Harold Benedict has seen a lot of changes in his 92 years.
Born in Canard in 1927, Benedict was sibling number eight in a line of 10. When he was two, his family moved from Canard to Port Williams, where his father worked on the Cogswell farm in the village. This started a series of moves back and forth to Port Williams over the next nine decades, where he eventually retired.
When Benedict was only five years old, his mother contracted tuberculosis and moved to the Kentville sanatorium, leaving behind the oldest siblings to take care of the household while their father was at work on the farm.
Once his two older sisters left home, Benedict says his oldest brother ended up becoming a great cook because he was next in line to look after the family.
They weren’t allowed to visit her, recalls Benedict, but, once in a while, the family went to the sanatorium, and stood outside. The attendants would wheel her to the window, and they could wave at her from below.
“That was a feeling all in itself,” he says. “But, it was great to see her through the window.”
The trek to the sanatorium was even harder because by this time, Benedict’s family had moved to Avon Street in Hantsport, where his father worked for the Hantsport Fruit Basket Company.
‘YOU DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO’
Benedict recalls his school days having to walk a mile to school, stopping at a farm halfway there to pick up a bucket of water to carry to the schoolhouse up the hill in Hants Border.
“There was no water at the school, so the older students had to carry it there,” says Benedict, noting the water was used for both drinking and washing.
He feels regret about only having finished Grade 8 before leaving school.
“There’s a lot of things I don’t know,” he says. “But my mother was in the sanatorium, I was looked after by my brothers, and there were 10 siblings. You do what you have to do.”
When war broke out, Benedict was too young to go overseas, but because of a shortage of male workers, he easily found a job. At the age of 14, he went to work hauling timber out of the woods near Windsor. One of the work requirements was having a horse; because he didn’t own one, Benedict rented a horse from the Griffin family in Port Williams for $1 a day and rode it to Stillwater, where he stayed from November to April two years in a row.
“This was a great arrangement,” says Benedict. “Mrs. Griffin didn’t have to feed her horse, got an income during the war, and I was able to work.”
As it was wartime, the logs Benedict hauled were taken to a cooperage in Hantsport, where they were turned into barrels to ship ammunition overseas.
Eventually, Benedict ended up back in Port Williams working on a farm, where he met Greta Schofield, the niece of the neighbouring farmer who became the love of his life. At the time, she was 14 and he was 19.
They dated a few years, and two weeks after Greta turned 19, they married, as they no longer needed their parents’ permission.
“We walked from Greta’s house in Wolfville up to the Baptist parsonage, got married in the house, and walked back home for cake,” he recalls.
Because Greta lived across the street from the Acadia Dairy on Front Street in Wolfville and babysat for the manager’s children, she was able to help get Benedict a job. Once again, his ability with horses came in handy.
Beginning around 1947 and lasting for the next 12 years, Benedict peddled milk through Greenwich and Port Williams by horse and wagon.
His days began around 4:30 a.m., when he would head to the stables on what is now Front Street to harness and feed the company’s horse. He’d then go across the street to the dairy, pulling his wagon by hand, where he loaded the cart with that day’s milk deliveries. When the horse had finished eating, he would lead it to the dairy, hitch it to the wagon, and set out.
The route was the same each time, going from Wolfville making stops in Greenwich along the way, heading across the dykes to Port Williams, continuing straight to Church Street, returning down Sutton Road to Belcher Street, back along to the bridge and heading back to Wolfville across the dykes. The entire run took approximately seven hours.
“I didn’t mind it,” says Benedict. “It did mean I’d have to go to bed early every night though.”
During his milk run, Benedict says he left piles of empty milk bottles by the Port Williams bridge, which incidentally was in a slightly different location than it is today. Later, a truck from the dairy would come to collect the bottles.
When asked why he was using a horse and cart while the dairy clearly owned a truck, Benedict explained that a horse would listen to you, while a truck wouldn’t.
Peddling milk by horse and cart did come with its dangers, especially as the horse and carts shared the road with automobiles.
One day, when passing in front of what is now the Wolfville Nursing Home, Benedict’s horse staggered into the road and was hit by an oncoming car. The chief of police, Lawrence Parker, had to come and help end the horse’s misery.
“The poor old horse,” said Benedict.
On another run with his next horse, Benedict says the horse got spooked on Belcher Street and ran away, smashing up the wagon and breaking the bottles of milk. He did eventually get the horse back, but says he never trusted it again.
It was soon after this that Benedict was transferred to a truck for his deliveries. He did miss the horse, especially as with the truck, his route was also increased.
After 12 years peddling milk, Benedict left his job to peddle oil for Irving. This began him on a 25-year career delivering oil to the Wolfville and Port Williams district.
Over the years of peddling goods, Benedict says he really got to know a lot of people in the community. He says he fit in quite well with the customers and never had any complaints.
“I tried to do what was right and to please my customers,” says Benedict adding that his customers always treated him well, too.
At Christmastime, Benedict says, there was never very much, but his customers were always very generous to him. In fact, one year, he was gifted over 500 cigarettes – pretty impressive for a man who didn’t smoke.
Benedict worked tirelessly, retiring at the age of 69, however, taking a year off to care for his sick wife. Greta ended up with vascular dementia, explained Benedict, and at the time, they were not able to operate to save her.
Greta did not want to go to a hospital or a nursing home, says Benedict, who remained by her side until she was granted her final wish of dying at home.
“It doesn’t get easier being a widower as time goes on,” he says. “You just get tougher.”
Benedict still lives at home in Port Williams, and is actively involved in the community. With his son, Lewis, who is the chairman of the Port Williams Village Commission, Benedict can be seen working on various projects around the community. In 2012, Benedict was named volunteer of the year for Port Williams for his contributions, especially helping to build and tend to the Port Williams Park.
These days, Benedict doesn’t venture far or get out as much as he used to because of recent health issues. He cherishes visits from his five children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and can be seen watching the world go by from his front veranda.
The world has definitely changed in the past 92 years, and Benedict has kept up with it all.