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Ruby M. Cusack
The Story of Moncton’s First Store and Storekeeper 
Life Around the Bend - A Century Ago

When the winter was freezing cold with the mercury dropping well below the zero mark on the Fahrenheit thermometer, Dad filled the ice house with cakes of ice, cut from Green’s Lake or the Hammond River and packed them in sawdust.

It was hard to believe such a change in the temperature would occur with the arrival of summer.

Many an afternoon, when this heat wave of July hit, we would sneak into the ice house and dig our toes through the sawdust to the ice and get cooled off. Although this was supposed to be off limits to us, fortunately we didn’t get caught.

Today was another scorching hot day. When Morris stopped at our house, he told us with a very straight face, that it was so hot in town that kids were frying eggs on the pavement. Glen out did the story by saying he saw people frying hamburgers on the hood of their car. I thought it farfetched but maybe it was true as the thermometer had been over the hundred mark.

Due to the heat and the need to get in the hay, it was decided the family would gather to celebrate Gram’s Birthday in the evening.

When we arrived at Gram’s, we were really excited to see the wooden ice cream maker with the handle that had to be turned on the back stoop. As soon as we entered the outside kitchen, Aunt Sadie announced she had the maple walnut mixture ready and in the icebox.

Gord went to the barn floor to get the bag of coarse salt out of the tea box but was disappointed to find the bag was empty.

Gramp told us kids to jump in the car and we would go to Titus’s store to get a bag. While he was gone Gord and the others were to get a cake of ice from the ice house and chip it up.

More disappointments, the store was out of coarse salt. So off Gramp headed to Fletcher’s where he was in luck.

Once the ice and salt were placed in the ice cream maker, the men turned the handle which was no easy job but the end result was worth all the work.

After the Washington pie with boiled icing and lots of ice cream was eaten, I asked Gramp, “Who started the first store in our area?”

He replied, “Ask your Grandmother.”

She was too busy opening her gifts to answer me but in 1924 Helen Harper Steeves thought the residents of Moncton and surrounding areas might like to know something of the first store and the storekeeper.

Her desire was to keep alive the old tales of the early life of the forefathers of the area thus she compiled “The Story of Moncton’s First Store and Storekeeper - Life Around the Bend - A Century Ago”.

Her grandfather, George Harper, the only son of William Harper, who was the first storekeeper, loved to talk of his early life at “The Bend”. Furthermore the author had access to two old books used by her great-grandfather giving a look back to many interesting details of nearly a century before 1924.

William Harper was born in Yorkshire, May 9, 1764 and at an early age entered the British Navy

After the close of the Revolutionary War, he married Sarah Hamm in 1791 in Saint John.

Mr. Harper tired of waiting for the buyers to come to him, so he purchased a schooner and fitted it with a full cargo of goods and visited settlements and in so doing supplied the needs of the isolated pioneers up and down the Bay of Fundy and along the Petitcodiac River.

In 1796, the schooner “Weasel” supplied customers at Quaco, Cape D’Or, Horton, Sackville, Shepody, Dorchester, Passamaquoddy and other villages.

His customers were such people as Amos Botsford, Charles Dixon, William Black, William Chapman, Fawcet Brothers, Henry Steeves Sr., John Chapman, Ichabod Lewis, and others.

When he closed Ledger “A” on New Year’s Eve, 1799, “notes of hand” included the oldest one as Moses Foster and Joseph Noiles, both due in December of 1796, Robert Laskey and Henry Haywood were due in May of 1797.

In 1808, Mrs. Harper passed away at age forty, leaving her husband with two young children Ann, aged ten and George, aged four. She was laid to rest along with her son in the “Old Burying Ground” in Saint John.

The following year Mr. Harper disposed of his property in Saint John on the corner of Water Street and Jardine Alley and moved to “The Bend”.

In the fall, after moving to The Bend, he married Ann Dixon.

Since his customers travelled quite a distance, he decided to add Inn Keeping to his business. The kitchen staff probably dragged themselves out of the kitchen after a long day of preparing meals by cooking in heavy pots over a fireplace. This was certainly much different from our present way of plugging in a slow cooker with a timer.

In March of 1834, the store caught on fire. Neighbours gathered and tried their best to put out the flames and remove the stock. Fortunately three old ledgers were saved.

Watching a lifetime of work go up in smoke was too much of a strain on Mr. Harper and he fell forward to the ground. When assistance quickly reached him, it was found he had succumbed.

Mr. Harper was laid to rest on his own property but later his remains were removed to the cemetery on the Irishtown Road.

His obituary states: March 8, 1834 - William Harper, age 70. Left widow and seven children to lament their loss. A native of England. In youth was a mariner and settled here as a trader. He was affectionate in his family - faithful to his friends and hospitable and kind to all; honest, industrious and frugal, and a firm supporter of the great truths of the Christian Religion.

The Story of Moncton’s First Store and Storekeeper - Life Around the Bend - A Century Ago” that was published in 1924 describes the first store in Moncton, New Brunswick, as well as the owner William Harper. Chapters discuss life in the 18th century, the type of customers the store would service, and the practice of keeping an inn as well as a general store. The book deals primarily with the struggles and tribulations of pioneer life at this time, as well as the importance of a general store to the community. In so doing, has left well stocked shelves of information for the genealogical researcher.

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