Monday 3 September 2012--Up at 6:00, at the dock at 7:00, sailing for Île d'Entrée--Entry Island--on the Ivan Quinn at 7:30. As noted,
Entry is the only inhabited island in the Magdalens not linked by road to the others, and its population of about 130, mostly of Scots and Irish
descent, is anglophone. It is thus in more than one way a place apart from a place apart. I haven't been here before, and I'm feeling the mystery of
discovering a new place, one unusual enough that I'm not sure what I will find. The dozen or so other passengers traveling with me are day-trippers--
there is a morning and an afternoon boat--but I have elected to spend a night, partly as a hedge against bad weather, but mostly to be sure not to be
rushed in taking in the local atmosphere.
At 8:30, I'm shaking hands with Brian Josey, Entry Island's one commercial entrepreneur--he owns the restaurant above the pier, the one small shop down the street, and several of the few houses on the island available for rental. It is, I think, a tough row to hoe. It can't be easy for the fishermen who make the harbor here their base, either; they must land their day's catch at Cap-aux-Meules before heading home. The linguistic divide may give the residents a greater feeling of community, as well as a sense of isolation. I chat with Brian and his sister Joyce about aspects of island life, over a cup of coffee in the restaurant.
Brian gives me a lift the short distance to the house I'm staying in, and I settle in. It looks rather plain from the outside. Like most Madelinot houses, it has a sort of shelter built over the front entryway, to prevent the door being ripped off its hinges by the wind. The interior is surprisingly handsome, with lots of lovely woodwork that must have cost a bundle to import when it was built in the '20's-- an indication, perhaps, of prosperous days past. Brian lets the four bedrooms out individually, but there is no one else in, so I have the house to myself.
The island is divided by an electric fence, with the gently sloping townsite to the west, and hilly pasture to the east. I walk up to the end of the road and follow the trail leading to the stile over the fence. Big Hill, at 570 feet the highest point in the Magdalens, is right in front of me, but the trail splits just past the fence, and it isn't clear to me whether I should turn left or right to go up. I turn right, the wrong choice, and shortly find myself in the valley beyond Big Hill. Decide to go up the hills on the other side, and conquer Big Hill on the way back.
The U-shaped valley ends at cliffs at the island's northeast corner. There is a large wooden platform here, purpose unknown--support for some sort of navigational aid, maybe. It makes a nice picnic spot, and is the natural end point of the day's walk. The other visitors are all here or nearby, taking in the sun and the view east to Cape Breton Island. We picked the most spectacularly clear day to come here. I chat for a bit with Claire and Julie, who are from the Montreal area.
I have Big Hill pretty much to myself on the way back--everyone else did it on the way out. The view takes in the sweep of the entire archipelago. Back down, across the fence, I visit the little Anglican church and view the overgrown old burying ground. A fellow with a metal detector is sweeping the next field over. Somewhere nearby--it slips my mind to look for it--is the grave of Farmer, a horse born and raised on Entry Island in the 1920's, who was sold to a man in Amherst. One day Farmer slipped out of his pen, walked out to the end of Sandy Hook, and swam the two or three miles back to his former home on Entry, where he lived out the rest of his life. No word on whether the Amherst man got a refund.
Down near the pier, the daytrippers are basking in the late-afternoon sun on the terrasse at Brian's restaurant, waiting for the ferry. I say hello to Julie and Claire, and also to Catherine, a young woman I remember from the PEI ferry a few days ago. She isn't taking the Ivan Quinn; she's sailing about the islands with some friends. The ferry arrives, and the daytrippers are away, followed shortly by the sailors. I have a burger and a couple of beers--the menu is limited to begin with, and it's the time of season when Brian is letting supplies run out.
Remembering Farmer, I ask Brian where Amherst is--I've never seen it on any maps. He tells me it's Havre-Aubert, the nearest island to Entry. It has been dawning on me that most of the French placenames here are actually translations of the ones given by the English. Havre-aux-Maisons, for example, was originally House Harbour. The locals evidently could not abide the name of Jeffery Amherst, from their point of view one of the great villains of le Grand Dérangement, the deportation of the Acadians during the French & Indian War. So they simply replaced it. (Fans of Lord Jeff, if there are any, need not feel slighted--there are towns named for him in at least thirteen US states and four Canadian provinces, including another Amherst elsewhere in Quebec.)
Headed back to the house, I realize that there is yet an hour before sunset. On a whim, I turn up by the little grocery, follow the trail over the stile, and charge up to the top of Big Hill again. After all, it isn't really very big. The low golden light makes the land glow, and illuminates the ferry arriving from Souris.
Back at the house, I do what there is to do on Entry Island after dark--watch television. Brian stops by to see how I'm doing. I offer him a dram of my Pulteney, but he declines. Tomorrow is election day, and he's manning the polls early. (Seems to me he could poll the entire island door-to-door in an hour or two.) He asks if I like the place, and whether I might come back, perhaps for a longer stay. It's a lovely place, and of course a single night's stay isn't nearly enough to understand it. But it's very small. A couple nights, maybe...I'd have to bring a six-pack of Terre Ferme, and food, and a book. Don't think I could possibly last a week, unless I had a big project to fill the time (like updating my travel journals in a somewhat timely fashion). Can't blame him for trying. I've had an awesome day.