Tag Archives: North Rustico PEI

Island Hopping

PEI Bridge

It is roughly 700 miles from Montreal, Quebec, an island at the confluence of the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence rivers, to Prince Edward Island, on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The way most people get off Montreal is by bridge or tunnel. There are twenty-five bridges and three tunnels. The longest passage is slightly more than a mile.

Most transit gets to Prince Edward Island by way of the Confederation Bridge, the only bridge that connects the island to the rest of Canada. Until the span was built coming and going was by boat or ferry. When the Northumberland Strait froze solid you might strap chains onto your tires and drive across it. After four years of construction the bridge opened in 1997. It is the longest overpass in the world traversing ice-covered water.

It is 8 miles long. It is illegal to stop on the bridge and there is a curve to it whose only purpose is to keep drivers alert.

“It’s weird, it’s long, you’re on it for 5 minutes, at least.” said Tanner Patterson.

“It’s more of a 12-minute trip,” Amanda Patterson pointed out, fine-tuning.

“I did a project on it at school, actually, although I didn’t have any choice,” she said. “My teacher told me, you’re doing the Confederation Bridge. There was a referendum about building it. It was close because lots of people wanted the island to stay secluded.” There were even those who preferred the concept of a moat. “Local workers built it and it’s sturdy. It’s probably never going to fall down.”

More than a million-and-a-quarter people travel to PEI for a week-or-two in the summer, almost nine times as many people as live on the island. Some of them cross by ferry, some of them fly into Charlottetown, but most of them drive over on the bridge.

“It’s very impressive,” said Cathy Patterson.

“Crossing it is anti-climactic because of the concrete parapet. You can’t see anything,” said Mark Patterson, Tanner’s uncle, Amanda’s father, and Cathy’s husband. “But there’s a church you can pull into after you cross, up the approach towards Victoria, and from the parking lot you can see the bridge going all the way back into New Brunswick. It’s an incredible view.”

The Patterson’s live in the West Island, on the west side of Montreal, a laidback community-oriented green space small town feel in the big city kind of neighborhood. One of Montreal’s last large remaining spots of wilderness is in West Island. The region was a summer retreat into the 20th century.

Cathy Patterson first visited Prince Edward Island with a group of fellow potters in 2014. “We did the circuit of the pottery studios,” she said. Throwing, firing, and glazing mud and clay is a cottage industry on the island. “Several teachers showed us their methods.”

The small troop of ceramic artists stayed in the town of North Rustico, at the Coastline Cottages, on the seashore. “Kelly Doyle opened a cabin for us. It was very nice, but it was cold.” By the end of March 2014 more snow had fallen that winter than had in more than 40 years. Blizzards swept the island. “The landscape was stunning, but really, really cold. We all had three layers on.”

“I was here when I was a kid, thirty-five years ago,” said Mark. “We went to Nova Scotia, did the Cabot Trail, and came here. I saw “Anne of Green Gables” at the Confederation Centre. My mom told me we stayed near North Rustico.”

One afternoon when his nephew, daughter, and wife had gone deep-sea fishing, he went for a drive, exploring the north central coast. At the intersection of Route 6 and South Rustico he spotted an old-school style roadhouse. He pulled the car over.

“It was the original motel with green paint,” he said. “That’s where we stayed.”

The Patterson’s piled into their car on a Saturday at 6 o’clock in the morning in late June and left West Island for the eastern seaboard. The drive is circuitous, north to Quebec City, south to Fredericton, east to Monkton, and finally across the bridge. It takes close to 15 hours.

“We played the letter game in the car,” said Cathy.

The alphabet game is played on long car rides. The players try to find the letters of the alphabet on license plates, road signs, and nearby buildings, in order, starting with “A”. If any player spots a graveyard on the side of the road and declares it, the other players have to go back to the beginning. There is a shout out for the winner after they have reached “Z” if they can remember all the different things for each letter of the alphabet.

When he wasn’t playing the letter game, Tanner was downloading podcasts on his phone. “They saved my life,” he said. “Our Fake History and Night Vale are good ones.” Night Vale is about a small desert town, mysterious lights in the night sky, and dark hooded figures with unknowable powers.

“I like to sleep,” said Amanda. “When I get bored I start rambling, talking nonsense.”

“It’s annoying,” Tanner groused about Amanda bunking in the back seat, who didn’t lose any sleep over it. “I can’t sleep in cars. She’s out for at least half the trip.”

“I drive,” said Mark. “I’m no good being a passenger.”

“I can drive all day or I can sleep,” said Cathy. “Put me in the passenger seat and I’m out like a light.”

Three years after Cathy had gone to Prince Edward Island, bundled up against the cold, they were on the way there in the summertime. They were in shorts and t-shirts because her friend, Sue Cameron, a fellow potter, had booked two weeks at Coastline Cottages earlier in the year. Cathy got wind of the vacation while at lunch with her friend one day.

“Is there another cabin?” asked Cathy.

“I don’t know, we can find out,” said Sue.

“I called Kelly, he had an open cottage, I said fine, and booked it on the spot,” said Cathy.

“Our first week we went to beaches five days in a row,” said Mark.

There are almost 700 miles of PEI coastline, cliffs, sand dunes, and long sandy beaches. There are about 90 of them. Most of them are located in provincial or national parks. The beaches on the north coast are white sand while those on the south coast are red sand. The sand at Basin Head is called singing sand because it squeaks when you walk on it.

“I was so excited for the beaches,” said Tanner. “We went all over, to Cavendish, Brackley, Thunder Cove.”

“He just sits there listening to music,” said Amanda.

“Or I listen to podcasts,” said Tanner. “Then I go in the water.”

“Thunder Cove is a secret beach,” said Amanda.

“The kids took a walk to the Teacup,” said Cathy.

“The way the rock there has eroded you can walk underneath it,” explained Mark.

“It’s a cliff, so you can be on the beach and behind you the water flows into the cliff, and you can go inside it,” said Tanner.

“It was cool,” said Amanda. “But, there were little crabs that bit your feet, especially this one part where they kept snapping at you.”

