The Memoirs of James Albert Hirtle
Part Three


I want to say something about flax. When this is nearly ripe it is pulled, and spread out on the grass stubble, and left to rot or be exposed to the weather, then after a time it is taken up, the seed is threshed out, and it is ready for drying over a fire in a kiln' the breaking is done. In the autumn, usually a plowing and a flax breaking bee is held; when neighbors are asked to come and give us a lift, men and women. Now the flax break is made from hard wood; four legs put together with wooden rungs. There are seven blades, about four feet long; about 3/4 inches thick at one edge, and trimmed to an edge on the other edge these blades are about 5 inches wide. One blade has a handle, now four of these blades are put in thick edge down, and 3 blades, with the thin edge down and the 7 blades are put in between the upper end of the legs and at the back end a pin goes through all seven, to form a hinge and a like pen, at the front end goes through the bottom four leaving the upper three blades free. They are fastened together by themselves, thin edge down, with the handle one in the center and with the upper blades as a cutter the flax is broken. The flax is thoroughly dried in a kiln over a fire, so that it is easily broken and course fiber is removed. Next comes swingling. This is done over a block of wood having a board nailed on the side, cut off leaving a small part extended up. A swingling knife is made about 16 or 18 inches long, and about 2 1/2 inches wide, 1/2 inch thick at the back, then to an edge leaving a handle at one end. The already broken flax is then taken over the board on the block; and flayed to take out all the tow that can be taken out that way. Next comes the hatchel, a gadget for cleaning the last of two from the flax. What we had was a board about 8 x 18 inches. The small board was filled with nails one inch apart each way, and these nails were the real old fashion nail, square and tapered from head to point, and 3 inches long. This block of nails was fastened on the larger board for support. A handful of the swingled flax is drawn through these teeth and all the refuse tow was so taken out; leaving the flax ready for the spinning wheel.

My Mother's Wash Bench

I should have told you about this when telling you about the brook and dam. Well the wash bench was a plank with two legs at one end, high enough to wash by after this fashion. The lower end was in the water fastened or weighted down with a stone, and far enough in the water so she could dip and wash in the water, and then use a paddle to beat out the dirt.

The Frame Work of the New Barn

For the getting out of the frame work of the new barn Dad had a man come and do the hewing for him. Dad of course did all the chopping and scoring, and all the man did was the hewing and framing. He used a large broad axe, the blade was perhaps 10 or 12 inches wide, and he hewed and framed about 100 pieces.

My Last Year at Home

This is a long story. Dad in his younger days before he married was a fisherman, so in later years when we boys grew up some, so we could do the farm work he decided to try fishing again. I presume he thought he would make a little extra money; so my big brother Bill with Caspar and I to help, was left to do the farm work from late June till late august or about two months. This was ok till brother Bill got married. That of course left Dad in a rather bad way. Brother Bill was about seven years older than I, However Dad took on the fishing job again, and this time, from sometime in April till September; that meant planting, haying and harvesting; and help reduced to two boys instead of three; and two months longer for Dad to be away from home. Brother Bill who was 24 or 25 years old taken away and we, Casper and I only stepped up one year each making us about 15 and 18 or [so] in those years. However Dad must have figured that we could do the work; (and we did, so you will see) now, Dad made as he thought provision for food for the family, and for help, that was for sowing of grain that I probably could not do. But Dad had scarcely got out of sight when most of his plans fell through; so I decided to fend for myself; and not to depend on outside help and delay my work of planting etc, while waiting for my neighbor to come and sow my grain for me when I was ready and he was not. I took a bag and filled it with grain, and there I did my first job of seed sowing; and I also found food for the family till Dad came home on the 3rd of September. Now Dad was home for a day or two in June; about my seed sowing he said some was rather scant but he was satisfied; next came haying, in former years our haying was done in 21 days of good weather; this year we went over about two acres more land, than in former years; and with the extra land we got over it in about the same time as in other years; Some people said I was lazy. (Here I will blow my own horn) At that time I could put a ton of hay from the wagon to the loft, or mow, as quick as any man; so lazy or not I think I did very well, for a boy in my [several words unreadable] Dad came home, in early September he seemed to be well satisfied or he would have said something; OK neighbors had things to say, but I told Dad not to pay any attention to what he might hear.

