The reason for this booklet was prompted by recent newspaper articles promoting the movie ďMaudieĒ which, unfortunately, omits Maudís early years in Yarmouth from where most of her subject matter, in her paintings, originated.
Along with my older sister, France, we still enjoy reminiscing about the 1920s and 1930s, when Maud and her parents were our neighbours. It seemed a pity to keep silent about the artistís developing life, as there now seems to be a growing admiration of her and her paintings. These lines are intended to give an accurate, instead of a fantasy, account of her early life and the events that influenced her inspirations.
Bear in mind , also, that the 1920s and 1930s witnessed the aftermath of WWI, the crash of the Banks in 1929, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those who lived in that period, will agree that little was spent on fads, but rather on essentials. In spite of her infirmities, Maud lived a rather fulfilling and happy life, in Yarmouth, with loving parents, a fairly large , comfortable home, beautiful flower beds and shrubs in her spacious yard, respectful neighbours, and interesting events occurring within sight of her home.
This description of her early life seems to conflict with that of her harsh life in the Digby area, as is often suggested in recent newspaper reports. Her family , in Yarmouth, could easily be rated middle class.
NEIGHBOURS OF MAUD AND HER PARENTS
This writer became a decade-long neighbour to Maud Dowley (now known as Maud Lewis ), when my parents, Jeffrey and Lillian Thibeau, along with my older sister Frances, took ownership of the property at 4 Forest Street, which extended around the corner to Hawthorne Street, where my father opened an Auto Repair Garage, he being one of the early such craftsmen in Yarmouth. That would be around 1925 when Maud was about 22 years of age.
Adjacent to the garage, on Hawthorne Street, was an unused, grass-covered field, measuring some 75x75 feet, which separated the Thibeau property from the property of Mr. And Mrs. John Dowley, (and Maud) at 4 Hawthorne Street. The Thibeaus and the Dowleys became friendly neighbours. When her father died in 1935, then her mother in 1937, the family moved from Hawthorne Street and we lost touch with them. I mentioned this empty field that separated our properties, because it allowed both families an unobstructed view of one anotherís homes. The field would provide recreational space for the Thibeau children whose numbers had increased to seven, by 1935, aged 1 to 14 years of age. Maud could often be seen looking from the curtains in her house, in cold weather; and from around her grounds, in warm weather, as the children amused themselves there. Was she thinking of the youthful games that eluded her, due to her infirmities ? Many of her paintings portrayed children at play, and these would likely be the only ones she had occasion to see at play.
That field, by the way, belonged to the Baker Bros. Who owned and operated the L.E. BAKER & SONS. LTD., coal dealers and owners of the large wharf on the edge of the harbour, at the foot of lower Forest Street. Their office and coal sheds were adjacent to the wharf. (All of which is now part of the Ferry Terminal). My father approached the Baker gentlemen, on several occasions, offering to buy the field, but in vain, although they had no objection to our stringing clothes lines , extending from our building to a maple tree on the edge of the Dowley property. This clothesline provided occasions for my mother and Mrs. Dowley to meet and chat.
The Dowleysí property was surrounded by a well-kept picket- fence, of medium height, which did not block the view of one anotherís homes.
HER OTHER NEIGHBOURS
Our property was on the South side of the Dowley house, and an elderly McCormack family lived on the north side. They were a rather quiet couple and did not relate, to any extent, to neighbouring families.
Across the street, from the Dowley house, on Hawthorne street, lived an elderly widow, a Mrs. Thompson, with her adult daughter, Margaret. Her husband had been a successful Yarmouth merchant, operating a business up the hill, on the corner of Main and Forest Streets, just above their home. They owned a large field across from their home ( now the Tourist Bureau), as well as the large barn on Hawthorne Street ( now the Farmersí Market), and, of importance to this writer, he was the owner from whom my father bought our property. There seemed to be little activity at the barn, during those years, but , on the few occasions when the large doors were opened, one could see a number of wagons and equipment of earlier vintage .
THE BELVUE HOTEL
Across the street from the Thibeau residence, at 5 Forest street, a Mrs Wallace operated the BelVue Hotel, featuring a large verandah, giving her guests a clear view of the activities along Hawthorne Street and the Baker wharf. Our home, though, partially shielded the view of the hotel from the Dowley residence.
