STEELE, John - Rothesay Living Museum

By Kathleen Wood,2014-01-29 05:23
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STEELE, John - Rothesay Living MuseumJohn,John,John


    ********* PLEASE NOTE: This is labeled on the CD for dictation as interview with Mr. JOHN Steele, however, the dictation appears to be the same as the dictation that comes before it on the CD, which is interview with Mr. JOE Steele. I am assuming they are both the same but have transcribed both just to be on the safe side**************



My mother was born in St. Martin’s, New Brunswick and she lived out there until the

    Kennedy’s moved to Rothesay and opened the Kennedy house here and my father originally came from Blackville, Ontario and his family before that were in the Hudson Bay Trading Company and in the ------------- bank -------- Hudson Bay Place. When my father was working in the bank, he came down here and met my mother and that started a whole bunch of Steele’s. There were seven boys and a girl in that union and since then there have been a lot more but I couldn’t tell you all about those people because there are

    just too many.

    ?????????? ----- question by interviewer but cannot make it out ---------???????

    He was in the bank and he stayed in the bank and he stayed in the bank.

    You said that your mother was a Kennedy. Tell me what you recall about the Kennedy family.

    Arthur Kennedy and the Kennedy House and the garage and stable, which it was before it was a garage it was a stable, were I think the eyes and ears and heart of Rothesay, because if anybody wanted to know anything they called there. That’s where the

    telephone office was, the Williams and the Pierce girls were the operators there and so if you wanted to know anything, you’d call them and then they would get in touch with either the garage or the house and that’s how you found out where people were at the

    time like electricians and things like that. Then, the Kennedy House eventually became a hotel and then it eventually became inhabited by mostly widows and it was just like a family there and every morning and every afternoon, they’d have tea together in the

    kitchen. Anybody could drop in and did drop in, there might be 10-15 people in the kitchen for tea at some time and the teat had to be boiled just properly. It would have to be put on and sit for 5 minutes, and there would be all kinds of cakes and donuts; I don’t

    know, they never seemed to run out of anything. The garage was the meeting place for most people to come and sit around the old pot belly stove and tell their lies and jokes and things like that. Before it was a garage though, they used to have a stable there. It started with people used to come across with their horses and things like that and then take the train to town and back again and then take their horses home across the ice in the winter time. So that was quite a meeting place and there were always a bunch of characters around there and it was just fun to be there as a kid, you know, sometimes you got kicked out as a kid but.

    Chauffeurs, in the olden days there were very few cars in Rothesay, but the chauffeurs who would come out from Saint John to visit, they would always go there and spend their time when they were waiting for their passengers. There were always just a whole bunch of people around there and it was just a fun place to be at the Kennedy House as I remember.

    Who were some of the people ? ?????????????? too much static and background noise…I cannot hear this portion ??????????

    Yes, they off and on had different people. Nelly was a great worker there and Mrs. Dobbin was and people that were there were always so friendly and nice to get along with. I don’t know, they just seemed to be great. My uncle was a great person with people and especially women and his comebacks were fast. One time, after he’d moved out of the hotel and was living in his own home, he called me one day and he said my lawnmowers not working is yours? And I said sure it is. He said would you bring it down and I could use it? And I said, I’ll come down and mow your lawn for you. So, when I finished mowing the lawn, he came out the door and I was just finishing putting the lawn mower back in the truck. He said how much do I owe you? So I said, Mr. Kennedy I’ll charge the same thing as I charge the account and the lawyers, $100/hour. Well worth it he said, just like that. Well, the woman next door was sun bathing and she jumped up and wanted to look and see who this clown was for $100/hour. But you know, he was like that all the time, just quick and witty but that was his whole life I think he did most things for nothing, in fact he’d charge $3.00 to go to town which wouldn’t even pay his time. And at the hotel there, he never charged enough there. I told him one time, you’re losing money on this but he wouldn’t charge the women anymore, no way he’d say.

    Tell me about your golfing experience and your golfing at the Riverside Country Club?

