Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Paddy's Island, Nova Scotia

Dawn, Paddy's Island. Photograph by Chris Sheppard


Paddy's Island


Sandstone Formations in North Medford, N.S.

Paddy's Island Moonrise by Chris Sheppard
Paddy's Island on North Medford Beach was once tree-topped, but now barely maintains a tuft of grass atop the sandstone formation. Although we could climb on top in the 1960s, there is not much space now, although we were told of a young woman who recently sat out the tides for many hours perched up there. Must have been disconcerting!

Paddy's Island was named for Patrick "Paddy" Burns, 1824-1882, a farmer who owned the property above the beach. He married Catherine Whalen of Chester. "Paddy" and his brother, John, were dairy farmers and neighbours. Many people do not realize that Paddy's Island has also been the name given to the headlands  at North Medford. As recently as 1950, the Medford Women's Institute reported this curiosity, so when people say they lived at Paddy's Island they mean the land not the island. It is sometimes erroneously called Paddy Island.

 The Women's Institute also accounted for the name Medford as a combination of the words "meadow" and "ford" after the point on Bass Creek where folks could ford the creek. The community was first called Bass Creek but it was changed in 1855. The cove the creek flowed into was called Bass Cove. The area to the south is now called Kingsport.

According to the well-informed columnist, Ed Coleman, historian and former Acadia President Watson Kirkconnell says Burns came from Ireland during the potato famine, and in speaking to Patrick's great grand-daughter, Helen Burns, Coleman says she supported that claim, citing County Cork as her forbear's roots. Nevertheless, of the dozens of documents about births, marriages and deaths in the family, Patrick (and his brother) are always reported to have been born in Nova Scotia.

We appreciate Gerald Cudmore giving us this postcard.

Unfortunately, we have not found a postcard or photograph from the 1800s or early 1900s of Paddy's Island itself. In these postcards, the first postmarked 1915 of the wharf at Delhaven, the second from Sunnyside Farm at Pereau, now called Delhaven, one can see a fairly substantial island, likely with a few trees, but still a considerable distance from the headland. It is doubtful anyone ever cut hay on the island, even in the 1800s!
The style of the inscription implies that this postcard was by Edson Graham, very early on, perhaps as early as 1905. A postmarked version would confirm the date of the card. (Card is from Paulette Chase Whitman's collection, with appreciation.)
Postcard from the Gerald Cudmore Collection.

Another misconception today is that people now refer to the nearby eroding headland to the south as Paddy's Island, not realizing that the original Paddy's, or what's left of it, is northward. The new island is not named, but is often called Paddy's, even in geology texts and reports! Geologically speaking, Paddy's Island and the Medford sandstone cliffs are part of the Blomidon Formation, red sandstone consisting of Upper Triassic sedimentary rocks. At one time it was thought to be part of the Wolfville Formation, but it overlies that. Towards Cape Blomidon, the sandstone, thrust up from ancient playa lake beds millions of years ago, is overlaid with North Mountain basalt from the Jurassic volcanic upheavals that created the North Mountain range. It is in that volcanic basalt that rockhounds find their treasures.

Wayne's Island
Eroding Blomidon Formation sandstone headland at North Medford, near Paddy's Island. A large arch at the front fell away about 10 years ago.
Symphony of Light, North Medford
Sandstone Arches Photograph Series: 
The next two photographs were the most challenging of my North Medford Series. In order to make the window with the profile of Cape Blomidon, I had to climb up to a narrow ledge with barely enough room for my tripod and me, at least fifteen feet above the ground

Window on Cape Blomidon

Moonrise, Paddy's Island Panoramic

The red sandstone glows in the warm, soft evening light moments before the sun dips below the cliffs at North Medford. I often work by pre-visualizing shots like this. I knew there was one tidal pool on the "island" that would reveal a small but compositionally significant reflection of a portion of the hole. I had scouted this out before when conditions were less than perfect and returned again when I thought I had a chance of capturing the image in my mind. This technique has served me well in the past, but with landscape photography waiting for the all the right conditions will often lead to disappointment. I accept that fact and believe every photographic outing is a learning experience whether I take my camera out or not! It helps build a knowledge of lighting conditions and combinations of variables such as tides, seasons and weather that I can draw upon when making use of my somewhat limited time in the field.
Sea of Green, Paddy's Island

The wet sandstone flats of the Minas Basin are wonderful reflectors of twilight.

