Menacing weather in strait claims lives …

Featured Online First Pictou Island Memories

The great strait of Northumberland was a winter menace in every respect. Storms were often sudden and severe. The ice was repeatedly piled high over which the ice boat was to be pulled or pushed.

The greatest danger of all was what the boatmen called “LOLLY.” This consisted of great bodies of snow and slush ice upon the water and was so closely packed that it looked like solid ice. It would give way under the weight of the men and boat.

Ten men were lost on the Northumberland Strait ice for two days and a night during the year 1843. In 1855, two men lost their lives when a sudden storm caught them in the ice-bound strait. It is speculated that they blindly walked into open water and drowned. The last accident reported in old newspapers was on January 27th 1885.

On that piercing cold winter morning, three ice boats set out from Prince Edward Island with 15 crew members and seven passengers. A storm whipped up just before noon and increased to a blinding drift by late afternoon. Those individuals in the three boats stayed close together and pushed on blindly into the day but by night fall, they were lost.

Camp was made on the ice with two of the three boats turned bottom up for shelter. Tin was ripped from the third boat and used to make a container for a fire. Newspapers from the mailbags were used for fuel.  The third boat and its oars were also burned for heat. Unfortunately, the heat from the fire melted the driving snow and everyone became soaked to the bone.

At the end of that long night and the day that followed, the fuel was gone. One man among the passengers became delirious as they all huddled together under the upturned boats. The lost men and the passengers could do nothing but wait until the storm abated off on the afternoon of the second day.

The dim shoreline of Prince Edward Island could be seen off to the north on that second evening. Those weary, hungry and half frozen individuals began to make their way back toward the island. They reached the island’s shore late into that night but where then confronted with huge drifts of snow. This deep snow made it impossible for them to wade as their clothing was frozen stiff upon their bodies.

Fortunately, the group was located by a searching party and taken to shelters on the island.

That event in the winter of 1885 was a much talked about affair for many years to follow. The Northumberland Strait was to claim other lives as men attempted to beat the menace of the ice. On December 21st 1865, five men set out from Caribou in the direction of White Sands on Prince Edward Island. They disappeared in the ice-filed strait leaving five widows and 22 fatherless children.

This picture is of five Pictou Islanders who regularly ran the Pictou Island mail iceboat between the island and the mainland.

The first gentleman on right side of boat is Willie MacLean, father of Fraser MacLean from Pictou. Directly behind him is Eddy Glover. He was married to Ona MacLean and they had two boys, Gorman and Kenny.

First gentleman on left side is Big Duncan McCallum. Big Duncan was noted for his size and strength. A few of his descendants are Janice O’Hearn and Alice MacLean from Pictou. Also Wayne MacKinnon from Stellarton.

Behind Big Duncan stands Victor MacDonald. He was an uncle to Loraine MacMillan and grand uncle to her son Billy.

Next we have Torquel MacLean. Torquel was from PEI and was a brother to Howard MacLean and Katie Campbell MacCallum.

Last at the stern of the iceboat stands Charles Turple who was a twin to my grandfather Elias. Elias and my grandmother Sarah Livingstone who originated from Murray Harbor, PEI raised a family of three boys, Willard, Vincent and Lester and two girls Gladys and Emma on Pictou Island.

My father Vincent built the last iceboat to be used by Pictou Islanders in 1940. That iceboat is presently on display on Pictou Island.

Jimtgurple4@gmail.com