What strikes me as we look back on last week was the sheer variety in all that we did; right from the very start things heated up with a competitive photo challenge, which saw players crab-walking, cartwheeling, leap-frogging, face-painting, and so much more. All week each team tried to out-do the other, and it made for some fantastic photos, as you can clearly see.
After that players unlocked access to the ‘float the boat’ challenge, wherein they had to dig an entirely new channel to the river, and divert enough water using a hand-made dam in order to float a water bottle all the way down. This was certainly more easily said than done, but our Red Rockers rose valiantly to the occasion, and while I had never seen such a motley assortment of shovels (shout out to all the Dads who helped with that one!) they put them to good use, and every single team was able to complete this challenge.
This is where things then got tricky, as players were next tasked with building a raft worthy of standing on, and with enough buoyancy to float their entire team. Most (but not all!) of the teams made it, and while the rafts were hardly seaworthy, they were enough to score some points all the same.
For some teams, due to timing, this is where the week’s challenges ended, but for others, they unlocked the fire-building challenge, where with one match they learned how to build and tend to a campfire. Many were interested at first, but when they saw that it took patience, not prodding, to build a successful fire, several team members abandoned the task in favor of swim time, while those who remained earned their stripes in fire-making (shout outs to Lexi and Rorie of the Foxes!), something they should indeed be proud of, and a skill which will serve them well in future challenges and our camping trip.
When it comes to this week’s score, things once again took an interesting turn, as the Ravens moved up a position to close in on the Falcons, tying for first, while the Coyotes climbed from the basement to narrow the gap towards first place, landing in second. Foxes too are fresh on the hunt, with only five points keeping them out of contention.
And while Coyotes move to second in score ranking, this week’s upcoming challenge is one that just might give them an edge over the rest, as it will be determination, leadership, and creativity that will lead to success this week, more than anything else.
This week’s hints:
Yours in adventure,
Nathan and Jesse
What a week we had! I don't think anyone knew what to expect, but all our teams rose valiantly to the occasion, as competition between teams (and siblings) grew ever fiercer.
From the very beginning it was a race to gather the seven stones, as we wandered eastward over the bridge, through the thorns, and into the dense forest maze. Stones were gathered along the way, as were mysterious keys, culminating in a mind-bending puzzle which saw players deciphering the riddle to know which order to place the rainbow stones in, which would in turn unlock the ropes they were seeking. The foxes were thankful to Serena who knew her cardinal directions, while the Coyotes owed it to Eva, Josie, Armand and Luc for their decoding skills.
With ropes in hand they made their way to the birch grove, where a spiderweb was woven, and many attempts were made to climb across it without touching the ground, or each other. For the foxes, Kennedy proved herself to be the nimblest climber of them all, while with the Coyotes Reagan was unafraid to take her chance, knowing that Danica was there to hold on tight to the ropes, and Addison held strong for the Falcons.
With the spider’s web out of the way, that left the Overflow game, where water was gathered from the spring and poured into the hidden pipes, until the keys floated to the surface. Thomas, of the Ravens, was clever in solving the wine bottle trick, and Rita of the Falcons proved able in her water gathering abilities, but in the end she had more water on herself than in the pipes.
When at last the final keys had been discovered, it was time to head back to the beach, where using the ropes from the spider’s web as a measure the players solved the final clues, found their spot, and dug for buried treasure. It was Abby that made the discovery for the Falcons, while Savannah, Lexi, Bella and Anna made sure they had the keys ready. The excitement ran high as the thud of the treasure chest rang out under their shovel, as all the while the clock was ticking and the score was running up.
Speaking of score, I am certain that there are many anxious team members who have long been awaiting the results of this week’s competition, and so I have included below the up-to-date leaderboard. There are no doubt some surprises on there (shout out to the Ravens for a tight race with the Falcons!), but I am confident that our upcoming challenge, with the potential to score 60+ points, will provide an opportunity to level the playing field.
Also, I felt that I should provide a few hints for this week:
1. A good shovel will make all the difference (think of the shovel that we used to dig the treasure). The more, the better, so that everyone has one to use.
2. Knot tying skills will come in handy.
3. Be prepared to be soaked!
And don't forget: if you are interested in the overnight camping trip, be sure to let me know, and if you wanted to order a custom shirt, take a look at the options below, and be sure to get your name on the list before Friday! [Logo Mermaid + Logo Black]
That's about it for this update; can't wait to see you all again.
Yours in adventure,
Nathan and Jesse
Week 1 saw us trekking across the beach and onto the rocks in search of a winding river. We hiked and climbed (and occasionally waded!) our way westward, until at last we came to Cow River beach. On the way we encountered Mermaid rock, where the Falcons posed for photos, and where the Ravens caught several lobsters.
Once at Cow River our intrepid adventures sought “the bottom at the top”, and it didn’t take them long to realize that their first clue was at the bottom of the pond. No one was too afraid to get muddy, and pretty soon each group had found their buried treasure: supplies to paint a banner, and coded instructions which directed them to raise a flag pole higher than any other team could, and to hang their flag upon it, using only items washed up on the beach. We saw a lot of creativity and teamwork in doing so, with the Friday Foxes being the team that raised it the highest!
After that they unlocked the next clue, which had them searching for the now-infamous red stick, which was to be their measure as they followed the cardinal compass directions in search of buried eggs. These eggs were to be floated, one at a time, across the river, in order to score points, and at times competition was fierce! The Coyotes had set the score to beat, but each team rose to the challenge in their own unique way. I am amazed to say that no one broke any eggs while they were in transit!
As if this weren’t enough, all along the way there were riddles and puzzles to be solved, a hidden red rock to be found, and clues and mysteries galore. In completing these tasks, some of which came right down to the wire, players proved themselves to be able to think critically under pressure, all while using their own skills and abilities to contribute towards the efforts of the team.
These clues and mysteries will be put to the test in Week 2, as we search for the hidden forest meadow, using only our treasure map, where more challenges and puzzles lay waiting, and another buried treasure is rumored to lie in wait. We also look forward to naming our Captains for the week as well, a judgement based upon attitude, ability, and leadership, and let me tell you, it was a tough decision.
And of course, I would be mistaken if I didn't include the results of the much anticipated leaderboard. As you can see, competition was really tight this week, and the sibling rivalries are already starting to heat up!
Looking forward to Week 2, and we can’t wait to see you there!
Yours in adventure,
Nathan and Jesse
Phantoms and Forerunners: The Forgotten Tales of Island Folklore
Storytelling has always been an integral component of Island life, for, as one researcher put it, it was “the only entertainment people had” (3). And many of the stories told around the fire on those cold nights of years-gone-by were those of phantoms and forerunners.
Prince Edward Island has a long and fanciful history surrounding folklore, and the Eastern end of the Island is no exception. Folklore and ghost stories have been handed down from generation to generation, and often serve not only to entertain and frighten, but to share a warning or a lesson.
Often times these stories attempted to explain the seemingly supernatural events which occurred in the lives of ordinary people, and other times they served to assuage the deeply held fear which gripped the hearts of those brave souls who eked out an existence in what was at times a lonely and unforgiving place.
Whatever their purpose, no matter their origin, the folklore of our Island is as much a part of our cultural heritage as any song or dance, and while today these stories aren’t as common as they once were, you needn’t look far to find someone willing to dim the lights and share with you a terrifying tale from the past.
The Phantom Ship
The Phantom Ship is perhaps the most well known spectre in Island folklore. Reported to be a three masted schooner, hearkening back from the halcyon days of Island ship building, this spectral vessel will appear on the water without notice, and sails smoothly along over the waves. With sightings dating back over 200 years, observers have reported watching it for up to an hour, before it abruptly, and without warning, bursts into a spectacular display of orange flame, before sinking mournfully into the water (10).
But there is one visceral detail which adds to the macabre nature of the phantom ship, and that is the tortured nature of the souls who are witnessed to remain on board the doomed vessel. Many observers, both from sea and land, have reported watching helplessly as the flames spread across the ship, only to watch in horror as the figures of men --the sailors aboard the ship-- dash frantically about the deck before diving overboard in agony. Their cries can be heard for miles, echoing over the open water as they are burned alive, and although rescue attempts have been made, none have even been successful.
One such attempt at reaching these poor souls took place in Charlottetown around the year 1900. The flaming ship was spotted from the shore near the harbour, and a small group of brave sailors boarded a rowboat in an effort to reach the ship in time to rescue the crew on board. But incredibly, before the rowboat could reach the distressed vessel, the phantom ship vanished completely (10). A search was immediately carried out by divers, but no evidence of the ship was ever found.
And a report such as this is not out of the ordinary. Consider the following testimony from a witness of the phantom ship, who saw something much the same. As he explains, “we got up on the banks to watch. I saw smoke rising very slowly all over the deck. Then it was only a few minutes I saw men that seemed to come up from below and they were running around the deck every way. Then as they were running around I saw a low flame all over the deck. When the flames started the men climbed up the masts of the vessel. When they were about halfway up the masts the sails caught. All the sails seemed to catch at the same time. I could not see the men any more as the flames hid my view. We watched it until the flames died and everything crumbled to the deck. There was nothing left but the hull on the water, and gradually it seemed to sink lower and finally disappeared as if it gradually filled with water and sunk” (11).