Before I get away too far I must say this.

The Skunk

I remember him too well to leave him out of my write up. Skunks like eggs and young chickens, we had a large chicken coop to keep the hens in. In seeding time, and this story took place in June 1885. We had signs of a skunk being around several times. Tiny a little white dog made quite a rumpus this night, and between 2 and 4 in the early morning he was very noisy, so I got out of bed and went outside to see what it was all about. Now, the old house had no foundation and when the banking was taken away, there was an opening under the house at one place beside the stairway; the skunk had been around and somehow had gotten in the cellar, through this opening; so I had to get him out, and to do this I had to deal with him at pretty close quarters (much too close) for comfort, However I got him out and gave him to Brother Casper to take him away, of course by this time he was dead. Now this day I was going to town 20 miles away, so I changed all my clothes and began getting ready for my trip, then I went over to my Uncle's place for I was to use his horse and buggy, and also to take along their adopted daughter Tamar. Well how she like me that day I don't know, but I still know that in the town everybody gave me a wide berth; and at home all the next winter, they told me that every soft spell of weather they could still have skunk scent around, still too close.

Leaving Home

I had been planning to get away from home for some time; and here was a good time. My summer work was done, crop here practically all in. A few days before Dad came home I went looking for work but so far found none; now I happened to meet Dad at an uncle's house, and at the supper table he was asked if he was going away the next year, he said he had spoken for a berth, so I made bold to say, if you do, you will need someone else to do your work for you. He took it easy and said he would find someone. Now he got home on Thursday evening, and I followed him home on Friday evening, and at about half past two the following Tuesday, Sept. 8 1885, with about $3.50 in my pocket, and not much more than the clothes I had on I left home, and I haven't done a day's work at home since.

Now My Journey

That afternoon I went to a cousin's place about four miles away, to get the address of their boy, (three days younger than I) working on a farm in the place where I was going to. I stayed there over night and the next day I started on my journey, after walking twenty-five or more miles I came to Springfield. There was a fair on that day, so I rested for awhile. While there I met an outfit who were my way. There were three men, a horse and wagon loaded with household stuff. The next place was Albany Cross some miles away. It was about dark when we left Springfield, and traveled at a snails pace, and about half a mile beyond Albany Cross, we camped beside the road till morning, and made a fire; The old horse was about played out, for he had too heavy a load. When morning came, two men and I started off leaving one man and the jaded horse behind. The two men were looking for something to eat and also for help; and I was wanting to shake them off so that I could eat my lunch that I had with me; so I let them move on, and I slowed down (I had lunch but they had none) Then I could eat as I went along. Next passing through Albany and over the south mountain, and down into the Annapolis Valley, I came to Lawrencetown, where I was heading for. Then I began to inquire about where my cousin was working, so I kept walking and early in the afternoon I came to my destination for that day. But the menfolk were away out in the field, and would not be home till evening. I went out for a walk, but they asked me to come back and stay for the night. I went out and lay down and slept for awhile near a railway track. Now I had never seen a railway before. I had quite a sleep. Later a freight train came thundering along, and woke me up. I thought the world had come to an end. Met my cousin, and we had a real good visit (Isaiah Lohnes) just three days younger than I [Does anyone have an Isaiah Lohnes born in 1866 in their database?]. The people were Mr. and Mrs. Wm. McKeown, and Hattie, very nice people.

Looking for Work

The next morning I began to look for work, calling at every farm house as I went along. I passed through Lawrencetown, and about a mile or more beyond, I met a man hauling [a?] stone to a well to be used in the wall of the well. He asked me to go to his house and have dinner and I made a deal to go to work with him for three weeks; that kept me going for awhile. Then his brother took me on for the winter at $5.00 per month. Then the next spring another brother came for me, and I worked with him all summer and up to Christmas at $9.00 per month. W. H. Norman, and Wesley, all good people to work for. Every year the Phinneys spent Christmas with one member of the family and there were eight brothers in the family. This year they were to be at the oldest brother Timothy about 12 miles distant. Now I was at Norman's place half mile away from my first place. They were all going away for the day, except the children and at Norman's place there were four, and I had to care for them for the day. I also had to go and care for the cattle and horses at the old place half a mile away, water and feed them for the day.

