In rhythm with the sea

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Entry Island, in the Iles de la Madeleine, is a peaceful, beautiful place that's home to a tiny English-speaking community

Scenic red cliffs beckon travellers to the friendly island.

 

First impressions are lasting ones. On a springtime trip to the Iles de la Madeleine, our guide pointed to Entry Island from where we stood on Ile du Havre aux Maisons. He explained that it is a small English-speaking community of fishermen of Irish and Scottish descent, and the only island in the Iles de la Madeleine archipelago that is accessible to tourists only by boat.

A member of the group then asked disdainfully, "Why would anyone want to live there?"

Why indeed? His query raised questions in my mind about this picturesque, off-the-beaten-path island, with its distinct green, rolling hillsides and red cliffs. I decided then I had to visit it.

On a brisk October morning at Cap aux Meules port, I awaited the Ivan Quinn ferry that would transport me the 16 kilometres to Entry Island. As luck would have it, a fishing boat from Entry Island was just coming into port.

While I easily fell into conversation with the boat's captain, Ralph Josey, and with his extended family, Tim Hortons coffee appeared for everyone. Could the scene be any more Canadian? These friendly islanders welcomed me aboard their boat for the journey back to Entry Island.

As we skimmed across a tranquil sea, good-humoured speculation ensued about who would arrive at Entry Island first:Josey, or the Ivan Quinn on our starboard side, which was painted a bright blue and shimmered in the awakening morning light. It is named after a man who was famous for entertaining the Entry Island residents with his guitar at many house parties from the 1950s until the 1990s.

One couldn't fail to notice the many high-tech screens on Josey's fishing boat: a GPS screen showed the boat's position, a radar screen indicated other boats in the area and a sounder showed the distance to the sea floor and schools of fish. In advance of this technology, Entry Island fishermen would have relied on a watch and compass. "Today," Josey said, "no fishing boat would be without this technology."

Back in the first half of the 20th century, Entry Island was mostly a farming community, but since the 1960s, lobster fishing has been the main activity. Some islanders also fish for scallops, mackerel, herring, crab and whelk (sea snails).

Ralph Josey's 20-year-old son, Raymond, was on his dad's fishing boat for the trip back to Entry Island. Raymond fishes with his uncle, Gary, from April until September, and particularly likes the challenge of tuna fishing, when they'll go closer to P.E.I. or Nova Scotia for tuna that can weigh up to a thousand pounds. About 15 young men from Entry Island fish during the summer, but some spend the winter elsewhere, for example P.E.I. - a growing trend. The largest population recorded for Entry Island was 247, in 1971. "Today there are approximately 100 people who live on the Island," said Brian Josey, who runs the one restaurant on Entry Island.

Nine students currently attend the school there that goes from Kindergarten to Grade 8. They will have to leave the island for high school on P.E.I., or Grosse Ile in the Iles de la Madeleine (not to be confused with the Grosse Ile in the St. Lawrence River, where Irish immigrants were quarantined). Carol McColm moved to Entry in 1990, taught school for 15 years and even found a husband there. Back then, there were 27 students and four teachers. In 2005, several families with a total of about 10 children left the island - they didn't want to send their children away for high school.

Eighteen-year-old Jeremy Dickson grew up on Entry Island and works on the Ivan Quinn ferry. He says that many of the young women, particularly, leave for higher education, leaving not too many to date.

For younger children, Entry Island can still be a fun place. Eight-year-old Zachary drives an ATV, just right for his size. He says, "I like playing with my friends and driving the four-wheeler."

But with so few children on Entry, there aren't always playmates for every age group.

Vivian Chenell, who grew up on Entry, recalls a time when there were many children on the island, "It was heaven. We'd play 'flashlight' where one group of kids would search out another group, going from Patton's Hill to Wash Pond to Ziggs." Vivian works at Cap Sur Mer fish factory on Cap aux Meules, but comes home to Entry whenever she has time off.

In spite of its small population, Entry Island has several services. A nurse is on 24-hour call and works at the CLSC on afternoons (a doctor comes every three weeks). There's a community hall, and the post office and museum offer employment. Linda Knock, an employee of the municipality, in her own words, "keeps the island tidy." There is a small store, but most food items are ordered weekly from the Coop at Cap aux Meules. Several islanders still raise cattle and chickens and have gardens.

Craig Quinn operates a plane service, during the winter when the ferry is not running, from Entry Island to Havre aux Maisons. A seven-minute, one-way flight costs a mere $12 and is open to local residents only. Vivian says of pilot, Jack Delaney, "He's the best pilot, I'd trust him with my life." Modern technology connects the Island in other ways - they have high speed Internet, and satellite dishes are common.

The October day I visited Entry Island, it was warm and sunny with an invigorating sea breeze. Duke, a local dog who is reputed to know the difference between locals and tourists, accompanied me as I ambled up the main road, past the church, post office and store to the museum. We continued up "Big Hill." At 174 metres, it is the highest in the Magdalen archipelago and offers a magnificent view of all the islands.

While on Entry Island, I chatted with many of its friendly residents and found the pace slow and the ambience peaceful, a place in rhythm with the sea. There are no policemen, and many residents report that they don't lock their doors. There are some cars, but most people get around on ATVs. No traffic jams to worry about here.

With all its peacefulness and natural beauty, there is a sad reality about a diminishing population on Entry Island. Young people must leave for higher education or work, as the fishing industry is the main occupation, narrowing the options more so for its young women.

Those who stay refer to Entry Island as "paradise" or "the closest thing to heaven." One resident in his 50s, who still fishes with his son, sums up a common sentiment, "It's a beautiful place. I love it here. We don't have much, but we don't need much, and we have peace of mind. I intend to die here, if I don't die on the water." Although McColm and her husband have moved to P.E.I., she says, "I loved Entry Island from the day I moved there - I still miss. I feel safe there, maybe that's what calls you back, the security of it."

There is a true story, dating from 1923, about a horse called Farmer who was born and raised on Entry Island, but was traded to someone on Grosse Ile. Farmer found his way back to Entry Island by swimming three kilometres across the ocean from Sandy Hook Dune. Like Farmer, even its young residents have a strong attachment to place. When I prodded young Raymond Josey for his thoughts on Entry Island, he simply said, "It's home."

Entry Island, with its scenic, red cliffs had beckoned to me from afar. For those who love out-of-the-way places, hiking, dramatic scenery, photography, kayaking and bird watching, it fits the bill. Most of all you'll find a place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

 

If you go

The Iles de la Madeleine archipelago is located in the middle of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and made up of about 12 islands and islets.

They are 105 kilometres north of Prince Edward Island and 215 kilometres southeast from Gaspe.

Getting there: By ship: The CTMA Vacancier leaves Montreal weekly, mid-June to the end September, and goes to Cap aux Meules port. Vehicles can be boarded at Montreal and at Chandler. CTMA also offers a daily ferry service from Souris, P.E.I. See www.ctma.ca or call 1-888-986-3278. By air to Havre aux Maisons: Air Canada www.aircanada.com. Pascan Aviation www.pascan.com flies from Saint Hubert.

Activities on Entry Island: Hiking, bird watching, kayaking around the island, fishing, sailing. Services: The Ivan Quinn ferry (CTMA) and several nautical excursion companies on Iles de la Madeleine offer tours by zodiac and boat to Entry Island.

There is one restaurant on Entry Island, Chez Brian, and you can rent a room or a house from Chambres Josey, 418-986-5862.

For more information about the Iles de la Madeleine, see www.tourismeilesdela madeleine.com or call 1-877-624-4437.

Montreal Gazette

 

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