In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dangerous island

An account of the accidental death of two young men from nearby Carleton Village in 1856 casts light on what it was like to live on McNutt's Island back then.

James and William DeMings, ages eighteen and seventeen, rowed across the western harbour to the island early on a Saturday morning in January.  They planned to go hunting.  They visited some of the houses on the island, including the families at the light house. It was late afternoon when they left the light house, and darkness would have been coming on quickly. Their bodies were later found in a deep crevice in the rocky cliffs along the eastern side of the island, north of Middle Head.  It was supposed that they had shot some birds there, then gone out on the rocks to get the birds from their retriever, slipped, fallen and drowned. Their dog swam the mile across the harbour and returned home.

The eastern side of the island, like the southern cape, is edged with high rocky cliffs and steep drop-offs. Huge ice-age boulders pile and jumble. Deep gaps open up without warning among the rocks, and plunge straight down into churning waves. It's the place where ships smash to smithereens on the rocks. It's a place where you could easily lose your footing, and in falling darkness and January cold it would be even more dangerous. 

That area is not easy to get to today, but you can. There are narrow sheep paths that wind through a dense forest near the cliff's edge.  Greg and I have ventured along an old ATV track in that vicinity. But it petered out and we had to retrace our steps after we arrived at the rocks. Someone told us you can go along the entire eastern side of the island following the sheep paths if you don't mind crawling on your hands and knees to get through some of it.  

There were probably real paths along the cliffs in 1856, and so it would have been a reasonable route for James and William to take, after visiting the light house, to get back to their boat.  

I can't imagine walking along that path high above the eastern channel in January, with no flashlight, looking for ducks to shoot in late afternoon gloom, willing to go out on the rocks, then getting back in a boat and rowing home across the harbour. There's so much about island life back then that seems incomprehensibly difficult compared to the way we live now. 

But when James and William set out for McNutt's that morning they probably didn't think anything about it.     

The story of the DeMing brothers can be found in Lost Mariners of Shelburne County, ed. Eleanor Robertson Smith, complier/writer Joanna Hyde Haeghaert (Stoneycroft, 1991), available through the Shelburne County Genealogical Society.

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