A Canterbury Story
By Sheila Mason Gale
Anyone who grew up in Canterbury in the 50’s and 60’s remembers Max Wibberley. As a little girl, I thought he could do anything—and now as I look back on his life, I think he did. While interviewing Canterbury residents for these series of articles, Max’s father, Malcolm Wibberley’s name comes up all the time because he was so involved in Canterbury. To follow is Steve Wibberley’s brief history of the Wibberley family in Canterbury.
Hi, I’m your neighbor, Steve Wibberley. I grew up in Canterbury and love it. It’s a wonderful and beautiful place to live.
My father, Max Wibberley, also loved Canterbury. Many of you knew him; Max was an entertainer keeping everyone enthralled with his stories of motorcycle racing, running, trumpet playing and business. He went from being a farmer to a successful tire dealer while violating all the rules of merchandising; his “Tires for Less” business was far from any center, hard to find and there were no comforts for customers. But his motto, “Sell a good product at a reasonable price and stand behind it,” along with his charm drew people from as far away as New Hampshire and New Jersey. He also entertained his customers with his fast talk (one man after listening to him asked me, “Is he speaking English?”) and sometimes his trumpet playing.
He was involved in many aspects of town life, being a founding member of the fire department, serving on several boards, and speaking up strongly at town meetings. He usually took the practical approach to things (except in motocross racing, which he did until he was 63), opposing anything he thought was wasteful spending.
He had a lot of wise sayings, such as “Money is not important at all…if you have enough of it.”
“Never refuse legitimately offered money.”
“Every gentleman should always have a handkerchief, a jackknife and a pair of pliers in his pocket.”
And “Don’t let business or politics get in the way of relationships.”
Although he had strong opinions, and enjoyed saying shocking things, he was much more interested in getting along with people than defeating them.
My father’s father, Malcolm Wibberley, also loved Canterbury. Some of you remember him. He was a remarkable man in a different way than Dad. He put himself through Yale in three years (quite a feat in 1913), getting a degree in electrical engineering. However, after a taste of city life in Pittsburg working on trolley cars, he chose to return to farming in Canterbury.
He had a love for music and taught himself to play a dozen instruments; then he taught at least one to each of his children and grandchildren, as well as any neighbor child who would stand still long enough! He formed a family band that performed at local events and worked with the school band.
He had the first electric plant in Canterbury, powering his generator with a model T engine and storing power in big batteries he made of glass jars and lead plates.
As a farmer he also found time to be involved in the life of the town and its people. He spent years on the school board and was involved in consolidating the one-room schools into the Dr. Helen Baldwin School.
He was a firm believer in democracy. Although he was by inclination a Republican, he was known as “Mr. Democrat” because when the Democratic party became weak, he joined to build it up so there could be a true two-party system in town.
He also was concerned about being a positive influence on others. He attended the church on the Green and one day heard someone of a different political persuasion say that he would not go to that church if Malcolm Wibberley went there. Grandpa politely told the man that he didn’t want to stand in the way of anyone going to church, and from then on went to church in Lisbon Center.
Many immigrant neighbors who arrived in Canterbury in the 30’s and 40’s called Grandpa “Policeman Wibberley” because he was an authority they could look to for assistance. He helped them solve such difficulties as getting a driver’s license, purchasing property or making requests to the town.
He also straightened them out when needed. One neighbor’s wife would call Grandpa when her husband had too much to drink and Grandpa would go and visit, getting the man to take out his clarinet so they could play duets together. Another neighbor, an old Russian, lost his wife and got some younger woman to move in with him. Grandpa went up, knocked on the door and took the errant couple straight to the Justice of Peace to get them properly married!
Dad told the story of when Grandpa was teaching Sunday School class, he suddenly threw down his book, leaped up and jumped out the window. He’d seen a driverless car rolling down the church driveway towards the highway. He caught up with it and was able to stop it before it got into the road.
My great-grandfather, Sam Wibberley, also loved Canterbury. I doubt that any of you knew him. He gave up working as a weaver in the fabric mills to start farming with his father in Canterbury in 1876. He served as First Selectman in town in the 1880s, and according to the record did so “with credit to himself and to the satisfaction of the general public”. In 1887 he was one of the founding members of the Canterbury grange.
And my great-great grandfather, William Wibberley, also loved Canterbury. He came here from England via Massachusetts in the 1860’s and bought Echoland Farm on Lisbon Road in the 1870s. According to tax records, at that time, the house on the farm was already 120 years old!
I hope you love Canterbury, too—not just the place, but the concept and the people. Whether your family has been here 150 years or one week, we are all part of the community. We all have a responsibility to get along and work for the good of all. As my father and grandfather would say, this means thinking the best of each other, playing fair and seeking to build up the community in word and deed. We should attack problems, not each other! We all have a positive legacy to nurture from Canterbury past. Let’s do it!