And perhaps accounts such as these could be discredited on their own, but it is often the case, as occurred with the group of men in the rowboat in Charlottetown harbour described above, that the phantom ship is witnessed by many people, and for a prolonged period of time. In fact, there is even a recorded instance of the car ferry, the Prince Nova, witnessing the burning ship while travelling the Wood Islands-Caribou route between PEI and Nova Scotia.
The sight was so alarming that the ferry even diverted its regular course in order to aid the burning ship, “only to have it disappear into thin air when approached at close range” (11). This event left such an impact on the crew that in later years Northumberland Ferries staff was directed not to attempt to interfere in further rescues of the burning ship.
Many have speculated that the ship is merely an illusion, some sort of optical distortion created by wind, waves, fog, electricity, or even the moon. But as author William Hamilton points out in The Island magazine, the fact remains that countless people have seen something on the waters surrounding our Island, and that that something remains unexplained (10).
The Wild Hunt of the Black Birds
Indelible upon the history of our Island is the belief in omens and their supernatural meanings. Many of these beliefs come from the oral traditions of the early Scottish settlers, who told these tales in the original Gaelic. The Scots believed much could be divined from the interpretation of signs, and it was widespread knowledge in Eastern Kings that “dishes rattling in the cupboard was the sign that somebody was going to die; and a picture falling off the wall was another; and if you opened the stove and the sparks flew at you… that was supposed to mean you'd hear of a death (3).
But the most ominous of signs often had a connection to birds. Some held the belief that if a bird flew in your house, that was somebody was bringing bad news to you soon (3), while others understood that a bird in the house was a sign of a loved one’s impending doom (8). And while these tales are alarming enough, a large flock of birds could be a sign of something much more sinister.
Stories are told, to this day, of an otherworldy flock of birds which was capable of transporting people rapidly, and over considerable distances (3). It was known in Gaelic as the sluagh (pronounced SLOO-ah), which literally meant “a large host or swarm”, although a more contemporary understanding might be "army". Each bird was said to represent a spirit of the restless dead, or of a sinner.
If you were caught out at night, or even in your home with the doors or windows open in the dark, the sluagh could pick you up and carry you off. In some cases, the sluagh would come to take you away to the afterlife, and you would never be seen again. Those who did survive the sluagh found themselves far from their homes, often in the wilderness, with no memory of the preceding hours, or how they came to be there (8).
Theresa Wilson of Goose River recalls the story of her grandfather’s encounter with the sluagh (3). Her grandfather was known to be a hard worker, and he slept soundly at night as a result of this. One night, after a particularly hard day in the fields, he came home and fell asleep, and when he next awoke it was morning time, and he found himself lying on the train tracks, several miles away. It was only by the vibrations of the train coming down the tracks that he even woke up at all. He was convinced that it had been the sluagh which had carried him there.
The Big Swamp in Bayfield was also said to be a haunt of the sluagh, and many people have had run-ins with this powerful force near the swamp. Ronnie Gillis was once walking through the swamp at night, when suddenly he found himself miles away with no memory of how he got there (8). In another instance, John Joe MacPhee was walking from Rock Barra to Bayfield, past the swamp, when a cold wind hit him. After that he had no memory of what happened, and when he came to his senses he found himself lost in the depths of the swamp, and it took him hours to find his way out (8).
Perhaps inexplicably, the most effective defense against the sluagh was to keep the leg of your pants rolled up at all times, as that was said to be the best way to ensure that the sluagh wouldn’t take you (3). This claim is often attested to in tales of the sluagh, and is repeated in various sources (8). Few other methods of sluagh prevention are known, however it was thought that the sluagh was thought to arrive only from the west, and one other method of preventing the sluagh included keeping west facing windows closed, especially at night.
And while these stories may strike the modern reader as bizarre, there are still those who lend credence to their veracity. The Island Narrative Program of UPEI records that some people who still, even today, wind their windows up when passing the Big Swamp in Bayfield (8), and it is still a common practice among many Islander when driving to “cross your crows”, which means to make the sign of a small cross over crows who cross your path, in order to ward off bad luck.
Ghost Candles and Will-O-The-Wisps
An ever-present part of the Island life back in those days were visions of the dead; visitations by spirits or ghosts which heralded imminent death or could foresee the future. These visions were as mysterious as they were frequent, and could appear to anyone at anytime, however night was when they were most often manifest.
One form in which the otherworldly made themselves known was through the appearance of lights, which were known at the time by their Gaelic name, the "dreag" (3). In modern terms, these visions were known as ghost candles. These lights could be fleeting or playful, and were always a clear indicator that something supernatural was afoot.
As Shaw writes, one example of these lights occurred when a father was walking home, late at night, after finishing his work on a neighbour’s farm. The road was dark and black, the sky clouded overhead, and he was surprised by the sudden apparition of a small, floating ball of light which hovered over his shoulder. The light stayed with him, following home, and the father knew with increasing dread that something was to fear beyond his own farm gate. To his dismay, when he arrived home, he discovered that his young son had died that very evening, and the light of the dreag, thought to be the spirit of the little boy, had guided him home.
Another example of this was witnessed by an entire family. Early one winter morning, the family, consisting of a mother, a father, and their son, were gathered around the table in the kitchen eating breakfast. This was long before sunrise, and everyone at the table was startled when a sudden flash of bright light shone in the kitchen window, illuminating all three of them, before fading away as suddenly as it had come. Their son had been ill for some time prior, and the father took this to be a sign of the boy's impending doom.
The son recuperated nicely, despite the omen, and the father was relieved, until he himself took ill only a week later and suddenly died. The family was grief-stricken, and not long after the burial the mother too contracted pneumonia and passed away, leaving an orphan son, the lone survivor of the vision of the bright light (3). Such a spectacle was so compelling, so convincing, that even the Reverend attested that it could only have been a forerunner, some otherworldly act of intervention (3).
Another instance of a ghost candle occurred in the Glen, and was witnessed by Roderick MacPhee, father of Nellie Roddie, who claimed to have seen a "ball of fire". According to the story, “one night, Roderick was at a card game in the Glen when a large fight broke out. Getting scared, Roderick left for home. As he was leaving, he saw a large ball of fire that started to follow him. He ran faster and the ball followed him quicker. The faster he ran, the faster the ball came after him. As he rushed in the house door, he slammed the door shut and the flaming ball disappeared. He believed the ball to be the devil, and also believed the devil to be in the cards.” The connection between the devil and playing cards was a common one, and in those days card games were believed to be a sin (9).
Ghost candles weren't the only way in which spirits made themselves known, however. Many supernatural sightings more often took the form of visions, ghostly apparitions, or visitations, which were known as forerunners, as they were said to "foretell" something about the future. And while many people reported experiences with forerunners, some people were more attuned to these visions than others. One such person, Donald MacDonald, of Bear River, was known for his glimpses of these apparitions and omens, and would often make dire predictions based upon what he saw. He was a man plagued by the supernatural, and would often report that he could not even sleep in his own home, as the dishes in the cupboard would rattle and the stove-lids would shake in their places (4).
In one often told example of Donald’s visions, when he was leaving the home of his neighbours, Joe and Julia Gaudet, he stopped abruptly on the deck, and skirted around the perimeter of the verandah, avoiding some unseen obstacle in his way. When questioned about it, he said that he had just walked around a coffin. This message struck fear into the hearts of those around, and it was only days later when Joe’s brother Aeneas was tragically killed in a work accident. The wake was held in Joe’s home, and when the pallbearers, Donald included, were carrying the casket into the house, they were forced to set it down in order to make adjustments to the door to allow it to fit. They set it on the deck, in the very place where Donald had seen it lying days earlier (4).
In another instance, Donald stopped what he was doing as he stood out in the yard, and those around him asked what was going on. Sombrely he reported that he had just witnessed a funeral procession go by, and that death was to be expected. Sure enough, not even a week later, a neighbour, young Sarah Gallant took ill and died, and her funeral procession passed by the house, just as Donald had predicted it would (4).
Another example of a forerunner, this time from near Naufrage, foretold the death of a young child in a family of MacDonalds. For several nights in a row Mrs. MacDonald had been having difficulty sleeping. Her youngest child, only an infant, wasn’t well, but she admitted that this wasn’t what was keeping her up. The problem, she revealed to her husband after several sleepless nights, was the noise she continued to hear outside the bedroom window, late at night. It was a hollow, wooden, thumping noise, but when she would peer out the window she could see nothing. Her husband assured her that it was of no consequence, but still it weighed heavily upon her mind.
