Archive for the 'Places' Category

Places – Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island is in the news today over the issue of its lighthouse – will it be saved, and by whom, and why it should be, and so on.

Anyone from Nova Scotia who reads this blog probably knows that Devil’s Island is the outermost island in Halifax Harbour. The island is maybe best known for being the place where Helen Creighton did some of her earliest folklore collecting, most of that from Ben Henneberry. I grew up hearing about stories of how the devil once showed up to a Sunday night card game on the island, and was identified by his cloven hooves.

Devil’s Island is low-lying, and you might assume from afar that it is a sandy barrier island, but it is not. Devil’s Island is actually bedrock, or slate, similar to the “ironstone” that makes up the old drystone walls and foundations in the oldest parts of Halifax (although it could be related to the bluestone found in parts of Lake Echo, I’m not sure – where’s a geologist when you need one?). The ocean side of the island is sharply corrugated by the rock striations, and littered with flat cobbles.

I visited Devil’s Island a few years ago, and these pictures I am sharing are from that trip. When I was there, the old house, the second-most prominent building on the island other than the lighthouse (pretty much the only other thing left standing), was empty inside save for a moudly old armchair and some makeshift kitchen counters. An old boyfriend of my mother’s once Went Hermit and spent a couple months squatting in the house. I don’t think my mother was impressed; she kept searching and found my father.

The island is mainly covered in grass and various weeds and wildflowers. There are lots of little hummocks on the east side of the island, old seagull nests. Little paths crisscross in and out and around the hillocks – they’re rat paths. But don’t worry, they’re little rats, nothing near the size of their waterfront cousins. Just don’t plan for a picnic on the island if you’re rodent-averse.

Despite the bald lighthouse and empty house, there’s nothing particularly menacing about Devil’s Island, no bad vibes or ghostly fingers on the spine. But standing on the island and looking back at the harbour still gave me an odd sort of feeling. The island seems abandoned and forgotten by the bustling inner harbour denizens, and yet it is so close that it is never beyond the glow of the city lights.

I’m not going to say that the lighthouse should be preserved for nostalgia alone. And yet, how wonderful is it crossing the harbour in the winter dusk and watching the navigation buoy lights blinking all the way out to the open sea? It’s true that lighthouses don’t guide the way for very many storm-tossed vessels in our day and age, but I think they serve a new purpose – reminding us to look out beyond ourselves and tell stories and even daydream, however inaccurately and nostalgically, about where we came from.