McCue Family Vacations on P.E.I.


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Provided by: Michael McCue - mccue@ici.net

Photos: Courtesy Don Squier and Michael McCue

The following passages were written by Michael McCue's grandfather, James Westaway McCue, and are from his memoirs describing vacation trips home to P.E.I., and the events along the way. They are being presented here, as they bring back memories of many a family's return home to P.E.I. on vacation, and though, perhaps, a little short on historical information, make quite interesting reading for a diversion from pure research.

There is an interesting cast of characters, referred to by familial nick names as follows:


James and Bill

Father was the restless type ó never liking to remain too long in one spot. As a result of this restlessness, he took us on periodic summer vacations to his place of birth, Prince Edward Island, which was also Motherís home. We boys always went along on these trips which provided a great deal of excitement and chance for boyish adventure.

The family traveled to the Island in various ways, sometimes by train, sometimes by coastal steamer, but most often by car.

"Now, boys," Father would say before we started the automobile trip, "we are going to camp out to save money."

Mother always took "the saving money business with a grain of salt, because she knew the money saved probably would be wasted in other ways, but Bill and I eagerly prepared for the trek with much the same enthusiasm as boy scouts going on a weekís camping trip in the woods of Maine. In preparation for the journey, we dug out our old canvas tent, the camp stove, camp cots and all the gear we thought we would need. Of course, we took a lot of stuff we never used. Often our pile of camping gear would suffice for a regiment rather than for merely two children and two adults. However, our boyish minds believed in being prepared for any emergency and we could never put the thought out of our heads that there was always a chance we would be marooned in the New Brunswick wilderness where we might have to live on our own resources. If such an emergency occurred we figured we would need a myriad of items to make our life as pioneers as comfortable as possible. Of course, we never did get into such a situation but we took no chances and nothing Father could say would convince us we were wrong in toting along too much equipment.

When the old family car started off, it was loaded to the fenders with everything but the kitchen sink. Of ancient vintage, our car had faulty brakes, poor tires and other defective equipment, but we never worried about such things, as the possibility of break downs only served to stimulate our minds and added to the possibility of the adventure.

In the early days of this century, the Canadian roads were mostly dirt or gravel, high crowned so that rain water would run into ditches at the sides. The roads were also like grease when they were wet, which made driving on rainy days quite dangerous. Quite often it was necessary for us to travel over mountain roads through New Brunswick that were nothing more than oversized cow paths with not a house to be seen for miles. If a break down occurred on such a road, our goose was just plain cooked (and no Cape Cod cranberry sauce to go with it, either). In such emergencies we would have to await the arrival of another car or a passing farmer with a team of horses who might pull us out if he liked our looks. However, if we appeared to the farmer to look too much like a bunch of foreigners who deserved their fate, he might consider passing us by, leaving us at the mercy of the bears, bobcats or other wild animals that were abundant in the Canadian woods. But, we were always lucky and managed to get through this wilderness somehow without too much trouble. The entire trip from the Cape to Prince Edward Island at that time took as much as from three to five days depending on the car and barring breakdowns. We covered about a hundred and fifty miles per day and each night camped along the road in whatever convenient spot the countryside offered. Often our night camping site would be a sand pit or country lane just off the road. In the evening Dad would select a suitable site and Bill and I would set up the tent and cots or spread blankets on the ground and attempt to sleep until daybreak. Mother and Dad tried to sleep in the car. Often none of us rested as it was either too cold or our beds were too uncomfortable.

One dark night on one of these trips we pulled off the road to sleep. We were so tired from driving all that day that we didnít care where we slept. As it was dark and raining, we had no idea where we were or what our camping site was like. We just pitched our tent and slept on the wet ground. When morning came, after a night of misery, I sat up to stretch my stiff limbs and looked about at the surrounding landscape. To my surprise we were entirely surrounded by tombstones. I shook Bill who had been sleeping on a grave with a tombstone at his head, a puddle of water at his feet and a bouquet of withered flowers at each side of him.

