Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Story of Augustus Lebourdais

For the most part, this is a true story, but I have taken some liberties with the dates, for which I didn't feel like looking up at this time. The story was wrote as a story for Writers Island and there was considered to be fiction, so I didn't need to worry about exact details. However, because it is a story of the Magdalen Islands, I decided to put it here also.
The Snowman

Long ago, in the year 1873, a ship coming down the river of Saint Lawrence, ran head on into a disastrous hurricane as it approached the north dunes of the Magdalen Islands. The cold December winds had been coming up from the south, so the Captain of the sailing schooner Wasp had decided to stay the ship on North. But as history tells it, the wind shifted as the ship approached the center of the islands and blew with such force, that the ship foundered on Shoal's reef. Before long, the ship fell apart, and 19 of the 20 seamen on board were soon lost.

One man however, the first mate, managed to cling to one of the broken ships masts and was pushed ashore, through sea ice and broken slush. He was frozen and encrusted with ice but still crawled up the sand and roll down the other side of a sand hill. There he laid until morning.

Some young people came as soon the light of day approached, for shipwrecks were common on the islands, in those days and interesting and much needed salvage could be found. As they approached the sand hill, the man raised up his towering form to eight feet and scared the boys who ran off to tell their fathers about the big foot snowman on the beach. At first they were scoffed at but the priest decided to go look at the monstrosity. All he found were footprints, the length of a yard-stick amongst the flotsam of ship wreckage, and he prayed.

The men came and they followed the prints, remembering another haunting story, of another victim whom they thought was not Christian so they had buried him face down in a sand hill, because the color of his skin was black. But he kept being uncovered by the wind though the people thought he dug himself out and they were afraid of the unnatural. Three times he had been buried and three times the dead man rose from the sand and haunted the families of the small village nearby, with eerie crying wails, until finally they gave him a decent Christian burial in the catholic cemetery.

The yard-long foot steps disappeared and they lost their quarry, so they headed home to face another brutal night of wicked northerly winds with and freezing sleet. Once again that night the people of the village heard wails and screams of the haunted nearby. Fearful, the priest with a group of men with lanterns, searched around the homes and barns trying to find the source of the wailing and by lamp light they found the yard-long foot prints in drifts of snow, near large stacks of hay. Behind one of these stacks they found a snowman, eight-feet tall, lying on its side where it had fallen. The snow moved and moaned and the men cried and ran for the priest to save them from the unnatural beast.

The priest used all his holy water to bless the strange mass before realizing that there was a man, as human as he under all the ice and snow. As quickly as they could, they brought him to the warmth of the parsonage to thaw the snow man out. The pain and screams as the man’s limbs thawed haunted the priest for the rest his natural life. The tales of the eight-foot snowman that came to life haunted the villagers for many generations to come. But for Augustus LeBourdais, his life had just began as if he had been re-born and for islanders who were fortunate enough to work with this man, well..., they too, have gone down in history as being men of vision, who brought the islands into the twentieth century, by bringing the telegraph system to the Magdalens.

The priest and a few of the men had to saw the man's feet off because they had been frozen beyond rejuvenation. They did this without the benefit of anesthesia and when the spring thaw came they sent him to Quebec City, where he had the rest of his legs removed, just below the knees. Augustus returned to the Magdalen Islands, to marry one of the village girls whom he fell deeply in love with, during that long cold winter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Background to Issuing Seal Observation Permits

The Permitting Process as Seen Through the Seal Observers Eye:

» Though the commercial seal hunt occurs in public space (the northwest Atlantic Ocean), the Canadian government restricts observation of it by requiring observers to obtain permits that allow them to be within half a nautical mile of sealers engaged in hunting seals.
» The observation permits are issued by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which manages and promotes the commercial seal hunt.
» To obtain an observation permit, each observer must submit to a criminal background check and attend a personal interview with the DFO. The permits must be renewed daily.
» There are a number of conditions attached to the observation permits, including that observers must remain 10 metres away from seal hunters engaged in seal hunting.

