioned to each other in our own jargon, and stumbled blindly over in getting directions. I carried a large map as the simplest method of finding our way. Chezzetcook, Petpeswick, Newdy Quoddy, Necumteuch, Ecumsecum, Mushaboon and the rest of them derive their names from sources of criminal intent, the tourist is apt to think. Getting rid of the words with quick confidence is the only chance of being understood.
Musquedoboit Harbour will some day be a week-end resort for Halifax. My memories of it are a deserted sawmill, a deep, menacing river with steep banks, and an inexhaustible supply of four-pound speckled trout that lay beneath the dam awaiting the first bare hook to be “jigged” out for the table. “Jigging” may be the extreme of bad sportsmanship, but it makes unrivalled eating at Musquedoboit Harbour.
The daily coach provided a solution of the baggage problem, and we experienced little difficulty in keeping in touch with our conveniences. From Musquedoboit Harbour we set out one afternoon eight miles for Jeddore Oyster Pond. On the way we passed through the tiny settlements of Salmon River Bridge, Head of Jeddore, and Smith’s Settlement, each liable to be missed, but jealous of its name. A little Sunday-school picnic in a sheltered nook beside an arm of the sea reminded us that there was still pleasure-taking along the coast. Not even in the settlements did we see another sign of life.

Jeddore Oyster Pond derives the familiar portion of its name from the cultivation of oysters there at one time. A saw-mill quickly put an end to that. Now there are only a few white shells to tell of it. At Jeddore we had our first taste of the possible difficulties we might have to face. By request the coach-driver had unloaded our baggage before a house which had been named to us as a possible stopping-place. But stopping-places along that coast are only possible, as a rule—by which I mean nothing to their discredit. Liquor is not sold east of Halifax, and the roadhouses serve you or not, as they please. There are very few to serve. Our baggage was in front of the house, all right, but we were firmly informed that it was not a stopping-place, and even if it had been, a wedding the day before prevented the entertainment of guests. A mile back there was a woman who might take us. I looked at the two suit cases and decided camping out there had its attractions over a mattress a mile back. We went up the road begging accommodation, and a woman took compassion on us for the nights were cold. It was no relief later in the evening to be told in a kindly way that no one would have seen us stuck for a place to sleep. We learned then that there must be no guesswork in our information, and that there was not a horse to be had anywhere for moving baggage. It increased our delight that we had not trusted to the steamboats running along the coast, the landings being anywhere up to a couple of miles from the stopping-places.
Next morning we set out for Ship Harbour, an easy day of ten miles intending to stop for dinner at Lower Ship Harbour, reported to be four miles on the way. By the time my pedometer registered the four miles we had advanced a mile beyond the last house into the heart of unbroken dismal forest. It was noon, and we had had no meat—and little else since the noon before, and I carried thirteen pounds of camera. Once more we had come a mile too far and didn’t go back. On we ploughed into the most lonely bit of road we met in the whole journey—not a sign of habitation, not even the tinkle of cowbells, and but the dim tracks of the coach of the day before. We learned to yearn for the cowbells from that day, for they told of settlement near at hand.
At two o’clock we burst suddenly on a welcome road-gang at the edge of Ship Harbour, and a few minutes later were making a meal at a table that haunted us for the rest of the trip. Mrs. Newcombe, of Ship Harbour, I remember as one of the bright spots of the journey. With sickness on her hands she still had time for cleanliness of house and pleasing variety of table—and a roll of hooked rugs beneath the parlour sofa made me regret the limits of my baggage.
At Ship Harbour was a relic of prosperous times, a deserted saw-mill. All along the way we came on them. Financed by English capital, they had gone the way of so many industries in Canada thus backed, through prodigal management, ignorance of local conditions, and careless control by the shareholders. Some of the mills were closed through the clearing-out of the saleable timber, and powerful waterfalls and well-built dams were wasting their force. Only one other industry revealed itself along the coast. Two or three gold mines were making desperate efforts to keep at work, depressed a little by the failure of others. At Tangier and Sheet Harbour there were lively hopes that the local workmen would not be turned off.
Ship Harbour, situated at the head of a beautiful arm of the sea, is now best known along the coast for its salmon; but the salmon season was about over, the one or two belated fishermen we met being most concerned about the quickest way out. Down each side of the arm a road ran, the one used only by the coach to avoid the ferry, and the other leading to a fishing settlement down by the sea and to a ferry across to the coach road.
That four-mile walk down to the ferry on a vivid Saturday morning—the coach road, they told me, was almost impassable—was one of the most beautiful stretches along the coast. A church or two, one lone blacksmith shop, a working sawmill, an old mill of our grandfathers with its overshot wheel, and here and there a herring fisherman drawing his nets—these were enough, without the fleeting glimpses of faraway sea, deep green islands, and quaint houses. Hanging on the fence I found the horn to summon the ferryman across the three-quarters of a mile of water. It was a small horn for such a big job, but it possessed a voice that would have made it the most brilliant memory of any youngster’s Christmas. It echoed and rolled over the water, and up the hill behind me, and in among the trees, until I thought I had been playing with a tempest. The little rowboat that ferried us over for seven cents each was manned by a boy who could have had no possible use for land.
I found it difficult to explain that we were tramping—with enough money to pay our way. One kindly-intentioned resident considered he was elaborating on my story by telling of his meeting with “another fellow walking along the coast. He was covering more ground than you a day, and he’d worn the soles off his shoes and had paper tied around them, his feet were terrible sore.” If we had not providentially got through two days before the declaration of war I have no doubt of our classification as German spies. As it was, we were—a new kind of tramp.
