Discovering a community’s shared history

Bobbie-Lynn Hall
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Local residents Royce Hefler, Hilda Baker and Roy Davis in Sackville on Aug. 22. The three had fun reminiscing about skating on a pond where a new Lawton's now stands on Sackville Drive. (Bobbie-Lynn Hall)

John Giannakos wanted to find out the history behind the building that houses Hellas, his family owned restaurant in Lower Sackville. He had a copy of the original deed dated 1922 but he wanted to know more.

Where did the lumber come from? Who hammered the nails?

Ultimately he found out that many people built it. It came from local business owners and carpenters, members of founding families who also built some of the most recognizable and memorable landmarks in his community.

His interests in the building’s history ultimately lead to an interest in other buildings, and the stories behind community landmarks.

He found out about the Heflers’, the Davis’, the Shultzs’, the Livelys’ and so many others. They’re names you see on business fronts, trucks and street signs, dedicated parks and trails - the names you see on so many of the tombstones in the local cemeteries. These are the people who built Sackville.

“I’ve talked to a dozen descendants of founding families from the early 1900s,” explains Giannakos. “I have more than 20 hours of audio from people in their 80s and 90s, all with stories of their own.”

Through personal accounts, he learned more than just the names of who built the landmarks, He learned about the people, and brought life to them through personal accounts from the people who were there.

“They remember the building of Acadia Hall and the school,” says Giannakos. “They skated on the pond where the Lawton’s is now, and fished in the Sackville River when it was full of salmon.”

Fishing in the river. What a perfect introduction to the history of Sackville.

“You could take your pitch fork and pull out however many you wanted,” says 88-year-old Roy Davis with a smile, “We did it all the time.”

Davis, who comes from a well-known family in Lower Sackville, remembers working hard on the farm and driving trucks for his late brother, Owen Davis.

“We had fun at night though,” he says. “We would meet up with our friends...the girls. At Acadia Hall.”

Giannakos also spoke with Royce Hefler, 92. Hefler’s family’s sawmill was opened in 1850. Royce took it over in 1945, and it thrives today.

“We sawed lumber for pretty near every house around here,” he says. “Back then, there was no place to buy lumber. You had to go to the sawmill. I’d be busy and people would just come in and tell me what they needed. I’d tell them to take what they wanted from the pile, bring the rest back and pay me when you can.”

Hilda Davis Baker, 86, watched the land where she grew up change dramatically over the years. First a family farm, the land transformed into the Sackville Downs, and then Downsview Mall. She also remembers the drive-in across Sackville Drive, where the Superstore now stands.

“Tuesday night was one dollar for a car load,” she remembers.

Although he had read about places like the skating ponds and rivers and the Bomber Canteen, through the voices of his new friends, Giannakos has learned how it felt to be there.

“Sackville’s history goes back 250 years and there are so many stories here,” he says. “First I want to publish my conversations online, so people can read the story and hear the sound bites from my interviews with these amazing people. And then where it goes from there? Who knows?”


Geographic location: Lower Sackville, Sackville River, Sackville Drive

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Recent comments

  • Audrey Murray
    September 07, 2013 - 20:45

    My mother, Hilda Baker and my Uncle ,Roy Davis are 2 of the most interesting people to talk to when it comes to life in Sackville from the 1920's on 'til today. I could listen to the stories forever. Thank you Mr . Giannokanos, for seeking out their memories and giving them another one with you !.

  • natalie
    September 04, 2013 - 15:08

    Fantastic history