    Well, my first introduction to the golf course was my next door neighbor J. Thompson who was a character. He came over one day and said you’re going to the golf club. I

    said no, I’m not going to the golf club. So, he went to my mother and said we need caddies down there and I want him in. Oh yes she said, take him, get him down there. So, I went down there and I caddied by for this old woman and she was a nice lady but she didn’t hit the ball very far and I thought what a boring game this is. Then, a little later on during that same game, I saw one of the ladies from Rothesay who could hit the ball pretty good so I thought that’s not bad, I could get to like this game maybe. So, as

    caddies, we were allowed to play in the morning from 6:00-9:00 because in those days they never started playing until 9:00. So, that’s how I got interested in golf and it just became a big part of my life, I just couldn’t get away from it. I’m hooked. It’s a great thing to do when you retire to because you need the exercise and things like that. There’s not too much you can do all your life until you’re ready for the grave.

What was the old building like?

    Well, it was a beautiful old building and had a great big sun room veranda on it that looked out over the river. The ladies used to go there on tea day and play bridge there and we used to go down, us caddies, down in the river swimming and we used to have a raft there and things like that and of course we didn’t have any bathing suits. So, one day they complained about this, the women did, and someone come down to give us hell. But one of the fellows, one time, there were a bunch of boxes there so we all put boxes over ourselves so he just thought there boxes floating around and he couldn’t find us. He thought there was nobody down there. They had a lovely fireplace and a main hall for dancing and things like that. Upstairs, there was a beautiful view of the river and a nice view of golf course itself so you could see both things.

Were there windows all around?

    No, not all around, but they would be in the sun porch part all around there but upstairs in the bar there weren’t a lot of windows. They had a sit out area with an awning over it

    facing the golf course so you could sit there and enjoy watching the other players come in and holler at them. But, it was fun you know.

Now, how many would have been in the golf club then, how many people?

Well, it seems like there’s about 10-1 now but I don’t think it was that many. I’m not

    sure how many members we got but we must have about 7-800 that play golf but not all the time. In those days, I imagine there must’ve been a few hundred women and men but I don’t know for sure. Its fun to know because everybody took a caddy and it wasn’t very expensive so they could. But, nowadays, there’s nobody that does caddy so you have to lug your own clubs or ride in a golf cart. But it was fun in those days because all the caddies had their favorite player and they became very attached to that player and a fight might break out to have that.

Now, I don’t know about the price. How much was the price?

The first price that I can remember as a senior golfer was $65/year. Now, it’s about over

    $1000. Then, in those days, juniors could play for $5/year, which was pretty good, because you could always scrape up $5.00. Then, we had an awful big bunch of caddies that could play golf pretty well because of being allowed to play. So, when they became of age to get out of junior, people at Riverside then that were running the club were saying that we should keep some of these guys in jobs so they made an intermediate membership for $15/year so well all grabbed onto that. Most of those fellows now are playing golf all over the place, like Vancouver, Kingston, Ontario and Halifax. They’ve all be involved in golf and the house and clubs and things like that and on the Board of Directors. So, you know, I think they really appreciated golf.

    Speaking of that board, who ran the golf club then and who runs it now? How was authority navigated?

    We used to have a person at Riverside by the name of Sid Stewart and when I first when there he was the assistant pro to -------------- and then he became the pro and then he became the manager, then he became the pro manager and then he became everything and he did everything. He looked after the payroll and looked after the food, he did everything. And, I think when he died, there were five men that replaced him. But he was the one that was really in charge and he did everything. We had a great number of caddies there in that day and he was the disciplinarian and everybody listened to him. He was a disciplinarian but he was a lovely person.

    One more question about the golf course itself. Now, I haven’t got very many interviews------------cannot hear------------ but who has worked on the golf course ------------- cannot hear ----------------

Well, one of the greens people by the name of Bill Gilliland and in the 1930’s he was I

    suppose restricted in his budget but along came Percy Thompson and he was a multimillionaire and he asked the Board of Directors if he could work on the golf course and bring it up and he would have his own crew that he would offer to help Mr. Gilliland as he needed so I think they became pretty good friends and he was involved in really building the golf course into a chaptered golf course then. He hired an architecture from North Carolina who was the best in the world and had never been topped, his name was Donald Gray Ross, and he used to come up here and stay with Mr. Thompson every once in a while and it would cost him quite a bit of money per day, I remember him telling us how much it was but I won’t say how much it was, but in those days, it was a huge

    amount of money. But, he would come up and the fellows would make plans and Mr. Thompson would also take Mr. Gilliland, who was the greens keeper, to all these meets and conferences and things like, which we never I don’t think anybody ever went in to.

