Good day to one and all and welcome once again to another episode in my series about a wonderul 2014 trip in an old campervan / RV called Betsy with my dear friend Lynne where we were travelling round the Canadian Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick (briefly) and Prince Edward Island. If you wish to read the story of the whole trip from the beginning, you can do so here.
As I spoke about in the previous post, we had not got to bed until some ridiculous hour in the morning, our respective sleep disorders having obviously had a chat to each other and decided to attack us on a twin front. The result of all this was that we did not wake up until early afternoon but we still managed to have an absolutely brilliant day.
If you want to find out about it, then please read on but fair warning as always, this is a busy day and a long post!
10th July, 2014.
We were staying at the St. Mary’s Campground, a short walk from Sherbrook Village and, as I reported in the previous post, the weather had been abysmal the evening before so I hadn’t even gone for a look round. I rectified that situation whilst Lynne was getting ready.
The weather still wasn’t great and these images were taken the next day and later that evening, hence the apparent anomalies in the weather but it just makes more sense this way. I should also re-iterate that this Campground no longer exists in 2021 and this is merely a remembrance of our trip. Here is what I wrote about it then.
A very friendly campsite.
St. Mary’s Riverside campground is a short stroll from the historic Sherbrooke Village which is now a “living Museum” and dealt with below. This was the main reason for us choosing to stay here and an excellent choice it turned out to be.
Lynne had ‘phoned ahead to book for the same night and we were told that there was a full hookup facility available for a couple of nights and at $28 per night it was certainly one of the less expensive sites we stayed at which I found surprising given the quality of the facilities.
Apart from all the usual things like firepits pitchside (interestingly made from the drums of old washing machines which I thought was ingenious) there is a laundry room, picnic tables etc. There is free wi-fi, a decent sized swimming pool, small shop and a well-equipped children’s playground. Even in July the weather had not been brilliant so I wasn’t really tempted by the pool although it looked immaculately kept.
The weather did, however, clear sufficiently to reward us with a simply stunning pink sunset one evening looking out over the river which brings me to the very best part of this site, the location is easily one of the most beautiful we had in almost six weeks on the road.
The site is fairly compact with 26 overnight sites, 17 unserviced and 9 serviced so they all have the same lovely view over the water, it really is a delight and there are plenty of birds to be seen if that is your thing.
Another great feature of the place is the friendliness of the owner who seems to be more or less a one man operation. He will always stop and chat to you and is a mine of useful local information including a number of local walking trails should you be feeling energetic. All in all this is a great campsite and I have no hesitation in recommending it.”
There you go and the review above gives you the reason for us specifically pushing on in the awful weather the evening before to get to Sherbrooke, we wanted to see the Village, the living Museum. This was arguably the best thing we did on the whole trip which is really saying something as we had some amazing experiences but before we go there I should like to explain the title of this post.
The title is undoubtedly true as, after over a year of virus house arrest now where I have not been out of the E1 postal district (less than two miles square), I really do wish I was in Sherbrooke now but there is a lot more to it than that.
The phrase is part of a lyric from a Stan Rogers song called “Barrett’s Privateers” and it touches on a subject we have already discussed in these pieces and a place we visited two posts ago, or two days in real time. It is a long song but here is the first verse and chorus.
Oh, the year was 1778
(How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
A letter of marque came from the king
To the scummiest vessel I’d ever seen
God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the seas for American gold
We’d fire no guns-shed no tears
Now I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett’s Privateers.
We have encountered privateers many times already and the verse mentions the “letter of marque” from the King which was effectively a pirate’s licence. You could plunder any ship or shore base of an enemy and without fear of piracy charges as long as the Crown got it’s cut.
The song is fictional but historically accurate, set in 1778 during the American Revolution when privateering by both sides was prevalent all along the coasts of the Maritimes and what is now the NE USA.
In the song the singer is a young Maritime fisherman from Sherbrooke who is seduced into privateering by the thought of plunder but everything goes wrong. The ship is falling to bits, under-armed and with an incompetent captain and blind drunk cook.
The first time they try to capture a gold-laden American ship they are blown out of the water leaving the unnamed singer without the use of his legs from the engagement when the mast falls on him. It takes him six years to get home with the last verse set in 1784 and him lying on Halifax Pier, where I had so recently been and with him “a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett’s Privateers”.
Stan Rogers had a short but hugely productive life and is so much bound up with the Maritimes. One of his live albums is called “Home in Halifax” and a studio offering is called Fogarty’s Cove which we shall be driving past in the next post! Although he was born in Ontario both his parents were Maritimers from near Sherbrooke who had gone inland in search of work and the young Stan used to spend all of his holidays with family in the area.
