When Barb and Vernon Burns married 52 years ago, Trenton was a little town bustling with industry, businesses, schools, churches and people of all ages.
Like his father before him, Vernon worked at the Trenton car works and through the years Barb worked in retail, either fulltime or part-time.
“You could get just about anything you wanted without ever leaving Trenton when we were young,” said Barb.
Between them they list off what used to be in the downtown – a bank and a credit union, three service stations, a grocery store where a diner is today, a Nova Scotia Liquor Commission outlet, McNabb’s furniture store and two drug stores, MacLeod’s and Humphrey’s.
And of course, the now dismantled car works.
“A lot of money and materials went in and out of Trenton back then. When things were good at the car works, things were good in Trenton and Pictou County,” said Vernon who worked there for 43 years.
Trenton was, they agree, a good place to raise their four children.
“Most people we knew were car works families and we were all pretty much in the same boat. We dressed the same, shopped in the same places and had the same worries,” said Barb.
Car workers worked from contract to contract and the worry came as contracts ran out. “Sometimes you knew a layoff was coming and sometimes it took you by surprise. I remember just before one Christmas I had a big order on layaway at the Met. Then Vernon came home and said he was laid off. The first thing I did was cancel half of what I had ordered because it wasn’t going to be easy to pay for it with no work,” said Barb.
Car works families always had to put something aside for when times were slow, added Vernon.
“There were cycles and you always knew there would be times where you’d have to get by the best you could,” said Vernon.
He generally spent Friday and Saturday nights playing in a band but when Sunday morning rolled around the whole family headed for Mass at Christ the King church.
“Vernon’s father and other fellows from the car works built that church in the evenings after work so it had quite a history in the community. We were married there, our kids were baptized there and received all the sacraments there, the same as many other families, so it was another blow to the town when it closed,” said Barb.
Before the church closed in 2015, the couple was already attending Holy Name Church in Westville because Barb has been its religious education co-ordinator for the past 12 years.
“I got so tired of retail I knew it was time for me to do something else. For six years I took online courses in lay ministry and spirituality from St. FX and when I heard about the position in Westville I jumped at it. I’ve always loved working with kids and the volunteer teachers are wonderful. I couldn’t be happier working with the volunteer teachers and the kids.”
Through changing times Barb has always been an active community volunteer and in 2016 the Town of Trenton recognized her for her efforts which included helping with Trenton recreation, Brownies, the John Howard Society, the Y’s Skip Hop and Jump Program and Ivey’s Terrace seniors’ home.
Vernon and his son often entertain at the seniors’ complex and he is quick to offer a helping hand with all Barb’s projects. Both Vernon and Barb belong to Friends of Trenton Park and the park has been a passion through all their years together. It is the no-cost place they went when they needed a little solitude and the place where they took their children and now their grandchildren in all sorts of weather to blow off steam.
“We might not have much but we’ve got 565 acres of parkland just behind us,” said Vernon, gesturing toward a back window. “There’s nothing in the whole county to compare to it. It has unbelievable potential and I hope people are coming around to seeing that.
For years they have been doing nature programs in the park for various school and community groups.
“People need to unplug and see what nature has on offer,” said Vernon, adding adults are often surprised by the healing power of a nature walk.
Their goal is to make people aware of the plant, bird and animal life in the park along with its scenic beauty and peaceful setting.
“We teach survival skills but we also teach people to clear their minds and just look and listen to what is around them. When we are working with kids we have a plan for what we want to do but it can all go out the window if a child discovers a worm or something else that fascinates him. We’re mentors, not teachers, so working with kids, we take our direction from kids,” said Barb.
Vernon is encouraged by what he sees as a shift toward nature programming in some school districts but when they are out in the woods with groups they are often made aware of how little time many people spend in natural settings.
“Some people have to go out a few times before they get anything out of it because they just can’t clear their heads from work and stress. When you ask them to look around from an owl’s perspective they think you are crazy but you see them slowly start to come around and open up,” said Vernon.
The couple had to suspend an after school program at New Glasgow Academy when Barb had to have surgery recently but they hope to get into the park and back to work before long.
“My head is already back there but my body tells me it is not ready yet. When I get a little stronger the park is the first place I want to go,” said Barb.