Mrs. MacDonald soon found something else to fret over, for only a day or two later her infant baby died. Sadness and grief overwhelmed the home as funeral preparations commenced. Up in the bedroom, the weeping mother prepared her baby’s body, while outside her husband constructed a child-sized coffin, the saddest of things. He had only just finished the coffin when he picked it up to carry it inside, but he stumbled as he went, falling forward and knocking the coffin against the side of the house. The clatter that ensued --the hollow, wooden, thump -- was enough to make Mrs. MacDonald’s blood run cold, for it was the exact sound which had been keeping her awake each and every night. The child was quickly buried, and the sound was never heard again.
Fairies have played a role in Island folklore since the first settlers arrived here, something that perhaps bears testament to early settlers' roots in Scotland and Ireland. Fairy Hill, located in Gowan Brae, was once thought to be home to the largest tree on the Island, and fairies are still said to be found in the spring on the Hermanville road near Naufrage. But unlike the typical image of fairies found in popular stories, the fairies on the Island have rarely been known to be kind, and the stories most often shared are dire tales of warning, of punishment or mischief at the hands of these tiny creatures.
The Glen was infamous for fairies, and this is noted even by the Province of Prince Edward Island in their archive of scenic wood roads (3). Wooded areas were known to be haunts of these fairy-folk, and their voices and laughter would echo through the forest, often being mistaken for that of a child. Curious children who lived nearby were taught to pay no notice to these voices. Those children who didn't heed their parents' warnings and followed the voices were led deeper and deeper into the woods until they were hopelessly lost; such was the fairies' aim.
One well known tale of the trouble caused by fairies that of a man who lived in the Glen, who claimed that fairies had gotten into his barn. They began to pull tricks and play mischief on him, to the point that he had no other means of eradicating them, and so in desperation he set fire to the barn. It burned away in a blaze of flames and smoke, but to his dismay the fairies then appeared inside his house. He again tried what methods he could, but could find no way to rid himself of their presence, and sadly burned his own house in order to rid himself of his tormentors (1). He even burned his outbuildings and tool sheds, leaving nothing standing in his attempt to get rid of them. In the end his only recourse was to abandon his property altogether, whereafter he was taken in by Harry Dixon, in the Baltic (1).
The fairies were known as tricksters, it was said that the best way to rid one’s self of them was to outdo them at their own game, and to beat them in a trick. One such method of escaping the fairies that has been attested to up East, was to run across the rows of a potato field. The fairies, being so small, couldn’t climb over the furrows, and would instead have to run up and down the rows, zig-zagging back and forth, leaving enough time for anyone to escape (1).
Not all encounters with fairies were wicked, and on a kinder note there is the story of Togany the Fairy. As the story goes, there was an early settler named Peter MacPhee who had staked his claim in Rock Barra. His property had a beautiful little spring on it, with no need for a well, and Peter would draw his water from this spring. One day, when he was down at the spring, he fell asleep, and later awoke to the sound of piping. To his surprise, a fairy had climbed out of the spring and was piping music for Peter. The fairy told the man that his name was Togany (Toganaidh in the original Gaelic), and agreed to teach the music to Peter, who could also play the pipes (1,2). Peter rushed home, returned with his pipes, and the little creature taught him what came to be known as Togany’s Reel.
This was many years ago, and unfortunately the spring which once was the home of the fairies has now dried up, however they say that the remnants of Peter’s cabin, little more than post holes, can still be found (1).
Another instance of a Prince Edward Island “fairy” comes to us a from an article in The Island magazine, which has reprinted an earlier article from the Examiner of 7 January 1893. This story surrounds the case of “Kelly’s Fairy”, as the creature was known at the time. It takes place in a pioneer village in King’s County, where a young couple, by the surname Kelly, gave birth to a son who was perfect in every way. The family was normal and happy, the child was healthy and rosy, and the Kelly parents spared no kindness or affection towards the boy, who was their greatest treasure in life.
But all that changed one October morning when, against the better intentions of his wife, Mr. Kelly persuaded her to leave the child alone in the crib while they worked out in the field to bring in the harvest of potatoes. When they returned to the house around noon, the parents were surprised to find that their child had taken on a visage of distemper, that he looked sour and puckered, as if he had become calamitously ill. Mrs. Kelly did all that she could to comfort the child, but it was to no avail; this callous and crooked disposition settled permanently over the child, despite all her efforts to the contrary. It was as if he was a completely changed creature.
Word soon spread of the misfortune of the Kelly family, and rumor began to spread that the child which Mrs. Kelly held in her arms was not in fact her own, but that it was a changeling; that her true child had been taken away by the fairies and this creature had been left in its place. Mrs. Kelly wished not to believe it, but even she was unable to entirely dispel the doubt that the rumours had sown. And so, the child soon came to be known as Kelly’s Fairy.
As if this weren’t tragic enough, Mrs. Kelly’s husband, the child’s father, soon took ill and before long he had been swept into an early grave, leaving behind a widow and a disturbed child. As the child grew, it was all that Mrs. Kelly could do to provide for her child and keep a home, and it was only through the goodwill and pity of her neighbours that they were kept from starvation. The charity of visitations, however, was more infrequently offered, for as Kelly’s Fairy grew he became violent, explosive, and angry. He was behave as if possessed, with emotions ranging from fury to feckless, leaving his mother at her wit’s end.
This continued until the boy was nineteen years of age, when he suddenly sickened and died. Word spread rapidly that Kelly’s Fairy was no more, and whether out of concern or curiosity, the entire countryside turned out to the wake, in hopes of seeing the fairy boy. The body was laid out in the little home, as was the custom at the time, and neighbours flooded in from near and far.
The Fairy’s corpse proved to be a fearful sight indeed, for just as he had lived a harsh and aberrant existence, so too had he died. His body had been withered and angular, and try as the widow may, she could not straighten her son’s body entirely, even in death. As a result, he lay in wake with hunched shoulders and bent knees, a frightening visage for all those who sought him out.
One such neighbour, a large Irishman known only in the records as ‘Terence’, was called by curiosity to see the body, but as he made his way to the wake he took the time to stop in at the tavern and have more than enough to drink, ensuring that he would be plenty warm and watered by the time he arrived. As he walked the rest of the way to the wake the crisp autumn air permitted him to keep his wits about him, but once he entered the small little home of the widow, sweltering with the heat of dozens of bodies, the liquor struck him fast and firm, and it was all he could do to keep on his feet.
Being a good Catholic he removed his hat and made his way to the body of the boy, but the liquor proved to be too much for him. He was jostled, only slightly, from behind, and before he knew it he had taken a spill and had tumbled onto the corpse. The force of the Irishman falling onto the body did what no one else had been able to, and forcefully set the fairy’s legs straight. This had the unfortunate result, however, of sending a shock through the seized sinews of the legs and torso, resulting in the boy’s upper body spring upward in response, to the horror of those gathered. And, as if this weren’t enough, those wicked gases which are known to accrue in the body of the recently deceased, having been trapped by the boy’s previously angular composure, were suddenly released in a horribly putrid wave of exhaust, escaping in such a way so as to sound like a final damning curse from the seemingly reanimated corpse.
Those who were gathered howled in fright and fled from the little home, but there were none so terrified as Terence, who flung the corpse away, screaming “Mother of God, I’ve brought Kelly’s fairy alive again!” (5). Events such as this were more than any tiny settlement could handle, and so a coffin was hastily constructed, and the boy was buried that very night, in the dark, so that by the time the sun rose the next morning, there was nothing but a small burial mound to remind the world of Kelly’s fairy.
To learn more about the history, culture, and folklore of Prince Edward Island, join us on our Harbour History Tour, experience our Red Red Tour, or join us for one of our story-telling events.
EARLY DAYS OF LIQUOR
In years gone by you never had to venture far to find a drink, and in that respect little has changed over the years. Whether it be at a kitchen party or wedding reception, at the wharf, or even at a wake, Islanders are known to take a sip of the good stuff when they feel the time is right. Such is tradition, and it is a tradition that dates back to the earliest foundations of the Island community.
At the time of Souris’ founding, not unlike any other community, it was the farmers and merchants who kept the villages alive. And in those days, to those who had a license to sell liquor, it was just another profitable commodity in their store, tavern or hotel (1). But that’s not to say that liquor wasn’t a problem; in those days of flowing taps and loose regulation, it was often the smell of liquor which hung like a pall over a town.
Even by the 1860s there was vocal opponents to the open sale and consumption of alcohol, but those who advocated temperance were only small voices awash in a sea of booze. At this time there were nearly a dozen shops and taverns selling alcohol between Souris East and Souris West, and as such, it was said that there is “little wonder Souris has such an unsavory reputation in many parts” (1).
Yet the residents of Souris weren’t solely to blame for the alcoholic epidemic which gripped the area. As a seaside town with a sturdy harbor, Souris played host on a nightly basis to countless sailors and seamen who would come ashore in search of drink and disorder, and those businesses which depended on them were all too willing to oblige. It is said that liquor flowed six days a week out the front door the town’s taverns, and that even on Sunday the back doors were never locked.
