Lester and Bell Hooper

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It was the time known as the Dirty Thirties. The economy was slow and hard times fell on most everyone. No exception was given to the family of Lester and Bell Hooper from Trenton, Pictou County.

Lester was employed at Trenton car works but there was little or no work at the plant and everyone was being let go. There was no living assistance of any kind including unemployment insurance or welfare. Les and Bell with their six young children Teddy, Howard, Sydney, Ralph and Isabelle, Hazel moved to Pictou Island to live with Bell’s parents until the economy improved. Bell’s mother, however, became crippled and needed continual care so the Hooper family stayed together on Pictou Island.

It was during this time that Jack and Mary Rankin lived at their farm on Pictou Island. The Rankin farm was about one half-mile east from the Hooper home. Jack and Mary Rankin raised a large family that included Laura, Duncan, Dolina, Annie Mae, Lauchie, Vernie, Florence, Joan and one granddaughter Lorina. It was there on that small island where Isabelle Hooper and Vernie Rankin first met. They as kids went to the little one-room Pictou Island schoolhouse. They played together as children and grew up being young sweethearts. Vernie and Isabelle became Mr. & Mrs. Vernie Rankin on July 6, 1944. 

As like most Pictou Islanders, Vernie was destine to becoming a fisherman. He left school at 15 years of age to fish for lobsters with his older brother Duncan. Duncan Rankin and his wife Verna had recently been married and lived in their home just above an area known as the ‘Island Beach’. Rather then staying with Duncan and Verna, Vernie preferred to continue living with his parent’s closer to the East End of Pictou Island. Vernie would rise early every morning to do his chores around his father’s farm before walking the two miles to the beach where Duncan’s boat was anchored. This working relationship only lasted about a year.

Vernie’s uncle, Hughie Rankin, had previously built a large two-storey house overlooking the island beach area. Vernie’s older brother Lauchie and his wife Rita purchased that house from their uncle Hughie. Vernie and Lauchie then purchased an old wooden lobster boat and fished for lobster together from this beach area. Their boat, however, caught fire from a gas leak and burnt while they were fishing one day. Shortly afterwards, Vernie acquired his own boat and began lobster fishing on his own while Lauchie moved to Pictou.

The island beach area was a popular place for many fishermen to anchor their small wooden lobster boats during those past years. Dolina Rankin and her fisher husband Ford Keenon from Prince Edward Island purchased the now vacant house form her brother Lauchie. Vernie continued to fish from the beach so he and Isabelle lived in this house with Ford and Dolina during the lobster season.

Isabelle remembers her husband Vernie having hired many men to be his helper in his boats over those years. One hired helper was a young Pictou Island student minister and another was my cousin Hughie Turple. She recalls and laughs about the time when her younger brother Howard fished for lobster with Vernie. Howard would stay with his parents each night but would walk the island’s lonely dirt road to the beach every morning before the sun came up. Now Howard had to walk past an old barn that belonged to Duncan Rankin and it just happened to be the barn where a young woman had supposedly hung herself some years before. Being Pictou Island’s practical joker, Duncan would hide in the barn and wait for Howard to approach.  He would see Howard approaching in the moonlight and then begin a low moaning sound. Howard would usually be out of breath and shaking like a leaf by the time he reached the beach.

Parties and dances were common occurrences on Pictou Island years ago. It didn’t take much planning for a party or dance to materialize for the 200-plus residents on Pictou Island. Just about any excuse would be used. There was Christmas, New Years, Valentines, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Mothers day, Fathers day, weddings and birthdays. You name it and it was an excuse for a party. Many Pictou islanders were very musically inclined and would be quick to provide beautiful music for those events. Some willing people being Vernie, Isabelle and Edward Rankin, Melvin MacDonald, Charlie and Ida Munro with daughters Sherlie and Francie, Alfie MacLean and school teacher Dave MacKay. Usually a small group of islanders would first gather at Roy and Cassie MacCallums home and someone within the group would suggest having a party or dance. That was all that was needed for the gears to be set in motion. Within probably an hour, every islander was informed that a dance was being held at the hall or someone’s home that night. House parties would often be held throughout the island. Many being at Howard MacLeans, Howard MacCallums, The Pattersons, Ona Glovers, Jack Rankins, and at the home of the East End lighthouse keepers Archie and Charlotte MacDonald. Pictou Islanders would walk the few miles every second Saturday night to a different home just to dance, party and mingle with friends. There never was a dull minute during past years on Pictou island.

Jim Turple