English visitors Lynne and Mark Purkiss, in foreground, travelled to Barney’s River Schoolhouse museum where Rosanne bland of Mount Uniacke and Nova Bannerman helped piece together wartime evacuee Ronald Mizon’s years in Nova Scotia.
Barney's River photo Front row: left Lynne / right Mark Back row: left Rosanne / right Nova
By rosalie MacEachern – The News (New Glasgow, NS) Sept 6/17
A little one-room schoolhouse, a framed photograph of her father with a dear friend and a small stack of children’s books bearing her father’s name brought Lynne Purkiss to tears Tuesday morning in Barney’s River.
She and her husband Mark, of Peterborough, England, were retracing the journey her father began as a 12-year old wartime evacuee from a working class town in Yorkshire, a journey highlighted by stays in Mount Uniacke and Barney’s River.
Nova Bannerman, the driving force behind the Barney’s River Schoolhouse Museum, was waiting for them.
“My father is so much on my mind. I’m happy, sad and overwhelmed.” said Lynne, looking around the school where her father was both student and janitor and where he smoked his first cigarette.
A few years before his death in 2012, Ronald Mizon emailed the museum, inquiring about “wonderful Barney’s River” and his old friend, Donald Bannerman. Donald had passed away but Nova, his wife, began corresponding with Mizon and more recently was contacted by Lynne after she and her husband decided to come to Nova Scotia.
Lynne grew up without knowing much about her father’s time in Canada. That changed later in his life when her mother became unwell.
“Each week he’s take my mother to the hairdresser and to pass the time while he waited, he began to write little vignettes about his early life and then about his time in Canada.”
One of his stories won him a laptop.
“That really brought his past back to him, being able to look up places he had stayed in Nova Scotia and being able to make contacts.” Mark pointed out.
One of the other contacts he made was with Rosanne Bland who compiles the monthly Uniacke Newsletter.
“I was happy to publish his memories of our community but it went further for me because my father had been a wartime evacuee in the Second World War – placed in Stouffville, Ontario and he never returned to Britain.”
She accompanied Lynne and Mark to Barney’s River to learn more of Ronald’s story and while the pieces do not all align perfectly and unanswered questions remain, Lynne is grateful for what she has found.
“Towards the end my father would dictate his stories and I would type them up. I learned so much I had never know. It was very emotional for both of us.”
she marvels at what the journey to Canada must have been like for child evacuees.
“My father had great experiences but still, he was just a child when he came.”
Mark points out the differences between English towns and cities and rural Nova Scotia are still striking.
“Lynne and I weren’t prepared for the vast expanses of land and being so close to the sea wherever you go. Being just a boy, he must have found it very different.”
He and his sister travelled in a convoy of ships, one of which was torpedoed by Germans with only 13 of the 90 children on board rescued.
As they sat on wooden benches and in schoolhouse desks, Lynne, Bannerman and Bland traded bits of information gleaned from stories, letters and articles.
“I never knew him but I saw him at church in Sutherlands River. I was a Canadian girl and he was an English boy so I certainly noticed him.” Bannerman said, adding the two were once in a group of children who rode together in the back of a pickup truck.
No on is sure why the Mizons were moved several times and split up for a period. They were in Canada under a government program and went where they were sent.
“I know he stayed with a Powell family in Egerton and then with Linus and Katherin Cameron in Barney’s River. With no one his age at the Cameron’s place, so he was often at the Bannerman’s. He told me he had many meals there,” said Bannerman, adding is photo was in a family album and her husband remembered him fondly.
Mizon took to farming and learned to drive a team of horses, carrying slabs from the nearby lumber mill to the school where he arrived early to build up the fire in winter. He also learned to drive a car, albeit on the wrong side of the road by British standards.
When Lynne remembered a snippet of a story about a store and a storekeeper’s daughter her father may have fancied, Bannerman was able to identify both the store and the daughter and confirm the relationship.
Bannerman’s daughter, Colene Williams, was touched when Bland pointed to a newspaper article in which Mizon wrote of going to say goodbye to the Bannermans and his “dear friend, Donald.”
