The way of life on Pictou Island

Online First Pictou Island Memories

Emotions sometimes over take me as I recall and write about my memories of years while growing up on Pictou Island. Those times were the first 13 years of my life and I often think about the many Pictou Islanders I once knew who have since passed on.

Money was not as flourishing during those years as it may seem to be today. People made do with whatever they had. It was common to wear hand me down shirts, pants or shoes that were half sizes to big, that was just fine. There were no plastic credit cards and people made do with the money they may have had. If another islander arrived at your place close to mealtime, that is where they also dined. No matter who’s place you may have been to, Pictou Islanders shared what they had with each other.

Thanks to technology, Pictou Islanders today have the option of having indoor plumbing, flush toilets, propane stoves and fridges. Gas and diesel generators provide electricity for washers, dryers, televisions, water pumps, etc. Up to the later part of the 1950s and early 1960s, we had no electricity for lighting but instead used oil lamps or candles. We had no refrigerators for food storage. Our bathroom was in a little wooden building about 75 yards from the house. Snow would often blow through it in the wintertime. It may seem hard to believe but in comparison to the many viruses today, few of us ever got really sick during those years. Our bathtub was a round wash tub that would be filled with buckets of warm water taken from the stovetop. Our deep freezer was a wooden crate that was nailed to the back of the house during winter. We had no furnace for winter warmth but rather my parents would take turns getting up at night to put another stick in the kitchen stove.

Our mail plane came once a week weather permitting and often couldn’t land because the ground was to soft or there was not enough snow. The incoming mail would be in a mailbag that would often be dropped from the air and retrieved from the ground.  Weather conditions often prevented any contact via mail plane with the mainland for weeks on end.

Reading from Mother’s diary on Thursday Jan. 13/1955, “the plane came and dropped mail, first time in nineteen days”. P

ictou Islanders had wall crank phones prior to the 1960s that sometimes would barely enable you to hear someone talking from Pictou. A large cable was lain on the ocean bottom between the mainland and the island that powered the phone system. Usually the spring ice breakup in the strait would take the cable with it and we would then be without any communication from the mainland for weeks. The office for this phone system was in Duncan and Janie MacCallum’s home.

If we wanted to talk to someone off the island, we would turn the crank on the phone and get connected with Janie or Duncan and he or she would dial the operator on the mainland. The operator would then hook us up to the desired party. You rarely ever said anything on these telephones that was confidential since anyone on the island could listen. On the other hand, if you wanted to make something known quickly on the island, the party line phone was the place to relay it. Talking long distance to someone via telephone rarely ever happened.

I clearly recall as a kid standing at night in my upstairs bedroom window where I could see the mainland directly across the water approximately eight miles away. On a clear calm night, I would marvel at the lights that often seemed to be dancing on the water from distant homes on the mainland. I would observe the red lights gleaming on a tower way off in the distance and wonder just where it was. I never anticipated that I would one day make my home and raise my own family close to that tower on Hardwood Hill.

Industrialization in recent years has enabled communities to expand in area and population. Pictou Island, however, has had its annual population dwindled over the past number of years. The annual population on the island was over 130 during the 1950s. Today, there may be seven year-round residents. Many of those magnificent homes as I have known have been burnt down or have fallen with age. Many beautiful lawns, orchards and fields that had one time surrounded these magnificent homesteads have been taken over with a thick growth of weeds and trees. Much shoreline has eroded away with the waves. Landscaping on the island has changed greatly over the years. It creates emptiness within me knowing that this tiny island will never again be like it once was. It is awesome how time closes one window in life and continually opens another.

jimturple@eastlink.ca