by JoDee Samuelson
The Cove Journal
Writing 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…
Born 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.