SAILORS TAKE THE SHORE
As Townshend writes, “the impact on Souris of the American fishing fleet was probably to make fighters of many of the youngsters who grew up between 1865 and 1885… liquor was cheap and easy to obtain and many of those who drank wanted to demonstrate their fighting abilities. It was a period when the merchants shuttered their windows every night and unbarred them every morning” (1).
One particularly unruly incident occurred in August of 1887, when a major storm forced all of the American fleet inland into the harbor. A staggering 800 foreign fishermen came ashore that evening, easily outnumbering the residents of the town. The Chief Officer on duty, who had been sent to keep the peace, was drugged by the fishermen, and in his absence the men were free to behave as wildly as they pleased. They even cut the buttons and badge off of the poor Officer’s uniform, and later, when the incident was reported, he stood trial for neglect of duty (1).
Another occasion, now known as “Axe Handle Night”, illustrates the volatility of the situation in Souris when liquor and sailors mixed. The incident began near the old Carleton store around 8:00PM (1). 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 fishermen. Both sides armed themselves with sticks and axe handles (1). 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 (1).
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 (1).
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”.
THE SCOTT ACT
Such incidents were no doubt on the minds of legislators in 1878, when Senator R.W. Scott brought in the Canadian Temperance Act, the first measure of the Federal Government to control the sale and use of alcohol. It passed the same year and became known as the Scott Act. It provided total prohibition on liquor sales in any area of the country, except for medicinal use (1).
In June 1901, Prince Edward Island became the first province to adopt the Scott Act. Interestingly, the Island was subsequently the last to repeal the act in 1948. This meant that for 47 years alcohol was prohibited in the province, and ironically it was arguably during those 47 years that alcohol most freely flowed.
The effectiveness of the Scott Act was deemed questionable from the very beginning, and according to the Examiner, “The Scott Act is in operation or rather was adopted...but is as dead as Julius Caesar and ten illicit liquor shops are in full blast from which foreign fishermen get full supplies and thereafter make nights hideous with their shocking profanity, fighting and general rowdyism” (1).
J.J. Hughes, Mayor of Souris and Liberal Member of the House of Commons, reported “that every possible device was being used to circumvent the provincial laws. Liquor was flooding into his province hidden in flour barrels, boot boxes” and every other conceivable manner of concealment (1).
It was from these methods that rum-running, the practice of smuggling contraband alcohol to shore, developed into the booming and raucous industry it became in the early half of the twentieth century. There are few alive today who fully remember the impact that rum-running had on the Island, but it is still well known that the North shore of King’s County, with the help of ships like the Nellie J. Banks, was one the focal points of the whole ordeal.
Prince Edward Island’s enactment of the Scott Act was reason enough for Islanders to seek out other means of procuring and imbibing the dangerous drink, but they soon set their sights on a bigger target. In 1920, when the United States enacted prohibition, rum-runners found themselves poised to reap a fortune by supplying smuggled rum to the parched hordes of Americans who now found themselves dry.
Fate, it seemed, had dealt island smugglers a perfect hand.
The little-known island of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which belongs to France, was one of the only jurisdictions in North America which was not subject to prohibition. And as luck would have it for Island rum-runners, ships departing from St. Pierre and Miquelon were within close proximity to Prince Edward Island’s waters. Once this connection was made, the stage was set, and Islander’s began smuggling rum at an unprecedented rate.
The set-up was clever in its simplicity; a twelve-mile limit had been established by the provincial government, and anyone found to be in possession of alcohol within this limit was under the jurisdiction of Prince Edward Island. The waters outside of twelve miles though were anyone’s game. Ships from St. Pierre and Miquelon would be scheduled to arrive at a certain time and place, just outside the limit and always under the cover of night. Local men, typically on fishing boats, would then sail out to meet the ships, buy the rum, and head back to shore.
Great care had to be paid though, lest they be apprehended by the authorities, and in response to this ever present threat all manners of cunning schemes were devised to evade authorities. One such scheme was to arrange to meet the French ships based upon the cycles of the tide, so that when the rum was loaded onto the Islander’s boats they would reach the shore at low tide.
Then, instead of moving the rum as the police may have expected, it would be buried in the exposed sand bar and hidden away, safe from accidental discovery or interference. That way officers found only empty vehicles at their checkpoints. Several nights later, when there was no tip-off of any rum arrivals, the rum-runners would return to the beach and unearth their buried treasure.
FATE’S PERFECT HAND
But the most clever method of all was one recalled by an old timer who was only a young boy at the time, who was out on one of his first runs when they were intercepted by a police boat. All of the bottles of rum had been hidden in burlap sacks of sugar, but the boy was convinced that the police would still find them.
Panicked, he threw all the sacks overboard, where they sunk to the bottom. This ensured that the police found no trace of rum, but the rum-runner was so angry that he threatened to throw the boy overboard. He was spared only by a disturbance which the Captain noticed upon the water. The boy looked, and to his disbelief he saw that the sacks which had sunk to the bottom were now floating alongside the boat. All of the sugar had slowly dissolved, and the rum and floated back to the top.
The boy had saved the day, and a new method had been discovered to evade the watchful eyes of the police, something which continued to the very end of prohibition on Prince Edward Island in 1948.
But for those who would not, or could not, take to the sea in pursuit of a drink, moonshining proved to be a viable option. Moonshine could be made at affordably at home, and could be done without attracting much attention from neighbours or law enforcement. In actuality, the greatest impediment to a budding moonshiner was not police interference, but the disapproval of an on-looking wife or mother, aghast at the use of the kitchen utensils, particularly on a Sunday.
And while methods varied somewhat, the end result was always the same. Corn, potatoes, apples, even beets could be used as a base, and when distilled would yield a product which would tolerably pass as moonshine. Molasses and brown sugar were always key ingredients as well. As Knight writes, “the culture of moonshine is strong in rural Canadian areas where people are used to making everything from scratch, cherish a healthy disrespect for politics and the law, and have plenty of acreage to work in total obscurity” (2). Such was the case in eastern Prince Edward Island as the Scott Act held in place.
Stills could be set up in kitchens, basements, or backwoods, and with the right care and attention the shine would be flowing in no time. One had to be protective of their stills though. To have a known still opened one’s self up to theft from those desperate for a drink, be they neighbours, teens, or vagabonds.
The problem was not easily solved though, as it was not merely as simply as bringing the shine into the house. To do so would be to risk to discovery by the police if they did search your home. Instead, inventive methods were devised in order to keep to the shine hidden in plain sight. One such method involved hinging certain steps on the stairs to create a hiding place. Another common method was an old fashioned burial; this was one of the safest methods, although you remained open to theft, or loss due to forgetfulness.
It is said that one infamous moonshiner from the northside buried every ounce of shine that he made down by the stream, in order to hide it from his wife. When word got out about these burials, it didn’t long for people to begin searching for the shine late at night. Sometimes they got lucky, and this shiner was forced to hide them better and bury them deeper the next time around. To this day, down near the spring, there remain divots in the ground where the shine was once concealed, and new holes appear from time to time, but whether they are dug out of desperation or curiosity remains unknown.
PRESENT DAY PRACTICE
Unlike rum-running, which saw its glory days come and go, moonshine is ever popular and readily available on the Island to this day, and eastern PEI remains a leader in the production and consumption of the drink. And while the homemade, under the table stuff remains a perpetual staple in Island homes, the Myriad View Distillery in Rollo Bay offers PEI’s only legally produced moonshine, which is sold across the Island and marketed as Strait Shine. It is potent stuff, and it has served as a wonderful way to introduce those ‘from away’ to a part of an Island tradition which they may never have had the opportunity to experience otherwise.
1. Townshend, Adele. Ten Farms Become a Town. 1986. Print.
2. Knight, Ivy. "Moonshine Runs Through the Veins of Prince Edward Island". Munchies-VICE. 22 Sep 2014. Web.
Prince Edward Island is a place like no other, and there is no better way to discover this place than to experience things hands on. The most unforgettable summer memories don’t just happen, they’re made, and at Red Rock Adventure Company, we want to help you make a memory to last a lifetime with one of our guided tours.
Situated at the beautiful Naufrage Harbour, we are fortunate to be able to show travelers from across the country and around the world how to make their very own dirt shirts. It is a unique slice of Island life which has been a proud (if not messy) tradition for generations.
It seems so simple, right? Grab a shirt, get it dirty, and let Nature do the rest. Not quite! The formula for making a dirt shirt is a little more complicated than that. It all starts at our shop, where we supply you with the shirt, a bike, and everything else you need to get rolling. All that you need to bring is a good pair of shoes and a sense of adventure!
Departing from our shop you’ll be led by our friendly tour guide as you leave the harbor and head for the beach. It’s less than a kilometer down to Cow River beach, and as you cycle down the dirt road toward the shore you will be greeted by a splendid view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Shorebirds are a common sight here, as are eagles, and as the river spills over the sand towards the sea you’ll be sure to catch a glimpse of the wildlife from atop the cliff.
