Thursday, 8 October 2020



Saying “Nothing to see or do there!” to Elva and me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Experience has taught us that there’s always lots to see and do if you travel with the right attitude and an open mind.

We left Saint John after spending the weekend with Sylvie and her family and headed to Black’s Harbour and the ferry to Grand Manan Island. The 9:30 crossing wasn’t that crowded and it was a beautiful fresh fall morning, ideal for standing in the wind on the passenger deck, watching the seabirds and taking in the sights. We slipped past the Swallowtail Lighthouse and into North Head two hours later and headed south to explore the island. Sylvie had recommended we cross over to White Head Island if we had the time, so we drove right to the ferry dock in the village of Grand Harbour.

Like North Head, Grand Harbour is a busy fishing port. I watched as a crane lifted a boat out of the water, rolled it halfway across the parking lot and deposited it in its winter resting spot. Three men in dories off-loaded rock weed (Ascophyllum nodosum) into a tractor-trailer using a modified hay rake. The rock weed is raked and gathered at low tide and spread out to dry before being shipped off-island where a compound called alginate is extracted. Alginate is used as a thickening agent in foods, cosmetics, and some paints.

White Head Island is a jewel; just about the right size to walk around in a day. As we sailed into the harbour on the tiny ferry, I thought of the fortunes we’ve spent on cruises that took us halfway around the world, sailing into places that couldn’t hold a candle to White Head. We even had a welcoming committee of local cormorants. One of the ferry deckhands told me about 200 people live on the island year-round; the only store closed down two years ago; you can’t get gas there anymore; and the elementary school is down to five students. Still “I wouldn’t live anywhere else”, he said. “The deer on the island are terrible small, so I go to the mainland to get mine every fall.” Now there’s a man who’s got his priorities straight!

From Grand Harbour, we turned south, came across a venison farm, stopped in pretty Seal Cove, then drove to the southern tip of the island, Southwest Head. Its basalt cliffs rival those of the west coast of Ireland and the colours were magnificent. Our B&B, the Compass Rose, offered a perfect view of the busy harbour and breakfast over the water.

We had the better part of a day to explore remaining roads and attractions before our scheduled ferry departure and we made the best of it, starting with a drive along Whistle Road to the Long Eddy Point Lighthouse. We watched as a group of fishermen climbed out of a dory and walked up the beach. One explained that they’d emptied a nearby weir of the day’s catch of herring, half to be used for lobster bait and the other half destined for the Connors Bros. sardine factory in Blacks Harbour.

We began Day 3 of our Fundy Isles adventure with a delicious breakfast at the Garden Gate B&B in Saint Andrews, our home for three nights. Our plan was to visit Minister’s Island, the summer home of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, best known for overseeing construction of the first Canadian transcontinental railway, a project that, under his leadership, was completed in under half the projected time. To access the island, you drive over a gravel bar at low tide. The island itself covers some 500 acres and the estate is quite impressive. The “cottage” has seventeen bedrooms and eleven bathrooms. The barn is a massive two-storey timber structure, renovated in 2015 at a cost of $2 million! Van Horne even had a bathhouse built for his guests and carved a six-foot deep pool out of the sandstone for the comfort and enjoyment of bathers.

Building on the railway theme, we took a detour to MacAdam, home to one of the most unusual railway stations in Canada. This imposing granite structure, closed in 1994, totally dominates the village. Built by the CPR in 1900, the station was meant to cater to wealthy passengers changing trains at the junction before continuing on to the resort town of Saint Andrews where they would stay at the CPR’s stately Algonquin Hotel. The station was built in the chateau style, resembles a Scottish castle, and boasted a dining room, lunch counter, and twenty-room hotel in its heyday. Van Horne’s private railway car would have passed through and he stayed in the hotel from time to time. The station is now owned by the local municipality and operated by a non-profit. Unfortunately, it was closed due to Covid-19 but we enjoyed taking a stroll around this most impressive structure.

The wind howled as we drove to the dock at L’Etete, hoping to make it across the channel to Deer Island. Sure enough, the little ferry arrived right on time and, before we knew it, we were back on solid ground after a pretty rough crossing. Not bad service when you consider that travel on the Confederation Bridge was restricted that day and the Wood Islands ferry wasn’t running at all. We drove straight to Deer Island Pt. where we hoped a second ferry would take us to nearby Campobello Island. But our luck had run out; it was cancelled for the day.

