THE FINANCE COMMITTEE
The first logical step was to list the assets. Whilst still a mission, a Finance Committee had been formed to manage the parishioners’ contributions, and maintain the building. Some ten years later, the Second Vatican Council would decree such a Finance Committee for all parishes worldwide. The Committee was chaired by Maurice Flemming Jr., assisted by his father, Sheriff Flemming, and secretary Harry Warner (local customs official). The cash in bank totalled $222.93, besides $650.00 in Government bonds. Even in 1956 this was hardly sufficient to finance a new church and rectory.
THE FIRST ALTAR SERVERS
Daily Mass is one of the benefits of a parish, at the generally accepted early hour of 8:00 a.m. A group of altar servers was quickly trained, in the persons of Thomas Flemming (son of Maurice & Isabel Flemming), Brian King (son of Archibald and Joan King), Kenneth Surette (son of Delbert and Anne Surette ), Steven Hull (son of Jim and Josephine Hull), Garth Lascinck. The last two were sons of the U.S.Navy personnel, stationed at Sandy Point, at the entrance to Shelburne Harbour.
THE ALTAR SOCIETY
A number of ladies of the parish who had already assisted in keeping the Church neat and tidy, called a meeting of all interested ladies of the Parish, and organized the St. Thomas Altar Society. The gathering elected the following officers: President, Mrs. Joan King (wife of Archibald King, founder of Van Rez Furniture Co., Shelburne); Vice-President, Mrs. Joan Campbell (wife of Doctor Robert Campbell); Secretary, Mrs. Helen Dauphinee (wife of Carleton Dauphinee (of Dauphinee Monuments, Shelburne); Treasurer, Mrs. Elizabeth (Lib) Cox (Wife of Alvin Cox (Counsellor at the Nova Scotia School for Boys); Convenor, Mrs. Shirley Brackett (wife of Donald Brackett, Dept. of Fisheries).
By July 1st, a schedule of weekly workers was assembled, assuring the neatness of the Church interior. These ladies, along with all the members of their Altar Society, would always cooperate with the Finance Committee in all Church projects and activities, affording immeasurable comfort to a founding pastor.
One of the earliest decisions consisted in setting up a schedule of noon and evening meals for the new pastor. This arrangement repeated itself each week, in that he would share the noon hour family meal at one of their homes, and the evening meal at another home. This had some advantages, in that he was assured of tasty, well prepared meals, The disadvantages, obviously, were that he ate too well, risking a weight problem, and, secondly, had to constantly keep an eye on his watch, so as not to be late for the appointed meal hours. Once the Rectory was built, however, this schedule was discontinued.
It was May, the month of Marian Devotions, when the First Communion of six and seven year olds usually celebrate their first Holy Communion. The event had been delayed, awaiting the arrival of the Pastor. As in so many cases, the ladies of the Altar Society, chaired by Mrs. Joan King, offered to take charge of the event, and set the date of Saturday, August 11th, at 9:00 a.m. Mrs. Joan Campbell, (wife of Dr. Robert Campbell) assumed the role of teacher, and classes were then held on Monday and Friday afternoons, at 4:00.p.m..
On the appointed day of August 11th, four boys, gentlemanly clothed in white shirts, bow ties and dark trousers, along with five girls, sparkling in their white dresses, received their First Communion, and were immediately enrolled in the five Scapulars. Then, along with their parents, they were hustled three houses away to the home of Doctor Campbell, where they were treated to a sumptuous breakfast, hosted by Mrs. Joan King, on behalf of the Altar Society, the mothers of the first -communicants happily assisting.
PERPETUAL HELP DEVOTIONS
In every parish I’ve had the honour to shepherd, over the years, a sizeable number of zealous parishioners hunger for additional sustenance, beyond weekly and daily Eucharist. This applied equally so at St. Thomas Parish. So, in early June, appropriate, printed material was purchased from the religious supply store in Montreal, and Devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help were scheduled for Sunday evenings at 7:15 p.m. Among the special intentions prayed for, was the where-with-all to enlarge our Church. As subsequent events will ascertain, the prayers of these zealous people were fully answered.
One of the major reasons given for the appointment of a Pastor at St. Thomas Church, was to provide for the spiritual needs of the Catholic Boys, residing at the Nova Scotia School for Boys, some two kilometres from the heart of the Town. Having had no experience counselling boys of seven to seventeen years of age who had trouble with the law, it meant learning-on-the-job. In fact, some of the boys were sent there, merely because they were persistent truants from school, or had serious problems living with foster parents.
On the first visit to the School, I was encouraged by the fact that several of the Counsellors were parishioners of mine, namely Donald Higgins, Alvin Cox, Patrick Murphy, Al Mac Dougall and the Schoolteacher, Mr.R.D. MacDonald. In matter of fact, all the Counsellors proved to be most cooperative, sharing the task of trying to re-habilitate these youngsters, most of whom came from Metro Halifax and Metro Sydney, with a few from the Valley, Yarmouth and Amherst Areas.