From there we head down to the beach, destined for the rocky sandstone outcroppings which provide the location for our secret ingredient: red Island clay. And this is the key to the whole experience; although all Island “dirt” is red, it takes something special to make a lasting dirt shirt. The soil from a farmer’s field, or even that from a dirt road just won’t cut it. It will make a mess, but it won’t do much more than that.
On the contrary, the slippery clay which seeps out of the sand stone cliffs in just a few locations is the real deal. It is concentrated, potent, and hard to find. Don’t be fooled by other products posing; our shirts are the only ones hand made with real dirt in the great outdoors.
After a short hike to the cliffs, it’s time to get messy. Your guide will show which clay will work best, and how to find it. He’ll point out the best hidden reserves, and how to avoid just plain old dirt. Once you’ve found a spot, your artistic side takes over. The premise is simple: anything that is clean needs to get dirty. Our guides have learned a few tips and tricks which they’re always happy to share, but if you’re making a mess, chances are you’re on the right track.
The front and back of your shirt needs to be well covered in equal measure for best results, and it is crucial not to miss any spots. Patterns, designs, and tie-dye style can all be applied too. After both sides are covered, the shirt needs to be rinsed to prepare for the second stage. This is where things get really fun. You need to wade into the warm water of the Atlantic and rinse the shirt until the water dripping from it runs clean.
This will leave you with a pretty good shirt, but it isn’t finished yet. It’s time for a second round of clay, and this is the finishing round. The clay needs to be ground in well, and it should spread smooth, like peanut butter. Once you think it’s ready, spread it out nice and neat on the rocks to let it bake in the sun. It doesn’t take long for the color to set in. When your guide gives you the OK, it’s time to take it back into the water and wring it clean once more.
When everyone is finished we head back up to the bikes, dirty, wet, and fulfilled. From there it is a scenic bike ride back to the harbor, not more than a mile, where you ride downhill into Naufrage, cycling past the beach and over the harbor bridge, catching a glimpse of Island scenery at its finest.
All of this is messy business, and you can’t be afraid to get dirty. It’s fun for the whole family, whether you’re young, or young at heart, and is a great experience for groups of any size. Best of all, it leaves you with a lasting souvenir of your trip to Prince Edward Island, something unique which can’t simply be bought at a store.
It has been said of the lobster industry that “nothing — not the fall of governments or birth of kings or the discovery of new galaxies — is of so much importance and interest as the question of whether the boats will be able to go out today, and whether the lobsters will be crawling”. This sentiment, it seems, remains as true today as ever before.
And while some things, such as the ever pertinent questions of the winds and the waves remaining static, there is much in the lobster industry that has changed over the past 300 years, from the fisheries’ humble beginnings to its indelible place in our Island culture today.
In the earliest days of the industry, lobster were eaten out of necessity, not out of desire, as they were readily available in numbers of great abundance. They would be gathered, as needed, along the shore, or found in tidal pools when the tide receded. Lobsters were much more plentiful then, and in dire times they provided the sustenance needed for a family to survive.
The availability of lobster was attested to in one of the earliest known references to Atlantic lobster, noted by a Captain Leigh in 1597 as he sailed near Cape Breton, where in a letter he wrote that “there are the greatest multitude of lobsters that ever we heard of; for we caught at one haul with a little draw net [more than] 140."
This could scarcely be considered industry, though, and it wasn’t until around 1850 that lobster traps as we would know them today began to appear. It was in these days that men finally ventured out to the sea in order to reign in the humble lobster, taking to the water in small, handcrafted boats which the men would use well within the sight of shore. This was backbreaking work, navigating the waters under only the power of a set of oars or a small sail, but it was sufficient to bring home enough to get by on.
A "Poor Man's Food"
The prevalence of lobster in the hands of the working poor, coupled with its admittedly alien features, soon gave rise to the notion, on the Island and abroad, that lobster was something of a “poor man’s food”. This is a notion that is well attested to, even to this day, in Island parlance, as well as in written reference. It even became common practice to serve tenants and employees lobster so frequently that rules were put into place specifying that they could not be forced to eat lobster more than three times per week.
Such rules were not to be implemented when it came to the preparation of lunches by school aged children, and meager mothers were often forced to prepare lobster sandwiches for the school day. There were those students whose pride was stronger than their hunger, who would scrape the lobster off on the way to school, and instead pretend that they had a butter sandwich instead. A butter sandwich is no regal meal either, and so for it to be considered loftier than one of lobster is quite telling.
The Cannery Is King
It wasn’t long after this time that a proper market was established when lobster canning factories began to spring up around the Island. The invention of better canning and sealing technologies meant that now lobster could be stored and preserved for a much longer amount of time, allowing the seafood product to be shipped greater distances without spoiling. This opened up a lucrative market, both in the United States and Europe, where millions of people were willing to splurge on what was increasingly coming to be considered a delicacy, considering its exotic sea-side origin. Factories were built at Cow River, Basin Head, Fortune, Sheep Pond, and North Lake, just to name a few.
With the dawn of a new century came improved methods of boat construction, which permitted the fishermen to venture ever further onto the water, resulting in increased catches and yields. It was this time, too, that saw the establishment of a fisherman’s territory, something which has been honored, not by any outside legality, but by custom and tradition alone, to this very day. The fishing limits, zones, and boundaries which were established in those early days of lobster fishing were informal, and were done so only out of best practice.
However, as the water became further populated by more and more men entering the industry, those previously established locales remained the right of the earlier owner to fish. When a fishing license was handed down from one generation to another, so too were the rights to fish in a given area, a tradition which has continued.
And so, to return to the present day, much remains the same. On the daily fisherman set out at dawn or early to haul in their traps, the design of which has changed very little since their introduction. Boats are now made commercially, however traps are still built by hand during the long winter months, as fishermen await “setting day”, which is typically around the end of April. Lobster are still hauled ashore at the harbor, where fish buyers wait to purchase the catch and ship it off to market. And behind it all remains the ever-present connection to the sea, the Island, to the way of life which has kept food on the table for generations of Island families. It is an industry steeped in history and tradition; an industry that will surely continue to be an integral part of the Island way of life for generations to come.
To learn more about lobster fishing and the lobster industry, to experience the catch of the day being hauled into the harbor, and to discover life at one of the Island’s liveliest harbours, check out Red Rock’s daily Harbour History tour.
 Bidgood, Jess. “A Fisherman Tries Farming”. New York Times. 10 October 2017.
 Johnston, J.B. “The Early Days of the Lobster Fishery in Atlantic Canada”. Canadian Parks Service. 1991.
 “Lobstering History”. Gulf of Maine Research Institute. 24 February 2012.
 Johnston, J.B. “The Early Days of the Lobster Fishery in Atlantic Canada”. Canadian Parks Service. 1991.
 “Lobstering History”. Gulf of Maine Research Institute. 24 February 2012.
This article is part of an on-going series exploring the history of Eastern Prince Edward Island. The locations and people detailed below can be explored more fully as a part of the cultural tours which we offer. See our main page for more information.
This article was inspired and assisted through the photos and stories found in Bonnie Townshend's book, "The Road to Fortune"; a book which contains a plethora of stories, photos, and memories. We thank Bonnie for her hard work and research.
Bay Fortune, it seems, has had its fair share of fame and celebrity in its past, stretching all the way back to the infamous case of Pearce and Abel. But Fortune’s connections to such memorable moments in history are not merely a thing of the past, for they live on today in the remaining artifacts and stories which the colorful characters who once called the area home have left behind.
Previous editions of this blog have touched upon the curious case of Captain Kidd’s treasure, an article which highlighted its connection to another part of the area’s history, namely the Actor’s Colony at Bay Fortune.
It may still be remarked upon as a puzzling development as to how this Colony came to be, for despite the beauty of the Bay it was a long and distant journey for these American “colonists” to find their way here. But as Peake writes, Fortune “was a perfect retreat for these actors, actresses and writers of the American stage who required the renewal of peace and tranquility” (2).
Better yet, to quote a contemporary of this colony, a Mr. Charles Flockton, of whom you will soon become familiar, “Abells Cape, situated at the mouth of Fortune River, was at that time a charming old world spot… from the high cliff of red sandstone on which it stood, a narrow path wound its way down to a somewhat delapidated wharf in the immediate foreground. There the local fishermen moored their boats, stowed gear and dried their nets" (1).
"Whether this more or less romantic background was responsible for the attraction the Cape possessed for thespians, one can only conjecture. The fact remains however, that many veterans of the stage were to be encountered there, or in its immediate vicinity, summer after summer" (1).
Such is no doubt true, and in fact it is this very notion of retreat and solace which continues to draw visitors to the area today.
Establishing a Colony
In order to uncover the specific genesis of this Colony, we would be remiss to overlook Charles Coughlan, for it is the case that this story too begins (and seemingly ends) with him.
