Local History Memories Writing

A Sussex story of the 50s

Playing Hockey On ‘The River’ Could Be Hazardous!

“Watson get out of the water! You’ve got your new clothes on! Your father is gonna kill you!”

These were the words we heard before we could even see the dam and river. But, I’m getting ahead of my story … you have to understand certain things first!

In Sussex from at least the 1930’s to the early 1950’s the favourite unofficial rink in Sussex was a stretch of quiet water above the filtration plant dam on Trout Creek. The dam created a deep pool about 30 feet wide which, because it was not as free-flowing as other river channels within the town, was always the first to freeze over in late fall..

It was the rink where most of us in that area got our early hockey instruction from older kids, no coaches or referees, seldom an audience. My apprenticeship began at eight when my grandfather bought me my first pair of tube skates. That was 1942; until then my skating had been done with bob-skates on garden patches of ice.

Like most everyone who played on ‘the river’ in those years I couldn’t afford a pair of shin pads or hockey gloves until my final years of high school. Just buying a stick and an occasional puck bent my budget and most of us still have bumps and scars as reminders of those happy days when we’d play from early morning to after dark Saturdays and Sundays and almost every afternoon after school when the weather permitted.

It was pick-up hockey with usually ten or more aside but with a number of those always ‘temporarily winded’ or recovering from minor injuries ‘off ice’ it made the number on each side usually just about right…a couple of defense men, a goalie and a number of forwards. Anyone coming late to ‘the game’ was picked up alternatively by the sides.

The big problem with the location, however, was losing pucks. All we ever had at the dam end as a barrier were wide planks on their edges and pucks lifted over a foot high that missed the net went over the dam and were usually not retrievable until the ice broke up in late March or April and water levels dropped. Those who took the time to fish them out became the suppliers of pucks the next fall but that stockpile usually ran out as all of them, of course, could ever be found, washed downstream and under banks. I remember one year retrieving 38 of them myself and others found some as well.

But the biggest thrill of all any fall was to be ‘first on the ice.’ You sort of felt you owned that river rink for the next few months if you were. But qualifying for that honour was not without its dangers as some found out. Thankfully there was never a fatality, but there were nail-biters.

I lived on Magnolia Avenue from 1939 until a couple of years after high school, a street that at our mid-stretch, had only a government yard and shed … a long tin covered structure housing bridge materials and road maintenance machines … between it, the river and dam. Winter Street which parallels Main in that part of Sussex ends right across from where the filtration plant and the dam once existed.

One afternoon I was walking home from school with Delbert Thorne, a friend in my class who lived on what was then the far end of Magnolia Avenue in the last of what were, originally, identical houses called the Seven Sisters. When we reached the end of Winter Street Delbert said suddenly: “It’s been pretty cold the last few nights, lets see if the river has iced up yet.”

As it turned out his sudden thought proved providential. We crossed the Avenue, walked along the side of the filtration plant and rounded the end of the tin shed to see a sight that afterwards the four of us would laugh about but could have easily ended in tragedy. Paul Watson who lived nearby had broken through the ice and was holding on to the edge. He was a grade younger than we were and his next door neighbour, a year younger than him, was running around yelling “Watson, get out of the water! You’ve got your new clothes on! Your father is gonna kill you!”

Well, Delbert and I quickly got a plank from the lumber piles in front of the shed, and between the three of us we were able to get Paul out, dripping and cold but uninjured. Paul’s father owned a fairly successful hardware and had taken him and his brother to Saint John recently for new winter outfits, one of which Paul was wearing. As the neighbour, who was his constant companion in those days, said he’d been so concerned about what Paul’s father was going to do to him he just hadn’t thought about helping him get out and, well, he knew Paul was a good swimmer.

That was the big danger of being ‘first on’: the dream of being that year’s celebrity could result in a quick cold splash back to reality. And if any of us had, unfortunately, gone through and came up under the ice we would have met the same fate as the young hockey player in Stephen King’s Dead Zone. If you’ve read that book or seen the movie that scene may already have come to mind.