Not a problem! We spent an enjoyable few hours driving around Deer Island, taking every road we could find, discovering cute coves along the way. We took a hike through the Clark Gregory Nature Preserve before viewing the Old Sow, said to be the second-largest whirlpool in the World! For sheer excitement, it’s rivalled only by Moncton’s Tidal Bore…

Along the way, we learned where Deer Island got its name. They’re everywhere! This guy stood out from the crowd with his white body and brown head. I imagine the does will come from miles around to keep company with this young buck when he grows into his antlers. And what could be more Canadian than a meeting of these two icons, whitetail deer and Canada geese!

Our five-day visit to the Fundy Isles was an opportunity to see a part of the Maritimes that had thus far eluded us. Although they’re a bit off the beaten track, Grand Manan, White Head, Minister’s, Deer, and Campobello islands are well worth visiting. The fall colours were spectacular and the smells and sounds of the ocean added a pleasant dimension to our explorations. We learned things about the fishery and met many friendly people along the way. While this may be the last of our travels for a while, it was a good way to say goodbye to the summer season.

Friday, 14 August 2020



This is us in June 1970, in Elva’s yard, with my brand-new Yamaha Enduro 175cc bought as a high school graduation gift from Sportsmen’s Motorcycle Services in downtown Wellington. We were a little less bulky back then and a little hairier but very excited to go on our first ride. We’d been going together for about eighteen months. Fifty years later, we’re still going together. Our motorcycle phase has passed and we’ve moved on up to pedal power.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked Elva where she wanted to go to dinner to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary on August 15. Next morning, she gave me her answer; “I’ve always wanted to do the Tip-to-Tip, so why don’t we do it this year.” An hour or so later, I had the route mapped out and our hotels booked on We’ve usually been quick to agree on things and this adventure proved to be no exception. And we’ve always tried to do something different. It’s what’s kept our best-friendship alive and well these fifty-two years later.

For those who don’t know, to an Island cyclist, the “Tip-to-Tip” is a ride from one end of the Island to the other, usually in one day. I’ve done the North Cape to East Point one-day ride three times: in 1987, 2006, and 2009. The first time was a fund-raiser for Le Centre préscolaire Évangéline and I rode it alone. We raised about $4,400, equivalent to $10,000 or so in today’s dollars, and my knees never forgave me. The next two were done with groups of riders and with me much better prepared for the 260-kilometer journey.

We left home early the first morning, headed for our destination at North Cape. Our route that day would take us from the northwest tip of the Island to the Mill River Resort and back, a distance of 82 kilometers. We stopped for a moment at the pocket port of Seacow Pond to watch fishers and their helpers load lobster traps on their boats on the eve of setting day.

Our ride from there through Tignish and onto Route 2 was uneventful. We made it to the halfway point at Mill River, stopped for a snack and headed north to our starting point. By 11:30, the temperature had hit 30C and it was starting to get to me. I was glad to get off the bike and turn on the air-conditioning. We had a nice meal in Tignish and spent the afternoon exploring, coming across this fella hanging around at Gavin’s Auto Service: “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, according to the sign. Our stay at the Mill River Resort was very pleasant: a nice, clean room and two good meals.

Day 2 would see us pedal 38 kilometers from Mill River to Goodwin’s Corner near Wellington. We headed south first in order to have the wind at our backs on the return journey. It turned out to be an easier ride than the first day’s because the winds were lighter and we finished before the temperature became unbearable. There isn’t much to see on that section of Route 2 so, after lunch at Tim Hortons, we took the long way round, stopping at West Point for a short walk on the beach.
Chez Yvette in Urbainville was our next stop. We were treated like la parenté by host Yvette (à Edmond à Clément) Deschenes and had a lovely overnight stay. Day 3 dawned warm and windy. It was a relatively short ride to Kensington, 30 kilometers or so, and we had to contend with some fairly strong crosswinds. On the way back to our car at Goodwin’s Corner, we detoured into my home village, Wellington. 
The photo below shows the house where I grew up, built by my grandfather in 1913. Elva and I lived there from 1979 to 1990 and our three children spent their early years there. The caboose and speeder are among the few reminders of the railway’s importance to Wellington from 1875 until the last train came through just over a century later.
Back in Kensington, we checked in to The Home Place B&B, got cleaned up and drove through Cavendish and North Rustico, taking a stroll on the lovely village boardwalk, one of my favourite places on our beautiful Island. Our hosts, Angie and Greg Hitchcock were very gracious and served us an excellent breakfast before we hit the road.
Day 4 was the toughest: only 48 kilometers but very hot, very hilly, and with a stiff crosswind. Elva suffered more than I did but she made it to Charlottetown. A friend drove our car from Kensington to home, saving us the trouble of doubling back. The rolling countryside was beautiful to look at but rolling downhill in a 40 kph crosswind doing 50 kph required some serious concentration. We were glad to spend a night in our own bed and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
Day 5 was as close to cycling bliss as it comes: slight tail wind, not too many hills, nice wide shoulder, and not too hot. The old Chubby’s Roadhouse, Bud’s Diner and Spoke Wheel Car Museum in Dunstaffnage look pretty shabby these days but I’m old enough to remember the 1970s when such roadside attractions were popular with tourists and locals alike.
We rolled along the Hillsborough River to Mt. Stewart and from there to one of my favourite rivers, the Morell. I fly-fish upstream from the bridge on Route 2. At St. Peters Bay, we left Route 2 for the Northside Rd. to avoid the hills between Souris and East Point. Friends drove our car to a spot in Clearspring and parked it there for us. The odometer read 74 kilometers when we got there, none the worse for wear on my end but Elva’s was suffering from a case of “hotfoot”. Time for new shoes, I guess.

