Excerpt from “Hemmingford Then and Now”

 

published 1985, by Alister Somerville

 

 

page 165

 

Henry Alister Darby Somerville

 

It was on May 25, 1909 that Henry Alister Darby Somerville

first saw the light of a Hemmingford day when he was born in the

Scriver Block at the main intersection in the village.  It is

somehow appropriate that he was born at this location, for he

has spent a lifetime at the centre of things in his native

village, occupying such varied offices as Mayor of the Village

and of the Township, Chairman of the School Board, and playing

a leading role in a very wide variety of community organizations

and businesses.  As a Member of the Provincial Parliament he

was able to wield considerable influence upon his community's

development, striving with skill and selflessness for the good

of his native village and his widespread constituency.  His years

of meritorious service to the community leave no doubt in the

minds of the editors of this work that he deserves the title of

"Mr. Hemmingford", for he has served his fellow-citizens with

efficiency and faithfulness.

 

But we must let "Mr. Hemmingford" tell the story in his

own words, for no one can tell it better than he....

 

On the 25th of May, 1909, I was born in the Scriver Block

in the apartment over what was then the Keddy and Kenney General

Store and the Eastern Townships Bank.  My parents were Alice

Munro Somerville (nee Darby) and Philip Henry Moore Somerville,

who was Manager of the bank.  My mother was attended by Dr.

Walter de Mouilpied, who practised in Hemmingford for many years.

Very unfortunately, my mother died two or three weeks after my

birth.  Mrs. William Robertson, the widow of the Presbyterian

minister, assumed the responsibilities of housekeeper and moved

in with her daughters, Maud and Annie.

 

With our departure the Scriver Block was left empty because

the store had been closed when Mr. Kenney died.  When I was about

four, we moved to the West Street, now 470 Champlain Avenue West,

and Mrs. Robertson continued as housekeeper.  Maud was then

working in Montreal, but she came home every weekend by train.

How eagerly I awaited her return every Friday;  She never failed

to bring me a present.  Her sister Annie was by then a student of

nursing in Boston.

 

I have very pleasant memories of those early childhood days

in which Mrs. Robertson played a very prominent role.  Not least

of these was the Saturday night baths.  The wash tub was set up

in the warm kitchen, and water from the cistern was poured in

from the containers in which it had been heated on the stove.

In winter, the cistern went dry and snow had to be brought in

and melted - not only for weekly baths, but also for other

household purposes.  How times have changed;

 

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I remember too that there were no butcher shops in the village

when I was a child.  But there was "Butcher Woods" who made weekly

rounds with his horse and cart.  When Mrs. Robertson saw him

coming, she would invariably say, "Here comes Butcher Woods with

his tough meat".  Mrs. Robertson - she was always 'Nana' to me -

then went to the door to tell him that she wanted no more of his

tough meat.  Butcher Woods' response was always the same: "But,

Mrs. Robertson, I have something special for you today.  I put

it under the front seat especially for you.  It is very tender,

and I guarantee it".  He then pushed up the seat and proudly held

up a roast of beef.  "Just for you;" he proclaimed breathlessly.

Nana never failed to be impressed by his thoughtfulness, and replied,

"Well, if you are sure it is good, I'll take it."  When the butcher

saw that she was inside, he opened the back door of his cart,

took out another piece of meat and put it under the front seat

for the next customer.

 

In the early 1900's there were heavier snowfalls than there

are-now, it seems.  Drifts five or six feet deep were commonplace,

and they provided a fine ventureland for small boys who were too

young to go to school but big enough to explore snowy landscapes;

 

One day when I was out on a wintry expedition the thought came

to me that I should dig a well at the summit of a snow-mountain

that I had scaled.  I got my shovel and started to dig.  After a

while I looked up from my four-foot-deep well and all I could

see was the sky.  It was beginning to get dark and I was tired,

so I decided that I had done enough for one day.  I threw my shovel

out and tried to climb out.  My feet slipped each time I tried

to get a foothold on the sides of the well.  I was making no

headway at all, and I started to panic as the sky grew darker.

I was sure I would have to spend the night there, so I began to

shout.  After what seemed an eternity my father came to my rescue

and pulled me out.  That was the last snow well that I ever dug.

