Category Archives: Family

1960+60

My parents were married in Summerside on September 7, 1944 . No big celebration, not even one photo of the day, just my parents, their two witnesses, and the minister for a simple service in the church office. A couple of days later, my parents, who were both still serving in the RCAF, went back to their wartime posts.

Their 16th wedding anniversary in 1960 would have been on a Wednesday, the day when all country general stores like theirs, and many stores in the bigger communities on PEI, closed in the afternoon. Why Wednesday? Who knows, but it was a different time, a slower time, and everyone agreed Wednesday afternoons and Sundays were not for commerce.

September 7, 1960 would have been an exception to that Wednesday closure rule because a huge forest fire was tearing through western PEI, burning thousands of acres of forest and destroying homes and businesses. My father probably spent the day evacuating neighbours with his one-ton flatbed propane delivery truck, and my mother would have kept their store open the entire day, even as they were running out of basic supplies.

10 years ago, I published the digital version of a scrapbook of newspaper articles my mother saved during the 1960 West Prince Forest Fire. If anyone has looked at my website, it has probably been to look at this resource, and I’ve heard from hundreds of people who wanted to share their memories of that time.

I was born in 1966, but heard so many stories about The Fire for my entire life that it seems impossible that I wasn’t actually there! The physical marks of the fire were all around me when I was a child, burned stumps and tales of lost buildings. 

I took a walk around our property yesterday looking for the remnants of that fire, and there are very few left. If I didn’t know what I was looking for, I wouldn’t have given the few things I found any special meaning, for they don’t look important in any way.

Here’s a bit of burned tree stump that has yet to be totally absorbed into the spongy forest floor. Most of our land had been in grain or hay in the dry summer of 1960, but some trees stood along the riverbank, and many of those were lost. When I was a child in the 1970s, there were dozens of stumps like this in our woods, but today I only found this one tiny bit.

Remnent of tree burned in 1960 fire.
History is well hidden, almost gone.

Here is the firebreak created by an unknown bulldozer operator to try to save the house that belonged to our neighbour, Ida Skerry. It’s difficult to see this little mound of dirt in a photo, so I doffed my rubber boots to give some perspective! Ida’s house was saved, but her small outbuildings were lost, and bits of melted glass and metal are all that remain of those little sheds. Those fragments of history emerge from the soil every so often, but each year’s cascade of dead spruce needles and birch leaves is burying them a bit deeper, and soon they will stay hidden.

Here are burn marks on our log cabin, a tinderbox that survived only because a bucket brigade hauled water from the river after the electricity poles burned, killing the water pump that had just been installed the previous year when electricity had finally arrived in our community.

When I’m gone, the history of the enormous fire that raged over this small plot of land will will be erased, absorbed into the ground to moulder and disappear, but yesterday we remembered. My mother and I talked about her wedding day 76 years ago when she had just turned 22, and the fire 16 years later that threatened everyone she knew and everything she and my father had worked so hard to build. We felt grateful to be together.

Hair Done

My mother and I drove to our hairdresser’s house this morning at 8:30. The five minute drive takes us past almost all the places my mother has ever lived: her father’s house; the house she and my father built between her father’s house and their general store; her grandparents’ house at the corner of the Barlow and Murray roads. It was a gorgeous spring morning and our little EV slid along by farm fields and water.

We were our hairdresser’s first customers since mid-March. Mom and I donned our jaunty new cotton masks and waited in the car for Joy to wave us into her house. We sanitized our hands, ticked some boxes on a form saying we were not ill and hadn’t travelled outside the province, and descended the stairs into the salon. It’s always clean and tidy, but today it was absolutely sparkling! We had already washed our hair at home, as requested, so she just spritzed us with water and started cutting.

I’m not really that wrapped up in how I look – I am all about comfort, and my hair felt horrible and messy – but even I will admit it was great to look like myself again (Steven said my hair looked a bit like Jim Jarmusch’s earlier this week, so that needed to be fixed!). After we left, our hairdresser would have to clean all the surfaces we touched and get ready for the next customer, over and over all day. She is happy to be back to work, and we are grateful she has stayed in business.

Moving Day

I woke before sunrise this morning. As I write this, it is calm and cool as the sky begins to glow in the east. Sometimes on such a morning, when I step out on the back step to smell the fresh air, I can hear the roar of the ocean a couple of miles away, but today it was silent.

