A summer oasis

Sailing on the Bedford Basin.

When I was a little girl living in a dreary third-floor apartment in a house at the end of Barrington Street in Halifax, going to Bedford in the summer was a real treat.
My family didn’t own a car, so it was exciting when a friend of my father’s picked up my older sister and me in his rather beat-up automobile and drove us out to what we thought was an ideal summer oasis.
What I loved most about being in Bedford was that our friends who lived there had a large open space behind the house. We didn’t have that in Halifax.
Best of all, it was only a short walk down a highway to Sunnyside where we bought french fries. At the time, there wasn’t much traffic on the highway. I don’t believe the now-famous The Chickenburger had achieved its renowned status.
At the time, I wasn’t aware the three children in Bedford I visited were adopted. Nor, did I know that this had happened because of a tragic event.
Years later, I learned their father, William Snailham, was the co-pilot on a plane that crashed in Newfoundland in 1941. The crash made headlines because Dr. Frederick Banting, the co-discoverers of insulin, was a passenger. He was en route to England during his second military service.
Without doubt, it’s been Elsie Churchill Tolson’s wonderful book The Captain, the Colonel and Me that provided me with intriguing historical yarns to share with readers.
In her book, she mentions the early Bedford Tennis Club that she declared was “ the most wonderful club in the world.” Apparently, it had also become a popular centre of summer activities such as picnics, swimming, and Saturday-night dances.
Unfortunately, the three tennis courts it had were made of clay and, every time it rained, a man named Maynard Oliver had to hitch up a horse in order to drag a heavy steel roller full of water across the muddy terrain. The poor animal had been fitted with painful studded hooves, which it clearly hated.
And, to make the situation even more unpleasant, a volunteer had to stand close by with a bucket and shovel to scoop up the manure.
Not too far away from the tennis courts was the Lewis House, which opened in 1907. It was close to the railway and its first floor was at track level. It’s hard to comprehend why people from Halifax often stayed. The thick, smelly smoke from the steam engines would have emitted close to the house, and the raucous whistles they produced, must have often made sleeping and breathing a real challenge.
Nevertheless, the hotel was considered to be a prestigious place that accommodated some illustrious patrons. Among them was Arthur Lismer of Group of Seven fame. Like other guests in the 1930s, it cost him the princely sum of $11 a week for his room and meals.
For more details about summer activities in Bedford, I looked up Marion Christie, one of its most distinguished residents. She was an amazing lady who created so-called impressive fonds, which provide researchers like me a collection of documents such as newspaper clippings, and pictures. They dated from 1906 to 1999. Her family moved to Bedford in 1914.
In them, she highlighted some of the pleasant summer moments she remembered. One of them was the fun she and her friends enjoyed in 1921, swimming at Admirals Rock.
Around this time, people were wearing wool knit swimming suits that covered the wearer from the neck to almost the knees. This must have made swimming a really cumbersome pursuit.
Also keeping the swimmers company at the rock, were a number of ladies holding parasols over their heads. They were all attired in ankle-length dark dresses that made them look like they should have been sitting inside a cool church, not outside enduring hot summer weather.
Speaking of churches, that reminds me that Christie’s fonds also include a number of pictures of church picnics, which clearly were the settings for many of them during early 20th-century summer seasons.
Often they featured games such as barefoot races for little boys. Also what was really interesting was a picture of a large group of adults involved in what was called “needle and thread races.”
Naturally, I wondered what in the world these were and learned the goal in this game was to thread 10 needles with consecutively smaller eyes, using only one hand, in one minute or less. I can only imagine the reaction you’d get these days, if you suggested to your friends they take part in such a whacky undertaking.
Having been a fan of sailing myself, I was impressed with a 1922 picture of about eight people sitting inside a large sailboat owned by a Tom Curry.
It was on its way across Bedford Basin to Curran’s Cove, which was one of its beauty spots with a lovely beach. Sadly, the property experienced an awful fate when, in 1945, it was sold for a munition storage property.
Happily, Christie seems to have had many positive memories of her Bedford summers. “When we weren’t playing tennis or swimming, we always had lots to do,” she wrote. “There was little traffic on the road and we seemed to roam at will. We would walk down to Moirs Mill lured by the smell of chocolate which permeated the whole area, and sometimes, one of the people there would give us a little piece.”
When young people, especially young Bedford women began to own bicycles, their activities suddenly were significantly liberated. They pedaled to the places such as Bedford Rifle Range, which they had previously known little about.
According to Mark Currie’s story about the history of the range, which appeared in the April issue of Bedford Magazine, they did this “because they saw it as an opportunity to meet a dashing marksman.”
One assumes this kind of romantic situation must have resulted in a number of happy marriages.
It was delightful to look back at some of Bedford’s earliest summer activities and also, for me, to recall those days more than 60 years ago, when it was for me, an ideal summer oasis

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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