Sunday, August 31, 2008

You can go home again....

I finished the book Travels with Farley by Clare Mowat a few weeks ago. The book is a memoir and covers the time they lived on the Magdalen Islands in the 1970s. As I read I wondered how she could remember each day with such clarity particularly such details as the weather, temperature and the type of bread she backed. Part way through the book she stated that she had taken over the journaling from Farley; now it was she who was recording the details of their daily lives. So I pulled out a day timer that I brought with me and began to record the details of my days in the event that someday I might expand this blog into a memoir.

The day timer is an unassuming black book with a full page devoted to each day. At the top you can circle a little box with weather symbols in it and add the temperature. There’s a box for your daily priority that I’ve been using to write in the day of the week. My life is not being driven by ‘priorities’ these days!

I thought I’d list my activities for a couple of days to give you a sense of what it’s like to be living in Saint John this summer. And then I’ll talk about my trip to PEI.

Thursday, Aug. 21

· Sunny, 25C
· Hung out with my sister Shirley. She works three days a week now and takes Thursdays and Fridays off. Her husband was away so we had some lovely ‘sister’ time.
· Went out to Shirley’s daughter’s for a quick visit and played with Shirley’s little granddaughter. (McKenzie, almost one)
· Went to visit Mum. Took her out to the central courtyard gardens at the Villa.
· Had supper at Boston Pizza. (Small individual pizzas loaded with feta cheese.)
· Went to see Momma Mia. (OK, so Pierce Brosnan can’t sing but he’s nice to look at.)

Friday, Aug. 22

· Sunny, 25 C
· Took Shirley to catch the ferry to Digby where she was meeting her husband, Dave and attending Dave’s nephew’s wedding.
· Went back to Shirley’s and went back to bed!
· Went to Walmart. Bought a twin air mattress, small ironing board that can be stowed in the van and some bio oil that my cousin Barb swears will reduce the wrinkles on your face!
· Drove up the Saint John river after lunch and spent the afternoon with my long-time friend and maid-of-honour, Judy. Judy oozes creativity: she is an accomplished painter, sews, knits, crochets, cooks, can strip down a car engine and wield a hammer like a journeyman carpenter. I am in awe of her many talents.
· Visited Mum. Went through the book Sails of Fundy with her and we checked off all the ships that were built by the Suthergreens in Advocate Harbour

And then there is PEI. There is a reason it is called the Garden of the Gulf: it is green and luscious and, for the most part, manicured. Even modest homes are surrounded by a riot of colourful gardens.

I drove over the Confederation Bridge and the van was high enough that I could look out over the sides of the bridge and see water stretching off to the horizon on both sides. It takes about ten minutes to drive across the bridge and I drove along with a big smile plastered on my face. I have crossed this bridge before but you can’t see over the concrete abutments when you are seated in a car so this crossing was special.

I meandered across the island on highway 13 to Cavendish. I have always loved the town of Hunter River and was delighted to see that it hadn’t changed since I was last there about ten years ago. I spent the night in Cavendish in a KOA campground.

The first time I camped at Cavendish, I slept in a tent in a field. I don’t remember that there were any real campgrounds there then. That was in 1972, the year that Leslie got lost on Cavendish beach. I remember the terror and panic I felt then as if it were yesterday. She was just seven and had taken the wrong path coming back from the bathroom. The paths ran among the dunes and they must have looked all the same to a seven-year-old. Today there are boardwalks to walk on to save the dunes and most of the area is a national park. I’m glad I was able to experience the magnificence of this part of the country while it was less endangered by human beings.

I had lunch in North Rustico. Lobster, of course. When I was there ten years ago I was with my mother, my Uncle Phil and Aunt Jean. They were all lively and engaging then. Uncle Phil, the last of my father’s brothers, died several years ago. Aunt Jean and Mum are both in nursing homes in various stages of dementia. Old age is not for the faint of heart.

The highlight of my PEI trip was a night at the Confederation Arts Centre to see the British Invasion: America Strikes Back. I had seen the first installment of this high-energy musical production in Calgary about four years ago and met my nephew Jeff’s father, Terry Hatty, for the first time. That’s another whole story. Terry is one of the featured performers in this production too and I met him after the show. (I hung out at the stage door until he was ready to leave!) We had a nice but short visit.

The next day I stopped in Victoria Harbour for lunch at the Orient Hotel and Tea Room. (yes, there is an Orient Hotel in Victoria Harbour, honest!) Victoria Harbour is a beautiful little town on the seacoast. If you ever go there, be sure to have lunch at the Hotel and have the sticky date pudding with caramel sauce for dessert. – it is worth every calorie!

I stopped at two Hamptons on the way home, one in PEI where I went to an antique shop, the other in NB where I visited for a couple of hours with my aunt and uncle, Marilyn and Jim McKenzie. Jim is the prime genealogist in the family and I had picked up a copy of the Sails of Fundy for him, too. And he was delighted to get it.

