The day our house burned

Online First Pictou Island Memories

1965 was a long cold winter with lots of heavy ice building up in the Northumberland Strait. The strait was still white with ice by the end of April.

My father had hired 16 year old Dennis Slaunwhite from Pictou to fish lobsters with him that year. The Dept. of Fisheries put the word out on Monday May 3rd that the lobster season would be delayed until May 7.  On May 5 the wind was blowing from the southwest. My brother Vincent and I sailed with our father through scattered ice to get to Pictou Island from Caribou that day. May 7th was officially the first day to set lobster traps. It was still white with ice running east from the East End of Pictou Island and no traps were set from the Island. Some fishermen, however, set a few traps around Toney River, the Cape area and River John.

May 8th was a fine sunny day with light winds.  Most fishermen agreed that the ice would continue to float eastward with the falling tides and it would be safe to set their traps. There was still, however, visible scattered ice drifting around the east end and some fishermen set their traps with ice poles for buoys.  Ice poles were long trees that would pretty much stand straight up in the water when attached to the trap lines. Pans of ice could float over them without cutting the end of the rope from the traps.  A buoy, however, would get caught in the ice and drag the attached traps for possibly long distances before breaking the rope and thus loosing the traps.

Strong northeasterly winds were blowing on Monday morning, May 10th.   A horrible scene was beginning to unfold. This wind and the strong spring tides were bringing the ice back towards Pictou Island from the east. My father and Dennis hastily began to take their traps back ashore. The wind, however, was blowing so hard that most traps were left out. Large strips of ice came back down from the east over the next two days and took a lot of lobster gear with it.  Those few traps that were attached with ice poles were spared.

Canners lobsters sold for .55 cents per pound, markets sold for .60 cents per pound that year.

I was the baby in our family and the previous year was to be my last year for schooling on the island. My parents didn’t want to have their little boy move away from home alone. We moved to Central Caribou on September 1st 1964. Now our house on the island was without any heat during that winter. My mother and father had moved back for the lobster season in 1965 and were living in the house. Mother and Dad had risen at four a.m. on the morning of June 10th. Mom, in her usual way, had gotten up first and started a fire in the kitchen wood fire and warm the house up a wee bit. She was always the first one up and prepared breakfast for Dad and Dennis.  She returned to bed for a few more hours of sleep once they left for fishing.

It is speculated that frost had heaved the unheated house and cracked the flu during the winter months. There was a good northeast wind blowing on that morning and mother awoke around 7:30 and prepared to make a batch of bread. She was unaware that a fire had already started. It wasn’t very long before black smoke started bellowing down the stairs. In a matter of minutes, the complete house was engulfed in flames while being fanned by the strong north winds.  Many fishermen and islanders quickly arrived but nothing could be done to save our old island home.