Islanders loved their horses in P.E.I.'s Bygone Days

·4 min read
A boy admires a handsome horse in this photo taken on P.E.I. circa 1900.  (PARO - image credit)
A boy admires a handsome horse in this photo taken on P.E.I. circa 1900. (PARO - image credit)

Reginald (Dutch) Thompson's column The Bygone Days brings you the voices of Island seniors, many of whom are now long-departed. These tales of the way things used to be offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

There are plenty of reasons why Islanders loved their horses: they helped on the farm, took their people to and from "town," carried them to church and took young couples courting.

They became parts of Islanders' families.

Dutch Thompson is an award-winning historian and storyteller. He has published a book about P.E.I.'s bygone days.
Dutch Thompson is an award-winning historian and storyteller. He has published a book about P.E.I.'s bygone days.(Submitted by Dutch Thompson)

Ginger MacKay eventually settled in Parkdale, but grew up in Canavoy near Mount Stewart and recalls his favourite horse, a palomino called King.

"He was a skinny horse, he wasn't very fat," MacKay told Dutch.

"In my history, in my whole life, I never remember the horse breaking his leg or having to get a vet for him — [our] horses were never sick, beautiful horses."

Malcolm (Mac) Irving of Cherry Valley was a farmer with a substantial acreage who didn't get his first tractor until 1956 — which was not that unusual on Prince Edward Island.

During the 1950s, nine out of 10 farms still used horses. But most road transportation by that time had switched from horse and wagon to cars. The loud automobiles scared horses, making it unsafe for them to share the roads.

Horses could go where cars couldn't

Enid Birch was born in Birch Hill, near Tyne Valley, in 1901 and grew up when cars were actually banned on P.E.I., because they would scare horses on the roads.

James MacAuley said it once took him two and a half days to travel by horse and cart from Tignish to Charlottetown.
James MacAuley said it once took him two and a half days to travel by horse and cart from Tignish to Charlottetown. (Dutch Thompson)

Birch said her favourite horse was a fast-driving horse named Tiny.

Birch said she had her first drive in an automobile in 1916 with Joe (Bun) Gaudet behind the wheel. Gaudet was a well-known restaurant owner who generously used to take people for spins around town in his car — for most, it was their very first time in a car.

Even when people did buy cars, they often still kept horses to transport them in the spring and fall when roads were muddy, or in winter when roads simply weren't plowed like they are nowadays. It wasn't until about 1960 roads were plowed consistently.

'She was a great old dependable thing'

James MacAuley who died in 1999 at age 99 was P.E.I.'s last veteran of the First World War.

One of these horse-drawn carts could have belonged to James MacAuley, who drove cartloads of fish twice a week to the farmer's market on Queen Square or Market Square in Charlottetown.
One of these horse-drawn carts could have belonged to James MacAuley, who drove cartloads of fish twice a week to the farmer's market on Queen Square or Market Square in Charlottetown.(PARO)

He fished most of his life in Tracadie Harbour, but also chased the herring or mackerel as far as Tignish.

In the fall of 1919, he said it took him two and a half days to travel by horse and cart from Tignish to Charlottetown. At night he knocked on strangers' doors and asked for lodging, sleeping in the barn with his horse. He said the families would offer him a meal and gather around the table to see what news he had to tell.

MacAuley said he almost always drove a mare. He had one named about Maude, another named Nellie and what he called his "kicking horse," Minnie.

Twice a week, they would haul cartloads of fish to Market Square in downtown Charlottetown (where Confederation Centre is now) or to Falconwood Hospital for the mentally ill, on the same property Hillsborough Hospital now stands.

The Matthew & McLean building in Souris circa 1900, when the general store was one of the main businesses in eastern P.E.I. The building still exists today.
The Matthew & McLean building in Souris circa 1900, when the general store was one of the main businesses in eastern P.E.I. The building still exists today. (PARO)

Peter Whitty worked at the well-known Matthew & McLean's general store in Souris and delivered groceries and one-tonne loads of coal with a cart and his horse, Jess.

"You'd have to get up at six o'clock, go down and feed. It was a 10-minute walk from where I lived — there was no cars then!" Whitty said with a laugh. "Then eight o'clock I'd go down, hitch him up and go all day till six o'clock.

"Dandy horse. You'd be delivering groceries into a place she'd stay there half an hour, an hour ... she was a great old dependable thing."

Whitty said he was good to Jess, feeding her two or three raw eggs with her oats every night.

"Best thing in the world! Oh yeah, get 'em nice and shiny," he said.

In 1956, Matthew & McLean bought a couple of trucks, replacing the horses. The store building still stands in Souris.

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