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Fiddling owner of P.E.I.'s last flour mill dies at 95

Warren Leard plays the fiddle in this family photo contributed by Sandra Henderson.
Warren Leard plays the fiddle in this family photo contributed by Sandra Henderson. - Contributed

P.E.I.’s fiddling community has lost a long-time entertainer.

Warren Leard died on Sept. 8 after a short stay in the Alberton Hospital.

Just the Saturday before, at age 95, he had been entertaining fellow patients, playing the fiddle for them in his pajamas, said son-in-law Robert Henderson.

“Anytime there was an opportunity to play the fiddle, everything else became second fiddle,” said Henderson, who is the O’Leary-Inverness MLA. “(I was) pretty proud to have said he was my father-in-law.”

Leard was born in 1925 to Waldron and Ethel Adams. He married Bernice MacDonald and they had two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Leard worked for CN railway until 1963 when he took over the flour mill business from his father.

“He was a third-generation miller,” said friend and neighbour Justin Rogers.

His grandfather, Peter Leard, started the mill in Coleman. Waldren Leard took over before handing it on to Warren.

Elmer Robinson, left, Frank O'Connor, Warren Leard, Bernice Leard, Dorothy Rogers and Harry Lecky are shown at Robinson's home in Woodstock, 1996.
Elmer Robinson, left, Frank O'Connor, Warren Leard, Bernice Leard, Dorothy Rogers and Harry Lecky are shown at Robinson's home in Woodstock, 1996.

Rogers has known Leard all his life and was a part of the group that restored the mill after it closed and had fallen into disrepair.

Rogers recalled a night in the late 1960s on P.E.I. when Leard’s quick-thinking allowed him to warn the crew on a westbound train, loaded with fertilizer, and prevent it from going off the tracks after the rail bed had washed out in the spring rain.

“The train was loaded for full tonnage, and I think there was three or four of a crew on, and, you know, the train would have derailed and no doubt there would’ve been lives lost. So, he saved the day,” said Rogers.

Later that year, Leard was invited to the CN head office in Moncton and given an award for his heroism, Rogers said.

“He really thought nothin’ of it, but that’s what he did,” said Rogers.

In the 1980s, Leard and Bernice organized the Warren Leard Group and played music for various events. Henderson remembers Leard was close with Bernice, “anything they did they pretty well did it together.”

“Warren always seemed to be a very caring kind of guy. If there was anything that went on in the community like a benefit, he’d be happy to play at it. He’d always go and play churches, didn’t matter what the denomination, he’d play the fiddle for people,” said Henderson.

He also wrote some of his own songs and made a few cassettes that the Hendersons have at home.

If a customer at the mill was a musician, Leard was happy to invite them in for tea and a tune.

“Elmer Robinson, who was from down in the Mt. Pleasant area, would take his grist flour up and, of course, they’d go in, and they’d have to play the fiddle for a while before Elmer would go back home with his grist of wheat,” said Henderson.

Rogers said Leard lead an exemplary life.

“I heard him say it over and over, what a great life he had in the community, the place it is and all aspects of it – from school and church and community and that all meant a lot to him – and how it made for a great life,” said Rogers. “We all should take note of that. … When I look at Warren and how he lived, he had a great life, yes, but he created it, too.”

Alison Jenkins is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government, working in Prince County. alison.jenkins@journalpioneer.com 902-303-2690

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