“Their House”*

Prince Edward Island has been the home of the M’ikmaq for millennia, perhaps since time began. A creation legend says that Glooscap, the creator, had finished painting the world and he dipped his brush in a mix of all the colours and created Epekwitk* (Something laying in the water) – his favourite island. He is said to have been a giant with great power and when he slept the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia was his bed and Prince Edward Island was his pillow.

The history of the Mi’kmaq in the Atlantic region, both pre-contact and after, is a fascinating and complex one. With my limited knowledge I wouldn’t even dare to summarize it but to say that it rich for discovery and fortunately there is a movement to encourage that discovery. The M’ikmaq Confederacy of PEI and Parks Canada have formed a partnership with a goal to actively involved the Island First Nation “in the management of the Prince Edward Island National Park and National Historic Sites; and the presentation of Mi’kmaq history and culture – at Parks Canada sites and beyond.” We had the good fortune to come across one of the presentations as we left the parking lot for the hiking trails at Greenwich (Puku’samkek) on our hike to the Dunes at the beginning of September.

Junior Peter-Paul, a Mi’kmaq Elder and Heritage Interpreter, and his colleague Michael Sark, a future knowledge carrier, are building a traditional wigwam in a carefully chosen location. The skills and techniques have been passed to them by Elder Todd Labrador, well-known and acknowledged master birch bark builder from Nova Scotia.

As with any home the location was carefully chosen, respecting traditional and practical logic: the entrance faces east and the rays of the morning sun; a mature white spruce and two mature red maples provide protection from the heat, wind and rain; and there is a view of the water.

This is the third wigwam that Peter-Paul has build; he built his first with his grandfather at the age of 13. For Sark it is his second. He, along with other young people, helped Elders Methilda Knockwood-Snache and Peter-Paul build one at the Port-La-Joye-Fort-Amherst National Historic Site in 2017. They were under the guidance of Labrador, who learned the craft from his father and grandfather.

The structure is given its integrity by seven rings of saplings (maple, cherry or birch) bound by spruce roots. The roots are harvested and dried for future use; they become supple again when soaked in water or steamed. As well as giving strength to the wigwam the rings are meant as a reminder to those livng there of the Sacred Teachings: Love, Respect, Courage, Truth, Humility, Wisdom, and Honesty.

Once it has been harvested the birch bark is dried for future use and has almost a leathery look. Warm water or steaming over a fire warms the sap that has been retained – even after several months – and renders it pliable and flexible to be cut and shaped.

Melissa, Peter-Paul’s daughter, is a well-known M’ikmaq artist, who has revived the art of quill work here on the Island. She uses birch bark in her work and made this Tweet during the birch bark harvest in 2019.

Though there was much that was fascinating about the encampment one thing that caught my eye were the wooden nails that are used throughout – including on the birch bark canoe. Peter-Paul mentioned that they were “fired” to harden the wood – unfortunately I didn’t ask for an explanation of the process and hoped to on our recent visit however Park Services closed just before the threat of Hurricane Teddy.

The birch bark canoe on display is the work of Todd Labrador, Junior Peter-Paul and others. In the spring of 2018 Labrador and a group of future knowledge carriers had harvested the birch bark in Kejimkujik National Park, along with the spruce roots, cedar needed and that summer constructed four canoes. In September that same year Labrador and Peter-Paul spent six weeks constructing the canoe in what was a year of canoe building across the Maritimes.

As well as historic photos from the Confederacy Archives Peter-Paul had articles of regalia on display. I’ve repeated the photo of his breastplate that was hanging above the entrance to the wigwam. Peter-Paul admitted that he had just put it there that day – he wasn’t sure if it was traditional but felt it gave the wigwam a decorative touch. The tunic with the beautiful bead work was a gift from the community in Nova Scotia. Notice that the tunic is hanging from a wooden nail!

With the closing of Park Services in mid-September the various artifacts have been removed but the wigwam and smoke pit remain in the clearing and I am assuming will do so through the winter. Hopefully come the spring Peter-Paul and Sark will be back to share more of the culture of their rich Mi’kmaq heritage.