SWEENEYíS GENERAL STORE
Immediately below the hotel, adjacent to Water Street, a Mr. Walter Sweeney owned and operated a large general store, catering to fishermenís needs, on the ground floor; and his own family residence on the upper floor, featuring a large verandah along the street side of the building. Walter Sweeneyís son, Lawrence, eventually became the owner, building up a huge fisheries business, including a fleet of fishing vessels. ( This property was also sold to the government as part of the Tourist Bureau).
ALONG HAWTHORNE STREET
There were dwellings ,along Hawthorne Street, north of the Dowley and Mc Cormack properties, but the Dowleys seemed not to have established any relationship with those, although Mrs. Dowley and Maud walked by their houses, on their way to the movie theatre, at least three evenings a week. On these occasions, Maud always wore a scarf or a high collar, concealing her malformed chin. Mr. Dowley, also walked along the street to and from his harness shop on Jenkins Street. Without a car or horse and buggy, the Dowley property was conveniently located, just a short walk from his workshop, the movie theatre and grocery stores.
HAWTHORNE: THE STREET WHERE MAUD LIVED
HAWTHORNE STREET: ITS UNIQUENESS
Hawthorne Street was a unique street of Yarmouth. It was just two blocks long, but ran parallel to both Main and Water streets, halfway between these two thoroughfares. The only such street in the Town. It was primarily a residential street, at that time, with homes lining both sides of the street. One large exception, was the very large barn, a warehouse, facing the Dowley home, on the opposite side of the street. ( Itís now used as a Farmersí Market, and itís front door faces the former front door of the Dowley residence).
The actual roadway itself, gives Hawthorne Street a distinctive character. Being one block up the hill, from the waterfront, it is said that the former sailing ships, which arrived empty, to take on exports, would unload some of their ballast, depositing it on Hawthorne Street, forming a firm basis upon which road gravel was spread, resulting in a mud-free road every Spring.
STEEP DROP-OFF BEHIND HER PROPERTY LINE
Another special feature of Hawthorne Street, was the steep drop- off, of some 25 feet, at the rear property line of each property, to the level of Water street below, where large warehouses lined that street. Over the previous decades, when the Yarmouth Port boasted of having its sailing ships trading around the world ( 1870s Ė 1880s), these warehouses were said to house precious cargos. This drop-off applied to Maudís house as well. In fact, at the rear of her hose, there was an entrance to her cellar, and, above that door was a small balcony, large enough for a small table and chair where, in fine weather, she could be seen applying her talent. From that vantage point, Maud could see over the tops of the buildings below, with clear sight of the harbour, the fishing vessels arriving and leaving, the comings and goings of the ferries, the seagulls swarming over boats unloading their catch. Many of Maudís paintings show birds soaring high above the landscape, like the seagulls above Bakersí wharf. This appeared to be Maudís den of peace.
From her small balcony, Maud had a clear vision, between warehouses below, of the shunting - trains along Water Street, delivering freight to the businesses established there. At some point, the engineers noticed this young lady, high up on the next level, and when they saw her shyly waving, would give a toot! toot! in response. If my brothers and sisters heard that train whistle, we would look at the rear balcony of the Dowley home and see Maud waving. We used to think that her nice little gesture, enriched the lives of those engineers, confined to their seats near the combustion chamber of those steam engines , especially on warm days of summer.
Maud frequently included horses, in her drawings, hauling sleighs or wagons filled with happy people. It seems very likely that her inspiration concerning horses, grew from her experience watching them at a business near her home. Immediately below the Dowley, Thibeau property lines, on Water Street, a merchant ,by the name of Bill Philips. owned and operated a moving company, not with trucks, which were quite rare at that time, in Yarmouth, but with horses. They were strong, work horses, some, it was said, came from the prairies. These, especially, were handsome and full of energy.
Their wagons, in fine weather, were long, flat-bed carts, hardly a foot above the ground, which delivered goods around town, especially canvas bags of coal, which was the heating fuel of most homes. If there was snow, the horses were harnessed instead to wagons with sleds. These horses often stood idly, in their parking lot , awaiting new consignments. Being close to the Bakersí coal sheds also made good sense, because much of their business came from that company.