My own icy water baptism occurred a couple of years later but not during a try at being the ‘first on.’ When it snowed we… us kids…would shovel off our river rink but when a thaw came and the river refroze with shale and ridges, as it sometimes did, we’d borrow a force pump with hoses from the filtration plant and flood the tennis court across the river in O’Connell Park.

One Saturday morning, after a late Friday night of hockey by moonlight I overslept, wolfed down breakfast, pulled on a jacket and hat, grabbed my skates, stick, a couple of pucks and ran across the open space…where the new Sussex Public Library now stands…which led directly to the river a few hundred feet upstream from the dam, jumped down. Unfortunately a few days of higher temperatures had weakened the ice under the snow and I was in water up to my waist before I knew it and still sinking. Luckily my reflexes were much faster then than they are now and I was able to catch an overhanging tree limb and pull myself out.

Then it was a fast run back to the house, dripping water all the way, a quick change of clothes and footwear and I was off again on the longer but safer route around by Main Street’s turreted bridge. And really thankful to find, on reaching our tennis court rink, that no one had witnessed my drenching or my dripping exit from the river

I’ve often thought that my two sons, who were transported in heated vehicles to indoor rinks with dressing rooms and toilets facilities during their dozen school years in organized hockey and never played a skirmish game on an open pond or river, missed so much in physical conditioning! All the fun of walking a couple of miles to play other area teams and often helping shovel an outdoor rink when you got there for a game at which we’d be lucky to have a referee, never even expect a linesman. It sure helped built self-reliance, certain survival skills and endurance, though, if nothing else!

Album Release Bluegrass Collector Concert Folk Local History Music

Bernie Houlahan and Eddy Poirier



CD cover
I don’t think it’s tea!

A picture on a CD, from Moncton, ten years ago I would have been sure was trick photography!

It’s a picture of New Brunswick’s veteran king of the bluegrass fiddle, Eddy Poirier, sitting across a circular table from a leading senior folk and Irish music interpreter, Bernie Houlahan, little tea cups raised. Eddy, on the left, a saucer in front of him and Bernie,on the right, an orange and black cat perched. Between them is a teapot….a Brown Betty, no less…objects I would never have associated with either.

Yet, I must admit years ago, whenever I’d meet Eddy at a festival he’s always invite me to: “Come over to my camper and have a cup of tea, We need to talk.”

Funny thing it never was tea. But it was served in mugs. Mugs! Not dainty little china cups!

Here’s another rub, too! They even named this album of six instrumental Irish fiddling tracks… each a medley of two tunes…and six Irish songs The Cup Of Tea- Irish Traditional Music.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise though. Eddy and Bernie have been getting together for years and have played the odd Moncton venue together. And each has always had a great admiration for the other’s musical talents. The surprise should have been that it took so long!

I have listened all night long to Eddy’s fiddle and banjo around campfires at early NB festivals that his Bluegrass 4 staged on the old Shediac Road! And on more nights until near daylight listening to Bernie sing dozens of songs from the inexhaustible repertoire he’s filed in memory during a lifetime dedicated to learning all the beautiful songs and melodies, he’d find, through ceaseless searching.

They’re two of my favourite musicians and people. But, so different in the perception of many who know them. Both driven, however, by the same unquenchable thirst to learn both old or new-to-them music and perform it for audiences in an effort to give such discoveries a deserved new life, the appreciation such treasures deserve!

‘Two veterans of the Maritime music scene,’ this CD’s back notes read, ‘have collaborated on a collection of their favourite Irish music. Although they’ve pursued somewhat different musical paths they’ve always enjoyed getting together to ‘play a few tunes’ around a kitchen table or to appear together in public performance.’

Well, in their words, “ it’s nothing fancy”, but to most of us who have known them since the 1970s this CD is a treasure. A wealth of Irish fiddle tunes…12 on six tracks… with six of the loveliest, and perhaps most enduring, Irish ballads thrown in to sweeten the pot… brew, that is!

The fiddle tunes played by Eddy, Bernie’s guitar backing him, include: Toss The Feathers, Woman of the House, Cup Of Tea (the title theme), Tarbolton Lodge, Home Ruler, Cross The Fence, Jackson’s Morning Brush, Tongs By The Fire, Cooley’s Reel, The Wise Maid, The Peeler’s Jacket and Love At The Endings.

