Trip to the Magdalenes

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Trip to the Magdalenes
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TRIP TO MAGDALENES. The Rock-bound Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Rev. H. A. Meahan Interviewed on His Return Home. Some of the Peculiar Characteristics of this Isolated Group. Rev. H. A. Meahan has recently returned from a trip to Prince Edward Island where he was the guest of Bishop MacDonald. During his absence from the city he accompanied his lordship on a trip to the Magdalene Islands where the Bishop went to administer the holy sacrament of confirmation. Satisfied that the readers of THE TRANSCRIPT would like to know something about these Islands, which for several months each year are entirely cut off from mainland communication, a TRANSCRIPT reporter yesterday called on Father Meahan and was kindly accorded an interview. The Magdalene Islands are a small group near the centre of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 54 miles north-west of Cape Breton and about 50 miles distant north from Prince Edward Island. They consist chiefly of Coffin, Amherst and Grindstone Islands. Chamber’s encyclopedia gives the population of the Islands at 2000 but Father Meahan is of the opinion that the inhabitants number a great many more. TRIP TO THE ISLANDS. Bishop MacDonald and Father Meahan left Charlottetown on June 6th for Souris whence they sailed on the following day by steamer landing at Amherst Island, one of the group, on the afternoon of the 8th instant. The trip across was a decidedly cold one and Father Meahan says that not being fully prepared for such frigid atmosphere he suffered considerably. The view presenting itself as the steamer sailed into Amherst Island was a most imposing one. The rock bound coast, with its natural modes of ingress, capped by apparently a green hedge of shrubby character supplied a very picturesque effect. All the islands have rocky coasts and a peculiarity is that only here and there a tree can be found and the only trees that exist are the fir and spruce. The shrubs are in many cases stunted but sometimes reach the height of three or four feet. THE INHABITANTS. The inhabitants are all French Acadians, primitive people, and as is characteristic of that nation are most hospitable. They have a patois of their own which at first is somewhat difficult to understand but one conversant with the French language as used here, which is not exactly as perfect as that of gay Paris, can soon make himself understood and converse fluently. Among the men who are strong they are wonderfully strong and of imposing stature, but during recent years owing to the constant intermarriage of the same nation there is a great deal of consumption prevalent among the people. The principal business in these islands is fishing. The inhabitants make their living on cod, herring, and seal. Ecclesiastically the islands are under the jurisdiction of Prince Edward Island; civilly, they are controlled by the province of Quebec. Every three years Bishop MacDonald pays a visit to administer Confirmation. This year, however, he went earlier than usual, for it is a matter of fact that as soon as a boy can handle an oar he is put in a boat and hustled off to fish and they might be gone before his arrival later. CULTIVATION OF THE SOIL. There is actually little or no cultivation of the soil, notwithstanding that it is remarkably rich and fertile. Stock raising is not very extensively carried on. For years the Magdalenes utilized a small pony but these are gradually being replaced by larger horses and today many fine animals can be seen. The animals are all very hardy. In the winter the horses are shod and the shoes are left on until they fall off. The cows are decidedly larger than our cows and the hens are doubly the size of those on the continent and have ten times as many feathers to protect them from the excessive cold. The hens’ eggs are decidedly larger but not so agreeable. They have a strong fishy smell and taste, but are considered more wholesome. The pigs are two or three times as large as ours and the long shaggy hair on them is certainly a sight to behold. They feed almost exclusively on lobsters and extract the meat from the lobster with the same precision and business-like way as the monkey extracts the meat from a nut. RELIGION AND EDUCATION. The great majority of the inhabitants of the Magdalenes are French Acadian Catholics. There are four Catholic parishes supervised by three missionaries, two of whom are of noble birth and natives of France, Fathers Definance and Blackquire. The islanders are devout in their religious service. During the week spent there Father Meahan preached in French in the four different missions. There is a convent school in House Harbor conducted by The Ladies of Notre Dame. The building is a large one, affording ample convenience and accommodation and is largely attended. There are no streets in Magdalene Islands but the roads are kept in comparatively good repair. A noticeable feature which struck Father Meahan forcibly was the almost entire absence of intoxication. He said the people are generally abstemious and in the different places where he visited he was informed that no liquor whatever was sold. The reverend gentleman greatly enjoyed his trip and returned feeling decidedly improved.