©2006 J. Kaufmann
No Member shall make, buy, sell, or use as a beverage any spirituous or Malt liquors, Wine or Cider
When I was a kid visiting Shag Harbour in the summers, I never thought much about the Temperance Hall. I knew it was a large square building located opposite the old schoolhouse and just above the post office. On the outside of the plain shingled wall facing the road was an arched half-moon sign with faded and flaking black and gold paint reminding us that this was once home to GUIDING STAR DIVISION No. 235 of THE SONS OF TEMPERANCE. I passed by the building at least six times a day on my way to the shop or down to the wharf. The Temperance Hall was usually closed, and I only saw the inside when there was a ham and bean supper. I knew nothing of its history; I only knew it didn’t have a bathroom.
One summer I helped my grandfather install a new door to the Eastern entrance of the building. Looking through the opening into the upstairs Assembly Room he told me his father, Captain Loran, often spoke at Temperance meetings. Temperance meant no drinking, he said, which, to this young mind, explained why there was no bathroom. Only later did I learn that the people who built the Temperance Hall swore off liquor in any shape manner or form. That certainly explained why the building had such a severe no-nonsense appearance.
The message of Temperance had long been preached from Baptist and Methodist pulpits around here, and quite effectively. There is nothing in Dr Crowell’s regional history to suggest that the south shore of Nova Scotia was a particular hot bed of excess when it came to the evils of liquor. The most common liquor available was rum; imported from the West Indes. But when it showed up on a sailing schooner, few around here had the money to buy it. Liquor was served in Taverns and Inns about five miles away in Barrington. As early as the 1830s Barrington had some form of Temperance group; prompted, historians say, when a widow of a town drunk was sold as an indentured servant to pay her husband’s bar bills. But there are no such stories from old Shag Harbour. Even the village’s most vigilant voice of Temperance, Mr. E.R. Nickerson, noted in his personal journal that liquor was “unknown” in the area.
Yet the call for Temperance was eagerly received. Nearly every village around here in the latter part of the 19th century and well into the next sponsored a Division under the Grand Order of the Sons of Temperance. Shag Harbour had the Guiding Star Division. Barrington had the Concord and the Granite Divisions. Cape Sable Island had the Life Boat Division, Forbes Point had the Cascade Division, and Doctor’s Cove had the Polar Star Division.
The popularity lay in the packaging. Like modern franchisers seeking to distribute a product or service over broad geographic and cultural lines, the architects to the Sons of Temperance recognized that the success of the venture depended on enticing a diverse demographic: the young and the wise and the successful and the enlightened, as well as the fallen. The organization recognized that the best ambassadors of the cause were well-spoken, well-rounded, intelligent citizens; the local meetings and interdivisional competitions were designed to cultivate those qualities. These were not weekly jamborees of zealots taking a whack at casks of rum. Division meetings are remembered for the laughter and music and applause. They provided a unique diversion from ordinary life, and brought together every level of society. Women worked alongside men in executive capacities. Children worked with elders on little plays and musical revues. Students worked with sea captains and local businessmen in preparing for debates. There were clam chowder suppers (with tables arranged in a large triangle); corn boils, strawberry festivals, snip sales, flag parades, pie auctions and spelling bees and elocution contests. The group sponsored essay contents in the schools, and led many charity drives. As a little girl Shag Harbour native Clarisse Hill had her first peek at Division when she watched the women in town pack Relief Boxes for Belgium refugees during the First World War.
Division required active participation by all members, whether in overseeing the formal rules of assembly, or preparing topics of discussion, or performing musical and theatrical events. No one just sat at Division meeting; and each member was held accountable to his or her assigned task or role. It became a community within a community; accessible to all by simply taking the pledge, paying nominal dues, and remembering the password for the weekly meetings. Members knocked at the door, guarded by two sentries, holding long poles topped with the Sons of Temperance symbol. A little panel opened in the door, much like the speak-easy during Prohibition, an ironic parallel that , when mentioned, provoked a pinched expression on the faces of Division officers. A pledge knocking at the door to the Assembly Room had to whisper a password to gain entry. If a member forgot the password, which was changed quarterly, then someone already inside could vouch for his or her good standing. If the forgetful pledge didn’t know anyone inside or, worse yet, wasn’t in good standing, the little panel slid shut, and the sentries blocked the door.
The symbol to the Sons of Temperance is a triangle with the words LOVE- PURITY- FIDELITY printed on each side, but might just as well have read, CHURCH- SCHOOL- SELF-ESTEEM because the philosophy of the program enhanced the disciplines of each. Division required each pledge to practice what was preached from the Sunday sermons; to honor family, and love thy neighbor, and seek opportunities to demonstrate good citizenship. It was not uncommon for local pastors to hold high offices at Division, and the Reverend Miller of the United Baptist Church was a particularly active leader in the 1890s, whose sudden passing was recognized by local and regional Temperance officials as a genuine blow to Shag Harbour leadership. The activities of the organization stretched the mind further than the basic curriculum at the one room schoolhouse. For example, each Division had a debating team, and followed formal debating rules. The three speakers on a team had five minutes each to argue the Affirmative or Negative of a particular proposition; the Opposition then had eight minutes rebuttal. The debates were judged by volunteers from other Divisions and District leaders, who awarded points for creative reasoning and logic and how well a particular issue was articulated. Before The Guiding Star rose over Shag Harbour, the only debating in the village occurred among the fishermen over who caught the most halibut. Whoever yelled the loudest, won the debate.
Clarisse Hill joined the organization as a young girl, and her experience shows the interconnection of the Temperance triangle. She was a disciplined student, whose mind outpaced the local school curriculum. She was faithful to her church, and sought practical applications of spiritual teachings. And she had creative ambitions. For Division meetings she scripted little plays, and delivered humorous newsletters. She was also the one to beat at the Elocution Contests. Division enlarged her perspective, and she developed a self confidence and self esteem that served her well as a future minister’s wife and newspaper correspondent and teacher. For people like Clarisse, those weekly Division meetings really were a Guiding Star; a beacon of reach to their personal best.
The Shag Harbour Guiding Star Division of the Sons of the Temperance was first organized on December 11, 1865. 18 men signed the charter, and the meetings were held at the first one room schoolhouse when it was located near the gate to Alonzo Nickerson’s house. The group then met in the front part of Araziah Smith’s house. After a year, the meetings moved to Saul W Nickerson’s carpenter shop, who, one member wrote, “swept up shavings after the days work, and then held Division.”
