Issue # 65, December 2014 , ISSN 1913-4134
With this brief introduction, let us now look at who actually did come to town, what kinds of shows they presented and what became of them.
1880 and 1881
The first theatrical entry is dated June 28, 1880, when George Allen, an agent for Folies dramatiques, checked in. Agents tended to arrive about a week ahead of the troupe to look after advertising and other arrangements relating to the show and ensuring that necessary details were taken care of such that the performers could concentrate on their jobs when they arrived. A week after Allen's initial visit, the troupe arrived in Sackville calling themselves "Our Folks". Those staying at the hotel included: Horace Lewis, a noted character actor who was leading his first troupe through "the British provinces"; his wife, Portia Albee, often billed as "Little Portia Albee" (who had played Eva in productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin for many years), Sidney Burt, a comedian and soloist, and Ebenezer Young Backus, an actor and stage-manager. Backus (1851-1914) was born in Connecticut and was a cousin of Lewis Comfort Tiffany. He was a young man when he came through Sackville and eventually appeared on Broadway in 1899.
This tour turned out to be an unfortunate one for Horace Lewis. According to the book Players of the Present (by John Bouvé Clapp and Edwin Francis Edgett [(1899]), "The most remarkable feat performed on this tour was the playing of Uncle Tom's Cabin which (in the version then in use) required fifteen people, then played by only five actors. After the collapse of his company, he was engaged as leading man at the New Theatre, Charlottetown, where he received no salary and was obliged to return to Boston wearing his stage wardrobe." It was a minor humiliation for Lewis but he continued to perform with much greater success into the twentieth century.
There were apparently no travelling shows again until late September when the Fairbairn Family of Boston arrived, playing for two nights - September 30 and October 1, 1880. The troupe was headed by Angus Fairbairn then publicized as the "Leader of the celebrated Fairbairn Family of Scottish vocalists." The star of his show was his daughter, Bessie, a contralto. Bessie Fairbairn would appear in Broadway in 1898 as Katisha, one of the female principal roles in Gilbert & Sullivan’s popular operetta The Mikado and again in 1899 for the two-act burlesque musical Adonis , written by Gill and Dixey (Ovrtur database). Her sister Polly Fairbairn performed with the family as a soprano and she was still performing after the turn of the century.
An ad in the Chignecto Post announced their appearance and a review appeared the following week, stating: "The Fairbairn Family gave two concerts in Chignecto Hall last week, both of which were well attended. It was a treat, to lovers of the "Songs o" auld Scotia," to hear the martial strains of the 'Hundred Pipers' and other good old airs, rendered in such spirited style by Mr. Fairbairn and his daughters. We hope they will visit us again." (October 7, 1880.) The family had likely also passed through town the previous year as there is an ad in the June 28 edition of the Chatham Gleaner announcing two performances there on June 30 and July 1, 1879.
Mr. R.S. Jarvis and company checked into the Brunswick House on December 2 with a long list of British and American players including Violet Campbell of Cork, Lucy Cutler (Boston), J.D. Walsh of Black Hills (Arkansas), Walter Blacklock of Glasgow (Scotland), N.W. Malcolm of Donegal (Ireland) and P. Cunningham (San Francisco). I have been unable to find any advertisement or review to indicate the nature or quality of the show.
There seems to have been very little activity among travelling shows through Sackville for the next year until November 4, 1881, when a whole page of the Brunswick House register bursts alive with a dazzling display of artistry, announcing in blue pencil the "Col. Robinson Humpty Dumpty Show." The ledger lists a company of seventeen including: L.M. Stayner, the manager, an acrobat named Bessie Randolph, Prof. May and his dog act, a blackface comic and crayon artist named John T. Byrnes (the Register artist), and at least three whiteface clowns named Monsieur Ventini, Max Hugo, and Monsieur Niblo. The show appears not to have chosen to advertise in the Chignecto Post nor is there any review of the show recorded in the newspaper. The following review from a Lebanon CT newspaper gives an assessment of the Robinson show when it passed through that American town a little later in 1882: “Robinson’s Humpty Dumpty Pantomime and Specialty company gave an amusing entertainment, to a fair sized audience, last evening. The pantomime business was very good, and afforded much amusement, though the audience really manifested more interest in the variety part of the programme, which included... comicalities by Messrs. Wade and McCarthy, hat spinning by Mons. Ventini and Bessie Randolph, Prof. May’s dog circus, (and) Max Hugo’s very clever exhibition of Egyptian sport . . . On the whole, the entertainment was well calculated to while an evening away to one’s satisfaction."