    But, they say, that Mr. Gilliland became one of the best grounds man in Canada through going to all these things. But he was quite a gardener too, he always grew a nice garden. He was a great old fellow and he was there always doing it at the golf course and then other people came along.

How many people worked there?

    Well, in the olden days, I think that each person had three holes to look after, so I think there were six. They did everything. They mowed the fairways and they mowed the greens and they dug out the weeds by hand so that was quite a chore. But they looked after the whole thing and they worked hard, really hard. Now today, it’s all done by machine.

Why don’t you tell me a little bit about winter and on the river and the activities

    that you’d do.

    Well, first of all I’m going to tell you about the sliding because they don’t have anymore of that now, you never see anyone sliding on sleds hardly anywhere. But, in those days, everyone had their own sled and they thought it was the best thing there ever was. So, one time we were sliding up in Fairvale and in the olden days there was an S-turn where you had to go under an underpass and the old bus was coming up, and the bus in those days was quite high, and a couple of guys that had the low sleds went right underneath the bus and they really scared the bus driver. But, every night, we’d be sliding somewhere around Rothesay here and there’d be a bunch of us, I don’t know how many, and usually, somewhere when it was time to quit, they’d go into whoever’s house it was and have maybe hot cocoa or something like that. In the olden days, we used to have a road marked across the river here, we’d put in little trees all in a row and that was the roadway that would guide you across. And I don’t know whether it was colder in those days or what but it seemed to me that there were all kinds of skating on the river and hockey and things. We used to have a little pond down in here, which was hidden from the wind by the railway track and that’s where we’d play most of our hockey and other than that we’d go out on the river. But we’d skate on the river. I always remember, you’d put a hot potato in your shoes when you’d come back to keep them warm.

    What type of sled would you use? If you polished it up it would move more like the plastic one.

    There were two sleds that were really good. There was one that was a Flexible Flyer and the other was a Speedster. The Flexible Flyer had a runner that was concave and the Speedster had a round runner and it was better on ice but the other one was better on snow.

So, that was the runners, but would it be wooden elsewhere?

    Wooden yes. And then my uncle used to say what are those things and he used to slide on them on just a box in the olden days. We’re always talking about the olden days.

    Then, we used to have horse races on the other side of the river at Clifton Royal. He had horse races there and we used to all go over there in the early days and there’d be enough

    horses racing over, you know not race horses though. And then I can remember they used to have a luncheon after that when the cars came in and they used to race their cars over there but somedays there would be enough snows that you’d have to get out and

    push but it was memorable.

Wouldn’t the car get stuck or snow packed?

    Well, they were higher in those days so they could go through a lot of snow. Now they’re changed.

Tell me about the carnival?

Carnival, oh yes. They used to be fun.

Where would they take place?

Down at the rink here.

What were the carnivals like?

    Well, the carnival would be a costume carnival and it would be once a year. We’d all go on that day and if the ice was good enough there’d be skating. And if it wasn’t, we’d just run around. But one year, I remember, -------------- did a good job and a couple more of the young fellows around the area were going to dress you up for the carnival. So I said ok and they took me down and dressed me up as one of the old characters and anyway, I though this fellow would come along and see me in that and beat me up, but anyway, I won first prize and got out of it without being caught.

There you go, you did well.

They got a big kick out of it. They knew I was scared to death.

That’s probably why they instigated it.

There used to be a whole bunch of characters around here you know.

Tell me about some of them.

    He might not be a character now but I think back to Harry Green and has brother, who is a plumber and a philosopher, and I think was the finest man I’ve ever seen, I went to pick up a car one time with him. And Mildred Francis who was an Indian woman, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about her.

Oh yes, I’ve heard a bit. Tell me the stories though I like to hear new ones. Tell me

    what you know of her.

    Well, I knew her and her son Frankie. He was a real athlete, he had an unfortunate death, but the in days that I knew him he didn’t drink or smoke or anything and he was just about the best physical specimen around here. He could run like a deer, he could do anything I think. But, she was a strong woman. There were legends about here on the train.