Eddy Poirier has been featured on nearly a hundred albums…lps, cassettes, CDs and, I think, maybe an 8-track or two, over at least four decades. Many of those were as one of the Blue Diamonds during the decade that that quartet of singing musicians were Toronto’s leading country club band. Then he did a few with Smiley Bates, and with his wife Rose and Smiley. Then back home with various alliances of top NB performers called The Bluegrass 4, a number of solo recordings and an unknown number with performers Moncton to Toronto he’s backed at recording sessions in those years.

I first met Bernie Houlahan when he joined our Saint John Folk club in the late 1970’s.. By then he had belonged to several Moncton music groups and during at least one bluegrass flirtation was part of an alliance that brought in such legendary acts as Flatts & Scruggs, Mac Wiseman and others. At that time he was hosting a weekly Moncton radio folk music show that had a long run of nearly 18 years. And Bernie was a part of the Hal ‘n Tow folk trio, from the early 1980s until this past September, with composer, multi-instrumentalist James Stewart and the late, lamented great musican and vocalist John Murphy. For the last twenty he has been a member of the Miramichi’s Comhaltas Irish Chapter, too,

Some of the most treasured evenings of my life have been listening to Bernie and Portland, Maine’s Kendall Morse taking turns dredging up old songs from memory and performing them thrillingly downstairs at a club in Belfast, Maine during folk gatherings yearly .

On The Cup of Tea Bernie sings: The Blarney Roses, Welcome Paddy Home, Lord of the Dance, Bridget Flynn, Galway City and Far Away In Australia.

This great CD was recorded at E.J.P. Studio in Moncton, mi

xed and mastered by Eddy Poirier. For copies, phone Bernie at (506) 389-2042 or Eddy at (506) 384-8655.

Concert Event Local History

Ashley tomorrow, Matilda and Eva Steele birthdays


ashleyMacIssac09Ashley’s coming to the Imperial Theatre, Saint John, Sunday at 8 p.m….Cape Breton’s native son, Ashley MacIssac, that is…and reportedly back on track!

They’re billing it ‘traditional fiddling the Cape Breton way: fast, furious, phenomenal!’ A real stompin’ Celtic kitchen party where traditional song and exceptional musicianship take centre stage! A return to his traditional fiddling roots!

As flamboyantly outrageous and controversial as any Canadian entertainer, Ashley now, reportedly, has put spontaneous misbehaving and rudeness behind him. I’m sure Conan O’Brien will be glad to hear that, should he ever think of interviewing Ashley again!

No one, however, has ever questioned Ashley’s musical genius. As one admirer of that genius proclaimed 15 years ago: “Don’t be judgin’ this here fiddle music before you’ve treated yer ears to the stuff. As you may already know, the devil’s in the kitchen and Ashley MacIssac is leading him around by the horns. The (then) 20 year old Cape Breton wunderkind has made (masses of) fiddle lovers out of fiddle haters!

“The kilt wearing, Doc Marten-stompin genre bender has crossed jigs, reels, strathspeys and airs with a submersive sound-scape of rock, fusing it all into a new raw exhilarating Celtic passion”.

Ashley, now, has returned to his earlier influences, a tradition known as the ‘Cape Breton Way’, defined by the recordings of Winston ‘Scotty’ Fitzgerald, Angus Chisholm and Buddy MacMaster, his original influences.

Ashley Dwayne MacIssac was born at Creignish, Cape Breton on February 24, 1975…he’ll be 35 on that date this year! At an early age he began immersing himself in the recordings of those three masters. Picking up a fiddle physically at the age of eight, once he set his bow to strings he was never the same again. A-tuned he began playing anywhere anyone would listen, at neighbours and relatives , at school…wherever people gathered. By 14 he was playing local festivals, pubs, church halls, clubs. Then, with local bands he began touring Celtic communities across Canadaand into the US, as far as Massachusetts and California,. At 16, in 1992, he recorded Close To The Floor, his first traditional album. A Cape Breton Christmas followed a year later. Before he was 18 he’d toured internationally with both John McDermott and the Chieftains.

