Heron Island had been divided into twelve farms, running north to south. The families who took up the land grants in the 1850’s enjoyed a good life. They were mainly self-sufficient, in the way that the “Back-to-the-Landers” of today could only dream of duplicating. They’d had to build their own homes. Some of them were very fine homes, indeed.
The Pettigrew house was a very nice example of the craftsmanship that they employed. I had the good fortune to enter this house in the early ’70’s.
They had many fine pieces of furniture. Some of the furniture that was left the house when they left the island was obviously handmade and of very high quality.
There were small trunks with ancient papers, some con- taining family records, such as birth records.
There were handmade dressers, and in some of the drawers there were a few pieces of clothing. One of the drawers contained a number of the hard collars that the men of the time used to wear with their shirts on dress-up occasions.
There was a fur coat. I couldn’t identify the fur, but it was not exactly fashionable.
A small medicine bottle had a portion of medication still in it, and it smelled suspiciously like rum.
The living room was empty, but the hardwood floors were gleaming as though they’d been waxed and polished the day before. And yet, no one had lived there for some forty years.( Well, that’s not quite true. There was evidence that a squatter was occupying the kitchen area. There was a cot under the window, and some current magazines beside the bed, which looked as though it had been recently occupied. A flashlight was on the floor.)
The kitchen was huge, with a beautiful wood stove. The pantry was about as large as a modern kitchen. Many of the dishes and pots were still there.
When the families left the island, they were very limited as to what they could take along. So many treasures were left behind.
The pity now is that no one will ever be able to see these wonderful homes, because vandals going over there on skidoos in the winter have burned every existing old structure on the island.
It was a senseless act of vandalism, since the structures were still sound and more than liveable.
The early settlers were mainly fishermen as well as farmers. The farming, though, they carried out more for their own existence, that is, for their own nourishment and for trading with their fellow islanders.
Fishing provided then with a good living, since at that time, there was hardly a better place for one to harvest the sea.
The families that were on the island when George and Stella were there were the Simonsons, the Pettigrews, the MacMullans, the Cunninghams, the Creightons, the Dickies, Mr. Maxwell, who was a minister, and his sister.
I don’t know whether they were descendants of the original families to inhabit the island.
None of them are available to me for comment, but I suspect some of them were the direct heirs to the land occupied by their ancestors.
Heron Island is about five miles long and a mile wide.
There is a road that runs east- west and several paths that run north-south. Very little of the roads or paths are visible now, being grown over.
At the north end of the island, there is an area which was called “The French Woods”. There was an old ship in the mud offshore near that area.
The first house on the walk east from “The French Woods” was the Simonson house. It was fairly close to the road.
The next was the MacMullan house, a little farther back.
Then came the Pettigrew house, and set back from it, a house which was not inhabited after George and Stella left it to move into the new place.
Then the LaPointe house, which was also the Post Office.
Then the little building which had been the school.
On the south side of the road was the house where Mr. Maxwell, the minister, lived with his sister.
On the same side was the Cunningham house, which was later occupied by the Creightons.
Up a little ways from the road on the north side was the other Cunningham house, which was later occupied by John R. Dickie.
The wharf was just opposite the LaPointe house on the south side of the island. George had taken part in building this wharf. It is still there today, but in a sad state of repair.
Almost directly opposite the LaPointe house on the north side of the island, stood the old lighthouse. Paths had been beaten through the bush to get to it. They are impossible to find today. There is a swamp there now, and that it is futile to try to pass through that way anymore. The west end of the island is very treacherous for boats and is to be avoided. The island is generally well sheltered from severe storms and the temperature always seems a few degrees higher than on the mainland, with balmy breezes blowing all summer.
The north side of the island has an excellent clam bed.
On the south side, there is a mussel bar, where mussels are still plentiful for the taking.
All of the families were in some ways interdependent, as is the case with all island living. Only on the big, urban type islands can people afford to ignore or be unkind to their neighbours.
The island had wild bushes growing in many areas, yielding excellent crops of large raspberries and huge gooseberries in abundance. These would be eaten fresh and preserved.
The cod in the Baie was large and the white meat of it was wonderful eating. It was plentiful. There was mackerel and salmon. And that most delectable of foods, lobster.
They raised pigs for food, chickens to eat and for eggs, and a milking cow. The calves were for their larder.
The north shore of the island was thick with clams. The clamming, berry picking and the fishing are still better there today than in most other areas.
In the years to come, George would build a house and a barn. Stella would till an area for the garden. A well would be dug just to the east of the house. George would build a little bridge over the thin stream that ran south of the house, between it and the road.
Stella kept a flower garden as well. Necessity was one thing, but one must not give up the things that are just for a joy to the eyes. She had an “accidental garden” also. George had gone to the mainland and she had been unable to join him, as was usually the case.
However, she always looked forward to some little frivolous gift that he would bring home to her. This time, he returned and told her that he had brought her a gift. He handed her a packet of flower seeds. To those of us who have at some time or other awaited a gift with anticipation and got a packet of seeds, it’s no surprise to us that she opened the packet, took out the seeds and threw them across the road, without so much as a “thank you”. There is still a beautiful patch of Sweet Williams growing across the road from the old home. George’s gift to Stella thus lives on.
Stella’s bit of nursing training had equipped her with the good sense to keep a well stocked first aid kit on hand at all times. On a particularly windy day, with waves hitting twenty feet between the island and the mainland, one of the neighbours was out chopping his firewood.
Some distraction must have taken his mind off what he was doing, and he chopped the axe into his foot and out through the bottom of his boot. He managed to pull the axe out and began to make his way home, about a mile away. He crawled through the woods, all the time bleeding and getting weaker and weaker. The wind got fiercer, and it began to rain violently. When he got to the field near his house, his vision was beginning to play tricks on him. The house looked near and then farther away. His clothes were soaked, and a chill began to fill his body. The rain was running into his eyes, blinding him. Finally making it to his porch, he managed to bang on the door before losing consciousness. His wife opened the door and found him there, with blood still pouring from his foot. There was no way to get him off the island and to a doctor in that storm. One of the family members ran down to our house, and Stella went up with bandages and Balsam of Myrrh to help stop the bleeding. She instructed them on how to make a tourniquet and how often to loosen it. The man was taken to the hospital on the mainland when the weather cleared. He spent two months there. Had it not been for Stella and her first aid kit and the nursing that she had learned, he might have bled to death.
There were chicken hawks circling over the island at times. George was keeping a sharp eye on them. He had a shotgun which he used from time to time for whatever bit of hunting he did. He did not shoot birds nor animals for sport. When he killed a creature, it was to feed his family. But these hawks were a danger to a source of their food, the chickens they were raising.
It was a hot summer day, and when George went out to feed the chickens, he found that one was lying in the yard quite dead, obviously killed and dropped by a hawk when George came into the yard and interrupted him. He looked up and, sure enough, there it was, circling and waiting for its chance to be alone so it could return for its lunch.
George got his shotgun out and loaded it. He took the dead chicken and placed it on a post of the pigpen fence where he was sure the hawk would see it. There was long grass behind the pen where he could lie and keep still until the hawk thought it was alone. His plot worked.
Soon the hawk began to circle lower and lower. George was ready. The hawk swooped down. He had outsmarted the bird.
He pulled the trigger. He got the hawk…and both of his pigs.
Stella says it was quite a day, trying to make the best of the situation. After she stopped trying to decide whether to laugh or cry, she helped him to prepare the pigs for smoking. They made sausage, bacon, and salted some of it. It was not when they’d planned to do it, but plans do sometimes go awry.