The day Mark Patterson went solo exploring was the same day the rest of the family boarded Papa’s Gem, one of two 45-foot Aiden’s Deep Sea Fishing boats sailing out of the North Rustico harbor. The fishing charter supplies rods, tackle, and bait, cleans the cod and mackerel you’ve caught, and you get to take it all with you.

Aiden Doiron started fishing when he was 15-years-old, started his own deep-sea fishing excursions in 1957, and started up Doiron’s Fish Market on the near side of the harbor. His family still operates the charter and the fishery.

“I caught one cod and two mackerel,” said Tanner.

“I caught two cod and mom got sick,” said Amanda.

“This guy on board was smoking a cigarette,” said Cathy.

“You’re not supposed to smoke,” said Amanda. “The captain got mad when he found out.”

“It was the way the wind came up and the smoke hit me full throttle. I had to sit down, but when the engines started up and we started moving, going back, it was too much. The next minute I was feeding the fish. It was quite embarrassing.”

Mark fired up the grill at Coastline Cottages the next day.

“I had never had mackerel,” he said. “We didn’t have any spices, no nothing, maybe a little parsley, but Tanner and I pan-fried the fish, and it might have been our best meal on the island.”

“No, dad, it was ice cream at Cows,” said Amanda.

By all accounts dinner at the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers was a big hit.

“It was a high point for me,” said Tanner.

The restaurant, on the Hunter River, not far from North Rustico, got its start in 1957 when the New Glasgow and District Junior Farmers Organization, looking for a permanent meeting place, bought and moved a canteen to the eatery’s current location. The first lobster supper, priced at $1.50, was served on improvised plank tables as a fundraiser in 1958. The dinner was followed by a dance.

Today the all-you-can-eat feast starts with fresh rolls seafood chowder coleslaw salad and Island Blue mussels.. The main course is lobster. Dessert is buffet-style. The restaurant is still owned by the Nicholson’s and MacRae’s, two of the original founding couples. It was showcased on TV’s Food Network in 2012, on a program called “You Gotta Eat Here”.

“You sit at a long picnic-style table. It’s like clockwork, so well run,” said Cathy.

“Tanner and I ate a whole bucket of mussels,” said Mark.

“You can have one, two, three buckets, all you want,” said Cathy.

“I ate them all,” said Tanner proudly.

“I never had fresh mussels like that,” said Mark.

PEI mussels, sweet and tender, are widely available at seafood counters in many countries, and are often considered the best in the world. Some gourmands say the best mussels are harvested on lonely rocky outcrops along cold-water tidal inlets, but since few people haul themselves, their rubber boots and gloves, and 5-gallon plastic pails to isolated shorelines, the island’s rope-grown mussels are the next best. They are super tasty nutritious sustainable and even help purify water by clearing nitrogen.

Nothing beats sitting down to PEI mussels on PEI.

“Amanda tried a mussel, but she wasn’t crazy about it,” said Tanner.

“Hey, I ate a lot of them!” she protested.

After a week of lolling on beaches the Patterson’s got into their car and went touring. The Tip-to-Tip Tour is about driving the length of the province on the rolling coastal roads. It’s a way to see the meeting of the tides at one end of the island at East Point and North America’s longest natural rock reef at the other end at North Cape.

“You go to one side, they give you a ribbon, and when you get to the other side, and show them the ribbon, they give you a certificate,” said Mark. “It’s a long drive. We were all tired by the time we got to North Cape.”

When they pulled into Tignish, a small town on the far northwestern tip of the island, they were ready for their daily bread. When they asked, someone recommended the Very Best Restaurant, which turned out to be part of the Tignish Co-op. A small sit-down, it has a big name for its Acadian meat pies.

“At first I thought they were bragging,” said Mark. “But, it’s got to be good if they say that. When we got there, there were all kinds of different tables and chairs.”

“It looked pretty sketchy,” said Amanda.

“After we sat down we could tell it was going to be good because all the local farmers and fishermen were there, in work clothes and Chevy caps. We fed the whole family for thirty-five dollars.”

“It’s like a PEI secret place,” said Tanner.

“The name comes from living in the north,” said Amanda. “If you ask anybody how their day has been, they always say, the very best day.”

Closer to home, one day Cathy told the 12-year-old Tanner and the 13-year-old Amanda that the next day would be their day. They could pick whatever activity they wanted to do.

“We got one day, no, one morning, out of two weeks,” said Tanner.

“No, we went to all those beaches,” said Cathy.

“Oh, yeah,” said Tanner.

The next morning they went to Cavendish.

The resort town is the next town over from North Rustico, known for its numerous cottages and campgrounds, Green Gables attractions, golf courses, boardwalk, and amusement parks. The first place they went to was the Route 6 Motel, a haunted house nestled in a spruce grove, crawling, walking, and running through the winding corridors where disturbing obstacles lurk.

“It was great, but I couldn’t. I was fine, but I don’t like getting squished,” said Amanda. “When they yelled to get ready for the airbags, I hate that. I told them I needed to check out and they opened a side door for me.”

Tanner had already checked out.

“I’m good at scary movies,” he said. “I can predict everything. I just use my brain, but haunted houses, I don’t like it when it’s super dark and super loud.”

Cathy was waiting outside, catching some fresh air, reading a paperback. A young mother walked out of the haunted house with a 7-year-old in hand. The boy was crying.

“Is he OK?” asked Cathy.

“The haunted house did him in,” said the woman.

“I’m waiting for my kids,” said Cathy.

“Is one of them wearing a pink sweatshirt?”

“Yes.”

“They’re out already.”

Cathy found Big Pink and PJ at the side of the Route 6 Motel.

“Sure enough, neither of them finished the haunted house,” she said.

Within the first few days of arriving on Prince Edward Island, Tanner was known as Big Pink, since he was a large boy and wore his favorite pink sweatshirt whenever he could, and Amanda was known as PJ for wearing her pajamas over her bathing suit going to and from the Coastline Cottage’s kidney-shaped saltwater pool overlooking the ocean.