His name then spread globally, earning him fame as an extraordinary talent who could breath new life into old fiddle music. And he was soon performing at prestigious venues world-wide, winning acclaim and sharing stages with the most elite entertainers. So although his career has had it’s thorny moments Ashley MacIsaac is still a spectacular act, master of the blazing fiddle. For more info visit

And don’t miss Ashley at the Imperial, Saint John this Sunday, Jan.31, 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, $25, $30. on-line www.imperialtheatre, at the Imperial box office or by phoning 674-4100 (outside directory 1-800-323-7469).


Matilda Murdoch has been part of the Miramichi’s cultural community for most of her 90 years. A Celebration of her Birthday, a milestone in this province’s fiddling history, takes place this Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Community Center, Loggieville. An unbelievably energetic and stirring fiddler, even at her age, ‘Maddy’ has a unquenchable love of music so the party’s apt to roll right on into Sunday’s early hours. Come prepared. If you play a traditional instrument bring it along. There will be music, dancing, food, camaraderie and Matilda, Queen of the Bow will be front and center, wielding it as only she can! If you love her music….the over 200 inspired tunes she has written…pop in and say ‘hello’. “It’s gonna be a shaker of biblical proportions,” I’m told. Everyone’s invited, so feel free to bring friends.

Matilda Murdoch was born January, 1920, at Loggieville, now a part of Miramichi City, where she still resides. When she was eight, her father gave her a fiddle:within months she was playing tunes. Her first public performance at 11, was in 1931, and has been thrilling and amazing a continuously growing army of fans ever since. Her playing still holds audiences entranced. Her original compositions were played even by Don Messer during his radio and TV fame. Her style has been a subject of study, not only in the Maritimes, but by fiddlers throughout North America and, in recent years, in Ireland.

In fact, Tracey Robinson (of the Miramichi’s Dirty Nellys) on Jan 10, commented on Matilda’s Birthday Facebook page that: ‘A recent trip to Ireland brought me to Doolin, a small village on the western coast, about five miles north of the Cliffs of Moore. A sign as you enter reads The Hub Of Irish Music and indeed the three pubs there were totally dedicated to it. I made my way to McDermott’s and found Irish music was, indeed, alive and well. In fact there were six musicians (The Ceili Bandits) blasting out their stuff, and of these six, five were current All-Ireland Champions. Not being able to resist, I introduced myself and when I told them of my travels and that I was from the Miramichi they instantly, asked ‘did I know Matilda Murdock?’ Like Alex (Alex Baisley had the exact same experience two days before in a Galway) , I was shocked. I said yes, and soon was sitting, 4000 miles from Miramichi, tapping my feet to the tune they played next, Matilda’s Loggieville Two Step!

Matilda as a fiddler has garnered international recognition as a composer, player and teacher. She has been elected to both the North American Fiddle Hall of Fame in New York State and the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was the recipient of a Stompin Tom Connors Award at the ECMA’s in Saint John. And that same year was proclaimed a Freeman Of The City of Miramichi and, more recently, honoured with the Order of New Brunswick. Join Matilda Saturday at her 90th Birthday Celebration!


dancing up a storm
Gerry and Eva doing the Charleston

It’s 25 years, at least, since I took my first Charleston dance lesson from Eva Steele at a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner in the, then new Saint John Trade & Convention Centre. She would have been 70 or so and I was, well…a little over 50!

But Eva has always seemed so young, the eternal Irish Colleen, since she immigrated here from Erin. And she she been the darling of the Comhaltas (Coal-tas) Saint John Chapter since their inception here: front and centre at most of their events.

Well, Eva’s Surprise 95th Birthday Party last Saturday at the city’s lavish new Chateau Saint John was no exception. The cream of Comhaltas singers and musicians were there to pay her a musical homage. Even this paper’s retired editor-in-chief Fred Hazel took a turn at the mike to dedicate his rendering of Danny Boy in an impressively deep voice to Eva. And a song written in her honour was read dramatically by its composer. Also heard were Stuart Hook, Bruce Neill, Tom Noel and and Keith Facey in the time we were there.

