Interview with Mary Gillis, Grand Mira North June 15/19 – for the Website
People who worked at the Stirling Mine
Jeanette: You were saying there were a lot of people from Grand Mira North working in Stirling.
Mary: Yes: Martin MacLellan, Don MacLellan, John MacLellan, Hugh MacLellan and my husband Bernard Gillis. He was from here (Grand Mira North).
Jeanette: The MacLellans, you said they were from Grand Mira North.
Mary: They were all from here, a mile up the road.
Jeanette: Did any MacEacherns work at the mine (in the 50’s)?
Mary: Not that I recall. There was a John MacEachern. He was a Veteran.
Jeanette: Maybe he worked there in the 30’s.
Mary: He probably worked there in the 30’s.
Jeanette: Presseau - He was a Mine Manager when the mine ran in the 30’s and his son lived in Grand Mira at one time, Bob.
Mary: Well Bobby Presseaus mother was married to Armand Presseau. She was from Grand Mira North, just down below the hill, here.
Jeanette: What Would her name be?
Mary: Florence Gillis. She would be a sister to my husband (Bernard).
Jeanette: He (Armand) didn’t work in the mine, right?
Mary: He worked in the mine, yes.
Jeanette: In the 50’s?
Mary: No, he could have worked in the 30’s.
Jeanette: Well his father…
Mary: Was the mine manager.
Jeanette: And Armand: he had a sister Madeleine?
Mary: That’s right. Her husband (MacEachern) worked at the steel plant. That’s why he didn’t work in the mine. John Angus Gillis worked at the steel plant and a couple of my brothers worked at the steel plant and that’s why they didn’t work at the mine.
Jeanette: Armand probably worked in the mine in the 50’s because his father was a Mine Manager in the 30’s.
Mary: Well, I’d say he worked in the 30’s.
Cows & Stores!!!
Jeanette: Do you remember any stories about the 30’s – that they’d have animals over there (at the mine) like cows?
Mary: I never heard of them having any.
Jeanette: Dolena (MacLeod/MacLean) told me her father bought a cow from Presseau back in the 30’s maybe when they were closing the mine down.
Mary: Well it was likely that they would have their own milk because you wouldn’t be running to the store.
Jeanette: There was John G’s store then. They didn’t have the stores (then that) they had in the 50’s.
Mary: There were three stores in the 50’s.
Jeanette: Do you remember those stores?
Mary: I remember Morrison’s store and Danny Shaw’s and there was another fellow from Gabarus who had a store.
Jeanette: Yes, Hooper.
Mary: Yes, Charlie Hooper.
Jeanette: And do you remember if there was a meat market there?
Mary: I don’t remember but I’m pretty sure there would have been.
Jeanette: Yes, Bessie told me that.
Mary: She would know.
Jeanette: So far she’s the only one who told me that. Maybe they ran it for a short period.
Mary: Well Bessie would know. She wouldn’t tell you unless it was factual.
Jeanette: Yes. Bessie was right on. I had a nice interview with her.
Mary: Yes. She wouldn’t tell you unless it was right on.
Jeanette: (According to Bessie) it was Angus MacKinnon’s wife’s brother.
Jeanette: And Morrison’s store. I know they had groceries, and bolts and nuts and nails.
Mary: And clothing (and shoes and boots).
Jeanette: I didn’t realize that they had clothes because Spinner’s had clothing. Maybe it was more dressy clothes (at Spinner’s), right?
Mary: Yes, well Spinner’s just came out, didn’t they, to sell the clothes and you went to Sydney to get them?
Jeanette: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Mary: I think that’s how Spinner’s operated.
Jeanette: They did have (some) clothes there (at Stirling Branch) because Diddy (Johnson/MacLeod) worked there. She said there were women’s clothes on the right and Men’s clothes on the left. Maybe some of the more tailored clothes (would be custom made). I think there were things you could buy (directly) from there.
Mary: Oh yes. Shirts and ties and stuff like that but if you were buying a suit.
Jeanette: Yes. They’d measure you up and have it made (to order).
