Category Archives: PEI History

It is regrettable that this item is undeliverable.

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.

Vivian and Harold Phillips, September 1944

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.)

Ernest Insists on Cashmere Stockings

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.

Ernest Buys Cashmere Stockings
Ernest and Eva Hardy, Freeland, PEI

Never Too Old

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!

Phillips Brown Cousins Dewar
Vivian Phillips, Lois Brown, Ruby Cousins, Katherine Dewar – August 30, 2019. Rarely does someone leave my mother’s house without a treat; these ladies got a blueberry muffin and a bag of chocolate chip cookies each, and a gumdrop cake to share!

New Library, New Museum?

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…

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty Club

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.

The Kitten Culbs of Canada - Ashtray
A government-owned golf course ran a bunny club in Cardigan. Oh yes, they did! Click through to read the donor’s story of this piece of PEI history. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pei_museum/48230274841/