As a side bar we have watched the Mi’kmaq Urban Indigenous Centre being built from our den window and I believe Peter-Paul and Sark will be crafting another wigwam for the cultural element of the new building.

The word for October 1st is:
*Wigwam /ˈwiɡˌwäm/: [noun]
A dome-shaped or conical hut or tent made by fastening mats, skins, or bark over a framework of poles (as used formerly by some North American Native peoples).
Early 17th century: from Ojibwa wigwaum, Algonquian wikiwam ‘their house’.
Míkmawísimk is one of the Algonquian languages.

*European sailors, traders, and settlers gave us the transliteration Abegweit with was then rather poetically translated “Cradled on the Waves”.

Hiking on PEI

Well we didn’t do as much beaching or hiking as we said would – the best planned lays of mice and men etc. – the past few months. Not sure what happened but time and the summer just seemed to get away from us. Having said that one cloudy/sunny/cloudy/semi-sunny (hey it’s PEI we can get that combo in 5 minutes) day we decided to drive out to Greenwich National Park and hike the Dunes trail known for it’s floating boardwalk. It is floating in two senses of the word – it is suspended above the forest and marshlands floor but also floats on Bowley’s Pond rising and falling with the water levels.

A goodly portion of Lot 40 north of St Peter’s Bay was owned by the Sandersons. Charles Sanderson’s eldest son Garbert owned 375 acres the rest was divided between sons and sons-in-law. It remained farmland until Cyril Sanderson sold it to developers in 1979. Several projects were touted and then jettisoned before the property was purchased by the Federal Government and declared a National Park.
Meacham’s Illustrated Historical Atlas – 1880

The western tip of the peninsula that forms St Peter’s Bay Greenwich became a National Park in 1998 with a mandate to protect the natural and cultural resources of the region. The land had been farmed by Charles Sanderson as early as 1820; he passed it on to his sons. His grandson Cyril farmed it from 1939 (he was 14 at the time) until it was sold in 1979. The buildings gradually fell in to disrepair and were eventually torn down. The fields and wood lots have been gradually reclaimed by nature but outlines are still distinguishable.

Despite devastating budget cuts during the declining years of Snake Eye’s mandate in the early 20-teens Parks Canada has done an excellent job of maintaining facilities and posting information about the site and its environment.

Here are some of the flora and fauna that they identify on the information signs that pepper the route. Unfortunately it is not possible to put a caption on them on this page however a left click will take you to the slideshow that identifies a small selection of the bugs, the birds, the beasts, and the blossoms on the Dunes Trail.

Once again through the magic of iPhone and iMovie you can join Laurent and I for a few minutes on our hike to the Greenwhich Dunes. Surely, but far to slowly, I am finding out a few of the tricks of smoother video making but I still haven’t mastered the Hinterlands Who’s Who voice over but I’m sure that will come.

Yesterday (September 26th) we headed out to Greenwich once again this time to hike the Tlaqatik Trail. Tlaqatik is a Mi’kmaq phrase meaning “At the Campsite” and archaeological research has revealed that the area has been a living place for the past 10,000 years. I’ll try and get a video of that jaunt up within the next week or so.

On our return to the entrance to the trails this apple tree appeared to be covered with what looked like gold sparkle dust in the sun. It is all that is left of what must have been the Sanderson’s apple orchard.

The word for September 27th is:
Apple /ˈapəl/: [noun]
1. The round fruit of a tree of the rose family, which typically has thin red or green skin and crisp flesh. Many varieties have been developed as dessert or cooking fruit or for making cider.
2. An unrelated fruit that resembles an apple in some way.
3. the tree which bears apples.
Formerly spelled æppel in Old English, it derives from the Proto-Germanic root ap(a)laz, which could also mean fruit in general. This is ultimately derived from Proto-Indo-European ab(e)l-, but the precise original meaning and the relationship between both words is uncertain.
It is interesting that in the “Latin” languages French takes its word from the Latin pomum but Spanish uses the Latin derivative matianum while Italian take it from the Greek malum.

