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The Cove Journal (review)
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonA new bridge is being built in the Cove this summer. What with the noise of jackhammers, compressors, and dump trucks coming and going, not to mention detoured traffic streaming down our usually quiet road, life seems a bit hectic. Let’s slip away for the afternoon and have a good laugh. Destination: Summerside, home of free parking, ball tournaments, Wanda Wyatt House, and a marina where the sun reflects so brightly off the boats it’s almost blinding. Beside the marina is Harbourfront Theatre, small, intimate and elegant.

Now imagine a play built around the premise of fifty-two nuns dying of food poisoning after dining on vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia Child of God. With insufficient funds to bury everyone, four dead nuns are stored in the convent freezer, and the remaining living sisters organize a benefit concert to pay for their interment. Implausible, irreverent, irrepressible: it’s all Nunsense.

Right from the start, the audience is part of the action. The nuns, the Little Sisters of Hoboken, stroll down the aisles, with very nun-like pleasantries: “How good of you to come!” “Oh my, don’t you look nice!”  Then as we are asked to stand up and give some very un-nun-like cheers, the show ramps up. The five talented women on stage move effortlessly through their roles, each “nun” having her own moment in the spotlight. They all sing and harmonize beautifully, and their diction is precise with every word coming through loud and clear. The songs are largely unmemorable, but lots of fun (“I’m holier than thou”), and our toes tap along with every number. Mother Superior (Robin Craig) gets the biggest laugh when she sniffs a mystery drug that frees her of all inhibitions. Now just imagine a stoned nun hanging over a bar stool…

Religious jokes abound (Why did Moses wander for forty years in the desert?—Because he was a man and wouldn’t ask directions), but you don’t have to be a Catholic to enjoy Nunsense. There’s some classical ballet, puppetry, tap dancing, lots of singing, even a little movie. One of the secrets of its success is the skill of the musical director, Leo Marchildon. It’s worth going to this show just for the sake of listening to, and watching “Brother Leo” coax a whole orchestra’s worth of sound effects out of his lively keyboard.

At intermission there’s not much action at the concessions stand, even though the beer selection is huge and cheap at $5. After the show, refreshed from an afternoon of laughter and high spirits, people disperse quickly, for it’s Sunday afternoon and everyone’s anxious to get home and light the barbeque.

Our own drive back to the Cove seems especially pleasant. The highway winds through harvested grain fields where golden straw gleams in the late afternoon light, past silver poplars flashing showy undersides, while here and there, wild thyme covers the shoulders of the road with a soft purple mantle, and tall sprays of goldenrod nod gracefully in the breeze.

Back home, cold drink in hand, we wander down to look at progress on the bridge. Say now, it’s going to be one of the best little bridges on the Island! Why don’t we cook a dinner for the construction crew by way of thanks? After all, they’re a great bunch, and they drive here all the way from Tyne Valley every day. Let’s talk it over with our neighbors tomorrow. I know the Little Sisters of Hoboken would approve.

Almost Heaven

Having Hope at Home

The Cove Journal (review)
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonDown at the Cove for a swim, tide coming in, warm layer on top, no jellyfish, sun dancing cheerfully on sparkling waves, I once again count my blessings. Back on land, I remark casually to a young girl, “So what do you think of heaven?” She stares at me blankly. “What I mean is,” I continue, “this place, this day—don’t you think it’s heaven?” Her father, coming along heavily laden with beach items, replies on his daughter’s behalf. “Oh no, heaven will be much better than this!”

I bid the little family good-bye and head home. The air is scented by sweet clover and wild roses, the ditches are crowded with vetch and daisies in full bloom, and I can’t help thinking, “All the same, poor old God will have a hard time topping this.”

This sense of perfection carries into the evening as my friends and I join the audience filing into Victoria Playhouse for the production Having Hope at Home. It’s a mostly older crowd of men in polo shirts, and short-haired women in pastel blouses and jackets. Everyone is smiling, and the smiles continue all night long, for Having Hope is joyful from start to finish.