Are they not appropriate?

    Yes. Then there was the head operator on the telephone company down there and I think she was there forever. Then the automatic service came in and that kicked everybody out.

    Those ladies must’ve been something else. It’s impossible how much they’d have to be aware and how fast they’d have to work. It would be a very strenuous day and

    these people who weren’t in very proper nutrition given the hard times.

    Well, they would always deal the information they could at the time and anything, and in those days they didn’t have a lot. Then there was old Ike Dobbin who worked on the

    railways here who always had a story.

What did he do for the railway?

    He used to be the walker I guess the superintendant. He’d walk the railway and inspect it. Then he was retired after that and there were a lot of rumors going around.

Then there was Joe Henderson, he was a builder here and he built a home. ------------

    cannot hear -------------

    Then of course Rupert Vanderlay, you know of him, Norm Diggle was the storekeeper down there. That’s where all the kids from RCS would gather and they’d have I think in those days I think we called it Arctic Sun bar, which would be like a revel only with no stick on it, and they’d buy them from Sussex and it was real ice cream covered by chocolate. Then they’d have their raisin cake, which were different. But the local boys

    couldn’t afford those things so we’d just stand around with our tongues hanging out.

    Then there was my mother. She did everything too mother. She was a knitter, gardener, book keeper, disciplinarian and friend to all. I can remember when the people that drove the bus came here and I don’t know how they knew her but they always ended up in our house. I remember never once did any of those people ever go away without something.

Tell me about swimming at the Rothesay Wharf.

    Well, we did a little bit of there because after I went into golf I did very little swimming.

Tell me a little bit more about it.

    Well, I remember we used to go down there and try to impress the girls with our diving, which wasn’t very good. And, swimming there when I was young until I lost all the

    blood out of my body and was cold and wet and the other things, there used to be an old lady that would come down and sit there. So one day, we had planned ahead that we had overturned the boat and then we all dove in and went out and got out under the boat to play a joke. But, outside of that, I don’t really remember much of swimming. Down on the beaches, you were used to be allowed to go on the beaches but now the people that

    live there won’t let you go. We used to all go swimming at the beaches and it was a lot easier because it was nicer. But after that I didn’t do much swimming.

What about houses lost to fires?

We never lost a house here because I was on the fire department.

    There you go. Absolutely, that’s right! I heard that that was a volunteer fire department and that it was the best little fire department you could find with a chemical machine and one time the Saint John people came and said so where do we hook the pumps up? But there were no pumps so they ended up with a little fire engine.

    It was a little model T-ford and it had the soda mixer and the chemical bottle and you’d mix it up and you could spray the fire.

What would be the chemical? Soda and what?

    Something else, I really don’t know what else it was. I forget now. I knew in those days but it’s been so long ago I forget. But, the only other thing is, most of the fires were chimney fires in those days so they would just get up and throw the salt in the chimney and put the fire out. Then everything else would just fall down and then they’d just let it burn. But we did lose some fires. One that I remember very vividly was the Walter Allister House down there and when we got there, this was after they had put in the hydrants and things, but when we got there we got up to the house and we were taking the hose back to the thing but we had it back end to and we had to reverse the whole hose. So by the time we got back around it was too late. The fire had started in the coal bed and it was cherry red and burned quite a while and the rest of the house was filled with this dark yellowish smoke like from a coal fire so a lot of the fellows were there and when they opened that door and that smoke hit them, it nearly knocked them out. I remember Murray Howe, the barber, he was another character, but we just pulled him out of there and he was coughing and this stuff was so thick I don’t know how he got in. But anyway, the first thing they grabbed was a grand piano and it got stuck in the doorway so they never got anything out of that house. But it was a beautiful house and quite a loss. Then, we lost a few out in the country but we did a pretty good job with the fire department.

    Tell me, the barbershop, where was the barbershop, what was it like and what went on? Was it above where there fire department is now?


Where was it?