Jeanette: The man who owned it was Moses Spinner. He had two sons. One of the son’s, Earl, ran the one in Stirling. In the back of the store they had a little post office. Diddy MacLeod worked in the post office. Note see Diddy MacLeod’s interview for more detail about Spinner’s.
Jeanette: Somebody told me that Hooper sold TVs and guns.
Mary: And Groceries
Jeanette: Did you see any guns?
Mary: I didn’t go into that store. The store I went to the most was Alex Morrison’s store. That was right on the highway, on the top of the hill (coming from the mine). That’s where we went mostly. Bernard went to Danny Shaw’s. I would say if there was a meat market, Danny Shaw had it.
Jeanette: He was more into groceries, right?
Jeanette: And he had a smaller store
Mary: He didn’t have clothes. To my knowledge I’ve never heard of anyone buying clothes there.
Jeanette: But Morrison’s had work clothes, and groceries?
Mary: They had about everything. They had dishes. It was like a hardware store and a grocery store. Anything they didn’t have, and you asked for it, they’d have it for you within three or four days because they were going back and forth from St Peter’s.
Jeanette: Kay and her husband, Charlie?
Mary: Charlie Fox
Jeanette: His last name was MacDonald.
Mary: But it was Charlie Fox, they called him.
Jeanette: And Kay. I always heard her being called Kay Fox.
Jeanette: Do you remember the Chinese restaurant?
Jeanette: Did you ever go there?
Mary: I didn’t but Bernard did. He said thy had good meals.
Jeanette: Everybody seemed to like the restaurant, there. I think they had a slot machine in there. I guess it didn’t last very long because the women in the community wouldn’t allow it.
Mary: They were very Christian people.
Jeanette: Yes. And a lot of the people who came in to work in the mine were Catholic people and the people who were living in the community (prior to this), they were the Presbyterian’s, right?
Jeanette: So, they were all very religious, so I don’t think they would want to have a slot machine.
Mary: They wouldn’t have liquor in their houses.
Jeanette Yes. The temperance movement was on the go at that time.
Mary: They didn’t have any liquor in their house.
Jeanette: No, but they had them (bottles) stuffed in their rock piles though (laughter).
Mary: I’ve seen the effects (laughs).
Jeanette: And my father’s garage, you probably remember that.
Mary: Oh, yes.
Jeanette: It was a pretty busy place.
Mary: Oh yes, he always had people there. And he had a man working there all the time.
Jeanette: Yes, He had Edwin Severance. He did the mechanical work. Duncan MacLeod worked there for a little while (waiting on customers).
Mary: Duncan Murdock Dan, I remember him being there.
Mary: We called him Duncan Murdock Dan because there were so many people with the same names.
Jeanette: Yes. We used to call people by their parent’s name. Murdock Dan was his father.
Mary: Here it was Martin D. So, it was Bernard Martin D. or John Alex Martin D. Well, the children here, their cousins in Sydney thought their last name was Martin D. They would send Christmas cards to Catherine Martin D, Estell Martin D and the mailman knew exactly who that was. Laughter.
The Dutchman and the wooden shoes
Jeanette: Do you remember anyone who sold wooden shoes out there (in Stirling)
Mary: No. There were no Dutch people out there.
Jeanette Apparently, there was a Dutch family just as you pass Morrison’ store, going to Framboise, from Stirling. There were three houses there and one of them was a Dutch family who sold wooden shoes (see photo of wooden shoes in photo section). A few people remember him, but they don’t know what his name was.
Mary: Well there was a Dutchman up the road here. He wore the wooden shoes. His children didn’t wear them, but you should have heard him dancing with them on.
Jeanette: He was up the Loch Lomond -Salmon River Road?
Jeanette: Maybe that was him.
Mary: Well, it could have been him and he bought a farm afterwards. See when the mine closed he would have to find some place else to live.
Jeanette: Do you remember what their names were?
Jeanette: I remember the Pronks. I wonder if that was him.
Note Mystery solved - Walter Martell, Grand Greve, advised me Jan 20/20 that the Dutch family 's name was Devriendt. They had three sons with whom Walter was friends with.
Where people lived from the mine heading from Stirling to Barker’s Corner (aka Four Corners).