"Weíve spent the night in a graveyard!" I exclaimed.

"Weíd better get out of here quick before someone takes us for ghosts," Dad laughed.

Westaway Farm in Lower Montague
The Westaway Farm in Lower Montague with Wightman's Point Lighthouse in Background

At the end of the trip we were a tired lot when we arrived on the Island to spend the summer at our maternal grandfatherís beautiful old two hundred acre farm nestled by the sea shore on the eastern end of the Island. The farm with its poultry, cattle, two horses and sundry other features, proved an inexhaustible field of exploration and adventure for us kids. There was plenty of area in which to roam, with a variety of interests such as trout fishing, swimming, horseback riding and a great many other outdoor activities to keep us busy.

The farm provided all the fresh vegetables and meat we could eat, the nearby beach and salt water yielded an abundance of lobsters which we caught under the rocks. Clams, mackerel and cod were plentiful. With my grandmotherís tasty cooking, plenty of fresh homemade butter and homemade bread, it was no wonder Bill and I put on weight during our two month vacation at the farm. Prince Edward Island women are expert cooks in their own right and we dudes from the States quickly took advantage of it.

I have heard much about southern hospitality but I do not think it could ever outshine that of the people of the Maritime Canadian Provinces. On the Island when we went visiting it was an insult to our hostess if we left her house without at least having a cup of tea. Of course, Grandmother was expected to repay the hospitality when friends or neighbors came to call at the farm. She was forever baking for company which (Mother said) kept the larder bare and sometimes deprived the family of food because there was so much company coming and going, eating like vultures.

There was no such thing as a good cup of coffee on Prince Edward Island. Like the English, Canadians drink tea morning, noon and night. The tea pot appeared on Grandmotherís stove in the early morning and remained there until bed time. As a kid on the farm, I drank tea morning, noon and night and it was not uncommon for me to gulp as many as sixteen cups a day at meals and in between.

Speaking of hospitality, the following is an example of the Canadian variety.

"Could we put on a clam bake ?" Bill and I asked Grandmother one day. "You dig the clams and Iíll tend to the rest of the cooking," Grandmother replied.

By word of mouth, we boys sent out invitations to a few friends to attend our clam bake which was to take place on the shore near the farm a few evenings later. In our spare moments for the next two days, we dug the clams while Grandmother and the hired girl baked cakes and cookies for the event.

When the evening of the party arrived, Bill and I lighted a fire on the beach and prepared to bake the clams. Shortly after dusk our guests, who were supposed to number ten, began to arrive. As night began to fall, our guests were all present and with them were many who had not been invited but were nevertheless welcome. Each guest had brought at least eight additional friends, making a grand total of more than eighty people in all to feed. Of course, there were not enough clams to go around but many arrivals had brought food of their own which was pooled in order to have enough to go around.

After every scrap of food in Grandmotherís pantry and every clam had been eaten, the company sat about the fire on the beach, sang songs and told stories. We all had a better time than if we had been entertained by a professional troupe of singers and dancers in a city night club. Of course, our guests expected us to visit them so that they could feed us in order to return the favor. Bill and I went on a diet for a few days before we made the rounds to collect our debts in food from our party guests. Nowadays folks donít know how to have a good time without spending a lot of money and indulging to excess, only to wake up with a big head the morning after.

Grandmother

There was a combined army of eight grandchildren, and nine adults on vacation at the farm one particular summer. This included Grandmother, Grandfather, my mother and father, an aunt and uncle, a hired man, hired girl, and a summer boarder, making a total of seventeen in all. When that mob tried to sit down to dinner, the dining room table was not big enough to hold them all so we had to eat in relays. Grandmother and the hired girl baked more than seventeen loaves of bread per day besides making butter and doing all the other cooking for company who arrived to pay daily visits. The house was like a beehive and as Bill and I often didnít jibe with our cousins there was activity galore in the way of family battles and rivalry which went on from morning Ďtil night, the furore being not unlike that of an asylum for the insane.