When ships, loaded with coal, arrived at the Baker Wharf, these horses, hitched to large dump carts, would load up near the ship, deliver the coal to the Baker weighing scale, then to the coal shed, and head back to the ship for another load. It was not unusual to see some of these horses actually trotting back for another load. .
The same would be true, when ships arrived to load up pulp wood, different wagons were used , but the same horses. Several days were needed to load and/or unload each ship. Oddly, too, when a newly arrived horse was added to the company, the smallest teamster was invariably given the task of breaking it in, for a period of time.
Maud had an unobstructed view of all these recurring events.
MAUDíS WINTER INSPIRATIONS
On a number of occasions, when the streets became covered with snow, teenagers from across the town, would gather on lower Forest Street, with their sleds, for an exciting sledding experience. This was a rather steep, downhill street, when traffic abandoned it to the young people for some sliding fun. Itís special appeal was the length of the course, which ended up, on a quiet day, on Bakerís Wharf. The upper part of the hill was shielded from Maudís view, but she heard the excited screaming of the sledders, and would catch sight of them half-way down, speeding to the end.
THE VALUED NICHOL
Approaching the mid 1930s, this writer was some 12 years of age, and an active Boy Scout, so , on the occasion of a large snowfall, I offered to shovel the Dowleys walkway from the street to the front door, then to the side door. When finished, Mrs. Dowley invited me inside, while she hustled off to another room for a reward. As I stood waiting, I took notice of the neatness of the well furnished room, when I noticed Maud just inside of another room, where the door was partially closed, and Maud quietly standing there , showing a shy smile. When her mother reappeared, I was presented with a five cent piece, a coin of some value in those days, as the price of an ice cream cone, half the price of a ticket to the movie theatre matinee, or half the price of a bottle of soda pop. This was my only entrance to the Dowley house.
My Fatherís auto repair garage, where different models arrived for repairs, along with their drivers, must have been a distraction to Maud although the garage remained closed on Sundays. All of his work was done within the garage, thus preventing noise on the outside. Cars waiting for repairs, were often parked along the street, abreast of the field, so my fatherís garage business created no noise to the neighbours. In spite of this closeness to cars, in those days, Maud seems not to have used cars as the object of her paintings .
A STRANGE INCIDENT
One evening, shortly after dark, my older sister and a younger sister named Margaret, were sent on an errand, likely to the grocery store a block away. In a family of six children, this was a rather common event. As they left by the back door of our house, they walked by a car waiting its turn to be serviced in my fatherís garage. The car was an early Model T Ford, completely enclosed with side flaps, as protection against rainy weather. To my sistersí surprise, they spotted Maud, partially hidden, seated in the rear seat. So as not to embarrass her, my sisters pretended not to have seen her, and walked by, looking the other way. The car, by the way, was parked near the sidewalk, quite near to the Dowley fence, but it was still a surprise to see Maud doing this. It seemed so out-of Ėcharacter, for her.
Up until the start of the second world war, Yarmouth had regular ferry service to and from Boston. (These ships were eventually expropriated by the government as troop carriers). From her small balcony, Maud had a clear view of these ferries heading further up the harbour to their terminal. The shipís rails were crowded with tourists, many waving happily, perhaps in response to Maudís shy gesture?
Sailing vessels, quite similar to the Nova Scotia Bluenose, often docked at the Baker Wharf, and Maud would have had a clear view of these impressive ships. These were fishing schooners, and many of them had Yarmouth County men as crew members, even those registered at Glouster, Mass.
On one occasion, in particular, twelve such schooners docked at Bakerís Wharf, as a shelter from a major storm. These were docked abreast of one another, out into the harbour- channel, as the pier was not long enough to accommodate all of them against the dock.
This writer still has a clear memory of this occasion, because, one of the schooners, the Gertrude L. Thibault, came close , on one occasion, to actually beating the famous Bluenose in a race. Our family name, some generations ago, was also spelled Thibault. Maud must have had many happy memories of her years spent with her family in Yarmouth. From the time this writer was old enough to actually bcome curious of this crippled lady, He never saw her looking sad, but rather so absorbed in her daily pastime of painting.