So there you have it, life in the Maritimes. Who says you can’t go home again?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Ancestral Home

If you are ever in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, be sure to have a meal at the Bare Bones Bistro. After a long afternoon of driving in pouring rain, I arrived in Parrsboro just in time for supper. I picked the Bistro randomly – and I lucked out! The special was Atlantic salmon in a maple reduction but I’d eaten salmon just a few days ago and I opted for a Caesar salad followed by vegetable pasta served in a creamy garlic and parmesan sauce. I was given some delightful, warm Italian bread and olive oil/balsamic vinegar dipping sauce to start. I treated myself to a glass of white wine (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc). The wonderful flavours –and wine - wiped the tension from my shoulders.

I arrived in Parrsboro by accident. I was trying to get to Advocate Harbour to spend the night where my Swedish ancestors settled in the early 1800s. Somehow I missed exit 4 on Hwy 104 and ended up taking exit 5 into Springhill. Rather than backtrack, I decided to drive through Springhill (a depressing little town despite the fact that Anne Murray was born there) and on to Parrsboro for the night.

I’ve been to Parrsboro several times before and it is a beautiful town with leafy streets and big, white, historic homes. My mother told me that in the 1800s the wives of sea captains often sailed around the world with their husbands. Their children came too and when they were old enough for school, they were boarded in Parrsboro for the school year. Widows of men who were lost at sea would support themselves and their families by boarding these children.

My great grandmother Sarah Jane Suthergreen sailed with her sea captain husband Bryson Knowlton but she was always sea sick! When my grandmother, her sister and brother were born, Sarah Jane stayed ashore with her children. She and Bryson decided that they should move to Saint John where they felt their children would receive a better education. The family was living there when Bryson was washed overboard during a storm and eventually his body washed up on Block Island off the New England Coast. There is a family legend that tells how Sarah Jane was awakened in the middle of the night by the front door bell ringing on the night that he died. She told her children the next day that their father had died at sea. It was several days later when the telegram came confirming what Sarah Jane already knew.

Sunday morning was foggy but by 11 the fog was lifting and I headed to Advocate along a twisty stretch of road known locally as the little Cabot trail.

I stopped in Port Greville at the Heritage Age of Sail museum and bought two copies of Sails of Fundy by Stan Spicer. The book tells the history of shipbuilding along the Parrsboro shore and includes a list of all the ships built there including several by J. E. Suthergreen, my great, great grandfather.

I stopped briefly in Spencer’s Island and then drove out to the end of Cap d’Or on a road that didn’t exist the last time I was there. The view from there is magnificent and interpretive signs outline the history of a copper mine that was active there in the early 1900s.

Then it was on to the cemetery to find again the graves of the relatives who are buried there. I first visited the Advocate cemetery about 20 years ago with Mum. This cemetery sits high on a hill overlooking the town and the sea that figured so prominently their lives.

Mum took me around the Advocate area pointing out some of the old homes where our relatives had lived. She told me stories of our people who had lived and worked there. She was concerned that once she was gone no one would make the trek back to Advocate or keep the memories these people alive. I told her then that I would come back there, that she could tell me the stories and that I would pass them on. It is both an honour and a responsibility to carry these stories. These are some of the stories I share with my granddaughters over tea.

I left Advocate in late afternoon and drove to Fall River to my sister Nancy’s home. Yesterday it was warm and sunny and we just hung out in Nancy’s backyard at her swimming pool. Her backyard is gorgeous and her home welcoming and comfortable. Today it is overcast with thunder showers forecast for this afternoon. Our plan for today is to go antiquing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Yesterday I went to Fredericton. I travelled up the scenic route meandering along the St. John River also known as the Rhine of North America. I made plenty of stops along the way: Oak Point, Gagetown, Oromocto. I poked in little craft shops. What would have taken an hour on the highway took me close to four hours. Oh, yes, I took a 20 minute nap in Oromocto after lunch. Ahhh, the joys of travelling in a mini house!

My first stop in Fredericton was Christ Church Cathedral. This Anglican Cathedral was built in 1853 and is one of the earliest and best examples of the nineteenth century revival of Gothic architecture. This Cathedral was the first new Cathedral built using the Gothic Revival style on British soil since the Norman conquest and the second built in the Anglican communion since the reformation.

I learned these and other interesting facts from my personal tour guide, the verger of the Cathedral who speaks with a deep American south accent and has the unlikely name of Hank Williams. (The verger in this case is the church official who is responsible for ensuring that the Cathedral is set up properly for the various services held there.) You can check out this wonderful Cathedral at:

My next stop was Gallery 78 just down the street from the Cathedral. I stopped hoping to catch Drya Eaton, a local artist, who has a studio there. Drya’s parents, Bob and Jane, are long-time friends of mine dating back to the 1960s when we were neighbours in Moncton. Unfortunately Drya wasn't there but the curator did take me into her studio though and showed me a lot of her newer work.