My schedule eventually consisted of Sunday morning Mass in their Chapel at 9:00 a.m.; Thursday morning religion classes in their classrooms; two afternoon or evening visits during their recreation hours; and on-call, otherwise, by the Counsellors.
The Government of Nova Scotia allotted $800.00 a year each, to a Catholic and a non-Catholic representative. This stipend benefited St. Thomas Parish financially, especially during those early years. The reason being that the Parish merely paid the Pastor $400.00 a year, after deducting the $800.00 stipend from the priest’s annual salary of $1200.00.
As may easily be imagined, it was often an effort to communicate with a number of the boys, especially those of broken families. Since organized sports seemed to interest most of them I was encouraged to share their games, as a means of removing these communication barriers. An opportunity to do this presented itself, when the staff organized a softball team of counsellors, and entered the Shelburne County Softball League, which included teams from the Town of Shelburne, the Town of Lockeport, the Navy Base and the School for Boys. Having pitched softball at College, and again in the Seminary, I was prevailed upon to pitch for the N.S. School Boys’ Team assured that the boys who attended all the home games played in their home park, would take notice and perhaps open up. The team had a good season, and, to quote the September 9th Sports’ Page edition of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, date line Shelburne N.S.:
“ Behind the smart pitching of Rev. Thibeau, the Nova Scotia School for Boys ,Shelburne, edged Lockeport 9 to 8, in the sixth game of a bitterly fought series, to capture the championship of the Shelburne County Softball League. In posting his second win of the series, Father Thibeau scattered the hits and contributed three himself to the Shelburne cause .“
This hardly qualifies one for a Sports Hall of Fame, but it had the desired effect of creating a conversation subject with the boys. My pitching career ended less gloriously, a few years later, when a Navy batter, fresh from the Halifax Senior Softball League, slammed a line drive towards the mound, and, lacking the required reflexes , at age 42, to get out of the way, instead stopped the ball with my right shin bone, and painfully hobbled off the field.
A fast-growing trend in most parishes at the time, was the introduction of Parish Bulletins, which carried precise information of all parish activities. These were made available to all parishioners, at weekend Masses. Some well-to-do parishes presented theirs on quality paper, often printed at the Printer’s Office. Many others, and that included St. Thomas Parish, printed their own, on a variety of copiers. Ours, purchased at a bargain sale, was a very plain and simple, table-top machine, manually controlled. It had a rotating drum, on which was fixed an ink-soaked pad, over which was carefully placed a type-written stencil. Being second-hand, the ink pad soon failed on short notice, with no possibility of a replacement for this obsolete machine. A quick solution was a rectangular piece of cloth cut from a pair of polojamas, which adequately held the ink and lasted much longer than the original pad.
The first copy of this humble parish bulletin, appeared Sunday, July 15th, with the opening paragraph stating: “ With this issue, we inaugurate the St. Thomas Parish Bulletin. It will carry news and announcements of interest to the Parishioners of Shelburne County. It is but a humble venture; please be indulgent, and do not search in it for literary masterpieces. If it can serve as a link between the far-flung Catholic families of this County, it will have achieved its purpose.”.
The first issue included: names of the officers of the Parish Council, and of the Altar Society; the hours of Sunday Masses at St. Thomas Parish, and in the neighbouring Catholic Parishes; a list of parish services; the date and place of the Altar Society meeting; the Altar Servers schedule; the First Communion Classes; the previous Sunday’s financial statement ( the humble sum of $79.95); and a request for prayers on behalf of the parish projects.
Copies of the Parish Bulletins, in all parishes, are kept on file, and safeguarded as a true record of parish activities. Perusing them in later years, helps relive the memories.
The men’s and women’s groups discussed ways of fostering a sense of parish family,something quite rare in a mission community. All agreed that a parish picnic, and afternoon at the beach, would do nicely as a starter. The location would be Round Beach, Shelburne County,and the date, Sunday afternoon, August 5th, which turned out to be bright sunny and warm day. Quoting a later edition of the Parish Bulletin, : “Picnic, great success! The weather was grand! there was a grand turnout of parishioners! There was a vast amount of picnic-styled food! Everyone was jovial and happy. Such an event bears repeating.” The picnic achieved its purpose, providing an occasion for parishioners who had never met, to do so, and under the most pleasant of settings.
Visitors to the Parish had also been invited to the Parish Picnic, and one Dartmouth, N.S. gentleman, very pleased with the outing, and responding to the morning Mass’s announcement of the opening of an organ fund, promptly established the fund with a five-dollar donation. Over the next few months, gifts of mostly five and ten dollar bills were donated and a decision had to be taken regarding the make and size of the organ. Obviously, we couldn’t afford to buy a pipe organ, so we agreed on an electronic organ. There were several types on the market, but rumours circulated that the electronic tubes in them needed a constantly warm climate, otherwise the tones would be distorted until the Church had been heated for awhile. One model, the Hammond Organ, worked on a different principle than the others, unaffected by changing temperatures. So a Mr. Burnett ( Bunny) Brown , a Yarmouth distributor of these organs, was contacted, a deal was struck, and soon our choir was accompanied by the distinctive tones of a Hammond Organ.
