In the beginning …

Arts & Entertainment Community Online First Pictou Island Memories

(Editor’s note: The Advocate is very happy to welcome back Jim Turple and his Pictou Island Memories, a column that ran for many years in The Advocate. Stay tuned for more Memories weekly…)

Pictou Island lies approximately halfway between Pictou and Prince Edward Island in the Northumberland Strait. This tiny island is five miles long and two and one half miles wide at its widest point.

In 1760, Pictou Island was inhibited by First Nations people and they called it Akoogomich and Gunsunkook. Three Irish families settled on the island In 1814. After 1820 the Irish left and families of Scottish Clans replaced them. There were Rankine, MacCallum, MacMillan, MacDonald and yes, even Turple. The Turples were of Dutch descent.

The first 12years of my life were spent growing up on this island during the 1950s and early 60s. My parents owned an 89-acre hobby farm that ran the width of the island. In the 1950s and early 60s, Pictou Island was the home to approximately 110 to 125 people. Today, there are approximately 10 people residing on the Island year round.

Besides doing a little farming, all of the Islanders have made their living from the sea. We Islanders were considered either East Enders or West Enders, but still everyone on the island was like family. We had one Presbyterian church, one school and a small store that was located in a small room in the home belonging to Campbell MacCullum. Campbell’s wife Katie was usually in charge of selling canned goods, pop, chips, gum and a few other items. These three buildings were situated approximately in the middle of the island which made it convenient for all Islanders.

There were 49 children, including myself, attending the one-room school with grades primary through ten in 1958. Dave MacKay was our school teacher and his son David, Ralph Bennett, Wayne MacDonald (MacKennon) and myself were in Grade one. Grades nine and up were required to attend either Pictou Academy or East Pictou District High on the mainland, I believe starting in 1959. These older students included Rosemary Turple, Judy Rankin, Francie Munro, Dolina MacCullum, Carolann Rankin, Martin MacDonald and Martin MacCullum.

Sunday church service was conducted every Sunday in summer. A student minister was always available to live on the island and provide services during the summer months. Attending services every available Sunday was something most all Islanders considered a part of life and every attempt was usually made to attend. We had Sunday school, Bible school and Young Peoples.

The women of the island held women’s auxiliary meetings every month. They also met on a regular basis at different homes to make quilts and mats. Of course, all island women knit woolen mitts, socks and other necessaries during winter evenings for their families. Knitting heads for lobster traps and mending fishing gear was also a winter time activity. Weekly card games were always held at the schoolhouse.

Friendly hockey games in winter were a regular event at a place called The Pond on the south side of the island by the water’s edge. The Pond was something like a lagoon. This was a natural pond and was actually quit large. Most of The Pond has since been taken over with vegetation or has been washed away by the sea. There was and still is one main dirt road on the island which runs from one end of the island to the other. The island is densely covered with trees on the North side but the South side was mainly open. The trees on the north side help shelter the island from the cold winter north winds.

In late autumn, all households would get their winter supplies. There was no way to get any food supply to the island during winter months so homeowners had to stock up with a winter supply. A two-seater mail plane came only when weather permitted and more often then not, would drop the mail in a field. There had been times when three weeks or more would pass without mail arriving on the island.

Necessities such as barrels of flour, hundred-pound bags of sugar, all kinds of different canned goods, molasses and so on would be hoarded. A winter’s supply would then cost about $350. That cost today would be in the thousands of dollars for same goods.

I recall severe snowstorms which were quite common during those years. The only road would repeatedly be plugged with snowdrifts that would sometimes be nearly as high as the telephone poles in some places. These poles were as I recall about 25 feet high. More often than not, John Angus MacMillan couldn’t plow through those gigantic drifts with his snowplow. John Angus would have to divert his snowplow through fields beside the road so that we kids could walk the one- to two-mile trip back and forth to school every day.

The only source of heating that many had in their homes was their kitchen wood burning range and some homes had a small oil space heater. There were a few homes that had a huge wood burning furnace situated in a dug out basement. We had no indoor plumbing of any kind, no running water or showers, no modern bathtubs that allowed one to lay back in and no indoor toilet facilities. Many trips were made day and night with snow up to your rear to the little two-seater down by the woods or to the well where water was pumped into water buckets and carried indoors. We had to break the ice in the water buckets with a hatchet many cold winter mornings after getting out of bed.

Until the latter part of the 1950s, kerosene lamps and candles were the only source of lighting at nights. We did a lot of visiting neighbors on evenings, reading a lot of books, making crafts or playing cards. We never heard tell of snow blowers or Ski-doo’s. Any snow removal to outside buildings was done with a shovel. Today it sounds like it was a crude way of life but we were all very happy, healthy and content living on that little island.

Come back next week for more Pictou Island Memories.

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