Jeanette: I am going to show you a map with the name of people who lived on the Stirling Road from the Mine Road down to the four corners.
Mary: Well we just lived at the four corners.
Jeanette: Right in that little hollow there (heading to North Framboise)?
Mary: That’s where we lived. There were three families there. There were MacIsaac’s, MacKenzie’s and ourselves. We were in the centre.
Jeanette: MacIsaac’s. I heard that name mentioned.
Mary: Danny MacIsaac.
Jeanette: Where would he be from?
Mary: He was from Antigonish. He was an Electrician.
Mary: And MacKenzie was a Mechanic. And Vie was MacKenzie’s wife.
Jeanette: Where were they from?
Mary: I couldn’t say for sure.
Jeanette: Do you think Christmas Island, up that way?
Mary: I don’t know. I couldn’t say exactly.
Mary: Danny MacIsaac was on this side of us.
Jeanette: The left side?
Mary: Yes. And MacKenzie was on the right side. On the same side of the road.
Mary: Do you remember Johnny MacAskill, He lived down the road a bit?
Jeanette: Do mean like Johnny and Flo?
Mary: No. He didn’t have any family. He was married to one of the MacLeod girls – Catherine (Mary Ann (Red John’s) sister).
Jeanette: Oh, yes.
Where Mary and Bernard lived
Mary: I think they used to call where we were – Sleepy Hollow.
Jeanette: And you said you were in between the MacKenzies and the MacIsaacs.
Mary: We were in the centre and Dan MacIsaac was down here (on their right) and MacKenzie was up there (on their left).
Jeanette: OK, before you got up to the top of the hill, there.
Mary: We were all on a little – I’m sure we were all on an acre of land. Well now, Bessie’s boy owns that.
Jeanette: Yes, Douglas.
Jeanette: So was that Bessie’s property and you rented or leased it?
Mary: We just bought the cottage. It was a two-bedroom cottage. There was a little living room and a large kitchen. And it was just two bedrooms. There was running water but no bathroom because there were no bathrooms up there.
Jeanette: So, there was a hand pump.
Jeanette: So, where did the house come from?
Mary: Charlie- whatever his (last) name was - built the house because he was a manager. He wasn’t the Mine Manager, but he had a big job there. He built that house for himself and his wife. I don’t think his children came there.
Jeanette: So, what happened to him. Did he leave the mine?
Mary: He left the mine and he went further on. He got a better job and he went to Pine River or somewhere else, like he followed the company.
Jeanette: You would be there in the 50’s and he’d be gone by then?
Mary: He was there. My husband bought the place from him, but he was gone then. He was from Guysborough. His people were from Guysborough.
Jeanette: Charlie from Guysborough. I wonder what his last name would be. Maybe we’ll find out who he is one day. Note I think this man may have been Charlie MacDougall
Jeanette: Now the people on either side of you (The MacIsaacs and the MacKenzies), was there a house there or did they build their house.
Mary: I think they built their own place. I’m not sure. Or else they were some that were there from the 30’s.
Jeanette: Now the other two houses, they were older right? They weren’t brand new.
Mary: No. They were older.
Jeanette: But yours was?
Mary: It was recent
Jeanette: Like in the late 40’s.
Mary: I don’t know if his wife spent a lot of time there either. She was a baker in a store. That’s when they baked by hand – before they had mixers and she’d mix the cakes with her hands.
Jeanette: But she didn’t work in the stores in Stirling?
Jeanette: That was another place.
Mary: Yes. I don’t remember seeing her, but I remember them telling me about her. Well, they were gone before we went there. We had their house.
Jeanette: So, they were gone, did Bernard start working there before you moved up there?
Mary: Oh Yes, three or four years.
Jeanette: So, he stayed in the bunkhouse?
Mary: No. He stayed with Catherine and John Alex MacAskill (North Framboise).
Jeanette: Then there was John Martell and his wife. They were from L’Ardoise. Do you remember them John L.
Mary. They lived up on the highway
Jeanette: (Showing the map). This is the main road.
Mary: That’s where they lived.
Jeanette: And there was Roddie John Alex MacLeod
Mary: He lived up there too I think.
