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Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

img_5223“We don’t really have much of a winter before January.” Newcomers from other provinces and countries say we told them this when they moved here. As they confront us this week, we look a little sheepish and our lips are pursed ever so slightly.

What they don’t know is we Islanders can be in some amount of denial about the weather ourselves, like it’s actually part of our identity. We brag about the sunny days and downplay the squalls. We even deflect the discussion to storms occurring in other places. “Yes, but did you see the weather they are having in Vancouver?”

We only really discuss it truthfully among ourselves. In fact, we don’t even have to discuss it. It’s communal knowledge that can be conveyed with a glance. It’s almost part of our DNA.

Those new to PEI can find our weather confusing and will not fully understand the ocean effect. Islanders have a more innate sense of predicting weather and will adjust our behaviour as easily as the local wildlife, squirreling away food and water and hunkering down, hoping the power doesn’t go out with yet another gust of wind. Rural folks with farms are operating in full gear protecting their herds and flocks. The survivalist instinct kicks in, no explanation necessary.

However, we will say to those from away, “Yes, it’s bad, but this is an unusual year, maybe the worst since the 1970s.” It’s our way of putting them off, knowing we don’t have to come up with another excuse until next winter. And with any luck, there will be a bad winter in Texas.

Heck, maybe we aren’t that different from other Canadians or even those from the New England States and northern Midwest. And who knows, it could still be raining on Christmas Day.

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Drone over Clyde RiverOur ancestors would look at us strangely if we said there was a drone flying over Clyde River taking photos, but that is what is happening. Oswald tells me that Scott Stevens has been contracted by the Golf Association of PEI to take photos via drone of the 16-member golf courses in PEI. The benefit we get is to see Clyde River and neighbouring communities from a birds eye view in all their spectacular beauty. The golf course looks great, Oswald and team.

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IMG_2760.JPGI travelled out from the city to the Strawberry Social last evening hosted by the Clyde River Women’s Institute. They had a great crowd. As folks arrive, you get a little sticker with a number which is called when seats are available. Alex Dixon says he comes at the same time each year, and this year he had a higher number, deducing there were more overall. I had a chance to sit with J’Nan and Kirk Brown to catch up on their news. They are celebrating their wedding anniversary this summer and still smiling brightly. As usual, they are expecting summer visitors. Not surprising, they live in heaven down by the river.

Sandra Cameron hosted history enthusiasts in the Emily Bryant Room during the event and she had lots of visitors. There are so many things to see. Each treasure tells a story, rather, generations of stories. I recounted one story to some visitors about the small salt dish with a pink hue on the second shelf of the display case which could easily be overlooked. The dish was Lee Darrach’s, the Lee that fought in both WW1 and WW2. He was in the Halifax Infirmary during the time of the Halifax explosion. The explosion catapulted the salt dish onto his hospital bed. He saved it as a testament to having survived once again. He passed it on to his brother Hector which was then given to his grandson and he gave it us. It sits on the same shelf as Lee’s photo in uniform and the two Christmas cards and many letters he sent to his family during the war. These were donated to us from his other grand nephew in Florida. As part of the Capturing Memories project when we invited donations of artifacts, I stopped being surprised by synchronicity. These historical items were coming home along with their stories. This is a memory room, and when we linger by each humble piece, we can remember the people who came before.

J’Nan invited me to drop down to her farm to get a dozen blue eggs from her Ameraucana hens after the social. She and Sidney Poritz who owns the adjoining property debate which of them has the more beautiful land. I am happy to stand on her front yard looking across their fields to the rivers. It’s where the West River and Clyde River meet. Sidney lives on the homestead of my great grandparents. That is where Lee Darrach was raised. I have the letters his mother wrote to her boys between 1904-07 talking about daily life. This was all Darrach property at one time. J’Nan recalls Mrs. MacNeill who lived here before she and Kirk purchased the farm. Mrs. MacNeill told her “the view sustained me”.

As I drove out the long lane from J’Nan and Kirk’s, I was struck by the sunset over Dunedin. The synchronicity of this moment was not lost. I stopped, took a few shots and emailed my favourite to J’Nan with a subject line “Sunset in Heaven”.

Editor’s note: Earlier stories were written on the Brown’s (This Old Barn has some Stories to Tell) and Poritz (Darrach-Poritz Homestead) properties.

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Strawberries

Strawberry Social

The Clyde River Women’s Institute will host their annual Strawberry and Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, July 13th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Riverview Community Centre, 728 Clyde River Rd. Come meet your friends, neighbours and, of course, those home from away, and enjoy a dish of ice cream with strawberries and sweets. Take out not available.