Some Storm

There was no snow on the ground that morning, Friday, so they all went away by horse and buggy. Now I think you have this clear for what is to follow; About half past nine that morning the storm began, a sleety snow that stuff that hits you like sand, and this was Friday, and it snowed till Sunday evening. Now, I imagine that soon after the storm began they or some of them started for home, but some of them didn't get their buggies home till the next spring. On Monday we were called out to bread [break?] road, and we had about one and half miles to town, and had to shovel the road all the way. The opposite way from us to the next town Paradise 2 1/2 miles was also shoveled all the way. I think today, that, that was the worst snow storm that I ever saw. Now I got the farm work done somehow, and got back again to my four children and we got along nicely till their Dad and Mother got home that evening.

Winter of 1885 and 1886, all Year

That winter at Norman Phinneys I had two horses and two cows to care for and some other work around the place, chopping wood and clearing up some land. The next summer with Wesley Phinney, it was mostly farm work, but I had also some friving [driving?] to do, and while here I had 22 horses during my time here. Sometimes I had five and then again I might be down to one. Now Wesley was a harness maker, and he also bought, sold, and traded horses. In fact one day I hauled one load of apples in with one team and the next load with another team. I was a this place till Christmas, and then I went to Halifax.

Some Things I left Out.

I am now in my 21st year, and will talk about things that I did at various times, and in various places.

Some Things while at Phinneys

Now, Norman Phinney was a professor of music, and one evening he asked me to drive down to Paradise, about four miles, and get two black boards of his, I was to go to a certain house and enquire for the boards, but when I got there the house was locked up. On inquiring I was told to drive six miles down the road, and going up a hill I would see a water trough on the left of the road, and a house on the right side and there I would find Mr. Piggot, the owner or custodian of the black boards. Well that was ok but I had to go back to where I went first and there I would find the boards under some covering. See what a drive I could have saved.

Putting up Ice

Late in the winter that I was with Norman Phinney we put up some ice. Now there was a mill at the upper end of the town, and we cut ice on the river above the dam, and on a Saturday afternoon we got our last load of ice, and on Sunday the whole river where we got the last load was clear of ice, and probably 25 to 35 feet of water where we were working the day before.


It was here in Lawrencetown that I heard the first piano in the home of Dr. Primrose, and I wondered what kind of music that was.

Apple Blossoms

A word for the Annapolis Valley. In the spring of the year you can go for a least 100 miles through apple blossom country, except where the towns are; and also the high tides on the Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin, and up the rivers. Tides 50 to 60 feet every 6 hours.

One on Wesley Phinney

I am still in Lawrencetown 1886, with Wesley Phinney. In my time there we had 22 horses, but let us look at 5 or 6. A grey, Jerry, Maud, Dick and Bender; and another little mare that I liked very much. He would buy good horses, and when he had some he would take them for a good price. Now the grey was sold for a military horse, Dick, Maud, was sold in the U.S.; Jerry was his general carriage horse. Bender was just a general purpose horse, as also was the little mare. I had to care for these prize horses till they were sold. I only drove Dick once by myself and Maud, I only cared for, but Dick I rode on his back sometimes.

Now Here About Phinney

Mr. Phinney told me never take Dick outside of the stable without a bridle on or at least a good halter shank in his mouth, so as to have good control of him. Mr. Phinney was a small man, and one day he took Dick out of the stable, with only a halter on; I always obeyed his orders; but he did not obey his own order, and this time Dick threw up his head and took Mr. Phinney twice around the barn before he could get the horse under control. While hitching him up one of us had to hold him by the head till they were in the buggy, and ready to be off; then they would travel all day and come back in the evening, as fresh as when they went out in the morning.

