Family gives four generations of woodworking tools to NB agriculture museum

Family members of the late Clement Powell will tell you he had a talent for taking a piece of wood and turning it into something beautiful.

The former high school teacher also had a dedicated interest in collecting and restoring old hand tools.

Over his lifetime, Powell’s personal collection of woodworking tools grew to more than 160 items, including hammers, axes, saws and drill bits. He displayed all of them on a wall in the Sussex Corner house he built in the 1980s.

His entire collection, and the original wall it was displayed on, can now be found in the Agricultural Museum of New Brunswick in Sussex.

WATCH | The curated collection of Clement Powell

Donated woodworking tools won’t be collecting dust

The Agricultural Museum of New Brunswick has received a collection of 160 woodworking tools that date back to the mid-1800s.

“He didn’t want them to sit around in a box collecting dust,” said Clement’s son, David Powell of Oromocto. “When he passed away, we didn’t think that breaking it apart among the four of us would do it justice.”

David said some tools were handed down through his family and go as far back as his great-great-grandfather. His father collected others at yard sales and restored them.

“He liked to do some research on the tools and find out their authentic names and what they were generally used for,” he said. “He would find stuff that was pretty beat up, but he had a good eye and could tell whether the piece had promise in terms of restoration.”

Clement Powell collected more than 160 woodworking tools that are now on display at the Agricultural Museum of New Brunswick. (Submitted by David Powell)

Clement was proud of his collection and eager to chat about it with anyone who was interested, according to David. He said this made it all the more important for his family to find it a home where others could enjoy it.

“It’s an opportunity for the greater public to get more of an understanding of what was involved years ago and know, before … it was all done by hand,” he said. “And it’s nice to know the collection is still intact.”

The display opened at the Agricultural Museum of New Brunswick in late August.

Some of the tools in Clement Powell’s collection, which are now on display at the Agricultural Museum of New Brunswick in Sussex. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

ReBecca Paterson is a former president of the Sussex museum and curator of the tool display. She said she initially declined the donation because of space limitations in the building.

“But when I went to have a look and saw everything displayed beautifully, I was a little shocked. I was tongue-tied,” she said. “And all I could think of was how would I display this?”

David and his brother Ken agreed to also donate the tongue and groove pine wall to keep the display exactly how their father arranged it in the 1990s.

Some of the tools in Clement Powell’s collection. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Paterson said with the family’s donation and some financial assistance from the province, the museum was able to put up the wall and have a cabinet built around it. It also has a booklet that lists all of the items and a bit about the Powell family history.

Paterson said the display is unique because it is whole. She said many farms in the past would have needed many of these tools.

“Farmers today have to be multi-taskers … and that’s the way it would have been in days gone by, too,” she said. “So whether they were fixing a wagon tire or setting up something in the barn, these tools would have come in handy.”

“This history is not just local to Sussex,” she said. “It’s New Brunswick history.”

The museum is now closed for the season but will continue booking appointments for tours into the fall.

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