Building up the Pictou Island Road

Online First Pictou Island Memories

The only dirt road running the length of Pictou Island prior to 1960 was just like a narrow field trail. It was mostly level with the fields and when it rained, this road would be covered with mud and water since ditches, “where dug” were not very deep. Trees lined both sides of the road in most places and would cause snow to drift and bank several feet deep in the winter.

Usually during winters, this road would be completely blocked and the snow could not be removed until a thaw occurred or spring arrived. It was often much easier for Island residents to go over or around the drifts rather then through them.

I am reading in Mother’s diaries where the first big snowstorm of 1955 hit the island on Monday, Jan. 31st. The road was completely blocked and it was minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit. It remained very cold like that for one week then on Saturday, Feb. 12th it turned much milder. The wind blew hard from the east and rained for two days straight and took nearly all the snow away.

During thaws, one had to walk, use horse and wagon or a tractor on this road. If the few vehicles that were on the island tried to maneuver on the road, they would more often get mired in the mud. Pictou Islanders deserved better then this.

The Honorable Harvey A. Venoit, Progressive Conservative MLA, got the go ahead from the provincial Tory Government in the fall of 1958 to have the road built up on the island. Heavy equipment such as dump trucks, dozer, backhoe, loader, etc. were towed across on a barge from the mainland and unloaded at the island wharf in spring of 1959. Supervising this work project was Ronnie Goodall from Pictou and Alfie MacMaster from Caribou. Alfie MacMaster was a strapping man who had one wooden leg.  Some others working on the road crew were Floyd Rudolph, Raymond Battist Sr. a Mr. MacDonald, Wilbert Henderson, Donnie Craig and David Bezanson who would be the dozer operator. Their camp of tents was set up on the north side of the island behind Ernie Rankins where a lobster factory once operated. The loader was set up on the shore and from here the gravel was taken to build up the road. The dump trucks would back onto the beach where they would be filled with ocean gravel.

I remember seeing large crevices on the beach where the gravel would be removed. However, after a couple days of north wind, the waves would again fill those holes with gravel. Seeing these large machines in operation was quit an experience for us kids living on Pictou Island to witness during those years. It was not every day that we could witness such large dump trucks, loader and dozers working.

Floyd Rudolph from the mainland was a young teenager at this time and he somehow managed to get himself a job operating one of those trucks. I remember Ralph, Eric and Harold Bennett, Wayne MacKinnon, and myself, being kids about the same age. We would anxiously wait for each school day to end so that we could be the first to drive with Floyd in his truck. Floyd was an easy guy to make friends with and I guess he was as happy to have our company as we were to drive with him in this big truck. As I indicated, Floyd at this time was a young 15 year old himself and we kids would be amazed at how he could master those gears in that large rig. I remember being captivated sitting next to this guy who was only a few years older then I was and watching him being in complete control of this huge machine.

As I mentioned, these men on the road crew shared their living quarters in tents on the north side of the island. It seems that Alfie MacMaster would remove his wooden leg before retiring each night. Upon awaking on one particular morning, Alfie found Floyd to have his arms wrapped around his wooden leg. I can imagine the look on Floyd’s face when awakening and finding this leg in his arms. I will bet that it was a good dream that Floyd was having.

I can recall only one bad accident that occurred on the island road. The telephone lines were not all that high on the island. Once the road had been built up, the lines crossing above the road were even lower. It appears that on one particular day, Raymond Battist Sr. was standing in the back of a truck while it was being driven on the road. I am assuming that the phone wire was probably lower then usual and it caught Raymond directly across his face.  That was one of those rush jobs to the mainland hospital

Wilbert and Dela