Prince Edward Island Beaches and Bain’s “Old Friends” Released from Winter’s Ice, 1866

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Francis Bain sketch of PEI shells, Nov 3, 1878.
Source: PARO, Image No. 4.2353.92

On this day in nineteenth century Prince Edward Island, the farm landscape is only just beginning to emerge from beneath the ice and snow. The shores of York Point, at the confluence of the North and West (Eliot) Rivers at visible for the first time this spring, and the ice sheets break away from the shore and move seaward with great flair — or so it appears in the journals of farmer-naturalist Francis Bain. Bain takes a walk along the shore and is reunited with his “old friends the shell-fish and sea-weeds.”  He frequently sketches fauna such as these pliactula, perri-winkle, natica, turris, and calyptra drawn in 1878.

In Rice Point, farmers like John MacEachern observe simply that the “Ice [is] off, and a boat crossed the ferry yesterday.” The movement of the ice began on 2 April with “ice drifting off again,” but rather than watching at the shore, this farmer was cutting poles for his spring fencing, following the ferry passage to Charlottetown, and celebrating the life of a neighbour, “old Mrs Bell, Nine Mile Creek” who “died aged about 90.”

These two accounts from 1866, show two different perspectives of rural society and environment. Bain ignores all but the natural world even though he had been at work on the ice days before, and MacEachern focuses on work, community, and transportation.  Yet they are connected, physically and emotionally, by the same seam of ice.  They respect its power and study its movements together, knowing that it will soon uncover a warmer world of natural beauty and resources.

York Point, Prince Edward Island, 1866

“April 3,  The body of ice in the harbour, agitated by the heavy north wind and full tide, broke loose from its mooring and swung down to the entrance.  The broad reach of amethyste-blue water, gleaming with brilliant coruscations of light, and streaked with white lines of fome, look peculiarly striking and refreshing as an earnest of the onward march of approaching summer.  Flocks of wild geese dot the chrystal borders of these beautiful lakes and repose quietly in the genial sunlight or dapple for their weedy meal in the clear bosom of the newly awakened waves.

This afternoon the ice broke off from our shore of the Elliot and drifted into the channel which was previously thawed open. In the evening I went down to the sandy beech [sic] thus suddenly exposed, to enjoy a walk among my old friends the shell-fish and sea-weeds.  As I passed over the sive like patches of fine sand perforated by the pholades, but a very rare, faint squirt of water arose from the animals beneath where a shower of energetic spouts would have hailed me in the summer. I dug in the sand for some of the fish; they seemed near the surface. I sought in vain for whelks on the broad band of fine rippled sand, and also for the sandy mound of the buried natica. Here periwinkles were also very rare, and these very sluggish. Far out in the long sea-weed they were more abundant.”

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