The play starts with a bang, or actually a shriek, as pregnant Carolyn (Breanna Moore) goes into labor. The crowd roars as Grandpa (Jack Wynters) cuts carrots for supper by snipping them with his teeth, pompous doctor (Mark Stevenson) jumps on a chair to lecture the family on the dangers of home birth, peace-making mother in three-piece fitted suit (Cathy Grant) “makes a scene,” and midwife (Charlene Reno) admits to having been a hippie. At the end, when new father Michel (Mark Fraser) falls asleep on the couch with newborn baby girl on his chest, the play is wrapped up, as it were, in a pretty pink bow. Congratulations to director Ron Irving and crew.

Victoria Playhouse is the dream child of local residents who in the early 1980’s converted the old Victoria Hall into a theatre. Founding artistic director was Erskine Smith, whose sudden passing in June left Victoria, and indeed the whole Island, reeling with shock. But wait, Erskine has not left the building! More than one person observed that Jack Wynter’s portrayal of Grandpa was uncannily Erskine-ish. It was somehow comforting to realize that the spirit of Erskine Smith lives on.

Of course, going to the theatre in Victoria is not just about seeing a play. It encompasses the whole village experience. In this small community, people still stroll the streets on a summer’s evening for the simple pleasure of admiring the majestic trees, the well-kept heritage homes, and the waves lapping at the shore. Packs of children bike furiously down the road, people come out of the chocolate shop with smudges on their cheeks, conversations strike up between perfect strangers, and the cares of the outside world fade into the distance.

It’s almost like, well, like heaven.

Strawberry Social

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLast year a million or so visitors came to PEI. We assume that a goodly number will come this summer too. They will relax on our beaches, eat at our restaurants, attend concerts, play golf…and some will drive by a small one-room school where a sign posted in the yard announces: STRAWBERRY SOCIAL TONIGHT. If this happens to you, and it’s evening, and you see cars parked up and down the road, stop immediately and join the queue.

A Strawberry Social is just about the nicest event you will ever attend. Of course you have to be willing to sit by perfect strangers and launch into your life story, including where you’re from, who your people are, where you’ve been and where you’re going next, but that’s okay, because as you compare stories, you’re enjoying the most delicious strawberries and ice cream this side of heaven, and you’re thinking, “Can this be true? Why don’t we have strawberry socials where we come from?”

Any community can hold a Strawberry Social, but not every place can produce strawberries as tasty as those grown on PEI. Our rainfall, temperature, and slightly acidic soil are perfect for the culture of Fragaria x ananassa, also known as the garden strawberry. Islanders love strawberries—as do slugs, snails, moths, flies, weevils, thrips, beetles, mites and aphids; and under damp conditions the plants fall prey to mildew, mold, rot, blight, wilt, and nematodes. In spite of pests and diseases, there are usually plenty of berries left for us to scoff down in vast quantities. A July without strawberries for dessert every night is unthinkable. And that batch of strawberry jam bubbling on the stove holds promise of breakfast bliss all year long.

You could make jam from California strawberries, and you could plan a Strawberry Social around berries grown in fumigated soil through holes punched in plastic (although it’s not inconceivable that some small California town does exactly that); but the secret of a Strawberry Social is to have top quality strawberries freshly picked and sliced that very morning. You need rich vanilla ice cream made from the milk of contented cows—like those in the pasture across the road. Ask your best biscuit-makers to whip up delicious fluffy shortcake to be lovingly placed under the ice cream and strawberries, and ask everyone else to make squares and cookies—and not just ordinary sugar cookies, but those whoopee-ding-dong multi-layer choco-minti-crackle supreme-o-deluxe squares that everyone wanted last year.

Clean the hall. Lay the tables with white tablecloths, red napkins, and bouquets of fresh flowers. Turn on the coffee percolator a good hour before doors open. Keep the biggest urn for tea because that’s what people want in the evening. Put plates of sweets on the tables. Aprons on? Everybody ready?

