Wilbur B. Sherrard, foreman,
Camp 5, Shell Camp Lake.
|Wilbur Burton Sherrard
1879-1970. A brief biography and why I am
conducting research on the Davison
Lumber Company ----- August 2008
He was born in Strathadam, New Brunswick and his father was a mining engineer who died in a quarry explosion when Wilbur was a baby. Wilbur's mother remarried and his stepfather worked him hard and treated him worse. He worked on the family farm and alternately helped on the river log drive. Since he was usually working, he only managed to obtain the equivalent of a grade 2 education, yet he read whenever he could and was essentially self-taught. At 16, promising his mother to never smoke or drink ( a promise he kept), he left home for the wilds of Michigan where lumbering and new towns were booming. His Uncle taught him the steam engine and machinist trade and he easily found employment at the numerous lumber companies in the area, making mere pennies a day. His hand-written stories of his Michigan lumbering days are a story in themselves. While working for a lumber company (Iron Mountain), his abilities came to the attention of his supervisor, James W. Cross, a civil engineer originally from Cassburn, Ontario who took a job with Davison Lumber in 1903. He told Wilbur that he would call upon him when there was work to do once the mill was running. In July of 1905, one month after the Hastings mill began sawing wood, Wilbur was called up by an employment agency by request of JW Cross, and Wilbur moved to Nova Scotia where he lived the rest of his life.
After the Davison Lumber Co went bankrupt, Wilbur, who was Master Mechanic, stayed on to assist with the tear-down and liquidation of the equipment. Late in 1921, he found employment as the repair shop foreman at the round house in Kentville, moved his family (wife and 3 children)in December 1921, built a new home on West Main Street (house is still there) and worked for the DAR until he retired in 1946. While in Kentville, Wilbur was an active member of the Masons (Hiawatha Lodge) and the IOOF (Odd fellows), the local church and was elected as a town councillor for 2 terms. Following that, he was elected Deputy Mayor of Kentville. Not a bad life for a man with a grade 2 education.
Throughout his life, he made efforts to keep the name of the Davison Lumber Co alive, it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He had a Kodak portable box camera in 1905, when most cameras were large boxes on tripods, and he took many photos of which the negatives still exist. He freely duplicated and gave out copies of his photos to anyone who was interested starting as early as the 1920's and 30's. He wrote stories in many scribblers, sometimes rewriting them years later in fear or the originals getting lost or destroyed. Wilbur was interviewed in 1959 by Harold B. Jefferson, a railway historian and a writer/editor for the Nova Scotia Provincial Legislature newspaper (Hansard?) who wrote numerous stories under the pen name of J.B King. The Davison Lumber stories appeared in the Chronicle-Herald newspaper in about 12 installments. Letters to the editor immediatley after these stories were published came from contemporaries of the mill and they all praised the detail and accuracy of Wilbur's tales. This gives me good reason to believe his version of the history of the mill.
I knew Wilbur well, but was young enough to not ask questions of my elders, a painfully common story I hear these days. I had some of his pictures and stories, but 2 years ago I found that my cousin had more documents and pictures. With that, I realized I had enough to begin extensive research. So, I now actively research this company, not quite clear on what I will do with it but it would irresponsible to merely keep it to myself. Instead, I enjoy telling the stories which are always received with pleasure. This is such an interesting piece of Nova Scotia history, with a large social aspect since many 100's of people worked there. It has been written up in small stories, but never in great detail.
I am trying to continue Wilbur's work. Perhaps this is my attempt to finish what he started.
Philip L. Spencer