Charles Coughlan was initially brought to the Island after seeing a leaflet advertising it in New York. He was an avid sports fisher, and this led him eventually to Fortune, where he was immediately smitten by the place. There was, at this time, already extant a small cottage on Abel’s Cape, as is alluded to above, one which he rented immediately and spent the summer in with his wife and daughter. By the conclusion of the summer he was so enamored with Bay Fortune that he purchased the “Cape House” outright (1).
The next summer, with tales of the wonderful Island alight in his mind, Coughlan returned to Fortune, having extended invitations to many of his theatrical friends, thus laying the groundwork for the future actor’s colony (3). Attracted by Coughlan’s own residence, C.P. Flockton soon followed him to Fortune and purchased three different properties in the Fortune area.
Charles P. Flockton and the Flockton Comedy Company
For while Coughlan was the progenitor of the Actor’s Colony, it was surely Flockton who brought it to life, making it the prosperous summer settlement that it became, as without him it would never have been.
Flockton, or “Flockie” as he was known by his friends at the time, was an amiable and sociable character, who had risen to prominence first in England, and then in New York City. It is said that Oscar Wilde wanted Flockton to be in his first play, “Vera the Nihilist”, and he was noted as being “among the best stock actors in America" (4).
Jessie Millward, in his 1923 book “Myself and Others”, remembered Flockie as “a dear old English gentleman who bore the most extraordinary likeness to [Henry] Irving. Indeed he always vowed that he had been compelled to leave England because Irving was so like him. A most lovable and quaint personality" (4).
Under Flockton, the colony was truly something to be remarked upon. It became an intricate collection of cottages and houses rented by some of the most notable actors of the American east coast. Further pamphlets were printed to attract others, highlighting some of the features of the area. This included an illustration of what is now known as Fortune Back Beach, under the name of “Sea Gull Beach”, and advertised trout fishing, deep sea fishing, and sun bathing, as well as row boats for hire and a schooner, the “Stroller”, for rent, permitting his guests to go sailing (5).
Things were not always utopic under Flockton’s lead at the Colony however. For reasons not entirely known (although Carrington offers much conjecture in the way of booze), Flockie and the Actors often found themselves falling upon hard times. Not unlike the extant trope of the done-hard-by actor, proper planning for meals, sustenance, and amenities often went by the wayside, resulting in sometimes dire situations.
As Carrington recounts, “every sort of domestic essential was lacking, even food. Of that only a small quantity remained - tea, bread, butter, potatoes; of linen, crockery, cutlery, and kitchen utensils there were practically none.” This would have been tolerable for the small crowd which was staying at the Colony, but as luck would have it, the schooner “Stroller” arrived that night, bearing a multitude of weary and hungry guests, all desperate for sustenance. Given that Flockie’s credit had already been exhausted at Prowse Bros. store, they were uncertain where they should turn (1).
Then sprung to their minds the very notion of bountiful trout which had in the first place drawn Coughlan to the area. Warwick and Carrington, both armed with a fishing rod, set out to feed the masses, but upon their return it was found that their “few” fish were hardly enough to feed twelve hungry boarders. The next morning this uppity crowd, fresh from the haute-couture scene of New York and Boston life, found themselves scavenging the rocks of the harbour in search of breakfast. Their effort was rewarded with no fewer than 50 small lobsters, supplemented by several flounders which some of the more talented actors managed to spear. As Carrington recalled at the time, they were no better off than the Swiss Family Robinson (1).
What salvation these fishes were, they did not last long, and a desperate sense of starvation fell upon them all once more. It was then that the idea was hatched to retrieve seagull eggs from the aforementioned Sea Gull Beach, an idea which at the time was met with great gusto. Upon storming the beach the castaways discovered not merely seagull eggs, but the delicacy of plover eggs, such as were fit for royalty. Spirits were elevated on high as the eggs were carried home, spirits not to be broken until a proclamation of “rotten” rained tragedy upon those gathered, perhaps fittingly so (1).
Sustenance and survival came only at the eleventh hour when, through some miracle of fate or fortune, credit was re-established at the local store, permitting those gathered to eat, as Carrington recalls, “at almost regular intervals.”
It may be seen that the ultimate fate of the Flockton Comedy Company was foretold in the earlier proclamation of the plover eggs. Carrington explains that there were two successful performances in Souris, “after which began the decline and fall of the Flockton Comedy Company. Four one-night stands, all unprofitable, brought us to Charlottetown, the capital and our Waterloo. Our first night's performance in that delightful little city realized some 30 dollars. Of the entertainment itself let us be charitable and preserve a discreet silence. It was stigmatized by one native as "chronic."” This itself was painful, but not fatal. The following night yielded only nine paying patrons. By the last night, the played to an empty theatre (1).
That proved to be the final call for the Flockton Comedy Company, which disbanded a few nights later. Flockie was compelled to mortgage his property (yet again) in order to finance passage back to America for his compatriots. This he did, although it was later discovered that such paltry tickets did not include “such trivial items as meals” (1). Were it not for the kindness of those others onboard, it is certain that the destitute company would have starved.
As for Flockton, he had but little life left within him. He died only a few years later, in 1904, on a train on his way to California, at the age of 76. It had been his final wishes to have his remains cremated and his ashes spread upon Abel’s Cape, where he had enjoyed his halcyon days. This wish was carried out by the husband of Kate Claxton, and over his ashes was erected a sundial, bearing the phrase, “the timely shadow marks another hour in your absence” (1)(6). The sundial remains to this day, and on this subject Millward adds that “the natives [of Bay Fortune] always vowed that the dead actor's ghost "walked" upon these cliffs. “If it did,” he concludes, “ I'm sure it would never have harmed anybody” (6).
Meet the Warwicks
One of the most notable actors at the colony was Mr. Henry Warwick (often known as Harry), who came to Fortune with his wife Elsa in the late 1800s. Henry was an American actor, while Elsa was originally from Stockholm, Sweden. They were initially guests of C.P. Flockton, but before the turn of the century they had acquired property in the area and built a summer home. At this time Henry belonged to the Vitagraph Company of New York, and Elsa had been a Gibson Girl, and a dancer (5).
In the early 1900s Henry found himself acting in numerous silent and sound films, including “The Cheat”, “Red Hot Romance” and “The Witness for the Defense”. From 1917-1931 he acted in 15 different films. Warwick also tried his hand at script writing, drafting the story “Three Knaves and a Heathen Chinee”, which later went on to become a motion picture.
Henry quickly grew to love his home in Fortune, and just prior to the year 1900, he had opted to remain for the winter, as did a few of the other Actors. Carrington relates a story from that winter, one that is worth repeating here. It was the case that "one bitterly cold mid-winter night, with a blizzard "beginning to make," Henry happened to notice a complete absence of smoke from Cooper's (his neighbour's) chimney. In such a temperature this had very serious implications, leaving him no choice but to investigate (1).
"Through the deep snow he reached Cooper's place, pushed the door open and entered the kitchen. Poor old Cooper lay slumped over an extinct stove, blue with cold and quite unconscious. A coil of rope hung at the back of the door, and taking this down Harry made a couple of loops, which he passed under Cooper's arms. Then, with considerable difficulty, he managed to get the old man on his shoulders and out into the night.
"All this took time. Meanwhile the blizzard had started in earnest, indeed had become formidable. Visibility was lowered to such an extent that only by following the fence could Harry find his way home. At last, almost exhausted, he reached his door. Laying Cooper on the day-bed he proceeded to render what aid he could. Fortunately plenty of whisky was available. Forcing a good stiff glass-full between Cooper's teeth, he covered him up with rugs, made up the fire and retired for the night.
"Next morning Cooper seemed little the worse for his brush with the Enemy. In fact he dismissed the whole affair as a mere incident - didn't realize, in all probability, what an exceedingly close shave he had had.
"But a few winters later brought the tragic finale: a farmer, happening to notice an unfamiliar mound of snow on one of his fields and thinking perhaps some "critter" might have perished and be lying there, kicked the snow away to find, to his amazement, Coopie. This time relief had come too late. Coopie's little moment of sleep, borrowed from death, had been repaid in full."
Despite such occurrences the Warwicks developed a strong attraction to the area, and during Henry’s time as a prominent actor, Elsa found herself more and more drawn to the Island. It proved to be an inevitable affliction, and it didn’t take long before she opted to live in Fortune year round. By 1900, Elsa had moved to Bay Fortune permanently. When Henry retired from acting he joined his wife in Fortune, and the two lived the remainder of their lives there (5).
Elmer Harris and the Inn at Bay Fortune
As was noted in The Guardian in 1918, Elmer Harris was well known at that time as a “celebrated author and playwright from New York" (7). And while this undoubtedly earned him a certain degree of respect in the Fortune area, it is not always this that he is remembered for, but instead as the owner of “the largest and most beautiful summer home on the river, on which he has spent thousands, and continues to improve and add to from year to year” (3)(7).
Mr. Harris was no stranger to the Bay Fortune area around the turn of the century, having been persuaded to visit the area by Flockton. In little time Harris had soon fell in love with it, and in 1908 he bought a piece of property overlooking the Fortune river, and set about the construction of his summer residence, a residence that would one day become the Inn at Bay Fortune.