The Stones on Yankee Hill – III

So finally I get around to actually taking you into the Yankee Hill Cemetery. It’s only been three years since I took the pictures! It was a sunny warm September day and the dappled light through the trees gave – me at least – the feeling of a Georgian novel. There was a touch of Byronic romanticism that you could picture on a threatening day suddenly turning Gothically sinister and on a moonless night downright frightening.

Given the machinations of Captain MacKay it was necessary to find a new burial site for the good folk of Yankee Hill and the surrounding area. The land that John Cameron gave in 1810 for the log chapel was large enough to accommodate a graveyard. The small chapel (barely six metres square) was to serve the largely Presbyterian congregation of an extended area from Cavendish across the bay* to Park Corner. It can be assumed the original graveyard was of a considerable size though it’s exact boundaries are unknown. It was however situation on a pleasant hill with an aspect to the dunes beyond.

There appears to be no existing records of the early burials but there are 23 known memorials indicating the resting places of 27 souls from the area. The earliest marker remembers the death of Robert William Cundall in 1828 and the latest gravestone dates from 1904 with the passing of James W. Cousins.

The first stones on the path in are for Ann and Andrew McPherson and at the foot of their graves is a small marker that commemorates AMcP. Unfortunately nothing else is decipherable on the remnants of the stone – perhaps it is one of their children?

Behind the McPherson’s is a stone marking the resting place of George McLeod who was 4 years old when his family emigrated from Sutherlandshire in Scotland to PEI. Many of the other McLeod’s in the area came from the same area so he is possibly related to one or two of the McLeods buried in the cemetery.

A rather unusual table memorial separates his stone from what would appear to be a family plot for the McLeod clan. Unfortunately exposure to the elements has rendered the inscription illegible.

There is at least two grave widths between the headstone for the elder Hugh McLeod (1845) and that of Nancy (1869) and her husband Hugh (1866) which would suggest there are other family members whose headstones have gone missing.

The final resting place of John and Mary Cousins and several of their children and grand children.

A row of six gravestones mark the resting place of several branches of the Cousins family who held land in the French River area. John Cousins (1840) came to PEI in 1785 as an Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution. His family had been Huguenots from Normandy and the original spelling of the name was Couzens. After settling in Park Corner he married Mary Townsend (1850) in 1786. In 1775 when she was seven she had come with her family on Robert Clark’s ill-fated venture to found a New London. Cousins was one of the largest landowners in the region with over seven hundred acres.

The rather odd phrase “relic of” is used to indicate that Mary had been the surviving spouse of John. It also appears on the grave stone of Catherine McKay. It is a unisex term simply meaning “survivor of” and could be used for a widow or widower.

James, the son of William and Mary, is the last recorded burial in the cemetery in October 1904. He had been postmaster at Park Corner for many years. From the inscription on his stone it would appear that he had suffered for a long time from a unnamed aliment.

Several of the stones bear the maiden names of the wives – something that I would have thought unusual for the time. However a bit of research revealed that in Scotland it was a common practice until recently for a married women to be known formally, if not necessarily in everyday life, by their original surnames after marriage. It was a form of recognizing your birth clan. The custom carried over to memorials and tombstones.

Robert William Cundall Esq (1828)
& his son Thomas (1831)

Robert William Cundall settled in Park Corner and married Penelope Bassett the daughter of a landowner in the area. On her father’s death she inherited a share of Lot 20. Cundall died in 1828 at the age of 49 – his marker is the oldest of the existing stones. His oldest son Thomas died three years later in a drowning accident at the age of 13. According to the note in the graveyard the second son William took over the running of the family properties when his father died??? He would have been at the most eight or nine at the time so you do have to question that statement????