Grandfatherís farm was located at the mouth of a bay. Across the bay was a small town [Georgetown] where we sometimes did our shopping. In order to get to town, it was necessary to go on a small ferryboat which crossed the bay every half hour on schedule.

The captain of the old sidewheeler ferry, was a cousin of ours who loved his red rum, especially around election time. Everytime I made the trip as a kid, the captain would let me steer while he stood by to see that I didnít get too far off course.

One day while I was at the wheel, the captain left the wheelhouse and went forward for something (probably a swig of rum). I was alone at the helm trying to keep the boat headed for the town wharf. Try as I would, I couldnít keep the old tub on a true course. She wandered up the river and then down again on a zigzag course. Finally, the captain returned and took the wheel himself.

"Youíre a hell of a sailor," he remonstrated with a smile. "Theyíll all think Iím drunk, the way the boatís wandering all over the bay."

Sure enough, the next day the story began going around that the ferry captain was on a toot again. Everytime the natives saw the ferry zigzagging off her course they knew the captain was hitting the bottle, but this was one time the gossipers were fooled.

"Would you care for a drink of cherry wine?" the engineer of the ferry asked me once when I was crossing to town.

"Sure," I replied. I loved cherry wine and fixed my mouth for a delicious drink. I took a long gulp of the red liquor. Quickly my mouth and throat told me that this was not cherry wine. Instantly the liquid began to burn like fire all the way down to my stomach where I thought an inferno was taking place. "Thatís not cherry wine," I gasped. "Itís red rum !"

The engineer roared at the practical joke he had played on me as I staggered to the rail and threw up. "Whatís the matter, kid? Donít you like my red wine?"

I couldnít answer him. I was too sick to reply.

Occasionally Grandmother would send me for sugar or tea to a store two miles up the road. Usually, I would ride bareback on one of the farm horses along the country dirt road to the general store, which sold everything from buggy whips to farm machinery, as well as groceries. In those days the Canadian country merchants were kings in their community, buying farm produce from the farmers at low prices and selling them supplies in return, often at high prices. As a result of these swindling practices, the merchants grew fat and rich while the farmers worked hard and often did not realize as much for their hard work as they would have had the merchants treated them fairly.

The social position of a clerk in a country store in those days was far greater than that of a farmer. Quite often the clerks took advantage of the situation by belittling the farmer. One such clerkís efforts to belittle me as a boy backfired. One day, when I was leaving the country store, one of the clerks sneaked up behind my horse with a buggy whip. He was about to give the horse a crack, hoping the animal would bolt with me on its back. As luck would have it, I saw the clerk before he could use the whip and I jumped off the horse. Quickly the clerk turned and fled into the store. I raced after him. As I ran past the display of buggy whips inside the door I grabbed one and chased the clerk behind counters, over bags of grain, up the stairs to the office, where he locked himself in. All during the chase the clerk was laughing uproariously at his attempted practical joke. But I was in no mood for a laugh. Had he been successful in whipping the horse, I might have been thrown and seriously hurt. After that the clerk treated me with respect when he observed I was no farmer boy and that I wasnít afraid of him.

Grandfather

Besides being a farmer, Grandfather was also a lighthouse keeper. For fifty years, each evening at dusk, he climbed the narrow stairs of the government lighthouse located close to his farmhouse and lighted the oil lamp which reflected a beam for the protection of coastal shipping. Twice during the night, year in and year out, Grandfather had to get out of bed and look at the light to make sure it was burning. During the winter storms he was often forced to stay up all night and scrape the frost or frozen snow from the windows of the lighthouse while standing outside on a narrow catwalk which encircled the top. This was done to keep the light bright so that large boats could find their way into the harbor. For his duties as lighthouse keeper Grandfather received the magnificent salary of five dollars a week. After her husbandís death, the light keeperís wife, (my grandmother), carried on his duties, climbing the steep stairs until she was past eighty years old.

The woods about the farm were alive with rabbits and other wild animals. Once in a great while a grizzly bear would be seen. Mother tells the story of meeting such a bear while she was picking berries as a girl.

