How horses got hooked in P.E.I.'s Bygone Days

Horses were the backbone of the farm on P.E.I. until the 1950s. And just like people, some horses fall prey to bad habits — in the bygone days of P.E.I., historian Dutch Thompson discovered some even drank alcohol and chewed tobacco.

'My God, the old mare likes twist tobacco!'

Some carters would give their horses beer from the pubs in Liverpool, England, Vincente Elordieta told P.E.I. historian Dutch Thompson. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Reginald "Dutch" Thompson's column The Bygone Days brings you the voices of Island seniors, many of whom are now long-departed. These tales of the way things used to be offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Every second weekend CBC P.E.I. will bring you one of Dutch's columns. 

Horses were the backbone of the farm on P.E.I. until the 1950s. And just like people, some horses fall prey to bad habits — in the bygone days of P.E.I., historian Dutch Thompson discovered some even drank alcohol and chewed tobacco. 

Vincente Elordieta was born in 1909 and grew up in Liverpool, England, where the legendary horses carted goods to and from the busy docks. He died in P.E.I. at age 94. 

"The Liverpool horses, there used to be 4,000 of them. They were big heavy Belgian and Clydesdale horses. Nearly everything was done by horses in Liverpool," Elordieta told Thompson. 

'Horses love beer'

"And horses love beer. In Liverpool, when you got a pint of beer the barman had to put it on the slop stand and he had to overflow it. The overflow that went into the slop, he wasn't permitted to sell that — but a carter could go into the pub with his horse bucket and the barman would put two pints into a slops for a penny. And he'd take it out to the horse, and you'd hear the suction — the horses they loved beer! I saw that morning, noon and night," he said. He never saw a horse get drunk, he added. 

Dutch Thompson is an award-winning historian and storyteller. He has published a book about P.E.I.'s bygone days. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Elordieta was a Basque, people who were indigenous to the Basque Country at the western end of the Pyrenees mountains straddling Spain and France. Many of the Basque people were seamen — Elordieta was a sailor and marine engineer. 

During the Second World War his merchant navy ship was torpedoed off Nova Scotia and he ended up in Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax. That's where he met his wife, who was from P.E.I. — and he ended up living on the Island, although he remained proud of his heritage as a "Liverpool dock road merchant." 

One of the Liverpool cart horses that may have imbibed a pint or two at a local pub. (

British-Canadian novelist Helen Forrester actually wrote a book based on Elordieta called A Liverpool Basque, which Thompson called "a great read."

'Stanley would give her a chew every day'

Three twists or "figs" of tobacco cost 25 cents back when he was young, recalled 91-year-old Arthur Hughes of Bedford P.E.I. The figs were braided, sticky black plugs of cut tobacco soaked in licorice and molasses.

Hughes chewed it and said it was "pretty strong — a new beginner would get sick pretty near always, especially if he swallowed it." 

Vincente Elordieta, who settled on P.E.I. after the Second World War, on his mother's lap as a baby in Liverpool, England, and depicted on the cover of a book based on his life by British-Canadian author Helen Forrester. (Dutch Thompson)

Roy Clow was hauling and spreading cartloads of manure with the help of their mare, Maize, in the 1920s with his father and brother Stanley on their farm in Murray Harbour North, P.E.I., one summer when they made a discovery. 

"My brother chewed tobacco, Hickey and Nicholson black twist. He was going by Maize's head and he just took a chew out of his mouth and she nudged him with her nose. He held it out and she just grabbed it in her lips. 

"And Stanley said to my father 'My God, the old mare likes twist tobacco!' So she was sucking it in her lips, so he took the fig out of his pocket and bit off about two inches of good, fresh stuff and held it out and she grabbed that too and she sucked that all the afternoon," Clow said. "After that Stanley would give her a chew every day off the fig." 

Many Islanders chewed Hickey and Nicholson tobacco, manufactured in Charlottetown in the late 1800s and much of the 1900s. (Of Years Past/Etsy)

Clow claimed the mare avoided parasitic worms, gained weight and had a shiny coat because of her new regimen of chewing tobacco. However, he noted she developed a bad habit of jumping fences and escaping after that. 

Hickey and Nicholson was a very popular brand of tobacco made in Charlottetown, P.E.I. 

Roy Clow regaled Thompson with a story of his family's tobacco-chewing horse, Maize. (Submitted by Dutch Thompson)

The company was located successively in two buildings — first, the former Kays Brothers building on lower Queen Street built in 1872, which has now been restored into retail and office space by APM. Later, the factory moved to the corner of Prince and Grafton streets, where many still remember it standing. 

Riley's Tobacco Factory, to the left, circa 1894 on the west side of Queen Street in Charlottetown. (PARO )

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