Their next stop was the Hangar, a black-lit, fog filled, state-of-the-art laser tag arena. Strapped into special vests, Tanner and Amanda were released into the 3000-square-foot space, firing infrared beams with Uzi-style ray guns.

“When we went one-on-one, I totally destroyed her,” said Tanner.

“Sure, but when we played that other family, I dominated,” said Amanda.

“She was super good at sneaking around, getting behind you, and shooting, shooting, shooting,” said Tanner. “She would just surprise run up and shoot you in the back the whole time.”

After two weeks on the island, going home to Montreal wasn’t easy, except for leaving the pillows behind. “The beds are comfortable in the cottage, but the pillows aren’t,” said Amanda.

“Bring your own pillow next time,” said Cathy.

“We all went to see “Anne of Green Gables” in Charlottetown. When Matthew dies at the end, I was, oh, crap, I had forgotten that part. That got me,” said Mark.

“The island is beautiful,” he added. “I liked that I wasn’t working for two weeks.” Island hopping is being able to do nothing much and having all day to do it before you have to go back to whatever made you go on vacation in the first place.

“I liked getting up in the morning, taking my cup of tea down to the ocean, sitting on my log down there,” said Cathy.

“The beaches,” said Big Pink. His favorite place was anyplace by the ocean. “Eating mussels and Canada Day were awesome, too.”

When he heard there was pole climbing rubber boot throwing lobster eating contests and a cow bingo, guessing where the cow will do its business at the end of the afternoon, every year at the Agricultural Exhibition and Acadian Festival, he said, “We’re coming back!”

“I’m not chasing pigs!” said Amanda.

When the Patterson’s piled into their car for the return trip to Montreal, they drove from North Rustico to New Glasgow to Hunter River to Kelly’s Cross to Crapaud onto Highway 1 to Borden-Carleton and onto the Confederation Bridge.

By a twist of the turnstile, there’s no cost to cross the bridge for a summer vacation on Prince Edward Island, no ticket takers. But, when you pull back up to the tollbooth, it costs $47.00 to leave. It’s like the candles costing more than the cake. That’s when you might as well make plans to go back, since the entryway back to the red island is always for the asking.

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The Face in the Bunker Gear

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Bunker gear is what a firefighter wears, boots pants jacket, and more modern apparatus, like masks and breathing cylinders, to stay safe and be effective when responding to an emergency. It is also called turnout gear, which is what firefighters do, turning out when there’s an alarm. The protective clothing is triple-layered and fire resistant. It is sometimes stowed beside or under a firefighter’s bunk at the station.

It all weighs more than 50 pounds, and that’s before picking up an ax or an extinguisher. Two hundred-some years ago headgear was a felt cap meant to keep water out of your eyes. Today’s helmet, high-peaked with a long rear brim, was first introduced in the 1830s. The New York City luggage maker who designed it was also a volunteer fireman.

Fighting fires means a lot of stepping up and down bending crawling, as well as working with your arms both in front of and over your head. When a firefighter bends at the knee or waist they need added length in their pants and jacket to accommodate their movements. Although bunker gear isn’t necessarily oversized, it’s oversized for mobility’s sake.

When a firefighter is in full bunker gear it’s hard to tell if the reflective-striped all-suited-up hulk pulling hose off a truck is a man or a woman. If it’s the fire chief of North Rustico in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island doing the work, it’s a woman.

It is Alison Larkin. A member of the town’s fire department since she was 18-years-old, she is in charge of the 30-man-and-woman volunteer company.

Before being appointed fire chief in the spring of 2016, the 28-year-old Ms. Larkin was and remains a full-time paramedic with Island EMS, where she has worked for seven years. But, before becoming a professional lifesaver, after graduating from high school, she had to first apply to the paramedic program at PEI’s Holland College.

She didn’t get in.

“My high school marks were terrible,” she said. “I loved school, all my friends, but I did just enough to pass.”

Regrouping, she took Adult Education classes, upgrading her math, science, and English scores. “I had no problem working on my own,” she said. “Healthcare was something I wanted to do and my best friends weren’t around to influence me about going or not going to class.” In the meantime, she filled out an application and was accepted as a member of the North Rustico Fire Department.

There are more than 125,000 volunteer firefighters across Canada, most of them serving in countryside that can’t afford to staff a full-time career department. Volunteer firefighters date to the year 6 in the city of Rome.

North Rustico is a small town of fewer than 600 year-round residents on the central north shore of the province, on a natural harbor along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The National Park shoreline is a short walk from the harbor.

Although her family lives in the town of Rusticoville, her hometown is within a few miles driving on rising and falling rural roads of Rustico, Anglo Rustico, and South Rustico, as well as North Rustico. “I pretty much knew everyone in the department from being around here.” She spent her first year learning the ropes.

Alison’s plan was to bring her new marks and newfound experience in the fire department to bear in petitioning for admission to Holland College. “They save some seats in each course for people who have upgraded their marks,” she said. The next year she applied to the paramedic program again.

She didn’t get in.

She went to work at Lorne’s Snack Bar in North Rustico. “I waited tables, cooked, cleaned, everything. They had the best poutine and gravy in town.” Lorne’s was a stone’s throw from the Irving service station owned by her parents. “My dad does all the mechanics at the back and mom manages the front. You see a pretty lady walking around, that’s my mom.”

One day the following year her mother walked over to Lorne’s from the service station and dropped off a letter addressed to her. She slid the poutine she was making to the side. She opened the letter.

“I remember freaking out behind the counter,” she said. Alison Larkin had finally gotten into Holland College.

It’s when first and second chances haven’t played out that the third time’s a charm.

”I’m happy it took that long,” said Alison. “It can be a crazy job, seeing all the stuff you see. I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. How do you help people when you have no life experience?”

When first responders get to where they’re going there’s no waiting. They’re always stepping into something that’s gone wrong. When stepping into the middle of some emergencies they hear see smell things that most people never do, and don’t want to. Their job is to help people, sometimes people whose lives are hanging in the balance.

