Stories from the Archives – Winter Preparation for Sable Island

Hello again Friends of Sable Island,

Rebecca here. This week I was again reminded of both the isolation and the power of Sable Island.

Here is what I found:

Sable Island, June 28th, 1899:


“I have again to refer to the scarcity of wood for fuel and am compelled to ask for more coal & put in another coal stove permanently. We would have been short of coal last winter but that we got 120 bags out of the “Crofton Hall”. Iron vessels make very little wood and our three largest wrecks lately have been iron. I am asking for 500 bags coal additional.”

-R.J. Boutilier, Superintendent

It is pretty neat how R.J. had to be so well organized and good at planning to be able to figure out how much coal he would need. If he didn’t estimate almost perfectly, his men and their families could be cold or hungry until the steamer came with the next load of supplies. The amount of coal he ordered this time was presumably more than usual because, as R.J. explains, they hadn’t had many wrecks of wooden ships. He notes that the three biggest wrecks in the year were of metal ships, which of course don’t break up to bring wood onshore. The driftwood from wrecks would be used for both fuel and if of good enough quality for repairs.

The reason they relied on driftwood for fuel was because as aforementioned, the steamer only came to the Island with supplies every few months. The supply steamer was absolutely necessary when the vessels being wrecked were more frequently made from metal than from wood, especially since there were no trees they could use instead.

There weren’t any trees native to Sable Island, and it was very difficult to try to grow them. In fact in 1901 there was a huge tree planting attempt made which didn’t turn out very well. The government brought in 69,000 evergreens, 12,500 deciduous plants, 1,000 willow cuttings, 600 fruit trees and bushes, a collection of rhubarb roots and about 25 kg of Maritime pine seed to plant from the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. By 1927 however, the last tree had died on Sable Island.

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Happy weekend Friends of Sable Island,