July 08, 2015

Public school cannon brings back memories

As published in The Erin Advocate

These days, people would never expect to see a World War I cannon mounted in a schoolyard, but there was such an installation for many years at Erin Public School – and George Short has the photo to prove it.

The picture is of his first wife Emily, sitting on the wheel of the big gun, taken in 1939.

George Short's wife Emily with the Erin Public School cannon
The cannon was a tribute to veterans of the war, but George recalls that when he was a teenager in the early ‘30s, the boys of the village were known to have some fun with it on Halloween night.

To avoid the problem, the cannon was moved to the barn across the road owned by school trustee Tom Scott, but this simply created a challenge for the young folks. One year they managed to get it out and started rolling it down the road, only to have it collapse when one of the wheels broke.

George happened to arrive at the scene and was rounded up with the other mischief makers. They all had to contribute a hefty 75 cents for the repair job and endure the wrath of their embarrassed parents.

“We should have had a kick in the rump, because it was an honour thing for the soldiers from the First World War,” said George, who served overseas in the Second World War. He doesn’t know what was eventually done with the cannon.

I met recently with him and his current wife Florence, who are approaching their 25th anniversary this year, to look at some old photos and talk about Erin as it was in the early 20th century. George was born in Erin in 1918 and has lived most of his life here. He worked at the Ford plant in Oakville, and was a welder at Massey-Harris in Brantford and General Electric in Guelph.

He’s been around long enough to remember Wellington Hull, the influential publisher of the Advocate, who also loaned money, issued marriage licenses and was the local auctioneer.

He also remembers Harry Gear, Erin’s long-serving doctor, who once sewed up a gash in George’s foot after an axe accident in the bush. No anesthetic was used – the doctor just had one of George’s brothers sit on his leg to keep it still. Gear’s house (next to the drug store) remains a village landmark, built by William Graham.

George still lives on a section of the land owned by his family just north of Erin Public School. When his mother Ada passed away, he ended up with a new photo collection. One example of that is a postcard showing the members of the 1915 Erin Shamrocks.

Top left in the photo is Bill Bush, whose family had a hardware store that he operated until 1973, then Humph Matthews, a harness dealer. In the centre is Dr. Henry Gear, followed by William Ramesbottom, who owned a large general store on Main Street, George Saunders, who lived on Charles Street and Wibb Small, who ran a downtown grocery store.

In the front row are Archie Chisholm, Harry Saunders, goalie Jack Trimble, a blacksmith who operated a garage in Belfountain, Tom Bush and Abe Hurd.

The photo was taken before his time, but George has heard that they were “a pretty hot hockey team”. They played in a red horse barn near the river on the Agricultural Society grounds. George would one day manage the arena that was later built on those grounds, with curling a very popular pastime in addition to hockey.

For those who are interested in more details about the olden days of Erin Village, Hillsburgh and Erin Township, I highly recommend a visit to the local history section at either branch of the library. Also explore the history articles on my blog, erininsight.blogspot.com, and on the Town website, erin.ca, in the About Our Community section.