A Forest Fire

On the 12th of May, years ago a forest fire was started in the bush somewhere beyond the home place, and came to the settlement, and hit my old home late in the afternoon; took a neighbors buildings, fences, our fences, brother Nill's [Bill's? he had no brother Nill] fences, and went as far as the cross road, a mile and a half away. Next morning it was held in check and finally put out. On the home place on 200 acres of land they told me there was not a green tree left; This fire burnt about 20 miles long, and about 7 miles wide. That fall a portable mill was brought in and set up on the brook just below the house, and they got out and sawed up into lumber all the burnt timber before it got wormy, over 200,000 feet; If we had today the maple that was on that place it would be worth over $200,000. Our fuel was maple, beech, and white birch in my early days and until the fire came; and after that they used any wood that they could get.

Christmas 1886 Went to Halifax

I went to Halifax to visit an uncle, Dad's older brother [George Frederick Hirtle had four older brothers: Jacob b. 1819, Daniel b. before 1821, Edward b. 1826, and Benjamin b. 1833]. I visited for a few days; and then began to look for work. I sold milk for a time, and here I want to forget a few months of my time. I saw good days and bad days; the trouble was legal trouble, and I came off fairly good, in fact real good. I broke away from my relatives and went entirely on my own.

Started to Work

Those days wages were very low; $6.00 a week, $1.20 a day; $9.49 a week, in different departments of work. In my 21st year I began at carpenter work, at $5.00 a week, and in two years I was getting the going wage then 18 [cents] per hour; later we got 22. Later I got on in the navy yard at $9.49 on one department, and $10.22 on another, fact I was in the navy yard when I left to come to Manitoba.

Married August 26, 1890

I married Carrie Margaret Rourke, August 26, 1890. Edna was born December 22, 1891. Carrie died April 23, 1903; and Edna and I left Halifax for Winnipeg June 18, 1903. [Debbie here: I can't find anything about Carrie Rourke. Does anyone have Rourkes in their data base?]

Clerked in a Store 1890

We lived in a house belonging to the store owners, and one day they came for me to help them, for the day (at the store, at that time I was out of work) so it came in quite handy, and they kept me on for about nine months.


One day a man came into the store with a small parcel and asked me if he could leave it there for awhile; and he would call for it; but he never came back, and to this day I have not seen him. A long time after, I opened up the parcel, and there was no name or mark of any kind on it; so of course I took it home and we had a nice lot of linen.


While I was working in the navy yard, steamers were bringing in bananas; and the ripe ones were sold about as they came out of the ships' hold, so I went over to the wharf where a boat was unloading bananas, and I got the first bunch that came up. I got it for 50, and I carried it home on my shoulder, I jammed about three on the way home, and I had 150 bananas. Pretty good as compared with 20 a pound today.

Horse and Buggy Trip

A sister of mine was quite ill at the old home; and word had come, that we had better come to see her. What are we going to do; we had a horse, but no buggy, and no one to care for the horse while we were away. A neighbor near by had a two wheeled cart, which he offered to me; so we decided to drive about 95 miles, so we got ready, and on Saturday morning at 6.40 we left home. This would be 1895 or 1896. Edna was about 5 years old at that time [she was born in December, 1891]. The horse was poor roadster for she would not feed on the road; and if a horse doesn't eat she would soon tire; However we were on our way and had a rest after going 47 miles. Now we did try to feed once in the 47 miles, and after resting we are off again, and went another 18 miles, and tried to feed again; and there I tried to get a fresh horse; nothing doing, but I might get one by going four miles out of my way; Now it was about 12 miles to Bridgewater, where I knew I could get a livery horse, and if I went the four miles out of my way, and then did not get a horse, I would have four miles back; so I figured I had better keep going, and try to make the extra 12 miles to Bridgewater, which I did. It was slow going with a very tired horse, but we got there and into a livery stable, pulled the harness off her and she at once lay down. The livery man said he remembered me, and he knew my father and brothers. He said I will give you a horse that will take you through the next 20 miles. So again we are on our way, and it was an inky dark night. And in this 20 miles, we met only one outfit all the way. We got safely to our destination at about 11 PM and we had a good visit with my sister for the next two days. On Wednesday morning we started on our return journey.

Our Return Journey

When we arrived at Bridgewater all we had to do was to change horses, and again be on our way. That day we went to Chester about 48 miles, or bout 28 miles with our own horse. We stayed at an uncle's for the night; and on Thursday went about 45 miles home with a very tired horse.

Part One
Part Two
Part Four
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