Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Wishing Stone on Gull Cliff Island

You've studied the photo to the left.  Have you figured out what it is you see?  Imagine it fitting in the palm of your hand, fragile, crumbling, yet strong.  Very old, yet once a child's.

Let me begin here...

An island can be seen a distance off the harbour of Harrington, Quebec.  It is small, and upon it quaint buildings like country houses in miniature sparsely dot its landscape.  Locals know the island as Gull Cliff, and many, if not most, have family members who once lived there during the warm, berry bright months of summer.  The island once housed a small community of fishermen and women with their families, who owned days filled with duties and hearts filled with pride.  But as time sped forward time changed, as did the faces of those who ran about the island's meshes and pussy willow fields.  Eventually the community it once housed dwindled.  Some homes were transported over ice or sea, while others remained to be kept for pleasure, for those leisure moments which suddenly were more prevalent than they had ever been before.

This time belonged to my mother and her siblings, to her parents and their friends.  She once roamed the secret folds of Gull Cliff's rock body.  And as I visited the island this summer, taking my novel which was written for those like her, I felt the ghost of her youth flitting about me, could almost hear her youth's laughter ringing upon the wind.

It was in fact a photograph of my mother and her sister on Gull Cliff which inspired the Wishing Stone's creation.  A black and white of a time nearly forgotten by some, unknown to many others.  It was with great pleasure I walked the hard ground of the island with my children of the West skipping and roaming alongside me.  There was a sense of knowing my story began there too, as did the tales of so many others of the Lower North Shore.  And I don't simply mean that island specifically, but those beginning lands, those places of the North Shore which were to begin what became a thriving faction.  There are many.

As I investigated an old building with a gentleman by the name of Bill Anderson, who once lived on Gull Cliff and now retreats there because the island continues to give him joy, I discovered it to be the oldest that remained on the island, over a hundred years.  And what moved my heart to new heights was knowledge that the hands of my great, great, great grandfather had built it, Thomas Strickland, of whom my youngest son had been named.

As we looked upon an unfolded strip of papers, hard because they'd been long ago worked with a flour mix (in replace of glue) and pressed upon the walls as wallpaper, I was reminded of how the ease of acquiring 'things' has drastically changed since Gull Cliff's time.  The strip had been saved for this purpose.  It was beautiful in all its simplicity, breathtaking for its age.

Stepping from my great grandfather's building, I saw my sister and her husband walking toward me.  Beside them our mother was beaming.  When we grew close a hand outstretched, and curled upon it sat a tiny, misshapen shoe.  A child's shoe, a girl's shoe, and it had been found upon the site where Mum's childhood home once stood.  Remember that photo above?

Who's shoe had it been?  We gazed upon it like a treasure, for it was that.  The possible stories behind it flooded into my mind, took me away on spread wings.  Some small child had greatly missed that one shoe I was sure, some time ago.  Might it have been Mum's?  Or her sister's?  Or perhaps it belonged to a curious visitor to a site where a remembered house was no more.  We wondered, and the shoe was kept.  It now sits with my sister in her Alberta home.

I think everyone left Gull Cliff that day feeling something special within them.  It is what revisiting history does to people.  That sense that you can almost touch a time past, can just about feel a spirit of old pull forward.  It's an odd thing and leaves one contemplating, feeling whole and yet empty all at once.

One thing is sure my family felt closer.  My father and mother were there, my sister and brother, their partners, their children.  My own husband and children too.  Could old great grumpa Tom feel us there?  Might he somehow be aware that his blood was then reaching out to him, thankful for the sweat he'd once spilled... for us?  We were.  We are.

The Wishing Stone and Other Myths: Learned on Gull Cliff Island, written in Alberta Canada, written about the Lower North Shore of Quebec, now understands its namesake.

The journey will never be forgotten.


  1. Interesting read Jessica ! Thomas Strickland would have been your....great, great, great grandfather. Did Billy Anderson, tell you that Thomas Strickland was married to his father's sister. By name Elizabeth Ann Anderson - Strickland. My Trudie, inherited her name Elizabeth. Therefore The Bill Anderson you met is a distant cousin to you Jessica, in other words a blood relative.....and the history goes on and on and on....;-) Uncle Ray

  2. Uncle Ray, thanks so much for the information! I didn't realize great (x3:) grandfather Thomas Strickland had been married to Bill's father's sister. Imagine that. The fact gives this story even more; Thank you!