The following year, in the fall of 1866, a monster gale off the Grand Banks left 23 widows and 65 children fatherless in the area. Among those lost in Shag Harbour was Leonard Adams, who left an unfinished house not far from where Billy Rogerson lived. The Guiding Star Division bought the house from the Adams estate in 1868 for $72.50 ($52.50 of which was raised by the Ladies of the Guiding Star), and had it moved to a patch of land just above Isaac Nickerson’s store (later bought by Percy Banks). When the house was completed, each of the original founders of the Division became shareholders of the property. By resolution, Division owned the upper floor and Eastern entrance of the building. The facilities were not inviting. Those who arrived late crouched under the eaves, and whenever the 6 foot tall Samuel Nickerson rose to say something his head hit the roof beam. The topics of discussion didn’t seem worth crouching for. From a February, 1872 meeting one scribe recorded: Boys evidently noisy. James Nickerson, Alonzo Nickerson and Samuel Smith now appointed a committee to stand outside and see that no one disturbs us.”
The Guiding Star Division had a shaky start in Shag Harbour. The charter members had a hard time finding anyone in need of reforming. The village had coopers and blacksmiths and fishermen and shopkeepers; but it didn’t have drunks. The Division suspended in 1880 for lack of interest.
When it was revived in 1888, the weekly meeting was changed from Tuesday to Saturday, and that made all the difference. Division events provided an interesting weekend diversion, and by 1895 The Guiding Star was a lively and invigorated group, the social core of the village. As more in town took the pledge, the Temperance Hall was
enlarged in 1904. The length of the building was expanded by 12 feet, and the roof raised to make a formal Assembly Room on the second floor. A newspaper at the time described it as “one of the finest society rooms in the country,” featuring a “handsome metallic ceiling with cornice and frieze, walls papered with ingrain paper and wainscoting finished in oil.” A stage was built at one end of the room, where the Most Worthy executives sat and observed formal initiation ceremonies that many elders in town remember as solemn and beautiful; and even now adhere to vows of secrecy as to further details. A Temperance newsletter provides a peek at the pageantry, describing a column of young women called ‘The Four Graces’ parading in white gowns carrying flags and banners draped from the temperance poles.
By 1910, Shag Harbour’s Guiding Star was recognized by the Grand Order as one of the most impressive Divisions in the organization. And they were tough graders. A District review at the time labeled the Concord Division a “has been” and the Granite Division “somnolent;” they wrote off the Keystone Division as “fallen…never again to find the arch.” But Shag Harbour’s Guiding Star Division was flourishing, and had a steady membership averaging between 120 and 150. It consistently won prizes for the most colorful initiation ceremonies; was known for its jovial entertainments; and, in competitive debates between the Divisions, Shag Harbour’s team walked up to the stage with a bit of a swagger. Captain Loran Kenney led a 1905 debate on “which has more benefit: horse or cattle?” From the archives we know the Guiding Star won, but the debater’s notes are lost, so we can only wonder if Cap’n Loran’s brother Howard Kenney’s infamous Mad Cow was cited as support for the horse. Howard Kenney himself later led the team in a debate on “which is more useful on a farm, an old maid or a wheelbarrow?” (1909). The Kenney brothers represented the disarming fellowship engendered by the Temperance. Outside the Hall the brothers barely spoke to one another. Within the Hall, they worked together on debates and took each other’s executive direction without complaint.
A few years later Captain Loran’s team debated the merits of horse versus car. Handwritten scripts for the debate survive, and we see how the team scribbled ideas, and scratched out thoughts, honing the argument to the allotted five minutes. The team leader began:
“Worthy Patriarch, Honorable Judges, Worthy Opponents, Brothers and Sisters: In bringing before you our reasons why more pleasure is to be derived from owning a car than a horse we wish to discuss them under the headings of pleasure, convenience and cost.
In considering the pleasure of these two, I would like to ask you all, even including our Worthy Opponents, which you would prefer to go driving in—a car or a team? And feel sure you would all vote for the car as quickly as some people did the rear seat of the sleigh last Monday night.
Surely it is much nicer to sit back in the cushioned seat of a car, even though it be a lowly Lizzie, than in the back-breaking one of a team. While with a team it may sometimes be nice to hang the reins around your neck (not speaking from
experience, you know) and let Old Dobbie take his own good time, knowing he will find his way home, surely it is much more pleasant to motor, even if you are steering. And when you see someone like Brother Wilfred Greenwood or George Adams trotting ahead of you on the road thinking they are getting somewhere, (it is pleasant) to just step on the gas and say ‘come on Liz. Let’s show them our smoke,” (and) watch them pull off the road and let you by. Aint it a grand and glorious feeling…
With horses you have to keep using the whip and yelling at them to keep them going, if there is any go in them…While we do not mean to belittle the horse, and wish to give him credit for doing his best, at the same time we are resolved that in view of these facts and those which will follow that there is more pleasure to be derived from the possession of a car than a horse.”
Captain Loran followed with his reasons for why owning a car is more convenient.
“To continue the debate for the affirmative I will endeavor to bring out points which all go to show that the automobile is a great convenience….take for instance the case of a person residing outside of a city or town and working in the city. With a car they would be able to stay in bed practically all the time it would take them to travel with a horse. A car is also very convenient for ministers, especially in the country where the churches are quite a distance apart. With a horse they would have to spend half of their time on the road… (and) get there just in time to hear, ‘Amen!’ A car is also very convenient for making connections with boats and trains. This was very evident last summer when the Boston boats did not wait for the trains if they happened to be late, which is nothing unusual. With a horse you might have arrived there in time to be a day late!
In case of emergency the horse is not to be considered. To prove this I might mention an incident which occurred at Woods Harbor last year. A man was brought out of the woods with a very bad cut over his eye which made it necessary for him to get to an eye doctor at once in order to save his eye. The car did the trick, arriving in Yarmouth just as the doctor was leaving his office. What would a horse have done? Our opponents will probably mention that a car would not be of much use in the winter, but this incident happened in February and last winter was about as severe as we are accustomed to in this part of the country. …A car is also much easier to get ready to go anywhere. All you do is jump in and away you go, which with a horse you have to harness it and get your clothes all dirty in the bargain.