Mrs. Joan Campbell (wife of Dr. Robert Campbell) agreed to assume the mantel of Senior Choir Director, also assembled a group of eight young ladies, who would share some of the singing. These young ladies were the following: Janet and Susan Brackett, Margo Dauphinee, Betsy Dunn, Elizabeth Gallion, Bernice and Denise Gaudet, Donna Higgins. Obviously, the presence and sound of the new electronic organ had aroused new interest in liturgical music.
As mentioned in the introduction, several factors contributed to the Bishop’s decision to upgrade St. Thomas Mission to the status of a Parish. One of these was the newly established Sonar Navy Base, on Sandy Point Road, near the mouth of Shelburne Harbour. Some one hundred and fifty Navy personnel were normally stationed there, and, usually some fifty per cent of these were Catholics. The unmarried members lived in military huts, on the Base, but a notable number of them were married, and had rented houses in and around Shelburne, which, understandably made a fair impact on housing, in a small town like Shelburne. These immediately became parishioners of St. Thomas Parish, adding to the Pastor’s ministry, especially relating to baptisms, first-communions, confirmations, marriages Sunday school, family problems, etc. These often necessitated contact with the Catholic Chaplain at Maritime Naval Headquarters, Halifax, N.S.
As a consequence of this relationship with the naval personnel, Father Belanger, Catholic Chaplain of Maritime Command, Halifax, phoned asking if I would consider entering the Naval Reserve, which would enhance my position with the Shelburne Navy Base Commander, on behalf of the Catholic Personnel and their dependants. I agreed, depending on the Bishop’s approval, which was duly given and reported , by letter, to Father Ronald MacLean, assistant chaplain of the Fleet, Ottawa, dated June29th, 1956. A letter from the office of Command Chaplain (RC) , H.M.C.S. Dockyard, Halifax, N.S. advised me to report to that office on August 21, 1956, and be fitted for a naval officer’s uniform, after completing the application to join the Naval Reserves. The years of basic training at College and at Aldershot Military Camp, Kentville, N.S., during the war years, were duly acknowledged. The following November, Nov. 21, 1956, an official letter from H.M.C.S. Scotian , Halifax, invited me to that station to be enrolled as R.C.N. (R) Chaplain Class Two (RC).
The round of documents required for this procedure were completed when an official certificate arrived from the Honorable Paul. Hellyer, Minister of National Defence, effective Nov. 29, 1956. The duties of Chaplain required spending every Friday at the Shelburne Navy Base, in uniform, visiting the Catholic personnel in the varied huts and buildings, attending the officers’ wardroom for noon hour meal, and leading the Catholic personnel in prayer , during the frequent divisions ( inspections) on the parade square. This was, of course, in addition to the religious demands of the sailors and their families.
The financial returns were attractive, to a small-parish pastor, and helped offset the expenses of travelling back and forth across the extended parish, almost one fifth of the diocesan land area. Being paid as an officer, though applying but one day a week, and eating at the Officers’ Wardroom, meant being a member of that Mess, hence the obligation of sharing the costs involved, especially the weekly socials, including the bills of the bar. Though I never attended these socials, my share of the cost amounted to some twenty-dollars a month, which seemed excessive. My complaint to the Captain’s Executive Officer fell on deaf ears, so I appealed to the Maritime Command Chaplain, who agreed to speak to the said officer. As a result, the monthly bill was reduced to two dollars a month, as a token gesture.
Another incident relating to the chaplaincy occurred when I was invited to join the Catholic Chaplains for their annual retreat, at the Sacred Heart Convent, Halifax. I had bought the first and only new car of my life, a black Chevrolet sedan, and looked forward to flexing its capabilities. Stopping for gas at a service station near Liverpool, the attendant mentioned that the oil level was a bit low, so he added oil. The car purred along nicely for a few miles, then began showing signs of labouring, especially on hills. Entering Lower Tantallon, the engine died, and coasted to the side of the road. A nearby garage came to my help, and hauled it into one of the stalls. After a short inspection, announced that the problem was too extreme for them to repair. It seems that the attendant at the previous garage had mistakenly mixed natural oil with synthetic oil, and the two gradually gummed up the cylinders. It being a Chrevolet, the garage man suggested the Chevrolet-Oldsmobile firm in Halifax. Since I was headed in that direction anyway, we called the Halifax firm, and they sent a tow-truck to haul car and driver to the garage in Halifax. Assured that the car would be road worthy by the end of the week, I then joined the chaplains on Retreat at Sacred Heart Convent. Needless to say, my retreat was occasionally distracted with thoughts of my new car being dismantled, to say nothing of the expected high cost.
The Bishop’s earliest instructions stipulated that the small Church had to be enlarged or replaced with a larger one. The meagre funds and the weekly income discouraged any thought of building a new church, so all attention was given to somehow enlarging the present building, but even that required considerably more money than was presently in reserve. It was obvious that fund-raising projects had to be found. At the meetings of the Women’s Auxiliary, several projects were discussed, and they finally settled on a Fall Fair.