Paddy's Island Silhouette, Pre-Dawn Twilight.

By calculating where the sun would be rising on this September morning I positioned myself on the "island" with my wide angle lens framing the window and the sky above the island. By exposing for the light inside the window I was able to create the powerful silhouette shooting directly into the rising sun, adjusting my depth of field to create a visually striking sun-star.

Paddy's Island Sunburst

The arch of the hole in Paddy's Island is enveloped in the first moments of sunrise light making the red sandstone appear to glow, as if illuminated from within. This is my favorite light to make photographs in.
Sunrise Illuminates the Arch on Paddy's Island
This is one of my favorite Paddy's Island images. By removing the context of the arch I was able to create a surreal window looking out on the floor of the Minas Basin enveloped in Twilight.
Pre-Dawn Twilight Through the Window in the Island

For this photograph of the "island" was all about the texture of the barnacle covered sandstone. I thought the black and white brought that out nicely.

Paddy's Island Barnacle Walk

A Tragic Story with a Positive End!
There is a wonderful story about the headlands, where at least four families lived. In the 1871 Census, confirmed by the 1872 Ambrose Church Map, the households were the Patrick Burns family, the John Burns family, the Edward Barkhouse family, and  probably the John Taylor family.

In the Medford Women's Institute accounts, Alice M. Parker tells the story:

"Close to the beach and near the site of Paddy Burn's house a cottage was built by Loran Blenkhorn of Canning in 1911. [He was married to Ella Patriquin of Wolfville and was a blacksmith.] Here for several years he came with his wife, daughter and three sons. When they were moving to their cottage in the summer of 1919, Grace, who was very musical, persuaded her father to bring down her piano. So her indulgent parent loaded an express wagon with the piano, an oil stove and other articles, and drove to the beach.
The horse, a nervous creature, objected to backing up to the platform [to unload], turned and twisted until finally it threw itself over the high bank. The house was at the bottom with the wagon above him and the piano on top of that. The wagon shaft penetrated the horse's breast and the animal was so badly injured that it had to be destroyed later. The wagon was badly broken and the oil stove was in ruins. The piano was upright, taken home and tuned, and except for a few scratches was as good as ever, but never again did they attempt to take it to Paddy's."

When I was a boy, my mother used to take us to Paddy's Island often from our homes at Porter's Point and later Wolfville. I remember her telling me the piano story, and showing me the remnants of either Paddy or John Burns' house.  (The cottage had been removed to the Cox farm, so there were no buildings on the fields above the beach by the 1950s.) I also remember at least one car body that had been dumped into the creek vault, eventually ending up on the beach. No signs of that 60 years later!

It is worth pointing out that the esteemed Dr. Watson Kirkconnell in his 1971 booklet about place-names in Kings County attributed the name "Paddy's Island" to Patrick Barnes. Census Records, the Church map, and many other documents disprove this claim, as no Barnes family ever lived in Medford. Paddy Burns and his wife Catherine are both buried in the cemetery at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Kentville, N.S.

Research and text by David E. Sheppard, with Photographs and photographic notes and conditions by Chris Sheppard (unless otherwise stated). All images copyrighted.

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Chris Sheppard Photography

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  1. Thanks for providing some new places for me to explore, when this endless winter finally leaves. Your photos are wonderful !

  2. lived in the valley most of my life and I've never been to the formation on the bucket list.

  3. Christopher somehow I missed this post. My loss, but now found, I love the seasonal series qualified with history. Couldn't get much nicer. Thanks for sharing tangible wanderings of the mind with such beauty.