History is silent on whether Captain Loran and his team won the debate.
Division sponsored a variety of debates for every age and social group. There were Married Women Debates (Resolved: devotion to fashion is a greater evil than the tobacco habit); and Young People’s Debate (Resolved: the auto does more harm than good); and plenty of debates on the evils of drink, like which is more to be pitied, the drunkard or his wife? In the 1920s the Divisions debated whether legislation has done more for Temperance than education. One topic repeatedly debated through the years was “whether the Moderate drinker is worse for society than the outright Drunkard.” Captain Loran’s team argued in favor of the drunk:
“You have already heard the proposition as stated by our opponent…that the moderate drinker exerts a worse influence than the drunkard. By moderate drinker…the man and women who take a glass but does not get drunk, those whose brains are not bemuddled by drink….
We have only to examine the industrial interests of any community to see that they suffer in all their branches from immoderate drinking. A first class workman given to drink cannot retain his position as a laborer requiring skill and regularity, and so is driven to poorer work shops at greatly reduced prices until at last he is incapable of working, or worse still, unwilling to work…Take for instance the man who is accustomed to spend most of his weekly wages on a weekend spree. On Monday he is practically no good; on Tuesday possibly beginning to wake up, but it will be Wednesday or Thursday before he can do a normal amount of work. Thus, in spending all the previous weeks’ wages, he has brought a loss upon himself and also upon his employer in the decreased amount of production. …History cites many cases of great economic losses thru this very reason. Great Britain lost the whole state of Maine, simply because at the signing of the Ashburton Treaty in 1842 Lord Ashburton was too drunk to know or care …the effects of his action.”
In the 1920s the Shag Harbour team debated whether the country child was better off than a city child. Harold Nickerson led the team, and began,
“The question we have before us this evening is one worthy of careful consideration. It is an oft debated subject whether the country child gets a better star in life than a child brought up in the city, but we are here tonight to prove to you conclusively that the boy or girl whose home is in the city has a better chance. Not that we want you all to move away with your families to the cities, but we are just presenting the facts of the case to give you an understanding of the situation. Now you will all readily concede that what matters in this life is our moral condition—the state of our characters. When we die the
Divine powers aren’t going to ask, “How strong are you? or how much can you lift?. Nor will they ask ‘what are your educational attainments; how much do you know about biology, zoology ophthalmology, ornithology and all the other ‘ologies—they will not bother with these things, but they will inquire into our moral standing. Hence it is necessary that a child be well grounded in the principles of honesty, fair-play, etc.
Now, how does a child receive his or her moral training? Some of you may answer- from his parents. This is true in part, but unfortunately parents cannot be with their children all the time to see that their morals are not perverted, especially if there happens to be seven or eight in the family. So a child’s moral development depends largely on how he or she takes up that spare time. There are two general ways for doing that.
First, a boy may go down the road, join a group of boys in conditions similar to his, that is, having nothing to do; and they may go in some dark alley and smoke up all the cigarette and cigar butts they have collected during the day. Or they may wander around, as a gang, and disturb some meeting, Division for instance, and in some way get into trouble. A girl under similar conditions might take lessons in the art of using the lip stick artistically or in becoming a machine for chewing and chewing flavored rubber ordinarily called gum, or might contract more serious habits.
The second general way for a child to take up spare time is to attend a meeting with a group of boys and girls of the same age and under the guidance of a leader interested in their physical intellectual and especially their moral welfare. …Some of the organizations for improving young life, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, C.G.I.T.; YMCA, YWCA, etc… are found in all cities, and they are so organized that their influence extends to all kinds of boys and girls of all conditions and occupations. … In cities boys and girls have an opportunity to listen to the country’s most capable lecturers. If they are liable to the influence of another example, their ambition is more likely to be roused by one of these speakers than by those one may hear in the average village hall. ..like here.”
Clarisse Hill remembered the debates as energetic and amusing. While the arguments were subject to rules and strict time limitations, the manner in which the (mostly) men debated was often humorous, with amusing asides. The speaker who referenced girls chewing on gum stopped and paused and stared at Clarisse’s sister Marguerite, and everyone in the room laughed. Judges awarded points for humor. The debate topics were
rarely weighty, except for those dealing with drink, and were never political. They were designed to train Division members in how to handle opposing points of view in an honorable and intellectual manner; they were, after all, soldiers for reform, and were expected to mingle with those who needed some convincing to sign the pledge. The founding Sons of Temperance knew folks could be influenced by reason, and believed that fact was more persuasive than feeling. The skills developed from the debates helped the Sisters and Brothers in the field deliver the message of temperance in a reasoned and direct manner. They learned to get to the point fast. Even back then, folks had a limited attention span.
Fundraising for Division was risky back then. Each year in January, ladies of the Baptist and the Methodist Sewing Circles held an annual bazaar and tea meeting in the Temperance Hall. The event lasted two days. Solomon Nickerson was usually asked to make public remarks and announcements. At the end of the first evening, Solomon would stand up on a chair and say, “Gentlemen, this here sale will be continued tomorrow night. Tea’s at ‘duced prices!” He then pointed at the clock with his index finger, which, by some accident, was bent at a right angle; and that always made the crowd laugh. The tableaux of sipping tea and quiet ladies sharing a piece of pie was sometimes interrupted by the rowdies in town, men emerging from the deep freeze of January, starved for society and excitement. “If there were any grudges to be settled,” Mr. E.R. recalled, “they were brought to these tea meetings. If there was any liquor to be had, it would appear then; there was often a fight and an effort to ‘clear the floor for a dance.’ He once saw a man climb up on a tea table, stepping over and sometimes on cakes and other food. There really was no stopping them, because, Mr. E.R said, the local constables weren’t any good. The ladies of the teas looked to the ministers to police the events, but they were either too feeble or too old, Mr. E.R. observed, “and not much value in a scrimmage.” The ministers passively countered the situation with words, and wrote letters to the newspaper stating “we are sorry that we are sometimes unpleasantly reminded of the necessity of our temperance organization by being disturbed at public gatherings by persons under the influence of the ardent who do not belong to our community…” Since most of the rowdies didn’t read, Mr. E.R. recognized the tactic was ineffective. He felt the situation demanded some muscle, and when the latest circuit pastor for the Free Baptist Church, Reverend Miller, came on the scene, Mr. E.R. felt his own prayers had been answered. “He was a husky 240-pounder who could easily pick up a 196 lb barrel of flour and toss it into his truck, as I have often seen him do,” he recalled.