Jeanette: He was among that group there on the left-hand side of the road coming from Stirling. And then Elsie and John Archie Munroe lived next door to Dan Alex Burns and Adelaide Burns. Their son Howard died in the mine.
Mary: Yes, he went through the press. Very sad.
Jeanette: The crusher?
Mary: As far as I had heard, it was the crusher and he was the only child they had.
Jeanette: Yes. Very sad, eh.
Jeanette: Mary Anne’s (Red John) son Angus built a log cabin. Do you remember where the log cabin was? It was on the main road coming from Stirling.
Mary: I don’t remember it but I’m quite sure I saw it.
Jeanette: And then over in Dogpatch (across the road), there was a guy called the Cowboy.
Note: Dogpatch was a nickname given to this stretch of road. There were several homes in a large open field. The homes were often small and temporary with several people coming and going depending on what their job was at the mine. At the time there was a popular cartoon strip "L'il Abner" and the place they lived was called Dogpatch thus the nickname. One of the homes was bought by my aunt Wilma (Strachan) and moved to Morrison Rd, Framboise (click on this link to see photo #34 - Photos).
Mary: I heard the name.
Jeanette: But you don’t know who he was?
Mary: No. I can’t say I knew who it was.
Jeanette: Calvin Hastings was supposed to live there, Powers, and Alex MacDonnell.
Mary: Well Alex MacDonnell, Archie MacDonnell. Alex ran a taxi to St Peter’s. I mean he worked there (at the mine) steady but at the same time he ran a taxi to St Peter’s. They were brothers, they were both from Mabou.
Jeanette: Was Alex MacDonnell married at the time.
Mary: They were both married.
Jeanette There was an Alex MacDonnell that lived in St Peter’s who worked at the mine. Maybe that’s the same guy.
Mary: There was Alex MacDonnell and Archie MacDonnell and they had nice cars coming there.
Jeanette: 1950’s cars, like brand new?
Mary: Pretty darn new, yes. Alex drove taxi. If somebody wanted to go to St Peter’s, he took them there. He worked but he drove taxi as well.
Jeanette: So, Alex and Archie MacDonnell -did they just come to do one thing like sink the shaft and then leave?
Mary: No. They were there till – they left the same time we left.
Jeanette: Was that around 1956 or so.
Jeanette: They were starting to close down around then.
Mary; Yes. In 55 they were starting to close down.
Jeanette; Then there was Lloyd MacRae. He was from Oban. I don’t know if you knew him. He lived in Dogpatch and Joe MacLean.
Mary: I heard those names.
Jeanette: and Patriquin
Mary: I heard Patriquin. I don’t know where his name was.
Jeanette: Port Hawkesbury maybe. There are Patriquins who are living in Port Hawkesbury now.
Mary: But they just called him Patriquin.
Jeanette: So maybe that was his first name.
The King’s Bus Line – aka The Stirling Bus
Jeanette: There were people who went to Sydney on the Stirling bus. Do you remember that one?
Mary: Yes, well that went by my father’s place in French Road.
Jeanette: Do you know how often it ran?
Mary: Yes. It ran every morning. It would go by my home around 10 O’clock.
Jenette: And They’d come back that night?
Mary: Yes, everyday.
Jeanette: Hughie MacDonald was driving it at the end of it.
Mary: Hughie MacDonald, yeah.
Jeanette: They wouldn’t go on Saturday or Sunday, would they?
Mary: Oh, definitely, yes. They went in on Sunday night. I don’t know. They came out Saturday night. They went in on Sunday night because everybody was going back to work. They took them in. Like my father (Archie MacPhee Sr.) worked in Glace Bay and he went in on the bus (coming from Stirling) then he got the other bus in Sydney and he went to Glace Bay.
Jeanette: So, what did he do over there (in Glace Bay). Did he work in the mine over there?
Mary: Well, he worked for the mine. He was a carpenter. So, he worked on the ground, on the level but it was for the pit.
Jeanette: Do you know what he did for the pit? I think the carpenters like my father did the same thing over in Stirling.
Mary: They made pit boxes.
Jeanette: Like stages in the drifts where they could get up to the roof?
Jeanette: He didn’t work at the (Stirling) mine?