The Legion Hall was duly booked for Friday, November 9th. The Sunday Bulletins promoted the event, encouraging ladies from around the County to contribute items for the fancy goods table, and favourite eatables for the Pantry Sale. It was encouraging to see attractive items
arriving from Lockeport, Green Harbour, Roseway, Ingomar, Port Saxon, Port LaTour, the Barrringtons, Clark’s Harbour, for the sale. This being the first such venture for the Parish, a few hitches occurred, but the event went off well, with very good participation, and the Ladies Auxiliary proudly donated the proceeds to the Church, the round sum of $400.00 which increased the reserve funds to $1272.93. No fortune, but very encouraging.
ENLARGING THE CHURCH
It was a busy summer, enlarging the horizon of the parishioners from the mentality of a mission, to that of a parish. The growing number of parish involvements, both for pastor and parishioners, brought home Bishop Lemenager’s instructions, namely, to either enlarge the Church or replace it, seeing the congestion each weekend. The meagre funds and the fear of a large debt soon discouraged the idea of a new church, so the women’s and men’s committees focused on a feasible plan to enlarge the present building, possibly in two stages. It was concluded that this would be more economical.
A PROBLEM OVERCOME
The original, present church building was situated on a lot bounded by Buckley Street on the South side, facing the front door of the church, and Harriet Street, to the East. The parish cemetery came close to the building on the other two sides, seemingly preventing any enlargement of the church . There were about thirteen graves in that area, whose owners would have to agree to having them moved. Permission was readily given by relatives living in the Shelburne area, but the only remaining relative of the others, was a lady living in the Boston area. When contacted, she adamantly refused to allow the remains to be disinterred and re-buried further away in the Cemetery.
Unknown to the Pastor, she traveled to Shelburne to make sure that her decision was respected. On the day she visited the church and cemetery, she met Lieutenant Jim Hull, U.S.N., who was lending a hand to his wife whose turn it was to clean and dust the church sanctuary. They struck up a conversation, and she mentioned how displeased she was with the thought of her relatives’ remains being disturbed. His being a fellow American certainly helped. Later that day, Lieut. Hull came by to relate the conversation. He had agreed with her about not allowing the remains of relatives to be disturbed, but would allow an exception, if it meant doing so to allow the enlarging of the church. She therefore reversed her opinion, and called to say that she now agreed to the moving of the remains, provided every respect was shown them. This, we guaranteed.
Pleased with this pleasing turn of events, I travelled to Yarmouth on the evening of Thursday, September 13th, and immediately contacted Charles Hattie and William Burbine, grave diggers at the Cathedral Cemetery. They agreed to do the work the following day. I picked them up at their homes shortly after 7:00 a.m., and we arrived at Shelburne before 9:00 a.m. Beginning at once, they disinterred all the graves in question, and re-buried the few remains, in new graves nearby. The job was completed by early afternoon, when I paid them their salaries, and brought them to the bus-line for their return trip to Yarmouth. Total cost: Charles Hattie $16:00, William Burbine, $14.80, Bus tickets $4.70.
Getting the job done at once was fortunate, because, a few days later, the Boston lady wrote from her home, to say that she had again reversed her decision and would not allow the graves to be moved. Answering at once, I assured her that the job was already completed, with respect for the remains, as she had previously stipulated. She wrote , later, to approve what had been done.
LETTER TO BISHOP
The parish committees were in agreement that it was time to proceed with the enlargement of the Church, as stipulated by the Bishop when he decided to place a resident pastor in Shelburne.
The following letter ( a translation from the French)
was to begin the process:
CHOOSING A BUILDER
When it came time to decide who would actually construct the new addition, it was the unanimous decision that, if available, a Mister George Mahaney would be the man. A carpenter of extensive building experience, who had worked in the Boston area, before returning to his hometown, Shelburne. At this particular time, he was in the process of moving a large warehouse to a new location, then, on the empty lot, build a new store for the Shelburne Woodworkers. He was highly rated by Mr. Cliff Coutanche, a parishioner of St. Thomas Parish, and co-manager of the Shelburne Woodworkers.
When approached, and to our great relief, George Mahaney readily consented to take charge of our construction as soon as he had completed his present job.
An added advantage of hiring this builder, was that he had the knowledge, experience and honesty to put up a plain structure without requiring an architect’s blueprint. The instructions we gave him were therefore simplicity itself: build an addition, similar in style , shape and size to the present Church, attaching it to the North side, thus forming a T , when viewed from above. The small annex ( sacristy), on that side, would first have to be detached and removed out of the way, but when later re-attached to the extended building, the Church, from above, would have the shape of a cross. Additionally, there would be a complete basement under the new addition. To his immense credit, we would look back, after the work was completed, to be satisfied that he followed the instructions to the letter.
During the week of November 12th, Mr. Mahaney took time off from his work at the Shelburne Woodworkers to mark off the proposed building site with marker pegs, then detached the sacristy, and moved it safely out of the way.
