Roots of International Community Visible in Letter from the Past

By Lura Jackson

 

The postmen of Calais in 1938 can be seen here. Post was delivered twice a day to the down by the Maine Central Railroad; postmen would then set out on foot to deliver it. Standing, left to right: Fred Warren, Angus McLean, Cy McCurdy, Theo McLean, PM Edward Doyle, Henry McLean, and Willard Babb. Seated, right to left: Leo Phelan, Frank McLean, Hank Hanson, PM Milltown Station Hud Babb, Frank Yeaton, Frank Taylor, Francis Driscoll and Emery Babb. 

Last week in the Advertiser, we had a look at a letter sent in October of 1938 to Eleanor Kelly, who dwelled on Barker Street with her husband Joseph, a boilermaker. The letter was sent to Eleanor by her nephew, Charles, who recently relocated to Boston. This week, we’ll look at another letter from the same cache—sent in June of 1938 from a friend in Fairville, New Brunswick. 

Another week and we’ve stepped a few more months back in time. It’s early June in the St. Croix Valley, and the weather is mild. Spring has finally taken hold from a long winter and the fields are alive with insects and birds. 

A postman has just delivered a letter to Eleanor Kelly in her home on Barker Street. The post back then came in twice a day on the Maine Central Railroad, and twice a day the postmen would deliver letters on foot. The letter is from Bill and Rose, two recently married friends that Eleanor coordinated a wedding reception for.  

“Dear Mrs. Kelly,” the letter reads. “...we want to thank you for the lovely time you gave us. We will not forget it in a hurry.” Bill writes that they have moved to a small place in Fairville (now part of St. John), and that wedding gifts are still coming in. It’s clearly the season of weddings, as Rose’s home is in a commotion while her family prepares for the wedding of her sister and she spends most of her time there helping her mother.

In last week’s letter, we first learned of Jim, whom Charles said had gotten a job with the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration) and was “getting along with it.” In this week’s letter, Bill asks how Jim is doing with his new home. While we lack any further apparent details about Jim, it seems he has been progressing well in this stage of his life.

Also mentioned are Inez and Vivian, the daughters of Eleanor and Joseph. Bill takes the liberty of cautioning Eleanor to tell them “not to put on too much weight” as “it’s not good for them.” 

Setting aside the unsolicited criticism of offspring, one thing this letter highlights is the relationship between the communities on either side of the St. Croix River. For generations prior, the border was more akin to a suggestion rather than the barrier it more closely resembles today.

“There were still customs, but everyone knew everyone,” Jerry LaPointe of the St. Croix Historical Society explains. Al Churchill adds, “Customs people were local themselves. They spent their whole careers in this community.”

In that era, many Calais residents were born in St. Stephen due to its offering of better medical facilities. “People knew if you were from one side or the other but there was a lot of inter-marrying,” LaPointe said. 

The remote nature of the St. Croix Valley made close relationships between the two sides of the river a necessity. “The fire departments have always responded to fires on either side,” Churchill said. The sharing of clubs, organizations, and amenities was also extensive. Any St. Croix Valley Canadian with an interest in golfing was a member of the St. Croix Country Club in Calais, and the bowling club was similarly international. 

In the modern era, many of us enjoy increasingly global relationships—something Eleanor Kelly may have been rightly amazed at. The historical and continued relationship between the Canadian and American sides of the St. Croix Valley, however, is one that now provides outsiders with a level of amazement—for it is a story of roots that run deeper than any border.

 

Next week, we’ll look at the final piece of post to Mrs. Kelly: a card from her daughter, Inez.