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Monday 31 July 2017

A heritage minute

We told them the music would be loud but when the girls saw a video of the show, they wanted to attend. The show, Highland Storm, is a production of the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada located in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. I accompanied the girls, our granddaughters, ages four and six, to see the production.

Sylvie and Caitlin were interested in the step and highland dancing in the show, as they attend other dance classes which they enjoy. Both girls love to perform. Six year old Sylvie, who lives to dance, wants to expand her repertoire. I was interested in exposing the girls to a part of their family heritage.

My paternal mother’s family came to Newfoundland from Nova scotia via Scotland. The family name was Stewart and my great great grandfather’s given name was Alexander, born is Scotland in 1799. That’s all I know of him. He had three children in the 1860s with Helen, who was from Prince Edward Island and that’s what I know of her. He was much older than Helen obviously. What was his story? What was Helen’s? So many questions are unanswered about these two.

On the drive to the show, I talked with the girls about Alexander and Helen, my 2x grandparents and the Scottish and island connection. In spite of their young ages, they understand the concept of great great grandparents since their 2x great grandmother on their father’s maternal side, is still alive in England. I explained how the bagpipes, the other instruments, the dancing and singing were part of their Scottish heritage. They were excited!

We arrived early for a seat up front. The venue this year is a tent on the parking lot as a new auditorium is under construction. All the chairs are at floor level. While not directly in front of the stage, our front row side seats were perfect. The girls used the books and coloured pencils I had with me to pass the time while we waited.

When the show started, they didn’t move. The music was professionally done and the dancing by the young women was flawless. 

While the drone of the bagpipes wasn’t their favourite sound, they didn’t complain about it or the noise. They enjoyed the drumming, fiddle and harp sounds and the sword dancing was a favourite. The girls loved the costumes and clothes from the kilts to the numerous costume changes of the young dancers. 

Both girls now wonder when they will be able to take classes at the college. 

Sat with my two grandchildren, it was emotional for me to experience the sights and sounds of my mysterious Scottish ancestor, their 4x great grandfather. Some of the songs, sung is Gaelic, were haunting, as if to speak of a lost heritage. The sounds of the bagpipes could be joyful, as to celebrate our lineage or mournful about the lost information. It all touched my soul.

Every year, we three will go again to connect with our Scottish heritage. And if the girls have their way, one day they will be on stage there too.

P.S. Since I couldn’t manage the girls and my regular camera, the photos were taken using an Iphone in low light.

Friday 28 July 2017

Through the window

On a recent beautiful summer day at the Souris lighthouse, there was an idyllic view of the Northumberland Strait and the fishing boats.

One can imagine it is not always so however. In days gone by, what was it like during the worst storms, looking out the window as you tended the light while the tower shook and the wind howled? Sometimes a wall of white was all that was visible.

The keeper’s house, now relocated, was through this door. 

It stood, with the light itself, on Knight Point at the entrance to the harbour at Souris in eastern Prince Edward Island. Today the light remains, automated, standing its lonely vigil whatever the weather. No problems with the weather this day however. 

The various floors of the building show an aspect of the work involved with tending the light. The old light was run by kerosene which was pumped up to the light.

Now, the lantern room at the top of the building holds the current light. It was a thrill to go out on the gallery

outside the room and take a photo of this light and the community below.

This is the only lighthouse where we have been able to go out on the gallery. We watched the boats and thought of earlier days, in the 1880s, when the light was new and mariners welcomed the guidance.

The ferry for the Îles de la Madeleine comes into the wharf at Souris,

taking visitors to and from the Québec island. There were numerous French speaking people visiting the lighthouse as they waited for the ferry to arrive from the island.

Later, as we proceeded along the southeast coast, we saw the ferry on her way into Souris. A visit to the Îles de la Madeleine may be in our future. After all, we are island people.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Tall ships

The rigging is impressive, 

meter after meter and all with purpose. Four tall ships were in Summerside recently. Men were busy in the rigging on one of the vessels in preparation for sailing. Imagine doing that work any time, but especially in rough seas!

There were two square riggers plus a schooner and a sloop. 

These ships aren’t a regular sight in Summerside. Most of the harbour traffic here is fishing boats 

but sail boats are common in the summer.

Cargo ships are common as well, maneuvering their way around the Indian Head Lighthouse. 

The most impressive sight however, is the tall ships, even when they are not under sail.

As the vessels left the harbour, one could imagine the days when our ancestors left distant shores, looking for a better life in various parts of the New World. It wasn't too long ago when the only vessels in this harbour were powered by the wind.

