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Ruby Remembers "Cutting Ice for the Icebox"


History of a small town industrial giant - “The Wallace Machine Works, Ltd. and Wallace Manufacturing Co., Ltd. - Sussex, New Brunswick 1919 - 1956"
K. Wayne Vail

We coaxed, we begged, but Mum was not moving from her “No” position. Things changed when Dad came in from doing the barn chores with the announcement that he heard the train whistle blow from both Hampton and Bloomfield Stations thus soft weather was on the way and could be the signaling of a coming January thaw.

Gramp and Dad were working together, along with Gramp’s hired hands, cutting ice on Green’s Lake. They needed another day’s work to fill the icehouses.

Mum worried about the men working on that lake, let alone letting children being there, as local lore stated that it was bottomless. Dad said he could use all the help he could get so he was quite agreeable that Cliff and I could spend Saturday helping.

In preparation, Ken let me borrow his gum rubbers and a couple of pairs of heavy socks. He even let me have a pair of his leather mitts.

Mum spent the evening making sandwiches and wrapping them in wax paper. She put several bricks in the oven to be used to keep them from freezing.

Cliff filled two jute bags with straw for seats on our ride on the bobsleds that had boards on the sides.

About six inches of fresh snow covered the ground when we got up on Saturday morning.

After a breakfast of pancakes, belly pork and hot oatmeal, we were ready.

The horses would be doing a lot of standing so Dad brought along their heavy storm blankets as well as nose bags filled with oats that would provide them with a lunch.

When we arrived at the lake, Gramp was there ahead of us. He took one look at me and remarked, “Does she plan to take over the ice business as Georgina Whetsel of Saint John did when her husband Robert died in 1885?” He went on to say, “That lady managed solely by herself to employ a large crew cutting ice on Lily Lake and nearly thirty teams to haul the loads to the store houses on Leinster Street, Duke Street and Sandy Point Road.”

I wonder if he knew that by 1895, her reputation as the only known woman ice merchant to conduct the largest ice business in New Brunswick had reached Woman's Era, a national magazine in Boston and her picture was published in the publication.

Probably Mrs. Whetsel had the same worries of a thaw in January and had her men work long hours.
To Dad, snow during the night, meant first using the slush scrapper to get rid of it. Next came the rolls of binder twine to guide his homemade pusher to mark the cutting lines.

When the block was cut by the ice saw which resembled a long handsaw, it was pushed along the open water channel with a pike pole and removed from the water with ice tongs. Once the blocks were placed on the sled, I had the task of placing a little sawdust between them to keep them from freezing together.

The wind blew and a squall came up but nothing short of stopping for lunch was going to slow down the day’s work.

Cliff found some birch bark and with the kindling brought from home, built a fire near the shore and boiled the water for the tea. Gramp insisted the loose tea be thrown in the hot water in the kettle and then some cold water be added. According to him, this was what made a good cup of tea. The hot bricks had kept the sandwiches and molasses cookies from freezing and the “grub” which we ate while sitting on the bags of straw certainly tasted some good.

Darkness was approaching when the second load was completed and tied with ropes. While driving home wet snow was falling and we knew rain was just around the corner.

Dad took the lantern to the icehouse to provide some light as the blocks were carried in and carefully covered with lots of sawdust on all sides.

The icehouse was now filled to almost the rafters so the January thaw could come at any time.

Cliff and I carried the pails of scalded bran to the barn for the horses. While they ate, we put the heavy blankets on them as those horses were probably as cold as we were.

Once we were in the warm kitchen, our wet mitts, trousers, socks and boots were placed around the stove to dry.

As we ate Mum’s stew, we told her of our exciting day and how Cliff almost slipped into the lake as he was pushing the pike pole. She shuddered and once again told us of her fears and how glad she was that ice cutting was over for another year.

Come summer, the ice house would be a cool place to be on a hot day when we were sent there to bring in a cake of ice for the ice box, built by the Wallace Manufacturing Company in Sussex.

By the way, in his growing-up years, K. Wayne Vail lived on Peter Street in Sussex where his backyard looked onto the mill of the Wallace Manufacturing Company. Today this land is occupied by the Sussex Mall and the Canadian Tire Store.

Since  the plant and the mill yard are now just a memory for those who worked there, and for the folk who are aware of its existence, Wayne compiled the book, History of a small town industrial giant - “The Wallace Machine Works, Ltd. and Wallace Manufacturing Co., Ltd. - Sussex, New Brunswick 1919 - 1956".  The book traces the development of the manufacturing industries that eventually led to the incorporation of  The Sussex Manufacturing and subsequently the Wallace Machine Works, the Wallace Manufacturing Company, and Wallace Woodworkers as revealed by various legal documents, company documents and correspondence, newspapers, particularly The Weekly Record and its successor The Kings County Record, and through interviews with members of the Wallace and Kelso families and others connected in one way or another with the business over the years.

The Company had its beginning in the early 1800s when Donald Fraser left his farm on the Roachville Road and opened a woodworking factory and William Howes built and operated a foundry and machine shop in Sussex.

Wayne tells us that William Howes was born in Portland (Saint John) on 1 Mar 1844 to Richard Howes and Catherine White. By the 1871 census, he was living in Sussex with his wife, Sarah, and two children, and working as a moulder.

William Howes manufactured the Star stove and another called ‘Iron Sides No. 31'.

Shortly after 1900, the ‘Sussex Woodworking and Electric Company’ and the ‘Howes Foundry and Machine Works’ amalgamated to form 'The Sussex Manufacturing Company’. The first man on the payroll was John Mahoney who had previously worked at the G. and G. Flewelling Manufacturing Company’s Mill in Hampton and prior to that at the Bostock Lumber Company. He played a leading part in setting up the plant.

By 1904, the Company experienced an increase in demand for their threshing machines and other farm implements thus an addition was required.

In 1919, the machine shop and foundry portion of ‘The Sussex Manufacturing Co.' was purchased by Harry W. Wallace, William W. Kelso and Charles W. Upham and the new company was incorporated as ‘Wallace Machine Works’.

Another name change occurred in 1926 when the remaining assets of Sussex Manufacturing were purchased and the company became the Wallace Manufacturing Company.

This is a most interesting book, not only as to the history of the companies and the mergers, but of photos, biographical information on the men involved in the business, and the names of many of the employees.

“The Wallace Machine Works, Ltd. and Wallace Manufacturing Co., Ltd., Sussex, New Brunswick 1919 - 1956" complied by K. Wayne Vail and published in 2006 is available for viewing at the Kings County Museum in Hampton.  It can be purchased for $35.00, plus shipping and handling, if applicable, by contacting K. W. Vail by phone (506) 433-9898 or E-mail


Query 1531
Flynn - Sullivan: The first reunion for the descendants of Patrick Flynn and Bridget Sullivan will be held in Miramichi in conjunction with the Irish Festival July 20 to 22, 2007. Visit the very interesting Flynn Family website at for more information. E-mail

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Ruby M. Cusack is a genealogy buff living in New Brunswick, Canada. Send your New Brunswick genealogical queries to her at:  Include your name and mailing address for the benefit of the readers of the newspaper who do not have access to E-mail but could have information to share with you. Please put "Query" followed by the surnames in your query. For more information on submitting queries, visit
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