Tak­ing to­tal ab­sti­nence to Ot­tawa

The Casket - - Local - AARON BESWICK com­mu­ni­[email protected]­ald.ca

El­iza Tay­lor was en­ter­tain­ing her good friend Miss Sarah Geary on April 5, 1839 when the win­dows to her fa­ther’s house ex­ploded.

Shat­tered glass tore through the rooms of the Cooks Cove, Guys­bor­ough County, home cut­ting the faces of both young women.

An hour later gun­shots also rang out in the shire­town of nearby Guys­bor­ough, break­ing win­dows and ter­ror­iz­ing the fam­ily of E. I. Cun­ning­ham.

It was a war in Guys­bor­ough, not for land, but for the heart of the com­mu­nity.

El­iza’s fa­ther, Went­worth Tay­lor, was a mag­is­trate and leader of the newly formed To­tal Ab­sti­nence move­ment. E.I. Cun­ning­ham’s home was tar­geted be­cause he rented a room to the govern­ment clerk re­spon­si­ble for dol­ing out fines for the il­le­gal sale of liquor.

Like any war, its le­gions marched un­der ban­ners.

Three ban­ners — each of them three square me­tres — were painstak­ingly stitched to­gether by women of the move­ment with ex­pen­sive silk pur­chased with their own funds.

“Tem­per­ance, we love the cause,” reads the “ladies ban­ner” in gold let­ters against a back­ground of white silk.

“It is good to be zeal­ously af­fected al­ways in a good thing.”

The ban­ner the women made for the move­ment’s men warns those not march­ing with their hus­bands, “The eyes of all are upon you.”

There was a boy’s ban­ner too, but it has been lost.

And now the 188-year-old totems of a long for­got­ten strug­gle are fall­ing vic­tim to time and, ac­cord­ing to the Guys­bor­ough His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, in­sti­tu­tional dis­re­spect.

“Although you are el­i­gi­ble and have met our cri­te­ria for ac­cep­tance of projects, we are un­able to ac­cept your re­quest, be­cause of com­mit­ments to cur­rent treat­ment projects that are wait­ing to be com­pleted, as well as new com­mit­ments to treat­ment projects that at­tained a higher cri­te­ria rank­ing,” reads the third re­jec­tion the so­ci­ety has re­ceived from the Cana­dian Con­ser­va­tion In­sti­tute.

The so­ci­ety, which along with the ban­ners, is housed in the court­house that was built just four years af­ter the in­fa­mous shoot­ings.

Pres­i­dent Jamie Grant and Mark Haynes, the vice pres­i­dent, have been wag­ing a rather per­sis­tent cam­paign to have the ban­ners pre­served — seek­ing help first from the Nova Sco­tia Mu­seum and then (re­peat­edly) from the fed­er­ally funded Cana­dian Con­ser­va­tion In­sti­tute.

Rather than mus­ket balls, their strug­gle sees the ex­change of po­lite emails and de­tailed ap­pli­ca­tion forms.

But their pa­tience is wear­ing thin.

“Bri­tish Columbia and Al­berta weren’t even around in the 1830s, so my ques­tion is ‘What are these other pri­or­i­ties?’” said Haynes.

“We’re not even look­ing for money right now. We’re just look­ing for them to help us fig­ure out what needs to be done to pre­serve them and we will go from there. But we keep get­ting brushed off.”

The men’s ban­ner that hangs be­hind the judge’s bench is com­ing apart from its own weight.

They’re afraid the dis­tur­bance caused by tak­ing it down would fur­ther dam­age it.

The “ladies ban­ner” is in worse shape — faded from too much sun and di­lap­i­dated, they keep it rolled up away from the eyes of those who could ap­pre­ci­ate it.

To Grant and Haynes, the ban­ners are im­por­tant not just be­cause they are the old­est ex­tent ar­ti­facts known of an early 19th cen­tury move­ment that swept both the Bri­tish Em­pire and its for­mer Amer­i­can colonies but also be­cause they rep­re­sent a com­plex strug­gle of class, re­li­gion, econ­omy and eth­nic­ity waged in the mi­cro­cosm of one com­mu­nity.

“A lit­tle con­text is im­por­tant here,” said Grant.