 

There is no more fascinating place for young boys to hang

out than the village blacksmith shop.  Romain Priest, Harvey

Cameron, Roy and Ralph Kennedy, Roland Laplante & Lester Simpson often

went with me to Roy McCanse's establishment just across the street

from my home.  It was great fun to stand in the doorway and watch

him shoe the horses.  When the red-hot shoe came out of the forge,

Roy would be holding it in a pair of tongs, and we would start

up our little chant, "Fitz McCanse crapped in his pants" so that

the blacksmith would chase us.  We used to scamper gleefully

away, only to return when we figured that it was about time for

another shoe to emerge from the forge.  Our rude little chant

would once again bring the "angry" blacksmith after us.

 

In the early days there were only a few cars in Hemmingford,

and they were without exception Model-T Fords.  The tires on

these cars' wheels were not very good, so my father always put

his car up on jacks when he put the car in the garage in order

to take the weight off the tires.  Father had had Mr. George

Lawnsbury make these "horses" that could be slipped easily under

each side of the two axles.  It was great fun for us youngsters

to spin the wheels and watch them go around.  One day while doing

this I put my finger in the hub of the wheel and it went through

the speedometer gears.  The doctor had to mend a broken finger;

 

No more spinning wheels;

 

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When I was about five years old I contracted Scarlet Fever.

After Dr. de Mouilpied's diagnosis, the house was quarantined and

my father had to move out. If that wasn't enough, Nana had an

attack of gallstones the next day. She had a baking of bread

underway, so one of the neighbours, Mrs. James McDowell, came

to get the bread and finished baking it in her own oven. Molly

Scriver, R.N., moved in to take care of Nana and me. Sheets

were hung over the doors of our bedrooms and soaked in disinfec-

tant two or three times a day. My father asked me what I would

like to amuse me while I was in bed. I said that I would like

a flashlight, which was very new in those days. It was fun

to play with this new gadget as I lay in bed.

 

Molly brought me all my meals as I was not permitted to

leave the bedroom. One morning she brought me, as usual, toast

and a boiled egg. I idly wondered what the egg would taste

like with sugar on it. So on went the sugar. What a horrible

taste; When Molly came for my tray, she wondered why I hadn't

eaten the egg. When I told her what I had done, I received a

thorough scolding. I didn't try that experiment again;

 

I mentioned Mrs. McDowell who rescued the baking of bread

when Nana fell ill. She and her husband were good neighbours

and wonderful people. Mr. McDowell had been a carpenter, but

he lost his sight in his later years, and went about the village

with a cane made from an old umbrella with the ribs and covering

removed. As he grew older he realized that he and his Mary would

one day require coffins, so he decided that he would make them

himself, despite his blindness. He ran a wire from his house

to the barn in which he had a little workshop. The wire guided

him between the buildings. Back and forth he went each day

until he had the coffins built. Mary lined them with cloth and

covered the outside with a black material. He affixed a metal

name-plate to each lid, and set the coffins aside. He took me

to see them, and I was amazed that a sightless person could do

such a good job.

 

It was customary in those days that a beginner at school

should go for a few days in the spring so that the shock of

starting to school in the fall would not be as great. I cele-

brated my sixth birthday on May 25, 1915» and a few days later

off I went to my initiation. How well I remember that first

day; When I got to school that first morning, I said to the

teacher, Sadie Cleland, that my stomach did not feel too good.

She told me that I could go home if I wished. My home was just

up the street from the school so I did not take many minutes to

scamper back to the safety of the familiar: The next day it was

a toothache, and I was told I could go home. The third day,

it was my arm that bothered me, so back I went again; The

fourth day it was something else, and I again left the school.

On my way home I stopped at the bank where my father was manager,

and he asked me what was wrong this time. I told him I was sick,

but he took me by the hand and trotted me back to the school and

asked the teacher to keep me there. Thereafter, I attended

regularly;

 

The school that I went to in those early years was the

first one to be built on the site that has been occupied through-

 

168

 

out this century by the Protestant schools of Hemmingford.

