Old St. Andrews



Van Horne Family Summers



The Van Hornes usually arrived in St. Andrews in early July and stayed until October, though toward the end of Sir William's life they were often the last summer family to depart, lingering until November in the fine autumn weather. Aside from Van Horne and his wife, daughter Adaline and son Benny, they consisted, at least in the early years, of his mother and mother-in-law, and his sister Mary. After his marriage in 1867 Van Horne invited these three "extras" to join him and his wife on a permanent basis, and summers in St. Andrews were not complete without their joint occupation of Covenhoven.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, summers in St. Andrews were attractively rustic affairs. Though due to the exertions of the St. Andrews Land Company and the general spill-over from overcrowded New England resorts, Passamaquoddy Bay was beginning to become something of a fashionable watering place for the well-to-do, its charms were still quite countrified. As far as city people were concerned, the town was pleasantly backward and undeveloped, its rotting wharves and derelict schooners less signs of poverty than objects of aesthetic interest. There was excellent fishing for cod and haddock in the Bay, trout and landlocked salmon in the rivers and lakes. The locals put their sailboats and steam launches at the service of the summer people, running trips to Campobello, where lunch could be had at three well-appointed hotels, over to Eastport and Lubec, upriver to St. Stephen, or amongst the various tiny islands for clambakes. In these pre-automobile days, there were thought to be excellent drives in the area, both by carriage and by bicycle. Many summer people brought their own horses. On a longer outing one could have lunch at the Windsor Hotel in St. Stephen and return to St. Andrews by starlight. In the days before plane travel to European alpine resorts became common, the view from Chamcook Mountain was thought to be grand, even sublime.

The summer people formed a kind of semi-closed society, with tea-parties and "at homes" of various sorts. The Algonquin Hotel was a common gathering place for Saturday dances, card parties, cake-walks and various sporting activities such as golf, tennis and baseball. In 1895 it had laid out a tiny 6-hole pitch and putt in front of the hotel, and the next year a standard 9-hole course was created on former farmland at Joe's Point. Elm Corner, the residence of Susan Mowatt and Annie Campbell, just around the corner from the Algonquin, was the site of many refined five o'clock tea parties.

The Van Hornes fit quite easily into this picture. In spite of Sir William's considerable wealth, he and his family seem to have been unpretentious and good-natured people. Mary Van Horne's diary for 1896 gives an interesting inside look at ordinary summer life on the Island. During the day it was gathering berries for dinner, fishing for flounder, practicing on the "wheel" (or bicycle), cutting out toilet sets, working on a geranium table center, making a red denim sofa cushion, taking a boat to Vroom's in St. Stephen to order a piano or a pony cart to Joe's Point to see the new golf club house, having the local ladies for lunch, including the Andrews, visiting the local ladies in town, bathing, making a bicycle skirt, having tea on the north end of the Island, working among the strawberry vines, and driving or sailing to town to check the mail. In the evening it was making cakes, playing bagatelle and "grabouche" (a kind of card game), making popcorn balls, reading Conan Doyle's Micah Clarke, Emerson's essays, or Annie Payson Call's Power Through Repose.

When fall came it was buying cider and apples from old Mr. Lawrence in Bayside. Mary was a bit of a mushroom hound. For her, a great part of the summer was spent gathering chanterelles at Chamcook Lake and on the north part of the Island, sketching mushrooms, having chanterelles for lunch, sending chanterelles to William in Montreal, reading about fungi, painting fungi, and giving a lecture on local fungi in St. Stephen. Benny was at school in Boston most of the time, and Sir William himself was too busy to spend more than short breaks in St. Andrews. On those days that he was in town in the summer of 1896, Mary's diary shows him painting on the veranda or at the Bar Road siding, pointing out the names of the constellations to Addie Junior, gathering blueberries, puffballs and flowers on the north of the Island with a Philadelphia iron baron, and playing chess with a guest. The Van Hornes weren't above borrowing silver from the Andrews, when their own was late arriving from Montreal, or taking old Marshall Andrews a couple of bottles of whiskey.

Being in St. Andrews of course meant availing oneself of water privileges. One of the first things Van Horne did was to build a small wharf and get himself a sloop from local captain and ship builder James Starkey. In 1900 he bought a racing yacht for Benny called "Uvira" from Vice Commodore Robert Doremus of the Atlantic Yacht Club. It was built in Southampton, England, measured 60 feet in length and in the ten races in which she was entered in 1899, won six first prizes. In later years Benny displayed the boat's stern quarters to quite a few competitors in Passamaquoddy Bay and Saint John. In 1905 Van Horne ordered a custom-built yacht of a more modest character for daughter Adaline. She named it "Covenhoven." It was commissioned from Cory's Yacht Agency, London, and built in Southampton. It arrived at Minister's Island in the fall of 1906, was 40 feet in length with an 8-foot beam; built more for comfort than good looks, observed the Beacon, but with its 25 horsepower Parsons engine could still manage 12 knots.

There were many visiting dignitaries at Covenhoven during the summer months. Lady MacDonald stayed a few days in the summer of 1896 on her way back to Ottawa from visiting the Tilleys in Saint John. Sir William had a broad circle of acquaintances, embracing industry and the arts—and he loved to show off his Island kingdom. Any time a Governor General was in town, it was considered de rigeur to drop over to Minister's Island—or rather to Van Horne's Island—for lunch or just a tour of the grounds. Governor General Aberdeen, in town on an unannounced visit in 1897, at least partly because of the many praises of the town sung in his ears by Sir William, had to see the Island before he left, even though the Van Horne's themselves had gone for the winter. Governor General Minto was there in 1901, Prince Louis of Battenburg in 1905. A Mr. Nosse, Consul-General for Japan, was a guest there with his wife and three children in the summer of 1904. This visit was less than happy for both Nosses and the Van Hornes, for Mrs. Nosse was stricken by an attack of appendicitis and died in the house. Later, in appreciation for the kind attentions of Sir William and his family, Mr. Nosse sent Benny's new wife a Japanese costume. The Van Hornes were a very sociable family; they loved to host and to entertain. In the summer of 1896, for example, a Japanese couple by the name of Matsuki stayed with them for several weeks, as did a Toronto friend of Benny's by the name of Don Ross. On his odd stopovers into St. Andrews William would arrive with guests who might remain one day, several days, or the whole week. Sometimes the house sheltered a dozen individuals.