Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Islands Telephone and Telegraph Cable

The telephone and telegraph by cable which linked the islands to Cape Breton was installed at a cost of $91,485. This was lot of money for the era, but it was absolutely necessary for the well-being of navigators and an isolated population. The cable was 84 miles long. It had been submerged during the month of October, 1880 for a connection to a station in Grosse Isle. The following year, an other cable , 8 miles in length was laid between the Bird Rocks and Grosse Isle. Also, they added a land line between House Harbour and Etang-du-Nord.

This telephone/telegraph communication system gave excellent service over the next 30 years. But on February 10, 1910, the cable between the mainland and Grosse Isle snapped, possible because of large iceberg that had been reported passing by. This break could not be repaired and so left the Islanders more isolated that ever. There was a state of panic amongst some of the people and so an idea was formed to send a vessel without a pilot. It was too dangerous to send a wooden fishing boat with the ice moving in the Gulf so Alcide J. Gaudet, then employed with the J.R. Leslie Company Limited, exporters of lobster and smoked and salt fish had the idea to launch the ponchon (a wooden barrel with a sail, on which was painted “Winter Magdalen Mail”, and a rudder). The ponchon was launched from the most southern tip of Amherst Island. The whole of Amherst village participated in its launching on the Sandy Hook beach. The idea was to send “Her Majesty’s mail” from the people on the Magdalen Islands to an undetermined destination. There was some one hundred letters in the barrel.

With favourable winds and acceptable currents the small vessel was carried south, traveling toward Cape Breton and landed on the beach near Port Hastings, Cape Breton in very good time.

The Federal government immediately dispatched the stem ship “SS Harlow” to the Magdalen Islands.

Le lose of the telegraph cable resulted in the installation of a Marconi station, in Grindstone on the top of the hill know as Marconi hill, in 1911.

A documentary film was documented by Sister Rose Delima Gaudet and filmed during the school year of 1970-71, by Professor Rosaire Vigneault to recall the memorable event. Professor Vigneault was my professor that year for des Art Plastique, where we learned to film animated still art. It was a fascinating course.

Note: This story has been told by the French speaking people for as long as I can remember but I begin to have doubts to it complete truthfulness. For one, was it that the "Winter Magdalen Mail" went through the Canso Causeway and was that even built in 1910? And why was it called the Winter Magdalen Mail and not the Poste d'Hiver Madeleine? I have heard stories to the contrary about who came up with the idea and where the idea originated. Also the population on the Magdalen Islands was 6,623 people according to the 1911 census. I would think that it would have been hard pressed to find one hundred people who knew people abroad let alone write to them. The English speaking people where well educated for the time but the French education system was in poor shape if what I have read is anything to go by.

In the 1990's, group of islanders took it upon themselves to recreate the launching of the ponchon. It was a school project for the secondary five (grade 11) students at the Polyvalente in Laverniere. While using all of the data that had been saved from the first successful attempt, they waited until the weather, wind, currents, tides were all the same and they failed in that they were never able to track its voyage. It became lost at sea.

3 comments:

Improvedliving said...

well nice stuff


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AngelBaby said...

I often wonder about the history that has been passed on by word of mouth. How much of it is true and what was changed along the way. Sounds like this is proof that written history is probably more reliable.

Love and Blessings,
AngelBaby

Deirdre said...

As alwaya I enjoy your blog. I miss chatting with you. Hey Buddy its Deirdre. Im back.