The first to leave port was the Alexander von Humboldt II from Germany, the biggest of the vessels, a three masted square rigger. She had her green sails furled as she headed out through the channel.

Then the other square rigger, the Picton Castle, left the wharf. 

The schooner, the Bowdoin, had sails from one mast as she passed.

Together with the sloop, the Peter von Danzig,  these are training ships, where new generations learn the skills necessary to operate the vessels.

In the distance, the Humboldt resembles a ghost of a by-gone era.

Monday 24 July 2017

Into the wood

Down the steps and across a bridge from Green Gables is the Haunted Wood, made famous by the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

She knew the area as a child and included the wood in her novels about Anne Shirley. Anne, like Lucy Maud, imagined these woods to be haunted.

Walking through the wood, one can picture the young Lucy Maud on her way to and from Green Gables from her home nearby.

Today, the mixed forest consists of huge trees at least twenty-five meters high. 

The wind in the trees makes them creak and sway. What would that sound be like at night? The effect when the moon is full must be eerier with the shadows cast as the trees sway.

Branches reach like octopus arms grasping for anyone who comes within reach. 

But the faces…

they look at any passer-by who is within the limits of their frozen expression. Sometimes, the faces are stacked as a natural totem. 

The skeletons of trees which died along the path, are in stark contrast to the green of summer.

All add to the haunted feel, even during the day.

In the past, people have carved their initials into a few of the trees. Were such marks on similar trees over one hundred and thirty years ago when the child, Lucy Maud, walked this wood? Such initials could represent the names of people who disappeared there!

These days, a golf course crosses the Haunted Wood. The golfers are a curious distraction to the imagination and the ambience of the trail. We stopped to watch and wonder what Lucy Maud would think of their presence in one of her favourite haunts.

Friday 21 July 2017

Art gallery

We spent time in an art gallery recently, though not a traditional one. This gallery is in the Evangeline region of Prince Edward Island and is called the St. Chrysostome Wildlife Management Area. Almost 1000 acres of wetlands and forest are protected, with Ducks Unlimited involved. To the east, a few cottages line the coast but we walk west.

There aren’t any trails or boardwalks here, a beach which has driftwood and seaweed but otherwise is clean and wild. 

On first look, there appears to be grassland between the forest and the ocean but as we continue, a pond comes into view a few meters inland.

And ducks, one looks almost too perfect to be real.

The pond has a small beach and as we approach, hundreds of small fish dart away from the shore into the grasses.

The artist takes her time creating her pieces and they stir the imagination. 

We see an octopus, 

an alien hand,

a dinosaur’s tibia,

and the skeleton of a jellyfish-like creature.

I stealthily capture a picture of Medusa.

In another location, branches reach out of the grass. 

From another angle they look entirely different.

As we continue along the beach, we notice a river which wends its way through the wetland 

and another pond or the extension of the previous one. It is impossible to determine from our location. In this pond, ducklings follow their mother.

Lunch is on the beach, as the wind plays music in the tall grass of nature's gallery.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Green Gables

The house is a literary landmark in Canada. This is Green Gables, made famous in the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1874-1942, who was a child of the island of Prince Edward.

Green Gables was owned by the MacNeil family, Lucy Maud’s cousins. The author set her novels about the orphan, Ann Shirley, in this home at Green Gables and the surrounding countryside of Cavendish. Thousands visit this area, including this home, every year.

Outside the house, the carriage lies waiting for the horse to take Anne Shirley, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert to church. However, now Anne’s hat has red pig tails attached.

In the garden, trees are in bloom

on this summer day and the old tree in the flower bed is a natural sculpture.

This house itself is decorated in the Victorian style with its wallpaper, flooring, lace curtains and doilies. It offers a step back in time. 

Anne’s room is the most intriguing to me, with her clothes laid out and her book bag on the chair. She is expected home from Diana’s house any minute.

The guides tell stories from the books about the characters and various items around the house. For example, accidentally, Anne gave her friend Diana wine instead of raspberry cordial because the wine was in the wrong place on the shelves.

If ever a place was designed to complement a work of fiction, this is it. 

Fans of the Anne novels and the various tv series love this place. Every day, hundreds pass through the doors of Green Gables, into Anne’s world, as Lucy Maud described it. The character and the setting have a life of their own now, as a red headed guide, dressed in Anne attire, greets all visitors. 

The novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery is available free