When Division decided to hold a tea meeting to raise funds to enlarge the Hall, they took inspiration from Reverend Millar, and assembled eight burly men to keep the peace, one of whom was the massive Billy Rodgerson, who really counted for two. Division agreed to pay any legal costs that might arise from their actions. “The night of the sale, the trouble started, but the eight men of the committee surrounded the disturbers and handcuffed them after arresting them in the name of the law,” Mr. E.R. wrote “then they bundled the arrests into a sleigh with a span of horses and drove them 10 miles to the Township jail at Barrington, where they were locked up until two days later, when their case came on. I was one of the witnesses, the first time I was ever in court. The defendants were fined $50 each and costs, which ran to over $100 each. When the Court
was over, there were great threats as to what would happen at the next tea meeting at Shag Harbour, but nothing happened. This action by the Division ended all such trouble. Future sales were held in peace.”
The Guiding Star Division thrived in Shag Harbour for almost 40 years. In the days before the best and the brightest were lured away to the cities, before roads and cars and bright-light entertainments provided options to home grown amusements, the village was full of eager and creative minds in search of an outlet. On Saturday nights Division presented plays, like “A Night in Toppan,” performed by village youth. They played charades, applauded historical tableaux, and listened to lectures on famous authors. Mr. J.A. McDonald of Halifax demonstrated “dialect monologues” through ventriloquism. On Nautical Night, Captain T.D Crowell played the fiddle and led the group in sea songs. Captain Nelson Banks told sea yarns, and Captain Isaiah Nickerson (a Grand Worthy Patron in the organization) compared Division work to navigating a ship; full of hazards; requiring courage and skill, and faith that all would eventually find refuge in that port called Prohibition. Another week, Ralph Nickerson described his “Travels through the British Isles,” and Frances Brown returned from the front lines in WWI and told of the “Glorious Stand of the First Canadian Division at Ypres, April, 1915.” Division meetings always featured a musical segment, like “Songs in Costume.” Old programs reveal that Dorcas Rogerson and Percy Banks often delivered solos; and the most popular music events were the sing-a-longs.
Local schoolchildren competed in essay contests sponsored by the Division on topics like “Why alcoholic beverages are harmful drinks.” Division leaders campaigned for politicians supporting prohibition legislation. Captain Loran and ER Nickerson handed out leaflets for the 1898 Federal plebiscite:
There’s an Evil in the land
Rank with age and foul and crime
Strong with many a legal band
Money, fashion, use and time
‘Tis the question of the hour
How shall we this wrong o’erpower
Vote it OUT! Vote it OUT!
This will put the thing to rout!
VOTE FOR PROHIBITION
The reach of the Division was wide, and those who pledged felt embraced. The education began early. The Guiding Star sponsored a junior division called “Day Star- Band of Hope” for children between ages 5 and 14. They met on Monday afternoons after school under the supervision of a “Nanny,” a senior Worthy, such as Aunt Rebecca or Mrs. Emma. As the children filed into the hall, one rap of the gavel by Nanny called the meeting to order; two raps called the officers to the stage, and three raps called up the
Band members. The Day Star ritual mirrored the formal ceremony of the Guiding Star, and began with singing the Opening Ode:
Father and friend of youth
Fountain of Love and Truth
Smile on us here;
Fill our young hearts with zeal
Each human woe to heal;
By thy most Holy will
Ever our care
Grant us thy power to aid
The slaves that rum has made
Sunder each band
Soon may the tempter’s art
No more enslave the heart
No more bid peace depart
From this our land
Patron: We meet again to encourage one another in the paths of total abstinence and to spend a short time in making each other happy, and in doing what we can to increase our love of right and truth. We have promised that we will not use intoxicating liquors or tobacco that we will not take God’s name in vain. It is our duty and privilege to remind each other of and help each other to keep our pledge. Let us be attentive, forbearing and obedient, and each add something to the profit and pleasure of our meeting.
President: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain
Members: I said, I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue
Patron: Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men
Vice President: Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners
Members: I have hated the company of evil doers and will not abide with the wicked
Vice President: who hath woe; who hath sorrow?
Members: They that tarry long at the wine, they that seek strong drink
President: Concerning evil council, what says Solomon?
Members: if sinners entice thee, consent thou not
Vice President: Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its color in the cup
Members: For at last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder
President: How shall we escape these woes and sorrows and set before others an example of temperance and virtue
Members: By faithfully keeping the pledge which we have taken and which we now renew
I hereby solemnly promise and pledge myself to abstain from the use, purchase and sale as a drink of all intoxicating spirituous and malt liquors, wine and cider; also from the use of tobacco in any form, and from bad language.
On those Monday afternoons, the children sat before the Nanny, who read stories, and organized games and spelling bees. Those who pledged such dedications as “Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine” were presented with special scrolls. Since pledges were encouraged to help one another keep their vows, children sometimes informed on one another to The Nanny, who then spent a quiet moment with the offender (usually a boy, Clarisse recalled) who used bad language. By contrast, adults in Division who got caught with a bottle didn’t get a gentle reprimand from a Nanny; their names were removed from the roll as “irreclaimable.”
The Nanny’s chief role was to prepare the children for their quarterly “Band Going Into Division” pageant. The kids dressed in their Sunday best and marched onto the stage behind tall poles topped with the Temperance triangle, carrying flags and banners. They delivered their assigned recitations and choral offerings, and basked in the applause and cheers of the Division members, who piled on the encouragement in hopes these children would grow into pledges. It was a solemn occasion, with inflexible regimen; but, as Clarisse remembered, it was also festive and colorful, and even the smallest kid felt important.
From 1895 through 1928 the Guiding Star Division in Shag Harbour was recognized by the Worthies of the Grand Order as one of the most energetic Divisions in all of Nova Scotia. Shag Harbour had something the others did not. What Shag Harbour had was Mr. ER.
