Yarmouth----A Half Century or More of Changes
A “down homer’s” recollection of many years past
Written by George White
Coached by Shirley Webb
With the passage of time, there are always going to be changes, some good, some not so good. Yarmouth Town and County have experienced both in many ways I am sure.
As a former resident of the County, I try to return to my roots as often as I can, usually at least once a year. As what I might term being an “outsider”, I have noticed many changes over the past half century or more, unfortunately not all can be listed on the good side of the ledger.
A half century or more ago, one could get to or leave Yarmouth either by trains, busses, airplane or ferries. Today there are none of these modes of transportation serving Yarmouth. Many years past, Yarmouth even had a local bus service extending from one end of Main Street to the other where one could ride for five cents, children free.
The old “Boston” boat that used to arrive in the mornings loaded with American tourists boarding one of the coaches of Dominion Atlantic Railways (DAR) trains that shuttled passengers to Halifax right from the boat dock is no more. Others boarded the CN train to Halifax by way of the South Shore. The tracks for both these trains are removed; nothing more than narrow trails through the countryside remains. Today if one goes down to the old DAR train station, it would not be to board a train but to get a cup of “double double”( today one can still see one of the old DAR coaches sitting at the Museum of Technology in Ottawa). Many brought their fancy cars and they could be seen motoring around Yarmouth most of the summer, leaving their money behind at local hotels, stores, community events like strawberry suppers and I am sure many other places.
Yarmouth was placed back on the tourist map when the MV Bluenose arrived back in the early 1950’s. This provided a fast direct route to Bar Harbour, Maine for all of the tourists to come and go. This ferry plied the Bay of Fundy for many years and carried a lot of passengers and automobiles. It is gone. Following the MV Bluenose service, the MV Scotia Prince ferry plied the waters back and forth to Portland, Maine, again the tourists came but cost was creeping into the tourist trade. That boat is no more. Then Yarmouth was a Port of Entry for a very high-speed ferry (the“Cat”) between Yarmouth and Bar Harbour, Maine. I think with its high speed, it must have missed the harbour entrance toYarmouth, as it is no more.
A half century ago, Yarmouth had a busy airport, once the home to an active RCAF base during WW2. Trans Canada Airlines, later changed to Air Canada had regular flights in and out of Yarmouth with both their Douglas DC-3’s and later their new Viscount aircraft. Today one may see the casual aircraft, other than private aircraft, sitting on the tarmac, no more commercial service in or out of Yarmouth.
Not too many years ago, one could make a trip to Halifax or all points in between on a commercial scheduled bus service. Now I believe that this scheduled service terminates in Digby. Yarmouth lost another transportation service.
With the loss of these mentioned transportation modes, at least now Yarmouth is served with two all-weather controlled access highways leading from or to Halifax. Unfortunately, one does not see many of the tourists that once were abundant around the Town and County. Perhaps it is a sign of the economic hard times. Accommodations are very expensive one finds in Yarmouth, the price of gasoline is among the highest priced in Canada.
Over time there are bound to be many changes to any place when one returns for a visit. Over the past half-century or more, I have noticed many. Gone are the little local one-room schoolhouses where most of us “old timers” received our formal education. Also gone are many, if not all with the exception of one or two, of the local farms that could be found throughout the County. Today many of these farms sit idle. The once productive fields that contained cows and horses have either returned to their wild bush state or sprouted new houses.
A half century ago, Yarmouth enjoyed a semi professional baseball team, the Yarmouth Gateways. They are long gone, being replaced these years by hockey. We lose one, we gain one. As well as the Gateways, there were many community baseball teams that created rivalry between the various communities throughout the County. Times change, they are no more.
Yes, I remember those times back a little over a half a century ago growing up in Yarmouth, the trains, the boats, the airplanes. Riding a bicycle on those narrow dusty country roads, knowing everyone living in the community. Today those winding dusty roads are paved and cars travel them like they are trying to get airborne. The sound of the old steam train whistle and how it was a barometer of the weather systems moving in, no TV weather forecasters back then, matter of fact, no TV!
Many of the younger generation of my time moved away from what we call home. Today these individuals can be found scattered all over the globe, one just has to check one of the Internet web sites of Yarmouth. A lot of us still try to return year after year and it is those of us that do return that notice the many changes to our “home town”. Some we welcome, others we miss. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, I recognize more names in the local “final resting place” than in the local phone book.
I suspect that our hometown is struggling like many other towns around the Country. Unfortunately, not every town has the complete ability to control the events of time. Industries that once flourished in Yarmouth have been boarded up; local fishing industry is on a downward slide. Transportation links and tourist trade is almost non-existent. No one can be blamed for this, it is a sign of the times, things change over half a century.
But fortunately, some things do change for the better. Yarmouth’s Water Street has seen vast improvements over the past half century. Also gone are a lot of the small businesses that used to support the shipping trade of years gone by. Yarmouth has a couple beautiful public parks; Killiam’s Wharf where a visitor can easily view the activities in the harbour and perhaps scratch their head in wonderment as to history of that old rusting ship that has been beached on the far shore of the harbour for many years. Of course Frost Park, directly across the street from the Grand Hotel (both old and new) is still a well-maintained and beautiful spot to relax and view the harbour traffic. It is much rumoured in Yarmouth, and we all believe it as fact, that Meredith Wilson was staying at the Grand Hotel and on Christmas Eve 1951, strolled over to Frost Park, was impressed with the fresh fallen snow on the trees and wrote the famous Christmas song It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Fortunately, The Yarmouth Golf and Country Club located in the south part of town has survived over the past century and is very much utilized to this day.