“We always knew of him and we had a chemistry set belonged to him so as my father’s friend, he was very real to us. Meeting his family here in the schoolhouse is amazing.”
When Mizon turned 16 he left school to work at Eastern Woodworkers in New Glasgow. He wrote that he had a good job and a landlady who fed him well.
When the war ended he was obliged to return to England, but Lynne believes he may have preferred to stay. He joined the British navy and made one attempt to get back to Canada.
“With the help of a Canadian, he stowed away on a vessel headed for Canada but he was caught and got into a good deal of trouble.”
He eventually met his wife Sheila and settled in Peterborough.
“My mother had family all around her and would not have left the country. I don’t know why he didn’t talk about the Canadian years for so long but his sister does not talk of them either.”
When asked why she thought Mizon and his friend Donald had never written to each other, Lynne coul donly shrug.
“I’d say it was just because they were boys.” offered Bannerman.
Today, Lynne and Mark have plans to meet Janet Hingley, one of Mizon’s classmates during his student days in Barney’s River.
We have been contacted by people in Ireland, England and Colorado who are doing genealogical searches on their family name “Uniacke”. We have been contacted by people in Ontario who grew up here in the early to mid-1900′s and moved away. We have been contacted by still other people who had relatives who lived here and grew up with stories of the Mount Uniacke Gold Mines. Our web site brought still another “former resident” of Mount Uniacke back into our lives. We have been contacted by Ronald Mizon who was here in 1941 / 1943. This is his introduction to the Uniacke Newsletter: QUOTE: “Hello there from Peterborough, UK. I was evacuated to Mt. Uniacke during the second world war with my sister. I still have a fondness for Mt. Uniacke after all these years. I could tell you a few of the things during the 2 years I spent with George B. Cole (known to us as Uncle George and Aunt Allie). I have just acquired a computer and would welcome news of Mt. Uniacke and its growth and its residents. I remember the store with Glen and Nina Simone. The store was owned by George B. Cole at one time. Does anyone remember Uncle Wilbur and my best friend Dave Williams? I know lots and look forward to hearing form you.” END OF QUOTE
The rest is “history” as they say…. We welcomed any stories / memories that Ronald could share with our community and any adventures he could regale us with to bring hte “old community” to life in our minds ey. And Ronald did just that. There are 66 “parts” to Ronald’s adventurous story plus an introduction to his time here.
There are also 17 photos depicting Ronald’s and Bessie’s time here in our photo section.
It was a pleasure to accept Ronald’s daughter’s request to share her interest in re-tracing her father’s steps in the early 40′s while he was here in Mount Uniacke and Barney’s River and gave us a better opportunity to “go back in time” and try to see things “from Ronald’s perspective” and feel a little of the joy and peace that it not only brought to Ronald, but also to his daugher Lynne, to know that our community, as well as Barney’s River, opened their arms and hearts to this young boy and his sister who were forced so very far away from their homes and their family.
A big THANK YOU to David Mosher – George Cole’s grandson – who was in contact with Lynne prior to her and her husband’s (Mark) arrive here in Nova Scotia and was good enough to share email contact info with other family members who could help share some of the memories of Ronald’s and Bessie’s stay here in Mount Uniacke and who eventually met up with Lynne and Mark. Also, a HUGE THANK YOU to David Mosher for googling the maps of the locations in Mount Uniacke that Ronald talked about in his stories. ie home-built wooden raft to “sail” on Pentz Lake; sites of the old saw mill, lumber yards, Cole house; etc. although the entire landscape has changed, it was still nice to know where Ronald and Bessie stayed with the Coles, went to school, worked at the sawmill, which lakes they “floated the booms” on, where they cut the wood, etc.
With assistance from Ken Isles, we sourced out / found the old community hall where Ronald and Bessie sang songs for Christmas, so photo could be taken. We also visited the old school site in Windsor and did other sightseeing jaunts. ie Peggy’s Cove (see photo below)
Lynne and Mark Peggy's Cove