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In Riverview Community Centre, the old schoolhouse in Clyde River, there are books tucked away in the library whose glory is now in the past. The odd assortment ranges from the early 1900s to the last days when students crossed the threshold to the little room and the big room before school consolidation in the early 1970s when they were then bused to Cornwall and Charlottetown. These were the times of modernized education which broke off from the earlier days when one’s small community and school contributed to the education of young men and women. In those humble school rooms, where families were not too many generations from Scotland and England, literature was considered an essential part of their early and oftentimes brief education. My mother, in the last years of her long life, could still recite poems she was required to memorize in her days at Clyde River School. They were poems that she would carry through life and, at each stage of her years, the rhythm and nuance of the lines would resonate a little more deeply. Maybe it’s time to dust off those old books and peak inside to gather a glimpse of their learning.

Our first book is a MacMillan Pocket Classic featuring Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish and Minor Poems. The introduction by Dr. Will David Howe, Professor of English at Butler College, introduces us to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Henry was born in 1807 in Portland, Maine. His parents were Stephen and Zilpha (Wadsworth) Longfellow, descended from Yorkshire families who had emigrated in the later half of the seventeenth century. They named him after his uncle, a Navy Lieutenant who had died at the Battle of Tripoli three years earlier. His poetry was strongly influenced by the countryside where he grew up among beautiful views of the bay, mountains and forests. Music and reading were highly valued in their home.

Longfellow wrote a letter to his father to express his desire to pursue an education in literature of which his father was not pleased. He already knew French, but wanted to learn Italian so as to understand the language of literature. He attended Bowden College, a liberal arts college in Maine and later taught there. He travelled to Europe where he studied German, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Finnish and Icelandic languages. He secured a distinguished professorship of Modern Languages at Harvard. He became a full-time poet in 1853. His first wife died in childbirth in 1835, four years after they were married. He married his second wife in 1843 and they had six children, but she died tragically in 1961 when her dress caught fire despite Longfellow’s heroic attempts to save her. Longfellow never recovered from her death. He spent much of the following years translating foreign language works until his death in 1882.

Longfellow’s family history offers some familiar parallels to early settlers to North America. Children were often named after someone beloved who had an untimely death. Parents wanted desperately for their children to have a better life in a new land. He was highly influenced by the beautiful landscapes that surrounded his home, and there remained strong ties to his ancestral home. His sister died of Tuberculosis. Often wives died in childbirth, and tragedy happened leaving children without a mother and where a husband was forced to live out his days as best he could, tending to a large family.

Longfellow’s life’s desire was to promote modern literature to those beyond the highly educated elite in America. Within his lifetime, he became one of the most popular poets. For now, in the depths of February, with the hope of summer in our hearts, we will feature his poem, Woods in Winter. It was written in 1839 while he was renting accommodations at a house that was once the headquarters of George Washington, a home that he later owned and is now the Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Woods in Winter

When winter winds are piercing chill,
And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
That overgrows the lonely vale.

O’er the bare upland, and away
Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
And gladden these deep solitudes.

Where, twisted round the barren oak,
The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
The crystal icicle is hung.

Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs,
Pour out the river’s gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater’s iron rings,
And voices fill the woodland side.

Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
And the song ceased not with the day.

But still wild music is abroad,
Pale, desert woods! within the crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.

Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
I listen, and it cheers me long.

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Murchison Park 3We will be closing up Murchison Place Park on Saturday, October 17th, 9:00 to 12:00 noon. We invite volunteers to join us to help out and enjoy a beautiful fall day in Clyde River. Feel free to take along some bulbs for planting. We suggest you wear work gloves. Refreshments will be served. If it is raining, the close up will be the following Saturday at the same time.

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Photos and story from the “Capturing Collective Memories” Library – The following historical piece was written by Lee Darrach (1916-2000), son of Hector Alexander Darrach (1883-1971). It offers us insight on how farms along the Clyde River supplemented their income by fishing on the Clyde River and adjoining West River.

Hector Darrach Home (1)

Hector and Ina Darrach’s Farm, Clyde River Road

Hector Alexander Darrach was born on his father’s farm in Clyde River on September 8, 1883. (editor’s note: his father’s farm is currently owned by Sidney Poritz.) His great grandfather, Duncan Darrach emigrated from Scotland to this country and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, St. Catherines. His father, John Darrach and his grandfather, also called John, are buried in the Clyde River Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

The John Darrach Family

There were eleven children in this family: Florence Catherine, John Duncan, Neil Archibald, Frances Catherine, Daniel John, Lee Grant, Hector Alexander, Angus Fulford, Isobel Jane, Eldon J., Lillian May.

