I traveled to Prince Edward Island for the first time in hopes of learning more about my newfound ancestors. Below is an excerpt from my travel diary, which I send to my family.
Day 3: St. Peter's Bay
I'm happy to say I was feeling better today. I slept in until 10, took a long shower, picked up a GPS from Avis across the corner, and headed down University for a smoothie.
I knew exactly where I was headed for said smoothie, because I spotted this place my very first day. It was called the "Bread Basket", which is what Ralph often called his belly in letters.
As I piled everything in my little Hyundai Accent rental, I heard a jingle. Looking up, I spotted a cat sitting on the upstairs patio of the house next door to my hotel. I put my smoothie on the roof of my car (very important) and shouted "Hello kitty!!!"
The cat ran down the stairs and had no qualms about becoming my new best friend. This is what I do on vacations. I make cat friends.
I pet the cat for a while, then hopped in the car and headed off on an adventure. With a smoothie on the roof. I am my mother's daughter (famously driving with her cell phone on the roof of her car across town). The smoothie rode with me as far as the end of the street. A guy waved me down and pointed to my roof. I realized immediately what he was trying to tell me. I recovered the smoothie and drank it the rest of the way, haha.
First stop: Belfast. Belfast was the landing site of Lord Selkirk's Scottish Settlers in 1803. I thought there might be some cool historical things to see there, but it hardly classified as a town. Other than a monument along the highway and a yarn mill, I hardly knew I had hit the place. Anyway, there was nowhere to pull over so calling it a stop seems excessive now.
Things got hairy from here. I was really enjoying driving in PEI. The roads are virtually empty, there are no highway patrol traps, and everything is so pretty. I decided to ignore the GPS's fast route suggestions and "yolo" it along the coast. This quickly devolved into driving on dirt roads, then straight-up loose gravel. Rocks were flying everywhere. What a disaster. I was certain one wrong jerk of the wheel could send me into a tailspin, so I gritted my teeth and followed the janky dirt roads back to where the GPS wanted me. I survived.
Don't give the GPS too much credit, though. It regularly invented roads that did not exist and often recommended I drive the wrong way on one-way roads. I was this close to crossing into Nova Scotia!
Next stop: Montague. This wasn't really an intentional stop, I just liked the town a lot and wanted to pick up some flowers in case I found any important gravestones on my journey. Montague looked like an old mining town without the mining. Lots of old buildings sandwiched together, still in use. It was on the coast and very quaint. It had a feeling about it that said, "This is where Islanders actually live." If I visited again, I would consider staying here instead.
Next stop: Georgetown. According to the newspaper, Angus headed to the Yukon a second time in 1907. He was accompanied as far as Georgetown by his sister, Annabella. Georgetown is the capitol of King's County and sits along the Eastern coast of PEI. It looked like a ghost town when I got there. All the buildings seemed well-kept, but there wasn't a soul in sight. I walked over to the court house there and took pictures. Then I headed to the launch area and took some more. A van pulled up next to me. It read, "MacInnis Express." If you know about my quest to find Mary J McInnis, then you know why this is funny. I felt like I was in the Truman show or something. A man hopped out and said, "Weather's better than yesterday, huh?" It was.
Next stop: Souris. I wasn't sure if there was any family significance to Souris. I saw it mentioned in newspaper clippings Angela had saved. I also saw it postmarked from a postcard Hilda had sent. This was a wonderful place that I imagine the family must have vacationed at. A long stretch of beach had wavy lines in the red sand from long winds. Big purple jellyfish bubbled up every ten feet or so. Windsurfers rushed across the waves. I liked this spot. Grabbed a couple seashells before heading to the information center.
At the info center, a young guy tried to answer my questions about genealogy for about ten seconds before he jutted a thumb back to a much older gentleman behind the counter. "Angus D. McKinnon... I recognize that name..." He remarked, but couldn't put his finger on it. He said most of the McKinnons he knew were in St. Peter's Bay area. I told him I was headed there next.
I made a Tim Horton's run because everyone says they love Tim Hortons. I guess it was pretty good for fast food, but I didn't try the coffee or the donuts, so I can't tell you for sure.
Next stop: St. Peter's Bay. I was worried I was running out of daylight, so I cut my coastal cruise short and headed to St. Peter's Bay. At this point, my GPS had decided it no longer wanted to work, so I guestimated with street signs. I had a homey feeling the second I pulled into town.
I steered into the Visitor Center to see what advice they might have. When I told the lady at the counter, Claire, what I was doing, she seemed very interested. She pointed to her nametag.