"You be a good boy or weíll call the bear," Mother said to her little brother, who had been naughty, while several members of the family were engaged in picking berries in a field near the woods.

A few moments later a great grizzly bear came out of the woods and ambled towards the party of berry pickers.

"Run for your lives," one of the children screamed.

The children ran for home as fast as they could, looking back only once to see the bear, who was eating their berries. Late that same afternoon, the bear was seen coming across the field toward the house. As the children watched breathlessly, the great animal came right into the barnyard and headed for the back steps. Grandmother was not a woman to let even a grizzly bear frighten her. She met Mr. Bruin as he came up the back steps and threw a kettle of scalding water square in his face. The bear, severely burned and howling in rage, fell backward, picked himself up and ran for the woods. He never returned to bother the children again.

While I am on the subject of bears, I recall the following incident concerning Bill and a narrow escape with an ugly bruin. While we were on an auto trip to the Island one summer, the car ran out of gas deep in the New Brunswick wilderness. The nearest gas station was ten miles back on the road and Bill and a companion decided to walk back to get the gas, hoping someone in a car would pick them up on the way. After they had walked about three miles they sat down at a curve in the road to rest. Soon they heard a car coming down the road and they hailed it. The car stopped, and the driver, a logging man, invited them to get in. Hardly had the car started around the curve when they saw a great big grizzly sitting squarely in the middle of the road. A lump of fear jumped to Billís throat. He and his companion had been sitting within only a few yards of the "critter" who might have torn them to pieces had the curve in the road not hidden the two hikers from view.

The problem of finding entertainment on the Island was a simple one. During the summer there were tea parties, church fairs, horse races, or an occasional square dance. The sulky races, which were really horse races and country fairs combined, provided the best form of entertainment to be had on a large scale. On the racing grounds tents were set up to provide dinners for the fans, and for thirtyfive cents one could have a complete dinner the like of which he never had before. Even to this day my mouth waters at the thought of the delicious cake, homemade bread, country hams, and other country cooking prepared by Canadian farmersí wives.

The horse races themselves were often put in the background of interest by the people who attended them. Farmers from the back country with their rough clothes, sun-burned faces and gnarled hands were in the majority. They were, for the most part, hospitable, kindly men like Grandfather. There was also a sprinkling of the merchant class, the store keepers, bankers and clerks. They were better dressed and had a more polished look than the farmers but in their faces still remained traces of the soil from which they came, and of the hardworking Canadian stock that were their forebears.

Among the crowd there would always be a few Canadians who had "gone to the States" and had returned "home" on vacation. You could spot them instantly with their sporty clothes and their air of superiority. They had been to the "States" and had returned to show off for the benefit of the home folks who, strange as it seemed, looked upon them with envy and admiration rather than disdain..

At one of these races, Dad appeared dressed in a pair of white knickers, which were the style in the "States" at the time.

When Dad arrived on the grounds in his fashionable attire he created quite a stir because the natives had never seen anyone wearing such pants before.

"Hey, Mister," yelled one smart Alec, "go home and put your pants on." The heckler thought Dad was parading around in his underwear.

The most outstanding feature of the racing crowd was the Scotch farmer lads who brought along their bag-pipes to entertain the onlookers. The pipers would strut up and down the fair grounds attired in their kilts while they played weird tunes on their pipes. Many people do not like bag-pipe music but to my ears the music of the pipes is melodious and soul stirring.

Grandfather loved the tea parties and horse races as it gave him a chance to renew old friendships and exchange gossip. He knew everyone for miles around the countryside and it was a regular occurrence for people to drop in at the farm for s meal or tea, as I mentioned previously.

Grandfather was a tall, lean Englishman and wore a large moustache. He looked not unlike former King George of England except that Grandfather was taller. He was the slow type of easy-going country farmer who farmed the hard way and did well at it. Having no use for modern farming devices, one of his habits was to walk through his potato fields and brush off the potato bugs with his hat when he did not have time to spray them with poison. Grandfather wasnít lazy. He couldnít afford to be, with a two hundred acre farm to look after. He just enjoyed life and took it easy when he could. It was not uncommon for him, with the help of a hired man, to put in forty acres of potatoes, ten acres of cabbage, ten or fifteen acres of grain, and several acres of truck garden besides looking after more than a dozen head of cows, three horses and the Lord knows how many poultry.