1882 and 1883
There was another lull in activity until July 8, 1882, when the Bryan O’Lynn Comedy Co. arrived in Sackville for a one-night stand in the early summer. O'Lynn was known for his "Dublin Dan" persona and he was a noted singer and dancer. He had with him an "all star company" featuring Harry F. Hall, "the greatest Yankee character living", Frank B. Duffy, "Dutch comedian, without a peer", Annie Inish, "The Queen of Song, second to none", and Kitty Bunke, "the charming vocalist." The show was called Healey's Hibernica and the reviewer for the Chignecto Post seems to have quite enjoyed it: "the performance was far above the average work done by companies that reach Sackville. Bryan O'Lynn, in his Irish Character was decidedly amusing, and Hall was a good Yankee, though he was certainly an exaggerated Yankee. Duffy as a Dutch phrenologist, was a good character. The ladies did not play important parts, but Kitty's dancing was greatly applauded by the spectators. The farce, with which the entertainment closed, was laughable and well carried out" (July 13, 1882).
A month or so later, on August 17, the Shaffer Family Bell Ringers arrived in town. The troupe included Oscar Shaffer, his wife Louise Schaffer and four others. Oscar Schaffer was a ventriloquist as well as a songwriter. Allan Katz, a New York appraiser and antiques dealer who specializes in Americana and who sometimes appears on Antiques Roadshow on PBS television, recently featured for sale three of the dummies that Shaffer used on the road and which he may have brought to Sackville. The dummies were named "Jerry Doyle", "Dolly Day" and "Sassafras Jones."
Katz provides a description of a typical Shaffer Family performance: "Songbooks with original scores were handed out at each performance during 'sing alongs,' then collected for reuse. Louise Shaffer, who was billed as 'The most versatile lady artist in America,' was renowned for her cornet solos in addition to her xylophone and banjo skills." Despite all this versatility, the troupe seems to have been best known for its bell ringers. The Chignecto Post said about their two-night stand, "Shaffer's Bell Ringers gave performances in Sackville on Thursday and Friday evenings last week. Sackville has probably never listened to a more entertaining musical party. Both occasions were well attended and of both one hears nothing but unqualified praise and approval" (August 24, 1882).
It would be nearly a year before George G. Bentley signed into the Hotel as agent for the Cohan Sellen and Burns Skiffle Show, which was to appear at the Chignecto Hall. On June 7, 1883, Cohan and company arrived in town as the Jerry Cohan Irish Minstrels. Cohan is an Irish name and is derived from the Gaelic. There were eight others besides Cohan including Bentley. Jeremiah "Jerry" Cohan (1848-1917) is today best known as having been the father of George M. Cohan (1878-1942) who was a major Broadway star for decades. Jerry Cohan was played by Gerry Dodge in the 1968 biographical musical and George M. Walter Huston played him in the popular film Yankee Doodle Dandy . The family, Gerry, his wife, son George and daughter Jose performed for several years as The Four Cohans.
On July 30, 1883, the Shaffer Bell Ringers returned to Sackville on their annual circuit. The Post reported that they had a full house at Chignecto Hall. The next day, July 31, the Guy Family Troupe made its first appearance in the ledger and on the Sackville stage. They offered a mix of minstrel, comedy, opera, gymnastics and pantomime and the troupe consisted of 14 performers led by George Guy Sr. They noted in the Register, "1188th town visited." The Post reported, "the Guy Family had a bumper house on Tuesday evening." The Guy Family would return a year later on July 10, 1884.