That day we had before us a walk of twenty-three miles. We had heard of the stopping-place at Spry Bay, and wished to make it for Sunday. On the way we encountered one of the confusing tangles of the country. Many of the villages have neighbouring settlements distinguished from them only by some qualification. Ship Harbour has its distant suburbs of Ship Harbour Lake, Lower Ship Harbour, and Lower Ship Harbour East, covering an area of a dozen miles, and entirely disconnected by miles of unsettled country. A careless memory is a calamity on the Nova Scotia coast. We learned, too, that distance cannot be gauged by villages, but only by individual houses, for some of the villages are four or five miles long. Five miles is a factor in a tramp of twenty miles, about meal-time.
We dined at Tangier—pronounced as it is spelled—and after an hour’s rest in a light shower, set out in the threatening skies ten miles for Spry Bay; and one of those ocean rains is not to be trifled with. For the last four miles it was village all the way, Spry Bay being separated from Spry Harbour only in the imagination of the residents. Here we found the first mistake in our Government map, but it was a serious one. That four miles followed every dent in the coast in a most aggravating manner, the stopping-house in plain view only a half-mile away as the crow flies, but two miles by the road.
We spent Sunday at Spry Bay, a day of continued rain and fog. We were thankful to be where we were. The table we faced was in a class by itself along that coast.
Speaking of tables reminds me of the beds—and the memory is not the most pleasant. Everything from ropes and feather ticks up we tried, and the springs were usually not the most comfortable. Travellers with ironclad demands in the way of bed comforts will not be at home there. Breaking new ground has its discomforts, one of the greatest to me being a set of springs that sags a foot and a half in the middle. In case of extremity the rug beside the bed is comparative luxury.
Monday we made but eight miles, to Sheet Harbour, the most important village between Halifax, and Sherbrooke. We had of necessity to stop there for we had been unable to learn anything of the coast beyond. Nobody west of Sheet Harbour goes east of it. Between Spry Bay and Sheet Harbour we passed over a great height, the island-dotted, peninsula-pierced sea beneath us specked with groups of distant fishing boats. Mushaboon was a quiet little place of cod flakes and a wharf where a vessel was loading.
Sheet Harbour, you would remember, as composed of Mrs. Conrod, the travellers’ friend, and a Catholic church crowning the end of the harbour. To be received by Mrs. Conrod is recommondation enough for the south coast. “Do you see any name out there to say this is a hotel?” she demanded of a complaining traveller. “Well, then, get out.” Three years later he returned, confident that he would be forgotten. She recognized him in the midst of dinner—and he finished it elsewhere. We spent a whole night there. We’re proud. Mrs. Conrod is Irish, and seventy-five, and, with one maid, handles a big house and a store across the road. “Go to the other store,” she hurled at a customer who had interrupted her afternoon nap.
In the meantime events had been shaping to force us to the coach. The soles of the shoes of the Woman-who-worries were making effective protest against the roads. We didn’t appreciate the paper our fellow-tramp had used to fill the gap; but not a shoe repairer had we seen since we left Halifax, and we were informed we probably wouldn’t this side of Sherbrooke. At Spry Bay a fisherman drove in a few tacks. At Sheet Harbour we heard of one who worked in the mines by day, and by night cut the village hair, and sometimes repaired shoes. I was waiting for him at six, and found him willing, “supposin’ they didn’t bother him too much with hair-cuttin’.” At eleven that night I stumbled through the darkness to his house and was rewarded with soles that were, at least, solid leather and securely tacked. It prevented the paper situation.
East of Sheet Harbour the average accommodation deteriorates, but is not at all impossible. Sheet Harbour seems to be the end of ordinary traffic, and travellers thereafter must take what they can get. We also began to feel the distressing effects of unreliable information. Having planned to walk only sixteen miles that day, we decided at the end of it to push on five miles further in the uncanny darkness of an ocean fog after sundown. It was a venture I don’t want to repeat in a wild country without fences to keep you in the road—and the memory of a bear cub we had seen saunter out on the road before us that day.
Twelve miles farther on, at Marie Joseph, we were forced to give up walking and take to the coach. The weather was becoming unsettled and raw, the roads were terrible, the stopping-places more irregular, and our meals coming at all hours owing to mistaken local ideas of distance and direction. To reach Marie Joseph we were directed down a branch road that carried us two miles out of our way, having already walked four farther than the distance given; and then another mile out of our way—with a great, gaunt feeling where the last meal should have been two hours before. The remainder we did by coach—longing every minute for better weather, that we might walk.
In six days, the Sunday of which we had spent at rest, we had covered almost exactly one hundred miles, according to my pedometer, more than eighty of which was along the coach road. During that week—and through the preceding and succeeding days by coach—we opened to ourselves a variety of scenery indigenous to Nova Scotia. Little, indifferent fishing villages, asleep by day, lively in the early morning and late afternoon, unsullied by the outside world or local class distinctions; ample basins where a country’s fleet might anchor, but only bobbing little fishing boats in sight; fresh, white-washed houses set without regard to aught but the owners’ whims; white-towered churches peeping over the hills and breathing peace and thoughtfulness; ox-carts here and there, lumbering gravely along as if the world were free of rush and care; a patient people, kind and gentle, bearing the difficulties of their life with wonderful calmness—these but a few of the brush-touches of the picture we saw. Ever it unfolds, bringing to us new memories, new humours, new gladnesses of the life, new sorrows—always beautiful and free and tinged with the colours of simplicity and patience.



[i] Lacey Amy’s wife, Lilian Eva Amy, later received the MBE from His Majesty King George V at Buckingham Palace on 24th September 1918 for her efforts during the War./drf

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.