Charlie Whitman goes to work every day. Sometimes he walks. Mostly he drives. He’s 88.
Charlie defines Lawrencetown as much as anything does. He’s lived and worked here his whole life. Saw people live and die. Saw businesses open, close, burn down, change hands. He saw the high school close, the bank close, the co-op store close. Mostly things have disappeared but he thinks things are getting better now. The last few years.
Charlie’s a constant in a village that used to have four service stations, three hotels, and its own newspaper. The Lawrencetown Hustler was before his time, but he knows about the garages. He and son James run Lawrencetown Motors.
James says his father’s working on being the oldest person in the Village. And it’s true, Charlie can remember a long way back.
“I was born in 1931,” he says. “I’m 88 now.”
He sits at a big wooden desk in the office while James is out back working on a vehicle. James races cars but Charlie never got into that.
Charlie talks about 1967, and what a year it was. He was 34.
“I got married in March. I went to Expo in I think it was June if I remember,” Charlie says. “There was a friend of mine got married in June and they were going to Expo so we went to Expo with them. I came back here and Merle Slauenwhite and I opened that place down on the other end of town.”
The old Irving. Except it wasn’t so old then. All signs of it are gone now.
Merle died the year they opened.
“I bought this place in ’88,” he said of his new spot. It was called Slauenwhites before Charlie bought it and that’s where he got his first taste of work. “I started working here when I was going to school when I was 14.”
He wasn’t just a mechanic and business owner. Charlie was involved in every facet of village life.
“I was on the fire department for 60 years,” he says. “I started when I was 17. When I joined the fire department I was working here for Slauenwhites. The first fire truck was kept in here. It was an army truck with an ARP pump behind it – a trailer pump.”
Other communities also had the ARP pumps. Charlie says Lawrencetown was the last to do away with theirs.
“It was a lot different than it is now, I can tell ya,” he said. “You didn’t have any clothes for one thing. No turnout gear. You just went. You’re wet, cold. When we got that ARP pump we used to go to Port Lorne, Paradise, Brickton. You had to have a water supply then. You carried no water with you.”
Charlie’s famous for the night he and Merle were called out in a blinding blizzard to a structure fire in Annapolis Royal.
“We took the army truck and the ARP pump,” Charlie recalls. “It was cold, I can tell ya.”
Merle drove. They knew that when they got there the pump engine would be too cold to start.
“He said ‘I’ll stop and you get out and start that pump.’ I said ‘don’t bother stopping. I’ll crawl back so we won’t be wasting any time,’” he says. “So he slowed down a little. We wasn’t going very fast anyway. So I crawled back to the tongue, crawled back to the ARP pump, got it going, started it and left it going until we got into Annapolis.”
They stopped the pump on the wharf. The fire was beside what is now town hall. “There was a hardware store, and I forget what the other one was.”
Asked how old he was that night Charlie just laughs and says “foolish.”
The first fire truck they bought that was factory made was 1961. “I remember that,” he says. “It had 500 gallons on it. We bought an old oil truck and fixed it up and hauled water on that.”
Charlie chaired the Lawrencetown Pool committee for four years, help build two fire halls, was involved in the Fireman’s Restaurant project, and was a village commissioner for 21 years.
He was co-chair of the building committee of the newest fire hall, completed in 1977.
And Charlie volunteered in the planning, fund raising, and construction of the Exhibition Youth Arena, 1969-1971.
Charlie gave up his mechanic’s license years ago. Now he putters around the shop, cleans up, talks to the many people who drop by. In 2011 he was inducted into Lawrencetown’s Wall of Honour.
Lawrencetown’s boundaries describe a perfect circle and for all of his life Charlie has been in the centre of it.
He lives alone in a house precariously perched on the bank of the Annapolis River. The geese are back and Charlie watches them, fascinated even after all these years. He’s so close to them. He doesn’t know why they choose that particular spot season after season.
Unlike the geese, there was never a time Charlie thought of leaving. “Why would I?” he says.