Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Pokiok Song : The White Swan Crew

I wish to dedicate this post to the late Lou McGuire , fisherman , longshoreman and long-time mill-worker ......... elder son of Hazel ( Estey ) and John McGuire of 1 Pokiok Road and big brother to my friend , Art McGuire. Growing up in Pokiok back in the 1940's I knew who Lou was but never got to know him personally as he was so much older than I ... he being born in 1924 and myself some 12 years later in 1936. Nevertheless , over the last year I have managed to gain some insight into Lou's life and personality thanks to the warm portrait both  Art and daughter , Irene, paint of him. From what they tell me Lou was a man's man , a friend's friend , hard worker , devoted family man , possessed a strong personality and .... to boot .... played a "mean" guitar and sang as well. Today's post is about Lou and a song he loved to sing about life along the lower Saint John River back in the early 1920's.

Almost a year ago Art gave me a document containing a song and an accompanying text written by Lou back in 1985 ........and since then I have been mulling over the best way to present to my readers this unique and colourful episode in Pokiok folklore. Finally I have decided to reproduce Lou's text as is ... the way Lou penned it ... with only a few minor changes to facilitate reader understaning. This song , The White Swan Crew , has has long been part and parcel of the McGuire family musical tradition , often sung at family gatherings and get-togethers with friends. Art McGuire sang it for me once over the phone in his fine , melodious voice and you would have sworn you were listening to Liam Clancy or Tommy Makem , of Clancy Brothers fame.

N.B. Straight unbroken red line between Kingsville and Pokiok Mill. Broken red line shows movement from Kingsville Wharf to Baker's Mill to Glen Cove.

                                                       The Foggy River Crossing

                                                              contributed by

                                                                Lou McGuire

A  couple of years ago I had my first and only meeting wih a fine gentleman , Reg Wannamaker. He was from the South End and I was a North Ender. We had a great chat about the old days. I gave him a brief outline of a true story that I wanted to write about crossing the Saint John River one foggy day about 65 years ago. He was very enthusiastic about it and told me he was looking forward to seeing it in print. Reg did not live to see that day. I would , therefore , like to dedicate this story to him.

In the 1920's the Saint John River was a beehive of activity. There were ships of all kinds ..... two- and three-masted schooners , barges , lumber scows , tow boats and river boats. However , the most common mode of travel was the home-made rowboat and almost everyone in the river area had one. They used them to get back and forth to work in the many lumber mills along the river. They also used them for fishing. On Sundays they were used for leisure activity .... to transport the family on picnics.

The big mill , Stetson & Cutler , was just above Indiantown. Besides being a lumber mill , it also produced lime.It employed a lot of men. About a mile further upriver on the same side was Charles Miller's Mill. It was usually known as the Pokok Mill. Directly across the river was Baker's Mill in what is now Randolph. Across from Baker's Mill and slightly downriver was a rather large cove which was Kingsville.

At the time of this story many of the men lived on one side of the river and worked on the other side. As they crossed in their rowboats they were ever mindful of the mighty Reversing Falls only a short distance downstream. They were even more mindful if they were crossing in the fog. If you've ever been lost in the fog , I can tell you that it's a very eerie feeling. You're completely surrounded by a thick gray wall. If you didn't have a compass , you had no idea where you were. With the Falls so close , that could be a very serious situation. With experience though .... you learned to rely on your other senses as well. There was the "ding" of the streetcar as it reached the end of the line in Indiantown. At night you might be able to see the glow of the blinking light at Rowan's Wharf which guided boats into Marble Cove.

On one particular occasion there were four men .... Bill Anderson , Jim Henderson , Garney Williams and Skipper Bill Coleman .... who lived in Kingsville. They worked at Miller's Mill , or Pokiok Mill , which was directly across the river. They set off for work from Kingsville Wharf one very foggy morning. A fellow worker , who knew the river like the back of his hand , followed in a boat behind them. He wrote down an account of that memorable crossing on a couple of shingles. Later he made it into a poem and set it to music. The name of their rowboat was The White Swan. So he entitled the poem The White Swan Crew. I hope you enjoy it.


On the 26th of February,
That morn I'll ne'er forget.
The weather it was gloomy
And the fog began to set.

Bill Anderson , Jim Henderson
And Garney Williams too.
Bill Coleman was the skipper
Of the famous White Swan Crew.

At six o'clock in the morning
From Kingsville Wharf they set sail.
Pokiok was their destination.
They had to get there without fail.

The fog was thick I will admit
When Henderson did call,
"Oh! Boys , get on your bended knees,
We're going through the Falls!"