Mary: Yes, he did.
Jeanette: I thought he worked at the mine (In Glace Bay).
Mary: Yes, and then when the war was over, they were all laid off.
Jeanette: So, he worked in Glace Bay then and the Stirling bus was running and when Stirling opened up he moved up to North Framboise?
Mary: No. He just boarded up there. He boarded at Norman Alex’s in North Framboise - the walk he had to work! He boarded at Bessie’s too.
Jeanette: So, he was around (Stirling) when you were around?
Mary: Well, he wasn’t there very long when we were around.
Jeanette: He left
Other people who worked there
Mary: My brothers worked there -Danny and John and Father Norman worked in the mine.
Jeanette: And your father
Mary: He didn’t work in the mine. He was a pit boss.
Jeanette: He was a carpenter. He must have worked with my father.
Mary: They were good friends.
Jeanette: You had a brother, Archie, too but he didn’t work at the mine, did he?
Mary: He was there for two days. He said when they put windows down there, he’ll go back (laughter).
Jeanette: It was scary for him, was it?
Mary: It was horrible for him. So, he came home. He was maybe sixteen or seventeen and he came home and bought himself a big truck and he hauled pit timber.
Jeanette: To the mine?
Mary: That was a living he made - driving the truck.
Jeanette: So, it was dark besides being soaking wet. It was hard work for them, right?
Mary: It wasn’t hard for Bernard because he was in a cage all the time and he was dry. He never got wet.
Mary: He was full of dirt from the dust all the time.
Jeanette: They had ventilation, but it wasn’t really up to snuff, was it?
Jeanette: And do you remember any other people who stand out in your mind who worked around the mine?
Jeanette: Bernard was a Hoister, right?
Mary: And Dan Morrison was a Hoister and Melvin Morrison. They operated a machine, the three of them. Three shifts.
Jeanette: So, they’d all take turns doing shifts.
Jeanette: And the gatekeepers.
Mary: The gatekeeper was Jim MacDonald.
Jeanette: They called him big Jim…
Mary: Big Jim MacDonald.
Jeanette: Enos Sampson from Sampsonville. He was the other gatekeeper.
(See Douglas Landry and Chrissy MacMillan/Duncan MacLeod's interviews for info on the third gatekeeper.)
The Catholic Church
Jeanette: Do you remember the catholic church?
Mary; Oh yes. Father Edward MacDonald. Was the priest there. He was the priest in St Peter’s, but he came down there and said mass.
Jeanette: Every Sunday
Mary: Either Saturday or Sunday.
Mary: And the Presseaus - the Presseaus came back here for a while. Because when we were there, the Presseau girl who was married to Johnny MacEachern, she’d be going to church there.
Mary: Yes, Madeleine.
Jeanette: That was built in the 50’s.
Mary: Yes. The church was built in the 50’s.
Jeanette: Do you know if it was built by the Diocese or was it built by the mine?
Mary: I’d say the Diocese.
Note: This is an excerpt from Johnstown Website: "Among the events of Father Dan. E. MacDonald’s pastorate were "the erection of a large addition to the Johnstown Academy and the opening of a mission church at Stirling, Richmond County. The Stirling venture was necessitated by the beginning of hard-rock mining there some time before. On August 12, 1951, Fr. MacDonald began to offer Mass at Sterling on Sunday mornings and he kept up this schedule throughout the rest of his pastorate. The Stirling mission reached its greatest population in 1954, and on May 20 of that year Bishop MacDonald sent to Johnstown as assistant Father Bernard R. MacDonald, native of Upper Grand Mira. He was the son of Dougald MacDonald and Sarah Jane Currie, and was ordained on June 3, 1950. He was at Johnstown until December 1, 1955." From <http://www.johnstown.ca/History.htm>
"In addition to his parochial ministrations Father Morley kept up weekly the Sunday visits to the Stirling mission chapel. The mission had reached its peak by the end of 1954 when its Catholic population numbered 265 souls. A year later there were only 210, and by the end of 1956 these had dwindled to 16. Father Morley offered the last Mass at Stirling in October, 1957." From www.johnstown.ca/History.htm>
Jeanette: Pearl (MacLeod/MacDonald) was telling me that her husband and my father and a lot of the other people who worked at the mine built it. So, the mine must have had something to do with it.