Ernest R Nickerson, known in the village as Mr. E.R, was one of Shag Harbour’s best success stories; a local boy who made good. He was born in upper Shag Harbour in 1876. His father, a seaman, died of yellow fever in Brazil when E.R. was an infant, forcing his mother to move in with her brother, Warren Crowell, who ran a dry goods shop located across the road from the government wharf. Ernest admired his Uncle, who became a surrogate father to the boy. When Warren Crowell’s only son drowned at sea, Ernest, in turn, became a surrogate son. He grew up working alongside Uncle Warren at the shop, and eventually inherited the business. The shop provided a living, but made little profit, and as anyone who has worked a small village store can attest, the experience
was full of empty moments. Mr. E.R. was no idler, and between customers and stocking shelves, he read. He shared books with another village reader, Gilbert Nickerson, 15 years his senior. They were often seen at the shop in the evenings discussing books and Mr. Gilbert’s latest finds about local history. Mr. E.R. wanted to go to college and study law; but his ambitions were tethered by financial limitations and family obligations. He was described as a serious young man, a solid churchgoing scholarly type who, like his friend Mr. Gilbert, was eager to know some purpose in life. Where Mr. Gilbert sought creative expression, Mr. E.R. had a more structured intellect. Life was a series of equations, and in his boyhood journals he early concluded that honesty plus integrity plus dedication to doing right equaled success. His was a mind suited to building business; and in 1899 he expanded his Uncle’s shop by adding a large wharf across the street, with a warehouse for flour, molasses, rope, and, later, gasoline. While Mr. E.R. was dependable to the needs of the store, he had little passion for profit. Many in town remember his generosities. When the Richardson family first moved to Bon Portage island, Mr. ER granted them a line of credit to get started, and gave them ten years to pay the bill.
Like many of his generation, Mr. E.R. channeled his considerable energies and intellect into the Division. He pledged as a teenager, and sought an active role in the programs. He was remembered flying out the shop on Saturday evenings to attend Division meetings. He participated in debates, and delivered lectures on ‘The Model Division’. “Any prepared addresses and impromptu speeches were well thought out, to the point, and delivered with dramatics,” his son later recalled. “He always had humorous stories to suit any occasion…” Mr. E.R was soon asked to speak at neighboring Division meetings, and steadily climbed the hierarchal ladder within the Grand Order. In 1909 he was elected Grand Worthy Patriarch of the Nova Scotia Division.
That same year Mr. E.R. was put in charge of a promotional picnic. He selected a central location at Port Clyde, and rented a field from Dr J. Dinsmore. The only means of transportation then was by train, only recently connecting Yarmouth to Halifax in 1906. Mr. E.R. negotiated with the Halifax and Southwestern railway to run two special trains for the picnic, one from the West beginning in Woods Harbor, and one from the East, beginning in Liverpool. The railway demanded a minimum guarantee for this first-time event, and wanted the funds deposited in advance before any train left the depot. The District Division didn’t have the money to cover the guarantee, so Mr. E.R. and two associates pledged a personal note, and then prayed for a fine day. It was better than fine. The Liverpool train delivered 1045 to the picnic, and the Woods Harbour train sold over 800 tickets. The fares more than covered the guarantee.
The following year the Temperance picnic drew nearly 4000 people. The Liverpool train left at 7 a.m. with 14 cars filled; and picnickers between Greenwood and Port Clyde had to wait until the train unloaded and returned for them. The Woods Harbour train similarly sold out, and had to return to Barrington Head for a second trip. A little girl named Amy Hosford remembered, “The train left a town some fifty miles distant early in the morning, picking up the picnic crowds all along the way. It was overloaded by the time it reached our station, but it wouldn’t have been half the fun if it weren’t crowded. Along the last
thirty miles it bulged at the seams.” The 1910 picnic was the largest gathering of people ever held in Shelburne County. With the slogan “Meet Your Friends at the Clyde Picnic,” thousands of tourists and residents marked the August date on their vacation calendars, and the popularity of the event steadily climbed with each successive year, interrupted only by the war years. In 1922 the Temperance picnic reached its highest attendance, with 6000 packed onto the field.
The picnic itself was a simple event. Church groups and Temperance Divisions set up tents and sold snacks and “fancywork.” Men organized baseball games and a track meet. Only residents of Shelburne and Queen’s County could enter the races. The winner of the Mile Run received a silver cup, but only if he won the race for two consecutive years. Kids competed in their own contests, like Hop, Skip and Jump. A balloon vendor came up from Halifax. He roamed the grounds calling out, “Cupie dolls, whips, canes, balloons- 15 cents. Pins only a nickel- a half a dime.” Amy Hosford recalled the vendor pinning a button on her dress that said ‘Oh, You Kid!” In the afternoon there were speeches from Temperance leaders and civic dignitaries. During the World Wars the picnic raised a lot of money for the Red Cross, and the Canadian Patriotic Fund.
Churches appreciated that there were no games of chance at the Clyde Picnic, and, of course, no liquor was sold or allowed on the fair grounds. The event ended in the late afternoon, and then the huge crowd migrated back to the train station. The excitement of the day had worn off, and now folks were tired and hot. And some were drunk. As a little girl attending the picnic with the Band of Hope, Miss Hosford remembers seeing a man “slumped in a seat on the train, his face white and awful. Someone said he had been there all day. I thought he must be very sick, but someone said, ‘He’s drunk, dead drunk.’” She didn’t know what that meant and asked Nanny, who explained that drunk was the danger of drink, and shook her head that children should learn about intoxication at a Temperance picnic, of all places.
The success of the Clyde picnic belonged to Mr. ER, and his reputation now crept beyond the Division. In 1922 he entered politics, and was elected Councilor for the Municipality of Barrington. In 1925 he ran for a seat in the Provincial legislature, with the following announcement:
To the Electors of Shelburne County:
Ladies and Gentlemen: In response to a large number of requisitions from both Liberals and Conservatives in various parts of the County, I have decided to enter the approaching political contest as an Independent candidate, and, if elected, shall, regardless of any party affiliation, support whatever measures I believe to be for the best interests of the county. Knowing these views, the recent Conservative Convention endorsed my candidature as an Independent….
I am strongly opposed to the manner in which the present Government is dealing with the liquor question, and trust that the people of this County will express their emphatic disapproval of such policy on the 25th.
