Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Many Aromas of Pokiok

According to popular belief ... the higher one climbs , the purer the air. To this I say , "Bolderdash!" ... because sometimes it's true and at other times not so ... and thus it was in Pokiok back then ...... and as the song says , " the answer , my friend , is blowing in the wind , the answer is blowing in the wind " or the old adage , " time and tide wait for no man" ..... in my humble opinion wind direction and strength as well as the rise and fall of tides greatly influenced air quality in Pokiok and the immediately surrounding areas.

Back in the 1940s I walked the length of Pokiok ... down and up .... twice a day on my way to Saint Peter's Boys School .... and also in the early to mid 1950s when I was home from Ontario on summer holidays and working at the sugar refinery. At that time the nearest bus-stop was at the corner of Bridge and Victoria Streets. I well remember hoofing it home down Bridge Street at times and being met by a rather sudden stiff whiff of something other than new mown hay or the odour of sanctity as I crossed the bridge over The Crick at low tide ..... the origin of which remains a mystery even to this very day ......  whence its local nickname known to native Pokiokers and intimate friends only. All things being equal though , I must admit , in hindsight , that the scent seemed less pungent in winter or whenever the tide was in. In 1946-47 , however , the city carried out certain works to improve the air quality in that whole area ..... with some degree of success I will agree. 

Photo taken from a boat just off the city burner and Welch's Cove looking back towards Indiantown and Spar Cove with the Snow Flake Lime sheds and kiln smokestacks dominating the horizon.
John McGuire in a rowboat during the Spring freshet with Snow Flake Lime sheds and kilns in background. John worked at the Snow Flake Lime and was husband to Hazel Estey , brother to grocer , Art ....  and father to Lou and my good friend , Art McGuire.
Leaving the McGuire Clan turf behind and rounding the corner I had the Snow Flake Lime office atop the rocks on my right with one of the company's garages and gas pump on my left .... along with the "deacon's seat" where a few of Pokiok's native sons often sat around discussing and passing judgement on local and world politics. I might say in passing that the Snow Flake Lime Ltd was the main source of revenue for manys a Pokiok family over an almost 50-year period ..... employing between 40 and 50 men at any ideal given moment in time. The Limekiln Hill was one of four I had to climb on my way home every day so uphill I would go ... rows of slabwood for the kilns piled up on my left and the main Snow Flake Lime garage on my right .... until I reached the corner of Pokiok Road and Belleview Avenue ... and it was precisely here at Vail's corner , on the plateau above the kilns , that my nostrils would  first detect the sweetly fragrant aroma of burnt limestone. This lime-coated scent often accompanied  me by Annie and Oakey Gould's house all the way to the foot of the burner hill where another strong smell would take over ...  something like when you forget a pot on the stove in which you intended to boil water ... with the element on at high ! ..... or that of "molten  tin" mixed with burnt veggies ! And my poetically-lame vocabulary stops here ! 

The two houses on the left stood directly across the road from the huge city incinerator where they burned everyday garbage ... cans , bottles , linoleum , asphalt shingles , mattresses , furniture and vegatal refuse ...... and then some !You name it , they burned it ! Lester Hovey and family lived in the house where the red car is parked. Lester worked at the Snow Flake Lime and was brother to Mrs Olive Hovey-Andrews , a great lady and matriarch of the well-known Campbell-Andrews extended family in Pokiok. She lived in the big red house at the top of Big Hill.
The far house was home to Roy Meade , his wife Ruth as well as son Kenny and daughter , Linda. Roy's in-laws , Fred and Eva Cunningham , lived upstairs. The Meades would later build a house on the newly-created Highland Road . I remember Roy very well ..... an extremely well-liked man who delivered bread and pastries up our way for  Dwyer's Bakery with his old swayback horse , Doughnut , and wagon. Now and then Roy would let a couple of us kids ride up front beside him .... even hold the reins and yell , "Giddyup". Like my Dad , I thought Roy was a great guy ! I can still see him climbing down halfway up Big Hill to deliver bread to the Esteys , Days , Hatfields and Hurders. He would grab two big wooden wedges from the boot ... much like big wedges we use to keep doors open .... and kick one under each front wheel  to make sure the wagon remain stable during his absence. I always suspected he did it to lighten the weight of the load for poor old Doughnut ...... stopped there halfway up such a steep rise.
The picture on the right shows what we used to refer to as "the burner hill" , once part of the old Pokiok Road system of my youth ....... but has been a dead-end since the mid 1950s when Highland Road  was built to provide easier and safer access to Upper Pokiok  .... especially in winter. The old city burner stood just to the left at the base of the hill ....... maybe 10 yards out of this picture.

