PICTOU – Painting, caulking, replacing windows, sealing timbers, squaring the odd corner and a whole lot of laughs with friends, old and new, is what keeps a couple of retired lab technicians volunteering at Pictou’s Hector Heritage Quay.
Brian Kellock, of Pictou, and Milton Ross, who lives in the Scotsburn area, each worked more than 30 years before retiring from the paper mill and Michelin, respectively. Both were among 90 people who responded to a public call for volunteer labor to get the Ship Hector Heritage Quay operational again after a funding crisis forced a one year closure a few years ago. On a sunny summer morning, one was half way up a ladder and the other was working on the exterior of the blacksmith shop.
Kellock remembers being on the Pictou Recreation committee way back when the idea of a replica ship commemorating the area’s history was first floated.
“I was on the committee because I wanted more recreational facilities, but I found the idea of an historic ship on the waterfront pretty interesting. I thought the town would benefit from something that would attract tourism. It was exciting to see the ship built, but I wasn’t involved until after the closure. I thought it was a real shame to miss a season after the project came so far,” he said.
Ross, who also wanted to see the ship and quay reopened, wondered what he could offer until he heard maintenance workers were needed.
“I like to do my own repairs so when I saw a maintenance category I felt pretty sure I could give a hand with that. I also liked the idea of working with other people to save something that was so important to the area,” he said.
Kellock and Ross took a short break from their work to look around the site, savoring the huge Douglas fir being milled and fashioned into a new bowsprit. Both said they are committed to providing a first-class attraction for local people and tourists.
“I’m sure a lot of people in Pictou County would be shocked at our visitors. I’ve met lots of people here from the New England States, but I’ve also met people from Germany, France, Scotland and Australia. I even met a visitor from Ecuador,” he said.
Equally interesting to Ross are the varied backgrounds and particular interests of the visitors.
“Many people are interested in the Scottish history, but we also get a lot of people with military or marine backgrounds. Some have questions about the way things are done on the ship. Sometimes they want to share their ideas about the construction or maintenance,” he said.
People are always surprised when they go below deck on the Ship Hector, said Kellock.
“The first thing that hits them is how crowded it must have been. You can see that on their faces and they get very quiet.”
The original Ship Hector carried 189 passengers from the Scottish highlands to Pictou in 1773.
Both Ross and Kellock say working at the quay has given them a greater appreciation for the county’s history.
“My own family came from Scotland on the Lady Grey many years after the Ship Hector, but I sometimes think of them and what their journey must have been like,” Ross said.
Kellock added the Ship Hector represents an era of immigration and the pioneer spirit.
“It is hard to get some people to realize this is our Mayflower, this is our history and it is something we can show that other places don’t have. Everywhere I go, I recruit people to come and see the Ship Hector.”
Both Kellock and Ross signed up with their wives. Kellock’s wife, who is bilingual, is often on hand to greet French visitors, but Ross’ wife has since passed away.
“When that happened I was glad that I had made a commitment to volunteer with the Ship Hector because it got me out of the house and around people at a time when I might otherwise have been inclined to be home by myself. This is a great bunch of people to work with and I appreciate the social aspect of it,” said Ross.
Kellock, whose volunteer work at the site has expanded to include conducting tours, was called away to meet a tour bus carrying 47 visitors from northern New York State.
“There’s the boss,” he said, acknowledging Hector Heritage Quay president Anne Emmett.
According to Emmett, quite a few of the 90 original volunteers have drifted away so she is grateful Kellock and Ross remain committed.
“We’ve got something to offer visitors that gets better all the time, but it is a struggle. We’ve got some great volunteers, but we could use more,” she said.
Ross, who was already returning to his work on the blacksmith shop, turned back to offer a final thought.
“Can you imagine what Pictou’s waterfront would look like today if not for the Hector development?” he asked.
- Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at email@example.com