I sometimes wonder how Grandfather ever got his work done. If, for instance, he had to make a trip to town across the river, a distance of five miles, he would start making preparations the night before. In the morning, after chores were done, he would take half the morning getting the horse harnessed, the other half trying to memorize what he was supposed to get in town, and the rest of the day making the journey, gossiping with friends in town and getting home about dusk. It was a good thing he didnít have to go to town every day.

I never heard Grandfather raise his voice to anyone or say an unkind word about anyone. He had no vices, as he never drank, smoked or gambled. Once on a trip to town he did take a few drinks, just to try it out, but Grandmother gave him such a going over he never did it again.

Often in the late afternoon Grandfather would be missing, but he could generally be found taking a quick nap in the hay-loft. We children never bothered him while he was sleeping, but if we made too much noise and awakened him he never scolded us.

When Grandfather passed away a few years ago, his funeral was the largest the countryside had ever seen. Hundreds of people, to whom he had been kind, came from miles around to pay their last respects to a man who always had a good word for everyone and who was one of the last Island pioneers.

Someday I may write an entire book about the summers we spent on Prince Edward Island, but as I have already taken too much space here, I will leave that subject for another time. However, the vacations we kids spent on the Island were among the most delightful times of our life.

Before I close this chapter I want to tell the yarn about a patient Father took to Canada for his health.

Doc McCue

Dad attended a wealthy gentleman who spent many summers on the Cape and who felt that he needed to take a trip somewhere for his health. The man asked Father if he would accompany him as his private physician at a good fee and Dad accepted the case.

Accompanied by a chauffeur, Dad and the patient left the Cape by automobile one July day and drove to Nova Scotia. On the trip the patient secured several cases of beer and several quarts of brandy. By the time the party arrived in Halifax, the patient was pretty well pickled in alcohol and Father, seeing that his case was to be nothing more than caring for a drunken patient decided to get the rnan back home as fast as he could by boat.

By the time the party arrived at Yarmouth where they could ship the car and take passage back to the states by steamer, the patient was on an uncontrolable spree and there was nothing Father or anyone else could do to keep him in check. The patient went about insulting everybody within hearing distance.

"I want to get out of your blasted country as quick as I can," the patient howled at customs inspectors on the steamship dock.

"The Kingís inspectors will be glad to get you out as quick as they can," replied one of the customs men.

"To hell with the King and the Prince of Wales, too," roared the patient. By his utterances in cursing the King and Royal Family the man soon found himself behind bars where he was left to sober off for the night.

The following morning, Father arrived at the jail to find his patient soberly shooting craps with his fellow inmates.

"Come on," Dad said. "Youíve got to go to court. Maybe the judge will let you off with a fine."

The judge, after hearing about the manís insults to the King was ready to lock him up for life when His Honor spotted a fraternal button on the prisoner's coat lapel.

Quickly reconsidering the case of his fraternal brother, the judge said, "I fine you fifty dollars and forbid you to enter the country again." Then turning to Father, the judge said, "Get him on the boat as quickly as you can before I change my mind or he gets arrested again and a less compassionate magistrate gives him the works.

By the time Father and his patient got on the boat, the man was sober and did not remember the events of the previous day.

"What did I do to land in jail?" the patient asked Dad.

"You only committed the worst crime next to murder in Canada," Dad replied, "and if that judge hadnít been a fraternal brother of yours, you never would have gotten out of it at all," Dad concluded pointing to the patientís lapel insignia.

"Oh," said the patient, "that lodge button doesnít belong to me. It was my fatherís. I just wear it for luck."

- End -


Dave Hunter and The Island Register: Source Code and Graphics© 1998

Last Updated: 11/11/98 10:23:22 PM
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