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.

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