In studying the history of a village, town or county it is those individuals who had an impact on the life of their time who receive the recognition – and rightfully so.
Successful entrepreneurs like the Jeans, LeVescontes, Janvrins, and Robins; prominent politicians like Sen. Miller, Laurence Kavanagh, and Edmund Power Flynn; persons outstanding in medicine, law, the arts, sports; the early ship builders and sailors – these made our history and deserve their place in it. But what of the “little people” and the little things that provided a context for the “big” things and people to make their mark. There are innumerable colourful individuals and events, and here are a few of them.
The schooner Sylvania owned by Cpt. Jeff Thomas of Arichat, and later of Gloucester Massachusetts, is accorded a place of tragic distinction in the seafaring history of Arichat. On August 31, 1918, while fishing off Cape Breton, it was sunk by a German submarine. The crew was allowed 10 minutes to launch their dories and make their escape. Cpt. Thomas’ son Gordon gained such renown in Gloucester that a park was named in his honour.
Harry J. Smith was not a native of Arichat but rather of Boston. In the early years of the last century, he and his wife Edith would travel here each summer to their adopted home. He was fascinated by Acadian folklore and wrote numerous stories based on his experiences on Isle Madame.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Mr. Smith devoted much time to the war effort by establishing a depot at his home for the gathering and packing of moss from the bogs on the island.
His overseer was Albert Boucher who would pick up such young men as Marshall Bourinot, Vincent Power, Joe Power, Ingraham Burton, and Fred Broussell in Mr. Smith’s Model T Ford and transport them to Grandique Road in the vicinity of the Duke of York Cranberry Meadow for a day of harvesting moss.
The product was then taken into Arichat where a staff of ladies would sort and pack it. Moss at that time was used on the battlefield as field dressing.
The SS Surf was an ocean-going yacht, 200 feet long, and of steel construction. Mr. W. MacDonald of the Margaree Steamship Company of Sydney was the owner. At Christmas each year, the Surf sailed into the harbour carrying Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald and toys, candy, and fruit for the children. A local man, Charlie Stone, played the role of Santa Claus.
In 1911, J.A. Gillies, K.C., Barrister and Solicitor and Federal representative for Richmond was the first to bring an automobile to Arichat.
In August of 1845, Alexander MacDonald of Antigonish entered into a contract with the Building Committee for the construction of a courthouse at Arichat at a cost of $1,030. As construction progressed, it became clear that the original plan was “very defective and capable of much improvement,” and amendments to the original contract were agreed to by MacDonald and the building commissioners.
When the courthouse was completed in December of 1847, Mr. MacDonald anticipated receipt of 100 pounds in annual installments of 25 pounds as per the amended contract. But in the Grand Jury session of March 1848, when MacDonald requested his fair compensation, it was met with violent objections from several of the building commissioners. There is no indication as to whether or not Mr. MacDonald was successful in his petition.