By: Fr. Clarence Thibeau
CHAPTER l. : SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN AND EARLY ACADIANS EARLIEST CATHOLICS
The pioneer Catholics of Shelburne (Town and County) were none other than the pioneers of Nova Scotia, and, if fact, of Canada itself: Samuel de Champlain and a number of persons in the expedition with him. Champlain , a cartographer, accompanied Sieur de Monts on his first voyage (1604) taking depth soundings and drawing maps of the Western end of the Province. Champlain, and some others , including a missionary priest, were Catholics, whereas de Monts and others were French Huguenots.
They anchored in the Liverpool area, where they encountered a French merchant trading with the aborigines. It seems that after Jacques Cartier’s visit to Gaspe, in 1534, French merchants occasionally crossed the Atlantic to trade for furs, fish and fish oil, but without any intention to colonize.
Proceeding westward, they stopped at a point of land now known as Port LaTour, on the East side of Barrington Bay. This landing, lasting a month, would become the first of many , in those early days, as it became the location of a fort and settlement by later explorers. It is also important , for the purpose of this book, because historians report that the priest celebrated likely the first Catholic Mass in Nova Scotia, “ on a large flat rock”. Although a permanent settlement was not established at that time, it became a regular stopping off spot for the comings and goings of settlers to Annapolis and St. Croix, New Brunswick, which places were explored by de Monts and Champlain, after leaving the South Shore of Nova Scotia. This establishes the fact that the development of Shelburne began in the Western part of the County. Champlain’s next trip brought him to Quebec.
Some six years after Champlain’s stop-over at Port LaTour, Sieur de Pourtrincourt, who had accompanied him in 1604, headed a new expedition to this land, named l’Acadie, accompanied by the father and son team of Claude and Charles de la Tour. The exploits of these two men, over the next sixty years ( 1610 -1670), through bravery and intrigue, played a pronounced role in the development of Port LaTour, and, in fact, of l’Acadie. That’s another story, and well documented by historians. It’s mentioned here as a reminder that their adventures affected the development of Western Sheburne County.
Monsieur Denys, Royal Governor of l’Acadie, kept a diary of his visit to Port LaTour in 1674, in which he describes the LaTours’ well furnished home there. He records the meeting of the Recollet priest who proudly displayed his garden and orchard of familiar vegetables and fruit (Page 37, Barrington Township by Edwin Crowell).
MEANWHILE IN EUROPE
It must not be overlooked, that, during this time, the French were colonizing Eastern Canada whilst the British were doing likewise along the American coast, from Virginia to Massachusetts,
and, in Europe, France and Britain were repeatedly at war. The winners in Europe usually claimed ownership of l’Acadie, resulting in the early settlers being obliged to change allegiance several times, alternately British or French subjects.
d’ENTREMONTS AT BARRINGTON
In 1651, King Henry of France appointed the aforementioned Charles LaTour, Governor of all Acadie, who then convinced a French Major General by the name of Sieur Phillippe Muis, to accompany him to Acadie with the title of Baron d’Entremont responsible for all the territory from Cape Forchu (Yarmouth) to Port LaTour. The latter set up a setlement at Pombcoup (Pubnico) which gradually grew into a sizeable village. The patriarch Phillippe died in Pombcoup in 1701.
The reason for mentioning the d’Entremonts, in this “Pioneer Catholics of Shelburne”, is the fact that , overtime, the Pubnico settlers, mostly fishermen, began the practice , each summer, of camping on the edge of Barrington Bay, so as to be nearer to the better fishing grounds. On good terms with the natives, trading for furs, they began shipping fish, fish oil and furs to the growing settlements in the Massachusetts area. In fact, relations with the New Englanders became very cordial.
In 1713, just twelve years after the death of Phillippe Muis, Baron d’Entremont, the entire territory was ceded to the British at the Treaty of Utrecht. The French , however, retained , until 1758,
a fort at Louisbourg ( Cape Breton) and at Quebec. The British then established a military citadel on the edge of Halifax Harbour, primarily as a naval station and trading port.
