Glace Bay, Nova Scotia - 1868

"When I was about thirteen, Father (James Edward Hitchens ?-1890), thought he would build an organ, and this he proceeded to do. He did everything; sawed the boards for the wooden pipes and made them so they ranged from about 6" long and 1" square, to 6' long and 8" square. He made the keys, springs and bellows. Then he got a big log of cedar and sawed into boards to make the case. He sent to Scotland for the metal pipes, there were in all one hundred and eight pipes, and the organ stood, when finished, eight feet from the floor. It was on that organ that my brother and I learned to play. All the lessons we had were those that Father gave us…just a slip of paper with the treble and bass clefs and fingering, and 1-2-3-4 and so on.

The latter, I must say, I disregarded. My brother played very well. I did in kind of a way, but was no artist. I could describe every inch of that organ, as I held the light for Father as he worked at night. I was as much interested in it as he was. Father was a very clever man, he had a very fine brain, but I'm afraid I didn't get very much of it.

One time, Father picked up on an ash heap, an old violin. He took it and mended it, gluing the pieces together. When done it had a beautiful tone and my brother learned to play it very well. All the instructions he was given were those given by my Father. I cannot say how he knew how to hold the instrument or bow, and so on. The next important thing was music, and how to get it, and that was where Mother (Abigail Bigelow 1830-1925), shone forth. Her Father, (Arnise Bigelow, Pugwash Shipbuilder), and all her brothers were Bandsmen, and she had all their music in her brain. I can see her now, after nearly sixty years, sitting at the end of the dinner table with all the soiled dishes around, singing those old pieces over and over again, and Clifford, a boy of sixteen, with his blue eyes and fair hair, taking down on the staffs, which he had marked off on the paper himself, the notes as she sang them. Then he would play them over until he got them right. Music could not be bought at the time.

Later there were other people that came to the place (Glace Bay). Needless to say, they would find their way into our house and we would have some very pleasant evenings. Some of them had instruments of some kind, so they formed a little string band. Clifford took the music which Mother sang for him and harmonized it for the different instruments. My little brother Eddie was old enough to play the drum and the triangle, which he did with great vim. I played the organ in kind of a way, so I am sure we all thought that we were the only things that had ever happened!"

Mary Killam MacQuarrie 1929


One of Mary's children, Katie Clifford was the mother of Hugh MacLennan, famous Canadian Author of "Barometer Rising", "Two Solitudes", "The Watch That Ends the Night".etc.

One of her other children, Marguerita (Rita) Spencer, was the composer of the song "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes"

The organ was eventually taken apart, and a small chest was made from the cedar casing of the organ. The chest was left to me by my cousin Frances MacLennan, and I still have it in my possession.

« return »