North Highlands Community Museum
Dingwall, Nova Scotia

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Cape Breton's North Highlands: An Enduring Community



I am interviewing my grandmother Iris Wilkie. Her Parents were Sadie Gwinn and Wilson Gwinn.

Jacob- Where were you born?

Iris- I was born on St. Paul's Island, November 30, 1928. We lived there for 12 years and then moved to Sugarloaf.

J- How did your family come to live there?

I- My father worked there. He was the Lighthouse Keeper for the South-West side of the island.

J- What did the land look like?

I- A lot of rocks and water. It would be covered in snow for five months.

J- What was your home like?

I- WE had no bathrooms, only an outhouse. There was only one phone for the island and there was no electricity or plumbing. For lights we used kerosene lamps.

J- Where did you store your food?

I- We kept out food in a cellar. All summer we picked strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Father caught fish and lobster. Mama would can all this and put it in the cellar. We had to have a lot put away because no supply boats came from November to June. My father grew turnips and potatoes farther from our house because the soil was too rocky there.

J- What kind of games did you play?

I- We used milk cans to skate on the ice with and went sliding and built snowmen, same as you.

J- Did you have a favorite kind of music?

I- Fiddle music.

J- How did your family spend the evenings?

I- Doing homework and listening to the radio on Sunday. Don Messer, a fiddler, would be on for half an hour, and me and my sister Vida would dance around the room.

J- Did you have chores?

I- Yes, and the one I didn't like was doing dishes.

J- Did you have animals?

I- We had a horse, a cow, twenty-four hens, a pig, and a German Sheppard.

J- Where did you get water?

I- We had to go one fourth of a mile to the cold spring.

J- Where did you go to school?

I- I didn't go to school until I was twelve and moved to Sugarloaf. My sisters Effie and Mary went to Cape North for summer school. We would use their books at home to learn.

J- What effect did World War II have on your family?

I- I don't think that it really had an effect on our family. We had no relatives in the war. I do remember having ration books for anyone sixteen and up. This was to get sugar and tea. During the war we could see the big medic ship with twenty or my ships protecting it. We moved to Sugarloaf after this because people were getting worried. It was far from doctors, hospitals, and schools. There were two families at the wireless station. We were t the South-West end and there was a family at the North-east end, but when we moved to Sugarloaf we got lonesome for St. Paul's Island!

I enjoyed doing this with my nanny. It was hard to get her to talk though. It was fun to get to spend time with my Nanny.


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