William Hanington comes to Canada
By Lucy Hanington Anglin
The property was described as “a commodious estate upon the outskirts of the thriving town of Halifax, in the Colony of Nova Scotia”. Imagine William’s surprise to arrive in Halifax to discover that “outskirts” meant a 200-mile hike through thick forest and deep snow!
My great-great-great grandfather, William Hanington, was born in London, England, in 1759. He was the son of a fish dealer, trained as an apprentice to the Fishmonger’s Company and became a freeman in 1782. In 1784, this adventurous young man purchased land in Nova Scotia from an army officer, Joseph Williams, who had been given a 5,000 acre grant as a reward for services.
After the initial shock upon arrival, he and his friend, Mr. Roberts, found an Indian guide, loaded all their worldly belongings onto a hand sled, trudged through the snow, slept in the open and finally arrived in bitterly cold Shediac in March 1785. Mr. Roberts was so discouraged that he immediately returned to Halifax and sailed back to England on the first available ship!
William, however, was made of sturdier stuff and was delighted with it all. There was a good size stream flowing into the bay and he had never seen such giant trees! He was astute enough to see the lucrative possibilities for trade in lumber, fish, and furs.
Seven years after his arrival, at the age of 33, he hired a couple of Indian guides to paddle a canoe over to Ile St. Jean (now known as Prince Edward Island) where he heard there were other English settlers. While riding along in an oxcart through St. Eleanor’s (now known as Summerside), he spotted a young lady (age 18) named Mary Darby, feeding chickens in her father’s yard. It was love at first sight, he proposed to her on the spot and she accepted. They married and paddled back to Shediac where they raised a large family of 13 children. Three years later, missing the companionship of another woman, she persuaded her sister Elizabeth and husband John Welling to come over from Ile St. Jean and settle on their land – becoming the second English family in Shediac.
Within the next five years, William had eight families on his property of about one hundred acres of cleared land. He opened a general store and dealt in fish, fur and lumber. The furs and timber he shipped to England and the fish to Halifax and the West Indies. He imported English goods from Halifax and West Indies products, mainly sugar, molasses and rum from St. Pierre. He also bartered with the friendly Indians for furs and helped them clear land. Before long, a considerable village clustered about the Hanington Store – including a post office and a tavern. William remained the leading light of the community and acted as the Collector of Customs of the port, supervisor of roads and as Justice of the Quorum (magistrate) in which capacity he married many couples. To top it all off, in 1800, just fifteen years after his arrival from England, this remarkable young man opened a shipyard at Cocagne and built several vessels there.
Until 1823, there was no church, and William being a religious man, conducted service in his home every Sunday. So William donated land and lumber, and oversaw the completion of St Martin-in-the-Wood, the first Protestant church. In 1838, age 79, it only seemed fitting that William was buried in the cemetery there in the shadow of the church he founded. A huge memorial of native freestone, complete with a secret compartment, still stands.