New teacher for Pictou Island school

Community Online First Pictou Island Memories

The year was 1960 and Pictou Island residents were in search of a qualified school teacher to teach us children. Distinguished school teacher Dave Mackay and his family had just spent the past three years on the island and had served the islanders very well. It was now, however, time for the MacKay family to make a change and they moved from Pictou Island during the summer of 1960.

The position was advertised and a young man Edward MacMaster  from Caribou considered it. During those years the Municipality of Pictou County managed the school board and councilor Henry Ferguson recommended Edward MacMaster with $160 pay per month.

Now I’m assuming when looking back to those years that this decision must have been a difficult one for Ed to make. You see, Ed had just recently become engaged to Dorty Birkholm. Dorty was a beautiful young 17-year-old blonde who had emigrated with her parents from Denmark, Switzerland. She and Ed would be separated while he was teaching on the island. Realizing, however, that short-term sacrifices must be sometimes made in life, Ed moved over to Pictou Island on September 17th 1960. School began on Pictou Island two days later.

 There were 25 students from grades two to eight going to the island school that year.

Janice MacKinnon, Dunnie (Red Dunn) MacCallum, Elwood Rankin, Ruth MacCallum, Doreen MacLean, Sandy Munro and Tommy MacDonald were in Grade 8. Sandra MacMillan and Donna MacLean were in grade seven. Harold Bennett, Wayne MacDonald, Ralph Bennett and James Turple were in Grade 6. William (Billie) MacMillan and Darrell Rankin were in Grade 5. Alice MacDonald, Eric Bennett, Debbie MacMillan, Robert Rankin and Linda Rankin were in Grade 4. Jackie MacMillan, Margaret Ann Bennett, Beth Munro and Nina Rankin were in Grade 2.

Other island children in grades nine and up were now attending either Pictou Academy or East Pictou District High School. Those students included Rosemary Turple, Dolina MacCallum, Shirley Munro, Martin MacDonald, Carol Ann Rankin, Martin MacCallum and Judy Rankin.

We island kids had a few short school weeks for the first while. Mr. MacMaster would continually make trips back and forth to the mainland throughout the week to see someone. That situation was corrected however on November 19th 1960 when Ed and Dorti became Mr.  & Mrs. Edward MacMaster. The newly married couple returned to Pictou Island “well refreshed” on Wednesday, November 23rd.

A wedding dance was held that Friday night at the schoolhouse and all Islanders attended to wish the newlyweds well.

Ed and his new wife rented a room in the home of Ona Glover.  The Glover home was just west from the school and directly across the road from the Patterson property.

On many evenings, Dorti and Ed would walk across the road and spend time watching the Don Messer show on the Patterson’s new black & white television. It was on one of those nights when Dorty and Ed were preparing to return to their room at the Glover home. Suddenly a light was spotted coming from their bedroom window. Big  Ed investigated but found nothing amiss. The first thing that the Patterson’s told the MacMaster’s was that there was a ghost in the Glover home.  You can imagine that Ed and Dorty slept well that night.

Ed and Dorti spent their 1960 Christmas vacation on the mainland with their parents. Santa had given Dorty a beautiful black kitten for a Xmas present. This new pet would be great company for Dorty while Ed spent his days in the island school. The winter ice had not yet set in on the Northumberland Strait. Ed and Dorty were returning to Pictou Island on January 4th 1961 in Arnold MacMillan’s boat. Punch Patterson and Duncan Rankin accompanied Arnold on that day. Arnold and Duncan spied the black kitten and immediately saw an opportunity to tease Dorti. One of them whispered to Dorty that if Punch saw the black cat, he might think that she was a witch and would throw the kitten overboard. After all, Punch was superstitious for he had previously experienced an encounter with the island’s headless white woman. Believing what Arnold and Duncan had told her, Dorty quickly covered her little friend with coats and blankets so that Punch wouldn’t see it. Needless to say, that little critter made it to Pictou Island on that day.

Ed & Dorti somehow evaded the ghosts and survived the winter on our small isolated island. Easter vacation began on April 1st 1961. Ed and Dorty again wanted to spend that free time on the mainland with their parents. Pictou Island was now surrounded with ice and flying by mail plane was only was to get on and off. Dwayne MacKawane who was called the flying Preacher arrived in his new two-seater plane on Saturday April 1st. MacKawane had crash landed his other plane the day before while making a landing on PEI. Now on this day, a spring thaw had softened the landing field behind Howard MacLean’s house but the plane was still able to land. However, the wheels were digging into the soft ground and could not lift back into the air. The plane had to be towed to a harder field where MacKawane was able to get airborne without any passengers. There was a smaller field closer to the east end of the island where MacKawan would try to land his plane and would again try to get his passengers off the island.

Because of the spring thaw, the island’s only dirt road was a mess of mud and holes. John Angus MacMillan operated the island’s only small snowplow and he hauled Ed and Dorty on a sled to the East End with it. The proposed field at the East End was directly above the rocky beach and the shore ice helped prevented the field from thawing. MacKawane was able to get airborne on that field and quickly transported his passengers to the Trenton Airport. The island scholars attending school on the mainland were also returned back to their homes for the holidays on that day.

Just imagine how times have changed.

jimturple@eastlink.ca