Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Kings Historical Society recently, Joey St. Clair Patterson said in effect he’s been working for about 20 years on a book about gypsum schooners. This will be the Hantport native’s second book on the wooden ships that sailed out of ports in Kings and Hants County.
Patterson’s first book, Hantsport Shipping, was published in 2008 and it dealt mainly with shipbuilders in the Hantsport area. While working on the book, Patterson simultaneously collected information on the scores of tiny schooners transporting gypsum from the quarries of Hants County to ports in the Maritimes and the United States.
While a lot has been written about the gypsum industry, which began in Nova Scotia so far back it’s difficult to say with certainty when it started, Patterson says there are few records on the all important sailing ships that serviced it. The earliest mention of gypsum in this area was made in 1606 by Champlain. The great explorer sailed up the Minas Basin in that year and in his journal he mentioned the “certain white stones suitable for making lime” that he found there. By 1867 gypsum was being transported from at least 25 different ports in Nova Scotia, the bulk of it quarried in Hants County.
However, while the gypsum industry has its chroniclers (among them Gwendolyn Vaughan Shand in her 1979 book Historic Hants County) Patterson notes that the schooners and the men sailing them haven’t been given their due. He hopes to rectify this in his book. “Mainly,” he says, “the book will be stories about these vessels, a record of the vessels hauling gypsum from Nova Scotia, the men who sailed in them, the tragedies and so on.” Roughly, the book will cover the period from 1892 to the present.
It hasn’t been easy collecting these stories, Patterson says. The records of these gypsum schooners are buried in the Nova Scotia archives and in museums in Kings and Hants County. Patterson spent three years looking through archive files, especially the ship registry records. He had a lot of assistance, he says, from local historians such as Larry Loomer and John Duncanson. “Whenever these guys found anything about the gypsum schooners they put it aside for me. They were a great help.”
Being a member of the Hants Historical Society for some 31 years also was a help to Patterson in accumulating schooner records. “People would often bring material into the Society,” Patterson says, “and once in a while there would be something I could add to my gypsum schooner file.”
As a Navy veteran, Patterson notes that it was second nature for him to write about gypsum shipping in the Hantsport, Windsor area. “My grandfather sailed on a gypsum schooner,” he says, “and this started my interest in them.” His tribute to the gypsum schooners and the men that sailed on them will have a feature that should interest historians, amateur and professional. “There will many photographs of the old-time gypsum schooners,” Patterson says.