Spring and summer 1884 was a very busy time for travelling shows through Sackville. The year started earlier than previously and the level of activity never seemed to let up, with ten shows coming to town before the end of July.
On March 19, 1884, the Boston Comedy Company arrived under the leadership of H. Price Webber, Manager, accompanied by 10 players. Their show featured a performance of the popular Irish song Kathleen Mavoureen and The Rough Diamond , a farce.
Another appearance by the Boston Comedy Company was announced in the Chignecto Post less than a month later on April 17 with a drama called Not Guilty and a farce called The Dodge to get into the Masquerade Ball . Tickets were sold at G. J. Trueman's Grocery for 35 cents. The company arrived on April 22nd and, according to the Register, there was one player missing. Contrary to the announcement earlier in the week, the register stated they would be playing Not Guilty and The White Slave . The register also contains a comment from the Boston Comedy Company: Regards to J. Cohan. Cohan would appear in the register two days hence.
Jerry Cohan was back on April 24 with a troupe including seven other players billed as Jerry Cohan and the Haylie and Frank Howard Specialty Company. The various entertainers seem to have put a joint show together while on the road. The ad in the Chignecto Post read in part: "Cohan’s New Hibernicon and Hazlie and Howard's Star Specialty Company. The above combination will give one of their Highly Popular Entertainments." Frank Howard had a male quartet and was still active as late as 1900.
Two days later, April 26, saw the arrival of the Tavernier Comedy Company. Showman and actor Albert Tavernier and his wife checked into the hotel with 10 other performers plus their families. It was a large entourage for this remarkable 25-year old Canadian who had already been running his own touring company for two or three years before arriving in Sackville in the spring of 1884. He had earlier married Ida Van Courtland who was the star of his show, called The Mighty Dollar . The Post reported a little audience participation during the performance: "In 'The Mighty Dollar', Charley Brood's diffidence and bashfulness under 'Libby Dear's' attentions, became so exasperating to a young woman in the back seats (of the auditorium), that, in a moment of indignant of self forgetfulness, she shouted, 'I'd push him off the seat,' to the intense enjoyment of the stage as well as the house." The Post took the high quality of the performance to admonish the directors of the Music Hall to do a better job in bringing acts to the venue. "The mere admission to the Hall of any travelling company," it said, "ought to be a guarantee to the public of the character of the music and acting. Let the public taste be educated up to the standard of the best operatic and dramatic companies, rather than suiting the performances to the commonest tastes. The good house that greeted the Tavernier Company on Saturday evening proves that a good company is best, even in the matter of cash profits" (May 1, 1884).
Not surprisingly, that admonition seems to have fallen on deaf ears. On May 7, one H.N. Bellew came through town with an unusual and lurid show featuring an exhibition of art, called a Pinacothek as well as a Chamber of Horrors and one of the most popular freaks of the age, Zip. The Pinacothek was a travelling art gallery that featured (presumably) copies of famous works of art. The ad in the Post reads: "Parents, do not miss this treat. Your children may never again have a chance to view this Stupendous Collection of all that is best in the way of objets d'art and 'bigotry and virtue', chiefly the last. (This odd and thankfully obsolete phrase is apparently an Anglicization of the French 'bijouterie et virtu' - loosely, jewels and art.) As a contrast to which is also on exhibition our absolutely unrivalled Chamber of Horrors, full of life-size portrait-busts of our most Celebrated and Notorious Characters you are ever likely to see." But the main attraction was Zip, billed only as "What is It?", licensed and on loan from the famous showman P.T. Barnum who that season was touring in England.
Second only in popularity to Tom Thumb among Barnum's stable of unusual sideshow attractions, Zip was born William Henry Johnson, an American Black afflicted with microcephalus, a condition that gave him a small brain and oddly shaped head which may have resulted in some level of mental retardation. He lived from 1842 to 1926.
