Arnold MacMillan and Jim Fraser

Online First Pictou Island Memories

My wife Joann and I are fortunate in knowing Jim Fraser from Broadway Pictou County. Jim has lived and worked his entire life in Pictou County and at one time had visited with Pictou Islanders. Jim has shared some memories of his past years with us. The following is one of his experiences of working and visiting with former Pictou Islanders many years ago.

It was the winter of 1948/49. Harold MacDonald and his son Allie from Merigomish were running a logging operation in the Merigomish area. This was the time before the reality of power saws. Bow saws and heavy double-bit axes were the tools of the day for cutting trees. Backbreaking labour was required from daylight until dusk six days a week Monday to Saturday. It was hard physical labour compared with today’s standards, says Jim, and living conditions were quite different.

Logging was usually done throughout the fall and winter seasons. Travel throughout the woods was made difficult with deep snow being a common occurrence. Harold MacDonald had logging camps throughout the woodlands of Pictou County. Those camps consisted of tarpaper shacks and were furnished with only the basic things. There were home made bunks for sleeping on and a table with wooden crates to sit upon. A small wood burning stove would provide some warmth on cold winter nights. There were a few Pictou Islander’s during those years that were more then eager to pick up their heavy axes and join the logging crews. After all, the heavily dense woodlands of Merigomish and Sutherlands River were not that far away when looking across the Northumberland Strait.

One of those Pictou Islanders was young 25 year old Arnold MacMillan. Arnold spent several winters with the MacDonald logging crews in the Merigomish, Sutherlands River area. It was at one of those camps in 1948 where Jim Fraser first met Arnold MacMillan.

Arnold and I became real good friends right from the start, says Jim. He was a fellow that I could depend upon when a helping hand was needed. Arnold and I could fell those big trees and have them hauled out off the woods in no time. We had to snag the logs out of the woods with a team of horses. There were many times when the snow would be deep and drifts banked real high. Many times the team would be pulling those logs with snow up to their chest. Arnold and I had a good team and we could handle those horses real well.

I recall this one time when there was a thief among us at one of our camps. Little things like cigarettes, loose change and the odd bottle of rum would disappear. Those times were rough and little things like that meant a lot to us. It took Arnold and I about a week to figure out who the culprit was but once it was confirmed, Arnold put the run to him and the robber never came back.

The snow was melting and heavy rains made it hard going in the woods during the month of April 1949. One of Arnold’s Pictou Island friends was getting married and Arnold had returned to his parent’s home on the island for the occasion. Before leaving, however, he invited Allie and I to join him in the celebrations a few days later. As I had said, the spring thaw was making it difficult working in the woods so we decided to take Arnold up on his offer.

Don MacNeil and Collen Cantley had been flying the Pictou Island mail service during those years. Walter Sherman from Little Harbour also often piloted one of their planes for them. On this particular day, MacNeil landed with Allie and I as his passengers in a hay field beside the home of Jack and Mary Rankin near Pictou Island’s East End. Arnold met us there with a team of horses and bobsled and transported us to the western end of the island to the home of his father Billy MacMillan. It was probably about 12 o’clock on that day when we reached Billy’s home. I never will forget the table full of food that awaited us when Arnold, Allie and I entered the home. There was more food on their kitchen table then I had ever seen at one setting before. 

Billy MacMillan owned a 100-acre plus farm that extended northward from the Pictou Island wharf. I remember how the landscaping was so pictorial around the MacMillan farm. The large farmhouse stood overlooking the south side of the island and was surrounded by a large barn and other buildings. I can still envision the large hay fields that extended around the farm and right down to the island’s wharf with the Northumberland Strait beyond that. The hay fields extended to two adjacent farms that belonged to George Rankin and Edward Rankin.

I remember standing on the wharf watching a small open lobster boat bring the newlyweds, Jimmie MacDonald and his new bride Vinny over to Pictou Island. There was still a lot of ice in the strait and every now and again we could pick out that little boat among the packed ice. There was an extensive house party at the home of the groom, Jack Happy and Margaret MacDonald. They were the island’s West End lighthouse keepers. A fantastic wedding celebration dance was held at the island hall that evening and into the next day. There was enough food at that wedding and at every household that we visited with to feed an army. Those were days that Allie MacDonald and I talked about for a long time.