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.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Goulden House on McNutt's Island, circa 1911

It is a summer day almost a century ago. Someone is standing in the side yard with a camera. He, or she, steps back to show the entire house in the frame, not completely successfully. This is our house now, and for the first time I am looking at it as it once was long ago.

A woman stands in the doorway. A man stands next to her, outside. He's reading the newspaper. There is a clothesline strung from the breezeway out into the yard, and a bit of laundry drying there. Maybe this is a Sunday, since the man is dressed in a well-ironed shirt and trousers.

To the right of the doorway is the dairy-keeping room and the woodshed. This is a household economy that creates what it consumes: fells trees and splits logs for heat, milks its cow and churns its butter, preserves its vegetables and fruit and fish, hunts or raises and slaughters meat.

Between the camera and its subjects there is a tall flowering hedge, maybe of roses. It's a practical way to define the space of the house, but it's also a thing of beauty. There is more than necessity in this world.

The woman and the man are likely Bertha Snow Goulden and her husband James Andrew Goulden. They married in 1906, across the harbour in Gunning Cove. She was seventeen on her wedding day, and her fisherman husband was thirty eight -- more than twice her age.

Bertha had grown up on McNutt's Island. When the census taker came around to the island in 1901 it was duly noted that Bertha was then eleven years old, the oldest of five children, and that she lived with her parents Arthur and Melinda Snow and her brothers and sisters. Her father was a fisherman, too, like nearly every man she knew.

James and Bertha bought the house in 1911 from its builder and first owner, old man William Perry. Bertha knew this house well, from her childhood. It was a part of her deeply familiar world. And she would live here, and go in and out of this door, until the last two days of her life. She died in July 1952, not at home on the island, but at Roseway Hospital across the harbour in Sandy Point.

If the picture was taken soon after the Gouldens moved into the house, then it captures Bertha in her early twenties and James in his early forties. By the time they moved across the harbour to the island she and James already had three young children. She will bear seven others in this house, and she and James will raise all of them here.

It is a photograph of an ordinary moment in an ordinary day. "I've brought my camera," the photographer announces. "Come out so I can take your picture." James doesn't mind; he seems to enjoy it, and even poses a bit. Bertha is shyer, or maybe just in the middle of doing something else. She won't come outside, but stands and looks into the summer light.

Many thanks to Dan Goulden for his kind permission to use this family photograph. Vital statistics and census records are available at NSARM.

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