On Monday, the 19th of November, the huge excavator began the task of digging the basement for the proposed addition, deep enough to allow eight foot ceilings. When completed, it appeared like a huge gaping hole. That night, an unusually strong wind developed, and I feared for the sacristy, standing precariously on the North edge of the gaping hole. During the stormy night, there were a number of bangs and crashes, and, from my rented house some 100 yards away on Digby Street, convinced me that the sacristy had probably crashed into the open excavation. At the break of dawn, I hustled over to the spot expecting the worse, but, to my relief, the small building was still standing where Mr. Mahaney had securely placed it.
It was late November and into early December before the carpenters could free themselves from their project, long enough to construct the cement forms. Once completed, another setback occurred when the cement contractor was unable to pour the cement walls at once, promising to do so between Christmas and New Year. Luckily, the weather cooperated until then, but, immediately afterwards, very cold wintry weather set in, and remained until Spring, halting all further work.
THAT FIRST CHRISTMAS
That first Christmas Midnight Mass will long be remembered by those present. The pot-bellied stove had to work overtime to offset the cold breeze entering during the opening and closing of the front door, as parishioners arrived, and had to compete with the cold draft from the North end of the building ( altar end) caused by the gaping hole along the foundation, and the skimpily covered area from where the Sacristy had been detached. The contents of the Sacristy , including the altar servers’ robes, priests’ vestments etc. had been carefully folded at one side of the sanctuary, reducing still further the already small area. As if that was not concern enough for that night, a man arrived a bit late, who had obviously imbibed somewhat beforehand, and insisted on finding a place to sit near the well-stoked stove, almost overturning it as he staggered against it. He finally settled down, and all proceeded as planned. We were all consoled with the thought that all would be considerably improved with the completion of the new addition. This discomfort continued until Spring of 1957, when the workers resumed the work.
Speaking with George Mahaney some weeks prior to the resumption of work, he indicated that two large floor beams would be required to span the basement ceiling, if there were to be no supporting pillars in the basement; steel eye-beams would be preferable. Scouting about, it was discovered that the local Provincial Highways Maintenance Building often had used steel eye-beams which could be purchased at scrap-iron prices. This proved to be true, and two such beams, longer than required, were purchased and delivered to our property. Inquiries made among the Navy Base maintenance Petty Officers resulted in one offering to drop by one evening with an acetylene torch, and cutting the eye-beam to proper length. With these in place, and at very little cost, the Sanctuary floor of St. Thomas Church could bear the weight of an elephant.
BISHOP APPROVES LOAN
As indicated in the previous letter to Bishop Lemenager, our own reserve funds sufficed to cover the cost of excavation and cement basement walls, but no mention had yet been made of the amount this small parish would be permitted to borrow, with which to complete the work. A letter sent to the Chancery Office requesting authority to borrow funds for the enlarging of the Church and the building of a residence (Rectory), was answered by Monsignor Emile Bourneuf, Vicar General of the Diocese, in the absence of the Bishop who was ill away from the Diocese. The loan for both buildings was not to exceed fifteen thousand dollars. Even at 1957 prices, this amount of money would definitely be inadequate for the task. As a comparison, one-story cooperative houses were being built in Yarmouth, at that time, for $10,000 each, with the owners providing much of the labour.
The Finance Committee decided to allocate $9,000 towards the Church, and $6,000 towards a new Rectory. It was felt that a miracle resembling that of “the loaves and fishes” would be necessary to multiply these humble funds to cover all costs. With a bit of confidence in the workings of the Holy Spirit, it was decided to continue until the money ran out. In reality, several promising possibilities presented themselves: firstly, the Shelburne Woodworkers would provide all the building materials, allowing the bill to be paid over an extended period, at low, or no interest; secondly, Irving Oil provided the hot-air heating system, to be paid on the instalment plan. A number of older boys, at the Boys’ School, offered to do clean-up work on the property, during vacation time, for the mere pleasure of being away from the School grounds for a few hours, satisfied with the recompense of each a bottle of pop and a chocolate bar. The eventual, total cost of the Church renovations amounted to some $30,000. The $9,000 loan merely paid the men’s salaries.
LAND FOR RECTORY
As plans were being finalized for the Church extension, some attention was also being given to purchasing land for the Rectory. The land North of the Church was undeveloped, and Harriet Street continued as a mere path for two blocks. Inquiries resulted in discovering that the land belonged to Mrs. Edith Devine, one of our oldest parishioners and a member of one of the earliest families of St. Thomas Church, whose signature is on the original deed of the Church dated 1877. A charming lady, she readily agreed to sell a large house lot measuring 240 x 240 feet, adjacent to the Church property for the sale price of $250.00. She merely reserved a strip of land 240 x 120 feet , at the North end of that property, for her daughter Genevieve, in the event she might , one day, consider building a house there. With the purchase of this lot, the Church now owned almost an entire town block , with the exception of the strip of land owned by Genevieve Devine.