"Oh no!", said little Garney
With a teardrop in his eye,
And up spoke Billy Anderson
As he gave a mournful cry.

Bill Coleman with his handkerchief
Sure did cry his fill ,
When they all sang out in joyful glee,
"We're here at Baker's Mill !"

Such shaking hands and compliments
Were passed around that day.
But Skipper Bill said ,
"Come on , lads...we must be on our way"

And setting sail again ,
Each pulled heavy on the oar.
"We're late for work, row harder ,boys
To reach the other shore"

And so again upstream they went
And harder they did row.
Then Skipper Bill said ,"Land ahoy ...
We've landed in Glen Cove".

The men were very late for work,
As was I the author , too!
The lads took a constant ribbing,
Those lads of the White Swan Crew.

When they left Kingsville Wharf  , they rowed upriver but got lost in the fog and landed at Baker's Mill ... on the same side of the river they left from. They next landed at Glen Cove which was about one mile above the Pokiok Mill. So , after two tries they still hadn't landed at the right place.I remember Bill Coleman from my childhood. He lived at the top of Victoria Street and had a peg-leg like Captain Hook.

Epilogue by Gerry McNulty
Art tells me that he has no idea where the last 4 verses come from as they were not in the original song he learned long ago. Maybe Lou found them somewhere or even made them up himself. Whatever be the case , they blend in well and complete the story. I believe that Glen Cove corresponds to what we called Snow's Beach in my own youth ... a rocky stretch of beach between Higgin's Beach and The Farms ... just a bit downstream from the shear rock wall often referred to as The Three Sisters. I have found a certain number of  references in 19th century newspapers to a place called Glen Cove ... vaguely or "foggily" stated as situated somewhere at the end of Pokiok Road. In closing I might add that the 1923 Saint John City Directory mentions all 4 men of the White Swan Crew as either living in Milford or Kingsville.   


  1. Gerry. Very well done about Lou and the song and true story of the White Swan Crew.Give Lou his guitar and ask him to sing any Wilf Carter,s songs.The Yoho Vally, My Brown eyed Laverne. nobody could could sing them any better,A person could not ask for a better brother . Keep up the the good work Gerry..... Art.

  2. Art ,my friend ..... it has been a true pleasure for me just writing up the material you gave me ..... plus your word of mouth testimony .... without your input and encouragement I would have been hard put to write up much of what I have posted in Pokiok already. Maybe some day this coming Summer I might drag out my guitar and we could sing up a few old Wilf Carter songs in Lou's memory .... perhaps even , " My Son Calls Everybody *Daddy* But Me "
    In closing , my hat's off to you for getting through the commenting system booby traps ... you are my hero !!

  3. Sylvia Johnston SpencerJanuary 19, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    I think it is great to read all that you write, Gerry, and all the motivation that Artie gives you. There are so many more stories that you will have fun seeking out to put on this blog.
    George London lives on Highland on the top of the little hill. His mother and grandmother, Mrs. Byers, ran a little store from their front porch next to where the Estey's lived and Mrs. Bailey lives now. I bet he would love to meet you again and must have some stories.
    As far as I know, his Mom, Edna London, is doing very well, living in a senior's complex somewhere in the North End. She would be another source of recollections.
    Keep up your good work!!

  4. Ooopps!!!
    Estey's should have been typed Esteys.

    One thing that the old North End education system did was to instill spelling.
    It was so much fun to line up on the sides of the room to have a competition with your classmates in the old St. Peter's school.

    You are so right about how fortunate we are to have had our younger years in Pokiok and its' surrounding areas.

  5. Sylvia... I wouldn't wish to choose which of the three of you motivates me the most... you , Rebekah or Art.... all I can say is that I feel well BACKED !! So a huge "MERCI" to my guardian threesome.
    Yes , Sylvia , I have Edna high on my list along with Muriel Andrews .... as well as Joan nd Doreen Earle. When I do a post on the clubs I hope to consult Marie Evans as she worked at the club below Caddells and is very knowledgeable their past history and membership.I shall do a special one about the Byers and Londons .... I still remember how well Mrs Byers danced so well .... floating around the room with my Dad. He thought she was the best and most elegant dancer he'd ever hit the floor with.
    And don't I recall those lineups ... the drills and spelling bees ! As you say .... it was instilled in us the importance of spelling well ...... a gift for a lifetime!Thank you Miss Casey , Miss Dever , Miss Call , etc

    Sylvia.. would you kindly use my address as seen above to send me your co-ordinates ... e-mail addy and home phone number ????? I won't abuse ! Bye for now , Sylvia.