HER FATHER: JOHN DOWLEY
John Nelson Dowley was born in Yarmouth, son of Charles K. Dowley and Isabel ( Crowell) Dowley, of Barrington, in 1872. He was a harness maker, by trade, operating a workshop on Jenkins Street, just three blocks north of his Hawthorne Street home. This meant that he had a rather short walk to and from work daily. This may explain why the family had neither a car nor a horse and wagon. Due to the number of horses in Yarmouth needing harnesses, he would have been fairly busy. The annual agricultural exhibition, on the corner of Parade and Pleasant Streets, where farmers brought in their well-groomed horses and oxen, all with elaborate harnesses, one can presume that this was added work for Mr. Dowley. (The exhibition buildings were eventually destroyed by fire, and the property expropriated by the government for military huts).
As to her fatherís physical appearance, he was rather short of stature, and slight of build; he, nevertheless, walked spryly, and smiled easily. These were fitting qualities especially for his employment evenings. His son, Charles, was manger of the local movie theatre, and John Dowley collected the tickets , at the door of the theatre, six evenings a week, from about 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. This also explains why Mrs. Dowley and Maud, possessing passes, rarely missed a movie. This extra job required Mr. Dowley to hurry home, from his harness shop, at the close of the work days, eat a hurried meal, change his clothing and walk the rather short distance to the theatre, before the movie-goers arrived.
MAUDíS MOTHER: AGNES MARY DOWLEY
Agnes Mary Dowley, was born in Digby, of John Germain and Eliza (Porter) Germain. She was a homemaker. She was somewhat of a taller stature than her husband and carried herself with a certain dignity. This was indicated when we saw her talking to our mother at the clothesline, or attending to her many flower beds, as well as when she and Maud left their home evenings, to attend the movies. On these latter occasions, Mrs. Dowley always seemed to be carefully groomed and attired, in the style, perhaps, of an earlier decade, that is, with large hats and garments touching her ankles. Maud would be clutching her motherís arm with one hand and hiding her misshaped chin with a scarf or high collar. There always seemed to be a warm relationship between Maud and her mother. Mrs. Dowley would usually walk to the theatre six nights a week, and return with her husband, while Maud would usually attend the changing shows, three times a week, remaining home alone the other three evenings.
He appeared to be somewhat older than Maud, when we knew of him, and usually wore a felt hat. He was already married, though separated from his wife. He lived in a rented apartment, above a clothing store, diagonally across from the movie theatre, where he was manager, providing a free pass to the movies to Mrs. Dowley and Maud. When he was not at the theatre, he could often be seen watching the comings and goings there from his apartment window. Moreover, his father worked for his son, evenings, collecting the tickets to the movies, both at the early and the later showings.
When his father died in 1935, he was the executor of his parentsí estate, arranging the funeral details with the undertaker. This would be the case, too, when his mother died in 1937. Both are buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Yarmouth.
He immediately put his parentsí property up for sale, which was purchased by a Mr. Ernest Shediac, a senior carpenter at the Yarmouth Woodworkers, who was responsible for the fabrication of doors, windows and cabinets. (Itís to be noted that this company soon had to hire extra help, in order to provide doors, windows and cabinets for the wartime military buildings being constructed near Pleasant Street, and at the Yarmouth Airport).
What had to be of deep concern to Charles Dowley, at this time , had to be a dwelling for his younger sister, Maud. There seemed not to be relatives in the Yarmouth area with whom she could dwell, and, due to her physical condition, she could not care for herself, so her brother was able to arrange for her to live with her aunt in the Digby area. For Maud, the death of her loving parents, and the loss of her comfortable home on Hawthorne Street, plus the moving to an unfamiliar area, had to be terribly unsettling, possibly traumatic.
When the WWII broke out in 1939, Charles Dowley resigned his position as Manager of the movie theatre, called the Majestic Theatre, then enlisted in the Military and left the area.
Maudís home was similar in style to many middle class houses, in the Yarmouth area. The pitched roof of the two-story front part, was somewhat larger than the rear half of the house. The property was surrounded by an attractive ,picket fence. Footpaths and well manicured flower beds occupied the ample, enclosed grounds. It had a nice, homey appearance to it, and Maud often , on sunny days, wandered about it, whilst her mother doctored the variety of flowers. The house, painted a darkish gray, with slightly darker windows and trims, was more than adequate in size for the family. The interior of the house, as this writer noted on the occasions he shovelled snow from the footpath, appeared to be comfortably furnished.