Though the log chapel was abandoned in 1836-37 burials were to continue for another 67 years. As time passed the chapel rotted away – though until recently there were locals who recall playing “fort” on the stone foundation and amongst the few remaining wooden crosses and toppling tombstones. The area became overgrown and as happens nature took back the land. However in 1971 a volunteer group cleared both Yankee Hill and Sims Cemeteries and in 1973, PEI Centennial year, they were declared memorials and Provincial historical sites.

Hopefully the damaged caused by Dorian will be cleared away and it will be possible to once again cross the wooden bridge and experience a glimpse of the stories of the lives, loves, achievements and families of that corner of our Island.

Most of the historical information concerning individuals was provided by the object labels at the Cemetery.

The word for August 25th is:
Relic /ˈrelik/: [noun]
1.1 An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
1.2 A part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings kept as an object of reverence.
1.3 An object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.
1.4 (archaic) The surviving partner of a marriage i.e. widow or widower.

The Stones on Yankee Hill – II

On our visit to the area in September 2017 Doug and Pierre asked if we wanted to see two old cemeteries in the area. They didn’t have to ask twice – and we made our way first to the Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery and then across the road to the Yankee Hill Cemetery. Two cemeteries on either side of what was a country road, one now hidden in an overgrown grove of trees. But why two cemeteries so close together? As so often happens here on the Island it was a dispute over land.

In the Island land lottery of 1767 Lot 21 was granted to the McLaine brothers and in 1773 Robert Clark, a London merchant and Quaker, had bought it with the hope of setting up a lumber and trading centre. The first settlers (according to Clark many of whom were repentant sinners seeking a new life) arrived on Clark’s ship the Elizabeth in 1774 and founded the settlement of Elizabethtown and the broader New London area. Though the brig was a sturdy vessel equipped to withstand the winter extremes the settlers were not. It is thought that perhaps Clark had painted a brighter picture than what they found and the existence of the Old Cemetery (Sims Field) in 1774 would suggest that many did not survive that first winter. And sadly the Elizabeth proved not quite as sea-worthy and sank the next year. The settlement was soon abandoned and very little trace was left other than the cemetery and a street name.

Inspector of Highways J. B. Palmer drew this map of Capt Mackay’s proposed change to the existing straight road to Malpeck. B is the old cemetery (now known as Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery). The new road was to fork to the south of his property and go by the New Chapel (1810) ending somewhat short of the Ferry dock.
Map is currently in the Provincial Archives

In 1809 Captain William Mackay bought 615 1/2 acres of land from the Clark family. The sale allowed community access, under the High Road Law, on the road to Malpeck (Princetown Road) that ran through his property to New London Bay. Mackay almost immediately began to annoy his neighbours by blocking the road denying them access to the Old Cemetery (Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery), their new chapel, the public ferry dock and shipping facilities at the harbour. MacKay proposed a road that skirted his property and would have proved totally impractical for wagons and carriages. The matter went as far as the Governor and a full report was made that strongly favoured the community and suggested that the barriers be removed. But Mackay had his revenge – his neighbours kept their right of way but were not allowed to enter his property to bury their dead at the Old Burial Ground.

In his report the Inspector of Highways J. B. Palmer does imply that some of the community’s animosity may have also stemmed from MacKay’s earlier refusal to donate land for the building of a chapel. It had fallen to John Cambridge, Clark’s land agent, to donate a plot on the crest of Yankee Hill for the construction of a small log chapel in 1810. It was to serve the staunchly Presbyterian residents of New London, Cavendish (!) and Park Corner as a place of worship for the next 25 years until Geddie Memorial was build in nearby Springbrook. In 1836 the chapel was abandoned and fell into disrepair and decay. There is only approximate knowledge of where it was located on the site.