My mother, Vivian, told me yesterday that April 15 was the day her grandparents, Eva and Ernest Hardy, would move from their home in Freeland to their lobster cannery on the sand dunes that run along part of PEI’s north shore. My mother and her younger brother, Edgar, lived with their grandparents from 1927 until 1938, after their mother, Thelma, died of tuberculosis in March 1927. Their father, Wilbur, was unable to care for two small children and operate his farm and sawmill, so his parents took them in.

My mother’s description of the “moving to the Sandhills” day is like something out of a history book. It began with a horse and wagon drive a couple of miles out the Murray Road from their Freeland home, probably through lots of mud, down the Mickie Allen Shore Road to the water. They would row across the Conway Narrows in a dory, then walk down the beach of the Sandhills to the cannery, or perhaps take another horse and wagon that would already be over there.

You can walk across the Narrows at low tide at a couple of places, so the dairy cow would be walked and, where it was deeper and her legs couldn’t touch bottom, floated across . A pig would somehow be maneuvered into a dory, and Eva’s hens would be crated up and rowed over to spend the summer pecking at the sand. Their few articles of clothes would be in steamer trunks along with bedding, everything stinking of mothballs.

I’m thinking of my mother as a tiny four year old on that first cold April morning 93 years ago, waking up next to her 20-month-old baby brother. They would hear Eva making breakfast: oatmeal porridge, beans, bread and butter, tea. Hear their grandfather and uncles in other shanties or perhaps heading out in their boats to fish for bait that would be salted and used for fishing lobster over the following months. 

Less than a month after her mother had disappeared slowly and painfully and she had to leave her father and home, my little mother was waking up on a straw-filled mattress basically right on the ocean, at sea in more ways than one.

Only one of two photos of my grandmother, Thelma Rose (Hutchinson) Hardy, taken on the Conway Sandhills, 1922.

April 1, 1920

I was a regular reader of UPEI’s Island Newspaper site’s “This Day In History” feature when I first became aware of it in 2014 (probably through Peter or CBC Radio, two of my main sources of cool PEI news!), but I let the habit slide after a couple of years. Each day the site highlights the issue of the The Guardian from 100 years before, and there is always something interesting, even if it’s just the ads.

I have been reading it everyday again for the past couple of weeks now that I have more time, and it has been more fun as I am now seeing people that I actually knew in the paper. The young adults of 1920 were in their sixties and seventies when I was a child.

The first person mentioned in the April 1, 1920 issue that I knew was my great-aunt Dorothy MacDougall.

Aunt Dot would have been 19 and had just been married the year before. She was a lot of fun as an older lady, and I imagine she was a pretty sparky young woman, too! Her older sister and probably her best friend, Gladys, was my grandmother. Dot’s grandson, Gary, was the editor of The Guardian for 20 years and retired in 2015 – he, as all of her grand and great-grandchild did, called her Ga.

On another page was a wedding announcement:

Angus was one of the contractors for the hospital we used to have in Tyne Valley, Stewart Memorial, that served our area from 1951 – 2013. The hospital fundraising foundation still exists and I have been its secretary since 2014. We are trying to acquire the old hospital building on behalf of the community with the intention of turning it into a community care facility; our board chair is Hilton MacLennan, Eva and Angus’ grandson.

Both Dot and Gladys worked at the hospital. They were also members of the hospital auxiliary, as am I, as was my mother, as was Eva, and Eva’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, and Ruth’s daughter, Aleah. Aleah was a nurse at the hospital and cared for my father, Harold, when he lived there in the long term care wing for the last four years of his life.

At this time of social distancing directives and upsetting news, I’m deriving an enormous amount of comfort from getting lost in the past, of connecting the Dots and Evas, as it were! I know the deep, complex connections I have all around me are precious and rare, even in this interconnected age. I am wrapping myself up tightly in this long, warm tapestry of family and friends on this rainy April evening, and thinking of Aunt Dot, with her beautiful red hair, boarding the train to go to Summerside.

Safe In The Past

I find great comfort in looking backwards at times like this when everything seems so scary. History is already written, so it is a safe place to spend some time; there could be surprises or new discoveries, but they have already happened and are, therefore, sterile, clean, orderly.