Woman of the Cove

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Florence by JoDee SamuelsonWriting this journal every month has made me acutely aware of the passage of time. This spring we have marveled at the lengthening days, our neighbor’s new lamb, fresh tips on spring seaweed, scent of mayflowers, eagles at the Cove making love—yes, it’s true! Now the days march on to the merry month of June, June of the Rhubarb Social, the Summer Solstice, the first strawberries. We have waited all year for this month, and plan to make full use of every splendid moment.

I can’t think of a better way to use this day than to honour a friend who has lived through a goodly number of summers, and lived them well. Florence MacCannell, a true woman of the Cove, was born at home here in the early 1920s, became a nurse, married a Cove fisherman, raised a fine family, and wrote a history book.  Now she has moved to a lodge in Charlottetown where she is taking it easy with her e-books and jigsaw puzzles. I visited Florence recently, and here is part of her story.

It was an understood thing when I was a child that I would be a teacher. In those days, if you wanted more education after grade ten, you had to go to college of some sort. I went to Prince of Wales, which was high school and more. Boarding cost $10 a month, and tuition was $5 a year for rural students. That was very cheap, but I couldn’t go out for a Coke or anything.

Women could take teacher training or business courses. I took teacher training, and received my teacher class 1 certificate. Then I wanted to help the war effort, so I went to Ottawa to work as a clerk for a squadron leader. When the war ended I was at loose ends. One day I was outside hanging up my wash, thinking about what I should do. I decided then and there to become a nurse. I came back to the Island, and after three years of training I graduated from Prince County Hospital.

In those days, patients were treated like royalty! We washed them all over two or three times a day, gave them back rubs with rubbing alcohol, brushed their hair—you couldn’t do enough for the patient. But today, nurses know so much more. We didn’t know half what they’re taught these days.

Now I’m going to brag!  Dr. MacLeod said, “Florence can handle any situation.”  (Someone else told me that, not him.) I suppose I could keep calm in an emergency. I resuscitated Billy when he fell into the tub of water. It was suppertime, and Jack’s brother had brought home a new television set. We were all sitting around watching it, when Jack’s mother—she lived with us—looked out the window and cried, “Oh, look at the boy in the tub of water!” I tore outside and there was Billy in the rain barrel.  He had turned blue. I lifted him out, put him face down on the cellar hatch, and gave a few gentle pushes until he breathed. My daughter Rosemary, who was three years old and had been playing outside, was coming in to tell me about Billy just as Jack’s mother noticed him; so he was only in the water for a short while.

We didn’t have a phone, but Jack went to a neighbor’s to call Dr. MacLeod.   When he arrived, Billy was still unresponsive, but breathing. Of course, after a bit I had to go out and milk the cows; and I guess the family had supper, but I can’t tell you what they ate. Billy woke up in the evening and he was okay. It’s a miracle his brain wasn’t affected. He was only two years old at the time.

I should say that I taught school before I went to Ottawa, and taught again after I took my nurse’s training. I was married by now, and we had a baby.  It was hard to drive back and forth to the hospital in Charlottetown, so I decided to put my name forward to teach here in the Cove.  Because I was married with a child, the trustees decided that I shouldn’t be teaching: I should be home looking after my child and husband.  So I got a job teaching in the next community, and a girl from that place came to the Cove. I taught there one year, then another school came looking for me. When I became pregnant again, I gave up teaching till the children were old enough to look after one another.

I grew up in the 1930s.  Nobody had money, but don’t ever say they were poor. People had great pride. There was no such thing as borrowing money—you’d be horrified to go in debt. A few hundred dollars in the bank was something! If you went to work for a neighbor, it was “swapping” work. For picking potatoes you’d get paid a dollar day—and you earned it!

In the Cove there was no dancing, card-playing, bingo, or working on Sunday. Jack and I went to an old-time dance once in a while, but not often. From my own point-of-view, there was no time for entertainment. There was barely time to do the things you had to do. I helped with the farm work, and by the time the kids were settled at night, I was pooped. Mind you, there was a lot of visiting back and forth. And you had to have a lunch, no matter if it was morning, afternoon, or evening. When someone came to the door, the first thing you’d do was put on the kettle.