Maudís Yarmouth home was a far cry from the humble dwelling she would later occupy on Highway One, near Digby.
MAUDíS YARMOUTH FRIENDS
These are the people who had reason to be in regular touch with the Dowley family ( Maud included) and shared experiences as described above.
MY SISTER FRANCES
As my sister reached her teens, she and Maud began to chat more frequently with one another, over the picket fence separating our properties. Though biologically much older, Maud did not appear to be intellectually much older, if at all. She admitted that her schooling was minimal, due to senseless harassment on the part of fellow students. Her severe ailments, of course, would hardly promote self education. Their conversations dwelt on the growing Thibeau family, the beauties of nature, the interesting activities around Hawthorne and Water Streets. This writer observed their chattings, but a boy in his middle teens, would not be likely to interrupt two girls chatting, and he did not. Our family was never aware of any other young ladies ever visiting Maud, so we tend to think that our sister Frances was the only girl friend Maud had.
One detail, regarding these chattings, revealed by my sister, was that Maud did not deem it necessary to cover her chin, as she normally did with others, but she would lower her chin downwards, thus having to raise her eyes upwards, near her eyebrows, to address her whilst talking.
The Thibeau family lost knowledge of Maud for some fifteen years, until, in the early 1950s, on his monthly trip to and from the Annapolis Valley, this writer spotted the small, oddly painted dwelling, on Highway One, outside of Digby. An inquiry led to finding out that it was the dwelling of our old friend Maud. One fine day, in the late 1950s, My sister Frances, by then a married mom, dropped in to pay Maud a visit. The front door was open, and my sister caught sight of Maud ascending to her small loft. She called Maud by name, who immediately looked around to see the caller, and, without hesitation, said: ďFrances!Ē. She quickly descended, warmly greeted my sister, and began asking questions about the Thibeau family, and the changing scenes in and around Hawthorne Street. She had not erased, nor forgotten, the memory of her years on Hawthorne Street.
Everett Lewis, her husband, did not attempt to interrupt the two ladies, aware that they were discussing an earlier period of Maudís life, of which he was totally unaware. My sister was pleased that Maud appreciated her visit, but saddened by her living conditions.
This lady was an occasional visitor to the Dowley family, and appeared always to be a welcome quest, but the true relationship was not clear. She was the saleslady at the Peter Nicholís Clothing Store on Main Street, about a block from Hawthorne Street. That store sold quality, womens clothing, the kind usually worn by Mrs. Dowley. So the relationship may have grown from clothing choices.
This gentleman operated a grocery store in Yarmouth South, throughout the depression, and continuing on for decades. He made regular deliveries to the Dowley home, and assured this writer, during an interview, that he invariably would see Maud absorbed in her painting, on a table, in foul weather, and on the balcony, during sunny days. She would look from her painting and show a smile. Like most observers, he said he admired her grit.
An electrician, by trade, with a store outlet on Cliff Street. Somewhat similar to that of Mr. Dowley, he held a secondary job evenings. He was the projectionist at the theatre, even before Charles had been hired as manager. He continued during the stay of Maudís brother, and, even after Charles enlisted in the military. Joe claimed to know Mr. Dowley personally, even visiting the harness shop on Jenkins. Street., finding it to be suitably set up for a harness trade. He noted that Mr. and Mrs. Dowley were always carefully groomed at the theatre. When Maud accompanied her parents, she also dressed fittingly, returning home with her parents around 9;30p.m. At times, though, Maud attended the late show at 9.00 p,m. returning home alone around 11:00 p,m. Joe regularly saw Maud arriving for the show, and described her as being childlike, and always showing a shy smile.
This gentleman had the keenest memory of the Dowley family activities, as they related to the Majestic Theatre. He was first hired as doorman to the theatre, greeting first John Dowley, then Mrs. Dowley six nights a week, and Maud, at the three changing features a week. At an interview this writer had with him in 2003, he spontaneously noted that all three were always carefully groomed and dressed. He stated that Maud usually stopped at the lobby canteen to purchase sweets, and shyly offer some to him. He mentioned that he felt obligated to watch for her safety, especially when she attended movie showings by herself. She , apparently, had a reserved seat in the theatre, where she would watch the movies without being observed by the movie-goers.