Just as it is today, Harris’ cottage was a magnificent accomplishment, one which elicited fanfare and admiration from all of those in connection with it. An anonymous letter to the editor of The Guardian, written in September of 1918, and signed only by the pseudonym “Angler”, relates to us that this spectacular home rests upon the most charming of sites, and is, in fact, one of the most extensive modern summer homes in Eastern Canada. To the contemporary reader’s favor, this letter-writer tells us that the home featured a water tower, baths, and hot and cold running water throughout. He also indicates to us that the home was by no means finished, and, as we have read above, received ongoing upgrades and renovations on a yearly basis (7).
Another curious tale developed in regards to Harris’ cottage, and in particular to the tower. It is said that during the war-time era of World War II, from aloft in the tower on the property one was able to spy military vessels and submarines out in the Northumberland Strait, and that on one occasion, through some method of signalling, communication was established between the tower and a vessel at sea (8).
Not long after construction of his cottage, Harris was married in 1913 to Willamino Hennessey. They had two children together, and once these children were grown both he and his wife moved to the Island permanently in the 1950s.
It was also around this time that Harris wrote the script for “Johnny Belinda”, the play that would go on to be one of his most famous. Telling the story of Johnny Belinda, based upon the real life of Lydia Dingwell, of Dingwells Mills, the plot delves into the complexities of rape and innocence in early Canadian life. The title resonates to this day through the naming of Johnny Belinda Creek, on Route 2 in Dingwells Mills (5).
After the illness and death of his wife, the property changed hands several times, before being sold to Colleen Dewhurst, an actress who performed with John Wayne, and who was famously known for her role as Marilla Cuthbert in the movie versions of Anne of Green Gables. Dewhurst and her family summered at the Harris property for many years, enjoying the beauty of Bay Fortune. In 1989 the property was purchased by David Wilmer, who began the process of converting the property into an Inn.
It is through process that the Inn at Bay Fortune came into existence, and its current owners, Michael and Chastity Smith, have upheld its historic tradition and fortitude. They have developed the property into not only a world-renowned attraction, but into a living piece of local history, one which beautifully upholds the spirit and tradition of the Bay Fortune’s Actor’s Colony; a history which continues to be written to this day.
But to finish this tale, and to return in a way to its origins, we direct our attention once more to the Colony’s initiator, Mr. Coughlan. An actor and playwright, Coughlan was born in Paris to Irish parents, and studied acting there, making his stage debut in 1859 as a minor player. As his career developed he later performed in London, playing in a series of increasingly prominent roles. He made his American debut in 1876 in Bulwer-Lytton's Money at Daly's New York theatre. It was not long after this time that Coughlan arrived in Fortune, and it was in Fortune that he penned two plays: “Lady Barter” and “The Royal Box”.
Coughlan’s life was, by all accounts, a thrilling and successful one, as throughout his adult career he continued to split his time between Bay Fortune and the United States, working in the States and relaxing on the Island. He even rose to a fair degree of fame and renown during his lifetime, but it is the case, oddly enough, that his greatest fame was to be found after his death.
In his living years Charles had had some interest in what his death might look like, and it is reported that he once visited a fortune teller who told him that his final resting place would one day be the shores of Prince Edward Island. Such a prediction did not seem out of the question, given his affinity for the province, but fate would soon prove that nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
In his later years he had been acting in Galveston, Texas, when he suddenly fell ill in the Autumn of 1899. Within a month’s time he was dead, and the question then arose as to where to bury his remains. Initially it had been determined that he would be buried in Bay Fortune, but pressure from various acquaintances led officials to determine that his remains would be sent to New York. In the mean time his body had been placed temporarily in the Galveston cemetery.
The decision however proved to be a moot one. Before any action could be taken to move the body, the great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 struck, decimating the cemetery. Many graves were destroyed or washed away, Coughlan’s included. The destruction of this sacred ground, coupled with a multitude of missing bodies, made news headlines across the United States. When Coughlan’s body was still listed as missing several years later, the New York Actor’s Club offered a reward for its safe recovery (10).
None came forward with a reward, and so the story of Coughlan’s coffin was forgotten, that is, until a discovery was made upon the shores of Bay Fortune. Some local fishermen, hauling in their catch of the day, were startled to discover that they had snared something else in their lines. The weight was enormous, and as they pulled it up into their boat they were shocked to discover that it was a coffin. It was a macabre sight to say the least, but what was most astonishing was the name engraved upon the weathered and beaten placard: Charles Coughlan.
It was a stunning discovery, one that was only amplified by the remembrance of the fortune teller’s prediction; come hell or high water, Coughlan had made his way home to the shores of Prince Edward Island, travelling eight years and 2 000 miles, just as had been predicted (12).
A Note Regarding This Story: It appears that as this story has been told and retold throughout the years, that much has been added and much has been missing. What can be said for certain is that Coughlan’s missing body was the truth. Its discovery, however, is somewhat muddied. In fact, the New York Times reported on 15 January 1907 that Coughlan’s body was found in a Texas marsh by some hunters (11)
This is later contradicted when Ripley’s Believe It or Not discussed Coughlan’s case at length in its 1929 book. This book said: “Charles Coghlan comes home! He died in 1899 and was buried in Galveston. When the tragic flood came his coffin was washed out to sea and the Gulf Stream carried him around Florida and up the coast to Prince Edward Island — 2,000 miles distant — where he lived” (9), a story which even The Guardian of 1950 reported on (12).
According to research done by the historians of the Galveston Ghost group, “Charles Burney Ward wrote for the Ripley book that Coghlan’s daughter had searched unsuccessfully for 27 years for her father’s remains until she saw the Ripley feature in the Saturday Evening Post.
As Ward told it, Coghlan’s daughter demanded to know where Ripley got his information. Ripley attributed the story to famous Shakespearean actor Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, a contemporary and friend of Coghlan’s. Ripley Entertainment spokesman Edward Meyer said the Coghlan story is one of Ripley’s best known. “We’ve had a lot of questions about this over the years, but mostly from Prince Edward Island,” Meyer said. “It’s definitely a well established part of Ripley lore.”"
The question then arises as to where the truth may lie. Meyer, the Ripley’s spokesman, put it quite simply. “Everything that Ripley printed we stand behind as true to the best of our knowledge” (9).
I leave you to be the judge.
To learn more about the Actor's Colony, or any part of the Island's history, contact the Red Rock Adventure Company to book a guided bicycle tour today.
1. Hornby, Jim. "The C.P. Flockton Comedy Company" The Island Magazine. 1982.
2. Peake, Linda M. "Establishing a Theatrical Tradition: Prince Edward Island 1800-1900" Theatre Research in Canada. 1981.
3. The Guardian. 13 February 1924.
4. Glenchitty, Mary. "People, Friends & Colleagues of EJ Phillips 1830-1904" 20 April 2015.
5. Townshend, Bonnie. "The Road To Fortune" 2012. Print.
6. Millward, Jessie. "Myself and Others" 1923. Print.
7. Angler. The Guardian. 2 September 1918.
8. Paton, Andy. Oral Interview. 23 April 2017.
9. Whitmore, Ann. "The Coffin Myth" Galveston Ghost. Web.
10. "Charles Coghlan's Body Missing" New York Times. 24 September 1900.
11. "Coghlan's Body Found" New York Times. 15 January 1907.
12. The Guardian. Page 14. 26 July 1950.
It seems that during the summer time on Prince Edward Island that there is simply no end to all that can be seen done no matter which way you turn, and the area surrounding Naufrage Harbour is no exception.
The roads are scenic and calm, and everywhere you go offers sneaking glances of the mighty Gulf of St. Lawrence. Abundant too are the places to cycle to the water’s edge and dip your toes, and it is worth mentioning that the Northside, as it is known, is famous for its sunsets, given that on Prince Edward Island the sun sets on the north.
With that said, we have prepared for you a list of 5 fantastic places to see around Naufrage while riding a bike, and we are certain that you will enjoy them.
Stopping at Naufrage Harbour is like taking a trip back in time. Pronounced “New-Frayge”, it is a small fishing community that has never lost its old-fashioned sense of charm. The Shipwreck Point Lighthouse proudly overlooks the water, and every day throughout the summer the harbour bustles as fishermen bring in their catches of lobster and tuna. In fact, many boats offer tuna charters here as well. Tourists are free to stroll about the wharf and watch the day’s catch be landed, and if you are lucky you may even see a huge tuna being landed.
Another one of Naufrage’s most well known attractions is its wooden arched bridge. This one lane road bridge carries traffic across Naufrage harbour, lifting them high up above the water. The view from the bridge is both terrifying and exhilarating, and offers a great vantage point for photos. In fact, the entire harbour is ripe for prime photo opportunities, and the backdrop of sand, sun, and sea offers a beautiful range of settings.