The deed was quickly registered at the Town Office, where the Mayor verbally promised to lengthen Harriet Street up to St. Thomas Rectory, once the house was built. Whilst speaking to the Mayor on that occasion, he showed me the original map pf Shelburne as laid out in 1783, in preparation for the arrival of the American Loyalists. There were projected streets for an estimated population of twenty thousand . That estimated number of people actually did arrive, but, fearing reprisals from the American military, they eventually moved on to Halifax whose Citadel Hill’s fortifications would assure greater safety. Although the Town of Shelburne was originally surveyed for streets serving twenty-thousand people, most of the streets are only on paper, but if Shelburne should begin to expand, the surveyed streets are in place, running into the surrounding forests.
As a matter of fact, as St. Thomas Rectory was being built, a local lawyer, Mr. James Harding, practising law in the Bridgewater area, decided to return to his native Shelburne, and run for legislative office, as candidate for the local Conservatives. He chose to build a new home on the far North end of Harriet Street, so the Town then developed the entire street, some two blocks North of St. Thomas Church property. His construction encouraged the R.C.M.P, to build their establishment near his end of Harriet Street, and this activity resulted in the entire street being opened up.
WORK ON CHURCH RESUMES
By late March, 1957, building foreman George Mahaney and his three assistant carpenters resumed work on the Church. The aforementioned I-beams were set in place, the floor installed,and in a surprisingly short time, the walls and roof were in place, giving interested parishioners an idea of what their enlarged church would look like. There seemed to be general satisfaction.
Once the new addition was closed to the weather, scaffolding was erected from floor to ceiling. One day, as I happened to be present observing the progress, whilst Mr. Mahaney was working at floor level, two of the three carpenters were on the top level of the scaffolding, near the ceiling, when a frightening, cracking sound rang through the place, and the platform on which the two carpenters were standing, suddenly collapsed. One fell to the next level on his knees, and was able to steady himself, whilst the other alertly grabbed hold of the long ladder, the bottom of which would have whipped dangerously away, had it not , surprisingly, lodged itself against the altar, which steadied it. They both came down, obviously shaken by their near accident and rested awhile. The foreman soon spotted the trouble, a two by four, made of hemlock, which has a tendency of splitting lengthwise. He angrily warned his men against ever using hemlock for scaffolding.
NEWSPAPER TAKES NOTICE
An article entitled “ Catholic Church being enlarged”
appeared in The Liverpool Advance on Thursday, January 10th, 1957:
Mr. Mahaney was a methodical carpenter, arriving early at the work site and giving orderly instructions to his men each day, so the work progressed nicely. The long-awaited day arrived when the large end-wall of the Church, separating the new addition from the original church, was being dismantled, revealing the new, larger interior of the building. Seating capacity would now be doubled. As a large trim-board was removed from that partition, the foreman handed it to me, suggesting I read the boldly scribbled message, probably with a carpenter’s pencil, hidden on the underside: “ I completed the interior of this church in six months, alone, for $250.00, August 1, 1881. William Firth.” A number of elderly people of the parish remembered Bill Firth as a finished carpenter. The quality of his work, in St. Thomas Church, proved them correct.
EXCAVATING UNDER THE ORIGINAL CHURCH
As the carpenters proceeded with the finish work in the main church, it was decided to excavate beneath the older section of the Church, which would then result in a large basement room, about the size of the entire newly enlarged building. The local contractor hired, owned a small-sized tractor, built low to the ground, having a front-end bucket. The plan agreed upon was to begin digging a ramp from the edge of the road, allowing the tractor and operator to proceed under the sill of the old church, removing shovels full of clay dirt, and exiting with full loads to be deposited to one side. It worked well, and, in just a few days, an eight foot high basement was ready for cement walls and floor, matching those of the new addition.
A NEAR CALAMITY
A Mr. Deschamps, a local , self -taught mason, agreed to lay out the forms for the cement walls and floor. However, the work had to be delayed because of a huge rain downpour that lasted hours, and, to our shocking surprise, the outside ramp, which had allowed the small tractor to enter and exit the basement, likewise allowed all the water from the roadside to be funnelled into the excavated basement. Soon there was a foot of water there and rising, with no exit drain. The clay dirt walls were soaking in the water, causing huge chunks to collapse into the foot-deep water. As Mr. Deschamps and I watched this happening, I had frightening visions of all the walls collapsing, causing the original church to also sag into the watery mess. I felt sure that he, as an experienced mason, would have a ready solution, but he frankly admitted that he had never experienced this kind of problem in his whole life. Wondering if he might know of some retired mason who just might have faced this kind of problem, he gave me the name of an old gentleman who lived on the West end of King Street, near the Town Line. Apprehensive, I drove there at once, and he courteously invited me into his home. When I explained the urgency of my visit, he smiled and began reminiscing about flood problems he had faced over the years. Reassured somewhat by his attitude, I patiently listened to his various successes, but was anxious to hear his solution to my problem. Eventually, he did. His solution: lay long foot-wide boards, on edge, about a foot and a half away from the foot of the walls, around the perimeter of the dirt walls, and toss in as many rocks as available. Then pour a thick concrete mix over these rocks, forcing the water out of these forms, and this would stop the walls from collapsing. When the cement hardened, it would become the footing for the concrete walls and basement floor. Thanking the gentleman profusely, I returned to the church basement, explained the solution to Mr. Deschamps , and, with added help, quickly followed the instructions, avoiding any further danger. I whispered a prayer of thanks for answering a prayer uttered in panic.