In 1983, Rogers was returning home from playing a festival in the USA when his Air Canada flight caught fire. They managed to put down successfully at an airfield in Kentucky but there was a flash fire when the doors were opened and he perished. Some reports state that he initially escaped the fire but died when he went back into the cabin to try to save others. Appropriately, when he was cremated his ashes were scattered off the Nova Scotian coast. He was 33.
The song is now regarded as an unofficial anthem for the Canadian Navy and the Maritimes and is a favourite drinking song at many Universities including Acadia in Wolfville which was the first town I visited on arrival in Canada all those posts ago. Another is Dalhousie which I discussed in my Halifax posts. Although you wouldn’t always think it I do actually consider the composition of these posts occasionally, but back to Sherbrooke Village now with my original notes again.
Definitely the main attraction.
“Sherbrooke is a pleasant little village in the middle of some glorious countryside but undoubtedly the reason most people will stop here is to visit the simply excellent attraction simply known as Sherbrooke Village which, along with it’s outlying sawmill, stamp mill and lumber camp constitutes the largest site of the 27 administered by Nova Scotia Museums.
To walk through the gates from the present day Main Street with all it’s modern amenities is literally like walking into a timeslip as the whole place is preserved as it would have been well over 100 years ago and there is everything here from the Courthouse (which still officially functions in that role occasionally) to the printers, the pharmacist, the blacksmith, the boast shop, Masonic Hall, schoolhouse, you name it and it is here.
To be honest, you are more likely to hear music in the Courthouse these days at one of the regular Courthouse Concerts than you are to see some petty law-breaker thrown in the cells for a day or two. Incidentally, there are cells in the village as well!
What I really like about Sherbrook(e) is that it is totally original and not reconstructed buildings from elsewhere erected on some random non-historical greenfield site a few miles out of town. This is the genuine article and it is hugely impressive. Add to the wonderful architecture and numerous artefacts on display the wonderful interpreters in period costume who oversee the Village and the result is truly magical.
The blacksmith actually made us hand-forged nails to demonstrate smithing principles, the wood turner demonstrated his skills as well as having a great chat and they all seemed extremely knowledgeable in their subjects.
In fact, they must have a huge breadth of knowledge as we were told that the person who may be playing the part of the pharmacist one day may well be overseeing the school the next and will need to be fully up to speed with the details of all the roles.
As far as I am aware there are no organised tours as such which means you just wander about at will and look at what interests you for as long as you want. There are plenty of other activities with the “Five Hour Forge” apparently being popular. As the name implies you get instruction from the blacksmith in basic smithing techniques and it costs $99 per person (tax and materials included, 2014 price).
Another popular activity for the youngsters is a Treasure Hunt with a prize if you complete it. Attending the annual songwriters weekend could lead you to a guest appearance at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in nearby Canso and, on one of the days I visited the photographer in residence was holding a private class in photographic techniques using antique methods. There is something for everyone here including a tearoom plus a gift shop and you can additionally purchase hand-made gift items from the Woodworking Shop.
You should note that the Village comes under the Nova Scotia Museum Pass scheme which I have mentioned in previous posts and which I do suggest is worth looking at if you are going to visit a number of museums. The site also says to allow approximately two hours to visit but I would seriously dispute that as we spent a whole day and a separate evening there and still had to rush at the end.
It goes without saying that the place is a dream for any photographer or videographer so make sure your gear is all charged up and ready to go. Sherbrooke Village really is a national treasure and you should not miss it.”
I think the best way to go about this is to go through my literally hundreds of images chronologically or else I am bound to miss things.
After a couple of pleasant buildings which appeared to serve an administrative function we found the Sherbrook(e) Hotel which houses the tearoom now and the name on the sign is interesting, written as “SHERBROOKe HOTEL”. In the past the village has had it’s name rendered both with and without the e although as it was named in 1815 for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (with an e) I think that is the correct spelling and is officially used now.
The obviously non-original ramp suggests this building is accessible and they do make an effort here although by the very nature of some of the buildings not all the site is.
Just across the road we have the very important blacksmith’s forge which has a fascinating history. Joseph McLane was born some miles to the Northwest in Onslow in 1820 but the family moved near Sherbrooke in 1837 and in 1844 young Joe bought a plot of land here and set up a forge.