“It’s stressful, very stressful” said Alison. “I don’t carry a lot of the calls with me. If you hold on to it, get personal with it, you’re never going to last. My brain just lets me do the call and let it go.”

It was after Alison Larkin prevailed and became a paramedic and found work that she was able to stay in the Land of Rustico, stay on the North Rustico Fire Department, and stay on Prince Edward Island. “It’s a beautiful place, a great place to be, but it’s hard to make a living.”

Recent data released by Statistics Canada suggests that PEI natives have been moving to other provinces in search of work at a rate not seen in 30 years. “Five thousand people in Prince Edward Island declare Prince Edward Island as their home, but work in Alberta,” said Workforce and Advanced Learning Minister Richard Brown.

“There‘s not a lot of work here, you can’t make any money,” said Alison “It’s hard to buy farms and lobster gear, it’s so expensive, so finding a good well-paying job was the biggest thing, definitely.”

In the meantime she became more involved with her town’s fire department. “I fell in love with the firefighting side of things, almost changed my career to it.” She trained at the PEI Firefighters School “I loved it, got right into it. I loved hanging around with the guys.” She trained in fire and search simulators, climbed real ladders, and hauled high-pressure hoses. She aced the question and answer test at the end.

The men and women sitting in a fire truck speeding to the scene of a calamity do one of the most physically demanding of all jobs. No emergency call they go on is ever the same, from chain sawing holes in a steep roof ventilating it to dragging someone out of something smoky hot dark on fire to safety.

The first fire Alison Larkin fought was her helping handle a hose cooling off a propane tank that was next to a burning building. “It was a total adrenaline rush. It’s not boring. Every day is different.” It takes steady nerves. Half-hour bottles of air can empty fast if you lose your composure.

“Not every woman can do it, but not every man can do it, either,” said Alison. “There are definitely people who are built for it, man or woman. It’s hard, but I can do it. I’ve only ever been pushed further by the guys.”

The first female firefighter, a young slave from New York City, was Molly Williams, described in 1815 “as good a fire laddie as many of the boys.” When Emma Vernell’s husband died in the line of duty in the 1920s, she took his place on Westside Hose Company #1, becoming the first firewoman officially recognized by New Jersey.

The first female career firefighter was hired by the Arlington County Fire Department in Virginia in 1973. By the middle of the 1980s about 1% of all firefighters were women. Today more than 3% of them are women. On Prince Edward Island 65 of the approximately 1,000 firefighters are female, twice the national average. In 2016 Toronto Fire Services, the largest Canadian municipal fire department, made history when its top three graduates were women.

Alison Larkin made history when she was appointed fire chief.

“The job came up, so I put my name in,” she said. The chief who was stepping down recommended the stepping-stone of standing for deputy chief. “Why don’t you go for chief,” some of the members suggested. “If you’re going to help me, if I have your support, I will do it,” she said. The members voted her in and at a Committee of Council Meeting the town confirmed her appointment.

“The opportunity came up and I just took it.”

She is the first woman on Prince Edward Island to hold the post and one of only three women in the Maritimes who are fire chiefs. Making history is being who you are, not being your past history, not letting anything in your past keep you from doing something in the present.

“A woman fire chief fifty years ago? No, definitely not, but there are now,” said Alison. “I don’t know what changed. Maybe women decided, yeah, we can do it, and men decided, yeah, women can do it. Back then it would have been crazy. I think the culture has changed.”

Jane Ledwell of PEI’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women agrees, adding that Alsion Larkin is a “terrific role model. We are so thrilled to see she has been named PEI’s first female fire chief.”

After finishing her paramedic courses and finding work with Island EMS, Alison went back to PEI Firefighters School for more training. She is the first woman in the province to gain Level II accreditation and the next year was sought out to become a part-time instructor. “They really built up my confidence. I never thought I’d be teaching there.”

The North Rustico Fire Department is an all-volunteer force. Nobody gets paid, “I know a lot of people can’t understand that, but what we do we do for this community,” said Alison. Not everything that counts is just counting what’s in your wallet.

“We get calls to people’s homes on their worst day. That’s what we’re there for, to turn a bad situation into something manageable, try to make them feel a little bit better. The most rewarding part of the job is when someone thanks us, says we turned their crisis into not a crisis.”

The new fire chief has put a new emphasis on training. ”It’s a big thing. We’re always working on that.” The department meets every Tuesday night. One Tuesday is maintenance night on the rescue vehicle, the tanker truck, and the two fire trucks. Two of the Tuesday nights are devoted to training.

“It was more known as a boy’s club long ago, you come and hang out, when really now it’s more geared toward training, and doing a lot of work and making sure everyone knows what’s going on and what they’re doing.”

Safety is the cornerstone of firefighting. Although firefighters die at a rate barely greater than the rate for cashiers, when trouble comes it’s not a dollar bill paper cut, it’s a chain saw gone haywire. At the end of the day training is what keeps you from putting your life on the line. “You never want to put people into situations you feel they’re not trained for,” said Alison.

Just like cauliflower is just cabbage with a higher education, firefighters are just men and women who put their bunker pants on one leg at a time, except that before they’re even in their gear they know what to do next. Practice may not make perfect, but it makes getting it wrong less likely.

At the North Rustico fire station the department’s emphasis on training has gone the extra mile, extending to family pets. Atlantic Vet College recently schooled the members on animal first aid and rescue, reviewing facets from cardiac arrest to breathing distress.

One of the firefighters volunteered his unsuspecting dog as a guinea pig. “We found out how much oxygen we needed to turn the masks on to, what flow rate for what animal,” said Alison “They gave us pointers in how to go up to a scared dog or cat and get them to come to us.”

Besides getting everyone’s training up to speed, getting to where they have to go in a timely fashion is another goal she has set. “Our old trucks are just old. It’s time for new ones. After 25 years you need to upgrade your equipment.” Like roads and bridges, trucks don’t upgrade themselves. It takes someone to make it happen.

Although firefighters are faceless in their bunker suits and breathing masks, when Allison Larkin is off the truck and back at the North Rustico station after an emergency call, stripping off her gear, helmet pants jacket boots, there‘s no mistaking who she is.