Enthused parishioners volunteered their labor to paint the finished interior of the main church, , and, a work-bee of men gathered one evening to tile the entire floor. A local furniture plant, Ven-Rez, owned by the husband of the president of our Women’s Altar Society, Mrs. Joan (Archie) King, supplied a new set of birch pews, finished with baked-on clear varnish.
Mr. Mahaney and his crew agreed to build the new rectory, as soon as the church extension was finished. As before, he required only the simplest of drawings, for the size of the building and the layout of the doors , windows and rooms etc.
Having frequently visited the home of Doctor Robert Campbell, husband of Joan, our organist, and noticing how nicely the living area was separated from his clinic and office, it was decided to follow that design, with a few adjustments, for the new rectory.
A site on a small knoll of a hill, on the property purchased earlier from Mrs. Edith Devine, the foreman laid out the markers and a bulldozer was hired to excavate. Shortly after beginning to dig, the bulldozer operator remarked that the small knoll chosen for the building, was actually a natural gravel site, whose drainage capacity would keep the basement dry, and provide excellent material for the sewage drainage field, a requirement in Shelburne at that time. In fact, the gravel was of such good quality, that , mixed with cement and water, in the proper proportions, produced excellent concrete. Another prayer of thanks for an unexpected happy coincidence.
The cement foundation was poured, and, at Mr. Mahaney’s direction, the Shelburne Woodworkers began delivering loads of lumber. To our utter , happy amazement, these four carpenters had the roof installed and “tight to the weather” in four days. The interior work, however, does not usually progress that quickly , so it continued on through the summer of 1957. As a consequence, the Bishop decided to delay the blessing of the Church extension until the summer of 1958. This pleased everyone, as it allowed sufficient time to complete a multitude of small details, avoiding a panic situation.
The house design included a basement garage, on the far end from the road, and , a similar situation arose, as in the church basement, where a wider than usual expanse, would benefit by the use of an I-Beam over the car space. As previously, we approached the Highway Department Garage, hoping to buy another metal beam at scrap-iron price. Disappointingly, they had none on hand, however, they hinted that such a beam could be had free for the taking. This was definitely in our price range, so we asked how, when and where this could be had. They explained that the Clyde River Bridge had recently collapsed into the river, cluttering up the waterway with a number of these steel beams, which could never again be used by the Department. Eventually, the government would have to authorize the use of expensive , heavy equipment to remove all this steel, which could then only be sold at scrap-iron prices. They assured us that we would be saving tax-payer money by removing what we required. Reassured that we would not be prosecuted, we attached the trusty trailer to my Chevy, drove to Clyde River, waded in the river, locating an I-Beam, fastening it securely to the trailer, headed back , and presented it to the surprised foreman. When cut to proper length, it was securely installed and the carpenter remarked that there would never be any bounce on the kitchen floor above. Thanks again for an unexpected favor.
DIGGING THE WELL
The Town of Shelburne had neither a public water nor sewer system, so each household had to provide these for themselves. A deal was struck with Mr. Deschamps, the self-trained man of many talents, to dig our well. He arrived on the appointed morning with his tools of the trade, accompanied by another man and his horse. Mr. Deschamps would do the digging, whilst the other would build a tripod over the hole, and with the help of the horse, pulley and bucket, haul the discharged dirt to the surface and discharge it.
To my surprise, he asked me: “Where do you want the well ?” My immediate reply was: “Where there’s water, of course!” His equally abrupt reply was: “ I don’t know where there’s underground springs anymore than you do. They might be anywhere. You just dig at a convenient spot, and hope for the best.” I defended my inquiry by saying that I expected him to use a divining rod, but he replied that he was not familiar with such a thing. I pointed out a convenient spot, some three or four paces away from the foundation, planning to install the well-pump and tank within the basement near that spot, and said a prayer. At eight feet, a little water appeared; at twelve or so feet, a lively spring appeared and, unable to dig further, because of the rising water, he lined the hole with well rings, ran a pipe underground through the house foundation, and installed the cap. The water proved to be excellent. Another very favorable unexpected favor.
PLUMBING AND WIRING
The erection of the rectory was progressing well, and the foreman reminded us that it was time to have the plumbing and wiring roughed-in before the sheetrock panels covered the partitions. This presented a financial problem, because the money we were permitted to borrowfrom the bank, was earmarked for the carpenters’ salaries. We opted for a deal offered by the Simpson’s-Sears Catalogue, whereby the entire package (blueprint, tubs, sinks, well-pump, pipes etc) would be shipped to the location, if first a floor plan of a house under construction was sent them. To be paid on the installment plan, of course. Acquainted with several plumbing tradesmen at the Navy Base, we offered them $150.00 to do the installation over a week of evenings. They accepted.