He was elected, and moved to Halifax. Mr. E.R. was now on a stage larger than any he ever imagined while standing behind a shop counter in Shag Harbour. He never got to study law, but now he was making law, and he did not shy from speaking his mind on any legislation, Liberal or Conservative, dealing with or affecting the sale or distribution of liquor. The Halifax Herald observed: “…Ernest R Nickerson’s parents could not have chosen a better name for the man destined to be such a tower of strength to the cause of Temperance in this country. For he is earnest in everything he says and does, and with all, serious and sincere. …He is not what is commonly known as a “fanatic” He thinks deeply, and acts count with him more than words. He holds fast to his own opinions, but he doesn’t practice intolerance. He is tolerant of the views of others and goes about doing good, firm deeds in the conviction that sooner or later the views of others will coincide with his own”
Mr. E.R’s political career only lasted one term, but his status elevated him to national recognition within the Sons of Temperance, and his urban life in Halifax brought him to wider and more challenging circles of intellectual debate. He never returned to Shag Harbour. His mother continued to run the shop, and when she died of a stroke in 1930, Mr. E.R. sold the business to Floyd Banks. But he never turned his back on Shag Harbour, and he publicly recognized his personal debt to the Guiding Star Division. Without the opportunities he knew at the Temperance Hall, he would still be filling molasses jars in the back of his Uncle’s shop.
Mr. E.R may have been the brightest light in the Guiding Star, but, even after he left Shag Harbour, the Division still had a lot of sparkle. In our own family tree, many solid branches draped Division banners. Mr. Gilbert’s brother Jeremiah was a charter member, and his wife, Mrs. Emma was a chaplain for over 30 years. Daughters Ena and Gertie and Carrie show up on various committees, but daughter Stella and son Levi do not, so clearly the Division wasn’t for everybody; nor was it forced on everybody. Mr. Gilbert showed up on the rolls in the late 1890s when he was courting Billy Rogerson’s sister Lizzie. After they married, the two were active members. Gilbert was a Worthy Patron and worked on the auditing committee and delivered lectures on Longfellow (along with his friend Loran Kenney) and “The Influence of Example” (along with Loran’s father Nehemiah Kenney). But after Lizzie died, Gilbert withdrew from the Division. It wasn’t the same without her. He didn’t really need its structure to channel his intellectual curiosities, and when it came to his creative ambitions, he was a loner. He painted and carved and did his woodworking alone in the barn.
Leaving Division didn’t affect his close relationship with Mr. ER; and Gilbert had no objection to Mrs. Emma enrolling his son Walter in the Band of Hope. Walter even took the pledge when he turned 14, and was scheduled to appear at a spring meeting in 1915 while on home leave from the Navy. But Walter never made it home. He was in military
hospital at the time, fighting pneumonia, and died the next month. Gilbert’s second wife, Grammy Ida, doesn’t appear on any Division records either; but her abstinence is easily explained. Division cost money, and she wasn’t about to pay to pledge not to drink something she didn’t drink anyway. Consequently, her children never attended Division; they were among those who walked by the Temperance Hall on Saturday nights and heard the laughter and music from the upstairs Assembly Room, and wondered what it was like inside.
Division was also full of Kenneys. Nehemiah Kenney, Captain Loran’s father, was a Grand Marshall for over 15 years. Captain Loran’s brother Howard and his wife were active members; but his other brother, George Edgar, was not; he was the Oddfellow, and in more ways than one. He is remembered sometimes arriving at prayer meeting a bit tipsy. To the reproachful stares he once loudly recited Jeremiah 23:9, “I stagger like a drunkard, like someone overcome by wine…” Reverend Miller escorted George Edgar to the door and completed the passage, “because of the holy words The Lord has spoken against them.” George Edgar was clearly irreclaimable, to both salvation and sobriety. Captain Loran himself held several Grand Worthy positions until he and his family moved to St Johns, New Brunswick. When they returned to the homestead in the summers, he always made a point of attending Division, and once was hailed the conquering hero when he delivered a report on his role in the capture of rumrunners in the 1920s. As Most Worthy Scribe, Captain Loran was often pounding away at his typewriter in drafting resolutions on behalf of the Division. He once took offense to a newspaper article stating that the drunk driver in a fatal car accident got his liquor from Shag Harbour. In a very formal and stylized communication to the District Attorney, wherein every sentence began with Whereas, Captain Loran felt the village had been slandered, and challenged the DA to “Prove It.”
After Captain Loran and his typewriter left Shag Harbour, the Division knew a succession of worthy scribes, but the Most Worthy arrived on the scene in 1922. She was a fresh graduate from the Band of Hope, and eager to assume responsibility within the Order. Her name was Clarisse, and she had some big shoes to fill. Her Uncle, David Dayson Kendrick, was a Grand Worthy and distinguished himself by memorizing the entire meeting ritual. Clarisse found her niche an editor of the Division newsletter, “The Good of the Order.” Mr. Gilbert often copied clever poems and notices from the newsletter. He saw the published version. There was another, comic, version delivered verbally from the stage at the Temperance Hall. A patchwork of moments between 1910 and 1930, culled from the random pages that survive, allows us to eavesdrop on a long-ago Shag Harbour assembled at the Temperance Hall on Saturday nights:
The Good of the Order newsletter
Contains up to the minute news and the latest scandals. Published by Guiding Star Division quarterly, or whenever anyone can be found willing to undertake such a task. Price 25cents per year; 10 cents per copy. Pay accepted in cash or Christmas presents. No credit. Its object
is to try to create a greater interest in the Division, as well as provide a little harmless amusement at the expense of a few of our members.
Please do not be offended if you are not mentioned …as you do not pay your editors very much, what can you expect? As previously stated, pay will be taken in ice-cream cake, (and) other edibles, provided you do not cook it yourself.
A strange noise, which at first was thought to be a cat or dog fight, was heard one night not long ago. After a short investigation it was found to be nothing more serious than Brother Ray Banks practicing his Jews Harp (1924),
How is it I never see you in church any more?
Maybe it’s because I aint there
Without consulting any of the authorities on etiquette we will answer the question “when is the proper time for a man to remove his hat?” At the following times and on the following occasions respectfully, the hat should be lifted or removed as the circumstances indicate: when mopping the forehead, when taking a bath; when eating; when going to bed; when taking up a collection; when getting a haircut; when being shampooed and when standing on the head.
