Eastern Prince Edward Island has a diverse and fascinating history, filled with stories that have been handed down from one generation to another. The Red Rock Adventure Company is proud to share and preserve these tales, and some of the most memorable ones have been related below.
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North Lake’s Floating House (1923)
Homes weren’t always as sturdy as they are today, and many people lived as best as they could afford. This sometimes led to people building their home in less than ideal places, such as too near the shore, or even on the sand.
Such was the case with Joseph MacMillan and his family at North Lake. They were living very near to the shore in a building at North Lake which had been owned by Matthew & MacLean (1).
One night there was a powerful storm surge, and owing to the lack of sand dunes at North Lake at the time, the little house and all of its occupants were washed straight across North Lake, landing in Kenneth Fraser’s field. The house remained completely intact in the move (1).
The family was jarred awake by this sudden disruption, and all were forced to scramble upstairs as the surging waters worked its way into the house. A plank was extended from the upstairs window, and the entire family slid down the plank to make a safe escape (1). The house was later found to be beyond repair.
Axe Handle Night: Souris’ Worst Riot (12 October 1888)
The 1880s was a fighting period among the youth of the Souris area, as it was in many other parts of the Island, and the availability of cheap and accessible liquor did little to improve matters (2).
Souris at the time was also home to numerous hotels which welcomed unknown visitors to the area year round, and its harbour was always filled with boisterous seamen who bunked on their own ships.
As such, it was a perfect storm for those looking to start trouble (2). And while there had been clashes before, there is nothing yet that rivals Axe Handle Night.
The incident began near the old Carleton store around 8 o’clock in the evening (2). Joseph Doyle, a Souris merchant and banker, was spotted being attacked by drunken sailors.
James Dunphy, a Souris saddler, ran to his rescue, and soon they were both badly injured. The alarm was raised, and a throng of locals took to the streets against these rioting fishers.
Both sides armed themselves with sticks and axe handles (2). Further clashes ensued, but the Souris locals were successful in driving these unruly men back towards the wharf. Several rioters were captured and locked up for the night (2).
Things did not end so well for everyone, however. One sailor, a Joseph Strople, was fleeing from those Souris men, and in his drunkenness did not make the turn onto Breakwater Street. Instead he careened over the bank, near the present day Sailor’s Memorial, and tumbled to his death upon the rocks (2).
The rioters who were arrested that night were each fined $50, which was considered to be a large and excessive fine at that time. Other charges included “fighting on the shore on the Sabbath”, for which those found guilty were charged $2, and being “drunk and disorderly”.
North Lake Harbour Opens (7 December 1917)
To view North Lake one hundred years ago would be to view a very different sight. At that time North Lake was very much a freshwater lake.
Fed then, as it is today, by water from Fountain Head, there were only a few small streams permitting overflow to escape to into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and there was no harbour for fishing whatsoever (1).
Efforts were made to cut a channel from the lake to the present day opening of the harbour, as it was deemed to be the ideal location, but the hand tools available to the workers at that time made the job an impossibility.
Consider the amazement then, on the stormy morning of December 7 1917, when word spread around that a storm surge had broken open the sand around the lake and had joined it to the ocean (1). In 1922 the first bridge was built, and North Lake has boomed as a fishing harbour ever since.
The Red Point Seal Hunt (April 1846)
Funds and supplies had grown low after a long winter in Red Point, and residents of the area were longing for the warmth of spring.
But instead of spring winds, April brought forth a terrible easterly gale which was sufficient to send a massive sheet of ice onto Red Point beach (1). Some men went down to investigate this April ice, and to their surprise they found that it was populated by countless seals.
These seals, which would normally bear their pups far out at sea, had been carried by the wind to Red Point, and the local men headed quickly for the ice field to hunt them (1).
The work was highly profitable, given the vast number of seals, but the men became so engrossed in the task that they failed to notice that the wind had shifted, and just as it had carried the seals inland, it had now washed these men out to sea.
Things looked dire indeed: they had no provisions, night was falling, and all of their own fishing boats had been hauled up onto shore for the winter. Luckily, those who remained onshore noted the growing absence of the men, and had wits enough about them to launch the boats and embark upon a rescue mission.
Such quick action proved to be the saving grace of the seal hunters, who otherwise would have perished at sea. No lives were lost as all the men piled into the small rescue boats, but no space remained for the dozens of seal pelts which the men had worked so hard far.
These were abandoned, and the next morning a Dutch sealing schooner could be seen taking on board those pelts which the Red Point crew had worked so hard for (1).
The First Car In Souris (~1915)
The development of roadways in the Souris area was a process which took place over the past 200 years, and one that is arguably still taking place to this day. Roads in the town of Souris proper are speculated to have originally been cow paths (2), and even what is present day Route 2 began merely as a series of interconnected trails leading from one farm to another.
