By Barry L. Hatt
The year was 1950 and Josephine
(Gilmore) Corning, from St. George, New Brunswick, was working as a teacher
under what was known as a Local License, in Clarence Ridge, New Brunswick. She
made the grand sum of 50$ per month which did not allow her much money to
pursue one of her favorite pastimes, collecting antiques.
As fate would have it Mrs. Helen Clark, or Mrs. J. Sutton
Clark, was rooming at the Seeley house, also known as the Clark house. She
heard that Josephine was looking for a roll-top desk and came to see if she
would be interested in the one that she had stored at the residence of Helen
Josephine immediately bought the huge, business
type, Mission Oak, roll-top desk for the grand sum of 25$, of which she had to
borrow 10$ from her father, Arthur Gilmore, to pay for it. In the desk, which
was a treasure to her, Josephine found other smaller treasures; A glass
ink-well, a letter opener and scissors in a sheath, a glass container with a
round glass roller used for wetting stamps and letters, and a business card
that read: J. Sutton Clark, Sardine Factory and Weir Owner, LEtang, New
In 1898 J. Sutton Clark built a sardine
factory at Lime Kiln Bay, part of LÉtang Harbour, which as stated
in the book Canned by John Gilman, became the fourth major packer of
sardines in Canada. In Canned we also learn that the business ran for
about 15 years until competition wore J. Sutton down and financial difficulties
caused the closure of the factory.
A mysterious fire
burnt the factory and surrounding buildings to the ground in 1920, but J.
Sutton also owned a large store in St. George, which he operated until his
death in 1947.
The roll-top desk must have been in the
factory or in their home in LÉtang as the business card and later
It wasnt until another 30 years
passed until Josephine found another treasure that she had overlooked. An
antique dealer was interested in buying the desk for the sum of 500$, and
showed Josephine how to take the roll front off to fix a slight tear. Josephine
noticed the edge of something white as she was cleaning the desk and, using a
thin object, fished a letter out from the place where the roller-top goes when
the desk is opened. The letter had the name Carrie Hatt on the
front but no date or address.
Asking around she found
that no one knew who Carrie Hatt was. Several more years passed until she
finally asked Braden Hatt, my brother, if he knew who Carrie Hatt was. His
reply was Yes, she is my aunt.
more than 20 years of searching, after she found the letter, Josephine had a
lead and eventually spoke to my mother, Olive, who in turn gave the letter to
my aunt Carrie.
Aunt Carrie had married William Ring and
for years had lived in Connecticut, returning to LÉtang for the
summer, which is one reason why most people did not recognize the name,
Carrie Hatt. The letter turned out to be a letter from Helen Clark
to my aunt Carrie wishing her a happy birthday and reminiscing about the days
that they had spent together in Sunday school, Helen as teacher and Carrie as
student. The letter could be dated as written in 1936 because it spoke of the
death of Carries mother, my grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth (Danbury)
Hatt, in LÉtang, and my Aunt Carries role in helping her and
the family during the time of illness. My aunt would have been 17 at the time.
The following excerpt from the gracefully written
note shows that it was written in LÉtang, and the depth of feeling
that Helen Clark had: Carrie dear, how greatly your precious mother is
missed, not alone in her home but in this community, where her beautiful
character and splendid example were a wonderful example for good to all who
knew her. But we must not be selfish enough to wish her back, ours is the loss,
not hers. She has gone to spend eternity with her Savior in the beautiful world
beyond. Let us try to carry on, my dear, as she would have us and as I saw you
doing. Shall never forget your quiet-loving, gentle Christ-like serving of all
your dear ones in the home thru all the last days your dear mother was with us,
here on earth.
Although the letter took more than
67 years to find its way to aunt Carrie, who is now 87 years of age, it was met
with great emotion and gratitude. It describes the type of person that my aunt
Carrie is and I feel that I got to know the wonderful person that Helen Clark
was. To me it was also a testimony to my grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth
(Danbury) Hatt, who died at the age of 55, after having 13 children. She left
11 children and my grandfather, Artimus Hatt, behind. This was my first
opportunity to get a first-hand, close glimpse of her. Through her I have seen
and felt the loving service that all my aunts have continually displayed,
throughout my life.
Josephine has since acquired a 1908
Sears and Roebucks catalogue that showed similar desks for sale from $15.65 to
$26.95. The desk she bought has proven to be a treasure chest in many ways.
Josephine has already been offered 1500$ for the roll-top desk by an antique
dealer, which shows how much more it is really worth, plus she found other
treasures within, that are priceless. The desk and contents have given us a
look at the long and interesting history of life in LÉtang, and a
glimpse of people and life in the early 1900s. Thank you Josephine for this
interesting look at our past.
Barry Hatt lives in Dumfries. You may contact
him through his e-mail address which is email@example.com