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Ruby M. Cusack
Clifton Royal
The Wetmores And Village Life
In Nineteenth-Century New Brunswick

edited by Judith Baxter

It seemed we had been waiting all winter for the May 24th holiday from school. Hopefully it would be a perfect day to get our fishing poles, pack a lunch and go fishing. But Dad had other plans which didn’t match our idea of a fun day.

The meadow had a soggy patch. According to him, a rock drain needed to be put in which meant finding round rocks on the shore of the brook and wheelbarrowing them to where he was digging a 3 foot deep ditch about 15 feet long.

Our instructions were to pile the rocks carefully inside the ditch to make a foot high wall.

My back ached. My hands were cold as I went into the brook to get some really good rocks. Next  the water went over the top of my gum rubbers and was squishing between my toes.

I lost count of how many wheelbarrow loads of rocks were taken to build those walls

Since this was the first time we had helped in this type of construction, we thought our job was finished but alas no such luck.

We were to go to the rock pile and find flat rocks that would make a roof over our walls. This was kind of fun as the rock pile served as Mum’s dump for all kinds of things from old metal teapots to broken metal toys.

When the last rock was put in place, I yelled “Finished.” Dad replied, “Not so fast young lady.”

“I need a large wheelbarrow of straw and get some thin pieces of kindling from the woodshed to put over the rocks.”

Surely this meant the end and we would have time to go fishing but no way. Next we were to fill the ditch with the sods that had been dug out - placing them grass down. Then Dad would return the removed earth back to the ditch.

“Can we go now?” but that was not in the cards as the returned earth had to be rolled and grass seed scattered over it.

Finally we were free to go fishing.

As we headed for the best fishing hole, I wondered if adults kept a record of the jobs that had been accomplished, just so the next year, it would be known what task needed to be done.

Maybe I am a few years late in finding an answer but I did in the publication ‘Clifton Royal - The Wetmores And Village Life In Nineteenth-Century New Brunswick’ edited by Judith Baxter - through the Wetmore diaries which cover the years 1870 to 1891

Those fellows from the Clifton Royal area must have had really strong muscles to do the amount of labour that was required with shovel and hoe to keep a farm running. Tending to thousands of strawberry plants would certainly keep them busy as well as looking after the raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, rhubarb, apple trees not to mention walking behind the plough or the digging of many feet of drain ditches or the shovelling of manure for the many loads to be used as fertilizer.

As I prepared this week’s column, my curiosity was aroused about what was written over the years about today’s date of May 16.

Thursday, May 16, 1872 - A cold day with a little rain. Commenced plowing with little side hill plow and it worked very well. Got four crab apple trees today and set them out on old road between this place and Merritt’s.

Sunday, May 16, 1873 - This has been a dull drizzly day and cold for this time of year. Daniel Reardon died on Wednesday last and was buried yesterday.

Wednesday, May 16, 1877 - Was making land roller but did not get it quite done. Some potatoes beginning to show blossoms which is very early about 14 days.

Friday, May 16, 1884 - S. Langstroth and wife here today.

Saturday, May 16, 1885 - Hauled top dressing from hen house and put oats in upper meadow.

Wednesday, May 16, 1888 -  Drove to Rothesay this forenoon for box of military great coats,

There are so many interesting entries it is difficult to pick out a few to tell you about. For example on September 14, 1885 - Cleaned out privy vault today and composted with black mud. School picnic today on John Day’s grounds.

On May 18, 1885 mentions dispatch came yesterday to send men to Sussex by noon train. Reil was captured on Saturday.

May 31, 1871 - Set out 45 apple trees that came from Sharp and Shea of Woodstock.

May 13, 1878 - Got a drain about four rods long dug and filled in.

February 26, 1885 - Bargained with W H Merritt for the horse I have been driving of his. Am to pay him $125 for him.

November 10, 1884 - Elsie commenced school today.

The diaries (1870 - 1879) kept by David Pickett Wetmore, who is credited with the development of the octagonal berry box and the “duck bill” strawberry hoe: The one by Arminta Wetmore (1873 - 1874) who mentions the birth of her daughter on May 7, 1873: One by Howard Douglas Wetmore, whose first wife was Annie Whelply and his second wife was Clara Frost, who recorded daily events faithfully, except on Sunday, from 1884 to 1891 and the one by Genevieve Wetmore, who was an artist and studied oil painting in Saint John, graduated from Normal School, taught school in Clifton before marrying John Frost in 1889, provide much information on the everyday life of ordinary folk. I might add that in my opinion this information could well have been lost forever.

Even the names of the berry pickers are given.

For those who are doing family research, the records and notes that are recorded in the pages of the union Agriculture Society Minute and Account Book is a real find.

I was amazed to read of 250 persons sitting down to the farmers supper on Feb 01, 1893 in the hall at Elmsdale. I wonder who did the cooking and who washed the dishes.

I think the back cover notes of ‘Clifton Royal - The Wetmores And Village Life In Nineteenth-Century New Brunswick’ edited by Judith Baxter sum up the book better than any words I could use - “Through the Wetmore diaries, the Agricultural Society minutes and other records, this book provides a fascinating look at farming life in nineteenth-century New Brunswick. Journal entries about plantings, community meetings, and even the militia and volunteer service, create a detailed picture of one family’s fruit farms and general store. The diaries cover the years 1870 to 1891; shop records begin in 1864 and include detailed client lists. Lavishly illustrated with period photographs, this book is a must read for anyone with an interest in Victorian New Brunswick, and a boon to anyone researching this part of the province.”

By the way, copies of this book are available from the John Fisher Memorial Museum, 874 Route 845, Kingston, N.B., Canada, E5N 1V3. Phone 506-763-210. Also from the 1810 Carter House Tea Room and Gift Shop, Kingston.

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