Florence married Samuel Ross, a building contractor and they settled in Dorchester, Mass. John married Beatrice MacDonald and they made their home in Quincy, Mass. Neil married Dicey MacLean and they settled on a farm in Clyde River. Frances married Frederick Beer and they made their home on the Bannockburn Road. Daniel never married and moved to Western Canada and worked on the railroad. Lee married Lottie Dixon from Bannockburn Road. He was a carpenter by trade. Hector married Ina Beer from Bannockburn Road and they made their home on a farm in Clyde River. Fulford was married twice, first to Ethel MacLaughlin from Clyde River and then to Ethel Berry from Nova Scotia. Eldon married Margaret MacPhee from New Haven and they made their home in Brandon, Manitoba. Isobel and Lillian died in their infancy.

Hector Darrach attended Clyde River school and as a young man purchased an adjoining farm to his father’s farm and married Ina Mary Beer, daughter of James Beer from Bannockburn Road.

The James Beer Family

There were six children in this family: Maggie Jane, Amy Ann, Saida Elizabeth, Frederick Boyd, Ina Mary and Mamie.

Maggie married William Younker and they made their home on a farm in Kingston. Amy married a Mr. Mayhew and they farmed in Clyde River. Saida married Wesley Hood and they settled on a farm in Cornwall. Frederick married Frances Darrach from Clyde River and they made their home in Bannockburn Road. Ina married Hector Darrach and they farmed in Clyde River. Mamie died at the age of two years in 1896. 

The Hector Darrach Family

Five children were born in this family: Hector ‘Ralph’, Margaret ‘Marie’, John James, Lee Daniel, and Amy ‘Joyce’.

Ralph was twice married, first to Jean MacLeod, from Milton and Della MacLeod from Long Creek. They farmed in St. Catherines. Marie married Wilfred Stretch from Long Creek and they made their home on a farm there. John married Marguerite Crosby and they farmed in Clyde River. Lee, the author of this biography, married Eleanor MacFadyen and they made their home in West Royalty. Lee worked for the Civil Service. Joyce married Norman MacKenzie from Long Creek and they settled on a farm there. Hector built a new house on his newly-acquired land and farmed there successfully for most of his life.

FARM LIFE

Growing up on this farm in the ‘twenties’ was little different from that experienced by others on adjacent farms. The completion of farm chores was required of us siblings. Weeding and harvesting of farm crops and caring for farm animals, all required hard and often tedious work.

If drudgery was a part of farm work during the summer, the autumn and winter months of the year were a far different story. The location of our farm at the confluence of the Clyde and West Rivers gave us the opportunity to participate in three off-farm activities that were of great interest to us as well as supplementing farm income. These activities were the oyster fishery, the smelt fishery and mud digging.

OYSTER FARMING

In the autumn of each year, oyster fishing dories would arrive at our shore to begin this annual fishery. Many farm owners and farm workers as well as fishers from as far away as Charlottetown participated. The Charlottetown fishers constructed shacks and ate and slept there during the fishing season that lasted for approximately two months.

Oysters were hand raked using oyster fishing tongues from and along the channels of the Clyde and West Rivers with the greatest effort being made during the low tides. At this time upwards to one hundred dories fishing these channels so close to each other that from a distance they appeared as a long black line.

At high tide the fishers could be observed at the shore culling their catches in their dories. What a delight it was on warm autumn days to watch these fishers work on their catches, to sample these delicious shellfish and to row a dory up and down the calm waters along the shore!

I particularly remember the Biso family from Charlottetown, Thomas and his two sons Wilfred and Peter.  Although Thomas was one of the older fishers, he could rake more oysters than most others despite a permanent injury to one of his hands.

Some Friday nights my father would drive the Biso family to their home on Riley’s Lane, Charlottetown. Sitting in the back seat of the Model T Ford on that trip to Charlottetown, despite the cold, was the most interesting time of the week. Mrs. Biso would have sausage sizzling on the coal fired stove and these along with “store bought” bread provided a welcome change to our usual humble fare of “home made” bread and potatoes.

