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MARVELOUS LADY: An Island Journal

David P. Stephens

Cape Breton Island

Anna and I arrived in Louisbourg shortly before noon. Now, this early in the day, Louisbourg is usually shrouded in a heavy blanket of fog until the sun peaks through to burn a hole in the atmospheric pea soup. However, this day was a rare exception. 11:45 AM , not a cloud in the ultramarine blue Atlantic sky, and already hot enough for t-shirts and shorts. I am speaking from experience, as I worked as an interpretive animator at the National Park twenty years ago. I portrayed Antoine leCorne, a soldat in the Compagnie France Troupe de la Marine. As such, I was required to dress in period costume, along with the other soldiers and towns folk. This uniform included a heavy wool just a corps, (a greatcoat) and wool pants. The fog and mist saturated the uniform to the point where it would nearly double in weight. And, to top that off, you would be scratching all day from the wet wool against your damp skin. Quite an experience!

On this beautiful fine large summer morning, the normally sleepy little town of Louisbourg was just buzzing with tourists. A sure sign of a prosperous summer for the tourism operators. Winnebagos and tour buses lined the streets, every second car was from out of province or the U.S. I even spotted a van from the U.K., believe it was an old Bedford, converted to sort of a gypsy caravan - real neat art car.

We drove through town to take in the sights then turned back to explore along the many little side lanes leading to the harbour front and the wharves. We stopped outside the Louisbourg Ship Supply store where two local guys were untangling a net. Anna zipped down the window of the jeep and took a deep breath as she asked the question we had posed several times previous. "Hi guys, how's it going?" said Anna in her charming manner. "Do you guys know of any old wooden Cape Islanders for sale around here?", she asked, expecting the usual response. The two fellas stopped what they were doing and looked at each other with a quiet and longing stare, each one raising their eye brows in syncopated rhythm - back and forth, up and down, as if Anna's innocently posed question had triggered some form of innate and long dormant communication.

The taller of the two, a man in his forties, yet with the mannerisms of someone quite a bit older, said in a slow drawl native to the area, "no, no, not much left after the TAGS". TAGS was a federal government scheme cooked up to buy out those who were denied access to the fishery during a government imposed moratorium. This also affected the independent inshore fishermen and the fish plant workers. The coastal communities such as Louisbourg are just now feeling the full blow of this harsh and devastating action .

The younger net mender then piped up eagerly, his voice conveying his anxious urge to help us in our quest. "There's a guy over near Main-a-Dieu with a 50 footer! He's been working on her for about two years now. Got a lot of money sunk into her, has to sell her 'cause of the TAGS though, 'an all that 'eh! She's worth quite a bit, you could probably wrangle her out of him for a song! Do you know how to get to Main-a-Dieu?" He then stopped himself short in mid sentence and looked at the older guy, as if seeking his nod of approval for releasing this much information to a couple of strangers from Texas in a flashy new Jeep.

Anna hated the fact that her Jeep sported Texas plates. She often remarked, "I wish I could just tear them off and stick on Nova Scotia plates. If anyone asks, just tell them we're using a friends Jeep. I'm a Cape Bretoner, born and raised, and I hate it that locals think I'm some stranger from Texas".

Anna saw them checking out the license plate. She sensed their trepidation immediately and jumped in at once with her unique form of diplomatic damage control, she's good at that. "We're home from Texas for the summer, good to be back in Cape Breton. I love it here!" She said with a cute little girl smile, and playing with the peak of her ball cap. "So, you think this guy might sell his boat?" "I dunno, worth a try", offered the older guy, now warming up to Anna and her charm. They gave us the directions to the boat and the younger one added, "Before you drive over to Main-a-Dieu, see Jimmy in the office trailer over there. He knows all about the TAGS and knows who's wanting to sell their boats, he can steer you in the right direction, and can tell you about the guy from Main-a-Dieu 'eh". "Thanks for the help guys, we really appreciate it", said Anna. "No problem", they sang out in unison, their faces beaming with smiles of approval ."Best of luck now, and let us know if you find anything, or need anymore help, 'eh".

We parked the Jeep in the gravel lot outside the office trailer, next to a huge 4x4 GMC Silverado, all shiny and new, decked out with every accessory, both factory and after-market possible. On the drivers door, in neat and flowing hand painted letters was the name "Jimmy", surrounded by pinstriped accents and flourishes in black and orange. "Must belong to Jimmy" said Anna. "Go in David and see what he has to say". "You go in!", I quickly retorted. "Aw, come on", said Anna, "I'm not good at this sort of thing. He's a man, you know how to talk to him". I shook my head at her and said,"You're something now aren't you". She grinned, knowing I understood her tactics all too well, and knowing that I wasn't about to dwell on the issue as to just who would talk to "Jimmy", the Silverado King.

I climbed the few stairs to Jimmy's office trailer and stepped inside where the heat hit me like a ton of bricks. I glanced out through the screen door at Anna, shaking my head and smiling at this character I am proud to call my good friend. Anna remained in the Jeep, the seat flipped back, her feet up on the dash, and the A/C on "chill". Her ball cap pulled down over her sun-glass shaded eyes, slowly chewing on a piece of red licorice as she bopped along to Shania Twain belting out, "Oh, Oh, Oh! ... Man! ... I feel like a woman!"


Stay tuned to this channel as I will soon present more of our Marvelous Journey!