The Travel Geek

Victoria Harbour, Burlington and The Murder of Theresa Balsor

The next destination on the find-all-the-places-with-harbour-in-the-name road trip is Victoria Harbour: the place that doesn’t actually exist. I think Victoria harbour is a bunch of land that the government is attempting to sell. There are no houses or buildings, but if you look online you can buy lots for really cheap.

There is no harbour or even water; only big trees, fog, mosquitos, tall grass, and mud. This strikes me as a great place to build a treehouse.

A few kilometres away, however, is Burlington: a little place with a sad history and an interesting graveyard that received a facelift in 2008. Buried here are Bertha Delight Beckwith, Canada’s “Lady Doctor,” actress, and veteran of the First World War. Her middle name really isn’t “Delight.” It is Alma, according to her birth record at NSARMS.

Also buried is James William Ogilvie, who was serving in Bravsko, Bosnia as a peacekeeper when he was killed in action in 1998 (aged 32) (I remember this).

There are a handful of Captains, including Captain Isaac Cook who shows up in American Civil War privateer records and insurance logs for capturing various “prize” ships (he would have been in his 20s). Later in his life, he became the Wharfinger in Harbourville. His son William (b. 1866), who was lost at sea, is also memorialized. Isaac’s wife, Mary Ann McAuley, is the sister in law of the cemetery’s most famous resident: Theresa Balsor.

According to a memorial plaque in the cemetery, Theresa Balsor was born on October 29th, 1848 in the small Bay of Fundy community of Donnellan’s Brook. Her mother made sure that she and her sisters learned reading, writing and the necessary skills to live self-sufficiently. This came in handy when she married a local farmer, William Grant McAuley and helped turn their 200-acre farm into a flourishing enterprise.

Theresa also wrote a column for the Berwick Register, sharing community news from the Burlington and Woodlawn areas. In the January 20th 1897, Vol. VI, No. 31 issue of the Berwick Register, Theresa would report on her own husband’s sickness: We regret to state that Mr. William McAuley, who has been in poor health for some years, is confined to the house with a severe attack of La Grippe. He would later die in December 1900.

She would go on to write about the community pie social (which raised $18.00 and was given to the town minister Mr. Bishop), the singing school (which was progressing favourably), that Mr. Ogilvie purchased a fine cow, and that a lost boat was found at Ogilvie’s Wharf and hopefully returned to its owner.

These little snippets tell of a quiet, ordinary, 19th century Nova Scotia community where everyone knows each other’s business. Through her column, Theresa gave the outside world a glimpse into Burlington as a community.

This all changed two years after the death of her husband when a lonely Theresa married William Robinson in December 1902. Her family hated the man and thought that he was only interested in her land and inheritance; being independent, Theresa refused to sign over any rights to her farm or property. Her life became turbulent and ended with a court case, her murder, dismemberment, the killing of all the farm livestock, and burning down of the farmhouse.

William Robinson was assumed guilty and immediately tried and hung for the murder (and was the last man to be hanged in Kings County). Letters found a century later [link no longer available] have since added voice, character, complexity, and dimension to this small town farming mother and the days leading up to her death.

The community still hasn’t forgotten these events and in the cemetery is a memorial to Theresa and her life. Some of her remains are buried in the cemetery, possibly near her sister Charlotte Armstrong. Her arms and legs were never found and have (of course) led to all kinds of local ghost stories.

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