My mother, Vivian, says her time serving in the RCAF Women’s Division during the Second World War was one of the happiest periods of her life. That might sound bizarre to us now, but even those veterans I knew who fought in Europe only told stories of the funny things that happened, both to keep buried as deeply as possible the horrible events they saw, and knowing those who hadn’t been there could never understand what they had been called upon to do and witness.
Before enlisting, my mother had never travelled more than a few miles from home, grew up without running water or electricity, had been keeping house for her father and brother, and working hard on their farm. She served in Canada and Newfoundland, far from the battlefields, so the war really gave her adventure and freedom from drudgery. There were dozens of other women in her group, and she made lifelong friends.
Amazingly, my mother is still in contact with one of the women she trained and served with, a lady named Vina Trowsdale who lives in North Bay, Ontario. They write to each other frequently, sending long letters and newspaper clippings on things the other might find interesting.
I was just searching to see if there was anything online about Vina and found this great interview from 2015. I just showed it to my mother, and she said this is basically her story, too. Thanks, Vina!
Dr. Madigane was a family doctor, OB/GYN and medical director at Stewart Memorial Hospital for nearly 40 years until her death in 2014. She was also my doctor for much of my life and a family friend.
Dawn wanted to ask Dr. Madigane’s family if the Coalition could include her in a series of colouring pages they were developing of Island women leaders as part of their Commemorating Island Women’s Political History project. I was happy to be able to make that connection for her. Dawn also encouraged me to send along a favourite photo of Dr. Madigane that I might have.
My connection to Stewart Memorial goes back to my grandmother, who was the first cook when the hospital opened in 1951, and my father, who helped raise funds for the hospital’s construction and was later on the board of directors. As a volunteer myself since 2002, I became “that person” who collected information and artefacts about our hospital, especially after it closed in 2013.
With the help of my friend, Fran Sark, we nominated Dr. Madigane for the Order of Prince Edward Island, which she received only four months before she died after a brief illness. I had the privilege to introduce Dr. Madigane at Government House the night she received her honour, and I was then humbled to be asked to speak at her funeral. I am now on a committee of our Auxiliary that gives three scholarships each year to people from our area who are pursuing education in healthcare-related fields.
I found the photo of Dr. Madigane I sent to Dawn in an album at the hospital years ago. It shows Dr. Madigane in 1978, just four years after she arrived on PEI from England. I’m not sure where the photo was taken, though by the snow outside the window behind her and that big red bow on the box of Turtles, I guess it was taken around Christmas. She is wearing one of her beautiful trademark headscarves. Dr. Madigane was beautiful and smart and funny. You can see all of that and more in the photo.
Dawn emailed yesterday to tell me that Dr. Madigane’s family were very supportive of the project and liked the photo I had sent. Island artist Renee Laprise created the colouring page of Dr. Madigane from the photo, and I love it so much: the added stethoscope (which Dr. Madigane did often have around her neck), the tree just like the beautiful mountain ash that stands outside the old hospital, the beautiful drapery, and the transformation of the box of chocolates to a weighty book. She joins other fantastic Island women in a learning resource that will help teach young people about the contributions women have made to Island life.
I’m happy they called her “beloved” in the description of her page, because she was. She was so full of life, so fearless and steadfast. We still miss her, and likely always will.
I think she’d be tickled to be included with these other great women, some of whom she knew well, like Catherine Callbeck, who was the provincial minister of health early in Dr. Madigane’s time on PEI, and who gave a beautiful tribute to Dr. Madigane in the Senate. Dr. Madigane was one in a million, a great Islander, and I’m glad a new generation of young people will get to know her, too.
There was sad news this morning that the sports centre in Tyne Valley burned overnight. Thankfully no one was injured, a miracle when six fire departments and heavy equipment were on the scene. Photos show the frame of the building is mostly still standing, but the interior is gutted and a lot of history is gone: trophies, plaques, photos, files and records. Just stuff, in the end, but it all told a story.
Before the sports centre was built, most communities in our area had a small outside rink, often just a clearing on a pond that was kept free of snow by skaters and hockey players. Then for many years after the Second World War, a rink at the former RCAF Station Mount Pleasant was also used for hockey and skating parties.