                                                                                     Straight ahead behind the protective fence along the edge of a cliff there is a sheer drop-off of some 75-80 feet to another level..... then another 15 feet or so to the water. The old incinerator was built like a shaft up the cliff wall ... using the wall itself as one of the four sides .... the other three being made of bricks ..... the whole being topped off by a tall smokestack. Now and then the caretaker , Chestley McCoach , would permit the fires to burn themselves out .... then let things cool off so that the heaps of ashes , rubble and "what-not" be shoveled or raked outside .... either to widen the ledge or be swept into the river. We often swam in the river next to the burner and were leary of walking barefoot too close to this area for fear of cutting ourselves on any one of the rusty old cans or bottles that had survived the intense fires .... or the sharp-edged old "clinkers" ....... lumps of "molten" metal , glass and rocks which were strewn by the thousands all along the shoreline and into the river. They say that " fire purifies" but this stuff simply "stank"! Below I am adding another picture to show my readers what a "clinker" looks like. Two years ago I scrambled down to water level and took a few pictúres of the old site ... nowadays covered over by dense shrubbery and tons of blast-rock. However , I did find piles of old "clinkers" both along the shore and in the water.

And now back to our main theme.... the "perfumes" or "fragrances" of Pokiok. Long before anti-pollution laws were adopted and stiff fines were handed out to industrial offenders the Irving Pulp and Paper mill at the Reversing Falls spewed its sulphuric poison into the surrounding air and environment..... a bigtime sinner , so to speak. Right beside the mill and visible to all rose a huge mound of "yellow" sulphur ..... a necessary ingredient for transforming wood in to paper. From our backyard in the Pokiok hills we could see the mill straight across the river ... maybe a mile and a half away as the crow flies. On most days we smelt nothing but when the wind came in off the sea... blew from the South .... then my Mom would run around shutting all the windows in the house , bring the clothes in off the line and , in general , batten down the hatches because the offensively rank , rancid stench was overwhelmingly present everywhere ....  not as bad as a close encounter with a skunk perhaps .... but in the same league to put it mildly.

Even in winter there were moments when newfallen snow seemed to take on a yellowish tint .... and my Dad blamed it on the sulphur in the air. At other times we would wake up and find our back lawn strewn with bits of debris from the burner down below ..... burnt rubbish light enough to get caught in the updraft and land in our backyard ...... easier to spot in winter though because of the white carpet. In closing I am adding a picture taken recently from my Dad's lookout behind the house to give the readers some idea of the layout of the area , in general .... and especially where the pulp mill was situated in relation to Pokiok ..... nowadays still spewing off across the water .... but hopefully less polluting than in days of yore!
Amen !


  1. A truly fascinating story. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for taking time out to read such a long text , Jim .... I truly appreciate your positive input and patience with the reminiscences of an old geezer as he travels back in time.

  3. Another blast from the past!!!
    Lynn Hamilton

  4. Yes, dear Lynn.... and I'll keep blasting from the past as long as I've got the pep and energy to do so ... since the older we get , the longer the road behind us and the shorter the one ahead..... so thank you for your kind words of encouragement ..... and please come back often and comment.If you have any questions about the history of Pokiok ... fire away and hopefully I might know the answer ...... if not , I'll either find the answer ... or make one up !Hugs to you , your Mom and extended family.