What was the Cove like in the olden days? Very old fashioned. Horse and sleigh in wintertime. No electricity until 1951. We all had outhouses, and if you ran out of toilet paper you might use magazines or catalogues; but smooth shiny paper, “slicky paper,” was no good at all.

In my opinion, school consolidation was the best thing that ever happened to this province. Until then, boys quit school at thirteen to work on the farm. With school consolidation and buses taking them right to the doorstep, there was some incentive to keep studying. Also, family allowance—$6 a month—was paid only if a child stayed in school until sixteen years of age.

Roads, yes, they were important. I had to get to work, and better roads made my job easier. Electricity was important too. But to me personally, education was the key. In our province there were many Scotch people, who brought education out with them. Scotland had the best educational system in the world…or so I read in a book recently. You can’t believe everything you read, but I’m Scottish on both sides so perhaps I’m a little prejudiced.

One thing I’m proud of is giving a talk to the Women’s Institute when Wayne Rostad [On the Road Again] was there, and we had our picture taken together.

You say this is going in the June Buzz? I’ll have to make sure I get a copy.

JoDee Samuelson is…

JoDee SamuelsonBorn in Saskatchewan and raised in Alberta, filmmaker and artist JoDee Samuelson now lives on the beautiful South Shore of Prince Edward Island. She is best known for her animated films, The Bath, The Sandbox, Mabel’s Saga, and Uncle Bob’s Hospital Visit. These films have been shown at festivals around the world and have won numerous awards for the Island filmmaker.

JoDee also paints, writes, and plays violin in the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra. Last month she received a Masters of Arts in Island Studies degree from UPEI, with a thesis profiling the watermills of Prince Edward Island, and Gotland Island, Sweden.

This is JoDee’s third year of writing “The Cove Journal” for The Buzz, and she says that she has enjoyed every minute of it.

Blue Heron Walk

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonWe had coffee down at the Cove this morning, and guess what: the Iceberg’s still there. It never left. I suppose it read The Buzz last month and decided that it would never get this much attention again, so why not stay. I understand that it plans to camp here all summer. My apologies for suggesting otherwise.

Today on our morning walk we observed that, right on time, the Great Blue Herons have returned to grace the Cove with their silent watchful presence. Not long ago, the scenic drive around Queen’s County was named “Blue Heron Drive.” Now it’s called “Central Coastal Route.” (An improvement? You decide.) Fortunately, the name change is not the result of the Great Blue Heron becoming extinct. Although they must feel the pressure of human presence in their nesting and feeding grounds, they are still plentiful, and not just in Queen’s County, but all along our coastline.

Great Blue Herons spend their winters leisurely enjoying the finer things of life in southern USA, the Caribbean, and Central America. When they head back to the Island in April, they cruise night and day at speeds of 32–48 km/h, in private groups of three or four; or there may be as many as one hundred individuals in the Super Deluxe Migration Express, complete with tour guide and running commentary.

Once back on the Island, Great Blue Herons choose an available condo at the heron colony—on Governor’s Island, for example. They take over and repair old nests, or build new ones (one metre in diameter); go through a short but meaningful dating period; and proceed to make babies. The pale blue eggs—a half dozen or so—are incubated for twenty-eight days by both mother and father, Dad sitting on them in the daytime, Mom at night. Once hatched, the chicks voraciously consume all the regurgitated goodies that both parents can stuff down their throats.  After ten weeks this noisy, messy business comes to an end, and the little Great Blue Herons leave the nest for good. Somehow along the way they have learned to spear and gulp down small fish, reptiles, mice, and insects.

We don’t want to talk about how Great Blue Herons leave the Island in early autumn, because we want to think about how they’re here now! And it’s spring! In the Cove we’ve already started planning for our annual Perennial Sale at the park, which is a huge amount of work, but oh, so satisfying, nevertheless. If you need daylilies, dahlias, or daisies, rudbeckia, ranunculus, or rosemary, sweet william, sage, or sassafras: we might have it, or it might be sold out. First come, first served. That goes for the hot cinnamon rolls too.