She’s the firefighter with her toenails painted purple.

Road Map

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There are more than six thousand kilometers of two-lane roads on the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island. About two thousand of those kilometers are unpaved. All of the unpaved tracks are red clay dirt roads. Many of the paved roads are reddish, too.

“At one time there was island stone and beach sand that was used in concrete,” explained Jamie Reid, the PEI operations manager for USCO Concrete.

The pastoral landscape of Prince Edward Island is layered over sandstone bedrock. Sandstone can be dug up by backhoes and is still sometimes used for local and seasonal roads. Wet weather transforms unpaved tracks into what some islanders call baby poop.

The sandstone is leavened with iron oxide, or rust, giving the landscape its distinctive red color beneath wide blue skies overlooking green fields. The Indians who lived on the island before European colonization called it Epekwitk. They thought their god Glooscap, after he finished making the rest of the world, with a final flourish mixed his colors and made their island.

“When I was a kid most of the roads around here were dirt,” said Kelly Doyle. “Sometimes after a bad winter storm you couldn’t go anywhere for a day-or-two.”

The first roads were built in the late 1760s. At the turn of the 20th century cars were banned on most roads most of the time, especially on market days. A Red Flag law was passed ordering there be a man at the front of every car with a red flag, ready to wave it just in case. By 1919 cars could go anywhere and the red flags were put away.

Kelly Doyle has lived in North Rustico, a small town on a natural harbor on the north side of Prince Edward Island along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, most of his life. He owns the Coastline Cottages on the eponymous Doyle’s Cove on the National Seashore, operates PEI Select Tours, and has been a lobster fisherman, on-and-off, for more than twenty seasons.

“I grew up on a mixed farm. It wasn’t anything elaborate, basically turnips, which is a rutabaga, and we grew grain, barley, and wheat. My father was the farmer.”

Mixed farms are for families who need a farmer three times a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Tom and Doris “Dottie” Doyle farmed 100 acres, although at one time the family had almost 400 acres. “Most of our land is rented,” said Kelly Doyle. ”We used to have seven fields on our 100 acres, but now it’s three fields.”

By the early 1900s PEI’s thick forests had been largely cleared and ninety percent of the island’s land was being farmed. There were more than 12,000 farms, almost all of them between fifty to one hundred acres. The land was sub-divided by dykes, which are walls built of rocks dug up from the fields.

“Those dykes were full of berries,” said Kelly. “Our mom used to send us back in the fields with buckets. We’d come back with them full of wild raspberries and blueberries.”

After World War II province-wide development plans, tractors, and technology led to modernization, bigger farms, and one-crop planting. By 2006 there were only 1,700 working farms on Prince Edward Island and more than half of them were growing potatoes. PEI is sometimes called Spud Island.

“Fields were smaller fifty years ago,” said Kelly. “Maybe it should have stayed that way. Now they’ve ripped out all the dykes and sprays kill all the wild berries. It’s a shame to see it.”

Tom Doyle, however, was the only Doyle who ever farmed.

“They were boat people from Ireland in 1847,” said Kelly Doyle. “It was on his third sailing here that my great-great-grandfather landed and stayed. He did something so that the Queen, or somebody, granted him land, and two shore lots.”

By 1850 a quarter of the people on Prince Edward Island were Irish. The last wave of immigrants was called the Monaghan settlers because they came from County Monaghan. They often paid their own way to PEI and made their own way once on the island, rather than tenant farming.

Most freeholders farmed and controlled livestock. By the mid-1800s PEI was already exporting surplus foodstuff to neighboring provinces and Great Britain. The Doyle’s, however, raised horses and propagated thoroughbreds. The family later took advantage of fashion and bred black silver foxes for their pelts.

The secret of breeding foxes for their pelts was solved in the late 19th century on Prince Edward Island. Twenty years later single pelts sold for as much as $2000.00, at a time when farm laborers made a dollar a day. In 1913 the provincial government estimated foxes were worth twice as much as “all of the cattle, horses, sheep, swine, and poultry” on the island.

But, by the 1950s the fox industry was finished. “When they went out of style my dad let all their foxes out and he became a farmer.”

Kelly Doyle grew up on the family farm and went to the nearby Stella Maris School, across the street from the Church of Stella Maris. The school was built in 1940 and burned to the ground in 1954. “We stood looking utterly helpless in our misery,” a nun at the nearby Stella Maris Convent wrote in her diary. A year later, a year before Kelly Doyle’s birth, the village re-built their school. “It is the most modern fourteen room school in the province,” noted the Guardian newspaper in its feature article.

“I went grades one through nine. Almost everybody my age quit in grade nine. It was the 70s. There was no need of education around here. Fathers would tell their kids, you’re not going to do anything in school, get to work in the boat. We all said we’ve got better things to do and banged out of there.”

As a young man he wasn’t ready for boat work, roaming in Lower Canada instead, living in Montreal and sowing a bushel full of wild oats, until returning to North Rustico. He built a cottage on family land on a hillside overlooking Doyle’s Cove, but couldn’t find work.

“Back in the 70s and 80s, she was pretty lean here. There was no money around for years.” In the 1980s the gross domestic product of Prince Edward Island was the lowest in Canada, only 56% of the national average. Next to Newfoundland, the province had the lowest per capita income in the country. When Kelly Doyle was offered work on a fishing boat sailing out of the North Rustico harbor, he took it.

“When I first started fishing everyone had a gasoline engine in an old wooden boat. Everything was done manually, except for hydraulics to haul gear off the bottom. The steering was even done by chains. Now everything is fiberglas, everything is diesel, and everything is hydraulics.”

Fish men going door-to-door selling cod was a way of life until the 1980s, when a ban on the taking of ground fish was enacted. Fish stocks had been over-exploited up and down Atlantic Canada and were severely depleted. “When I started people were baiting hooks and hauling trawls for halibut, haddock, and cod. Then the moratorium came in. All we were allowed was lobster.”

Kelly Doyle has been fishing for lobster ever since then.

“Lobster traps were invented a while ago and they’re as simple as mousetraps,” he said.

