Wolfville in the 1930s – what was it like growing up there at that time, just before World War 2 erupted and took so many young men off to the battlefield? Here are glimpses of that period, as remembered by Gordon Hansford, and the role music played.
A retired Kentville school teach and veteran of WW2 remembers that time well. Hansford grew up in Wolfville where his father, Cecil, had been a barber for some 40 years. Gordon reminisces about this period in a story he recently wrote, “for my own satisfaction,” he says, describing a Wolfville where kids generally were left to find their own amusement.
“There was not much young people could do to amuse themselves then. Only the wealthy had cars and even bicycles were scarce,” Hansford writes. But a saving grace was there and it was music in its many forms.
“There was always music,” Hansford says of Wolfville in the period running up to World War 2. “Both boys and girls had access to some kind of musical instruments and many had good singing voices. A group of high school students, including myself, started a band we called ‘The Old-timers.’ Don Carver bought a guitar with the money he got for selling eggs from his father’s flock of hens. Lawrence Henderson was given a guitar by a relative. Eugene Burgher taught himself to play the mouth organ and I did the same. We had only one trained musician in the band, Rudy Scherer, who had taken violin lessons in his home town of Munich, Germany.”
This was Hansford’s old-time band in pre-war Wolfville – a fiddler, two guitar players and two mouth organ players. All were high school students and they must have been good since Hanford remembers them playing many times at barn dances around the county – “at Gaspereau, Melanson, White Rock and other local communities and we really enjoyed ourselves. Usually a friendly farmer would haul us to a dance. We were seldom paid in money, but in big lunches instead. We played tunes such as Silver and Gold, Maple Sugar, Ragtime Annie and our favourite, Little Burnt Potato.” (All which are traditional tunes in the repertoire of fiddlers today).
Eventually the band broke up. And when World War 2 started all the members of the band were caught up in it. “As our band members came of age they joined the service. Rudy Scherer was the first to go. Don and Eugene joined the Coast Artillery at Halifax, later transferring to a parachute battalion. Lawrence spent the war years working at a shipyard in Pictou, building ship sunk by the Germans in the north Atlantic.”
Hansford himself went on to serve overseas with the army in the European theatre. Today he’s the sole survivor of the old-time band he and his friends formed in Wolfville.