McDonald collected images and video of the site, which was then turned into a video documentary by his friend Chris Fudge at Plateau Entertainment Films. The video including interviews with two former residents Gerry Ball and Albert Laing, and is being screened at the Queens County Museum on May 26 at 2 p.m.
McDonald's interest in the site came at an early age from a neighbour. Marjorie Stewart lived across the street and had been a resident of the Mersey Townsite with her husband. McDonald remembers hearing many stories from the community.
"She always labeled it 'upriver'," he says.
Over the years he has collected many photos of the old townsite, though he was never sure where it was exactly. Two years ago he decided to create a record of the history of the site, while there were still people around to tell their stories.
The Mersey Townsite was built in the late 1920's to accommodate the employees working at the newly built hydro dams on the Mersey River. McDonald says homes were needed back then because few people had cars, and it was a long distance to travel.
Nine homes plus one or two other buildings were built on the site.
The Mersey Townsite was far from what one would think of as a worksite however. The homes were meant for entire families, and it even had its own school.
McDonald says the houses were beautifully done going by the pictures he has. They had hardwood flooring, showers and indoor plumbing, a rarity in the 1930's. To look after the small community, gardeners and maintenance workers were brought in.
"Everything was very well maintained and it was all at the expense of the power company. They were treated like royalty," he says.
The community saw its share of tragedies as well. Marjorie Stewart's son and Gerry Ball's brother both died in a boating accident in the summer of 1941. That same year in December, two of Albert Laing's brothers went out to check on their rabbit snares. Later that day a terrible blizzard raged through the province. The boys did not return home, and their bodies were not discovered until 1959.
"I didn't even realize when I went up there that these two families went through these tragedies up here," he says.
Both stories were included in the video.
The community was not to last though. By the early 1960's there was no one living at the site anymore and it was abandoned. McDonald thinks the decline came about for several reasons. There was less manpower needed due to automation, widespread use of cars made it easier to access the dams, and people wanted to live closer to all the amenities that Liverpool provided.
After the townsite was closed the power corporation removed some things, but most of the homes were ransacked for valuables and damaged by vandals. Eventually the whole thing was taken down. What remained when McDonald went out there were a few slab foundations and a large circular driveway. However in time even those will be gone.
"I've been told just recently even (the driveway) is gone now," he says.
McDonald says there isn't a whole lot written on the history of the townsite, though several people that lived there are still alive. Three live in Queens County, and he says he's been in contact with people in other parts of Nova Scotia that also lived there.
Originally the video was just planned as something to add to his large collection on the history of Queens County. A friend in Halifax however offered to turn it into something more.
Chris Fudge, who runs Plateau Entertainment Films, offered his time to put together the video as a documentary. McDonald pulled out some old photos and provided narration to the video, and the result is a 30-minute video chronicling the townsite from its inception until the end.
"It's a lot better than I ever dreamed it would be thanks to my friend Chris," he says.
Once finished, McDonald said he wanted to share it with the community. It has already been pre-screened by a small group of people about a month ago, and the reaction was very positive, he says. A few adjustments were made, and now the video is being screened for the general public.
McDonald's interest in history came from his grandmother.
"She loved to talk about her family, relatives I never knew of. Curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to know how cousin so and so was her cousin," he says.
There were so many stories that he started writing it down to keep everything straight. From there it evolved into people that were connected with the family and eventually the county in general.
"It's not just about names and dates, it's about houses and businesses and how it all ties together," he says.
Though McDonald now lives in Halifax, he still works on the history of Queens County in his spare time.
"When I do come home to visit, it means visiting cemeteries, taking pictures of houses and all this and that," he says. "What I love to do is back home."