For a little town, Clark’s Harbour has, without a doubt, a colourful and storied past, with a history that spans more than a century before its incorporation on March 4, 1919.
Clark’s Harbour resident Donna Nickerson has been creating a trip down memory lane on social media commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1919 incorporation of Clark’s Harbour that paints the scene of a bustling island town, with shops, restaurants and hotels dotting the main thoroughfare, a thriving waterfront with numerous wharves, and place-nicknames like California Hill that inspire the imagination.
For Nickerson, a lifelong resident of Clark’s Harbour, the project is a labour of love.
Using resource materials, including a series of books written by the late Margaret Messenger for the Archelaus Smith Historical Society about Cape Sable Island and Clark’s Harbour, as well as other sources, “I find it so interesting,” she said in an interview.
Nickerson has a keen interest in history and genealogy and says she has always been interested in taking pictures and collecting pictures.
“My grandmother Olive Symonds gave me a Brownie camera when I was 10 years old and I went around taking pictures of everything.”
Her own collection of photos, along with photos from the Archelaus Smith Museum collection and from the personal collection of Rudy (Buster) Link, accompany the fact-based accounts about the town she has been posting since the first of the year.
“What amazed me most was if you look at the first facts to do with the name when it was incorporated in 1919, the town was already 150 years old or so,” she says.
Back then, every community on Cape Sable Island had their own stores and shops.
“There were two or three in South Side, even the Hawk Road had a couple,” says Nickerson.
In town, there were at least eight stores between Swims Point and West Head selling everything from groceries to caskets. In some cases, there were two stores beside each other carrying the same thing, says Nickerson, noting that unless someone had a horse and buggy, walking was the only mode of transportation for the early residents of Cape Sable Island, and if their goods were very heavy, they would be hard to carry very far.
“I find it all so fascinating,” she says.
Swims Point was the location of one of the first wharves in Clark’s Harbour, says Nickerson, but there were also wharves behind the Vimy Block building, which is still standing and now used as a lobster pound, the Kenny Wharf, still in use and expanded, and on the shore behind the F.A. Brannen Memorial Ball Park, which was nicknamed California Hill because of a ship of the same name that had sunk there. Freighters carrying cargo and passengers would berth there, said Nickerson.
“When you used to come to town, there was a couple of hotels, all the shops, restaurants, a lot of stuff,” says Nickerson.
“Cars and the causeway changed things. We’ve got one grocery store in town now. There used to be three garages in town, now there’s one. It’s not going to get any better that I can see,” she says. “People are buying houses and fixing them up, which is good for the town, but as far as businesses, I don’t think it will ever be like years ago.
“The years I grew were the best years,” Nickerson adds. “You didn’t have as much as today, but you still had more.”
Mayor Leigh Stoddart shares Clark’s Harbour memories
While The Hawk is “the motherland” for Clark’s Harbour Mayor Leigh Stoddart, he has spent most of his life living in the island town where he has been mayor for the past 25 years.
“I was probably seven or eight went I first started going to the harbour,” says Mayor Stoddart, with trips to Maggie Owen’s store to buy comic books and candy the highlight.
“When I got older we used to set up pins at the old bowling alley (upstairs in the Vimy Block building). We’d go up in the morning about 10:30 or 11. There were four alleys. If you could get two alleys you would make more money but most of the time you could get one because other people would be there too,” he says. “Back then the pins were set up manually. They’d pay us for setting up the pins, then in the afternoon when the movie started (downstairs), we go give them the money back and go to the movies, so I worked my way into the movies.”
Sometimes setting up the pins was a dangerous job.
“They would bowl at us. We’d get the last pin just about set up and they would start bowling and wouldn’t give us a chance to get back to the backstop and get out of the way. The pins would be flying,” Stoddart says. “I was quite agile back then, but they would bowl on purpose just to see how fast they could make us sca-doodle back to the backstop. One guy did get hit and had to have stiches.”
In his teen years, trips to Clark’s Harbour would include a visit to McGray’s Restaurant, where they had “chicken in the basket.”
“We came from the Hawk Road so we just lavished into that,” recalls Mayor Stoddart, who remembers too the sundaes in the tall glass dish with a cherry on top.
Then there was Ronnie Hatfield’s hardware store, where Santa Claus would visit every year.
“I bought my first gun there, a .410,” Stoddart says. “In those days you could buy the gun and shells, walk home with it and nobody thought anything of it. It was commonplace. Not like today.”
Mayor Stoddart has been living in Clark’s Harbour for 48 years.
“When I first came up here there were four or five fish plants on the waterfront and boat shops. Everybody was always busy down there,” he says. “The waterfront now in the summertime, you can go down there and hear a pin drop.”
But not a bowling pin.
Lots of celebration activities on tap for Clark’s Harbour
While plans are still being finalized, 2019 is shaping up to be quite the 100th-anniversary bash for the Town of Clark’s Harbour.
Special events have been scheduled for basically every month of the year. On March 4, the date of the town’s incorporation, a dinner with special guests and entertainment will be held to commemorate the occasion.
The Nova Scotia Mass Choir will perform at the United Baptist Stone Church tentatively on May 4. On May 24 and 24 the Lighthouse Players will present the Sherry Show, Antics and the Fashions of Bygone days in Clark’s Harbour, at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall.
Also, in the spring, the town will be starting a community garden and has plans to plant a centennial tree.
Without a doubt the town’s annual July 1 celebrations will be pumped up this year. Details of that will come later.
A gospel concert at the F.A Brannen Memorial Ball Park is on tap for July 26 and 27 and, on July 31, a seniors’ tea will mark the start of the Clark’s Harbour School Reunion, which runs until Aug. 4.
Bike racing is also returning to Cape Sable Island and Clark’s Harbour this year with Roadents Competitive Cycling Cape Island Road Race slated for Aug. 19.
On Sept. 14, a family day and pig roast will be held at the ball park, with plans for a fashion show also that month.
October will bring the pumpkin and squash weigh-off, pumpkin people at the haunted house.
The year’s festivities will wrap up with the town’s annual Christmas party, breakfast with Santa and house-decorating contest.
For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/clarksharbourevents/