When the ocean was the wide open road

Rose Willigar bworks@amherstdaily.com
Published on July 23, 2008

PORT GREVILLE: Shipbuilding in Spencer's Island was the topic David Stanley presented to those in attendance at the Age of Sail Museum in Port Greville on July 18, in a presentation aptly titled "Who moved the highway?"
Stanley, who hopes to have his Masters in 19th Century History from Dalhousie University, completed his BA in 2007 and awarded the History Medal which his undergraduate thesis focused on Captain Dewis and Emma Spicer of Spencer's Island.
According to Stanley's research, which included diaries and correspondence that had been preserved over the years and donated to Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Emma Parsons and Dewis Spicer were childhood sweethearts who wrote poetry to each other and married in 1879; a marriage that was sustained for over 60 years which included long periods apart the first 20 years of the marriage when Dewis was at sea. There were times when Emma along with their children went to sea with Dewis.
Along with the married life of the Spicer's, Stanley's research includes the hub of activity in the Bay of Fundy and the Minas Basin prior to World War I and following the war.
"Communities around the Basin formed in two main waves in the 18th Century: planters and loyalists. Coastal businesses were linked by the sea "highways." Shipbuilding, vessel ownership and seafaring became major economic activities. For many of north Minas Basin's young men, seafaring was a better option than farming. The opportunity arose simply because they grew up by the sea," Stanley said.
"These waterways were thriving with activity in the 19th Century with trade. In this network Boston and New York were more accessible than Halifax. There were vessels built to engage in this trade, along the East American coast and trans-Atlantic," Stanley said.
Stanley, born and raised in Eastbourne New Zealand across the harbour from the capital city of Wellington had his interest peaked in the seafaring industry in 2002 when he learned of a great great grandfather who worked aboard sail vessels traversing Atlantic.
The historian's research efforts to date include; The Spicer life, a Maritime Marriage during Age of Sail: Captain Dewis Spicer and Emma Spicer of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia (undergraduate thesis 2007).
Families and Frivolity on the Quarterdeck: Maritime Canadian families in port during the latter decades of the nineteenth century (conference presentation).
The Atlantic Canada Shipping Project: Its contribution to maritime historiography and continuing legacy (research paper 2008).
The Spencer's Island Company, 1880 - 1895: a case study in Maritime Entrepreneurial success. (Current Masters Thesis being undertaken with the assistance of an Izaac Walton Killam Trust pre-doctoral scholarship).
Stanley said the best sources of history are; correspondence, diaries, newspaper clippings and other papers.
"People's thoughts are important to understanding the past and physical structures and artifacts. They are potential sources for written histories, historical novels and media productions," Stanley said.
"Who Moved The Highway," presentation was the kickoff to the Age of Sail Museum's Festival Weekend, which also included a Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre at the Port Greville Fire Hall and a Strawberry brunch at the Porthole CafÉ at the Age of Sail Centre.