MOTHER to son: Why are you afraid to kiss the schoolteacher?
SON: Because when Pa kissed her the other day, she slapped his face.
Anyone desiring the latest in Bibles would do well to call on Oliver Nichols, Sea Shore View, Shag Harbor. We carry all the latest rage in Bibles. The stories are the same as the old fashioned ones but they contain pictures taken on the spot. Either leather or paper covers. No one can afford to be without one of these.
Brother Ralph Nickerson just arrived from college for a vacation of two weeks. The cause of his homecoming is because his head is just bursting with knowledge.
A man was walking down the road on an extremely muddy day a while ago and in the vicinity of Brother Stanley Crowells (store), he noticed a great hole in the road. Upon inquiry he found that some girl had slipped in the mud and fallen, and upon getting up a large part of the road clung to her.
Now that Xmas is over, the editors and others noticed a lot of new jewelry on the faces and arms of the fair ones Also several new varieties of perfume have made themselves evident to the nasal organ, and of course everyone notices the new shades of powder, lip stick, eye brow pencil, and paint. All the old bachelors are taking notice and beginning to get interested. Even the ones past hope like Brother Oliver are remarking on it. Christmas is a great institution for the skirts, all right.
Brother Gordon Smith appeared in town a week ago carrying with him an addition of ten pounds. Apparently he hasn’t been chasing the girls too much on that new bicycle.
A wise man once said that just as surely as there is a time when bad men go good so is there a time in good men’s lives when they go bad. This apparently was the case two weeks ago when some of our young members who are also pupils of Sister Perry decided to break all known records and take an afternoon for themselves No names were given to the editor but we understand that girls were concerned as well as boys. But never mind, we were all young once and would have played truant ourselves if we had only had the nerve; and we all know that girls are no worse than boys.
We are broadcasting a warning to people of all ages and shapes to be out of Mr. (Malcolm) Cumming’s way when he appears with his recently sharpened skates.
Well, Leap Year is nearly over and the girls didn’t succeed in taking Brother Oliver by the hand. But have courage, Oliver, for you have three more years before the girls or Old Maids have a chance again.
One evening in October
A man was far from sober
And was carrying home a load with manly pride
His feet began to stutter
And he fell down in a gutter
And a pig came up and lay down by his side
His heart was all a flutter
As he lay down in the gutter
And a lady passing by was heard to say,
‘You can tell a man that boozes
By the company he chooses’
And the pig got up and slowly walked away
If you notice any errors about here, blame Jack Dempsey. Your editor is trying to listen to the boxing matches at Philadelphia, and do some writing at the same time; and he is more interested in them than he is in this.
Owing to the great popularity of his song singing a few weeks ago at our social, Brother Percy Banks has decided to give singing lessons. We trust that a number of our members will patronize him. Soon we hope to notice the difference in our singing in Division.
Sorry to report, Sister Clarisse Kendrick on the sick list. Evidently she thought the duties of Editor of this journal were too strenuous and decided this was the best way of getting out of them, No matter what she may be escaping, the Division is the loser as we all remember the splendid edition published last time, for which she was responsible.
WANTED: By Edith Nickerson: a good haircut
Brother Oliver Nichols has found that his voice so long neglected is of a very sweet nature and will favor us with a song next night. He is doing this, we think, to cut out Mr. E.R. Nickerson’s popularity in that direction.
Every year on picnic day there are a few who go to the station about half past seven in order to be there on time. Now we have something that has that beat all hollow. One Monday morning a few weeks ago Brother Percy Banks, on his way to milk, saw Sister Rebecca Nickerson on the station road. She asked him a few questions regarding the time the Owl was due. He answered, and went on. Some time later he noticed her at the station waiting for something, so he went up. She then asked him if he knew when the Owl was coming. Brother Percy said, ‘Why, yes, tomorrow morning about 6:30 if she is on time.’ We have not been able to find out whether Sister Rebecca waited for it or not.
Sister Mrs. Percy had better look after that husband of hers Just before going to press we hear of him and Mrs. Rebecca again. This time he discovered her in her pasture, on her knees. He asked her if she was praying for rain. But he happened to be wrong. She was not waiting for the Owl either. She lost one of her eyes (to her eyeglasses), and was hunting for it. We sincerely hope she found it.
We are all pleased to learn that Sister Clarisse is up again and feeling much better. We all wish her a speedy recovery.
The Misses E & M Kenney have been holding their millinery opening this week. They announced that are displaying the latest style set by Brother E. R. Nickerson at the Clyde Picnic last summer
We wonder why one of our school teachers and a grade eleven pupil had to leave Division last Saturday night just before the spelling match started. It looks bad when our “educated” folks cannot stay to a spelling match. Evidently they do not like to show up their ignorance, at least we will think so until a better reason is given.
Members got to work in earnest (for) the Single vs. Married members contest This contest last year created a great amount of interest in the Division, so it was decided to try it again And as the married folks last year put on the better program, the single members wanted a chance to redeemed the honor of the single state of happiness. On the evening of the 18th of Feb the single folks listened to a very fine program put on by our married brothers and sisters. After they were through, the single folks were a mighty discouraged bunch at first. Most of them seemed to think there was no hope for them, but they would not give up. Instead they only worked the harder, determined to beat the others. And so on the evening of Feb 25 the single folks showed the stuff they were made of and put on their program. After listening to that the judges decided that it was better than the one of the previous night at which announcement there was great rejoicing among the ranks of the single people. After listening to the two programs one need have no doubt that we have a lot of talent in the Division Several original poems were composed, worthy of a place in the Yarmouth Herald. And all were agreed that the original dialogue was one of the best things out on in Division for some time.
Sister Clarisse did not return to Division for a long time. The reference to her on the sick list shaded a much harsher reality. Clarisse was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and sent to a sanatorium. She maintained an active correspondence with her Division friends, especially Mr. ER, and revealed to only a few that the prognosis was not good. Clarisse regarded the situation as a Division debate. Her doctor argued the Negative; she took the Affirmative; and, upholding the tradition of the Shag Harbour team, she brought home the prize. Clarisse recovered, and long outlived the specialist who said she would never see her 30th birthday.