Also in attendance, among a multitude of invited guests, was the 2009 honorary Irish Gala chairwoman Helena Hook, originally from Athlone, Ireland, who with Dr. S. Kumar, was honoured last St. Patrick’s Day as an Irish Person Of The Week. It was a year of double honours for the Hooks: Her husband Stuart Hook was inducted into the Comhaltas Music Hall Of Fame at a Canada East Region Gala event in Toronto, for his dedication to traditional Irish music and culture. Stuart has been a member of the Saint John branch for more than 15 years. Although he was born in England, Helena says he is more Irish than even she is. And it was through the nurturing of Comhaltas that he found the confidence to play instruments and sing. Their local chapter has done the same for others and is always seeking new members. They meet Tuesdays, 7 p.m. at O’Leary’s, Princess Street, Saint John. For more info visit


The Park Avenue Fiddlers host a Fiddle Jam, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. at Park Avenue United Church, Saint John East. All fiddlers, accompanists and fiddle fans are invited. Coffee or tea is served with free-will offering to help with expenses. For info phone 847-81034

Folk In Memoriam Local History Memories Music

John Murphy, arts community losses


Looking back at the year 2009, it seems New Brunswick, the southern half particular, was more bereaved by deaths in our musical community than in most recent years. Among those were:

John with Anna singing at home in Hampton


In September 1975, John Murphy who had immigrated from England a year before, with his wife Pip (Susan), visited The Telegraph-Journal offices. He had just accepted a position as an art teacher in the Saint John area. He wanted to insert a notice of a meeting to form a folk club, such as he’d belonged to in London.

John, as it turned out played guitar and button accordion and had a very distinctive voice. Along with others who had a love of folk music I became a regular. At first it was sing a-rounds but in a few months John decided some were gifted enough to stage concerts. Admission monies raised were pooled, used later to book local name artists for special concerts, Ned Landry, Lutia and Paul Lauzon, Jim Clark and others were early featured stars.These were successful enough that in a couple of years the club was booking such famous acts as Ladies Choice Bluegrass, Stan Rogers, the National String Band, even international acts like Gordon Bok.

Bok, a Camden, Maine, musician and singer was Folk Legacy Records mainstay with over a dozen albums released in the US. A twice yearly link-up was forged between his close-knit group of Belfast to Rockland, Maine performers and our Saint John Folk Club. Out of our club a quartet, Hal an Tow emerged that became the trio of John, Bernie Houlihan and Jim Stewart. They won acclaim here and abroad with a recording, the Marco Polo Suite, for which Jim wrote the score and lyrics. The trio, also, appeared on The National Film Board’s Marco Polo: The Queen of The Seas

Another trio to emerge from our ranks was Dawg’s Breakfast (a.k.a. Exploding Do-Nuts)…Stan Carew, Costas Halavracos and Bill Preeper…all CBC Radio staffers. Preeper and Steve Sellars, a duo, were featured on an ATV New Faces episode, as were Valerie MacDonald, who staged monthly Hampton coffee-houses, and Debbie Harrity. Another trio, Windjammer…Paul McCavour, Kevin Daye and Gayle Vincent (Katie Daye when Gayle dropped out,)…emerged and a Fredericton folk club was a spin-off.

In the mid-1980’s the Saint John Folk Club ceased to exist but remnants continued to interact with the Maine folk-scene.

John Murphy became active in school mural art projects and in school musicals. He also appeared in various local stage productions, involved himself with various local fund-raisers, became active with Amnesty International, visited Africa and helped bring about Hampton’s partnership with the Swaziland community of Piggs Peak.

He died very unexpectedly while driving into Saint John Regional Hospital in mid-September. Those of us who attended a three-day music gathering at his home only weeks before, received the news with utter disbelief. To all appearances John had been his usual imperturbable self, He is already sadly missed not only in Hampton, his home for over 30 years, but beyond. Many from Maine and England attended his Sept. 21 funeral.