Take a walk on the beach in search of sea glass, or visit the gift shop near the bridge and browse Patricia’s beautiful seaglass creations. Washrooms and ice cream are available here as well.
Bear River Dunes
Prince Edward Island is known the world over for its stunning sand dunes, and the Naufrage area is no exception. In fact, the area is unique in its seaside attractions, as it one of the only places in the province that offers both sand dunes and sandstone cliffs contiguously. While the shores of Cow River Beach are known for their beauty, the shores of Bear River are lined with beautiful sand dunes, the same dunes which westward constitute the dunes of Greenwich National Park.
Cycle down the red dirt Bear Shore Road to arrive at Bear River Beach, home of these wondrous dunes. Tip toe your way across the shallow river to fully appreciate the spectacle that these dunes offer. Sand dunes are a product of wind and weather, as the driving winds pile the sand in these extraordinary patterns, not unlike a snow drift. But what really makes the dunes take form is the marram grass which grows upon it, for it is the roots of this grass which serves to anchor sand in place and prevent it from drifting away.
They are a thing of beauty, but be warned: it is an offense to climb upon the dunes, as doing so risks damaging the fragile root systems of the marram grass.
These windmills need to be seen to be believed. Rising a stunning 92m in height, these windmills can be seen from all around the countryside. They are simply colossal in scale and a wonder to behold. They can be best viewed from either the Northside Road, east of Naufrage, or from the Souris Line Road, south east of Naufrage.
It is a round trip distance of nearly 30km to the windmills and back, but as a casual ride it is certainly worth the effort. The sheer power and scales of these machines will compel you to stop and marvel at them, and it is fascinating to watch the shadows of the blades tumble endless across the road in the evening light.
Perhaps best of all, these windmills are used to generate 100% renewable energy, right here on Prince Edward Island, further cementing our status as Canada’s green province.
Prince Edward Distillery
The Prince Edward Distillery is a uniquely Island experience, and one not to be missed. Operated by Arla Johnson and Julie Shore, it is the one and only facility in the entire country to distill pure potato vodka, and it is the only grain vodka in Canada to be flavoured with wild blueberries.
Located approximately 25km round trip from Naufrage, the distillery is a great way to spend the afternoon, with on site purchasing and distillery tours. Learn all about the unique way in which potatoes are turned in vodka here on the Island, and sample some of the product which they have to offer.
Shipwreck Point Cafe
After a long day of cycling, there is no better way to unwind than at the Shipwreck Point Cafe, located centrally at Naufrage Harbour, overlooking the cliffs and offering a waterfront view. It seems that the whole world comes to eat at the Shipwreck, as every night the tables are filled with patrons from all over, united by an intrinsic passion for local food and good company.
The Shipwreck offers down to earth, home cooked meals, and seafood cooked to perfection. They even serve one of the area’s unique specialties, deep fried veggies. You simply must try them! After the meal enjoy a homemade desert, then finish your evening off with a stroll along the cape in the shadow of the Shipwreck Point lighthouse.
To discover more about the area, or to learn all about the exciting guided tours which we offer, visit the Red Rock Adventure Company home page, or check us out on Facebook.
Originally named Havre a Souris, which translates to “Mouse Harbour”. Later shortened to Souris, the area got this name after numerous plagues of mice infestations, with one reportedly being so prolific that mice were seen to tumble over the cliffs and into the harbour, to such an extent that passing ships had difficulty navigating the waters. Other names which did not stick were Colville and Red Cliffs.
2. Red House
Named for a house built by Edward Abell, the infamous land agent for the area. It was painted red by a Mr. Heal, a notorious coroner who had condemned a man who had committed suicide to be buried opposite the house with a stake driven through his body. The Bay Fortune post office was at Red House until 1880.
3. New Zealand
This name was given in jest 1858 because settlers were going to this place at the same time as some people were departing from Charlottetown for New Zealand with much fanfare.
4. Bear River
There are two stories which seek to explain the origin of this name, both of which follow the same theme. One is from a time when it was known to foster many bears along the river, and the other, more memorably, is from when one of the early settlers, Roderick MacDonald, fought and killed a large bear with his bare hands.
The etymology of the Fortune area is thought to refer to the ship La Fortune, an English schooner weighing 40 tons which was brought to the area in 1754 by Le Sieur Laborde. This, however, is contradicted somewhat by Rayburn in Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island, as he indicates that "de la Rocque shows Riviere a la Fortune in 1752", two years prior to this schooner. Given this, it is posited that the name may possibly mean "river of riches", and may be a reference to the long lost treasure of Captain Kidd.
Named after a settler from Chepstow, Monmouth, Wales. While the name today refers most often to the community proper, at different times Chepstow Point was used. So too was Chepstow Cove, which is located at the bottom of present day MacAulay’s Road, below Steele’s Lane. Chepstow was also once home to a post office and school.
7. Rollo Bay
Previously Rollo's Bay or Lord Rollo's Bay, is named after Andrew Rollo, 5th Lord Rollo, who was a Scottish army commander in Canada and Dominica during the Seven Years' War, who led the British land forces in the Capture of Dominica on June 6, 1761. Earlier names were Havre a Mathieu and Anse-a-Matieu. These were after Turin Mathieu , who had a family of ten near East Point in 1752.
Lower Rollo Bay, which is today considered to be anything along the Lower Rollo Bay road, was also known as Rollo Bay East, named after the Rollo Bay East Post Office which operated from 1888 to 1904. When the name of the post office was changed in 1904 the postmaster reported that "Lower Rollo Bay is done way with, belongs to ancient history, an anachronism so to speak". Contrary to the postmaster’s claims, the old name still thrives long after Rollo Bay East has disappeared.
The name derives from the French word for shipwreck, and stems from the numerous shipwrecks which occurred as early as 1719 that brought the first European population to the area. Many of these settlers remained in the area, and are ancestors of today’s population, while some ventured west and formed the early community of St. Peter’s Bay.
9. St. Charles
Named after St. Charles Borromeo, who was a prominent member of the church during the 1500s, and who was responsible for significant reforms in the Catholic Church, including the founding of seminaries for the education of priests. Prior to 1896 the area was known as either Groshaut, New Acadia, or Rollo Bay Station. However, with the construction of the church, the area came to be known as St. Charles. The St. Charles Road was known as the Bourke’s Road until around the time it was paved, when the name was changed.
10. Rock Barra
This name is perhaps a little bit tongue-in-cheek. It was named for a rock that stood offshore, now washed away, that reminded one of the early settlers of the Island of Rock Barra in the Hebrides. Furthermore, tradition has it that a first settler, Mclsaac, exclaimed to others that "you might as well be on the rock of Barra" in reference to the barrenness of the land, something which he had hoped to escape by moving here.
11. Black Pond
Named for the dark shadow cast by surrounding woods, something which is still apparent to this day. Early Scottish settlers called it Loch Dhu meaning "black lake", a name which many remember from the Loch Dhu Haven campground.
Named by area resident Joseph McVean who was the one to name the Post Office, from which the area took its name. He chose Bothwell from the situation of "both" himself and his father living "well" side by side. Named around 1863.
13. Gowan Brae
Formerly known as "New Bristol". Probably named for John Macgowan, early sheriff of Kings County and mill operator on Souris River The name also suggests "mountain daisy" and "hill" in Scottish. It was a school district in 1865, and had a post office from ca. 1886-1913.
Named after a resident of the area, a Mr. Haney of Souris Line Road, rose in opposition to an oppressive landlord with the support of his neighbours. Upon hearing about this the government sent soldiers to restore calm, and the uprisers took to the area of present day Glencorradale to hide.
This event recalled in the minds of the uprisers the time in which Prince Charles hid at Glen Caradel on the Isle of Skye after his defeat at Culloden. Noting the similarities, settlers to the area from Inverness, Scotland in 1846 chose the name Glencorradale for the locality
15. Cable Head
Said to be named for a piece of hemp cable found on the shore, evidently from a vessel. The first settlers called the place Ceann Cable (from the Gaelic "cable end" or "cable head").
Named for Herman McDonald, first settler (circa 1850) and postmaster, who was still living in 1905. Known also for its post office, and for the Hermanville Hotel located in the post office. Other names for this area were Black Brook, Black Bush, and Milton.
Records indicate that it was possibly named for the home of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. Formerly known as Big Marsh and Big Cape.
18. Campbell’s Cove
Named for Angus Campbell, resident there when the area was surveyed in 1808. Home to a post office from 1896-1913. Campbells Point, adjacent to the cove, may have been the first part of PEI sighted by Jacques Cartier in 1534.
Named by George B. McEachern in 1872 for Elmira, New York. It was selected for its euphony. Formerly called Portage because it was on the route from North Lake to South Lake.
20. Priest Pond
This name has been in use since at least as early as 1832. It is suggested that it was named for Bishop MacEachern. Earlier records provide the name as Railing Bridge.
21. New Harmony
Possibly derived from the area of Harmony Junction, where farmers of French, Scottish, Irish and English nationalities had settled and presumably lived amicably.
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