My father was an enthusiastic hockey player and coach. He would work in his general store all day and head to a rink on many winter evenings, often ferrying a load of players in the back of his pickup truck. It was a tough game, with little protective gear and certainly no helmets!
People from Foxley River to Lot 16 supported the building of this central facility, just as they had the building of the Stewart Memorial Hospital in the early 1950s. Government funding was secured as part of the centennial celebrations of the 1864 meeting of the Fathers of Confederation, which saw lots of government dollars flow across the Island.
The community held a parade and carnival to coincide with the official opening of the building in August 1964. This was the beginning of the Tyne Valley Oyster Festival that continues to this day. I’m proud to say my father was one of the people who helped create both the sports centre and the festival.
The shock and grief of this loss has already been followed by a strong outpouring of support and a drive to rebuild. I know of no stronger community, no people better equipped to come together for a common cause. Everyone will pitch in and work hard and, best of all, appreciate and lift each other up while doing it. We have excellent young leaders in our community, and they will create something even better, I know it.
My mother, Vivian, has always loved writing letters and still writes a couple each week, as well as sending lots of birthday, anniversary and thank you cards. It takes much more effort at age 97 as her fingers don’t always do what she wants them to, but she takes her time and gets the job done.
Here’s a letter she wrote to her friend, Lance Corporal Harold Bulger, who was serving with the Algonquin Regiment of the Canadian Army during the Second World War. “Hally” had worked for her father, Wilbur, before the war, helping with farm chores like making hay and bringing in grain. As hired help were fed their noon meal by their employer in those days (and up into the 60s and 70s in our corner of rural PEI), my mother got to know Harold well. She doesn’t remember why she referred to him as “This Place”, but guesses it must have been something he said often.
The letter is dated September 15, 1944, eight days after my parents were married in Summerside, PEI, while both were serving in the RCAF. My father, Harold Phillips, was stationed in Summerside, and my mother, Vivian Hardy, in Sydney, Nova Scotia. They were both 22, so I’m not sure why my mother thinks she waited so long to get married! Her reference to being “posted back to Canada” is because she was “overseas” during the war, spending 13 months in Torbay, Newfoundland, then under British rule.
Harold Gabriel Bulger was killed in action in Belgium on September 10, 1944, one day after his 26th birthday, so he never got to read this cheerful letter from his old friend. He is buried in Adegem Canadian War Cemetery.
The letter was stamped and written on a few times before finding its way back to my mother on PEI, probably in 1945: 10-9-44 for the date of Harold’s death, Deceased both written in wax pencil and stamped, just to drive the sad point home.
I can’t read all the cancellations, but my guess is the letter travelled Sydney> Europe> Sydney> Ottawa> Conway Station. I suppose there was a general military post office in Ottawa (OTTAWA M.P.O. 318, maybe?) to redirect mail to service members as they moved between postings and back to civilian life. Someone wrote my grandfather’s name – Wilbur – and Conway St., PEI in red pencil, and that was all the address needed to reach its final destination.
Harold Bulger’s parents, Annie and Gabriel, lived in Foxley River, about a mile from my grandfather’s house in Freeland. They had 17 children, 14 girls and 3 boys, who all lived to adulthood (a true miracle in those days). Harold and another brother, Lawrence, both joined the army during the Second World War. Like my parents, and many others who volunteered, this was as much a way to make money to help the family as it was about patriotic duty, and their large family could no doubt have used the financial injection in a community where jobs were scarce.
Lawrence was killed as his unit, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, were advancing towards Berlin on March 25, 1945, less than two months before Germany’s surrender. Lawrence was 20 and is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Two sons killed within six months, buried far from home. Poor Annie and Gabriel.
Their names are read out at the Ellerslie Legion Remembrance Day service as part of the long list of those from our area who died in the line of duty. Each year I think of this letter when I hear Harold’s name, just a newsy note that would have been long gone if he had received it. I can imagine him reading it while having a smoke and a mug of tea, maybe telling a pal the news from home, then using the paper to light a fire or even roll a cigarette if rolling papers were scarce. Instead, it has become a treasure.
