Skip to main content

York of Yesteryear

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

We grew up right here in York. Oh yes, there was a number of us boys grew up here together. The Stewart boys and the Jones boys.

As young fellows in the summertime, we spent a lot of our time in the water, down there on the shores of York River. York Bay you might call it. Swimming and wading and playing down on the beach. Then we used to do work with our mother and father-sometimes a little in the garden, haymaking would come up and milking and stable work. Hunting and fishing too, every boy did that.

When we were a little older we used to have house dances. It was fun but so hot with all those people packed into one room. I don’t think you ever opened a window in those days! Those dances were a big time. And fiddlers -- oh, there was all kinds of fiddlers here in York! We were polluted with fiddlers! There was the Stewart family and three or four of them that played the violin. Of course, that was the only piece of instrument other than the organ. But the organ, you didn’t move that from house to house.

I went to school here in York to grade 7 and then went up to grade 10 in Gaspé. After school I got my first job with a scaler in the woods. ‘Tallyman,’ they used to call it. I tallied the scales, don’t think we made much more than a dollar a day. After that I did clerical work for the Howard Smith paper mill. They were in the pulpwood business, and they’d cut the lumber up on one of the three rivers – the York, the Dartmouth or the St. Jean. They drove it down in the spring of the year and towed it down to the mill in Sandy Beach. And they’d come out with four-foot length logs, put a steel drum around them and ship them off to Ontario from the Sandy Beach wharf.

Then I got an auditing permit in 1931. Now previously, anyone who could add two and two together would be appointed as an auditor. But the government wanted more than that. So they had a little course in it. It was held in Percé. I ended up doing the auditing for the municipalities and schools. Now there was another man, a Mr. Leo Kennedy, and he had a permit in Douglastown. But between him and I, we did all the districts around. They weren’t very big budgets compared to today. No comparison, my dear, no comparison.

Then I became secretary-treasurer of York. Mr. Dan Price was the secretary and he died, so they appointed me as secretary-treasurer. I was still secretary-treasurer when the big amalgamation came with the Town of Gaspé in 1970. Well, I didn’t think too much of it, to be frank about it. Good honest people, who didn’t have that much money, were frightened that the taxes would go much higher. Oh my God almighty! I was paying around $75 to $100 and today I’m paying close to $1500. I don’t know, to be honest, if we got more to show for it.

Now I was involved in the evaluations process, as well, and the evaluators had to go from house to house. Years ago you would go to people’s houses and say, ‘Yes you’ve got a nice house, and it’s big. Oh my,’ I’d say, ‘you’re valued at $2000, but I think we’ll put you up to $2,500.’ That was it, away you went. But then the council demanded that we measure every building! So that was a lot of work. There must have been twenty of us on it. We did it from Fox River to Barachois. That’s a big district.

Gaspé was a busy village. There was Robin Jones which we used to call CRC-Collis, Robin, and Collis. Most of their staff was from the island of Jersey. They were a big outfit, Robin Jones. They used to have stores right out on the end of the wharf. Steamships like the S.S. Gaspesia and The North Gaspé would come in and unload their passengers. They would run between Montreal and Gaspé and over to Newfoundland and then back to Gaspé and pick up the passengers from freight or express and go back to Montreal.

There was no bridge here in those days. It was all by ferry and they used to run with a scow. They’d tow the scow over and then take back the horses. Then the bridge was built and the official opening was in 1934. Oh my, but it saved people time. That was a big undertaking. They had a bad accident there too. There was one or two men drowned.

During World War II, I was a busy young man in Gaspé. Oh my God man! I don’t know how to explain it to you. There was so many young people who went in the Army. They nearly cleaned Gaspé out! Some places, three and four of them from the house. It was awful. There was so many of our friends gone -- there was so much sadness. Now you see, they used to have this base here in Sandy Beach as a naval base. And they also had an air base too. Oh yes, there was a lot of planes. We had a lot of young men here from other places, too. Oh there was a lot of boats sank out there too off Cap des Rosiers. I know different times they brought in boatloads from Cap des Rosiers and Fox River that had been rescued.

We had a blackout here in Gaspé during the war, no lights allowed. And, oh yes, there was rationing, we had to get cards. And no sugar! Not too many treats, we had to be an inventive bunch.

I believe my brother James had one of the first radios in York. We used to go over there and they used to have generally one or two sets of earphones, as they called them. You put them on your ears. And if there were any more than two or four to listen, we used to take the receiver off the telephone and screw that on the earphone and then we could listen with one ear. I was involved on the first board for bringing the television in here with Mr. Wilfred Carter and Mr. Fred Vibert. It was an awful lot of work. It came on the air I think in September 1962. There were problems with that mountain. We had to get all that equipment up to the top of that mountain! Oh my God, that was a big change! Getting in touch with the outside world.

Now, my daughter and her family are living with me and we get an awful lot of joy out of living with our grandchildren and watching them grow up and helping them, telling then the ways and means of life. Don’t worry, they teach us plenty, too! A lot of happiness.

*Francis was born in Gaspé in 1901. He was known for his photographic memory, and when a fire took place at the Howard Smith Pulp and Paper office, he amazingly recited, from memory, the missing information from files which were destroyed. He loved to play cards, travel and listen to music. Francis passed away in 1998.