His forge was unusual in that he was also a carriage-maker and whilst smiths were always involved in certain aspects of that craft it was unusual for one to be completely in charge of the process.
Joe was well-respected and was at various times the Court-crier, Constable, member of the Grand Jury and Justice of the Peace. He made a good marriage to the daughter of the first schoolteacher in the village and she bore him six children before she sadly died in 1858. He remarried and fathered another five offspring.
Of this large brood four of the five sons went into the family trade and at one point there were three different McLane forges in the village. This forge remained in the family until 1953 on the death of Joseph T. McLane when his widow sold it to a man called Lester McKeen who kept it going until 1970. Quite some history.
As the can see from the images, the smith wasn’t about but he was there when we returned the next day and demonstrated some basic skills to Lynne and I by making us a nail each which we kept as lovely souvenirs.
You will see in this image from the blacksmith’s there was a “penny-farthing” bicycle in there, possibly awaiting repair and the other image is of one parked up outside a house a couple of doors away. This mode of transport seems popular in Sherbrooke and is the logo for the Museum.
If you want a bit of fun, go to Google Maps and have a look in Street View where you will see one of the re-enactors happily cycling down the road on one of these contraptions. I wonder how many penny-farthings there are amongst the billions of Google Maps images. Not too many I suspect.
Our next stop was the wonderfully named “printery” and Post Office which are two halves of the one building and they have an original press there for which there was no printer when we wandered in but I believe is still used to print posters etc. for the Museum. Many of the buildings in the Museum, as well as being of historical interest, are still functioning as intended, particularly the sawmill which we shall visit in the next post.
One building that thankfully is not functioning as it once did is the chemist / pharmacy / apothecary, call it what you will. I think we can probably do without laudanum and leeches, thanks very much. It was fascinating though and the young guy in period costume, complete with bowler hat, certainly knew what he was talking about, no question seemed to throw him.
This is a pleasant looking house, isn’t it, I wonder who lives here. Well, a family on a permanent basis and on a temporary basis every malfeasant in the area for, believe it or not, this is the local jail. Look closely and you’ll see the bars on some of the windows.
It was built in 1862 which would have made it five years old at the time Sherbrooke is “set” as they aim for 1867 authenticity although obviously it is not always possible. The jailer and his family lived in a cosy home on one side of the building and the other side housed five cells, three down, two up. As cells go, I didn’t think they were too bad. I have slept in more basic hostel rooms than that!
Obviously the telephone is one of the anachromisms to the 1867 theme as it hadn’t been invented then but that is a minor quibble.
As we had started late that was about all we had time to see that day but we had already decided to have another full day here and, with our Museum passes it was not going to cost us, so off we went into the “modern” village in search of a drink, which turned into a bit of a performance. Let me tell you about it.
The only place for a beer!
“Sherbrook really does have a lot to see and do but the one thing it is extremely difficult to do there is get a drink. I had already found the NSLC (off-licence / bottle shop / liquor store) closed at some ridiculously early hour and after a day of sightseeing I really fancied a beer.
I had already been told that there were no proper pubs in Sherbrooke and that the very few places actually licensed to sell alcohol were only licensed so to do if you were dining. I had made preparations to cook in the ‘van that night, so that was not an option.
I thought I would take a chance anyway and wandered into the Main Street Café aka 17 Main to enquire what the situation was and the charming lady there told me it was no problem. I was a much happier man at that point I can tell you. Regrettably it was nearly closing time for them (the place is really a café as the name suggests) and so I only managed a couple before we had to go but it was better than nothing.
I should mention in passing the decor here which is delightful with a distinctly Acadian theme as the rather quirky decoration pictured indicates. I should also mention that it is seasonal and is only open May to October. A charming little place.”
Sadly, 17 Main has now closed under the ownership when I visited as they have retired.
Whilst heading back to the campground we stopped for a look at the sawmill which we shall visit in the next post.
After that it was back to Betsy where we sat out with a drink and a beautiful view over St. Mary’s River. If the view was wonderful in the dusk, it became absolutely stunning when we were treated to a most wonderful pink sunset. I do hope the images do it justice.
What I prepared for dinner that evening I really have no idea although it looks suspiciously “ready-meal” to me which is unusual as I usually don’t have such things near me but even with a heavy hand on the turmeric I doubt I could produce something that colour. It must have been OK as it didn’t kill us!
In the next post we have another full day in Sherbrooke before moving on and becoming marooned in the middle of nowhere but it all works out OK in the end, as it usually does for us. If you want to find out what all that is about then stay tuned and spread the word.