Dad and I visited Maitland, Nova Scotia this week.
In the 1940’s, Grandpa Verkley worked in Maitland, Nova Scotia. Dad believes he was in Nova Scotia twice and tore down 2 hangars after the war, one in Maitland, and one in Yarmouth.
Since I moved to Nova Scotia, I’ve grown more and more curious about the story and wanted to know more.
Uncle Joe Verkley scanned in Grandma and Grandpa’s photo albums several years ago, and there is a folder on that CD called “1i Halifax”. There are about 100 photos in the folder, black and white and sepia coloured images of houses, a covered bridge, a train trussle, a train station, the country side, many of an airport hangar being dismantled, and a couple of the wood being loaded onto trucks and on a ship.
I got serious this week about learning more. Since the train station photo has a sign with “South Maitland” written on it, I started tracking down Maitland. Only problem, there are several Maitlands in Nova Scotia.
I talked to a co-worker who grew up in Truro and I showed him some of the photos and he was pretty sure it was the Maitland on the Bay of Fundy. He said the town is famous for its ship building days and there are many big old historical houses there.
To make extra sure these photos were from that Maitland, I used Google map’s street view feature and matched a couple of the buildings from the main street.
Then I started researching the airport.
I found this:
Royal Canadian Air Force Detachment Maitland:
Opened in 1940 as a Relief Landing Field for No. 31 Operation Training Unit at Debert. As with all RLFs, the Detachment had a hangar, barracks and the standard triangle-pattern runways.
In January 1944, the Detachment changed functions when it became the home to No. 1 Aircrew Graduates Training School. No. 1 AGTS closed on 1 November 1944 and the aerodrome was abandoned.
All that remains today are the abandoned runways, now used for sports car racing, and the gunnery backstop.
Source material: “Abandoned Military Installations of Canada Volume III: Atlantic” by Paul Ozorak.
So the airport was only there for 4 years and then sometime not long after, the material of the buildings were sold and a Dutch crew dismantled them to send back to Holland? Who had a camera in the 1940’s to take all these photos? Did Grandpa have a camera? Or was he given these photos to remember the work they did? At first we didn’t think he was in any of the photos, but after looking harder, there is one man in a few of the photos with Grandpa’s features that may be him.
Dad and I were keen on the adventure, and the weather forecast looked perfect. A forecast high of 13 with sunshine.
Maitland, Nova Scotia is only a couple hours or so away from our house. It is a quiet little town, along the shore of the Bay of Fundy. It looks like the town might have peaked in the 1870’s when William D. Lawrence built and launched the largest full-rigged ship to ever be built in Canada.
There are huge houses here, many with 3 stories. Most are from the 1800’s. How often do you see houses that are 150-200 years old!?!
We visited the little general store and got ourselves a drink and some nice date cookies. Then we started exploring.
After we drove the main street and the couple back streets, we headed past the town. Another coworker at work told me the day before he knew of the drag track, which was an old runway, and he said it was just past the next little town of Selma, between the road and the Bay of Fundy.
It was easy to find. It was snow covered, but we saw the old sign for a drag strip. There is a large flat area, and someone looked like they were working on making the edges even wider and was burning some debris. This definitely looked like it was big enough to be an airport.
We headed back into Maitland. I had all of the old photos on my iPad and was flipping through, trying to match the buildings on the main street.
I saw another match, and asked Dad to get out to take a photo of it. Dad started walking down the street, and a man who was taking the Christmas wreaths down off the poles told Dad to go ahead and go up around the corner to the Bed & Breakfast to take some good photos, because that was his house, and there was a good view from there.
I saw Dad disappear up around the corner, so I followed him in the car and took some photos on my own.
Dad eventually wandered back to the car and we went back to thank the man.
And then the serendipity kicked in.
A little touch of a Corner Gas plot.
The man was no longer alone. There was an older woman and man with him.
Dad and I walked up to them, and Dad asked if any of them remembered the hangar that was at the airport.
The older man immediately said, “Oh yes, the Dutch came and took it away after the war.”
Ding ding ding!
I grabbed my iPad and Dad and I picked the brains of the man taking the Christmas wreaths off the poles (in March), a lady from the Historical society, and man who was a school kid during the 1940’s and remembered the Dutch men being there!
