Stories from the Archives – Sable Island Community Gossip

Happy weekend Friends of Sable Island!

Rebecca again.

This week I found something pretty interesting. Reading it felt almost like reading the script of a soap opera, and I couldn’t help but giggle quietly as I worked in the archives. Here it is:

April 2nd, 1888:


I am compelled to report to you a truly awful affair which happened 22nd March.

I needed the three outpost teams to the East Light to haul wood on the 20th March. Mrs Sellars went down with the team to visit Mrs. Tobin apparently in reality to have a row with the Donaldsons. The second day after arriving at the East Light, she went into Donaldson’s house and after some high words with Mrs Patton (Donaldson’s mother in-law) struck her in the face. Mrs Donaldson then appeared on the scene when a triangular clinch ensued. The men hearing the noise went in and separated them. It ended in a jawing match in which all three were fairly well matched and the fastest language used.

The following day Mrs Sellars again visited the house when threats of boiling water were freely made but ended in talks.”

-R.J. Boutilier, Superintendent

And that’s just the beginning of the letter! R.J. goes on to write the backstory of this scuffle, which involves some gossip about Mr Donaldson’s wife, which Mrs Tobin and Mrs Sellars refuse to stop spreading around the Island.

This bit of drama got me thinking about the isolation of the Island. Of course, less people being around means that there is more chance of drama coming up, with few mouths being able to spread gossip quickly. But what it really got me thinking about was the fact that while Sable Island was incredibly isolated from the mainland, there were still enough people on the Island to make it feel crowded at times. On the last census of the Island that I transcribed, there were 45 people, a lot for a small island. That many people plus whatever wrecked sailors they rescued could certainly add up. New workers and their families were coming and going at a fairly frequent rate, probably a new one each year. I think in this way the Island wasn’t entirely as isolated as I had thought before. With so many new people and so many people to get close to, the residents of Sable Island really formed a community out there.

Also, if you’re wondering, R.J. suggested that the two families involved be removed from the Island. Later on though, they appear in my transcriptions so I think it is safe to assume that everything got worked out.

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I hope you enjoy the weekend with your community,