Digest>Archives> May 2005

Our Pictou Island Nurse

By Jim Turple


It is a known fact that those of us who lived on Pictou Island during our earlier years had our own Florence Nightingale. I had always known her as Margaret Jack, wife of Jack “Happy” MacDonald. Margaret was born in 1897 to Charles and Ann MacCallum of Pictou Island. Her ambition, like many young girls, was to become a nurse and help care for sick people. Margaret acquired her early education in the little one-room schoolhouse on Pictou Island. She went to and graduated from Pictou Academy in 1917. She then applied for and received notification in January 1918 of her acceptance to the Royal Victoria Training School for Nursing in Montreal. Margaret was living at that time with her parents on Pictou Island. Winters were severe during those earlier years and the only way off Pictou Island during the winter months was by iceboat. Horse and bobsled were sometimes also used for transportation when heavy pan ice formed between the island and the mainland. Those were the two methods used for sending or delivering Pictou Island mail during winter months. Young Margaret MacCallum was determined to attend the nursing school even if it meant that she might have to swim to the mainland. Her Pictou Island neighbors were more than willing to assist her in whatever way possible. The heavy winter drift ice was down and the first leg of her journey was the 12-mile crossing to Pictou in the Pictou Island iceboat. This part of her expedition had her walking, jumping and sliding on ice and then rowing the iceboat in open water.

From Pictou, Margaret caught the Short Line train to Halifax and from there she traveled on the Canadian National Daily Express to Montreal. Three years later, Margaret received her Honors Certificate in Professional Nursing.

Over the next several years, Margaret practiced her nursing skills in Montreal and Boston. She missed her native island however, especially one individual that she had left behind. She eventually moved back to nurse and care for the Pictou Island people. Besides giving her best to the sick and elderly, Margaret delivered over 60 babies during her nursing career.

I recall an incident where Nurse Margaret assisted me. More than 40 years ago, I was experiencing severe stomach pains late one night. I was only about seven years old and my parents became overtly concerned that it might be appendicitis. Nurse Margaret was summoned and her husband Jack, who was then the West End lighthouse keeper, immediately drove her to our house.

Margaret assessed my condition and because we were on an isolated island, she also became concerned. The time was late fall and most fishing boats had already been hauled out of the water for the winter months. However Arnold MacMillan’s boat was still tied to the wharf. It was a cold dark night but without any hesitation, Arnold volunteered to transport me across to the mainland. Margaret phoned ahead to the old Sutherland Memorial Hospital and explained the situation. Upon my arrival at the wharf in Pictou, I was taken to the hospital and was promptly admitted. I still have my appendix today and I forgot what the outcome was.

Margaret’s other half, Jack was one of eleven children, born in 1898 to Angus and Dolly (MacFalane) MacDonald. It has been related that Angus was always a cheerful man and was therefore nicknamed Happy Angus. The nickname “Happy” was passed onto his son Jack thus giving him the name of Jack Happy.

Jack also acquired his education on Pictou Island but dropped out at age 13. He spent the next four years working at Fred Magee’s Lobster Factory at the island’s East End. Jack then acquired fishing gear and fished lobsters around Pictou Island for the next 48 years.

In 1925 and 1926, Jack fished about 460 lobster traps. Those two years saw his worst lobster landings ever with about 5,000 pounds landed each year. It was feared that the lobster stocks were being exhausted. Later years, however, saw Jack Happy land up to 15,000 pounds annually from around the island waters.

For 29 years, Jack Happy was also the West End lighthouse keeper. During those years the light was run manually. Jack regularly had to wind the lighthouse clock after supper, at midnight and then again at sunrise. Not once did he ever fail to do this. Jack’s main concern was for the safety of any seafarers as they drew near the West End reef.

Jack Happy MacDonald married Nurse Margaret MacFarlane in 1932 and they raised a family of two boys: Keith who resides in Pictou with his wife, Doris, and Ronnie who resides on Pictou Island with his wife Jane.

This story appeared in the May 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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