I spent and hour or so visiting with Wilbert Henderson and his lovely wife Della at their home in Seafoam on January 26th in 2003. That afternoon was spent reflecting back in time to some of Wilbert’s past years and he had my undivided attention.
Wilbert reflected back to past years when he and Donnie Craig from River John did some trucking for the Pictou Pea Factory. I had a Chev dump truck and Donnie had a Ford, says Wilbert. Up to the later part of the 1950s, the old Pictou Pea Factory was booming and that factory provided employment for a lot of local people. Many neighbouring farmers would plant fields upon fields of peas and Donnie and I were hired by Fred Fagon from Pictou to transport the peas from those fields to the factory.
(Long) John MacLean from Pictou Island was one of the operation supervisors at that pea factory. Andy (Ward) MacCallum and Duncan Rankin also from Pictou Island assisted Donnie and I with the driving and loading and unloading of our trucks. Donnie and I were a couple of young bucks then and we had our trucks going pretty well all day and night. We were going so steadily that we would only be able to get a few hours sleep each night. Andy and Duncan would stay with Donnie and I at our homes and they would drive the trucks when Donnie and I slept. There were a lot of local farmers back then that grew and supplied peas to the factory. I can remember farms being all over the countryside, Wilbert says. There were fields of peas all around River John, the Cape, Seafoam and Caribou areas but most of those farm lands have since grown over with trees.
The demise of the Pictou pea factory was drawing near by the 1960s and production was quickly being cut back. Donnie Craig and Wilbert Henderson were now in search of other employment. As it happened, Pictou Island’s newly constructed dirt road now required extensive maintenance.
Progressive Conservative MLA, the Honorable Harvey A Venoit obtained the go ahead from the provincial Tory Government in the fall of 1958 to have a new road constructed on Pictou Island. Heavy equipment such as dump trucks, dozer, front end loader, etc. were towed across on a barge from the mainland and unloaded at the island wharf in spring of 1959. Supervising this work project was Ronnie Goodall from Scotch Hill and Alfie MacMaster from Caribou. Some others working on the road crew were Floyd Rudolph from Pictou, Raymond Battist Sr. from Caribou Island, a Mr. MacDonald and David Bezanson from West Branch who was the dozer operator. Their camp of tents was set up on the north side of the island behind Ernie Rankin’s where MacGee’s lobster factory once operated. A front-end loader was set up on the shore where sand and gravel was taken to build up the road. The dump trucks would back onto the beach where they would be filled with ocean sand and gravel. I remember seeing large crevices on the beach where the sand and gravel had been removed. It would only take a couple days of north winds to again fill those cavities back in with sand and gravel.
A second team of road workers was required in 1961 to go back to the island and install a final load of gravel to the newly built-up road. John P MacDonald was in charge of provincial roads in Nova Scotia at that time. Billy MacMillan was Pictou Island’s road superintendent and his son Loren was the road foreman. Wilbert Henderson from Seafoam and Donald Craig from River John applied and were hired to do the trucking. Charlie Clark from Pictou was hired to operate the front-end loader. Charlie would load the trucks with shore gravel taken from the island’s West End and other areas around the island.
We stayed at John Angus MacMillan’s place and my god what a wonderful cook his wife was, says Wilbert. We always made our own breakfast but John’s wife Catherine would have all other meals on the table. We never went away from the MacMillan’s table hungry. Later in the evenings, Donnie and I would walk down to play cards with Eddy and Ona Glover and Ona would set another large meal on the table for us. I believe that we gained a lot of extra pounds while working on Pictou Island.
Wilbert recalls Margaret “Jack” MacDonald who was our Pictou Island’s Florence Nightingale. I had this sore spot on my neck and it was something like a salt-water boil and it was awfully painful. Nurse Margaret would put fresh bandages on it every day and not once ever asked for any payment.
Wilbert recalls this one-day in late September when they needed parts for the trucks. Charlie Clark had his boat docked at the island wharf. He told Donnie and I to take his boat and go get the parts. Well, we’re sailing out of the wharf when Donnie spies a trap lathe floating on the water. We stop and sure enough there are two freshly baited lobster traps attached to the lathe. Don and I haul the traps aboard the boat and continue on our way. Later that evening we are heading back to Pictou Island and we drop the two traps into the water east of the wharf. Next evening we went out to haul them and we got a five-gallon bucket full of lobsters. This was going to be just great. Donnie and I were going to have lobster every day. Our plans were halted however the next morning. The fishery patrol boat called the Cutter sailed right to the traps the next morning and smashed them all to pieces. A few weeks later I was at the legion in Pictou and got talking to Walter Guilderson who was a fishery officer on that cutter. I asked Walter why he had smashed our traps and I still laugh at his reply. Wilbert, he says, you’re lucky that we let you have one good feed. It seems that they had been watching us hauling the traps only the day before.
Wilbert Henderson turned 83 on April 10, 2003.