Except, unlike mousetraps, lobster traps are remarkably inefficient, although they almost always get the job done. Invented just more than one hundred years ago, they have changed little in the interim. Even though entrances to the traps are one-way, any lobster that tries to escape can get away, if it has a mind to.

“My theory is there are two ways lobsters get caught,” said Kelly. “One way is what I call simple minded.” Since lobster brains are about the size of the tip of a fountain pen, he might be right.

“Lobsters won’t usually back out the same way they’ve come in. They crawl up the net, there’s a flap on it, and once they’re in that they can’t go back. The other way they get caught is they just stay too long in the trap eating bait, and when we jerk it out of the water they get tossed into the back, by the sheer momentum of us pulling it up with the hauler.”

Since lobsters spend most of their time racking their brains about where their next meal is coming from, crawling on their walking legs to get to it, and finally eating all the crabs, mollusks, fish, and even other lobsters they can get, it adds weight to Mr. Doyle’s second theory, too.

Kelly Doyle’s brothers, John, Mike, and Kenny, all fished. “We weren’t farmers, but we weren’t fishermen, either, although I think it was naturally in our blood, since every one of us was at ease on the water.”

John Doyle fished for several years before marrying and moving to Ontario to raise a family. “Mike had rubber boots and oil gear and he went out, too, but then he got into TV’s.” Mike Doyle was one of the first satellite television providers on PEI. Later he transitioned from catching lobsters to serving them at his Blue Mussel Café, a seasonal seafood restaurant, at the far end of the North Rustico harbor.

Kenny Doyle spent fifteen years fishing on local boats, and the next ten years fishing commercially with his brother, Kelly. “He’s captained deep-sea fishing boats out of Rustico for fifteen years, too. Kenny’s an able man behind the wheel.”

Cathy and Elaine, the Doyle sisters, stayed on dry land. They did so for good reason. In North America fishing boats sink to the bottom of the sea at the rate of one every three days. Imperfect storms can roil the ocean. “You get black and bruised,” said Kelly. “During those seas, you do everything slower. You have to be a lot more careful with your gear, your traps, and the rope under your feet. You always have to watch your P’s and Q’s.”

Kelly Doyle fishes with his partner, Paul Doiron, a man he’s known since they were youngsters, although nine years separates them. “Paul, that’s my buddy, that’s my partner in crime.” Their boat is the Flying Spray, a modern, high-bowed fiberglas craft built in nearby Kensington. “Paul’s roundish, built a bit like a buoy. He lives right here in the crick.”

North Rustico has been known as the crick for many years. “There was a creek that ran right through the village,” said Kelly. “The people from Charlottetown didn’t know what a creek was, or misunderstood, and ended up calling it the crick, so we ended up being nicknamed that.”

There are only three houses on the shore lots to one side of Doyle’s Cove. One of them is a newer house built by Kenny Doyle, the other is the old Doyle family house, and the house nearest the cove is Andy’s Surfside Inn. Andy Doyle is Kelly Doyle’s uncle. “Andy turns 90 this year and he’s still over there.”

Kelly Doyle’s all-year cottage, large sliding glass doors fronting the ocean, is on the other side of Gulf Shore Parkway, the National Park road between Cavendish and North Rustico. Since the late-80s he has built five seasonal cottages adjacent to his, which are the Coastline Cottages, on the crest of the hill overlooking Doyle’s Cove. In 2000 he added a kidney-shaped seawater pool.

“People thought, I’m turning it into a tourist trap,” he laughed.

“Most of my friends ended up getting married. I ended up having cottages and getting in debt. There was no money around here for years. We’re all making a living now, but there still isn’t any amount of it.”

Kelly Doyle owned and operated Amanda’s, a fresh seafood diner, in North Rustico for many years. In the 1960s his parents had a small restaurant in nearby Cavendish. “It was 7 cents for pop, 30 cents for a hamburger, and 17 cents for fries back then. That was the kind of money you made in 1964. There were six kids in our family. Some of those French Acadian families had twenty births. It was no different for anyone.”

Besides his cottages and sailing for lobster the months of May and June, like many men and women on Prince Edward Island he has another job to keep his head above water. Mr. Doyle operates PEI Select, a tour guide service catering to Japanese tourists visiting Anne’s Land, the imaginary home of ‘Anne of Green Gables’. The series of books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, about a plucky red-haired girl, are big in Japan. In 2014 a Japanese-language version of the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ musical wrapped up a sold-out nationwide tour by playing in Tokyo.

In the spring Kelly Doyle rents his farmland to neighboring farmers for hay, grain, and soybeans. “They grow food that uses the least herbicides and pesticides,” he explained.

Coastline Cottages, the Doyle houses, and the cove are in the National Park, but are not the National Park. The park was established in 1937 and encompasses more than 5000 acres of coastal headlands, sand dunes, and beaches. The Doyle’s didn’t sell their land when the park was being formed on the central north shore of Prince Edward Island.

“But, they have the patience to wait everybody out,” said Kelly Doyle. “That’s the beauty of the National Park. You don’t want to sell right now? That’s fine. Your son will want to sell, and if he doesn’t want to, his son will. If it takes two hundred years we will get you out of this park.”

Only change is unchanging, even though when it does it sometimes seems like not much is different. “There’ve been a lot of changes around the island, but it’s nice to go home and say it hasn’t changed much right here. That’s another beauty of the National Park. Since it’s a national park, it stays the same.”

About 285 million years ago Prince Edward Island was a mountain range. Over time it evolved into a low-lying basin as glaciers advanced and retreated. Most of the ice was gone by 10,000 years ago and the island slowly took shape.

Living in a traditional farming and fishing community, looking past the sandstone cliffs of Doyle’s Cove and out over the wide Atlantic Ocean, from the vantage point of Kelly Doyle’s deck it can seem like little has changed in a long time.

“Only the rabbits and trees get bigger,” he said.

But, before the recently rebuilt Gulf Shore Parkway, which features a new all-purpose trail as it winds down a long highland past the cove, was the old Gulf Shore Parkway, it wasn’t a road, at all.