PERIOD OF PEACE
During the next forty years, the Acadians from Pombcoup (Pubnico) remained unmolested during their annual, summertime treks to the Barrington area, building chalets and shelters to house their dried fish and furs, which were regularly traded with American merchants.
By the early 1750s, the Halifax Governor Lawrence insisted that these Acadians take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown, as a security measure in the event of another war against France.
Aware of the frequent changing of hands of their territory in the past, the Acadians declared themselves neutral, wishing only to remain aloof of those struggles.
The Governor insisted, and, on the night of April 21st, 1756, Captain Prebble, returning with his military contingent from Halifax to Boston, surprised the sleeping Acadians at the Barrington area, took 72 men, women and children as prisoners, burned their buildings, and transported them to Boston. Thus came to a close, 150 years of Catholic presence, in the Barrington area.
Historians record that a Reverend Father Jean Baptiste Des Enclaves, who had escaped through the woods to Pubnico, from the Grand Pre deportation, a year earlier, was with the Acadians that night, and was again able to escape and return to Pubnico , alerting those at the settlement. Forewarned, a number of the Pubnico settlers vacated their residences, and constructed crude shelters deep in the forests, so, a year later, fewer of the remnant Acadians were expelled to Boston.
VACATED LANDS OCCUPIED.
Acting quickly to have the vacated Barrington properties re-settled, Governor Lawrence offered these lands to New Englanders, erecting , in the process, the Township of Barrington. The first settlers arrived in 1761, mostly from Nuntucket ( Quakers) and Cape Cod (Puritans), fishermen who had previously fished off the coast of Barrington.
The Barrington name, by the way, came from that of Lord Barrington, a member of the King’s Privy Council.
It’s also to be noted that the deported Acadians had managed to return, unmolested, to their properties in Pubnico by 1762, hardly five years after the Deportation.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Relations between Nova Scotia and the New England settlers were very cordial, all being British subjects, but, by 1765, England, needing money to pay its war debts, imposed , then repealed, an abhorrent Stamp Act on the American Colonies. Struggling to develop their new lands, the Americans were in no mood to pay for European wars, so displeasure with the mother country increased, resulting in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and the American Revolution, which lasted ten years. Governor Lawrence of Halifax died during this period, in 1776
As the revolution finally ended in favor of those calling for independence, the many other Britishers wishing to remain with the Crown, found themselves being harassed, if not, threatened. They chose to move to the British Colonies to the North, primarily Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario.
The Quakers in Barrington, however, chose to return to Nuntucket, reducing the size of that community, and leaving a number of vacant houses.
SHELBURNE: LOYALIST TOWN
Prior to 1783, there had been a small trading post near the mouth of Shelburne Harbour, but, by the Fall of that year, some ten thousand Loyalists arrived with whatever goods they were able to secure from their abandoned homes in the American Colonies. By order of the Governor of Halifax, the inner part of the Shelburne Harbour had been surveyed and plans laid out for twenty thousand settlers, which would make it the largest community in the Province.
The settlers, in Barrington, which, to that point, had boasted of being the largest community in the County, reported seeing convoys of heavily-loaded ships sailing by their Port, during 1783, on their way to Shelburne, with the prospect of making it the largest settlement
That Winter, in Shelburne, turned out to be an extremely cold one, especially for the poorly-sheltered Loyalists, who also feared reprisals from the Americans. It seems that the American States had considered invading Nova Scotia, but cooler heads reasoned that their tired militias were ill prepared to continue fighting, and then, if winners, to provide a long-term occupation force. They settled for a period of pirating along the coast. Fearing retaliation, however, the majority of the Loyalists found their way to Halifax, for protection, by the strong military presence there. Most settled, and, Halifax quickly became the largest settlement in the Province, as well as the Capital. An added benefit to Halifax, was the fact that the majority of the Loyalists were “people of wealth, education, official rank and professional standing”.
At one point, there actually were three thousand houses, in Shelburne, housing thirteen thousand people, located on 45 streets. To this day, people wishing to build on the outskirts of the Town, must first check with the original map, in the Town Hall, so as not to encroach on the originally-planned roadways.