Mary: I’d say that was volunteer work. See when they were building the church, religion didn’t come into play.
Jeanette: It was a community thing.
Mary: It was a community thing.
Jeanette: Everybody helped out.
Mary: The protestants. They had their church.
Jeanette: Yes. There was one in Framboise. There was one in Fourchu. There was one in Grand River and Loch Lomond.
Mary: They all had their churches. But there was no Catholic church there. There was a Catholic church in Gabarus at one time.
Jeanette: I remember somebody saying something about that. So, this one out in Stirling…
Mary: It was small.
Jeanette Did it go somewhere (after the mine was closed)?
Mary: It was sold as a dwelling.
Jeanette: Pearl was saying there was an altar in the front and they would move it away and then there would be a stage up front (for a school concert). How many people would you say would fit in there, fifty?.
Mary: I wouldn’t know if it would fit fifty. There wouldn’t be a lot because there wasn’t a lot of Catholics.
Jeanette: Oh, I thought – Bessie said a lot of people who came were Catholics. She said they were "staunch" (note on line definition "loyal and committed in attitude") Catholics but a lot of them may have been single and staying in the bunkhouse and may not have bothered going to church.
Mary; The Presseaus were very staunch Catholics as was my family.
The people who lived by the Five Island lake (aka Stirling Lake)
Jeanette: Angus and Marion MacDonald. They were probably from Gabarus.
Mary: Yes, they would be. It’s not so long since he died. He was very old. He was in the Manor in Marion Bridge. And Marion was Angus Philip Danny’s daughter. They lived in a flat roofed house in big lake - Gabarus lake.
Jeanette: Then there was Kilowatt Dan.
Mary: He was an electrician. That’s why he was called Kilowatt Dan. See there was a lot of nick names. I bet you’re running into that.
Jeanette: Not as much as I thought I would.
Jeanette: Lily and Angus MacLeod
Jeanette: and Jean Taylor and Harry Taylor.
Mary: The father must have died. There was just the mother and the son there. Maybe the father was there too.
Mary: The Landrys
Jeanette There were Landry’s down the mine road, Gertie and Willie D
Mary: She used to babysit for us. She used to come to our house.
Jeanette: They were cooks. They lived down the mine road.
Mary: I don’t know where they lived but she used to babysit for us. See Bernard knew those people a lot better than I did.
Jeanette: She used to babysit the Michaelson’s kids too.
Mary: They had no children (the Landry's).
Jeanette: This lady did. She had an adult son who worked there as an electrician (who would have been around 25 at that time).
The School Teacher
Jeanette: (Question to Mary previously during phone conversation). I understand that your brother, Stephen, lived with you and went to school in Stirling.
Mary: Yes. He did. There was no school in French Rd. and since we were in Stirling, he came up with us and went to school there. He became an Engineer.
Mary: The schoolteacher was Theresa. She was a MacDonald. She taught school and she had two children.
Jeanette: Did they live down the Crooked lake road for a while?
Mary: I think so. They had two children.
Jeanette: So, she married a MacDonald?
Jeanette: And the kids - did they go to school (in Stirling)?
Mary: Yes. The girl died and the boy is married to a girl from Sydney. His name is Jim MacDonald.
Jeanette: Donald Morrison was telling me he was talking to Jim (the son) and he said his mother and father lived down the Crooked Lake road and that she was a schoolteacher.
Mary: That’s her. And a very nice lady.
When Mary moved to Stirling
Jeanette – Is there anything else that you can think of that you might want to tell me?
Mary: It’s hard to believe but I was quite shy when I went up there.
Jeanette: Oh yeah.
Mary: I didn’t know any of the people up there. The only one I knew was Mrs. MacAskill, Catherine MacAskill.
Note: Mary obviously got over her shyness and got to know the people up in Stirling and kept connected to them over the years. She is very sociable and active. She lives in her lovely home in Grand Mira North and continues to attend community events. She recently attended a community breakfast in Framboise (next community to Stirling). JS Aug/19.