“When the road came in sometime in the 1950s it cut our farm in half, ” said Kelly. Before it was a road it was a hillside. When it rained in early spring or late fall, and especially when it rained all day, the slope that is now the road turned into a red clay slippery slope of Prince Edward Island sandstone.

The Doyle’s still got to where they had to go. Sometimes any road, or even no road at all, will get you where you want to go.

Photograph by Denise Robinson, Albany, Prince Edward Island

Lobsterman

111209-lobster

“It will bring tears to a grown man’s eyes,” said Kelly Doyle, a lobsterman who works out of the Prince Edward Island harbor of North Rustico. He was talking about lobster claws. The bite force of a large dog in pounds per square inch is about 500 PSI. A good-sized lobster’s crusher claw exerts about 1000 PSI.

“I had a claw on my hand one morning, he was squeezing my finger, and not letting go. He’s got you and you think, that’s it, he can’t go no more, but then he’ll squeeze some more. My brother Kenny had to take a screwdriver to it. Kenny is a big man, and he had a big screwdriver, but it took him a few minutes to pry it off of my finger.”

A 27-pound lobster was caught off the coast of Maine in 2012. The claws were so large they would “break a man’s arm,” said Elaine Jones of the Department of Marine Resources.

“We don’t catch those kinds of monsters,” said Kelly. “The biggest one I ever caught in my traps was maybe 7 pounds, max. But that’s a damn big lobster, a foot-and-a-half long.”

29 million pounds of lobster were harvested on Prince Edward Island in 2014, much of it during the spring season, which is May and June. It is a limited entry fishery. “1200 lobster fishers land their catches at approximately 42 ports all around the province,” said April Gallant of PEI’s Agriculture and Fisheries. Many of them are pulled up from the north shore, from Malpeque to St Peter’s Bay. The Rustico fisheries are roughly the axis of the lobster world along that shoreline.

Besides North Rustico, there are the towns of Rustico, Rusticoville, and South Rustico, all named after a fisherman by the name of Rene Racicot, a French Norman who came to PEI in 1724. Racicot became Rustico among the Acadian-French settlers.

The reason the north shore was settled was fishing. After the deportation of Acadians by the British in 1758, and the eventual return of those who had hidden or survived drowning and shipboard epidemics, fishing was what meant life or death for their families.

“I’ve been fishing for 30 years,” said Kelly Doyle, “although I took a few years off, which was a little sabbatical.” After leaving PEI for Montreal in his early 20s, he returned in 1983. “I built a cottage, but I couldn’t get a job anywhere. The next spring I got offered a fishing job in North Rustico.”

Although fishing in North Rustico dates back more than two hundred and fifty years, groundfish stocks contracted in the 20th century. Shellfish and crustaceans, especially lobsters, emerged as the species of choice. Lobster landings almost tripled between 1960 and 1990.

In the early 1990s a moratorium was enacted limiting the taking of many kinds of groundfish. “We were shut down completely,” said Kelly. “No more white fish. All we were allowed was lobster, although we could still catch our own bait, like mackerel and herring, at that time.”

Nowadays lobstermen buy their bait. “I come in, pull up to the wharf, and Doiron takes every lobster I’ve got,” said Kelly. “I buy my bait from them, too.”

North Rustico’s Doiron Fisheries got its start when Aiden Doiron bought his first fishing boat in 1957. One day, when a man asked him for a cooked lobster, he said, “I’ll be right back.” He grabbed a lobster, a pot, and cooked the lobster on the spot. The Doirons still sell fresh fish out of a shanty on the wharf.

“We cook lobster on the boat sometimes,” said Kelly Doyle.

Thirty years ago he often bagged his own bait for lobstering, late at night. “There was a freshwater run about 2 or 3 kilometers down Cavendish Beach, where the gaspereau would come up from the ocean, smell the fresh water, and spawn there. When they came back down we caught them in nets.”

Alewife is a herring called gaspereau in Atlantic Canada. Catching them meant waiting for them to swim back to the ocean with the tide at midnight. “We would net them by hand, standing in waist-high water. When we got them on shore they’d be flapping around and sand flying everywhere. We’d fill up 40 or 50 boxes and carry them by hand back to our pick-up trucks.“

Neither motor vehicles nor horses are allowed in the National Park, which is what Cavendish Beach is. “We’d ice them up for the morning, get home by 2, and then back up at 4 o’clock, 6 days a week in the season.”

There are 37 boats in the harbor at North Rustico. All of them are made of fiberglas, all are equipped with diesel engines, and all carry a trove of electronic gear. Hulls cost upwards of a quarter million dollars. The annual cost to operate Kelly Doyle’s boat, which he co-owns with Paul Doiron, a man he’s known since grade school, is nearly $50,000. “The word boat is actually an acronym,” he said. “It means break out another thousand.”

Seventy years ago lobster boats were all wood, ran on 6-cylinder gas engines, and most of them didn’t come with a cabin that anyone could stand up inside of. It wasn’t until the 1960s that windshields were added for protection against the elements.

“In those days in the winter motors were removed and taken home,” said Norman Peters of the Fisheries Museum. “Boats were hauled to a field and turned upside down to keep rain and snow out. I remember playing under the upside boats and finding bits of fishing line to use to fly kites.”

“Our boat is the Flying Spray,” said Kelly. “It’s hull number177, built in Kensington, so it’s called a Provincial. It’s a great lobster boat, very dependable, although a little on the rocky side. It’s good going into it, but it doesn’t like being turned. It throws you around a bit.

“Most of my career was in wood. The best thing about fiberglas is it doesn’t leak. Except, not like wood, they don’t float at all. If you put a hole in them they sink pretty well instantly.”

Lobstermen start their day early. “He gets up at 4:20 in the morning,” said Kelly Doyle’s girlfriend, Ryoko. “I make his breakfast and lunch and he’s gone before 5. I go back to bed and sleep a little more.”