A half century ago, and even pre-dating that time, the expression “cold beer on ice” was not a dream by those in Yarmouth that indulged. This was because residents were able to buy blocks of ice, sometimes delivered to their home by either horses or oxen. The ice was cut from Lake Milo in the winter and stored during the summer in the old icehouse in Milton. Of course times have changed, not to mention modern refrigeration in every home, and the icehouse is long ago history, lands replaced with modern apartment buildings where residents can watch the wild ducks swimming in the small bay or holding up traffic as they slowly make their way across the highway numerous times a day.
I remember as a young lad venturing into town from the country on a bicycle on a Saturday night, the big shopping time of the week. This event was later changed to Friday nights. Back in those days, one would have to drive up and down Main Street numerous times just to find a choice parking spot where one could sit in their car and “admire” the passing pedestrians. There was very little traffic on Main Street during Wednesday afternoon because at that time, most of the retail stores were closed for the half-day. Move ahead half a century and now Main Street shopping has been transferred out to Starrs Road where one can find all the major big box stores, countless car dealerships and fast food outlets overtaking the large farms that used to be there. Back in my youthful days in Yarmouth, Starrs Road was a good road to test one’s car for top speed. Today, fortunately, a different generation, perhaps with better judgement, this activity is almost impossible. Starrs Road leads one to both the two all-weather highways out of Yarmouth to Halifax.
A half century ago, give or take a few years, how many can remember the blacksmith shop up in Milton, a place where farmers took their draft animals to get new shoes? The blacksmith of the day later worked at the Upper Canada Village, a replica of a pioneer village on the St. Lawrence River, located between Morrisburg and Cornwall Ontario, part of Parks Canada National park system. Today there are probably very few that even know that teams of horses and oxen worked the many farms in Yarmouth County. And of course speaking of oxen, probably the “old timers” can remember those performances of “Chester” with his team doing the ox pulls at the local exhibition grounds. I bet there are people living in Yarmouth today that have never seen a team of oxen working. A changing of the times!
A half century ago, the many dairy farmers used to deliver their milk or cream in large metal cans to one of two local milk processing plants, one at the corner of Dayton and Pond Road and the other large one at the corner of Vancouver Street and Main. Both are now gone. The statue of the horse and large water basin, referred by many as the “horse fountain” used in many years past to provide refreshments for the horses and oxen that carried the goods to and from town still stands at the foot of Vancouver Street, a landmark for visitors I am sure. Unfortunately, a similar “horse fountain” that was once located in the south end of town has long been “put out to pasture”, never to be seen again.
One could wonder how many today can remember the dances held every Saturday night at the Milo Boat Club, a very active place back a half-century or more? Perhaps most of the people arrived at the dance by way of the local bus service. Those dances were very popular with the younger generation of the day but sometimes the activity spilled out onto the street after closing time much to the annoyance of the local residents. However, I very much doubt that one would have heard the loud rock music that seems to be the music (read noise) of choice at dances today. But that is my personal feeling.
During the past century, a lot of old things have gone by the wayside, new things have happened. A new jail has been constructed; a new high school is being built to replace the old Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School (YCMHS) that for half a century was located on Parade Street, the old Hebron Consolidated school building, torn down and replaced with a modern day “palace”, the Municipal administration building. The Milton as well as South End schools of course are history. The new fire hall replaced the old central firehouse that used to sound a loud horn to call all the volunteer firefighters to duty if there was a fire. Who can remember the signals, one long blast for out of town, a series of long and short, something like Morse Code, for different in town locations? Back in those days Yarmouth Town even had its own police force. Times change.
Some things have remained the same though. Yarmouth still has its CJLS radio station that can be heard around the globe on Internet, a connection to “home” for the many former residents. On a clear fog-free day, there are places in Yarmouth that one can stand on high ground and see the tip of Briar Island or miles out to sea. Perhaps when in season, drive the many roads lined with beautiful lupine flowers, the many beautiful lakes and rivers that make up the County. The Yarmouth Light house is still located at Cape Forchu, functional but now a museum of sorts. People still stand on the rocks there and watch the power of the sea during storms in spite of the dangers. Those dangerous activities have never seemed to change over the past half century.
There is still one thing that has never changed in Yarmouth, though I suspect many would like to find the formula to do such. Certain times of the year, the fog rolls in off the Bay of Fundy. Usually “burns off” around 3 PM each afternoon, only to have the cycle repeated again at 4 PM. Maybe there are still some tourists lurking around, we just can’t see them.
Even though many former residents no longer live in Yarmouth, they still proudly proclaim it their home, this in spite of all the changes, good or bad, in the past half-century or more. There is just one thing us “down homers” would ask the people of Yarmouth to do, that is to kindly replace all those old tattered and torn flags we see when returning home on our yearly visits with new ones and please fly them in the correct manner.
One wonders what the next half-century or more will be like for Yarmouth.