A CBC “Off the Beaten Track” episode in which I talk about the other Prince Edward Island, in the southern Indian ocean. Originally aired on September 8, 2000 on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet program in Prince Edward Island.
Introduction: There is another Prince Edward Island, or rather “Prince Edward Islands,” located in the southern Indian Ocean and part of South Africa since 1949. Marion Island, one of the two Prince Edward Islands is current home to a meteorological station, and former home to some 3,400 feral cats. Prince Edward Island, the other of the two, is uninhabited and, indeed, people aren’t allowed on it without a special permit. This is their story.
Imagine a Prince Edward Island where…
- …it’s cool and stormy most of the year, with an average temperature of 4 degrees.
- …there are gale force winds 100 days of the year.
- …the soil isn’t red and soft, but craggy and volcanic.
- …the dominant vegetable isn’t the potato, but the cabbage.
- …there’s so much concern for the environment, and a fear of mice, that you need a special permit from the government just to visit.
- …chief impediments to tourism are danger from aggressive male seals and the possibility of having your boat smashed on the rocks while landing.
This is the “other” Prince Edward Island…
- This is the “other” Prince Edward Island, and could very well be the “Bizarro” Prince Edward Island in for “Bizarro Superman” it is so opposite to ours.
- In fact they are located at 46 degrees south while we’re located at 46 degrees north and are called “the jewel of the Southern Ocean” (rather than the “Garden of the Gulf”).
- Located about 1900 km off the coast of South Africa in the southern Indian Ocean, the “other” Prince Edward Island is one of a pair of sister Islands – the other is Marion Island – collectively called, oddly enough, “the Prince Edward Islands.”
- Prince Edward Island, South Africa, is 45 square kilometers in size, while it’s sister Marion Island is 290 square kilometers.
- They’re both craggy volcanic islands, windswept, cold, rainy and quite unlike the Prince Edward Island we know and love.
Lost, then Found…
- In 1663, Dutchman Barent Lam discovered the two islands on his way east; he named them Dina and Maerseveen (after his ship).
- Some time after this, the Dutch tried to find the islands again, but couldn’t (Lam had recorded the wrong latitude) and they were given up for lost.
- 100 years later in 1772 the islands were rediscovered by a French naval officer Marion du Fresne, who named them le de la Caverne and le de l’Esperance
- In 1776, explorer Captain James Cook – only a decade after he spent five years based in Halifax, and three years before he died – visited the islands, and renamed them collectively the Prince Edward Islands.
- Over the following 175 years the larger of the two islands came to be known as Marion Island by sealers who used the islands as a base.
- In 1949 South Africa annexed the islands, and the weird Prince Edward Island / Prince Edward Islands / Marion Island naming scheme stuck.
Prince Edward Island Today
- Since 1949, South Africa has had a presence on the Island when it established a permanent weather office.
- I exchanged email with Chris de Wet, who is the team leader of “Marion 57,” which is the 57th expedition from South Africa.
- They’re a motley group of 10 people, meteorologists, biologists, a radio technician, a diesel mechanic and a medic.
- They’ve got a fully stocked hospital, complete with dentist’s chair and x-ray machine, telephone and Internet hookups, laboratories, and a gymnasium.
- In addition to the weather station, which is staffed 24 hours a day, there’s research monitoring seal populations, sea bird populations, the effects on longline fishing on birds, and the impact of feral house mice on the Island.
- I asked Chris what inspired him to take such a remote posting and he said he jumped at the opportunity – he says he’s an outdoor fanatic, and welcomed the opportunity to get away from the “rat race.”
Tourism on the Islands
- During my research, I found an interesting paper called “Environmental impact assessment of possible tourism at Marion Island,” published by the South African Government, which looked at how tourism on the Islands would affect the environment.
- I asked Chris about the possibility of tourism, and he suggested that because of the hard environment and lack of infrastructure, he didn’t think there’s was much chance of this happening, and if it did, it would be more of a “friendly outdoor laboratory” for scientists as opposed to something for “holiday makers.”
- I also asked Chris is the members of his team had ever heard of “our” Prince Edward Island and I was surprised to find they hadn’t – but they found us on the globe!
- He added that he doesn’t think that most people in South Africa have never heard of “his” Prince Edward Island, so we shouldn’t feel so bad if we haven’t.
Next Time on “Off the Beaten Track”
- Remember I mentioned that there’s research going on about the “impact of feral house mice” on the Island?