A colourful and remarkably detailed mural entitled Article 26: The Right To Education, unveiled Dec 10, 2009 on the Hampton High School exterior has John’s picture at the top with other NB human right luminaries, symbols and visages, depicted across its wide expanse.


Canada Day 2009 brought sad news: John, known to most as Earl, McGinnis had died the day before at home in Norton. He was 89 but was one of those people who seem eternal. For over 30 years Earl coached the Norton Kings hockey team and was a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. Many of us, however, loved him for his vast repertoire of old Irish ballads, a treasure shared with his brother Willie who predeceased him. Together and individually they were hits at early variety shows in Norton, Hampton and Sussex. Austin, one of his sons, has led a country music dance band in that area for many years. Earl and his wife of 63 years, Beatrice, had two sons and three daughters. Austin’s son Darren, one of Earl’s 12 grandchildren, is now a rising young Canadian country singer with a manager and booker. In recent years Earl frequently joined Austin and Darren to perform on country shows as Three Generations of McGinnises. But for a few of us our most cherished memories of Earl were of him singing The Croppy Boy and other Irish songs at Randy Vail’s maple sugar, pancake nights on Bull Moose Hill. Although his passing left a gap Earl will live on in the memories of all who knew him.


Another major loss occurred Aug.31 with Helen Smith’s death. She was 88, a petite woman but full of energy and spirit who once at 16, while still with chicken pox, walked five miles across Kennebecasis River ice, Summerville to Drury Cove, to play with Don Messer at a 1937 Saint John concert. Although only four-foot six, never more than 70 pounds and a widow, she had lived in her own Long Reach, Kingston Peninsula home until a week before her death when she moved to Kings Way Care Centre, Quispamsis. Friends described her as ‘comical, the life of the party and someone drawn to music like a magnet.’ She played ukelele first then guitar. Later she studied fiddle with Winston Crawford and was a member of the Maritime Fiddle Association. Her son Fraser, a singing guitarist and daughter Sylvia Campbell, a yodeling singer, who plays guitar and fiddle, organize the Long Reach Kitchen Party concerts. Helen performed on one just before moving to Kings Way. It was the second 2009 Smith family tragedy: Fraser’s son, Evan, 23, died in a snowmobile accident Feb.28.


Allie Pratt, is another that is impossible to imagine gone, even though she was 84, I had talked with her at a Tom Connors concert just weeks before her death Oct.1. She had invited Carol and I to her next Allie Oop music weekend, a gathering of musicians and fans at her home in Lower Greenwich. They were events that often saw over 300 show up to camp and enjoy barbeques, meals and music. Allie played several instruments and only two weeks before had received a standing ovation at the Grand Bay KBM. She was a CWAC staff car driver in WW 2. At the time of her 1972 retirement she had served 38 years as operator/supervisor with NBTel. I met Allie at the early Valley Jamborees which she often video-taped. We had been her guests at dinner theatres and restaurants


Well-known, multi-instrumentalist, Bob Crawford, passed away at his Sussex home on Dec.22 with his wife Helen, sons Shaun and Christopher, brothers Winston, Frank and Richard there to mourn. I first met Bob at a Saint John fiddling competition: he was his brother Winston’s guitar accompanist a role he reprised just months later when Winston won a Maritime Fiddling Championship in Dartmouth. A bout with polio when he was four resulted in Bob walking with a limp but he never let it slow him down. He was energetic and resourceful in both his daytime employments and the music which fueled his zest for life. Bob enjoyed playing with numerous musical friends in duos, trios or multiple bands but especially as part of the Crawford Brothers & Friends and with his sons. Over the years he taught many to various instruments. He was just 61 when he died, after a six month battle with cancer.


Concert Country and Western Event Local History

Stompin’ Tom mentions 3 great NB performers.

Stompin’ Tom said hello and congratulations to Ned Landry on receiving the Order of New Brunswick this year to go with his Order of Canada from a few years ago. He also mentioned that he was sad to hear that George Hector had passed away and between songs told the story of how he met Big John “T-Bone” Little and the encouragement he received from Big John when he was starting out.stompintomnedlandry

Local History

Stompin’ Tom fans

Stompin' Tom Fans