"I'm curious because I'm a MacKinnon," she smiled.
I showed her my family trees and gave her my contact information. She didn't recognize anyone on the tree, but she did think Angus sounded awfully familiar. In fact, she said her brother was living in Angus McKinnon's house, but she didn't know much about its history other than knowing an Angus built it. She pointed me to the Roman Catholic Church, so I headed there next.
This was the pinnacle of my visit. There was no one at the church, but the cemetery was clear as day. I pulled the flowers out of my car and decided to walk every single grave until I found our family.
I was about halfway through searching, getting tired and a little anxious, when I decided- being alone in a cemetery and all- to exasperatedly call out to the headstones, "Does anybody here know where my family is?" or something along those lines. Anyway, it worked. Moments later, I spotted Sarah's name on the side of this tall, grey spire. I gasped and stumbled toward it. When I saw "Annabella" on the front, I threw my hand over my mouth and felt my eyes start to well up. I ran to the other side. "Angus D McKinnon". I hugged the big stone with tears bursting. I still can't believe I actually found them. Do you see how Angus erected the headstone for his little sister? I'm so glad they're not alone.
I gave each of them three roses and buried a small pot of violets in front. I sat there a while and caught them up on life in the states. :)
I paced the rest of the gravestones and found Donald Charles MacKinnon and his wife Catherine MacDonald. They are Ralph's grandparents. I gave them a rose as well. Catherine was the great granddaughter of Dr. Roderick MacDonald, the doctor who came with the first Scottish settlers to PEI. "Dr. Roddie" as they call him, also lived in St. Peter's Bay. The lady at the Visitor Center pointed to his house, which I stopped at and took a photo of. I think there might have been two Dr. Roddies, so I'm not entirely sure this is my adoptive relative.
Next stop: Goose River, or as I like to call this leg of the tour, the "Wild Goose River Chase".
I thought it might be easy to spot the plots of land our families might have owned. It was not. At all. In fact, almost every plot of land was for sale, it seemed, and everything had been overgrown. There were very few roads that could still support a car without four wheel drive. It was impossible to see through the trees as to whether any lots still had houses on them.
I decided to drive down the two functional roads I could find: Goose River Rd and McAskill River Rd. There was a shingled, weathered house on Goose River Rd that gave me a funny feeling. It wasn't elegant like the Roddie house. The roof was in varying states of disrepair, there were multiple satellite dishes shooting off of it, but something about it called to me. I ignored the feeling and continued onward.
At the end of Goose River Rd was what appeared to be a cluster of vacation cottages, all empty. And on the other side was an empty field, save a collapsing cottage that I suppose could have been historically relevant, but who knows. I couldn't get anywhere near it. The weeds were up to my armpits. I took a far-away photo and moved on.
Down below was a BEAUTIFUL beach. No jellyfish, no mud, just powdery red sand, pebbles, and sea snail shells. There wasn't a safe way down, though. Fortunately, at McAskill River's end, I was able to make it out onto the beach.
I LOVED the beach there- let me just say that again. It was so serene and the red sand was so unusual. Like everywhere else, the houses here were for sale. I would move to one of these houses tomorrow if I thought I could make a living there. The houses on McAskill river were grand.
On my way back up Goose River Rd, I felt that funny feeling again about that house. I didn't want to be some creep taking photos of peoples' houses, but I could not fight the urge. I stopped my car and got out. I took two photos of the house and one photo of the cow farm in front of it. I would find out after I returned home to California that I had taken photos of my 2x great uncle's house.
I headed back to Charlottetown with an eager stomach. Paul MacKinnon, a distant cousin of Ralph's that I share genealogy notes with, recommended a place to me. You may recognize the name :)
Finally, I was able to appreciate PEI's seafood and potatoes. These Malpeque oysters were DIVINE. I don't normally love big oysters, but these were absolutely perfect. I also ordered blueberry ale, which was arguably not so blueberry-y. And crab cakes, and potatoes, and green beans. Nothing could take the spotlight off those oysters, holy jeez.
Back at the hotel now. Still wishing I could add one more day to my stay. I already can't wait to come back to this place. Tomorrow I plan to try and get records from the Morrell parish, which supposedly houses all the St. Peter's Bay records, then burrow in the records office, then possibly do a tour of the digital archives, then catch Anne and Gilbert, another Green Gables musical (this one's a love story, hehe).
Plenty of lots for sale along the beautiful coast of Goose River.... Let's all retire early and reclaim the family land :)