A bonus of our Perennial Sale is the location: capes, clouds, sand bars, sunshine, gulls, Great Blue Herons…and, possibly even, the You-Know-What. If it’s still there, don’t blame me.

The End of the Ice

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIf you missed seeing the Cove iceberg, well, you missed it. It’s gone.

All through February and March, curious people tried to drive down to the park, found that the road wasn’t plowed past the gate, and—possibly for the first time ever—got out of their cars and walked. At the edge of the cape they stood and stared, took pictures, and felt happy. Some even brought along a few beverages to toast the amazing sight.

Now, our iceberg wasn’t an actual iceberg; that is, it wasn’t a million year old chunk of ice that broke off some Greenland glacier. It was merely a cluster of ice cakes—our ice cakes—that clumped together to make an enormous mound of ice big enough to get snagged on a sandbar. Our sandbar. We thought of holding our first and only Iceberg Festival, with a bonfire, hot chocolate, marshmallows, and Ice Burgers; but it seemed like too much work. Better to stand back and admire the scene in peace, beverage in hand, and watch the ice floes ebb and flow, crackle and groan.

Highlights of the iceberg: One day it looked like an ocean liner proudly facing east. One day it was all lumpy, and the shadows were red. One day a crow perched on one end while a seagull sat on the other. Each day the sun shone or the rain came down, and the iceberg grew smaller; but it was still worth seeing. Then one morning it was gone. Some time in the night, the combination of high tide and wind dislodged our winter visitor.  Away it went, eagerly, hurriedly, to what it hoped were greater adventures. But alas, I fear it soon met its end, alone, and without the support of its adoring public on shore at the Cove. Adieu!

But that was then. Hello spring! Grackles are back, for better or worse. Geese are circling overhead, uncertain about where to relax, or wondering if they can afford to relax, since they still have so far to go. Robins are quietly going about their business as if to say, “So it’s spring, so what?” Any sunny day now the crocuses will be popping out to gladden our hearts.

Right on cue, the roads are breaking up. MLA’s are getting called at home to remind them of the potholes on the _____  ____ Road (fill in your own blanks). In the basement, potatoes are sprouting, carrots have turned into a shapeless mass of white rootlets and green tops and should be pitched, and the beets have shriveled to nothing. The squash needs to be eaten, but everyone is getting a little tired of squash soup. (Make a note: don’t grow so much squash next year.) The onions and garlic are sprouting. It’s time to dig out the garlic chicken recipe that calls for forty cloves of garlic.

Every living thing knows that winter is over. Ice anyone? Only in a gin and tonic, please.

In Those Days

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonA late winter morning with time to spare, I walk down the road to the home of one of the Cove’s matriarchs and knock on the door unannounced.

“No need to phone,” she says. “You’re always welcome.” She moves her knitting supplies off the rocking chair to make room for me. “Sit down. That used to be the cat’s chair, but he died last year. I wouldn’t have traded that cat for ten millionaires. He knew more than all the farmers on the South Shore.”

“More than your own father?”

“Maybe not him. Quietest man you ever saw, but when he put his mind to something, look out.”

“Where did he and your mother meet?”

“In the States. A whole bunch of them went to the Boston area around that time.   Mother was from the Island too. She was a seamstress, and what she couldn’t do wasn’t worth talking about. She could turn suits inside out, cut out dresses, reverse collars—five minutes and she’d have it all done. Used Dad’s razor blade to open seams. Opening seams took longest of anything.”

“We don’t make over clothes so much these days.”

“I guess not! Something gets old, you throw it away, buy something new. When I was young we didn’t go to the store from one month to the next. I guess we didn’t know the difference, we thought we were having a grand time. There used to be an old hall down at the corner, the old Orange Hall. Every Friday night a man from Montague brought movies and we’d have a Movie Night. Outside, there was a little building where they kept the generator, and they’d crank ‘er up and away she’d go. The hall was always packed, people lining up to get in. Now that was a lovely building, with a sloping floor and a big stage for concerts. They hauled it here from someplace else. For that matter, the church was hauled here too, up the Strait on the ice. Don’t ask me how they did it. They just did things like that in those days.”