I starting showing them the photos and the lady from the historical society and the younger man on wreath removal patrol were in awe. They not only had never seen photos of the town from that era, they wanted a copy!!
Within moments I was invited to their historical event in August when they reenact the launching of William Lawrence’s big ship.
The older man was nonchalant, but eager to tell stories. In fact some of them I had to get second hand from dad in the car later because between the 5 of us we had a couple conversations going on at once.
We had a picture showing the old gas station on the main street, and the older man said it is right here. You’re standing in front of it. That is where the sign was. It was my father’s. Every day after school, he had to join his dad at the gas station and had to start right to work on repairing the big stack of broken tires.
He said they had built 3 runways, and they were in a triangle pattern from the gravel pit. The trucks went in one way and out the other so they didn’t have to meet. He had to repair all of their tires.
Dad said he must have been one strong son of a gun to repair all those tires, and he said he was!
He said he remembers the Dutch men being there and said there was a big crew of them.
We’d show him a photo from the iPad and he would take a closer look and identify the truck or the building or the house. It was such a treat!! He said when Grandpa was there, there would have been an old snowmobile in front of the gas station with a airplane propeller on the front of it.
I said the photos show all the beams inside the hangar were all wood and they were all labelled with a number so they could, assumingly, be put back together. That is when he got a sparkle in his eye and a grin and said I have one of those beams. I came across it just the other week! We all chuckled thinking it would be like a jigsaw puzzle missing the last piece when it got back to Holland!
He said the entire big building was made of wood, and it was all fastened with bolts. He said he didn’t think he had any of the bolts, but it had a big square washer on each one that was bent over on the edges to grip into the wood.
He said there was big plans for the airport, but after the war, nothing was done. He said they didn’t even finish building the third runway and he wasn’t sure a plane ever landed there. He said after the war the troops came back and the barracks were used as a retraining facility.
Since then it has been a drag strip, and now the airport is a sod farm.
Most of the buildings in the photos he could recognize. Some of them had been moved. We had a photo of the big house the younger guy lives in that is now a B&B. The only house they couldn’t place was the one in several of the pictures. It looks like the men, or some of them, were staying in it.
Then the older man had to rush off for his lunch. He said he had to pick up 2 girls so he shouldn’t be late, but we were a good excuse.
We exchanged email addresses with the other two, and they’ve requested copies of the photos for their own interest and for the historical society.
I hope I can go back again some day, hopefully in August for their annual celebration.
Here are some photos:
None of us were too sure what these were:
Our best guess was it was some sort of heating system.
But then on our way home, not too far from Maitland, we spotted one! It was in a yard, that looked like a little working steam generated museum. It was hooked to a big spin wheel and steam power with pipes coming off.
I should have taken a photo. Luckily the fellow has a website! So here is what I spotted!
Everything worked out so perfect. Weather was perfect, and everything else fell into place. Meeting those 3 people. Spotting that steam boiler. And then an owl! Dad said just a couple weeks ago he was lamenting that he had never taken a good picture of an owl.
Just past Maitland, maybe 15 minutes or so, there was his owl. Sitting on the top of a spruce tree. We spotted and Dad was able to take many photos, progressively upgrading his camera lens. The owl didn’t really seem to care that we were there, but he wouldn’t look at us either, so I kept creeping the car back and forth so Dad could get a better shot.
Look how cute the owl was when a gust of wind came:
Visit Maitland’s website: http://www.maitlandns.com
UPDATE (December 28, 2014)
There has been so much interest in the older photos I have of Maitland, Nova Scotia. I now believe these to be my Grandfather’s photos, Peter Verkley, that he took when he came to Canada by ship from Holland with his future brother in law, Jim Stokman, to help a crew dismantle airport hangar. They dismantled 5 hangars and a drill hall in Maitland, and two hangars in Yarmouth. It was February 1948 when they were in Maitland. In Jim’s journal, he commented on how cold it was when they arrived, and how it was the first time they worked with gloves on. He also mentioned how he regretted that he had to dismantle such magnificent buildings in Maitland. In both towns, they were billeted in boarding houses with other men from their Dutch crew.
Here is the full set of photos we have of my Grandpa’s album. I’m unsure which, if any, of the photos are from Yarmouth. If you recognize any, please let me know!
(You can click on an image for a larger view.)