The wiring was another story. An old friend, Paul Bourque, was the manager of the electrical department at E.K. Spinney’s wholesale outlet, in Yarmouth. He allowed us institutional discount ( some 40%) on all materials, and, similar to the Simpson’s -Sears Catalogue deal, laid out every bit of wire, boxes, fuses, switches, panels etc. needed for the complete wiring of the rectory. The installer? As an assistant priest in Kentville, I promoted my ham radio hobby, by taking a correspondence course in electronics, which included basic electrical theory. So I bravely tackled the job of wiring, whilst the plumbers did their work. They teased the daylights out of me, warning that the house would break into an electrical inferno the day the power would be turned on.
It’s to be noted, by the way, that the Town of Shelburne, at that time, allowed do-it-yourself plumbing and wiring, requiring only that the work be examined by a licensed tradesman when completed.
For the next five evenings, the plumbers and amateur electrician traded teasings, each promising to be the first to finish. Once the main panel was installed and several rooms wired, the Town electrician came by, examined and approved the work. On the fifth night, overly proud of my work, I invited the plumbers to witness the illumination of the entire house, one room at a time. All went well until the outside front door light was switched on, and the result was a “poof”, and darkness. In my hurry to finish ahead of the plumbers, I had carelessly grounded a live wire. The damage was a mere fuse, but I suffered a lot of ribbing from the plumbers and their friends at the Navy Base, with whom the story had been shared.
CEMENT WALKS AND STEPS
To further manage our meagre funds, we invested in a small, motor-driven cement mixer. Our new well provided the necessary water, there was excellent gravel in the basement floor, so with the purchase of bags of cement, Mr. Deschamps and volunteers poured front and back steps for the Rectory, plus cement walks for both the Church and Rectory. With the removal of gravel from the rectory basement floor, a sizeable hole was created. This proved to be an added benefit. With the help of some older boys from N.S.S.B., using metal wheelbarrows and shovels, a good number of eye-sore stones lying around the property were wheeled into the gaping hold and buried, solving the problem of disposing of the stones and saving the cost of new dirt to fill the hole.
CEMENTING BASEMENT FLOOR
Another unexpected advantage occured when it came time to cement the rectory floor. A new school was being built in Shelburne by a contracting firm from Ste Anne du Ruisseau. I knew several of the carpenters, who, weekday evenings, idled away their time in a small mobile unit. When approached, they readily volunteered to help. With gravel, cement, water and our little mixer at the ready, six of these men came over one evening, and, methodically organized the job, giving us a new cement floor before dark. I hadn’t realized how much that small cement mixer could produce, when efficiently organized.
Purchasing that mixer proved a financial bonanza. It provided for all the basement floors, outside steps and walkways, at minimum cost, and, the jobs finished, was purchased , at the original price, by the N.S.S.B.
MOVING INTO RECTORY
The foreman agreed to first finish one bedroom and bathroom, and, when this was done, I immediately painted them, and purchased a bed. In spite of the sawdust, boards, sheetrock etc. in all the adjoining rooms, I said goodbye to the house on Digby Street, and moved my few belongings into my partially furnished bedroom, filled with the smell of sawdust and shavings. St. Thomas Parish had a residence for its pastor.
With running water in the rectory, it was decided to run a water line from the house to the Church. Our reliable mason, Mr. Deschamps, arrived on the scene on a very hot summer day, and began digging the trench. Thinking he would appreciate a cup of tea or cold drink, I asked which he preferred. Somehow, mistakenly, he presumed that I did not appreciate his skill, answered: “Sir, I am very proud of my work. See how my trench is straight and of even depth, well below frost level. It will provide running water for your ladies’ auxiliary, saving them tiring trips to your house, for many generations..” I told him I agreed totally with him, and I retreated to the cooler interior of the house, leaving him to his proud toil.
HOUSE PLAN SHARED
Father Donald Peter Amirault, the new pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Wolfville, N.S. was looking about for a house plan with which to build a rectory in his parish. Afterscrutinizing our rectory, he asked to borrow our crude plans, and, with a few adjustments, proceeded to build the present rectory in Wolfville.
FIRST YEAR INVENTORY
The enlarging of the Church noticeably improved the ceremonies, allowing all parishioners to be comfortably seated, with spare seats for visitors and more spacious room for those participating in the services.
The completion of the rectory made life for the pastor immeasurably more comfortable and convenient, especially being adjacent to the Church. The kitchen was furnished, and, by mutual agreement, the pastor’s schedule of meals at the various homes of the parishioners, also ceased, but it now obligated him to prepare his own meals, since the debt and meagre funds did not allow employing a housekeeper. The chef-prepared , noon-hour meals, on Fridays, at the Navy Base, were highly appreciated, as were the once-a-week meals with my parents in Yarmouth.
Obviously, the parish activities proceeded as normally as conditions allowed, during the distracting construction period, but all agreed that it was well worth it.