Every week Charles Earl of Earl Fisheries from Charlottetown with his helper, a Mr. MacRae, would arrive at our farm yard with their truck to buy the oyster catches which were taken up from the shore in bags. The oysters were emptied into a “measuring” barrel provided by Mr. Earl.  Mr. MacRae who was a powerfully built man would shake the barrel as the oysters were being dumped in much to the displeasure of the fishers who could see their returns for their hard week’s work diminish with each shake of the barrel.  They received ten dollars for each barrel. Experienced fishers could rake in excess of one barrel of oysters each day.

SMELT FISHERY

The fishing of smelts was carried out on the Clyde and West Rivers commencing each season as soon as the ice formed – usually about Christmas time.

Each ”enterprise” laid claim to one or two of the same “berths” year after year and their claims were usually respected by the other “enterprises”. Each “enterprise” usually consisted of one fisher, two brothers, or a father and son. The spacing between each “berth” was laid down by “regulation”.

Disputes over “berths” were not uncommon. Clayton Shaw, the fishery officer from Charlottetown, would be summoned to arbitrate between disputing parties.

Smelt fishing nets were constructed of twine with a mesh size fine enough to retain the fish and were commonly referred to as  “bag” nets. The mouth of the net when open and held in place was rectangular in shape and measured approximately twenty feet by eight feet. The bag and trap extended back from the mouth some twenty to thirty feet. The far end of the trap could be opened to allow the catch to be removed from the net.

The net was held in position in the channel of the river by two large poles each fitted with two iron slip rings and sharpened on the large end of each. Two holes were then made in the ice the width of the net apart. The top and bottom of the mouth of the nets were fastened to the slip rings, the poles placed through the holes in the ice, and firmly anchored in the mud of the riverbed. Much smaller poles called “set” poles were then fastened to the bottom slip rings thus enabling the mouth of the net to be opened and closed from the surface of the ice. A narrow opening in the ice between the two poles was made to allow the net to be placed in the water and to be hauled out of the water to remove the fish from the trap of the net.

When the net was not “set”, the mouth was held closed by fastening the bottom slip ring to the top slip ring at either end of the net. To set the net, the set pole, which was fastened to each of the bottom slip rings, was pushed downward.

The net was set at low tide by opening the mouth of the net to fish the incoming tide. The mouth was left open for three to four hours and then closed by pulling up the set poles. The net was hauled out through the narrow opening in the ice and the catch removed from the trap. The net would then be placed back in the water and would be set again on the next tide.

Catches varied from a few pounds to a few hundred pounds. At our “enterprise” which involved two “berths”, the catch would be taken by horse and sleigh to the farmyard and spread on ice until frozen. They were then graded and packed into containers for shipment to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. Prices varied from five to ten cents per pound.

Because of the nature of tides, smelt fishing was carried on at various times of the day or night. During the nighttime, the sight of the fishers with their lanterns moving from their homes to their berths on the river to set or haul their nets was not easily forgotten.

MUSSEL MUD DIGGING

During the latter months of the winter season when the ice was at its thickest the mud digger would be hauled out over the ice to the channel of the West River. A hole would be cut in the thick ice to allow the heavy iron “fork” to be lowered to the mussel bed at the bottom of the channel. By means of a capstan and cable, the fork with its load of mud would be raised to the surface of the ice and deposited into a waiting wood sleigh. Power to the capstan was supplied by horsepower. It was so interesting to watch the horse as he circled the capstan, cutting into the ice with his iron clad shoes making a circular path that became ever deeper as the work progressed.

The mud was transported by horse and sleigh to local farms as well as to farms miles away.

The bounty from the river provided provender to our household. The clam and oyster chowders and the pan-fried smelts made many delicious meals. Waterfowl were abundant during the autumn months on these rivers and creeks. These waterfowl afforded recreation as well as meat for the table. It is somewhat ironic that in our affluent society these foods, which were free for the taking, are now considered a luxury not affordable by people of average income.

Looking back over the years the memories of growing up on the Darrach farm are fading now but things will never be the same.  It is very unlikely that oyster and smelt fishing and mud digging will ever again be carried out on these rivers. But fond memories of these farm activities will still remain.

Many years have now passed and upon reflection I think the poet John Bannister Tabb expresses my feelings best in his poem entitled “Childhood”.

Childhood

Old Sorrow, I shall meet again,
And Joy, perchance – but never, never,
Happy Childhood, shall we twain
See each other’s face forever!

And yet I would not call thee back
Dear Childhood, lest the sight of me,
Thine old companion, on the rack
Of Age, should sadden even thee.

– John Bannister Tabb (1845-1909)

Jon Darrach Collection 108

Aerial view of Hector and Ina Darrach’s farm – house and buildings are no longer there.

 

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