As a diversion from the overwhelming pandemic news, I spent time this morning nosing around for family news on UPEI’s digital newspaper archive, which has expanded in recent months. My ancestors were pretty humble people, mostly fishers and farmers, not the type of people who usually ended up in newspapers except maybe when they died. A couple of distant relatives were politicians – a great-great uncle was an MLA and my father’s first cousin was a Member of Parliament and later a Senator – but most appear only as entries in census records.

It was lovely, then, to find new items about long gone great-greats in the Examiner archives. I do not have any family stories about these people, so until today they have existed only as names and dates in a database. This evening I feel as though I have pulled them in a bit closer to me, that they are with me somehow, and that is soothing.

My GG Grandparent’s wedding announcement – August 25, 1862 Examiner. I have Robert’s will.
Report about GG Grandfather William Hardy’s lighthouse at Little Channel – March 10, 1879 Examiner
GG Grandfather William Hardy (and his unnamed wife, Ida) involved in saving some sailors – July 10, 1879 Examiner
GG Grandfather George Washington Sharp making big bucks selling pearls in New York – March 21, 1889 Examiner
GG Grandfather George Washington Sharp’s obituary – November 2, 1895 Examiner

Elevated Taste

All the cats I have known who have lived into their teens have developed sensitive stomachs (a delicate way to say they become barfy). I can confirm that elevating their food bowls somehow lessens this barfiness. I don’t know why this works, but it does, and is highly recommended by both humans and felines.

Prima, in a rare moment of doing what a human wants
The food setup, with divine light from the Almighty and a box of VHS tapes because I can’t throw anything out (see also 1980s digital scale and ancient rug hooking frame).

Also elevated this morning was a head of lettuce, a rare treat for our free-range hens who really are fed up with being cooped up.

In the spirit of elevated dining, I plan to eat my lunch on the roof.

Answered my own question

Since I sometimes digitally clip bits and pieces from old newspapers and then file them without good descriptions, I shouldn’t be surprised when I ask myself questions I could already answer.

Earlier this month I mused about my great-grandmother’s prize-winning entry to a contest in a fishing magazine. I wondered how she remembered the exact details of a fish caught by her sons long after the event and where she got the photo that accompanied the story.

Seems she had already alerted the media to this story in 1936, and I had already read it and filed it away with the very descriptive file name “Guardian_Aug24_1936_fish”. Thankfully I stumbled upon it this morning.

From page 9 of the August 24, 1936 Guardian.

Mola mola

News from the Atlantic Veterinary College of a necropsy recently performed on an ocean sunfish that washed ashore on PEI last November reminded me of a story my great-grandmother submitted to a Bluenose News contest and was published in their July 1948 edition. Bluenose News was a small free magazine published by the Drummondville Cotton Company of Montreal, makers of fishing twine.

July 1948 Bluenose News, Volume 3, Number 3

Cecil and Everett were two of her seven sons, five of whom were fishermen (the other two were my grandfather, Wilbur, who was prone to seasickness so became a farmer and box mill operator, and Elmer, who was a renowned market gardener and poultry keeper).

I’ve always had many questions about this piece. How did Cecil and Everett “give chase” in the slow boats they had pre-1948, and how fast is a sunfish? How did Eva get her hands on a copy of the December 1940 edition of Australian Wild Life in tiny Freeland, PEI? Did Eva have a diary where she recorded oddities like the exact measurements of strange fish caught by her sons and, if she did, where the heck is that diary now?

As I examine this story more closely, I realise that this is probably not a photo of the sunfish caught by my great-uncles, as Eva says “they gaffed a fish like the enclosed picture.” The fellow on the left doesn’t really look like any of my family, and cameras were still pretty rare in the 1940s and certainly not carried around while people were working by the ocean, so I guess this is just something she found somewhere.

Eva loved to read. My mother remembers that when the weekly Family Herald arrived, Eva put her work aside until she had read every word, then she would tell everyone the tales and tips she had learned. Beyond her family’s memories, I only met one woman about ten years ago who remembered going to the Hardy house as a little girl to hear Eva telling stories.

Having a story published must have been a big thrill for Eva and receiving the handsome sum of $10 would have been most welcome, too! I’m sure she told this story again and again.

Bluenose News