From The Scrapbook By Rev. Bill Randall

FROM THE SCRAPBOOK

February 1998

 By Dr. Bill Randal

THE RAGAMUFFINS (1887)

The fiddle should be the cultural symbol of Harvey. Popularized by the International Radio and television performances of Don Messier and his Islanders, it was an outgrowth of a musical tradition that you can see whenever you get a glimpse back in time to the social life of these early settlers.

The violin, invented about 1690, was easily adaptable to the Irish and Scottish music so familiar to these migrants. In fact, they could and did make their own violins. Some were made from old wooden cigar boxes. The more patient could make a real violin with native wood, maple, spruce and sometimes pine. They may not have had fancy purling but they surely excited a social evening, a good barn dance or a picnic.

Sterling Brown (1880-1969) used to tell of a picnic he enjoyed as a child in 1887. The musical groups providing the entertainment were the Ragamuffins.  There were fiddlers and step-dancers dressed in what we would now call clown costumes. But back then, they were simply dressed in tattered old rags with homemade face masks and every type of old hat they could find, including some their grandmothers had brought with them on the ship Cornelius.

On the day in question, they (the Ragamuffins) led the parade day to the Grange picnic. It was a special event to which the early shareholders of the Farmers Trading Co. Ltd. were inviting the community. The shareholders’ were soon to open a new store, thirty-three feet long and nineteen feet wide. It was built on the property of William Little and is the site of the present day Watson’s Store. The picnic was held on the grounds to the east of the store on land which is now Mrs. Karl Byers’ property.

The Ragamuffins were followed in the parade by large flatbed farm wagons, drawn by handsomely harnessed farm horses. Children screaming with delight piled onto the wagons, often to be joined by a couple of step-dancers who “faced off”  on the wagon floor accompanied by their favorite fiddler. After the parade had circled the grounds and the wagons were formed in a circle the horses were unhitched and the wagons became a viewing platform from which the spectators could enjoy the scene. And what a scene it was! Off  to the south the view of Oromocto Lake. Piskehagan Mountain and to the west, the rolling hills of Christie Ridge and a glimpse of Lake Magaguadavic. However, the excitement of the events nearer at hand held most of their attention. The tight rope walk – above stacks of hay. If you fell you would be unharmed but you would be jeered or cheered, depending on who you were and who your friends were. Robert Little and Bill McCullough kept the excitement going.

You could stop for a free cup of tea if you wished. Toni Nesbitt and Tom Little had set up a huge Niagara stove just outside the store building to keep tea constantly brewing and to give the ladies, who were preparing dinner, some place for their hot dishes. The ladies had improvised tables set-up inside the unfinished building and expected to serve about 130 meals. After dinner there would be horse races and the 200 yard foot race.

Perhaps the most exciting entertainment was the swing. A large upright post was set in the ground with arms, thirty-feet long, extending on wither side. On the ends of each arm were seats accommodating two persons each. A steam engine operated by A.W. Little rotated the arms in a circle of 200 feet, thus the riders were moving at a speed of about thirty miles per hour. In 1887, that was fast! Alex and Amos Little were in charge of the swing.

And, everywhere the Ragamuffins kept the excitement at a high pitch.

Source: Rev. Bill Randall’s “From The Scrapbook Vol. One.”

Recommended Reading

Interested in learning more about the rich history and heritage of the Harvey region? Here are a few blog posts that might pique your interest:

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