  5. hi gerry,

    your treatise, Pokiok: The Many Aromas of Pokiok, captures it all - the sights, sounds,
    and of course the smells of your beloved boyhood playground.

    this is writing from the heart at its best! I hope all those "with a Pokiok past" will read and find pleasure in remembering.

    do you also recollect during our St. Peter's Boys' days, the pungent aromas of cucumbers during the pickling process in the vats of McCreadys?

    are these things "the ties that bind" ... 'hope so. nay, I know so!

    thanks again, doctor.


  6. Dear Dickie,

    As my old buddy , Cicero , once wrote in De Amicitia ( AD 45 ) ... On Friendship .... " Sed ut tum ad senem senex de senectute, sic hoc libro ad amicum amicissimus scripsi de amicitia" which reads in English as you well know from your extensive work on Latin back in the early 1950s ... " But as in that book I wrote as one old man to another old man on the subject of old age , so now in this book I have written as a most affectionate friend to a friend o the subject of friendship"
    Thank you , dear friend Dickie , for all the words of encouragement and positive vibes you have been sending my way and may our epistolary exchanges within the Pokiok blog .. plus our weekly conflabs at Tiny Tim's part and parcel of our own masterpiece entitled " An Ode to Friendship" ..... May the "ship" stay on even keel and never sink !
    P.S. You need to set up an e-mail addy !

  7. hi again gerry,

    I'm sure your totally right about the e-mail account but since Cicero didn't use one, perhaps I too can manage.

    however, your old friend (Cic) wrote another Latin motto which I have come to know and cherish: esse quam videre. It's on the grad rings of St. Malachy's HS, here in Saint John.

    but, your wonderful mastery of many languages probably only comes second to your incredible prowess in kicking the poop out of the legendary tough guys in and around Pokiok, the old North End, and most certainly, St. Peter's Boys' playgrounds!

    God Gerry, isn't that going to look nice on your tombstone?



  8. word correction:

    er, that should be you're, NOT your in my first line.

    cheers, dickie.

  9. hi gerry! tell dickie to get back to the books!

    Cicero wrote: "Esse Quam Videri" NOT Videre.

    With love,


  10. Alma , a mháthair bhaistí ( dear godmother )
    Dickie is , indeed , a lucky son having you to watch over him ..... and yes , I had noticed the error but I simply chalked it up to a typing mistake. I could not believe that Dickie would replace a passive voice infinitive as in the original quotation ... videri ... by an active voice infinitive. This would be totally unthinkable for a scholar of his calibre.
    Slán go fóill , a chara ... and I'll be out to see you again soon.

  11. hi gerry,

    lucky indeed! but, actually, a bonnie lass from the CWL who just happened to be perusing your latest writing noticed my error.

    she phoned Mum at StJ-StS, who got right on it!

    for my penance I'm doing 5 Our Fathers & 10 Hail Mary's. ... in Latin!


  12. Dear Dickie ,
    I was going to tell you that Saint Malachy's battle cry 'esse quam videri' is grammatically lame .... and gets its imputed meaning from the full quotation of which it is but a part ...but I won't !! "Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse , quam videri volunt" ... " For many wish not so much to be , as to seem to be , endowed with real virtue".... Cicero , De Amicitia , Chapter 98 ... one of my favourite bedtime-story books.
    As for my tombstone , dear old buddy , I like the swashbucklling role you assigned me .... anything beats having " North End Bore " in big engraved letters adorning the lieu of my final mortgage. My Dad always liked the one he saw in some boothill out West ... Here lies Fred ,the fastest draw in the West ... but the poorest shot !
    Thanks for encouraging me to keep on writing in here , old friend.
    Dominus tecum

  13. okay doctor ... just for the record.

    name the cartoon character from "our past lives" who was named CICERO.

    hint: he was related to a guy called PORKY.



    1. hi! did I get my signals crossed?

      I was looking for some new material that you described this morning after our coffee at TH's.

      I'll keep checking.


  14. I can remember the pungent aroma while in Alexander School. We would close all the windows before everyone got sick. I also remember the incinerator. I bought tea boxes home from it for my mom.