Winter isolation …

Online First Pictou Island Memories

I struck up a great friendship with a young man from Cape Breton named Gerald Campbell when I became employed at Michelin Tires in 1972. Gerald and I worked the same crew and naturally became best of friends.  I married my high school sweetheart, Joann Taylor, in 1973 with Gerald being my best man. Gerald, who was nicknamed Duke, had informed me about a terrible tragedy that had occurred to his family during the previous year. During the early morning hours of March 26th 1971, fire destroyed his parent’s Glace Bay home and took the lives of his father, sister and two of his young cousins.  

Job changes and shift changes over the years had Duke and I going in different directions and those memories were left behind. However, I recently came across an article in Jessie McCallum’s diary marked March 26th 1971. She has written: “News on radio this morning said that a father with his young children perish in a house fire in Glace Bay.”

I’m jumping back here from 1971 to 1965. The following abstracts are taken from Howard & Jessie MacCallum’s 1965 diary.

Health problems had Jack and Mary Rankin staying with their daughter Dolina and son-in-law Ford Keenan in Murray River, PEI, during those winter months. Unfortunately Jack suffered a stroke on April 4th 1965 and quietly passed away at 11 p.m. on that same night.  A Prince Edward Islander named Dwayne Macawayne was flying the Pictou Island mail service during those years. He flew across to Pictou Island early Monday morning and transported Jack’s children Vernie, Lauchie, Laura, Florence, and Duncan over to PEI. George Rankin was also flown across to Murray River to attend his brother’s funeral on April 7th. Jack’s wife Mary passed away shortly thereafter on June 5th 1965.

Heavy winter strait ice continued to build up even by April 17th. The North Gaspe had sailed out of Pictou and was stuck in the ice just east of Pictou Harbour. Ice breakers Sir John A. MacDonald and Tupper were sent out to free the ship. The North Caspe made it as far as Charlottetown by April 19th.

Boredom from being isolated all winter long was taking a toll on some Pictou Islanders. The first year that my parents and I had moved away from the island was 1965. My brother Vincent, however, was still living there with Rita and brother-in-law Scott Falconer. It was on that same day that the North Caspe was stuck in ice that Vincent and Scott borrowed Duncan Rankin’s dory and rowed through and around the ice and landed at the Caribou factory. Arnold MacMillan made first lobster boat trip across to the mainland through the drifting ice on April 21st. Winter isolation by this time must have really created cabin fever to other Pictou Islanders as many wanted to get to the mainland. Spike MacDonald, Cecil Rankin, Elmer Young, Punch Patterson, Howard MacLean, Angie MacDonald and Bush MacDonald accompanied Arnold that day.

Heavy ice filed the strait again but Charlie MacMillan tried a crossing on April 24th. Accompanying him were Lorne MacMillan, Cameron MacDonald, Frank MacDonald and school teacher Edith MacAloney. The ice became so dense that they had to go ashore at Black Point. The car/passenger ferries between PEI and Caribou began first crossing on May 9th. Some lobster fishermen began setting lobster traps May 10th.  Heavy strait ice came down from the west and many lobster traps were lost up River John, Cape John and Toney River way. Five inches of snow fell on May 15th. Approximately 40 miles of ice being reported just east of Pictou Island on May 16th. All fishermen putting traps back in water on May 20th. Howard McCallum’s first haul on May 24th and had 230 pounds. Howard’s boat caught fire on May 26th and burnt to the water line.

Howard McCallum has written that Fisheries inspectors were over to the Pictou island wharf on June 18th.  These fishery officers would board different lobster boats checking for spawned female lobsters or undersized lobsters. Howard has written that eight undersized lobsters were found in John Angus Macmillan’s catch. It is also written that John Angus’ catch of 378 pounds was seized that day because of the find. Lobsters catches were declining fast and my father began taking his traps ashore on July 2nd. All fishermen had their traps ashore by July 14th.

Sobey’ store in Pictou burnt to the ground on July 21st. Boat races were held at Montague, PEI, that same day and my father with the Dream Boat came first in all races.

A terrible accident occurred on August 1st when a local fisherman named Kirk Sutherland drowned in Caribou. RCMP began dragging operations the very next day but the body was not found until August 11th. Rollie Mackenzie from Caribou Island was walking on the shore by his property and discovered Kirk’s body washed up on the beach.

We are often amazed by today’s weather and consider that global warming is having a drastic effect on weather patterns. However, strange weather occurred 50-60 years ago. Howard McCallum has written that six inches of snow fell in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario on August 29th 1965. Makes a person wonder, doesn’t it?

Jimturple4@gmail.com