Sable Island is a mysterious shifting sandbar that for centuries, has captured the imaginations of people near and far.
“No matter where I might be, in whatever company, whenever I mention Sable Island, it’s almost guaranteed that people will ask any variation of the same three questions,” Sable Island historian Jill Martin says. “Those questions are: Isn’t that where the wild horses live and how did they get there? How can you get to Sable Island? Does anyone still live there?”
Martin is a board member at the Friends of Sable Island Society and one of the presenters at its Sable Island 2017 conference. The conference is happening at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Dartmouth this weekend and is open to the public.
The conference will bring the Sable Island experience to mainland Nova Scotia, says Friends of Sable Island Society board chair April Hennigar, who spent childhood summers on Sable. “It will be the next-best thing to actually going to Sable Island,” Hennigar says.
Martin will expand her answers to these frequently asked questions during her presentation on Saturday, Oct. 21, but her short answers are as follows:
1) Isn’t that where the wild horses live and how did they get there?
“Yes, those infamous wild horses live on Sable Island. At least 400 of them … their arrival was likely the result of a failed business deal in conjunction with the military decision of the British in 1755 to expel the French Acadians from Nova Scotia,” she says.
2) How can you get to Sable Island?
“Getting to Sable Island has never been easy, but that never stopped fishermen following the cod,” Martin says. Sable Island has wrecked many a ship, was a lifesaving station, and was home to a handful of families including Martin’s ancestors. Today it’s a National Park Reserve and Environment Canada weather station. Limited tourism is being tested in a way that protects its flora and fauna.
3) Does anyone still live there?
Yes people live there still, but only a handful. The island has about four Environment Canada and Parks Canada residents who rotate in. “For several months over the winter, the island’s uninhabited 42 kms of sand and marram grass settle into a natural routine, a routine they’ve followed for centuries. “The crush of the surf, the barking of seals, and thundering of hooves are carried over the dunes and lost in the wind,” says Martin.
Hennigar says a series of presentations on visitor experiences, natural wonders, cultural history and park management will give people a virtual Sable Island experience at the conference. “Not only that, a Parks Canada green screen will even ‘teleport’ people to Sable Island virtually to have their picture taken as if they were really there,” she says.
The Friday night, Oct. 20, portion of the conference is free and features the keynote speech. Saturday’s program features 16 short presentations, and includes lunch. It costs $60 to attend. Pre-registration is encouraged through Eventbrite.