CHAPTER II : JOSEPH AND ANN DEVINE
CATHOLICS FROM IRELAND
The Catholic presence in the Town of Shelburne seems to have originated in 1828 with the arrival of a staunch Catholic young man of 25, from Ireland, a Joseph Devine, with is wife Ann. He established a successful tavern on the ground floor of a building on Dock Street, Shelburne, with his family living-quarters on the second floor. The house is now listed as a heritage building.
A coroner’s report, of that time, urged him to keep a weary eye on his departing clients, especially if they appeared to be unsteady on their feet. This notice came as the result of two inebriated sailors leaving the tavern, and accidentally falling into the nearby harbour, and drowning.
Eventually, Joseph changed careers, because in the census of 1881, he was registered as a bricklayer and plasterer, a trade later followed by a highly respected grandson, Edward Louis Devine, whose wife Edith and daughter Genevieve were well acquainted with the present writer, but more about these later.
Joseph and Ann Devine had nine children as follows: John (born 1828), Lydia Ann (1831), Ann ( 1834) Elizabeth ( 1835), Theresa ( 1836), Joseph ( 1839), Theresa ( 1841), Mathew (1846), William ( 1847).
This being the earliest Catholic family in the area, there obviously would be little hope of marrying spouses of the same faith in Shelburne. In spite of being Catholics in a non-Catholic community, the Devines appeared to be highly respected by their fellow townspeople, likely due to their lively faith and their sought-after trades. Some left the area for work elsewhere, but most returned to be buried in St. Thomas Cemetery, Shelburne. Following, are a few examples of the contribution made by the Devines on their Church and Community.
A DOCTOR IN THE FAMILY
Joseph and Ann’s grandson, Matthew Jr., son of the 9th son, Matthew Sr., graduated from Dalhousie Medical School in 1906, and set up medical practice in Kingston, N.S. He died at age 78, and the Halifax Chronicle’s obituary stated: “ King’s County doctor leaves half-million”.
FIRST PRIEST FROM SHELBURNE
Joseph and Ann’s grandson, Jeremiah (“Jerry”), son of their 8th child, Joseph ( wife Margery) was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Halifax (1914) and served as pastor in Caledonia, Bridgewater and Enfield. His widowed father went to live with Fr. Jerry at Caledonia, and seems to have died there, though buried in St. Thomas Cemetery, Shelburne. This exemplary priest grew up in a non-Catholic environment, yet, thanks to the fine example of his extended family, answered the call to the priesthood. He died in 1972, at St. Vincent’s Guest House, Halifax.
MINNIE, THE ORGANIST
Joseph and Ann’s fourth child, Elizabeth (“Minnie”) 1834-1910, wife of William Michael Jordan, was quite musical and played the organ in St. Thomas Church, Shelburne, from the time of its construction in 1881, until her death.
Chap. III: Building St. Thomas Church
PLANNING A CHURCH
To Joseph and Ann’s seventh child, Joseph Jr. ( 1839 - 1923), must be given credit for
spearheading efforts to build the first Catholic Church in Shelburne. A stone-mason by trade, somewhat of the same line as his grandfather, he was married to a Margery Miller. In partnership with other family members, they owned the land where the Church is presently located on the corner of Harriet and Buckley Streets, and likely the entire town block of 240 x 480 feet, bordering on Buckley, Harriet, Digby and Victoria Streets. They would donate a portion of this lot, some 240 x 120 feet for a church
and cemetery . They were encouraged by Archbishop Thomas Connolly of Halifax (1852 - 1876), although there was no promise of a Pastor or regular Sunday services.
The small band of Catholics in Shelburne , in the absence of a priest, would assemble at one or other of their homes , on Sundays, and spend a time of prayer together, and teach catechism to their children.
