“I see you mentioned Ebenezar Cox in your column. He built some of the finest sailing ships in Canada in his day, you know.”
With these words, Leon Barron introduced himself one evening at the Kings County Museum. This was more than a decade ago, but I can still visualise Leon sitting on a bench beside me and recounting the career of Kingsport’s famed shipbuilder. Minutes passed as Leon told me about Ebenezar Cox and his K ships. Awestruck, I sat listening, amazed both by the Cox story and by Barron’s knowledge of the arcane craft of shipbuilding.
Over the years that followed, Leon amazed and educated me with his store of marine and railway lore. In one of my columns I dubbed him Mr. Minas Basin Know It All. If he had the inclination, I wrote, he could author an interesting book on Minas Basin ships. After a lifetime of researching, collecting and poking around the Minas Basin and Fundy shore, his knowledge of sailing ships and the marine landscape was considerable. He astounded me on many occasions with his knowledge of ship and railway lore. Amazingly, I said in the column, Leon carries much of this lore in his head and can recall it instantly.
Regretfully, I write this in the past tense. Leon Barron passed away on January 31 and this is my salute to one of the most dedicated sailing ship and railway historians this area has known. It’s one of the most difficult columns I’ve ever had to sit down and write. A few hundred words cannot do justice to a friend who devoted his life to researching local shipbuilding and railway history. He was a tireless researcher, ever digging into old books and various archives, and always sharing what he unearthed with others. He was one of those natural born autodidacts who never stopped learning.
I’ve been the benefactor many times of Leon’s ongoing research. Some of my most interesting and illuminating columns on local history came from interviews with Leon and from documents he had found while researching that he shared with me. My fondest memory will be of Leon characteristically clearing his throat several times and saying, “Here’s something I found that may interest you.”
Leon was born in Kingsport in 1932 at a time when the Kipawo was still running in the Minas Basin and the Dominion Atlantic Railway still chugged over the old Cornwallis Valley Railway line to the Kingsport wharf. Undoubtedly it was due to his early association with Kingsport, where the tracks ran out on the wharf and met cargo ships, that Leon developed a passion for sailing ships and for the railway.
One of his earliest memories, he used to say, was the discovery of a shipwreck on the Medford beach when he was about five. More than once he told me he would have been happy if he had been born in the golden age of sailing ships. He regretted that he wasn’t, I believe.
In his lifetime of research Leon Barron amassed a wealth of information on sailing ships and railways. I hope that one day we will honour his memory with an indexed collection of his historical research, placed perhaps in a niche in the Kings County Museum. It would be a fitting tribute.