But the most serendipitous event was walking into another studio and coming face-to-face with David McKay an artist whose work I’ve admired since the very early 1970s when I interviewed him for a TV show I hosted back then. I have seen his work in different galleries when I’ve been back home visiting but never run into David himself. We had lovely conversation and, if I had an extra $4,600.00, there is one picture of his, Ghost Canoes, that would be making the trip back home with me. Unfortunately I have to choose between that piece of art and gas for Bessie the Bus! You can see both Drya’s and David’s work at:

My final stop in Fredericton was the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. I went specifically to see the Building New Brunswick exhibit by local architect John Leroux although the Beaverbrook also has many outstanding collections. Check out this gallery at:

The weather was sunny and I stopped a lovely supper before driving back to Saint John – on the highway this time. It was another one of those perfect summer days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Art of Tea

I don’t really remember when I first started drinking tea but I do remember that my mother brought me a cup of tea each morning when she woke me up to get ready for high school.

When I was engaged to be married, I received numerous china cups and saucers as shower gifts. It was common in the early 1960s to have a cup and saucer shower to ensure the new bride would have pretty china in which to serve tea.

When I was first married, Brian and I lived in a small apartment that was heated by a stove in the kitchen that burned both oil and wood. I always had a pot of tea sitting on the back of the stove top keeping warm. When someone dropped in, I added a fresh tea bag and more water. Most of my friends and neighbours did the same. There was always time for a cuppa and a chat when someone appeared at your door.

Anytime there was a weighty decision to me made, a family crisis, or fatigue to be overcome, out came the tea pot. It’s the Maritime way.

I still start each morning with a cup of tea and some quiet time before breakfast each morning. And when someone arrives at my door they are always offered tea.

When Leslie moved out on her own, I lent her my good china tea cups and saucers to add some elegance to her first apartment. Several years later when she went into labour with her first daughter, she drank a cup of tea before heading to the hospital. She drank that last cup of tea before she became a mother from my personal favourite - a fluted china cup covered with roses.

Over the years, Leslie has collected a cups and saucers from her grandmothers and great-aunts as well. She also inherited a wonderful – and large – collection of cups and saucers from Todd’s grandmother. And when she moved into her current home, she bought two display cabinets to display her favourites.

Many years ago, I was browsing at an antique fair in Stony Plain just after my eldest daughter has settled in Toronto. I found eight lovely cups and saucers in Royal Albert’s Old Country Roses pattern, a pattern that she fancied at the time. So I bought them and sent them off to Toronto. We still drink tea from them when I visit.

Over the years I have rebuilt my own collection of cups and saucers. (Many of my original ones remain part of Leslie’s collection.) I have some special ones that I carefully packed and sent to Calgary after we dismantled Mum’s apartment when she moved into the nursing home. I have a couple that I found particularly pleasing and bought at estate sales. I have eight matching cups and saucers from my Noritake Tahoe dishes.

One also needs teapots and creamers and sugar bowls to go with cups and saucers. I have, of course, a variety of "regular" teapots for everyday use. I have the Noritake teapot, cream and sugar that came with my dishes. I have a silver teapot, cream and sugar that I bought at an antique shop because they match the Old English Reproduction silver tray that was a wedding gift to my mother from her new in-laws. I serve my tea on it now.

But the most precious teapot I own is a Wedgewood Queensware, blue with white embossing, that belonged to my maternal grandmother, Beulah McKenzie. I brought that teapot, cream and sugar across the country on my knee when I flew back to Calgary from New Brunswick after Mum settled into the nursing home.

I have shared many cups of tea with friends, relatives and neighbours but the most special cups of tea I share now are the ones I now share with my four granddaughters.

I take out the china cups that were once my mothers and they each pick their favourite one. Now that I have my grandmother’s Wedgewood teapot, we most often use it. We sit at the dining room table and the conversation often turns to the women who drank tea together many years ago from the same cups and saucers. They are always interested to hear stories of grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great grandmothers and great-great-great grandmothers. And I am honoured to share the wisdom and strength of the generations of women who populate our family tree.

On Monday, August 4th, at Tim Isaac’s annual New Brunswick Day auction in St. Andrews, I made the winning bid on 22 pieces of Wedgewood Queensware, blue with white embossing.

I now have four place settings that match my grandmother’s tea set. I can hardly wait to sit down with my granddaughters and serve their sweet treats on plates that match their great-great-grandmother’s teapot. And maybe when they choose their favourite tea cup, one of them will chose to drink tea from a matching Wedgewood Queensware cup and saucer.