Since this was to be our Island staycation, we’d decided to stay at the Rodd Crowbush Resort. We weren’t disappointed. It’s a beautiful spot, right on the championship golf course and a few minutes walk to the beach. The view from our balcony wasn’t hard to take either! We watched the sun set over the Gulf of St. Lawrence, satisfied with another wonderful day.

Day 6 started at the East Point Lighthouse and our task was simply to ride 33 kilometers to Clearspring and back. An early morning rain shower and the unusual calm air amplified the late-summer smells, taking me back in time to childhood memories of blueberry picking. Of course, they were half eaten by the time I got home and Mom would ask: “How am I supposed to make us a pie with that?”

The Northside Road used to count several thriving fishing and farming communities, complete with schools and stores. Today, many of the fields are grown over, only a few active farms remain between St. Peters Bay and East Point, and the shoreline is dotted with summer homes. The contrast between modern windmill farm and abandoned farmhouse is striking.

Priest Pond and North Lake Harbour are among our favourite places along this shore and we stopped at each for a few minutes to take in the views. Before we knew it, we’d turned onto the Lighthouse Road and were coasting down to the northeastern tip of the Island, high-fiving one another, satisfied with our accomplishment.
We’re very glad to have done this ride and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our 45 years as a married couple. Elva says it will be her last Tip-to-Tip. Me, I never say never. Fact is, in this unusual summer of Covid-19, we’ve met Islanders everywhere who have chosen to do things differently and explore this magnificent place we call home. Who knows what next year will bring.

An old bachelor gave me some advice one day when I was a young teenager: “My father told me what to look for in a woman: ‘Find yourself one that’s good on the harrows and looks like she could stand a hard winter’”. I took his advice and have never regretted my choice!

Friday, 31 July 2020


This blog isn’t about Covid-19; well, not really. It’s about furniture, old and repurposed furniture, and what we call retrouvailles, the French word for reunion.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Covid-19 had had a significant impact on our son, Jacques, his partner, Isabelle, and their daughter, Lucie. As a performing artist, Jacques saw years of hard work and a promising career crumble overnight as gigs evaporated one after another. As a CBC radio journalist, Isabelle experienced major changes in her workplace: too much work and too few resources. Lucie struggled to adapt to home schooling, missing her friends and the all-important social aspect of life in the classroom. Many of the things that drew them to Toronto life were affected negatively by Covid-19.

Long story short: in mid-June, they decided to move to Prince Edward Island! Naturally, Elva and I were thrilled at the news. We decided that the best way to help was to look after some of the little things and, in that way, make the move as easy as we could for them. They fell in love with a ninety-year-old farmhouse in Greenvale, nestled in the rolling Hunter River hills and offering an environment that couldn’t be more different from downtown Toronto.

The family arrived “home” on July 3 and did the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine while Elva and I worked on getting the house ready. Word soon spread that Jacques & Co. were back and might need a few pieces of furniture given that they were moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a nine-room house. Sofas, tables, chairs, carpets, and knickknacks appeared out of nowhere.

Sylvie’s family had decided to renovate their bedrooms and get new furniture for Samuel and Natalie. So, Elva and I stuffed dressers, desks and an old bed into a rented cargo van and brought them from Saint John to their new home in Greenvale. This week, a friend of Jacques’ pulled into the yard with a pump organ! It now has pride of place in the “studio”. Cousin Joyce contributed a nice chair and a Lowney’s wooden crate with the Arsenault & Gaudet stamp on the ends.