Paul Doiron captains the Flying Spray and Kelly Doyle is the sternman. Both are in long johns through May and sometimes into June. “On top of those I wear insulated overalls and when I get to the boat I oil up,” said Kelly. “We put on oilskins, a full bib, and a jacket. It’s so you can stand in the rain for hours.”

After they’ve cleared the North Rustico harbor the first thing Paul Doiron does is turn on his GPS to locate their traps.

“The first guy I fished with only had a compass,” said Kelly Doyle. “But, it never really worked right for him. They fished by strings back then, by their compasses and landmarks. You would probably find your buoys, but on a dirty morning, no. They’re only so big floating in a big ocean out there.”

Fishermen on the island are restricted to 300 traps by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In the early 19th century lobsters were so abundant they washed up after storms. Islanders used wooden tongs to pick them up, although many were ashamed to be seen eating lobster because it was regarded as a poor man’s dinner. There used to be no rules about harvesting lobster. But, by the 1890s there were problems with declining stock.

“Many fishermen had from 1200 to 1500 traps,” said Norman Peters. In the latter half of the 20th century the fishing season has been shortened, fishermen must be licensed, and taking spawning lobsters isn’t allowed. “It’s the responsibility of those who are fishing today to conserve our fishery,” said Mr. Peters.

Once out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence the Flying Spray looks for its traps. “We’ve got 37 bunches of 8 traps and one trap of 4,” said Kelly Doyle. Traps are connected by a line, eight of them along a stringer, and attached to buoys with a unique color for easy identification. “There’s 8 traps between buoys and that’s called a set, or a full trawl. They’re all numbered in our GPS and we pick them up every morning.”

The Prince Edward Island gulf coastline is largely ledge and sand. When the frozen shallow waters thaw in April lobsters move in from the deeper ocean. They return to warm shoal water for egg-bearing females to hatch and release in springtime and early summer.

“Hard rock is what you want for lobsters, rock that looks like mountains,” said Kelly. “Sometimes they’ll cross sand. Most of the time sand is full of crabs and crabs hate lobsters. When lobsters cross sand they scare the crabs out and you can have a tremendous catch the next day. You’ve got to think like a lobster, about the depth of the water, how warm it is, and when you think they’re going to be there.”

When the fishing is good he, and often a hired hand, haul one lobster after another out of the traps they’ve pulled, slip rubber bands over the claws of the keepers, loading them into onboard tanks, and re-bait the traps. As the traps are lowered back into the ocean the most important rule for sternmen is to not step on rope, get snagged in the rope, and get dragged overboard.

“Lots of guys will get caught for a minute,” said Kelly, “but the last guy who drowned out of this harbor was Jackie Dussett in the 1960s. He got his leg caught and was just gone, overnight. The tide worked him loose the next day.”

Lobster fishing on Prince Edward Island is not usually unusually dangerous, but it is hard work, in more ways than one. Everything on a boat is hard. “Everything’s hard as steel,” said Kelly. “Or, it is steel. No matter, whatever you hit hurts.”

Boats bob and toss at sea since the ocean is never steady like dry land. “I’ve been hurt every year I’ve fished, banged up like an old man.” Working on a lobster boat means working on an exposed, slippery, and moving platform in weather that is bad as often as it is good. Tourists drown in small swimming pools. Fishermen are faced with miles of open water.

Next to logging, commercial fishing is statistically the second deadliest kind of work to be in, deadlier even than police work or firefighting. “Fishing at sea is probably the most dangerous occupation in the world,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“I come out of the cabin one morning last year, coming up the three steps, when something came off the sea and literally threw me out of the cab. The momentum of the boat picked my body up like it was weightless. I banged on the bulkhead and just like that you’re on the ground, hurting, black and bruised.”

Unlike many fishermen on Prince Edward Island, Kelly Doyle doesn’t come from a fishing family. The first Doyle came to the north shore from Ireland in 1847. He was granted land along was is now Doyle’s Cove. They raised thoroughbred horses and later bred black silver foxes for their pelts. When fox furs went out of fashion his grandfather and father mix farmed, growing turnips, barley, and wheat.

“I have three brothers and they all became fishermen,” said Kelly. “We weren’t fishermen, but I think it was in our blood. We were all at ease on the water. None of us got sick. But, I’m the only one who still fishes. It can be hard on you.”

In season the Flying Spray sails for lobster every day it can. Some days, like after a storm when the 7 kilometers of line they carry are tangled and need to be untangled, they are out for up to 15 hours. “Gear starts to move. Before you know it it’s all snarled, mine and everybody else’s. You’ve got to pull it up, bind your gear, and that’s rough.”

Lobster cages weigh about 20 pounds without the 44 pounds of concrete ballast in them. When they are wet they are more than 100 pounds. “Thank you to the man who invented hydraulics!” said Kelly. “Years ago it was all hauled by hand. The forearms of those guys in Rustico back then were like Popeye.”

Although not born to it, although his business interests have expanded to include Coastline Cottages and PEI Select Tours, and although it is exacting, physical work, Kelly Doyle plans to continue lobstering.

“I had been out of fishing for a few years, but bought back into it. My first year back I thought I was going to die. It was a tough spring, shitty weather, and I was going to bed at 7 o’clock, just beat up. It’s all about wind, which creates seas, which creates bouncing around like a cork.”

Seas can be dangerous and storms terrible. But, the lives of commercial fishermen are subsumed by their boats, the waters they sail, and the work they do. “Later part of March, you’ll hear a seagull on the coast, it just seems to draw you back,” said Francis Morrissey, a fifth-generation lobsterman in Tignish, on the northwest tip of the island.

“This is the best place in the world to be fishing,” said Mike McGeoghegan, past president of the PEI Fisherman’s Association.

Oceans are more ancient than anything, including mountains. Men have fished for more than 40,000 years, from about the same time modern humans moved into Europe. 1,100 kilometers of red sandstone shoreline rim Prince Edward Island, some of it sand beaches, some of it cliffs, all surrounded by the wide sea.

“I’m going to fish this year, at least I will as long as I’m on this side of the sod,” said Kelly Doyle. “To tell you the truth, if I die, I hope it’s out there.”