Three days after Bellew's show, on May 10, I.W. Baird's Mammoth Minstrels arrived. This was a big show, with 32 people registered at the hotel including the show's manager, I.W. Baird, his wife and a roster of comedians and musicians including Lew Benedict, Johnnie Mack, and Billy Conway. Also joining the show was P.C. Shortis, a noted American banjo player who worked on both sides of the Atlantic. In its review, the Post was equivocal at best: "Baird's Minstrels on Saturday night, at the Music Hall, presented a very good show - that is as far as the bills went that illuminated the fences and dead walls. The singing was voted only so-so; the jokes somewhat decayed; the instrumental music good and the clog dancing admirable. The next disciples of burnt cork that come along will have to put up with a slim house." Burnt cork was used to darken the skin for blackface performances. The Sackville public was clearly growing tired of blackface.
On July 1, the Tavernier Comedy Co. returned after just three months for another performance this time performing for two nights, with "Under the Gaslight" on June 18 and "The Colleen Bawd" on June 19. The troupe would continue to tour well into the 1890s before Albert Tavernier and his wife settled in Guelph, Ontario, where Tavernier had accepted a job as manager of the Guelph Royal Opera House. (Wayne Fulks, "Albert Tavernier and the Guelph Royal Opera House" in Theatre Research in Canada , Volume 4 Number 1, Spring 1983.)
July 10 saw another returning act: The Guy Family. The register entry promised a "Moral and refined show" but it also announced, somewhat enigmatically, "$5,000 for the discovery of the party or parties who stole my band's Careless Jane, the companion of Topsy." The performance was to feature "Muldoons" and "The Village Coquette". The latter was a comic opera by none other than Charles Dickens, the only theatrical piece he ever wrote. It was published in 1836 and set to music by John Hullah. The show was preceded by a band parade in the afternoon.
The last of the travelling shows recorded in the register arrived on July 22 when the Frank A. Robbins New Railroad Show steamed into town. This was a small circus with a contingent of 12 people. There were also animals but no indication of how they were stabled. The show was preceded nearly a month earlier by the agent, Henry Mann, who stayed at the hotel on July 1. He placed two huge ads in the Chignecto Post (on July 10 and 17) and no doubt plastered the town with posters announcing the big event. The Post , unfortunately, did not review the show. According to "Olympians of The Sawdust Circle" (an online circus history) in 1916 Robbins was the first showman in America to transport his show using trucks. He is quoted as having said, "I have been investigating the feasibility of motor truck transportation for upwards of a year and have convinced myself that it is the one and only proper method. I figure that we can save from $35,000 to $40,000 on transportation in a season and what is more, it will enable me to visit and show in towns where under ordinary conditions, by railroad haulage, it would be impossible." The same source also notes that in 1910 Robbins' daughter eloped with a candy butcher - a circus candy vendor.
To me, the Brunswick House register opens up a wonderful insight into the comings and goings of this little corner of Canada the way no other vehicle can, including the newspaper. But in and of itself, it requires the understanding of context and the personalities who signed their names. I hope this survey helps the reader obtain some new insight into the popular culture in which many of our ancestors were immersed and to gain some deeper understanding of how they lived their lives. It is clear that the Music Hall was a popular place and it performed a function not unlike today's movie houses and of course, television. It connected people to places beyond their little town and it allowed them an opportunity for a bit of fantasy and disengagement from their often-difficult daily lives.
I would also add that the register remains filled with more gems (to quote Paul Bogaard) to be mined, including much to be gleaned about local performers from places such as Moncton, Dorchester and Amherst, who also came to town to perform at the Music Hall. There is more to be learned and more stories to be told about the Sackville Music Hall.
Stay tuned . . .
