52 Ancestors #8: Bessie Hicks (1892-1965)

Every Christmas of my childhood, my mother wore a gold bracelet. Engraved on the back is “A.S.P. to B.A.H. Xmas 1913”. This bracelet was a Christmas gift from my grandfather, A. Samuel Prowse, to my grandmother, Bessie A. Hicks, two years before they were married. The rest of the year, the bracelet lived in a velvet box in my mother’s dresser drawer. I always loved opening that box and reading the inscription. As a child in the 1960s and 70s, 1913 seemed like an eternity ago. Now that I’ve been researching ancestors back to the 1760s, 1913 seems so very recent.

braceletBracelet inscription

My maternal grandmother, Bessie Hicks was born on August 31, 1892 in Midgic, Westmorland County, New Brunswick. She was the daughter of Arthur Hicks (52 Ancestors #2) and Morinda Wheaton. Bessie grew up on the family farm in Upper Sackville, the eldest of 8 children.

Hicks, Bessie - Birth
New Brunswick, Canada, Provincial Archives, Late Registration of Births, Code 1892-H-75, Microfilm F18782

Bessie attended Mount Allison Ladies College (now part of Mount Allison University), where she met her husband-to-be, Sam Prowse. They were married on December 1, 1915 at the home of Bessie’s parents in Sackville, NB.

Newspaper wedding of Samuel Prowse and Bessie Hicks
The Charlottetown Guardian, Dec 4, 1915, Pg. 5 (islandnewspapers.ca)

Following their marriage, Bessie and Sam settled in Sam’s home town, Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, where Sam was a partner in the family business, Prowse and Sons. Bessie and Sam had 4 daughters: Audrey in 1917, Hazel in 1919, Betty in 1923 and my mother, Florence, in 1930.

Samuel and Bessie (Hicks) Prowse, Audrey, Hazel
Albert and Bessie (Hicks) Prowse, with daughters Audrey and Hazel, 1920 Family photo collection.

The Great Depression spelled the end for the Prowse family business. In 1932, the family moved to Moncton, New Brunswick to start over.

Newspaper - departure of A.S. Prowse and family
The Charlottetown Guardian, May 17, 1932, Pg 5 (islandnewspapers.ca)

As I side note, I giggled when I saw my mother referred to in that article as “Baby Florence”.

The 1930s and 1940s were hard on the family, with little money and their share of difficult times. In 1939, Bessie’s 2nd oldest daughter, Hazel, then age 19, married with 2 children and pregnant with her third, lost her home in a house fire and then lost her husband in a car accident. Bessie and the two younger children moved to Riverside, New Brunswick to support Hazel. They later moved to Sunny Brae, New Brunswick and Bessie raised Hazel’s youngest son. Bessie was widowed in 1949, when her husband died of cancer.

Throughout these tragedies, Bessie was always the rock of the family. She made sure there was always food on the table and plenty of love to go around.

I’ve always felt a strong connection to my grandmother, even though I never had the chance to know her – she died in January 1965, when I was just 10 months old. My mother has often told me that I remind her of her mother, especially when I laugh. This is my favourite picture of her – she looks like someone who was not afraid to be silly, and I admire that in a person.

Bessie (Hicks) Prowse, Cedric and Maude Hicks
Bessie (Hicks) Prowse (centre), with her youngest brother Cedric Hicks, his wife Maude, and Bessie’s grandchildren. Abt. 1956. Family photo collection.

 

52 Ancestors #2: Arthur A. Hicks (1872-1951)

Arthur Albert Hicks was my great-grandfather. Although he died before I was born, my mother has often spoken with great fondness of her Grandpa Hicks. He was born on April 22, 1872, in Midgic, New Brunswick, the 6th of John Manning Hicks and Jane Scott‘s 12 children, only 6 of whom survived childhood. Arthur grew up on the family farm and became a farmer, like his father. He and his wife Morinda Wheaton had 8 children, the eldest of which was my maternal grandmother, Bessie Hicks. Arthur died on April 12, 1951, at the age of 78.

This is the only picture I have of Grandpa Hicks. This would have been taken around 1918, as the child in the picture is Arthur’s eldest grandchild, my aunt Audrey, who was born in February 1917.

Arthur Hicks and Audrey Prowse

A few years ago, while going through a box of old photos and documents with my mother, we came upon this:

Sluice - Arthur A Hicks

We were intrigued. Mom couldn’t recall where she had gotten this sketch. I contacted the Tantramar Heritage Trust to see if perhaps someone there might have a suggestion as to where I could begin to look to locate the source of this illustration. The Executive Director of the Trust forwarded my email to a few people, one of whom knew exactly who could help. He put me in touch with Colin MacKinnon, a biologist at Environment Canada (now retired) and historian, with a particular interest in marshlands history. Not only did Colin recognize the reference, he actually had a copy!

Tidal Marshes and Their Reclamation - cover

This 1911 US Department of Agriculture publication contains a chapter called “The Marsh Lands of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick” which describes the various methods used around the Bay of Fundy to turn marshlands into agricultural lands. The section on sluices includes “Arthur A. Hicks of Upper Sackville, New Brunswick, has built a number of sluices equipped with a very simple and effective device for preventing sluice leakage. (See Pl. XV, fig. 1.)”, which goes on to describe this device in great detail.

The best part is that Plate XV, Fig. 1 is not an illustration, it’s an actual photo.

 

Arthur A Hicks and box sluice aboiteau (in Warren 1911)

The mystery remains as to who did a sketch of this photo, and why. But I must say, I was impressed that Colin was able to identify the source from the sketch. He clearly knows his marshland resources!

As an added bonus, he had a picture of my great-grandfather’s gravestone which he kindly sent to me.

Arthur Hicks grave

This was a great reminder that it always pays to reach out to others – you never know who may have a piece of the puzzle. And an added bonus of family history research is that it provides lots of opportunities to learn new things. If you’re interested in knowing more about the history of the Tantramar Marsh, check out Marshland: Records of Life on the Tantramar on the Mount Allison University website.