Historian recalls a life well spent in Hantsport

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on August 26, 2014

The man commonly known in Hantsport as the town’s historian isn’t going to let talk of dissolution get him down.

“It’s not going to bother me one bit because I’m 89 years old,” said St. Clair (Joey) Patterson. “I’m on borrowed time now and every day is a plus, so I enjoy every single day no matter what is going on.”

Be it a town, a village or a small community in a larger municipality, Hantsport will always be Patterson’s connection to his youth.

“It’s still Hantsport, and it’s the only one in the world,” he said with a grin.

It’s where he started a life with his wife,Eudora, in 1946. It’s where their seven children grew up. It’s where he learned how to survive with very little money in The Dirty Thirties.

“As far as I’m concerned, I had a happy time,” he said. “I didn’t know any different.”

In Patterson’s mind, the money management practices of days gone by would come in handy as the Town of Hantsport tries to adapt to the closures of Fundy Gypsum and Minas Basin Pulp and Power.

“I think that over the last three or four or five years they wasted enough money to last until doomsday,” he said.


In Patterson’s day…

Patterson remembers growing up in a 2.5-storey house in Hants Border that did not have electric power or running water, but seemed to have everything they needed.

“We always had lots to eat. You grew your own food. Everybody had a garden,” he said.

The children played baseball, hopscotch and marbles, walked through the woods and splashed around in the brooks for entertainment.

“There was never a dull moment, but no money.”

Patterson’s father, Everett, worked for Minas Basin Pulp and Power Limited, a company founded in 1927, during the worldwide Great Depression that hit Canada particularly hard. In April 1936, he earned $14 for a week’s work.

“He’d stop in at the grocery store and hand it over and walk away,” Patterson recalled.

“It was a very unique town.”

When he was a kid, Patterson said Minas Basin employees were paid 13 cents an hour for 11-hour day shifts and 13-hour night shifts. The workday was split up into three shifts when business started to hold steady, and wages were increased to 25 cents an hour.

When Minas Basin closed in the winter of 2012, the starting wage was $15 an hour.

Even on his modest salary, Patterson’s father managed to save up $150 to purchase a Model T Ford. There’s one family drive in that very vehicle Patterson vividly remembers to this day.

It was 1936. They were on their way to town when one of his six siblings happened to look back at their house in Hants Border and spot smoke.

“There were people coming from every direction,” Patterson said.

Neighbours grabbed shovels, wrecking bars, hammers — anything they could find — and hurried over to help fight the flames crawling down the walls of the home from the ceiling.

“There was no fire department then,” said Patterson.

The men carried furniture out of the home and tore up the floor and wallboards to attack the flames. The women packed up the items in the pantry and some dishes.

The community as whole helped the family get back on their feet.


Some things will never change

Patterson left Hantsport from 1943 to 1945 to serve with the Canadian Navy in the Second World War. He worked in the food department aboard the K113 as it braved wartime waters making regular trips to Newfoundland and Northern Ireland.

The K113 survived the war with its crew fully in tact, and Patterson returned to Hantsport at the age of 20.

“That’s when prosperity hit the Town of Hantsport,” he said.

Wages increased, new buildings were on the rise and war veterans regularly gathered at the local Lucknow Branch 109 of the Royal Canadian Legion.

“I had the best time I possibly could,” said Patterson, who first became the president of the legion in 1955.

Patterson, author of Hantsport Shipbuilding 1849–1893 and Gypsum Royal Fleet, need only look out the window of his home-based study on Main Street in Hantsport to reminisce on every stage of his life.

He retired in 1985 and set out to see the world, but something always drew him back to Hantsport.

It’s where he chose to call home. It’s where people know him best. It’s where his heart is.

And that will never change.