By Wendy Elliott
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Nova Scotia has roughly 3,800 islands along its 4,700 miles of coastline.
Ghost Islands of Nova Scotia remembers how many of the province’s islands were once inhabited by light keepers, fisherman and their families. Beginning about a century ago the fisher folk moved to the mainland. The book’s author Mike Parker details the people who once endured a rigorous lifestyle on the islands.
The book is fascinating because of the depth of Parker’s research and the wealth of photographs he uncovered. Over 300 images are included in this fascinating tome.
The stories are intriguing.
There was George Burton of Bell Island, who had once stowed about a ship from the West Indies. He married a woman from the La Have Islands and managed store near Crooked Channel.
Winnie Crowell Hamilton grew up on Seal Island and followed her father as lighthouse keeper, serving from 1924 to 1942.
McNabs Island was a pasture for showman Bill Lynch's ponies during the carnival season. His father had been a light keeper.
Ben Henneberry, born in 1863, lived on bleak Devil's Island most of his life. He was a fisherman, but his name lives on as the contributor of hundreds of folksongs to Helen Creighton's collection. She visited the island in 1931 to give him a copy of her first book.
Sambro Island is one of the few with a bona fide ghost. Long ago, when the Royal Artillery were stationed on Sambro, a Scot named Alexander Alexander went ashore to buy supplies and instead set out on a two-week drinking binge. He committed suicide rather than face charges and haunts the island still.
Evelyn Richardson, whose family kept the light on Bon Portage Island, magnificently detailed life on the South Shore island. The Governor General's Award winner saw the self-sufficient values of island dwellers disappearing before her death in 1976. Her daughter, Anne, said her mother "was afraid too much of the human condition would be swept away."
Parker felt it would be sacrilege in a book about Nova Scotia islands not to pay tribute to Richardson. The Richardson family passed Bon Portage onto Acadia University for safe stewardship.
Not all islands have been abandoned. The La Have Islands and the Tusket Islands, for example, had sizable populations a hundred years ago. There are stories about their inhabitants’ island schooling and making a living doing difficult work. The 1901 census lists 418 people living on the La Have Islands. Today there are approximately 60 fulltime residents and a few summer homes.
Isle Haute is the only island in this region Parker has included in his book. A wedding on the island in the upper Bay of Fundy is featured on the cover. A hunk of basalt rock with cliffs 300 feet high, Isle Haute was once part of the North Mountain. Lighthouse keepers and their families have been its sole inhabitants.
Parker located tales of light keeper Percy Morris who spent 28 years without a sick day on the rock. He raised black foxes and was also busy farming. Morris kept 12 head of cattle, 70 sheep, six goats and 20 chickens during the 1920s and 30s.
According to a 1931 Berwick Register reporter, "most remarkable of all, perhaps, is the utter absence of any manifestation of business depression and unemployment, with which other parts of the continent are so seriously affected at the present time."
Parker has written 14 books. His latest completes a trilogy that focused on gold rush town and sawmill towns. Now retired, he is a research associate affiliated with the Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Canadian Studies at St. Mary's University in Halifax.
Published by Pottersfield Press, Ghost Islands of Nova Scotia sells for $24.95.
Mike Parker will be at The Inside Story, Greenwood, April 28 at 1 p.m.