As a mother, Bonnie Aitken-Townshend loved helping her children with their projects for the Provincial Heritage Fair.
Throughout their school years, the Fortune resident sent Adam, Kyle, Katie and Isaac out to interview seniors about everything from rural mail delivery to farming practices of the early 1800s.
“Basically, she drove us to the places we needed to go to talk to people and we did the work,” says her daughter Katie, adding her mother often stayed up late to ensure their entries would be finished before deadline.
Then when the event was over and their prize-winning displays came home, instead of throwing them out, Aitken-Townshend would file them away for future reference.
“I always loved Island history,” says Aitken-Townshend, whose interest in recording the past started early on.
From childhood, she loved to listen to the stories of her grandfather, the late “Pop” Ernest Aitken, about the “old days” in Fortune, a farming and fishing community in eastern Prince Edward Island.
“I would grab whatever piece of paper I might have handy. And, whether it was a gas slip, a grocery receipt, church bulletin or a paper napkin, I would hurry to get them down. Otherwise, I knew that information was soon going to be gone,” says Aitken-Townshend, whose foresight filled binders with notes.
Now with the help of her family, friends and community, she has written The Road to Fortune.
“I’m just glad it’s written ... I’m glad to have it done,” says Aitken-Townshend.
So is her daughter Katie.
“I think it’s so amazing that she finished it. She worked so hard on it. Now it’s a dream come true,” she says.
The 751-page community history covers everything from fishing and boat building to fox farming and blacksmithing in the early 1900s, as well the actor’s colony that drew visitors from New York, including playwright Elmer Harris who wrote the popular play Johnny Belinda.
“Fortune was a booming area at one time with many businesses. My grandfather gave me the basics and my father-in-law, Henry Townshend, and uncle-in-law, Earle Townshend, filled in the rest ... My other grandfather, James Allan MacDonald, who delivered rural mail for 62 years, was also very helpful,” she adds.
The book, which includes photographs and maps as well as reproductions of artifacts, receives high praise from P.E.I. historian Catherine Hennessey.
“I’m very proud of Bonnie. Her book is magnificent. Fortune is a special place. And (the book) celebrates its distinctiveness and it builds love.
“In particular I am impressed with the section on the actor’s colony which shows these classy guys holding huge fish that they caught in (Fortune) river. This will help make people think more about preserving the rivers,” Hennessey says.
Gary Ramsay, reference librarian at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, is also pleased with the book.
“It’s very comprehensive. She doesn’t leave anything out. It’s got her conversations with her grandfather as well as contributions from many people in the community,” says Ramsay, adding his grandmother, Viola Aitken, a Fortune native, is included in the book.
For the project, Aitken-Townshend’s biggest supporters were her daughter, Katie, and her friend, Suzette Acorn, who helped get the book into print.
“At one point I was at a standstill. I had it all written by hand, so Suzette started typing the chapters. Then, I added the photos and stories that people had given me. Suzette also brought me more pictures and information,” she says.
When she was finished, Katie formatted the pages, designed the book’s cover and wrote the poem on the back page.
“I’m appreciative of their help.... Community members have also been supportive. So many people have given me things to go in it.”
With the book finished, Aitken-Townshend won’t say whether there’ll be another.
“I wrote it to get the stories down before they got lost so my kids would have them to pass down,” she says.
Now that it’s complete, she’s directing her energy into other projects.
“My husband and I run a 500-acre potato farm. We just finished harvesting and we’re ready start grading ... So I’ve got lots to keep me busy,” she says.
AT A GLANCE
What:The Road to Fortune
Where: Books are available at P.E.I. Photo Lab on Queen Street in Charlottetown, RJ’S Country Store, 48 Road as well as Home Hardware, Souris.
People may also call Bonnie Aitken-Townshend at 687-3535.