- That’s a longstanding problem: house mice aren’t native to the Islands — sealers introduced them sometime over the last century.
- In 1949, in an attempt to rid the islands of house mice, five house cats were introduced.
- By 1977 these five cats had multiplied to some 3,400 cats.
- Next time we’ll hear their story, and the story of the “Marion Island Cat Eradication Program.”
I searched for many hours this afternoon for a simple wooden stool. Leon’s. Home Hardware. Birt’s. Large’s. None of them had anything close. Finally, with my tail between my legs, I went to Wal-Mart, Charlottetown’s newest urban sprawl, which I had heretofore managed to avoid patronizing. I needn’t have bothered. I actually believed that, if one could set aside the evil mega-corporate ugliness of Wal-Mart one would find excellent, friendly service. I imagined that I would gallop through the door and be greeted by a helpful senior greeter who would guide me lovingly to the stool section. The reality, however, was as bleak as Zellers: no senior at the door, no directions to the furniture section, no staff in the furniture section, no stools in the furniture section. So I left. Never to return. I finally found a stool, nice but expensive, at Bass River Chairs. I bought it.
My old colleague Mavis works at Bass River Chairs in the Charlottetown Mall. She’s great. Too bad they have such a horrible website!
I can’t imagine a better person to run a dairy than Tom Cullen. We ran into Tom and his wife Beth tonight while wandering the streets of downtown Charlottetown and this feeling was only confirmed.
We first met Tom and Beth several years ago at a dinner party, and I spent a large chunk of that evening questioning Tom about various and sundry aspects of the dairy world; he seemed surprising unannoyed by this and, indeed, seemed to revel in talking about his world.
At that point in history, and probably still, (and sensibly so) Tom was quite unacquainted with the Internet; and so at the time in the evening when the fiddles would have been taken out were we more culturally capable, out came the laptop and a connection to the Internet, and a challenge to Tom to name a topic that he wanted to know something about. “How about John Prine,” he said daringly, “try and find out what he’s up to these days.” (Tom is a fan, you see.)
And so off we went. We were lucky enough to quickly stumble upon the official John Prine website and, on a lark, we sent a note of greetings to John Prine’s manager. Although not completely converted by this experience, Tom seemed a little more open at least to seeing some possibility in all of this newfangledness. And even more so when, a few days later, an email arrived from John Prine’s manager sending greetings back, wishing us well, and updating us on John’s life.
In any case, Tom runs Purity Dairy just around the corner and up the street a bit from us in Charlottetown. Purity is one of the last independent dairys on the Island. In the milk business it’s awfully hard to differentiate your product from the other guy’s — it’s “just milk” after all — and so it’s really a business built on service and personality.
Tom knows this, and you can see and feel the result in everything that Purity does. In jaunty design of their new delivery truck. In their new recyclable packaging (pictured above). And in the simple fact that they’re all very nice people, genuinely interested in what they do.
It’s heartening to know that in this world where everyone is amalgamating and merging and comglomerating you can still operate a small-scale, family-run business.
Purity Dairy products are available in stores across Prince Edward Island, including Eddie’s Lunch. You can hear Tom and Beth’s son Timothy on Island Morning on CBC Prince Edward Island. Remember: Parents Prefer Purity Products.
I decided to email Saturday Night magazine and ask them how it was exactly that a picture of my letter to the editor envelope ended up gracing this week’s issue. I got back a friendly response from an Assistant to the Editor; she wrote, in part:
We choose the envelopes on a rather random aesthetic basis. Basically, as letters come in, we set aside envelopes we like and then may or may not use them in an issue. It’s not very scientific but hopefully it satisifies your curiosity.Mystery solved. Sort of.
Way back in May when we visited New York City for the New Yorker Festival, I visited Fountain Pen Hospital and purchased a lovely Waterman Hemisphere fountain pen. My first formal act with this pen upon returning to the Island was to write a letter to Diana Symonds, Editor of Saturday Night magazine, complimenting her on the fact that the relaunched magazine doesn’t use jumps (i.e. “Continued on Page 45…”). Lo and behold, an image of the envelope I sent my letter in — with address penned with my new Waterman — appears in the middle of this week’s Saturday Night. My letter itself, oddly enough, wasn’t included. I wonder: what did the envelope do for the 3 months it lay dormant in their offices before this weekend?