Trial of Five Begins

On October 18th, 2007, the trial of five seal watchers began in the Amherst courtroom, on the Magdalen Islands. The trial was presided over by his Honour Judge Jean-Paul Dècoste. The government of Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) took five of seven seal observers to court after completing an investigating that took over six months to complete. The incident occurred when seven seal observers from the Humane Society of the Untied States (HSUS) were charged for allegedly coming too close to a sealing vessel, violating the conditions of their observer permits, on March 26th, 2006.

The trial began with the Crown witness, Officer Jean-François Sylvestre taking the stand to relate his observations of the incident. The prosecuting attorney, Denis Lavoie asked numerous questions pertaining to the activities of the day and to the eventual arrest of the seven individuals.

A call on March 26 was made by VHF radio from Sealer Captain Jeremy Cyr, to the DFO, saying that watchers were interfering with one of the sealers, his crew and his boat, the Marika Sandrine. An agent, Officer Sylvester from the department had been dispatched, along with another officer, to the sealer’s boat. They had carefully watched the proceedings from the cabin for a period of 40 to 50 minutes, that same afternoon.

Officer Sylvestre explained how he had met with the seal observers on the morning in question and had verified who they were and that they had the legal permits to observe the hunt. He also noted the two zodiacs that would be used in the activities, including taking note of their approximate size. Later, after receiving the call to investigate the complaint from Captain Cyr, Mr. Sylvestre and the other officer, donned life jackets, which hid their uniforms from view and boarded the sealers boat, which was southeast of Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

While on the stand, Officer Sylvestre explained that the two zodiacs, though constantly on the move because of a number of conditions, entered the area of the Marika Sandrine, within the allowed space of ten-meters according to the observers permits. The zodiacs were both approximately 20 feet long and at times water could not be seen between the zodiac and the Marika Sandrine. One zodiac, the black one was near the bow of the sealer boat and the red was at the just off the stern.

Crewman sealer, Ghislain Langford went on the ice, after the seal. Using a hakapik (traditional legal weapon of choice) to kill the seal, he then hauled the animal back to the Marika Sandrine. The observers had their zodiacs within the 10-meter range and were photographing the kill with still and video cameras. Once the seal was brought aboard the boat, Officer Sylvestre came to check to make certain it was a legal kill. With confirmation he waved to the seal observers to come and check the kill. Upon confirming a legal kill with the observers, the officer then proceeded to arrest four people from one zodiac and three others from the second zodiac. After reading them their rights, he cited that they were in violation of their permits.

Five of the seven accused are: Rebecca Aldworth, of Newfoundland, Andrew Plumbly (Canadian), Chad Sisneros (American), Pierre Grzybowski (American) and Mark Glover (British) were present in the courthouse to face the charges. The Crown attorney decided not to call on two other. His Honour Judge Dècoste fixed the next date of the trial to be continued on May 6th to 9th, 2008, when the defendants side will be heard. The defendant legal council, Clayton Ruby is expected to call two experts on video extracts, to the witness stand, to prove his clients innocence. The Crown attorney claimed that he had only received the new information from the defense, the evening before and had not had the time to examine the reports of these expert witnesses, thus delaying the conclusion of the trial. As of this time, it is uncertain whether or not these seal observers will be allowed to renew their observation permits for the 2008 seal hunt.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Great Ecotourism Destinations: Brion Island

Ecotourism is the new wave in vacation hotspots around the world. There are many who would not even consider the traditional vacation anymore, but rather have the exercise and learn as much as possible about areas that they have never been to. Brion Island, part of the Magdalen Islands, Quebec, Canada is one such place, but it is one of a few places which has limited access - only one thousand persons a year, including the guides for each separate trip they make. Needless to say, the limited reservations are taken almost before they can be given. Most of the reservations are taken as a first come, first serve reservation.

