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Ruby M. Cusack

 Heroes in our Family Tree

Since September was approaching faster than what we would like to see, we wanted to spend every evening riding our bikes not listening to relatives who thought it a great time of the year to visit.

Usually Mum’s rules were reasonable but this crazy one about sitting at the table until the guests had finished their cup of tea and had risen from their chairs was the dumbest thing I ever heard, especially when some of them had an endless thirst and wanted to talk and talk politics, farming, the old days and even the weather, while holding their teacup.

I was just about ready to push back my chair and make my escape, when Gramp’s relative  rose from his chair, but he was just getting up to get another cup of hot tea from the teapot on the stove.

The fellow looked at Cliff and me and complimented us on our mannerly behaviour. Then for some unknown reason, he asked us, “Who do you consider to be our heroes in New Brunswick?”

Although Dad often remarked that I had been vaccinated by a gramophone needle, I was lost for words. Cliff just shrugged his shoulders.

Now that I have left my childhood long behind me and have read books such as “Heroes of New Brunswick” by Arthur T. Doyle, I could carry on quite a discussion with him.

I would tell him about Samuel Leonard Tilley, who was born in Gagetown in 1818. He quit school at age twelve and moved to Saint John to work as a druggist apprentice.  He was not only a successful businessman and politician but had the dream of a great railway and of uniting the Maritime provinces that led to Confederation. He coined the term “The Dominion of Canada” and was responsible for having the inscription “from sea to sea” on the Canadian Coat of Arms. You can find his statue in King Square in Saint John.

Alexander ‘Boss’ Gibson, the monarch of Marysville, was six feet, six inches with a white beard, controlled an empire of timberland, lumber mills, railways, cotton mill, stores and a hotel. He was born in Lepreau in 1819 to parents who had come from Belfast, Ireland. He left school at an early age and worked as a lathe sawyer. His is a success story of unbelievable wealth, yet he cared for his employees. But the years brought some undesirable changes and the end of the era of one of the greatest entrepreneurs when he lost his empire and was forced to retire at age 89.

William Brydon Jack did much to shape and broaden the program of studies of the University of New Brunswick and the recruiting of outstanding faculty members. He also worked to improve the standardizing of the surveyor’s chains and checking magnetic compasses. His wife was Marian Ellen Peters.

Isaac Burpee was the son of a prosperous farmer, born in 1825, Sheffield, York County.  His ancestors migrated to New Brunswick twenty years before the arrival of the Loyalists. He established himself in the hardware merchandising business in Saint John. Politics interested him and he became involved. He died in March 1885 with the funeral taking place in the heaviest snowstorm of the winter. Yet the procession was more than a mile long.

Dr. William F. Roberts created the first department of health in the British Empire in 1918, which was the year an influenza epidemic hit North America. Dr. Roberts prohibited for five weeks all gatherings of six or more people, which meant the closing of schools, churches etc. He initiated many new programs, with one being the vaccination of each school child against smallpox. He insisted on compulsory wrapping of bread, milk had to be bottled and could not be delivered in metal pails, mandatory pasteurization of milk and several other public health measures.  A monument in front of the legislature in Fredericton honours him, the man who used his political office to improve the welfare of society. 

Nan MacPherson Robinson was born at Maple Grove, Restigouche County, the youngest daughter of  Mary MacPherson and John Robinson, whose ancestors migrated from England on the Mayflower. After attending Mount Allison, the Boston School of Oratory, the Provincial Normal School, winning literary competitions and being considered to be a talented public speaker, she moved to Saint John and became the bride of Edward Atherton Smith, the head of Smith Brokerage Company.

She became involved in the social life of the city as well as becoming a prize winning golfer, curler, and loved cycling. Her life had a very serious side which she used at the outbreak of World War I to form the Royal Standard Chapter of the IODE, raising more than $60,000.  After the war, she took on the task to establish a Tuberculosis Hospital, a nurse’s home for the Saint John General Hospital, the Women’s Canadian Club, first president of the New Brunswick Provincial Council of Women, the Rosebud Day to raise money for the Children’s Aid Society and a Milk Fund for undernourished babies and the list goes on. She was considered to be one of the leading public service volunteers of New Brunswick.

In his 1984 publication, Arthur T. Doyle also reveals information on the life of: Milton Gregg, Edward Barron Chandler, Kenneth Colin Irving, Timothy Warren Anglin, Harrison & Wallace McCain, Charles G. D. Roberts, Josiah Wood, Antonine Maillet, Pierre Armand Landry, Henry Ketchum, Rev. Clement Cormier, Louise Manny, Pascal Poirier, Bliss Carman, Charles Ingraham Gorman, Jabez Bunting Snowball, Margarida Krause, Samuel Hawkins Napier and Hiram A. Cody.

In 1996, Dorothy Dearborn gathered information on twenty-three of New Brunswick’s Unsung Heroes - just very ordinary folk who were ready to help, when they saw the need, with no thought to their own safety.

Eleven year old Eileen Day (Neal) rescued thirteen-year-old Clarence from the waters of Courtenay Bay in 1929.

In 1932, four little boys set out to find the moon at the bottom of a mine shaft in Minto. The youngest was little six-year-old Joe O’Leary who was a tagalong to Cyril Stack, Vernon Stack and Allan Gaudine. When the three older boys fell from the ladder into the shaft, Joe ran a half mile to get help.

Stanley Whitenect and Mrs. Lewis had no thought for their own safety when they rushed into a burning house on McLaughlan Road in East Saint John to rescue two children in 1972.

The details and circumstances are given for the forty persons who received the Medal of Bravery awarded for acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances presented by the Governor General of Canada. 

As we compile our family histories, some of us will find heroes in our family tree who may have not been publicly recognized.

The details we record of school days, occupations, businesses owned,  places of employment, addresses of the buildings called home, and the experiences of family members will give us a better understanding of these people we refer to as relatives or ancestors, whether they were  rich or poor and give them their place as our heroes.

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