A piece of 18th century Church silver attributed to Peter Etter of Halifax and Cumberland
by Colin M. MacKinnon
This past summer (2014) I received a surprising and intriguing call from an old acquaintance, historian Fidèle Theriault of Fredericton. Fidèle was researching an old piece of "Church silver" that was found in Caraquet some forty years ago and was destined for the museum there. He had been trying to ascertain the maker, with initials "PE", via the internet and located the Etter article that had been published in The White Fence (MacKinnon and Wells, 2007).
Although the story is sparse, this silver plate definitely appears to be "of some age" based on its present condition. The marks are really all there is to go on and the "PE" hallmark may be of the Halifax and Cumberland silversmith and jeweler Peter Etter II. I say "may be" as to my knowledge, there are no known or published examples of his mark that I have seen. I checked my usual sources Langdon (1966, Canadian Silversmiths 1700-1900 ) and MacKay (1973, Silversmiths and Related craftsmen of the Atlantic Provinces ) and neither showed a Peter Etter hallmark (or any other person that might match these initials). A web search also came up empty as well.
Fidèle suggested to me that the plate was possibly purchased or commissioned by Joseph-Mathurin Bourg, an Acadian missionary, who was in Halifax from 1784 to 1786 and served in Caraquet in 1790. At approximately this same time period Peter Etter II was listed as a merchant in Halifax and as a watch maker, clock-maker and presumably jeweler as well. Collaborating with Peter II was his younger brother Benjamin Etter (1763-1827). Benjamin and his son Benjamin B. Etter (1792-1867) remained in Halifax and became prominent jewellers and silversmiths (Figure 2) while Peter II left Halifax by 1787 to set up shop near Fort Cumberland. Considering the otherwise rare "PE" silversmith mark, the apparent age of the plate (lack of other marks), and corresponding dates with Peter Etter II and Joseph-Mathurin Bourg both being in Halifax during the same period, the existing evidence suggests the work was likely done by Etter. It may also be noteworthy, in the context of this story, that there was a silver crucifix valued at £ 0.2.0 in the collection of silver pieces accessed as part of Peter Etter's estate in 1798 (see MacKinnon and Wells, 2007).
The silver plate carries no other hallmark except for the "PE" mark, or as typical for silver from Atlantic Canada, so-called "pseudo" hallmarks as found on other contemporary examples; these were made to imitate products imported from England. Unlike the plate discussed here, note that the Benjamin B. Etter example has the pseudo "Lion Passant" stamp for sterling silver as well as monarch's head (for import duty). The meaning of the +C+F+B+ is unknown. Some early armourer's used a cross mark as a division between initials or names. If this is the case, the letters CFB may be a person's initials.
The oval plate measures 18.0 x 28.5 cm with a depth of 1.50 cm. The rim varies in width from 2.75 to 2.95 cm. The outer edge of the rim has been carefully decorated with a repeating series of 111 semi-circles that are separated by a series of parallel cut lines (ranging from 0.3 to 0.6 cm long and from 0.60 to 0.65 cm apart). Within each of these tabs is a small (0.46 x 0.60 cm) fleur-de-lis motif that has been stamped in place from the bottom of the plate. Of the original 111 tabs decorated with a fleur-de-lis, 17 are missing. Two single tabs as well as a group of 6 and 9 have been broken off. It would appear that tabs with particularly long parallel cuts made them more prone to damage or breakage. The slight asymmetry to the individual tab dimensions, as well as placement of the fleur-de-lis stamp is clear evidence of the piece being hand crafted. (Note: the above measurements are approximate as they have been calculated from the photographs of the artifact).
The silver plate has been donated by Mr. Fidèle Theriault to the Musée Acadien de Caraquet (Accession Number 2014.6.1).
Top and bottom view of a rim portion of the "PE" marked silver plate. Note that the raised fleur-de-lis mark was created by the repeated application of a stamp imprinted on the underside of the plate. The half rounded edge of the plate is non-symmetrical and appears to have been cut by hand.
I would like to thank Fidèle Theriault for bringing this silver plate, and the possible Peter Etter provenance, to my attention.