Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Islands Telephone and Telegraph Cable

The telephone and telegraph by cable which linked the islands to Cape Breton was installed at a cost of $91,485. This was lot of money for the era, but it was absolutely necessary for the well-being of navigators and an isolated population. The cable was 84 miles long. It had been submerged during the month of October, 1880 for a connection to a station in Grosse Isle. The following year, an other cable , 8 miles in length was laid between the Bird Rocks and Grosse Isle. Also, they added a land line between House Harbour and Etang-du-Nord.

This telephone/telegraph communication system gave excellent service over the next 30 years. But on February 10, 1910, the cable between the mainland and Grosse Isle snapped, possible because of large iceberg that had been reported passing by. This break could not be repaired and so left the Islanders more isolated that ever. There was a state of panic amongst some of the people and so an idea was formed to send a vessel without a pilot. It was too dangerous to send a wooden fishing boat with the ice moving in the Gulf so Alcide J. Gaudet, then employed with the J.R. Leslie Company Limited, exporters of lobster and smoked and salt fish had the idea to launch the ponchon (a wooden barrel with a sail, on which was painted “Winter Magdalen Mail”, and a rudder). The ponchon was launched from the most southern tip of Amherst Island. The whole of Amherst village participated in its launching on the Sandy Hook beach. The idea was to send “Her Majesty’s mail” from the people on the Magdalen Islands to an undetermined destination. There was some one hundred letters in the barrel.

With favourable winds and acceptable currents the small vessel was carried south, traveling toward Cape Breton and landed on the beach near Port Hastings, Cape Breton in very good time.

The Federal government immediately dispatched the stem ship “SS Harlow” to the Magdalen Islands.

Le lose of the telegraph cable resulted in the installation of a Marconi station, in Grindstone on the top of the hill know as Marconi hill, in 1911.

A documentary film was documented by Sister Rose Delima Gaudet and filmed during the school year of 1970-71, by Professor Rosaire Vigneault to recall the memorable event. Professor Vigneault was my professor that year for des Art Plastique, where we learned to film animated still art. It was a fascinating course.

Note: This story has been told by the French speaking people for as long as I can remember but I begin to have doubts to it complete truthfulness. For one, was it that the "Winter Magdalen Mail" went through the Canso Causeway and was that even built in 1910? And why was it called the Winter Magdalen Mail and not the Poste d'Hiver Madeleine? I have heard stories to the contrary about who came up with the idea and where the idea originated. Also the population on the Magdalen Islands was 6,623 people according to the 1911 census. I would think that it would have been hard pressed to find one hundred people who knew people abroad let alone write to them. The English speaking people where well educated for the time but the French education system was in poor shape if what I have read is anything to go by.

In the 1990's, group of islanders took it upon themselves to recreate the launching of the ponchon. It was a school project for the secondary five (grade 11) students at the Polyvalente in Laverniere. While using all of the data that had been saved from the first successful attempt, they waited until the weather, wind, currents, tides were all the same and they failed in that they were never able to track its voyage. It became lost at sea.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

An Interesting Bit of Islands Lighthouse History

In 1828, Captain Edward Boxer sent a report to the Grand Admiral of Maritime Britain, in which he mentioned: "I have found a great need for lighthouses in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. On this sea, navigation is so dangerous because of strong and irregular currents, and there is not a single lighthouse in all the Gulf. It is truly lamentable to find so many shipwrecks at different places on the coast... the number of lost lives is very large and certainly incalculable...."

One of the most talked about shipwrecks on the Magdalen Islands is the immigration ship, the "Miracle", which was transporting families from Ireland to Canada, when she went ashore at East Point during a violent storm. The Captain of the "Miracle", Master H.H. Elliot, while expressing his gratitude and admiration for their Magdalen Islands rescuers in his report, highlighted the necessity for having lighthouses in these areas. "This is to certify that the ship "Miracle" under my command wrecked on the Magdalen Islands on the 19th, of May, 1847, with 446 souls on board, and through the exertions of Mr. James Clark and his sons succeeded in saving nearly the whole of them and they deserve great praise for their exertions, both in supplying them with provisions and shelter.
I firmly believe a light on the east end of the island would save many a shipwreck, as Brion and Bird Rocks can be sure."

Note: The ship "Miracle" carried a ship's fever, typhoid, when it went ashore. The victims were cared for at East Cape, shelter in the home, barns and outbuildings of the Clark family. Mary Goodwin, James Clark's wife, contracted the contagious disease and died that same spring.

Also note: In July 1969, Leonard Clark, the great, great grandson of James and Mary, spearheaded a project to place a cross at East Point, where it was believed the victims of the "Miracle" were buried. The cross was very large, maybe 20 feet or more in height. It took many men to lift it into place. The cross blew down the next winter. The brass plaque had been removed and finally found it way to the museum, Muse de la Mer in Amherst.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Road Work

You can sure tell it is an election year!!!

The roads have been resurfaced from Amherst to Laverniere, in House Harbour, Etang-du-Nord and here on the main road to everywhere. Technically this is part of Fatima, but the reality is that they tore the road up, dug about 20 feet down, and stopped traffic both ways for at least four weeks. It is incredible what a party will do to stay in power. The wonder of it all is that, I can't figure out what they did it for. It looked like they were running a sewer system but heaven only knows who they are running it to or from would be better to ask.

On the bright side of road work..., it forced us to slow down and see the islands. Beautiful as they are, even the dust and dirt flying from the truck on the red sand base could not dim the colors of the Magdalen Islands.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Is this not what we stand for?
This is the response of the Organizing Committee against drugs to the Chief of Police.

Stop the epidemic of drugs on the Islands,
Is this not what we stand for?

Then walk to...
- Stop minimizing the problem of drugs.
-Make people aware that their involvement is important.
- Sensitize, educate and make long term prevention.
- Get more help for users, their family and friends.
You are invited, you and yours, to participate in an awareness walk. We rely on your involvement to spread the word around you. Together we can make a difference.

Sunday, October 5th 2008, 14:00p.m.

The walk will start from the Civic Center in Grindstone.
(If it rains the walk will be postponed to the following Sunday)

The drug use on the Islands is the responsibility of each of us. Whether it is to help someone you love go out of it, to protect children and youngsters from the ill effects of drug use, or to report to the authorities activities related to drug trafficking by using the Info-Crime line or direct call to Surete du Quebec (local police force) on the Islands, you can make a difference. Let's pull together.

So, on October 5th for yourself, your loved ones and the whole community of the Islands, take a step in the right direction, Together let's walk to give the growing generation a clean and healthy Islands where it is good to live.

Long live our beautiful Islands!

The organizing committee for a walk.

Sunday October 5th, 2008, is an election day in Quebec.
I find it interesting that the Organizing Committee does not appear to have a name.