History is full of famous men and women yet our past contains a plethora of rich characters whose stories never made there way onto the pages of history books.
One of those is William R. Dingwell, better know as Billy Dick.
“They are not the men who made history, but they are the ones who built the communities,” said Parker Duchemin, the great grandson of Billy Dick, a man who is responsible for the design and construction of several churches and homes in the eastern area of Kings County spanning the decades from the late 1880s to the 1920s.
South Lake Church is one, originally built in 1840, Mr Dingwell rebuilt the structure in 1882-84, along with a large contingency of local farmers and fishermen who could lend their hand most adeptly to any carpenter job.
Recently Mr Duchemin and other family members were guests at the celebration service of the anniversary of the church.
He said there was an overwhelming connection to attending.
“ I felt profoundly moved by knowing he built it,” said Mr Duchemin pausing for a moment trying to find the right words to explain the feeling.
“They are still worshipping in that church,” he said in conclusion.
Though Mr Duchemin never got to know his great grandfather personally, he has spent every one of his 73 summers at Abel’s Cape, the family summer homestead, and he remembers hearing plenty of stories about Billy Dick from friends and family.
“You know I was very young then and didn’t think to write any of the stories down,” he said.
Still, there are some anecdotes that made there way to present day thanks to Parker’s father, the late Lloyd Duchemin, who told stories of not only his grandfather, but many of the local Fortune community members of the time.
Parker was fortunate to record those stories and now, along with research from Mildred Ehler of Souris on the buildings Billy Dick created, is able to piece together a part of the family’s past.
Billy Dick, who was born in the Souris area, learned early on the skill of carpentry from the ship builders in Souris and Fortune. At the age of eighteen he headed to Boston where, as an apprentice, learned architecture and design.
There he met his wife Mary Parker, also a Maritimer. It wasn’t long before they headed back east and settled first in Fortune, then South Lake, for two years during construction of the church. Eventually they moved on to Sydney, Nova Scotia, but returned every summer to the Island via the ferry from Pictou to Souris.
Mr Duchemin said Billy Dick built houses for the wealthy. One example in the heart of Souris is the MacLean House Inn, originally built in 1879 for Senator John MacLean.
However, the list of churches he had a hand in includes Bay Fortune Presbyterian, South Lake Christian Church, Souris Presbyterian and Souris Methodist Church.
It is a substantial list that gives his descendants a glimpse of his character.
“He believed strongly in the value of community,” Mr Duchemin said.
Billy Dick helped design the wharf at Fortune in his later years and one of the summer dwellings on Cape Abel, which comes with an amusing anecdote, also shows another side of the community minded gentleman.
Billy and his wife Mary had five children including a daughter who was said to be a bit eccentric.
According to family lore, when she learned her father was going to build her a house of her own she wanted it to be front and centre right on the edge of the point.
Well, Billy would have none of it.
He built her house, which still stands today, back a bit so as not to draw too much attention. “We’ll have none of those highfalutin ways here,” he was rumored to have said.
It is tidbits of information such as this that make history come alive, said Parker.