There were approximately 150 people residing on Pictou Island during the years when I called Pictou Island my home.
I had previously illustrated in a story how islanders supported each other. We shared our material items and assisted each other in many ways. If a wedding took place, we all celebrated. If a death occurred, we all mourned. Any death that occurred on the tiny island was hard felt by all residents.
Caskets for departed friends were made by Pictou Islanders themselves. During winter when firewood was cut, certain selected pieces of the sawed trees were set aside. The boards were carefully sawed, planed and stored in someone’s home after drying for a length of time. When the need came, the boards were gathered and the casket was constructed quickly and carefully. The inside was prepared with care quite like the ones of present times. Neighbours would also assist family members in preparing a body for viewing. The remains of the dearly departed would usually be laid for viewing in the home of the deceased. Sometimes, however if need be, the wake would be set up in a neighbour’s home.
All island residents usually had large wooden flour barrels that were used for storing flour during the long winter months. A special room in the home would be prepared and a wooden door would be placed on top of two flour barrels with the casket placed on the door. This naturally would all be draped with a sheet.
I can recall the funeral procession of Pictou Island resident Willard Maclean in 1957. I was only six years old but I can recall watching a team of horses hauling the hearse to the cemetery with his remains inside.
Pictou Island’s black limousine was a horse drawn carriage that was purchased from the McLaren Bros Funeral Home, Pictou in 1910. A black horse was usually used to haul this hearse to the cemetery for adults and a white horse was used for children. There was a lantern hung at each corner of the hearse. A pallbearer walked by each wheel and each pal carried one of those lanterns. I am informed that this was a way of showing respect for their departed friend. The glow from the lanterns was a way of showing the path to the hereafter. This hearse was regularly used for funerals on Pictou Island up to the end of the 1950s. There was a building that housed the hearse just east of Howard MacCallum’s home across from the community dance hall. That building has long since fallen down. The island hearse is now in storage in a building near the Pictou Island community center.
With the changing of time, the day of this horse drawn hearse has gone. A truck is now used for that duty of honour, loyalty and respect. Many families that I have grown up with have moved from Pictou Island. Their last resting-place, however, may still be on the tiny island that they called home.
To my knowledge, the last casket made on Pictou Island was in March, 1974 for long time resident Frank Munro.