Bear Brook is a tributary of the Canard River in the Steam Mill area. I’ve lived here all my life and never heard of a brook by that name. But since Leslie Eugene Dennison mentions it in his 1932 article on growing up here in the late 19th century, it must have been the accepted name for the waterway.
It’s an odd name for a stream. Since it flows through the upper dykelands of the Canard River system and this isn’t bear country, the name likely has no connection with old bruin. However, there was a family with the surname of Bear living here about 100 years ago; I believe this was a native family and they lived in the Steam Mill area, perhaps beside what became known as Bear Brook due to their residency there.
Dennison wrote that a carding mill operated by the Killams was located on or near Bear Brook. (Mentioned in my previous column, Wool and Cotton Warp: 19th Century clothing). New Minas historical writer Marie Bishop called recently with information on the carding mill which her mother remembers quite well. Marie believes this was the mill that was sold by the Killams to the Thurlows. “They (the Thurlows) operated the mill for a few years in the first part of the 1900s,” Marie said, adding that she believes they “sold out around the start of the first world war.”
Marie’s recalled that her grandmother talked of going to the mill to have wool carded. “They also spun wool for people and made wool batts for quilts,” Marie said.
Like me, Marie has never heard of the name Bear Brook for the stream the carding mill was on. The brook ran from a pond – Thurlow’s Pond it was called – into the Canard River. The pond, which is on Camp Aldershot grounds, was once the prime source of courting bouquets. “When my mother was young,” Marie said, “the boys would pick the water lilies that grew in the pond and give them to girls they liked.”
Thurlow’s Pond is also famous – perhaps that should be notorious – for another water plant. The watercress that clogs the Canard River today was first planted in Thurlow’s Pond, introduced it is said by an Englishman who thought the plant would be a welcome addition to the ecology of the area. The plant spread into the Canard River and by the 1930s had clogged the river so badly that landowners hired crews to remove it. The watercress was ripped out of a three or four mile stretch of the Canard from Steam Mill downstream but it was a useless exercise since it quickly grew back again.
Marie Bishop told me that an early map of this area indicates the carding mill was on the edge of Aldershot Camp. Marie surmises that the mill may have ceased operation when the federal government purchased the grounds where the military base is located. With the purchase, the mill may have lost its water source since Thurlow’s Pond would then be on government property.
The map Marie mentioned shows that in the pre-military camp days a public race track or trotting park was located on the Aldershot Camp grounds. The area was also used as a training and exercise ground for the militia, perhaps the Kings Canadian Hussars, before becoming federal property.
Marie said her mother remembers races being held at the track, usually on weekends. On one Saturday her mother’s relatives were watching the races while sitting in their carriage on the sidelines. Apparently, the animal drawing their carriage was a retired race horse. When the starting gun went off, the horse bolted onto the track and circled it several times before it could be stopped.