Prior to the 1830 found­ing of Guys­bor­ough’s To­tal Ab­sti­nence league, the loy­al­ist Protes­tant com­mu­nity re­ceived an in­flux of Ro­man Catholic New­found­lan­ders of Ir­ish de­scent.

The new­com­ers, mainly young men, had been part of the 4,000-man fleet of fish­er­men that came from all over to pil­lage the mack­erel fish­ery of nearby

Fox Is­land.

The New­found­lan­ders, with their lilt­ing Ir­ish ac­cents and old school re­li­gion, were both a boon to the econ­omy and a cul­tural threat when they chose not to go home.

“They brought the de­mon drink with them,” said Haynes.

“Now, now, now,” cau­tioned Grant.

“The Ir­ish are un­fairly blamed for much. Though there likely weren’t too many choir boys among them.”

The area’s econ­omy was re­cov­er­ing from a global de­pres­sion that had fol­lowed the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The avail­abil­ity of hard cur­rency had not kept pace with eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

And so rum be­came the cur­rency with which the lo­cal mer­chants paid the un­ruly new­com­ers.

“They were go­ing up against the mer­chant class,” ex­plained Grant.

“They” were the de­scen­dents of 1,100 Protes­tant New Eng­lan­ders loyal to the Bri­tish monar­chy who con­sid­ered Guys­bor­ough their own — hav­ing had a 60 year head start on the Ro­man Catholic New­found­lan­ders.

In an or­der that spoke to their val­ues, upon their ar­rival in Guys­bor­ough the loy­al­ists had first built a court­house com­plete with stocks and whip­ping post, then a church and then a school.

It was the com­mu­nity’s women who pi­o­neered the To­tal Ab­sti­nence league in Guys­bor­ough — cre­at­ing their ban­ners the same year that 45 li­cences were granted to the mer­chants of Sid­ney County (now Antigo­nish and Guys­bor­ough coun­ties) to sell liquor.

In­ter­est­ingly, the pledge taken by mem­bers of To­tal Ab­sti­nence was to not drink more than two “glasses of spir­its” a day.

“There was no def­i­ni­tion of the size of the glasses,” said Haynes.

“And beer, cider and wine were fine.”

Their real ef­fort was to cam­paign against the is­su­ing of liquor li­cences to mer­chants, to see il­le­gal al­co­hol ped­dlers harshly fined and to en­force a strict moral code upon civic be­hav­ior.

They also held pa­rades, speeches, pic­nics and or­ga­nized a Band of Hope.

They passed mo­tions, in­clud­ing this gem from a meet­ing of the male mem­bers of To­tal Ab­sti­nence as they or­ga­nized a march: “Be it re­solved that the ladies who are mem­bers of the so­ci­ety be re­spect­fully re­quested to honor the pro­ces­sion with their pres­ence, as their ab­sence on that im­por­tant oc­ca­sion will, in the opin­ion of this meet­ing, be ex­tremely in­ju­ri­ous to the in­ter­est of the so­ci­ety.”

As for the vi­o­lence, it all came to a head one scary night. The per­pe­tra­tors were never found de­spite an of­fer of 100 pounds for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest from the province’s then lieu­tenant gov­er­nor Colin Camp­bell.

“All that was in­ci­den­tally as­cer­tained was … that it had been planned by per­sons fa­vor­able to liquor sell­ing and in re­tal­i­a­tion for fines im­posed for il­le­gal traf­fic,” wrote Har­ri­ett Hart in her 1877 book A His­tory of Guys­bor­ough County.

That’s right — 10 years af­ter Canada was founded, Guys­bor­ough had a his­tory book writ­ten about it.

“I spent 25 years re­search­ing just how old this com­mu­nity is,” said Haynes.

And in the base­ment of the Guys­bor­ough His­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety they feel keenly the snub of bu­reau­crats in that young Up­per Cana­dian town, Ot­tawa.

“Let’s put it this way — Con­fed­er­a­tion was im­posed upon us and we were forced to join Canada, which was On­tario and Que­bec,” said Grant.

“Is Canada still On­tario and Que­bec? If this was an On­tar­ian his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­fact would it have been re­jected three times?”


Jamie Grant and Mark Haynes, of the Guys­bor­ough His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, sit in front of one of two large silk To­tal Ab­sti­nence ban­ners made by women in 1830. The so­ci­ety is cam­paign­ing to have them bet­ter pre­served.

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