#9 - WEDGEPORT A HUNDRED YEARS AGO AND BEYOND
Yarmouth Vanguard, February 28, 1989
Captain Hilaire V. Pothier of Wedgeport (1831-1924) was hired in October of 1884 for a whole year by Captain Benjamin Davis of Yarmouth to carry freight to the West Indies in the "Acadia", a brigantine of 241 tons, built in 1875 for Benjamin and Samuel Davis. He left St. John, N.B. on Nov. 22.
Nov. 30, he writes in his log-book that all the members of his crew are strangers, with whom he can have but little conversation. So, as a pastime, he started to write about Wedgeport, its history and its people. It comprises over 100 large portfolios. More than half of his narrative has to do with the pedigree of every family in Wedgeport, starting as far back as he can remember up to the time of his writing, that which is most important for genealogists. He writes a lot on the way of life of the people. His remarks on the different ports in which he was in the West Indies is most interesting. He is down- right against tobacco and liquor; he does not miss an occasion to fulminate harsh words against them. He is much concerned about the death rate in Wedgeport, at a time when tuberculosis of the lungs struck a large number of families.
This precious document, all in French, without a single coma or period from one end to the other, was discovered in the 1940's by Father Louis Surette at the house of Capt. Pothier's daughter, in Yarmouth. It is now stored in the vault of the Bishop's house in Yarmouth. In 1986, I published it, having divided it into 32 chapters, with my comments.
Capt. Pothier begins by telling us what he remembers when he was young. People were living well then, he says. They were not haughty in their way of life or in their garments. Clothes were made at home; they might have been somewhat rustic, but, anyway, they covered well. As winter shoes, there were the moccasins and the caristos (made somewhat like moccasins, except that the hair of the skin had not been removed from the leather). The food might have been coarse at times, but it was nourishing; potatoes and vegetables were plentiful; there was always enough meat and fish. People kept warm with large fireplaces which absorbed all the impure air in the house and renewed it fresh and healthy. But since people have started to install stoves in the houses, the death rate has increased a lot.
Nowadays, people follow all the styles imaginable, good and bad. I do not know where they come from, remarks Capt. Pothier. He says that he travels from one country to another and that there are in Wedgeport some styles that he has never seen anywhere else. Although the boys dress very well. If they wear their hats with the rim pulled down over their eyes or wear their trousers inside their boots, it is, no doubt, to show that they are mariners. The majority of the men in Wedgeport are brave seafarers.
If we compare the shoes of today with those of 40 years ago, says Capt. Pothier, it used to be that the boys would wear shoes made of good, fine leather, the heels being of two or three thicknesses, to which was nailed a thin metal plate to make them last. But now, says Capt. Pothier, some heels are three inches thick, held in place by a pound of nails.
With regard to the girls, I really do not know what to say, remarks Capt. Pothier; their style is still worse. There are the "grecian band" (which was a wide band worn around the waist), the "polonaise" (which was a dress with the skirt divided in front and worn looped back over an elaborate underskirt), the "crinoline" (a kind of hoop skirt), the "hump back", and some kind of rudder that stretches out day by day. They wear their hair on ends or adorned with a toupee. Capt. Pothier remarks that a fashion designer from paris would be surprised if he were to see the styles of Wedgeport.
Nevertheless, Capt. Pothier has many fine words for his native Wedgeport. He says that he has never seen in any other parishes where people work so much; but they are not always adequately renumerated for their work. There are some fathers with a large family who go fishing in the spring; they may earn a hundred dollars or a hundred dollars and a half during a whole season; and they have to provide their family with that. Unless one is captain or second-mate, he only gets about $15 a month or 50 cents a day. With that, he has to give a part of it to the owner of the vessel; and if during the trip he has to buy anything, he will have to pay a third more than he would pay on the mainland. Then he will spend his winters by "amusing" himself by fetching fire-wood or eel-grass. If he still has debts from the previous year, he will manage to crawl in another vessel, but maybe put himself still deeper in debt. Fortunately, those are the exception, and they are not a credit to Wedgeport.
Capt. Hilaire does not encourage young men to build vessels; it is too much of a risk. Some men, instead of going fishing, stay at home and cultivate their land, take care of their cattle and live out of the products of their farm. They do not get rich, but at least they have enough for their family, and especially they keep clear of debts.
All in all, says Capt. Pothier, the Wedgeport people are good people, intelligent, excellent workers; they do work very hard. They are a credit to the community.
I will certainly have the occasion in the future to come back to Capt. Pothier's HISTORIQUE DE SAINT-MICHEL DE WEDGEPORT.