Jacques and Isabelle are of the IKEA generation but, unlike most, they do appreciate old things, particularly items that have a connection to family. That’s where I come in. I began refinishing furniture and stripping woodwork when we lived in the old family place in Wellington from 1979 to 1990 and became quite proficient at the tasks involved. I was only too glad to dust off my tools, stock up on supplies, and roll up my sleeves.

I began by stripping a refinishing an old spindle-type headboard Jacques and Isabelle bought on Kijiji. Next was a set of six kitchen chairs, all of which needed a degree of repair. We then turned our attention to the family heirlooms, some more precious than others. Elva helped by sanding a dresser that originally belonged to Ghislain and had been passed down to Samuel. Next came desks from Samuel and Natalie’s bedrooms. All were refinished in the best Benjamin-Moore colours. Ghislain’s dresser is now Lucie’s; Sylvie’s childhood desk has found a new home in Isabelle’s office; Clément’s childhood desk is now a china cabinet in the kitchen. Jacques’ childhood desk from our Ash Drive home will become Lucie’s art project desk. She even helped with the sanding.
Before Elva sanded the dresser Jacques and Isabelle had chosen for their bedroom, I took it apart and found a section of the May 6, 1920 edition of Le Devoir, the Montreal daily, between the mirror and its backing. On the back of the dresser the manufacturer had scribed its destination in black wax pencil Arsenault and Gaudet Ltd., Wellington, my grandfather’s store. Almost exactly a century ago. Good karma?
But my favourite piece is the old four-poster bed from my childhood Wellington home. It sat unused for years in a spare room before Mom had it repainted and moved it to her refurbished bedroom. Sylvie had it in our Sherwood home and she passed it down to her daughter, Natalie. The bed’s origin is a bit of a mystery. Mom told me that my grandfather, Emmanuel Gaudet, may have acquired it when a customer defaulted on an outstanding account. It’s an odd size, called a three-quarter; wider than a single and a narrower than a double.

I knew I was in for a big challenge when I brushed the first coat of stripper on the piece. But, since it’s solid white oak and black walnut, I was determined to see the project through. The frame pieces are 3 x 3.5-inch walnut, about six feet long, and I decided to start with them. Today’s paint strippers are not nearly as strong as the stuff I used in the early 1980s. Once I’d gotten the surface coats off, I was down to the bottom coat of white milk paint, a stripper’s nightmare.
Milk paint is a nontoxic water-based concoction made from milk and lime. Borax is mixed with the milk's casein protein to activate the casein as a preservative. Milk paint has been used for thousands of years and is extremely durable, often lasting for hundreds of years if protected from the elements. Because of its chemical makeup, it can’t be dissolved by the type of paint stripper you buy at the neighbourhood hardware store. So, I had to remove this last layer of paint using a power sander and a lot of elbow grease. The last layer of finish, varnish, was removed using the sander as well. 
Where possible, I always take a piece apart to make stripping easier. I could see that two lengthwise pieces were attached to the walnut rails and I pried them off. Each was held in place by six hand-forged iron nails, making the piece at least 150 years old! I tried to imagine the strength and patience required to drive the relatively soft nails into rock-hard walnut. As proof, one of the nails was curled back onto itself, unable to penetrate.
Satisfied with the two side pieces of the frame, I decided to take the head and foot of the bed to Spray-All Painting, a local shop that specializes in stripping furniture. Tackling the turned oak bedposts would have been too much work. Spray-All uses a commercial-grade stripper that’s much stronger than anything I can get my hands on. The two pieces still required a fair bit of scraping to remove paint lodged in the grooves. Two coats of Danish Oil later, the old bed frame looks pretty good. Covered with the beautiful rag quilt Elva made, Lucie’s bed will play the role of family heirloom for many years to come, I hope.
Isabelle, Jacques, and Lucie settled quickly into their new home. They even have a name for it: Val-Moineaux or Sparrow Vale. We know they’ll enjoy happy times there and we hope they’ll stay on the Island. We especially look forward to spending time with Lucie. Covid-19 has not been kind to them, but it does herald a new beginning and it may bring new opportunities, something none of us could have imagined when 2020 began.
I confess to suffering from a mild case of “furniture fatigue”. My old bones tire more easily than they did those many years ago in Wellington where my passion for old things was nurtured. But I can now say proudly that I’m the best (male) stripper in Greenvale!