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A natural love of history and a deep connection to his family’s roots are two things that drive Bridgewater historian Peter Oickle.
“Being the descendant of several strains of Hessian conscripts, the foreign Protestants who came and settled here and the Loyalists who came into Shelburne and the Planters who settled in the Valley, I grew up with a sense of family history and history of the area,” said Oickle in a recent interview.
A native of Bridgewater, Oickle moved back to his hometown in 1982 with his wife Virginia to raise their three children after living in northern Nova Scotia during his teens and 20s. Retired for “quite a few years” now, career-wise Oickle was an educator.
“I taught school and was an administrator in Colchester/East Hants, then in 1982 I took a school board office position with the Lunenburg County District School Board, then I was principal at Chester and Mahone Bay, then I was coordinator of curriculum for the southwestern regional school board and when that broke up I stayed with the South Shore board (going back into schools)," said Oickle, adding for the last four years of his career he worked for Community Services.
Through it all Oickle has been actively interested in and researching the history and heritage of Lunenburg and Queens counties.
“I have files and files of information of different families and their contributions that happened here . . . I just continue to study and read,” he said.
Oicke said one era of history that he finds fascinating is between 1713 and 1749 when England was in control of what became known as Nova Scotia.
“England took all those years to develop Nova Scotia. There was a huge cost involved . . . bringing over 2,500 settlers, feeding and clothing them, plus the soldiers. I look at that and try to imagine what it would have been like. I’m fascinated by those kinds of things that helps us understand what our ancestors went through.”
Oickle’s knowledge has been an asset to the Town of Bridgewater, where he often volunteers to do historical research for the Town and DesBrisay Museum, as well as conducting historical walks for guests in the downtown as well as cemetery walks for Halloween.
“I weave family histories into stories,” he said. “I research and find information and point it in an interesting way. I did the ghost walk (for Halloween) the last two or three years for the Town. Last year we had over 250 people and we were an hour and half telling ghost stories. I love doing it.”
Oickle also serves as the chairman of the Bridgewater Museum Commission and was chair of the advisory committee to town council for the Take Back The Riverbank $5-million infrastructure project that culminated with the opening of Pijinuiskaq Park in 2017.
Oickle also enjoys doing carpentry work. “Restoration is something I enjoy because its so rewarding. It makes you feel good.”
Peter recently sat down for a quick Q&A:
Q. What is your full name?
A. Peter Charles Oickle
Q. Where and when were you born?
A. In Bridgewater on June 17, 1951.
Q. What’s your favourite place in the world?
A. Bridgewater. The second is Cape Breton. My wife is from Cape Breton. I have to say that. She’s giving me the look.
Q. Who do you follow on social media?
A. No one in particular. The Town of Bridgewater I keep in touch with because it lets me know what’s going on. I am a news fanatic so I’m always checking out twitter.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I’m a church historian. Within the Lutheran Church, I do a lot of historical research and get referrals from people across North America. Other than metro, the only other Lutheran Churches in Nova Scotia are in Lunenburg County. I wrote the book of history for the Lutheran Church in Bridgewater. It goes back to 1854, and I just finished doing research on their cemetery.
Q. What’s been your favourite year and why?
A. 1971, the year we got married. It was quite an event. We were married in Louisbourg and just as they were on the way to the church the power went out.
Q. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Bury my brother and mother and father. They (mother and father) died the same weekend in the same hospital from natural causes. We have had two double funerals in our family and two funerals on Christmas Eve.
Q. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
A. I had a congenital heart issue and had to have open heart surgery, and if that doesn’t change you nothing will. It changes your attitude towards life, what’s important and creates a sense of who you really are. I was able to completely recover and am very physically active.
Q. What’s your greatest indulgence?
A. Food. We both love to cook. We don’t consider ourselves gourmet cooks but our grandson the other night said he loves having dinner with nanny and pappy. . . "you make gourmet meals". We’ve ben doing that as long as can remember. We love to cook good meals, healthy meals.
Q. What is your favourite movie or book?
A. Anything written by Ernest Hemmingway, in particular for Whom the Bells Toils.
Q. How do you like to relax?
A. Crossword puzzles, I do three a day. I do word searches and lexicons on Fridays and I have a stack of books I’m constantly reading.
Q. What are you reading or watching right now?
A. The Hessians in the French Revolutionary Wars Memoirs of the Campaigns translated and edited by Sean Lyman and the Peddlers by Blaine Henshaw.
Q. What is your greatest fear?
A. Losing my memory. My memory is so important to me in every thing I do.
Q. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
A. I’m a suit and tie person. I also have a couple of Victorian suits I wear for my walks and things. My second one is my overalls when I’m around home and want to be comfortable. I do a lot of carpentry work.
Q. What is your most treasured possession?
A: The photographs I have of my biological father. I was seven when he died. The photographs are very treasured to me. It makes me happy to look at them.
Q. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
A. My mother. She raised us to remember who our families were. My physical traits look like my mother’s family from Queens County. That gives me a family connection. I can see it in our children and grandchildren.
Q. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
A. Ernest Hemmingway, Winston Churchill and Jack Kennedy.
Q. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?
A. My best quality is my sense of humor. My worst quality is I’m hard on myself.
Q. What’s your biggest regret?
A. That I didn’t go into law. I was interested in high school then I got interested in education. I always look back and wish I’d follow the law career.