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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

a road to the lighthouse

Alexander Cocken, the island's first official lightkeeper, wrote a letter* to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in June 1801 about the lack of a road across McNutt's Island. In 1791 the Shelburne Court of Sessions had ordered a public road built across the island -- a very grand one hundred feet wide! -- from Ross's Landing to the lighthouse.** But for all the flourishes, the road had not been built. Now Cocken writes about

"... the very great inconvenience for want of a road across McNutt's Island owing to the extreme danger of landing oil at the light-house and indeed the impracticality of getting men or vessels for that purpose, the shore is surrounded by rugged rocks from 70 to 80 feet high and altogether broken in rough and craggy cliffs indeed in the fall of the year and winter it is so dangerous that I am under the necessity of hiring people at a very heavy expense to carry every article as well as oil upon their backs across the island, whereas if there was a road which might be made at a very small expense fit for a cart or wagon all the difficulties I have mentioned would be prevented..."

Cocken's letter gives us a peek into island life at the turn of a new century. The foundation stone for the lighthouse had been laid in early 1787. Its construction was completed in October of 1790, more than two years later. Building the lighthouse would have been a long-term job for its workers, who probably lived on the site. Local stone was quarried and dressed, trees felled and timbers hewn, supplies hauled in. It was a huge undertaking, all accomplished without benefit of a cut through the island's thick forest and swampy bogs.

After the lighthouse was built, it would be another two years before its lamps were actually lit and in operation. Once the light was lit, on September 7, 1792, someone was required at the light every night, without fail. When Cocken wrote his letter to the House of Assembly, he -- or someone he hired to take his place -- had been living at the lighthouse in conditions of great isolation for almost a decade.

Cocken's letter mentions that he has to hire people to carry every article including oil for the lamps across the island on their backs. These carriers would have been among the poorest of Shelburne's poverty-stricken population, engaged in the most arduous physical labour since even a small cart could not be gotten through the forest.

They haunt the island, I think, these poorest of people, bent beneath the weight of their burdens, carrying supplies on their backs -- along some narrow, hacked-out path, I guess, but maybe not even that -- through woods and bogs and impassable thickets of fallen trees.

They hoisted these burdens onto their backs at Ross's Landing. And where might that have been, you may ask. Dear Reader, I'm pretty sure it was right here. But that's a story for another day...

*NSARM, RG 31, Vol.2, June 24, 1801

** Marion Robertson, King's Bounty: A History of Early Shelburne Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1983) 166.

1 comment:

Janet said...

The isolation and intense physical labour is hard to imagine isn't it?Isolation today means nothing when you can turn a switch for light and get online as a social outlet at the flick of another switch.
I heard an elderly neighbour describing bringing his mom a battery radio for Christmas - he walked in to Kentville from a logging camp on the South Mountain with a friend from here, they bought the radio and the car battery to run it and set off walking to come up here to Hall's Harbour with darkness descending on Christmas Eve - a mickey of rum made the uphill 12 miles shorter and they arrived later that night a little the worse for wear. This was in the 1930's, not the 1830's. We've come a long way.