The Yankee Gale – George Thresher (1780-1857)
Oil on canvas – 1851
Confederation Centre of the Arts

I mentioned previously that the name Yankee Hill is attributed to the area being a home base for the American mackerel fishing boats that plied the rich waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Witnessing some of the destruction of Hurricane Dorian brought to mind one of the worst natural disasters in Island history: the Yankee Gale in October of 1851. For two days the winds buffeted and the seas swept over and sank some 120 vessels. It is estimated that as many as 250 sailors perished in the storm – many of them “Yankees”. Local people rescued the survivors and gathered the dead. All along the north shore of the Island, from Tignish to East Point local cemeteries became the final resting place for many of these sailors. It is thought that at least 25 American sailors were buried at Yankee Hill though their grave makers, possibly being simple anonymous wooden crosses, are not amongst the 23 grave markers that have survived storms, been overtaken by nature and the elements, now most recently Hurricane Dorian.

Again this entry has turned out a little longer than I expected however in the next (and last, I promise) post I’ll share photos of those markers and a few anecdotes about the people they eulogize.

NB: Much of the historical information I have included comes from an article by Chester B. Stewart in the Island Magazine published by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. Roadblock 1810 is a treasure trove of anecdotes and facts that paint a colourful picture of life in the early days of settlement here in PEI.

The word for July 11 is:
Gale /ɡāl/: [noun]
1.1 A very strong wind
1.2 A burst of sound, especially of laughter.
Mid 16th century: perhaps related to Old Norse galinn ‘mad, frantic’.
Interesting that the U. S. National Hurricane Centre gives the figures for “gale force winds” as being between 61 km/h; 17 m/s; 38 mph and 117 km/h; 32 m/s;72 mph. We’ve experienced a few of those over the past four years.

The Stones on Yankee Hill – I

I had started a post on the Cemetery at Yankee Hill back in September 2017 after our first visit there with our friends Pierre and Douglas. A day trip to the area in June and our recent staycation close to the site had me revisiting the photos and text with an eye to finally getting around to posting it. Turns out that it will be a two three parter.

Strangely the damage to Prince Edward Island caused by Hurricane Dorion in September of last year went largely unreported except in the local media. The storm hit the North Shore with particular force and it is estimated that in the Cavendish area 80 percent of the trees suffered damage from the high winds and the storm surge eroded 2-3 metres (6-7 feet) of the coast line. We had seen some evidence of it when going through the National Park but got a close up look as we tried to make our way to Yankee Hill Cemetery in June.

Entire stands of trees had been uprooted – particularly birch trees – older or diseased trees had been snapped like twigs and the pathway to the Cemetery was completely blocked. The area was dotted with what a local called “widow makers” – half felled trees precariously supported by other trees bending under their weight. It was difficult to tell if any of the 24 headstones had been damaged or what the current state of the cemetery was. Any attempt to find out would have been both arduous and dangerous.

There had been no sign of any attempts to clear the area and the damage suggested that it would be a big job. From Spring to Fall the Cemetery is cared for under the Island Young Offenders programme administered by a volunteer Board in Summerside. However this was a dangerous job which would need to be done by professionals. Given the isolation of the site and what appeared to be restrictive access we wondered if anything could or would be done.

Two weeks ago we had a conversation with the gentlemen who owns the cemetery as an extension of his property – from what I could understand he holds it in trust as a Provincial Historical Site (though I could stand corrected on the exact legalities of all that). He is an archaeologist and was happy to have trusteeship of the site. The good folks at Provincial Tourism had surveyed the site and work was to start on clearing the damage at the end of July. Apparently there is an access route into the site. He also confirmed that, miraculously, none of the existing stones had been damaged.

In the second part (scheduled for Tuesday) I’ll revisit the photos we took in 2017 and share a brief history of one of the more unusual cemeteries I’ve visited over the years.

The word for August 7th is:
Cemetery /ˈsɛmɪtri/: [noun]
A large burial ground, especially one not in a churchyard.
Late Middle English: via late Latin from Greek koimētērion ‘dormitory’ or ‘sleeping place’, from koiman ‘put to sleep’.
I had not realized that a cemetery was not the burial ground attached to a church – that, logically when I stop and think about it, is a graveyard. As burial in the church yard became unsustainable new burial places, independent of the church, appeared—and these were called cemeteries.