(With enormous thanks to Clinton Morrison, Jr., for his excellent book, Along The North Shore: A Social History of Township 11, P.E.I., 1765-1982, the top source of historical information on our community and past residents. It is known as “The Other Bible” in our home, and many others, as countless discussions and arguments have been resolved by pulling Clint’s book off the shelf.)
I’m preparing a presentation for tomorrow evening, the third one I have given this year on the general topic of “I’m saving and sharing stuff and you should, too!” The first two talks were in my Tyne Valley/Ellerslie neighbourhood, but this one is in Summerside, so I am switching it up a bit.
I’ve just added a clip from audio interviews I’ve done over the past few years with my mother, Vivian. She was raised by her paternal grandparents, Ernest and Eva Hardy, after her mother died in 1927 when my mother was four. They had already raised eight children, including my grandfather, Wilbur, their oldest child. How good it was of them to take on my mother and her younger brother, Edgar, so that Wilbur could continue to farm and make a living.
Eva and Ernest died long before I was born, but I have heard so many stories about them from my mother and her aunts and uncles that I feel like I remember them. The act of telling stories about someone keeps them alive. Many of my memories are not of things that happened to me but of things I’ve been told so often they are now mine.
I especially love this story about Ernest as it make him sound like Matthew Cuthbert off to Carmody for puffed sleeves! My mother was 91 when this was recorded, and she has been every bit as generous as her beloved grandfather.
Just watched Never Too Old for the second time, a CBC documentary about Olive Bryanton, who studied older women in rural PEI for her PhD thesis. It was a moving viewing experience for me as I have watched my mother and her contemporaries navigate the challenges of growing older in place. Olive is an inspiring person.
As it happens, we had two of the lovely women who were in the documentary here to visit my mother last week, Ruby Cousins and Olive’s aunt, Lois Brown. I was able to ask Ruby if she bought the vehicle she was considering in the documentary (spoiler: she did buy a vehicle, just not that one!). Lois is a veteran of the Second World War, and she and my mother were both members of a “Lady Vets” group that used to meet on PEI. They travelled with author and historian Katherine Dewar, who is collecting stories from women veterans for a book and was following up on an interview she did with my mother last year.
I love many things about this beautiful island, but the way we are all connected to each other is a constant source of delight!
Great news today that Charlottetown will follow Summerside’s lead and get a new library. The scuttlebutt was that capital city folks were annoyed that Summerside had gotten ahead of them with the Inspire Learning Centre, so good for them for making it happen in Charlottetown.
I hope the next announcement from the provincial government will be to finally establish a central provincial museum in the Confederation Centre library space. Ian Scott has documented the past few half-hearted stabs at a provincial museum on his blog, and talk of such a facility goes back well over 100 years. The PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation has a couple of storage facilities filled to the brim with artefacts that should be seen. I know some collectors who would like to donate items to the PEIMHF, but don’t want the objects to end up hidden away forever.
I believe the Confed Centre library space was originally intended to be a museum, so it would make sense to finally make it so. Sense and government don’t always go together, so I won’t hold my breath, but maybe if the folks in Summerside would announce they are building a provincial museum…
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to acknowledge the great work of some beautiful girls in the eastern end of this province. Cavendish has the wholesome and heartwarming Anne, and she has had an excellent play on at the potato warehouse next door here for the past couple of years. The wife has seen it, but I’ve been too busy with some other dancers down on King Street to make it up the hill, right boys?
Young women play a vital role in our economy. Waitresses, secretaries, school teachers, and I hear there is even a woman doctor up in Tyne Valley, so that’s something different. And we even now have the honourable member from 1st Queens, Mrs. Parker Canfield, who is sitting here with the rest of us as a woman. Times are changing fast, and often not for the better, but who am I to say.
My wife loves cats, so once we get the cousins from Ontario back on the Abby, we’ll be gassing up the Olds 88 and heading down to Brudenell to do a bit of golfing and soak up some of the family-friendly wholesome culture that the Minster of Tourism spoke about with such feeling yesterday. I’ve been known to chase a ball around here and there, but this is certainly a time I hope to get a hole in one. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes a kitten is [inaudible due to banging of desks, hooting, and meowing]. And I sure do love to stroke a kitten! Thank you, Mr. Speaker.