If you want to learn about wooden sailing ships of Minas Basin or Bay of Fundy origin, printed sources are available; the building of sailing ships along these shores has been chronicled in several books.
Or even better, if you enjoy intimate accounts with personal details on the builders, you should talk with people whose hobby is the collecting and compiling of information about ship building. People such as Leon Barron, South Alton, or St. Clair (Joe) Patterson, Hantsport, who can tell you a great deal about the wooden ships that were built around here over the past century or two.
Through a lifelong interest in wooden ships, Barron and Patterson have amassed an amazing amount of facts and figures, most of which is at their fingertips. Patterson, who retired as manager of Basinview Village in 1985, has been collecting and filing away information on the wooden ship industry on the Minas Basin and Avon River for 30 years. Patterson calls his work “one of my hobbies.”
In this column recently I mentioned a scrapbook book excerpt that told about a sailing ship – the Kent – that was built on the Cornwallis River in Kentville around 1845. Joe Patterson’s database shows the Kent being built at Horton in 1847, not on the Cornwallis. In other words, the information in the newspaper clipping was an error. Patterson tells me a ship was built on the Cornwallis River, possibly in Kentville’s town limits, and it was called “The Kentville.” The year of construction and launching? Patterson has been unable to dig out the exact dates but he tells me evidence indicates it was in the 1870s or early 1880s.
As well as correcting an error, the update on the Kent and The Kentville are mentioned to illustrate what I said about people like Patterson and Barron. People like these two marine history buffs have a wealth of information in their files and data bases. There are other people with similar interests who have also dug into various aspects of local history. Unfortunately, some of their findings will never be published.
Like Mr. Patterson, Leon Barron is also retired and now has more time to devote to his history hobby. For 40 years Barron has been collecting information on his favorite topics, wooden sailing ships and the Dominion Atlantic Railroad. Recently he has been assisting on a private project spearheaded by Cathy Margeson, Kentville, which is the identification of every wooden sailing ship constructed in Kings County.
Margeson and Barron have succeeded in identifying over 600 ships to date over a 200 year period and the project is far from being completed. Barron tells me that a lot of historical records have yet to be researched.
Undoubtedly the results of this project will eventually be published as a pamphlet or book and available to the public. If you’re into local history you should find the Margeson-Barron research interesting. Barron tells me, for example, that they have confirmed the dates of the first and second vessels built in Kings County. The first, a small schooner, was built in 1790 in Cornwallis Town Plot; the second in 1800 at Canning.
Barron is also working on compiling a list of shipwrecks in the Minas Basin. While many of the shipwrecks have been identified in books about Nova Scotia marine disasters , Barron says the list is far from being complete. His research will be a welcome addition to local folklore.