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When I think of New Waterford, I think of the sleepy little town by the ocean where I grew up. It’s hard to picture it as the busy hub it once was.
When I look at old pictures of the town’s crowded main street, it doesn’t look like the street I know today. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when you could do everything you needed to do right in town.
I’ve always had to go to Sydney if I wanted anything besides basic necessities. I don’t remember Cribb’s Bookstore or when there were two movie theatres, a few outdoor skating rinks, a convenience store on almost every corner and half a dozen clothing stores, gas stations and grocery stores.
Back then, The Strand was the meeting place whereas today Tim Horton’s is the place where you get your morning coffee, a meal and the day’s gossip.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several coal mines were operating at any given time. Almost everyone was working.
New Waterford was quite the bustling place.
Dances were a big thing around town too.
One yearly event, The Columbian Ball, was so big, it was broadcast over CJCB. Everyone dressed to the nines and like the academy awards of today, host, the late Ann Terry, interviewed attendees with a particular focus on the beautiful gowns the ladies wore.
I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of a popular beach not far from where I grew up.
Laffin’s Cove was a popular gathering spot on hot summer days. Technically, it’s still there but hasn’t been accessible to the public since the Lingan Power Plant was built near the site.
If I wanted to go swimming as a child, my parents drove me to Dominion Beach or the little beach by the Bayside Canteen.
Taverns first became legal in Nova Scotia in 1948 and they were common gathering spots but only for the men.
It’s hard to believe that prior to the 1970s, women weren’t allowed in the taverns around town.
If the wife of a patron called looking for her ‘missing’ husband, the bartenders knew the drill.
“No Ma’am, I haven't seen him around here,” was always the answer whether he was seated at the bar in front of him or not.
The liquor store was a popular centrepiece in town too but it came with some common complaints; it closed too early, it wasn’t open on Sunday and the liquor permits that everyone of age were required to have to make purchases came with limits on how much you could buy. A few resourceful folks came up with a clever solution for these problems — bootlegging.
Almost every neighbourhood had a bootlegger. Their role was to provide the thirsty masses with more liquor than their permit allowed at all hours of the day and night.
The bootleggers did this by convincing non-drinkers to purchase their allowance of liquor and sell it to them. They then sold it at a higher price for profit. Everyone was happy ... except the people in charge of stopping this illegal activity, of course.
I hear the bootleggers had some pretty ingenious ways of hiding their stash.
If you couldn’t find anything appealing on the bootleggers' menu, the moonshiners had just what you were looking for and there was quite the demand for moonshine.
It wasn’t uncommon for innocent children to come across moonshine stills in the remote areas around town.
I had one story recently recounted to me by a man who was about 12 years old when he came across one such still while rabbit hunting on the outskirts of 14-yard in the late 1950s.
The television show ‘The Untouchables,’ about FBI agent Eliot Ness who was in charge of raiding bootleggers during prohibition, was popular at the time. During raids, he would shoot the barrels to let the illicit liquor run out.
And what do you think a 12-year-old boy with 22-rifle in hand did when he came across this still? Why, he pretended he was Eliott Ness, of course. Boys will be boys! For obvious reasons, this person wishes to remain anonymous even to this day.
Andrea MacEachern was born and raised on the beautiful bay of Lingan. After a decade-long hiatus from the island, she returned to her roots and settled in downtown New Waterford where she enjoys blogging, writing, taking pictures, travelling, walking The Loop and spending much of her time outdoors exploring Cape Breton. If you have a story or event you would like to share, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.