It wasn’t until 1820 that an official road was established connecting the Fortune area to what would become the Town of Souris.
Even as the 20th century dawned and rumors of the automobile began to make their way towards Eastern PEI, the roadway remained less than desirable. Individual land owners still retained rights to the property which the road was on, and as such the road was impeded by countless fences, posts, and gates which were intended to keep their livestock on their own property.
A rider or motorist would be forced, at every property, to dismount and open the gate, drive through, and then latch the gate behind him.
This proved to be problematic, and Charles Wright, Overseer of Roads, ordered the removal of “all fences, swinging gates, bars or other obstructions placed in the road at the expense of the offending party”, or else they would face a fine (2). It should also be noted that this decree forbid road construction workers from “illegally stopping travellers to obtain rum.”
As for the first car in Souris, the claim is a much disputed one. Doc Smallwood owned an early 490 Chevrolet (likely a 1915), while Erskine P. Stavert, the bank manager, is remembered to have competed in an impromptu race with a horse in the early days of motoring.
Most memorable though was the arrival of Arthur McQuaid’s Briscoe car. Finlay McLeod drove it home from Charlottetown for him on a rainy day; it was a road closed day but he had a special permit.
A local blacksmith in the Marshfield area, existentially threatened by cars and their new way of life, threatened to assail McLeod with a heavy hammer as he crossed through his property, and it took much convincing for him (and the car) to escape unscathed.
The Miracle Operation (1908)
To this day Dr. Gus is remembered almost as folk hero in the Souris area, and perhaps rightly so.
His caring, commitment, and dedication to the people of this area was unwavering and unparalleled, and had it not been for him, tragedy would have struck the area more times than one would like to imagine.
While Dr. Gus is much remembered for delivering babies and healing the sick (not to mention his death-bed request to mark every bill owing in his ledger as “paid”), but he is surely most remembered for the miracle operation he performed upon the young A.J. MacCormack in 1908 (3).
Poor A.J., who was only four years old at the time, was run over by a mower while he was in the grain field near his home in St. Margarets, severing his feet from his legs (3). By the time Dr. Gus arrived, several hours later, it was thought that the legs and feet would need to be amputated entirely to avoid the risk of a fatal infection (3).
A.J.’s mother would not accept this fate for her son, and she refused to let the doctor leave until he agreed to try to save the feet (3). Dr. Gus placed the unconscious boy on the kitchen table, washed his feet in a solution of water and bichloride mercury, and operated for several hours. As Dr. Gus would later remark, only a few tendons and blood vessels remained (3).
To the amazement of all, surely even the doctor, the operation was a success, and A.J. learned to walk again, albeit with a limp. The story was published on the front page of The Guardian, and is still told in local folklore today (3).
Naufrage Lighthouse Keeper (1917)
Naufrage, the French word for shipwreck, is an aptly named place, as it has a past littered with wreckage and tragedy against the merciless sea.
In fact, the first settlers to area were survivors of a shipwreck, and this tendency for wrecks against the unyielding rocks of the Naufrage coast has continued for centuries to come.
Given this, there was a strong desire to erect a lighthouse at Naufrage, in hopes of saving innocent lives at sea. And so, in 1913, a lighthouse was built on the western side of the present day Naufrage bridge (4).
Frank MacKinnon served as the first lighthouse keeper until 1917, when he tragically drowned on setting day while working on the water (4). Even with Frank’s death it was essential that the lighthouse remain operational, especially with so many lobster fishermen out on the water, and Frank’s son Neil, who was only 8 years old at the time, was the only one who knew how to operate it.
Despite the loss of his father, Neil rose to the occasion and instructed the men of the community on the operation of the light, and thanks to his fortitude no other lives were lost that terrible night (4).
This still left Naufrage without a lighthouse keeper, and so Frank’s wife Sarah stepped into the role. It was quite unusual to have a woman as a lighthouse keeper, but Sarah rose to the occasion. When one night the mechanism that rotated the light broke down, Sarah spent the entire night revolving the lens by hand. She later received a letter of commendation from a passing captain at having held her post so diligently.
Sarah MacKinnon certainly proved her mettle, and she held the job as lighthouse keeper until 1922.
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1. Historical Sketch of Eastern Kings. 1973. Print.
2. Townshend, Adele. Ten Farms Become a Town. 1986. Print.
3. Mullally, Sasha. Dr. Roddie and Dr. Gus: The Golden Age of Medicine. The Island Magazine. 1997. Print.
4. Shipwreck Point Lighthouse. Lighthouse Friends Online. 5 March 2017.