“But you must have felt isolated, living so far from town.”

“Not a bit!”

“How about when you got sick?

“We didn’t get sick that much. And if we did, there was a doctor in the next community who could fix anything. One time, my husband cut off the tip of his finger on a potato escalator. It was just hanging by a thread. That doctor sewed it back together, good as new. The finger even had feeling in it once it was back on.”


My friend picks up her needles and resumes knitting. “I don’t know why I’m knitting these mittens. Winter’s almost over. Habit, I guess. Now you’re not writing all this down, are you?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Don’t quote me!”

“I’ll change things around a bit.”

“All right then.”

We sit companionably together, the click-click-click of the knitting needles playing a comforting rhythm in time with our thoughts.

Content with Winter

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe day is white on white, with the low sun well hidden behind thick white clouds. No shadows precede me or follow me as I tromp steadily across the crusty snow.

My wide track intersects with fox prints, so neat and clean. What can foxes find to eat in this frozen landscape? They know more about this land than I do. Two crows sit on an apple tree, picking at shrunken brown apples. As I approach, they raise loud voices in brief protest, and fly away. I salute their spirit and energy and their great survival skills. They must be young.

I was young not long ago, born, in fact, in February. My mother was taken to the hospital some miles distant, in a horse-drawn box sleigh. By box, I mean an enclosed box on runners, with a door, a tiny coal-burning stove and a bench inside for my mother to sit on, and a window in front for my father to peer out of while holding the reins. In family photos my father is wearing a black fur hat with flaps. Both my parents wear fur coats, for warmth, not for show. This was Saskatchewan in the 1950s. I find it amazing that my refined mother and my educated father would choose to move to such a remote, cold, part of Canada. Oh, it was cold on the Prairies of my youth. Rubber overshoes never kept our feet warm, and woolen mittens were either soggy, or frozen stiff. Still, we were outside all the time, shrieking and rolling in vast oceans of snow.

That was the way winters were then, and it was the same everywhere. On Prince Edward Island, the old photos show snow so deep that tunnels had to be dug for the trains. Horses found the way home through snowstorms by sixth sense.  Children left for school through upstairs windows because doors were snowed shut. Ice froze in kettles overnight. Mothers sat up by the stove at night until the fire was well and truly out, for fear of flue fires. And what about flue fires, those loud unwelcome snaps in the night, with children rustled out of warm beds, sparks fling out of the chimney, general pandemonium, and a sense of pure and unadulterated fear gripping everyone by the throat. Hard times.

Still, we’re nostalgic for winters “the way they used to be,” now that our winters are so changeable, and snow and cold are sandwiched between wet and warm. But what’s so bad about this winter anyway? It’s been easy on the firewood, and we’ve only had to have our lane cleaned twice. I love these long evenings filled with conversation, cribbage, crokinole, music, jigsaw puzzles, good books, movies, concerts, bookmaking workshops, drawing classes. Oh my word, we’re rich.

Some of the folks in the Cove are off to Jamaica, and Tobago. I’m happy for them, but I’ll stay here, contented. These white winter days suit me just fine.

Events Calendar

January 2019
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Some Upcoming Events

Raised on TV #3

February 15 & 16
The Guild Now in its third season, Raised on Television (RoTV3) is taking a loo [ ... ]

Fräulein Klarinette

Piano and clarinet recital at UPEI’s Dr. Steel Recital Hall January 26
UPEI UPEI Clarinet Profess [ ... ]

Confederation Centre: Art Gallery exhibi...

Open daily Mitchell Wiebe: VampSites Until March 3 The Gallery opened a new solo exhibition by Mi [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Music PEI Canadian Songwriter Challenge

In partnership with ECMA 2019 Music PEI and ECMA 2019 have announced a partnership bringing togethe [ ... ]

The facilitator

Profile: Steve Bellamy by Jane Ledwell “Arts are ways into emotions. Arts are where we connect, [ ... ]

A gift of Island poetry: John MacKenzie

The Feet of Blue Herons If you happen to live in another town,
Or country, or even galaxy
As dim and  [ ... ]