In the 1870s, a Father D. O’Connor, pastor of West Caledonia, some 70 miles away, in Queen’s County, would pay a visit some twice a year, notifying the Devines of his planned visit. He would celebrate Mass in one of the homes, baptize and bless marriages where needed. Father O’Connor was replaced in Caledonia, by Father T.J. Butler in 1877, who continued the practice of
visiting Shelburne and Lockeport twice yearly. By the late 1870s, there were sufficient Catholics in Shelburne to consider building a Church. Archbishop Michael Hannan of Halifax ( 1877-1882) visited the area in the late 1870s, and encouraged the construction of a Church in Shelburne. As noted above , the land was donated by the Devines, and a Halifax priest known as Rev. Dr. Walshe solicited donations from the city Catholics for the proposed church. A chalice, still in reserve at St. Thomas Church, Shelburne, has the following inscription on its base: “ Gift of Rev. Dr. Walshe to Shelburne Church l880”. This latter seems to have raised such funds for several small Nova Scotia missions. The Church was completed by 1881, proof of which was found in 1957, during the enlargement of the Church. A decorative board from an arch, revealed on its underside, in bold carpenter pencil the following message: “ I completed the interior of the Church in six months, alone, for $250.00, August 1, 1881. William Firth.” The Church measured 42 by 25 feet. A noted feature of this small Church, was the large window over the front entrance displaying the Star of David.
In 1883, Archbishop Cornelius O’Brien of Halifax (1882-1906), placed the small missions at Shelburne, and its sister mission, at Lockeport, in the care of the West Pubnico Pastor, Father J.J. Sullivan. who continued the bi-yearly visits. His successor, Fr. L.E. Ducheneau, (1895-1900) would increase the visits to every three months as would his successor Fr. D.J. Summers ( 1900-1909).
ST. THOMAS MISSION
As mentioned above, Elisabeth “Minnie” (Devine) Jordan played the organ for the small Church from its construction until her death in 1910. She was succeeded by Edith ( Thomson) Devine, for the next forty years. Married to Edward Louis Devine ( 1880-1949), she and her family had looked after the regular needs of the small mission church, keeping it prepared for the visits of the Pastor from
Pubnico. In fact, as a widow, she would sell another portion of the land , adjacent to the Church, in
1957, for the construction of a new rectory, when the mission became a Parish. Edith and her daughter Genevieve, were staunch supporters of St. Thomas Parish, and of this writer, their pastor for a decade.
Genevieve , operating room
nurse at Dawson Memorial Hospital, Bridgewater, for many years, is presently
retired in the ancestral home in Shelburne. She provided valuable material
for this part of Shelburne’s Catholic history.
DEED FOR THE ST. THOMAS CHURCH PROPERTY
This indenture made this fifth day of May in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven:
BETWEEN: Roderick McDonald and Ann, his wife, Joseph Devine, the younger, and Margaret, his wife and Michael Jordan and Elizabeth, his wife, all of the Town and County of Shelburne, Parties of the First part and the Right Reverend Michael Hannon, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Halifax of the Second Part.
WITNESSETH that the said parties of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of Five Dollars of lawful money of Canada to them in hand well and truly paid by said party of the second part at or before the ensealing and delivery of these presents the receipt where is hereby acknowledged, have and each of them hath bargained, sold, aliened, remised, released, conveyed and confirmed and by these presents do and each of them doth grant, bargain, sell, alien, remise, release, convey and confirm unto the said party of the second part his successors and assigns:-
ALL AND SINGULAR those certain Four Town Lots of land known as lots numbers eight, fifteen, sixteen and seven in Block Letter P in the North Division of the Town of Shelburne;
Bounded on the East by Harriet Street; on the South by Buckley Street; on the West by Digby Street; and North by lots Fourteen and six in said Block; Running one hundred and twenty feet on Harriet and Digby Streets and two hundred and forty feet on Buckley Street. Together with all and singular the tenements, hereditaments and appurtenances thereto belonging or in anywise appertaining and the reversions and remainder, rents, issues and profits thereof and also all the estate, rights, title, interest, dower or thirds claim, property and demand whatsoever of the said parties of the first part of in or to the above described premises and every part and parcel thereof with the appurtenances to have and to hold all the singular the above mentioned and described premises together with the appurtenances unto the said Michael Hannon, his successors and assigns forever. In Trust for the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of the City and County of Halifax. And the said parties of the first part hereby covenant with the said party of the second part that at the time of the delivery hereof and the said parties of the first part were the lawful owners of the premises above granted and seized thereof in fee simple absolute and that they will WARRANT AND DEFEND the above granted premises in quiet and peaceable possession of the said party of the second part, his successors and assigns forever.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF the said
parties to these presents have hereunto their hands and seals subscribed
and set the day and year first above written.