There was a wood stove on each of the two floors of the school,

and it was the task of one of the boys to shake the fire up when

it got low, and to add more wood.  If the fire was very low,

he poured on some kerosene from a can that sat nearby.  One

day at noon, I noticed that the fire was low, so I poured on a

generous dose of kerosene.  The stove did not blow up, but

there was a very loud bang that brought everyone running,

including Miss Cleland who was my teacher during those early

years.  During the afternoon recess she told me that the principal,

Mr. Sawyer, wished to see me upstairs in his classroom.  I knew

that the principal was a strict disciplinarian, so I shook pretty

noticeably as I climbed the stairs, quite convinced that I was

about to receive a strapping.  He lectured me on the dangers of

putting kerosene on fires, but he did not strap me.  I assured

him that I would never do it again, and scampered down to my

own classroom feeling much better than when I went up'.  I never

forgot the episode, however.

 

During my days in the old school plans were made to build

a more modern structure.  So for a short time, I went to school

in temporary quarters while the new building was under construct-

ion.  The old school was sold to George Keddy who moved the

building across the street and made two apartments of it.  In

1918-19 grades eight, nine and ten were housed in the Sunday

School room of the Methodist Church (now St. Andrew's United),

and grades one to seven occupied the town hall, where Miss May

Bennett and Miss Pearl Cleland held forth in the large upstairs

hall.  When the new school was completed, we returned to classes

there, quite excited to be in shining new quarters.  Grades one

to four were in one of the two downstairs rooms, and grades five,

six and seven were in the other.  Upstairs was the large room

in which grades eight, nine and ten were taught.  I am sure that

Miss Cleland and Miss Bennett must have been relieved to have

their own classrooms.  As I was in grade five when we moved into

the new school, I looked forward to the day when I would be in

the "big kids' room" upstairs.  Other teachers who taught in the

new school in those first years of its existence included Miss

Bertha Callaghan; Mr. Biard, who came from the Gaspe; and Mrs.

Margaret Lindsay, a lady from Ormstown.

 

At that time there were at least five rural schools operating

in the area.  Those students who were successful in completing

grade six in those schools came to Hemmingford School to complete

their education.  Those of us who were village natives considered

ourselves much superior to our country classmates, and we were

not reluctant to indulge in a little hazing from time to time,

a practice that our teachers frowned upon.

 

Mrs. Lindsay began to teach during the course of one schol-

astic year, replacing Mr. Biard who was ill.  How well I remember

her first day in our school;  Mrs. Lindsay was to journey by

train to Hemmingford that first morning.  We listened for the

train's whistle, and a few minutes later Bill Hawkins rang the

school bell loud and long.  Mrs. Lindsay's first words upon

entering the classroom were "Who rang that bell?"  No one uttered

a word.  "Well, you will all stay here until I find out," said

the new teacher.  Time went on.  Recess.  Noon hour.  Not a word.

 

169

 

Finally, Bill admitted that he had rung the bell.  "I thought I

would welcome you to school," he explained lamely.  "That is

not the welcome I wanted," rejoined Mrs. Lindsay.  "Come here."

Out came the strap, and Bill got a licking on both hands.

 

All through those years in Hemmingford School my major

competition came from Martha Simpson.  We always vied for each

other to see who would come first in our grade.  It must be re-

corded that Martha was usually successful;  After graduating in

1926, I applied to Huntingdon High School for the next term,

along with Ruby Hayes, and - guess who - Martha Simpson.  All

three of us were accepted, and we had a good eleventh year in

Huntingdon High under the tutelage of Mr. J.B. MacMillan, the

Principal; Mr. Clifton Hall, French Specialist; and Mr. Leslie

Rennie, teacher of Advanced Mathematics.  It was a proud moment

for all of us when we received our Junior Matriculation in 1927.

 

I should like now to go back a decade to 1917, because it

was in that year that important changes occurred in the Somerville

family.  My father and I had been living on the West Street with

Mrs, Robertson, my beloved Nana, as our housekeeper.  Her daughter

Maud was working in Montreal, and came home every weekend.  Un-

known to me, it was decided that Nana should move to Montreal

to live in a flat with Maud.  My father was to marry Mrs. Kenney,

and we would move to her home which was close to the school.

One day my father told me that he would be away for a day or two.

I went out to play with some of my friends, one of whom remarked,

"Wouldn't it be nice if your father married Mrs. Kenney," to

which I responded, "Yes, it would."  All the youngsters like her

because she was always nice to all of us, giving us cookies and

other goodies.  In a couple of days, my father returned with his

new bride, and I was very pleased.  I was a little sad and lonely,

however, because I missed Nana who had cared for me for eight

wonderful years.

