In the years before the West River Bridge was built in 1958, winter travel was tricky for people living along the south shore of P.E.I.
The existing roads were often of little use, so ice travel became popular and petrifying.
As soon as the roads filled with snow, travel to the capital city was mainly on an ice road, marked with brush to show the safest route across the Charlottetown Harbour.
On a December afternoon in 1936, Vera (Alchorn) MacEachern and her sister, Aletha, were on their way home to Fairview, after visiting their brother Lloyd, a patient at the Charlottetown Hospital.
“There was nothing we could do but set out by foot across the treacherous ice,” says MacEachern, during a telephone interview.
Suddenly, a squall came up.
“The sky turned from pale gray to blinding white. Very soon we couldn't see the shore. Then the footpath we were following vanished in the swirling snow.
“We walked for what seemed like hours and luckily stumbled onto the shore of New Dominion, made our way home and lived to tell the tale,” says the 89-year-old.
It’s one of the stories in Afton: A Place in Time. Launched last month, the community history covers the south shore neighbourhoods of New Dominion, Fairview, Rocky Point, Rice Point, Nine Mile Creek and Cumberland.
With chapter titles like Pre-Settlement, Afton Pioneers, Seafaring and River Travel, Industry, Community and an entire section on Afton's soldiers, the 207-page book contains narratives and historical information on the area and its settlers.
Afton: A Place in Time is receiving positive reviews from community members.
“It’s a great historical document for the community,” says Errol Taylor, chairman of the board of Afton Community Centre.
“The fact that it has been pulled together by a committee is great. It honours our veterans and the residents of the community and records the history of various cultures like the Mi'kmaqs that have been a part of Prince Edward Island," Taylor says.
Gina Rankin, chair of the Community of Afton, is also happy with the book.
“I'm pleased for the whole community. I’m also pleased for the co-authors Natalie Carragher and Elizabeth Wilson and everyone who has worked on it,” Rankin says.
The project has been a “labour of love” for Wilson.
“For me, it’s a way to give back to a community that has welcomed me, because I'm not from here," says Wilson, who was born in Ontario, raised in Alberta, moved to P.E.I. in 1976 has been living in Rice Point since 1980.
The book was also a great way to engage young people.
“Whether they were involved in putting the book together or will be using the book in the future for a school project, it's important to engage youth... and help them develop a sense of community,” says Wilson, one of a dozen people who worked on it.
Her co-author agrees.
“I felt privileged to be on the receiving end of the stories (during the) interview process,” says Carragher, who is from Cumberland.
As she edited and pieced the book together, she realized the contribution she was making to her community.
“A lot of the history dies with the community members, unless it's captured and written about. So without anyone to capture them, these stories were soon to be lost," says Carragher, currently enrolled in the masters of communications program at Ryerson University in Toronto.
But there were other reasons Wilson started researching the book in 2010. She had gathered information on the veterans from the community of Afton and had written part of the manuscript.
“It was important to honour the soldiers that fought in the First World War, Second World War and Korean War," says Wilson who in her personal life was fighting a war of her own.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2010. Somehow, working on this project motivated me, making my life more purposeful. So it become one more thing that needed to be done. Co-writing the book helped keep my mind off personal matters," she says.
“History never ends. We're always finding more stuff. The committee received more information after the book was printed. We did our best, but I’m sure that as people read the book they'll have more things to say.”
AT A GLANCE
What: Afton: A Place in Time
Completed: By the Afton Computer Resource Club.
Researchers: Andrea Angus, Kristin Nicholson, Jennifer Fanning, Bobby McNally, Natalie Carragher and Alicia Carter.
Editors: Marie Nantes, Elizabeth Wilson, Sydonia Kerry, Patti Machell, Natalie Carragher.
Funded by: P.E.I.'s department of innovation and advanced learning and department of innovation and advanced learning and Skills P.E.I.
Copies: Available at P.E.I. bookstores.