Pictou Advocate sports

My connection to the Steeltown


I have never lived a day of my life in Trenton, never slept there for a single night. Yet the old Steeltown has always had a special place in my heart.

For several reasons.

Growing up in neighbouring New Glasgow, with the family summer cottage at Rustico Beach in Pictou Landing, I drove and was driven through the community literally thousands of times.

At a very young age, I was being told everything there was to know about the steel works, about the many new railcars built in the car plant next door and lined up for movement out of town.

When I began writing sports for the Evening News, my first paying job was covering senior softball at the field in Trenton’s north end. I was there, too, in subsequent seasons, reporting the Maritime championship efforts of the Trenton Scotias. Never in my long career have I seen a softball field with more atmosphere, more crowd enthusiasm, than I used to witness when those marvellous Scotias were at the top of the sport.

In hockey, I saw most of the games when Hughie MacDonald’s Junior Scotias won a Maritime title in 1951-52. That club had many hometown boys who went on to great sports careers in later years. I also covered the hockey Scotias when they had a brief one-year stay in the APC senior league.

I can’t write about the Steeltown without thinking of many individuals, especially ones like the late Joe Earle. I remember the evening, in the 1960s, when I spent several hours in his home in Trenton – a winter blizzard raging outside – talking about his dream to organize a day of road racing in the community. What a wonderful contribution he made. The races were later named in his honour and, in 2014, the 50th annual event was celebrated.

My Trenton interests, I should add, weren’t confined to sports.

For one thing, when I was an Anglican lay reader from 1954 to 1969, I preached in every Anglican church in Pictou County, including several occasions in Trenton. The people there were always so accommodating.

But my earliest connection to the town — at least my family’s connection — was more than a half century before I was born. That explains why, even before my school days, I was being taught about the history of the steel works.

That part of my background was refreshed when, two issues ago, The Advocate’s lead story, “Steeltown celebrates,” addressed a major milestone, the rededication of the first pouring of steel ingots in Canada in 1883.

So where do I fit into this?

Well, as Steve Goodwin’s article explained, two blacksmiths, Graham Fraser and Forrest MacKay, formed a partnership that lead to the start of the country’s steel industry.

Graham Fraser, you see, was my great-grandfather.

His daughter Isabel Fraser married Dr. George Townsend, a veterinary doctor and New Glasgow’s librarian. George and Isabel’s firstborn — my father — was named Graham Fraser Townsend for an obvious reason.

When I was born, I was given the names of my grandfathers. But the Graham Fraser name didn’t end. My younger son, like my father, is another Graham Fraser Townsend, named after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather.

Confused? I almost confuse myself keeping the Graham Fraser name tags in order.

But even with that — and all the family history I’ve tried to keep in proper order — I can still learn more about the two men who got the steel industry started those 136 years ago.

For years, I’ve admired Pat Dunn, the Pictou Centre MLA and retired school teacher and principal. If you’re not aware, Pat’s roots are deeply ingrained in Trenton, where he grew up, where his career was centred.

It’s always a pleasure running into Pat at sports events and other places. I admire him, not just for his political fairness, but for the reputation he earned as an outstanding educator.

Steve Goodwin’s front page story and accompanying photo of the recent Trenton plaque unveiling told me something I didn’t know.

Pat Dunn’s great-grandfather James Dunn worked in the steel industry for 64 years. In other words, Pat’s great-grandfather may very well have worked for my great-grandfather. That doesn’t make us relatives, of course, but it does put Pat and me in the same generation. In fairness to him, I acknowledge that he’s 12 years younger than me. I wouldn’t want anyone believing he’s into his 80s.

Before leaving the history of Trenton’s steel industry, though, there’s someone else who used to discuss the steel industry with me.

That was the late James M. Cameron, the man who operated Hector Publishing Company, published the Eastern Chronicle, opened the county’s first radio station, and published books on Pictou County history.

He was Mr. Cameron to me, at least at the beginning, back when I began writing sports for John (Brother) MacDonald in his broadcasting role. “Mr. Cameron” always made a point of giving me autographed copies of his books and later – much later I believe — he told me to “call me Jim.”

One of Jim’s first publications, The Industrial History of the New Glasgow District, came out in 1960, just after I started running The Chronicle Herald’s local bureau.

One chapter, The Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company Ltd., became an additional teaching tool for me, Jim often asking if I had read it again.

Jim Cameron was very detailed in his writing, always including every morsel of information he could squeeze into his pages. But you could easily tell, even when addressing those Trenton developments back in the 19th century, that he loved “the New Glasgow District” and loved highlighting his historical facts.

Now, generations after my great-grandfather and Pat Dunn’s great-grandfather, it’s heart-warming to know Mayor Shannon MacInnis and the town council have taken such a step to ensure the old Steeltown’s history is never forgotten.

I wholeheartedly applaud their effort.