Ferry boats and storms …

Online First Pictou Island Memories

I wrote this story approximately 17 years ago and much has changed over those years …

My grandfather Elias Turple twin brother Charles ran the Pictou Island Ferry Service from the island to the mainland during the early years off the 1900s. Charles Turple’s first boat used for this ferry service was called DOT. That boat would not have been nearly as large as the SUN CATCHER which is the present Pictou Island ferry and it not likely had a cabin.

Charlie Turple’s ferryboat was probably between 25 to 30 feet in length and was most likely about 6 feet wide. Luck was not to be with Captain Charles and he lost the DOT while transporting supplies in a severe storm off Pictou Island. He had another boat of similar size built for the ferry service and he named her DINTY. Luck again was against him for he lost DINTY in yet another storm while tied to the Pictou Island Wharf.

The Island wharf was low during those earlier years. Occasional storms would created large waves that would wash over the wharf and smash into the boats. Charles, however, was persistent and he went to Prince Edward Island and purchased a larger boat to be used for the ferry service. I’m guessing this boat to be about 35 feet long and possibly 7 or 8 feet wide.

Charlie Turple was first married to Kate Rankin from Pictou Island but she had died at an early age. Some years after Kate died, Charles remarried Jen Rebecca Harris and he named this new boat The Jennie R after her. Charlie used the Jennie R for a number of years but as fate would have it, this boat was also wrecked. She broke loose from her moorings at the island beach in a fierce storm. The waves were so high that smaller boats could not go to her rescue and tow her back to safety. The Jennie R. drifted across the Northumberland Strait to Arisaig where she was wrecked upon the rocks. Charles Turple called it quits for the ferry run after that.

Now I`m not sure when in time that Chester MacCallum ran the ferry service with his partner Red Archie MacDonald. Chester built his own ferry boat and named her the Bonnie Doon. Now tales has it that Red Archie`s house burnt down so he quit the ferry run for personal reasons and was replaced by Bill `Cole` MacDonald. Again as fate had it, the Bonnie Doon was also wrecked in a fierce storm.

Pictou Island during this time was also the home to George and Christina Rankin. George was a farmer and fisherman and he and Christina raised two boys, Ernie and Bobby and three girls May, Bertie and Ida, (Ida Munro) on Pictou Island. George was a brother to Charles Turple’s first wife Kate. George’s son Ernie spent his early years far from Pictou Island while serving in the armed forces. A large part of his heart, however, was left on Pictou Island. Bill and Lena MacDonald had also raised two beautiful girls, Loraine and Janet and one son Cameron during those years on Pictou Islands. Janet captured Ernie’s heart while Loraine married the late Arnold MacMillan. Cameron married Claira Cheveria from Pictou. Ernie left the army and returned to the little island and married Janet, March 3, 1947.

Ernie fished lobsters during the 1940s and at the same time farmed 30 head of sheep and 40 head of cattle. Charlie Turple had retired from the ferry run after losing the Jennie R and Pictou Islanders were now without this much needed service. Ernie Rankin quickly decided to take this new task on. He had a new wooden forty boat built by Truman Straits boat builders in Pictou around 1948. Ernie named his new ferryboat The Pictou Islander. This new boat was built with state of the art off her time. She was constructed with a permanent cabin with the wheelhouse inside the cabin. A lower deck was also installed with seating compartments where passengers could stay warm and dry. A six-cylinder gasoline engine was installed under the wheelhouse which powered this new boat. This ferry seemed to be a giant when tied along side the much smaller fishing boats at the wharf. There was rarely any lobster boats over 30 feet in length during that period.

During those years the Pictou Island ferry would carry passengers, farm animals, farm animal feed, barrels of gasoline, one vehicle and even lumber all in the same load. I can recall sailing many times as a small boy on Captain Rankin’s ferryboat while petting sheep or cows. How the times have changed. Ernie provided the ferry service for approximately 18 years and retired in 1965. Ernie and his wife Janet presently reside on the farm that was built by his grandfather sometime during the early 1800s. They together have raised two sons Elwood and Robert. Ernie recently celebrated his 84th birthday. He still plants and harvests his own vegetable garden that supplies his household throughout the winter months. Ernie still cuts his own winter firewood with a power saw. He recently purchased a wood splitter but still prefers splitting the blocks of wood with a double bitted axe.


Ernie and Janet Rankin