When Mr. Dowley passed away in 1935, Ernest Hatfield was promoted to the position of ticket-taker at all the movies, including the Saturday afternoon childrensí showing. Apparently, Maud never attended the Saturday matinees, for fear of being ridiculed by the kids. By the time Mrs. Dowley passed away in 1937, Maudís brother had sold the Hawthorne Street Dowley property, and Ernest stated that he then lost complete touch with Maud and her family.
When WWII Erupted, Charles Dowley resigned as manager of the theatre, and joined the military. Ernest Hatfield was then named manager by the theatreís share-holders.
WHAT BECAME OF MAUDíS YARMOUTH HOME ?
As mentioned in another chapter, Maudís brother, Charles, as executor of their parentsí estate, sold the Dowley property to a carpenter, employed by the Yarmouth Woodworkers, a Mr. Ernest Shediac, who lived there for more than a decade. After WWII, Tradesmen were being lured , by high-paying jobs, to Labrador. Mr. Shediac was one of the many from Yarmouth, who accepted the offer, and, eventually, sold the former Dowley property.
A Mr. V. Pothier, employed by the Government Manpower Division, moved in the home with his wife and children, but was transferred to the Town of Digby, so the former Dowley property home was again left unoccupied for awhile.
A Mr. G. Fougere, of Yarmouth, then took possession of the property, with his wife and children, remaining a few years.
Whereas Maud had a minimal education, the last dweller of the Dowley property was a dedicated educator, a Mr. V. Landry. He and his family dwelt there until the late 1970s when they sold the property to Frank Thibeau, a younger son of Mr. Jeffrey Thibeau, Maudís Yarmouth neighbour: Frank Thibeau.
Mr. Jeffrey Thibeau had retired and closed his auto repair garage in 1967, and moved to Albert Street, turning over the Forest and Hawthorne Streets property to his son Frank, who returned from Dundas, Ontario, with his wife and children. The Thibeau property was replaced by the Colony Restaurant. The Colony Motel was added in the 1970s, and needing ample parking space, several properties along Hawthorne Street ( including the Dowley house) were purchased and demolished for that purpose. As mentioned earlier, the front door of the Dowley house, would have been across the street from the present Farmersí Market front entrance.
Frank Thibeau was too young to have known Maud, but Maud would have seen Frank in his earliest years, as he played in the field with his siblings, in the field separating the two properties.
THE RISING VALUE OF MAUDíS PAINTINGS
A Yarmouth couple, owning a summer cottage on Lake Annis, Yarmouth County, shared with this writer a conversation they had with an American gentleman, a Mr. John Whittiker, who spent part of his summer vacation in his cottage near theirs. He was on the staff of President Nixon. Mr. Whittiker stated that, whilst driving along Highway One, near Digby, he noticed Maudís small, brightly colored dwelling. Curious, he stopped and noticed her paintings on sale. One painting caught his fancy, purchased it, at a bargain price, and, when he returned to the White House, Washington, he hung it in his office, where the President noticed it, and asked about the artist. He asked if Maud might do a painting for him, of a particular subject matter. The following summer, Mr. Whittiker approached Maud, and she consented to do so. When that painting eventually appeared on Mr.Nixonís wall, the news quickly spread, and soon tourists wee purchasing Maudís paintings at increasingly higher prices.
This concludes the witnessed description of Maud ( Dowley) Lewisí sojourn on Hawthorne Street, Yarmouth, by her neighbours, the family of Jeffrey and Lillian Thibeau, between the early 1920s and the late 1930s. Other more qualified writers have already written or soon plan to write, about the other years of Maudís life, but our family would not have been witnesses to those events.
In conclusion, therefore, we remember Maud as a determined lady who trained herself, as do many artists and athletes, to live a life as normal as possible, by intently applying themselves to their talent, and succeeding, to a great degree, in ignoring their pain. Many such talented persons neglect their bodily health, and die prematurely from malnutrition. This seems to apply to Maud.
Lewis | Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
(1903-1970) was born to John and Agnes Dowley on the
Yarmouth and Acadian Shore of Nova Scotia. Although
there is some debate about her exact birth place, recent research has
revealed that Maud was born in the town of Yarmouth, NS.
As a child, Maud spent most of her time alone, mostly
because she felt uncomfortable about her differences
around the other children.