poetry and prose about place

garden escapes: learning something new

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The poems I am writing have two dimensions:

  1. consideration of the plant, its names and characteristics, and its tendency to die, persist or escape when a garden is abandoned
  2. consideration of the community or area where the plant occurs


For the botany, I have my floras: Hal Hinds ‘Flora of New Brunswick‘ (2002), Roland and Smith’s  ‘Flora of Nova Scotia’ (1969) and others. During the project so far, I have learned about three new-to-me flowers: golden alexander (Zizia aurea), dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris) and narrow-leaved everlasting pea (Lathyrus sylvestris).



For the history, I have the New Brunswick Archives site ‘Where is Home?’ which tells when the community was first settled, what the population of the community was in certain years and so on. I also have the Canada Census for various decades and some excellent local histories lent to me by a very good friend.


For example, one of the abandoned communities we visited was Mavis Mills, north of Stanley. The community of Mavis Mills included a lumber mill and camp, post office and train stop. The community was named by a lumberman for his daughter, Mavis Mobbs. The community had a post office from 1922 to 1928. The 1921 Census shows a boarder and miller, John Mobbs, in Stanley Parish and below his name a mill camp with 31 men.


Something that puzzled me was the entry of ‘last lumberman’ under occupation, beside each of the 31 names. At first I thought it was a mis-spelling of ‘lath.’ Then I read more about the mill, in Velma Kelly’s book ‘The Village in the Valley: A History of Stanley and Vicinity (1983). After World War I, metal was in short supply. So in 1919, the Mavis Timber Company was contracted to make ‘last blocks’ from rock maple.


canvas 1921

a screen capture of part of the Canada Census for 1921 … under ‘Occupation’, the Census lists ‘Last lumber for each worker in the mill …


I had no idea what ‘last blocks’ were, so went on a Google hunt. ‘Last blocks’ were used to make the wooden shoe forms used by shoe makers. From 1919 to 1924, the Mavis Lumbering Company made five million ‘last blocks,’ to be shipped to England.


Mavis Mills abandoned property

an empty lot in a place in the community where Mavis Mills once stood … the lot is filled with golden alexanders


Such is the learning from a project such as mine. The phrase ‘never stop learning’ comes to mind.


Have you ever heard of a ‘last block?’ My great-grandfather, Josiah Hawk, who was a shoemaker in Pennsylvania, would be puzzled about the lack of knowledge of his great-granddaughter!


shoemaker’s lasts (Source: Wikipedia)


Note that this project ‘garden escapes’ is funded under a Creations Grant from artsnb (the New Brunswick Arts Board).


All my best,

staying in as much as possible and staying safe,


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