I certify that on the fifth
day of May A.D. 1877, appeared personally before me the subscriber, Ann,
wife of the within named Roderick McDonald, Margery, wife of the within
named Joseph Devine the younger, and Elizabeth, wife of the within named
Michael Jordan, who being severely examined by me apart from their said
respective husbands each acknowledged that she had freely and voluntarily
signed and executed the foregoing Deed for the uses and purposes therein
written and expressed.
CHAPTER IV ; A GROWING CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
Growing business and trades attracted new citizens. In the “Barrington Township” history, by Edwin Crowell, the 1870s and 1880s, were prosperous times in Shelburne. He reports a population of 13,000, 5 sawmills, a thriving ship-building industry , some 400 vessels under registry, carrying prime lumber and fish to the West Indies and beyond. Rich, cleared land along the Roseway River had become a productive agriculture. Roads to Halifax and Yarmouth were completed, and Shelburne boasts one of the finest natural harbours in the world, with a large island at the entrance, protecting the Town from Atlantic storms.
It’s also to be noted , that other Nova Scotia towns and settlements of Western Nova Scotia were likewise enjoying successful economies, spearheaded by ship-building industries.
The Yarmouth Museum has an impressive display of the locally built ships plying the oceans of the world.
A story of ship-building interest, is that of a young shipwright, from the Shelburne McKay family, who emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was hired at the Boston Shipyards. Donald McKay was a skilled young man, and he quickly rose to the position of master-builder and designer. He left his mark in marine shipbuilding for having produced the famous “Sovereign of the Seas”, a sailing ship which broke all previous speed records for the trip from Boston to San Francisco.
MORE CATHOLIC IMMIGRANTS
The Divine Family personified the Catholic presence in Shelburne, from 1828, the arrival of Joseph and Ann Divine, until the mid 1900s, a century and a quarter. Their married offspring increased the number of Catholics, as did other arriving Catholic professionals and tradesmen.
The following names appeared frequently in connection with Catholic activities :
Robert Thomson, jailer, barber and owner of a leather shop; Michael Jordan ( married to Elizabeth Devine) was a spar maker in the ship-building industry; Mrs. Augusta Hood, Sunday School teacher, wife of John Hood, a lawyer, though not Catholic; Mr. and Mrs. John Mac Donald, he built the Bell House , in Shelburne; Charlie Coutanche, whose descendant, Cliff Coutanche, would play an active role in the Parish during this writer’s pastorate there; Roderick MacDonald, married to Ann Devine, both of whom signed the Church deed; Other names included the Flannagans, Adophe Gillis, Henry Samuels, and several native families including the Burbines and Labradors.
Entries in the baptismal Registers of 1889, record the baptism of Warren Vincent Lawrence, son of Warren B. and Mary (Coutanche) Lawrence, on the 17th of January, whose godparents were Charles and Annie MacDonald. One month after this christening, on Feb. 9th, 1889, William Ernest Thompson, son of Robert and Mary ( Bray) Thompson, received the Sacrament of Baptism, godparents being William and Catherine Devine.
The Catholic population of Shelburne remembered with interest the year that the Canadian National Railway completed its line through Shelburne to Yarmouth, in 1906. That date marks the year that the name Flemming appeared on the St. Thomas Church’s list of parishioners. A young tailor, by the name of Maurice Flemming, from Halifax, set up a tailor business in the town, and besides his multiple services to his Church, is remembered to County residents alike, for more than two decades, as Sheriff Flemming. It was generally rumoured that, as part of his duties as sheriff, he had to arrange a hanging, and his hair turned white very shortly afterwards. His son, Maurice Flemming Jr., well known for his involvement in sports and politics, eventually took up space in his father’s tailor shop , selling newspapers and magazines. As his father aged and finally retired, the shop was enlarged and became the town’s main office-supply and toy store.
PRIESTS SERVING THE TOWN AND COUNTY
Following are the priests
who administered to the Catholics of the Towns of Shelburne ,Lockeport
and the County over the years:
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