    It was over where the Consolidated School was, which now they call it the Park School, and it was a little building that housed town equipment and later a truck, it just had the equipment in there and the truck was in another part. Then, over this place, was the barbershop. It had a pot belly stove and very steep stairs going up to it. I remember when I was a child, my first introduction to him, I had long curly hair and I wanted it off because the boys in school were giving me a hard time, so I went in and asked him to cut my hair. He said, no, I couldn’t cut your hair without your mother’s permission. He would say people downstairs would make fun of him and I’d say what’s wrong with Mr.

    Howe, you know that kind of thing. And he would be cutting your hair there and there would always be a card game going on. So he would be cutting your hair and watching the card game you see so you never knew what kind of hair cut you were going to get. But he was really a nice fellow and he was a character that I’d never forget. It was fun to go in there, and there were all kinds of characters that would go somewhere else and then come back and they’d tell their stories in there. They’d play auction 45’s in there and have fun.

Did they have a spittoon?

    Yes, they would spit in spittoons. They had a bowl no bigger than that and Harry Dorkus would sit about 8-10 feet away from it and never miss it, right into that hole. I don’t

    know how he did it. All the other guys would try it and of course they would splatter all around it but he was the best I’ve ever seen. There were spittoons everywhere though you know in those days. I chewed tobacco once, I was trying to impress a fellow, so I put the tobacco in my mouth and I think the juices came from everywhere, they’d explode out of your mouth. But in those days, there were spittoons, I don’t think there was a place in the hotel or anywhere that there wasn’t a spittoon.

    Tell me about the Indians at Sandy Beach, Dominique, Nelly Francis, Frankie Francis, basket-weaving, lawn furniture, bows and arrows, Latin Louis and axe handles.

    Well, Latin Louis ended up in Fairvale and people were scared to death of him because it was rumored that he could throw an axe and he was good at it because he would do it and it would stick right into the side of your head or something like that. I never saw him do that. But, he used to say to fellows when they did get in to see him that you bring me grub, I make you pair of skis and you know he’d make them a pair of skis or something like that. But I don’t know whether he ever did it or not because the boys that said that he told them never went skiing. And of course, Nelly and Frankie, a lot of those stories you couldn’t tell.

Because their not proper. She was basically quite rough?

    She was quite a rough woman but an excellent woman. Her hut had an earth floor but it was clean. She was quite a nice person in the home.

    What would their huts be of? Was it like a wigwam or a teepee or was it like boards or was it a lean-to?

    Yes, it was boards and old signs and anything you could find to keep the wind out. They weren’t always attractive no. But the other Indians that I knew, in the summertime we

    used to go over to Kingston and stay and live there and there was a group of Indians and their tribe used to come there and stay and make baskets and things on the beach over there. So, we were pretty friendly with them and they would do anything for you. There was one guy there, I’d never seen it before and I’ve never seen one since, but he had a slingshot, but not an ordinary sling shot, with a rock. It was just one that you let go of one end of it but he could nail things with that thing, he could even make them skip across the water and things like that. I’ve never seen anybody do that since but I’ve heard about it.

It’s like on one stick is it?

    No, it was just a piece of leather and he’d hold both ends and he’d let one end go and the thing would just go. I used to try it but I couldn’t do it, I’d let both ends go and stuff. But he could do it.

    It must have been a piece of leather and how you or what the motion was. Isn’t that interesting?

    Yes. And then those people would sit around and talk at night at the bonfire and we’d go down. My brother Bill had a broken leg and they’d put things in like little beads and things but they were pretty friendly people.

A lot of people were scared of them but they really were not scary.

    Oh no, they were very nice. You know, I suppose later on when they finally made them get out of that basket weaving and then I don’t know ------------- cannot hear ----------

    ------- small section cannot make it out too much static --------------

    They were supposed to have Indian blood from way back in the Moose Factory.

--------------------- cannot hear too much static poor quality -------------------- I

    mean a lot of the families have been show that the --------------------

    And then another Indian that was very dear to our family was Dick Basque and he was from Choubinaciti. He came to work with us in the household and he did chores around for mother and he could peel potatoes, and I’m telling you the peeling wouldn’t be as thick as a fingernail. And he would cut the wood in the wintertime with an axe and when he cut the stump, it would just look like it had been shaved or planed or something like that. I often wondered if you had a guy like that and put him the golf course he would probable be so accurate that he’d be unbeatable.

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