The Brennan Family Skates

Shannon Baxter

by Shannon Baxter

This is the fifth in a series of articles that will focus on Dartmouth’s Starr Manufacturing Company. Established as a nail factory in 1861, Starr Manufacturing soon began making its famous Starr skates and selling millions of pairs around the world from 1863 to 1939. The plant also played an important role in the sale of the first hockey sticks and excelled in other areas such as the production of the golden gates to Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park.

These wooden ice skates belonged to the Brennan family. It is likely that the skates were either owned by either Daniel Brennan or his son Daniel Patrick Brennan. The family has many interesting and distinct ties with Dartmouth and the surrounding area of Nova Scotia.

The family began this history with Patrick and Ellen Brennan, who immigrated to Canada from Ireland. Their third son, Daniel Brennan, moved with his wife Bridget Ann Stevens to Sable Island. While living there, Daniel worked on the lighthouse and was part of the lifeboat crew between 1864 and 1872. It was important to have lifeboat crew on Sable Island, for it has a notorious history as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic.’

From family records, it is believed that Daniel likely helped with saving the crews of ships such as William Bennett (a brig, 1864); Ephesus (Steamer, 1866), and Beys (schooner, 1872), and many others within those years.

Daniel and Bridget Ann Brennan’s fourth child was Daniel Patrick Brennan. His birth was the first recording of a male child born on Sable Island (1865). The family moved to live in Dartmouth, and when he grew up he was one of the few police officers in the area, along with running the first taxi service. Another interesting note about Daniel Patrick Brennan: he was the policeman who tied up Harry Houdini when he performed in Dartmouth during his tour of the Canadian east coast, an event described by Dr. John Martin in his book ‘The Story of Dartmouth’ as follows…

“[1896] At St. Peter’s Hall in July, Harry Houdini mystified crowds with magic tricks… Houdini gave four performances here. One evening, Street Supt. Bishop and Policeman Daniel Brennan bound him hand and foot, and then lifted him into a trunk which was securely roped and locked. The men then hauled the trunk behind the right wing and retreated. My eldest brother, tending the curtain at left wing, says no one else was in sight. Houdini’s lady assistant advanced towards the footlights and clapped three times slowly with her hands. At the third clap, Houdini walked out on the stage.” (461)

Daniel Patrick Brennan married Isabella Mary Coolen, and they had a son, Maxwell Daniel Patrick Brennan (1908-1988), who was the first Dartmouth-born Doctor to work in the area. During his studies at the Dartmouth High School, he was part of their hockey team. It was unlikely he used the old wooden skates of his father or grandfather, but it is clear that a love of skating ran in the family.

The following excerpt comes from a reflection of Dr. Max Brennan’s life as written by his daughter:

“He with his partner Dr. Peter Hebb were considered to have been pioneers in some aspects of medicine. They pioneered the group family practice concept in Canada. They were the first in Eastern Canada to utilize x-rays as diagnostic methods. As semi-rural practitioners there were phone calls all the time, Max Brennan would make house calls from Dartmouth through to Sheet Harbour, Pennant Dover, Shad Bay, various islands and wherever people needed him.”

The Brennan family played significant and unique roles in the Dartmouth community, it was fascinating uncovering more of this history. All starting with a pair of skates.

Want to keep reading? Check out Shannon’s next article in the Starr series, Competition for Starr and previous article here.