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COMMUNITY PANEL: Cumberland County Museum playing a key role in preserving our history

Community Editorial Panel with Leslie Childs

Guess what happened in Amherst 146 years ago last month?

Downtown Amherst was ravaged by an enormous fire and many merchants suffered staggering losses. Just how I came to know this is just one more reason why I love this part of Canada so much. It’s called synchronicity…a fancy word meaning things happening at the same time but with no obvious connection.

Here’s the story and, I hope, some fascinating facts from yesteryear. I volunteer at the Cumberland County Museum and Archives on Church Street and on Nov. 7, 2019, about two weeks ago, I stumbled on a recently donated artifact: an actual copy of the Amherst Gazette dated Nov. 7, 1872. That’s just seven years after the end of the American Civil War and five years after Confederation. Perhaps more importantly, it was only weeks after the Intercolonial Railway opened its line from Amherst to Truro making it a straight run from Montreal to Halifax. As for the synchronicity, who would imagine that I would find this old paper exactly 146 years to the day it was published.

References to the fire scatter the four large pages of the paper. A little sleuthing found that the fire actually took place on Friday, Oct. 11 and wiped out one side of Victoria Street just opposite the present site of Dayle’s Grand Market. Many local merchants advertised their thanks to local citizens for their efforts helping with the emergency.

E.C. Newberry thanked those “who so kindly helped, at the risk of their lives, to check the fire from catching on my side of the street and to those who lent a hand to carry out goods to places of safety; at the same time I feel grateful to the householders who so willingly allowed their houses to be encumbered with my goods.”

On the same page, B. Douglas, W.M. Sleep, and Wilbert Douglas thanked those “by whose manly efforts, the progress of the flames was stopped.”

I can just imagine the scene especially if it was as cold and blustery as it has been this fall.

A further insight into the fire comes from a notice inserted by B. Douglas and Co. In it, they are asking “customers to voluntarily make immediate payment of account or such amount as you may be able to raise” because their creditors needed to be paid. Interestingly, they did add, “We saved our account books and removed them …to the office occupied by F. W. Bent, Esq., near the ruins.

Another operation called Douglas and Harper posted that they would sell their goods from the fire at auction for cash at the shop of Rogers and Black. It’s not too hard to fill in the “back story” of this tragedy.

And the generosity of the people of Amherst remains the same.

A sidebar here: The Harper mentioned is likely an ancestor of Stephen Harper’s as that family arrived on the Isthmus in 1774 with the Yorkshire settlers.

Now that I have your attention, here are a few more tidbits gleaned from the same paper. I hope you will find them a little more upbeat.

The cost of postage for letters from Canada to Newfoundland rose to six cents on Nov. 1, 1872.

Jas. Richey was looking for a blacksmith. He required a good Journeyman Horseshoer. A young man was preferred and he offered good wages and steady employment.

The railroad was just completed so, “All persons having unpaid railway claims not yet examined for work on sections four and five of the Intercolonial Railway are requested to present to same to subscriber at the railroad office in Amherst on Tuesday, 12th Nov. next which day he will be at Amherst to close up list of claims for same. Signed by C. Schreiber, Agent of Commissions.”

And there’s so much more to know.

Thanks to the work of Cumberland County Museum and Archives, many items have been preserved and so are available to anyone interested. Without these artifacts so much would be lost. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask for your help. Could you volunteer a few hours here and there? We need you to continue this important work. If you can give a little time, simply drop in or contact the museum Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or call them at 902-667-2561.

Leslie Childs is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.

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