Memories of the Early Days of Cape Breton

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“We had two teen campers, and I lead them in Bible studies. That’s how the camp got started.”

by Lawrence McAllister

I was an engineering student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, after nearly five years on destroyers in WWII. I was selected to be the engineer at Cape North, Cape Breton where the gypsum mine was- at Dingwall, NS very close. I took the train from Halifax to North Sydney and jumped the Aspy Bay to Aspy Bay where Dingwall is. And there I went into the bunk house with the rest of the guys who were working in the office. They were from outside the area, because there was nobody in Cape North educated enough to really do office work for the mine.

So I was the mine engineer and had my work to do.

When my wife was free to leave Halifax, I went down and brought her up. We moved into a beautiful company house, halfway up the hill from Dingwall and we started immediately to invite children to come to our house for children’s meetings. This was quite a thing for the community. The engineer usually was a man who drank and smoked and all the rest, but this engineer came to church and he carried a big black book, which he read during the sermons.

We had benches made at the mine for the children who came to our house. At the back of our big living room were maybe four to six women, sometimes a man, who listened as we were telling the children the simple, pure gospel of the grace of God. This developed into a Bible study for the people who were interested.

In the meantime, I got a letter from the Rev. Ken Robins, of NBBI, saying that he and his family were going out for the whole summer for evangelistic meetings, and anyone that wanted them to come should contact them. I contacted him immediately, with the approval of the people in our Bible study, and up they came.

The first meeting was held in the Masonic Hall, which we rented for five dollars. The place was packed. The very first convert was that night- an elder of the United Church in Aspy Bay. His name was Alan Gwynn. He simply said to us, “If what you brethren say is true, I’ve never been born again.” Ken Robins must have preached from John chapter 3. “Well,” he said to the other elders, “why have meetings here? The pastor’s gone from the church. Why don’t we go into the church?” And so we did.

I think two weeks we held meetings there. The church was quite a large church with a horseshoe balcony. They preached the gospel, but there was very little response. Children made professions of faith in Christ, but no adults.

The next year Ken Robins came back again for meetings. This time there was a big change. The Bible study had grown and many people came out. The whole community would come to these meetings, and the very last night of the second series of meetings, many adults got saved. I was left behind, of course, with the Bible study, and we had up to forty in that Bible study. Easter came, and these people did not want to join the church. One half of them left and so we were left with about twenty.

At this point, the gypsum was depleted in the community, and we were forced to leave. A call came through Ken Robins to ask me to be the Atlantic Director of the Canadian Sunday School Mission. I had other offers too, but this was the one that God had chosen for us so we accepted.

We had the directorship of the mission, and prayed for another campsite from just the one we had at Sandy Cove in NB. What about NS?

When I was an engineer in Cape North, we went down the Cabot Trail. It was just a gravel road and no railings. And going to Sydney we crossed over two ferries. There was no bridge at the time. We passed by a big, red building that had been owned by the coal mine manager of that area. I often thought about how beautiful that was and what a wonderful thing it would be if a camp could be held there.

So we prayed for another camp site. Someone from Prairie Bible Institute said that her mother had bought this property on Port Hood Island, and we could use it for a camp. As far as I know, we were given the property. I don’t know where the property lines were, but I know they included the house that is still there and went right down to the end of the peninsula. This is a beautiful site and with the help of Hughie McDougall and Les Tobey on the island with his boat, we got this camp going.

Now, the people at Cape North that had been converted were very excited about this, because they could send their children to camp, and they would support it with their funds. Ed Gwynn and I went down with an old coal stove to work on getting the camp ready for the first year. There was a big hole in the roof of the building. Mushrooms were growing out of the plaster but there was a beautiful curved oak staircase in great condition. We did our best to close the wall, to close the roof, and get ready for the first camp. Two teenagers came.

When we started the camp there was a dear farmer nearby who gave us coal for the coal stove that we used and allowed us to get water from his house. This meant, first of all, we had to catch the horse. Then we had to hitch the horses up to the stone boat [sledge]. Then we had to fill a forty gallon drum with water from a pump and get to camp. Of course, by the time we got to camp, which was about a quarter of a mile, there was about twenty gallons left.

Eventually, I was asked to be the national director of the CSSM and had to leave. At that point, the board decided that there were too many problems with the water between the island and the mainland and having to depend on Les Tobey and his boat for everything. They decided that they should move the camp to the mainland.

I was very interested in this move, that it would be nearer Sydney and then I thought of my people in Cape North at the very top of the Cabot Trail, who would be able to send their children to this camp.

Today, I am so joyous, knowing, as I read the names of some of the campers. This camp is reaching children and grandchildren of the people we reached when I worked as an engineer in Cape North. We want to thank the Lord for CBBC and the directorship there. (This narrative was recorded over the phone by Albert Dean in April of 2013. Maureen Dean transcribed it and it has been only slightly edited from the original comments.)