By the time Sister Clarisse was healthy enough to return to the group, she found the Guiding Star had begun to flicker a bit. Times had changed. Where Division was for so long a social opportunity for land-locked villagers, especially during the winter months, now there were other options. Roads had been graded in the 1920s and paved in the late 30s. There were cars in the village, with names like Model T and Essex; Clarisse’s father had a Maxwell. There were now more places to drive to. Gum Goudy opened a movie theater in nearby Barrington. Before, the nearest commercial movie theater was in Yarmouth, fifty miles away. Division occasionally sponsored silent movies, but now movies had sound, and the Hall lacked the facilities to show “talkies.” Radio found its way into Shag Harbour homes. Folks could sit in their living room and hear news reports and music and political debates. The resort hotels in Yarmouth held weekly dances and live bands. And then The Scott Act was repealed, and the era of Prohibition ended. Temperance had been dealt a fatal blow.
And so had Division. Mr. E.R. now lived in Halifax; Captain Loran had returned to Shag Harbour, but he was afflicted with a bothersome palsy from an earlier
stroke and his debating days were over. Charter members like Mr Gilbert’s brother Jeremiah and his wife Mrs. Emma and Aunt Rebecca and Nehemiah Kenney had died. No community leaders assumed their roles. By the early 1940s, with attentions consumed by the war, Division membership had so dwindled that meetings were often cancelled for lack of a quorum. The Temperance Hall itself, once the most admired facility in the region, was falling apart. Taxes were owed on the building, and no one knew who should pay them. The lower half of the building was owned by the descendants of the original shareholders; many of whom didn’t even know they had a property interest, much less a tax obligation. The upper half was owned by the Division, and the dues coming in couldn’t cover the bills.
Clarisse appealed to Mr. E.R. for a solution. Their correspondence reveals that he paid the back taxes, (less than $30), and had ownership of the building transferred to the Grand Order. The Temperance Hall was saved from public auction, and through a series of pie sales, the roof was repaired. At the end of the war, Division hosted a celebration for returning soldiers. Clarisse dutifully wrote of the event for the local newspaper:
JULY 31, 1945
On Friday evening July 27th the people of Shag Harbour honored their service men returned from overseas. The Temperance Hall was gaily decorated for the occasion in the patriotic colors: red, white and blue, with a large Welcome Home motto at the centre back offstage. The event was celebrated in banquet style, the table for overseas service men and families being attractively set with flowers and centered by a cake decorated with the words, Welcome Home. After the service of refreshments, Rev. F. A. Hubley of Woods Harbor gave a fine address, appropriately expressing the sentiments of all the home town people. Following this, he presented each man with an Aniline Hide bill fold containing five dollars in money, gifts of the community. Returning overseas men honored were: Morrell and Earl Rodgerson, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Rodgerson; Henry Greenwood, son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Greenwood; Beldon Crowell, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Crowell, and Earl Banks, son of Mrs. Lottie Banks, who was invalided home nearly two years ago and is at present on a merchant ship. Two overseas boys from Woods Harbor, two from Doctor’s Cove and a Shag Harbor veteran of World War I were also guests. After the presentation, all joined in singing “The National Anthem.” The arrangements were made and carried out by Mrs. Herman Smith and Mrs. Sidney Shand. Much assistance was given by a group of young ladies, who collected the
amount of $65 and helped with the decorations. The social cake was made by Mrs. Victor Smith.
The roof to the Temperance Hall may have been repaired, but Division, itself, continued to leak. After the war, attendance steadily declined. Clarisse left Shag Harbour in the 1950s for Cape Breton. When she returned to the village in the early 1960s, Division was nearly dead, and all of her efforts and enthusiasm for “the cause,” couldn’t revive interest. Shag Harbour’s Guiding Star Division of the Sons of Temperance surrendered its charter to the Grand Division of Nova Scotia in January, 1965. In her last official role for the Division, Sister Clarisse packed up years of minutes and ceremonial regalia and shipped them to Provincial headquarters in Halifax. She collected the sentry poles topped with the wooden triangle declaring LOVE- FIDELITY- PURITY, and stacked them in the hayloft of her father’s old barn.
Clarisse did her duty by Division to the very end, but she wasn’t about to padlock the Temperance Hall. The building was vital to the community. It was (then) where people voted, and, in the 1960s, it was the only facility in the village large enough for church suppers and bridal showers and wedding receptions (minus the champagne). Clarisse wrote to the Grand Order, and described how the building was in disrepair and rapidly deteriorating. “…whenever we solicit help from organizations or individuals in Shag Harbour, they point to the fact that the building does not belong to us. They feel since it is owned by the Grand Division, it could be disposed of by them. If the Hall were to be turned over to the community, they would willingly support a drive for funds” The Grand Order agreed to transfer the building, in trust, to the United Baptist Church, which accepted, providing that maintenance of the Temperance Hall remain a community obligation. The agreement also provides that in the event another Division is organized in Shag Harbour, the group would have free access to the building for at least one evening a week; and that the use of the building would not be inconsistent with the principles of the Sons of Temperance; which means there will never be champagne served at wedding receptions.
Years later, Clarisse was a founding member of the Chapel Hill Historical society. As the first Secretary, she helped organize the structure of the meetings, which are held monthly in the upstairs Assembly Room of the Temperance Hall. The proceedings are formal, with an official call to order and a reading of the minutes from the last meeting. Ideas must be expressed in the form of a Motion, and arguments permitted for both the Affirmative and Negative. Arguments are not limited to five minutes (although some wish they were). Motions must be seconded by a member in good standing. Dues cost $1 a year.
The Historical Society is a direct descendant of Division. When Captain Loran’s son, Joe Kenney, presided, he conducted meetings much like his father led a debate. He arrived with an outline of topics, read from handwritten notes, and he delivered well-timed pauses and theatrical stares to get a good laugh. Clarisse sat at a table below the stage where she once competed in spelling bees and paraded in colorful
initiation ceremonies. At the Historical Society President’s signal, she lifted her chin and read the minutes from her carefully scripted journal. The Assembly Room echoed once again with the precise and articulate enunciation of the girl who so often won those Elocution Contests.
Clarisse may have returned the Charter and ceremonial regalia to the Grand Order, but the Division remained in her heart; and, because of her, Shag Harbour will always have a Guiding Star.