SUNNY BRAE – When one drives through Sunny Brae, it’s difficult to not feel a sense of peace.
Sunny Brae in July 1899. Photo of the centre of the village of Sunny Brae. On the left is a picnic in progress on Finlay R. MacIntosh’s Hill. On the right is the railway station and Alex J. Copeland’s new factory operated by wind power.
Editor’s note: This is part of a series on local communities and their historical kiosks.
The rural roadway leading to the sleepy village is in good condition and the rolling hills are a beautiful backdrop to a community that still has descendants from three original settlers.
Sunny Brae native Clyde Macdonald said he remembers a bustling community when he grew up there from the mid-’40s to 1960s.
“You knew everyone,” he said. “You had your church, your school and railway service that got you into New Glasgow. You had gas and two stores. You didn’t have to move from Sunny Brae unless you took music lessons.”
He said the train’s whistle was a common sound in the village and it was an important source of transportation for both the farming industry and residents wanting to visit bigger towns, such as New Glasgow.
“The railway company had a station in Sunny Brae,” he said. “It would travel from Sunny Brae and New Glasgow and it stopped at every cow pasture because it collected cream from all the farms. My sister would go down and get the train in the morning to go to school and she would come home in the evening.”
The first major settlement to Sunny Brae was in 1802 and the residents were from Glen Urquhart, Scotland. They came to Pictou onboard the Ship Sarah in 1801 and settled in Sunny Brae the following spring.
Macdonald said Sunny Brae had a few different names at the beginning, including Upper Settlement, East River, Fraser’s Mills and Pleasant Valley, but eventually was changed to Sunny Brae to avoid confusion with neighbouring areas.
He said Sunny Brae was the first Presbyterian community in Pictou County to have a missionary school teacher. James Fraser arrived in Pictou in July 1820 and lived in Sunny Brae until 1830. He held church services, taught school and taught catechism to the residents.
In 1881, the population of Sunny Brae was 600 people and the village had its own grist mill, hotel, stores and justice of the peace living in the community.
However, he said, today there are only about 100 people living in the rural community.
“My great-great-grandfather William Cumming came to Sunny Brae in 1802 and he had 11 children,” Macdonald said. “Almost all of them had children in the double digits and he divided up his farm land between his sons and the rest of the children would filter off to the United States to find work.”
Today, Sunny Brae is home to many retirees who want to live in rural Pictou County, but there is still sense of pride in the community.
The historical kiosk is a popular draw and the war memorial is the site of a service once a year with a reception hosted by the local Rebekahs. He said there are also church teas and sales that draw people in the community together.
Macdonald said it’s difficult not to be saddened by the fact that this once bustling, self-sufficient rural community has become a sleepy village.
“You had a vibrant community with all the amenities and over the years, they aren’t there any more.”
However, he said, there is hope on the horizon. Sunny Brae is home to three prosperous business that include the Sunny Brae Tool Handle Factory, Bryan Langille, Gunsmith, and Sunny Brae Equestrian Centre. Melvin Dobson has a mixed farming operation that raises steers, bulls and cows for calving in a field in Sunny Brae.
Sunny Brae Facts:
1877 – Sunny Brae has resident medical doctor Dr. Finlay MacMillan
1891– Sunny Brae resident Finlay Grant MacDonald of Sunny Brae was on the first organized basketball team in the world.
1920 – First church wedding in Sunny Brae
1927 – Boy Scout Camp established in Sunny Brae and is still operating in the area.
1992 – Sunny Brae post office closes and is replaced by community boxes.