I had the good fortune of meeting Leroy Rankin and his lovely wife Shirley at my mother’s 80th birthday on August 22nd 2002. Lee was born August 1, 1936 and was adopted by Hughie and Emma Rankin. Hughie was a brother to Jack and George Rankin and Emma was a sister to my father who were all residents of Pictou Island.
It was Lee’s father Hughie who built the large two-storey house that overlooked the island beach many years ago. Hughie fished for lobsters with Pictou Island resident Kenny MacDonald. During that time, Kenny owned and fished with a small 28-foot open boat that was powered with a one-cylinder engine. Lee’s memory has him recalling this slow boat just barely moving on the water and can still remember the putt, putt sounds coming from the little one cylinder motor.
Lee recalls those by gone days when he would play with Kenny and Gorman Glover, Keith and Ronnie MacDonald, Doris and Alfie MacLean, Larry Munro, Florance Rankin, Diane Lewis, Shirley and Fanny Munro on Pictou Island. I questioned Lee if he didn’t mean Francie Munro. No, Lee says. I always knew Francie as Fanny. Fanny, he says, was a nickname given to Francie away back when.
The war years created hard times for just about everyone and most people didn’t have a lot of money for anything extra. Lee, however, calls to mind the time when his father surprised him with a new bicycle. The Player’s cigarette company was running a contest. During those war years, pictures of sailors were printed on the cigarette packs. One had a chance to win a bicycle if the pictures were cut out and sent in. If your entry was chosen, you won a bicycle. His father collected and kept submitting pictures until he finally won a bicycle for Lee. It was, however, a big bicycle and Leroy being of a small size couldn’t reach the pedals. He, however, was creative and he built stilts that could be tied to his shoes and would allow him to reach the pedals. He recalls the day when Gorman Glover wanted to ride on his new bicycle. Gorman attached the stilts to his feet and unfortunately pedaled right through the big window in his father’s store. Unfortunately, Gorman suffered sever cuts from this incident that left him permanently handicapped for the rest of his life.
Lee recalls those past days when he would visit with his uncle Lauchen and Aunt Kate Rankin who lived on their farm located just east of the island wharf. Lee laughs when he tells me about their son Eddie who would strap the boxing gloves on him and use him as a sparing partner. Eddie was much older and bigger than me, says Lee. He would be laughing as he knocked me all over the yard. I had to laugh as Lee told me that story for I also remember a pair of boxing gloves that Edward had when I lived on Pictou Island. I was much to fast for Eddie though and he just couldn’t catch me.
Lee would often be at our house on Pictou Island playing with Vernon Turple. As a young boy, Vernon spent many of his summers on Pictou Island with my parents. There was one particular day when Vernon and Lee were playing together and didn’t realize how fast the day was going. It was getting late and was almost dark when Lee decided it best to head for his home. He strapped his stilts to his feet, jumped on his bicycle and started out for his home down by the beach. The old pioneer cemetery is directly across the road from the narrow path that ran to Lee’s house. Stories of ghosts were common on Pictou Island during those years and with darkness looming, this was probably on Lee’s mind. It probably took a lot of nerve for a small boy like Lee to be going past this old cemetery – especially after dark. Now it just happened that my father had been at the beach tending to his boat and was walking home when he noticed Lee coming down the road. My father hid in the bushes by the side of the lonely dirt road and leaped out as Lee was pedaling by. Well, Lee figured that the devil himself was going to claim him. His bicycle wheels were spinning and dust was flying as Lee pedaled his bike down that dirt road. He took a short cut past Duncan Rankin’s house and down through a darkened hay field. He was halfway down the field when he drove right over a cow that was lying down. The bike went one way and Lee went the other.
Lee, with his parents, moved to the mainland around 1946. His mother purchased and operated a dance hall in Bayview. Some years later she owned and operated Emma’s Taxi Service in Pictou. Lee’s father supplemented their income by being watchman at the lobster factory in Caribou. While doing security rounds at the factory early one morning, Hughie Rankin suffered a heart attack and died.
Lee attended school at the Dawson in Pictou. He completed Grade 11 at Pictou Academy and received a scholarship to the University of New Brunswick. He attended UNB during 1954-59 and graduated with BSc in civil engineering. Lee married his childhood sweetheart Shirley MacLean from Pictou in 1957. They were blessed with a son Scott and two daughters Heather and Beth. Scott and his wife Patricia have two daughters Dacia and Kelsey and they call Bridgewater their home. Daughter Heather and husband Brian Fowlie reside in Calgary while daughter Beth and husband Jody Whittaker live in Idaho USA.
Leroy was employment with Dept. of Transportation and in 1996 retired after 37 years service as deputy minister. Bridgewater is where Lee and Shirley call home but summers are spent at their cottage on Caribou Island.