Going to the Magdalen Islands includes a five-hour ferry trip across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. On arrival, accommodations are taken. On the correct date, the ecotourist presents themself at the wharf in Grosse Isle North, on the far northern eastern end of the islands. There is now a kiosk in place for the ecotourists, where they can pay to land on the island. They board upon either zodiacs or fishing boats, depending on whom they have their reservations and sail the hour voyage to the island. Usually, the zodiacs will take a tour around the island first, while the tour guide explains the life that took place on the island and its history and processes as to how Brion became Quebec’s twentieth Ecological Reserve. There is always a stop at the Seal Rocks on the eastern end of Brion and watch the young seal cavorting amongst themselves between the rocks while the older, more majestic Harbour and Hood seal lounge on the tops of the jagged edges of rock, sunning themselves in the beautiful weather. A full explanation is given for the reasons that the eastern tip of Brion is left entirely to nature and no human intervention is allowed. Only the occasional biological study group may set a foot on this section.

As the tour continues, the towering cliffs on the north side are examined at close range. The marine bird populations that nest on the capes are intriguing to watch and are a delight for bird-watchers. The razorbill that looks like miniature penguins, and the Atlantic Puffins in all their splendor, can often be approached while they are sitting on the water, because they are sometimes too heavy from feeding to lift off. There are Large Cormorants that are as black as can be imagined and blacked-legged Kittiwakes with their interesting calls. The birds are so numerous that when in flight, they cover the sky and block out the sun. The capes on the north side of Brion are also an excellent opportunity to view the stages of the evolution of the islands and of the Saint Lawrence basin because the eons are clearly etched into the rock walls. As the tour moves on, the caves can be looked at and how the many shipwrecks saw their last days on the rocks of Brion Island. The sight becomes living history of the evolution of navigation and its reasons for being.

The zodiac part of the tour ends, when the boat rounds the western end of the island, except for the return voyage to the wharf in Grosse Isle. Here the passengers disembark beside an old fishing wharf, that is now nothing more than a hazard, and they walk up the hill to the Brion Island Interpretation Center, which was the cookhouse for the fishermen, who would come to the island in the early spring and stay until late fall, harvesting the fruitful waters, back in the 1950's and 60's. A tour of the cook house and the surrounding outbuildings - the foundation of the saline or salting factory, the boat-haulers building, the fishermen’s camps, the outhouses are all part of the tour. Up over the savage campground hill to examine the now fully automated lighthouse and understand why lighthouse-keeper spent many nights in lonely watch for the ships that would pass in the night, hoping that it wouldn’t be the night that one would come up on the rocks. A climb down onto the sandy beach for a couple of hours of swimming and relaxing is made before the return to civilization.

As a separate part of the tour there is the long trek to the area known as the deserted Dingwell property, house and the Saddle. This trip is done on foot over the top of the northern capes, up hills and down in valleys, for a five-hour hike, which is not recommended for the physically weak. The trip can only be made with a registered Brion Island tour guide, who is in contact with the mainland and is trained in life saving techniques. The guide continues the tour with more comprehensive information of the peoples of Brion Island, how they came to be there, how they lived in such isolation and the reasons for their departure, since the island once had a thriving, rich culture who cultivated its fertile soil. A more in-depth study of the shipwrecks is given and local folk-lore of the days and nights that passed on this island. More bird-watching is possible from the tops of the capes.

By the time the ecotourists are ready to board the zodiacs or fishing boats upon which they came, they find they are weary and completely convinced that it was worth the trouble and expense to get to Brion Island. The photo opportunities were stunning to say the least. The guided tours were comprehensive in the two official Canadian languages. The presentation of the information was colorful and intimate and the people, whom they met friendly and helpful to a fault sometimes, making the trip an eventful one, but as safe as possible. The sail back to Grosse Isle is usually quiet. They pass the navigation buoys that the ships in the shipping lanes use while going to and from the St. Lawrence river, and see the occasional Atlantic dolphin or Minke whale. The ecotourists are reflective of what they came for and what they were returning with.

For more information about Great Ecotourism Destinations : Brion Island, see