Stories from the Archives – Cranberry Farming on Sable Island

Hello Friends of Sable Island,

Rebecca here. This week I thought I would share something with you that I found very interesting. Something I hadn’t realized before working on R.J.’s letterbook and doing more research on Sable Island is that there was quite an extensive cranberry farming operation going on. This was a little surprising to me, because often Sable Island is portrayed as a tiny spit of Sand, mostly hostile to life, so it never really crossed my mind that the people of Sable Island had enough space to produce anything more than what was absolutely necessary to survival. I found it quite interesting as I researched further that growing cranberries was a major financial benefit to the lifesaving station and the residents of Sable Island, helping to provide the means necessary to continue the operation of the Island. It wasn’t always easy to keep up the production of cranberries, however. There are certain conditions necessary to easily produce the maximum amount of cranberries, and several times in the letters R.J. talks about how these conditions can not always be met. Here is what he says about it:

Sable Island, March 1st, 1894:

“There is no doubt that while the cranberry grows here without cultivation, it is that the bogs are near the sea level and the meteorological conditions are as a rule favorable. When unusual weather prevails, i.e. absence of the usual fogs which generally prevail in June & July and scant rainfall, the crop must suffer.

I quote from the U.S. agricultural report for 1869: “Experience has proved that for the successful cultivation of this fruit- the following are requisites:

First a peat or muck soil free from loam or clay

Second clean beach sand for covering the peat

Third a dam of water to overflow the vines when necessary

Fourth thorough drainage”.”

The few times that R.J. has mentioned the cranberry farming, I always find myself more excited to keep reading than when I read about other day-to-day things. I love all of it, but the cranberry farming especially. Sable Island was certainly difficult to live on, and probably still is today, so the fact that the residents were not struggling but were in fact able to profit from living on this little Island demonstrates the ability of humans being able to not only adapt to their environments but thrive.

What makes it so interesting is that it is the same power of ambition that made people see that we could turn Sable Island from a graveyard to a refuge that drove the production of cranberries. I say this because the cranberries transformed the view of the Island again, from being a place of survival to a place of profit, again showing the transformative power of human ambition.

Could we not with that same ambition transform the way future generations perceive Sable Island? Could we not use our ambition to make sure that Sable Island remains protected and preserved?

I think we can if we work together to accomplish it, which is why the work of the Friends of Sable Island is so incredibly important.

Make sure to follow the Friends of Sable Island Facebook page: Friends of Sable Island

Also follow the Twitter: @FriendsofSable

And Tumblr: http://friendsofsableisland.tumblr.com/

May your ambitions become reality,