 

That fall we moved into Mother's home where we were very

comfortable.  My new mother was very loving and kind, and she

took excellent care of me.  I was closer to the school, but my

father had a little farther to walk to the bank.

 

After obtaining my Junior Matriculation in 1927, I was

accepted in the Bachelor of Science programme at McGill University,

a programme for which I was ill prepared as I had never been in

a Chemistry laboratory before, most rural high schools at that

time not being well equipped to teach the sciences.  (I feel that

the CEGEPs - the Colleges d'Enseignement General et Professionnel -

of the present era are a great boon to students of the 1980's

who are preparing for university studies, and wish that such

facilities had been available in my day.)  After struggling with

these studies for some time, I withdrew from the programme and

undertook motor mechanics and welding courses at the Montreal

Technical School.  I got along fine in these courses.

 

The Great Depression was underway by this time, and it was

very difficult for young fellows like myself to find employment.

I attempted to sell radios for the St. Henri Syndicate, but,

while people wanted very much to buy this new-fangled gadget,

they simply did not have the money to do so.  So in 1930 I re-

turned to Hemmingford and worked in Millar's garage and also in

McNaughton's.  I sold and installed radios for Harold McNaughton

 

170

 

for a time.  In the summer time I worked for Mr. T.G. McClatchie

clerking in the hardware store and setting up all manner of

farm machinery - hay rakes, mowers, hay loaders, ploughs and

corn binders.  I enjoyed working with this machinery, fresh and

clean from the factory.

 

The first car that I bought was a second-hand 1913 Model-T

Ford for which I paid - on the instalment plan; - the grand sum

of fifty dollars.  How well I remember one of the jaunts that

some of my friends and I took in that old car;  Walter Keddy,

his fiancee, Helen Duquette, Lillian Merlin and I set out for

Caughnawaga.  Everything went well until we were about half-way

home.  A tire blew out and it took quite a while to repair it.

Farther along, another blow-out occurred, so more time was lost.

We proved the old adage about things happening in threes, because

we had a third blow-out near Barrington - within five miles of

Hemmingford.  We were in a bit of a fix, because we had no patches

left.  There was no choice but to drive the remaining distance

on the rim of the wheel, arriving home at the same time as the

morning sun;

 

A year or two later my step-mother bought me a remodelled

Ford that had been made into a racer.  In this car we travelled

to school in Huntingdon.  This vehicle was not equipped with mud

guards, so we looked as if we had been ditch-digging when we

reached our destination after driving over the yet-unpaved roads.

 

But those were not the first cars that I remember.  Elsewhere

there is a record of my memories of Dr. Walter de Mouilpied's cars,

I also recall the first car that my father owned - one that he

bought when I was five or six years old.  One day I went with

him to Huntingdon, and we had an uneventful trip as we drove

along the bumpy country roads.  After my father had completed his

tasks, we had some supper and headed for home on the old Fifty-

Two Highway.  The motor was not running smoothly - the car would

go a short distance and splutter to a stop.  Minutes later, it

would revive itself a little, and go for a short distance before

once again subsiding into inactivity.  It was about ten o'clock

in the evening that we arrived at Stockwell, between Franklin

Centre and Havelock.  And that was that;  Not one inch farther

would it budge.  My father left me in the car when he started up

a driveway to a large brick house - the one in which Miss Eleanor

Carson lives now - but the darkness soon got the better of me

and I ran after him, catching up with him as quickly as frightened

legs could carry me.  We knocked on the door.  No answer.  We

knocked again.  Still no answer.  After we knocked again, a voice

shouted from upstairs, "Who are you?  What do you want?"  Father

explained that his name was Somerville, that he was from Hemmingford,

and that he was having car trouble.  "I must get home, and it's

much too far to walk.  I have the combination to the vault of

the bank of which I am manager, and they won't be able to open

up till I get there."

 

"Well," said the man, "I'm not taking you home.  Those

damn cars, they frighten my horses all the time.  You can damn

well walk home."

 

When Father explained once again about the bank, the fellow

said he would come down and see.  He said, "You told me who you

were, but I ain't sure, and I don't know you so I'm not taking

any chances.......

 

 

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