Group Writing: The Face That Launched a Million Memories

 

Oh, I do love me a good seafood restaurant. Perhaps that’s because I’m a native of an island nation, no part of which is more than an hour or so away from the sea, so when Dad was home on leave from Nigeria, fish was always fresh, plentiful, and on the menu. Or perhaps it’s because I spent most of my first decade living just south of the Sahara, in a place where salt-water fish was simply unavailable, and fresh-water fish was largely suspect. Whatever the case, I really started to get my fish fix on in 1967, when I was twelve years old and my family traveled, for the first time, to Canada’s smallest province, the place known to the indigenous population as “Abegweit,” (meaning “cradled in the waves”), which was called by the French settlers, Isle St. Jean, but which has been known to us, since Confederation in 1867, as Prince Edward Island.

We had other goals on that long-ago trip–we visited Expo 67 in Montreal and explored a bit of New Brunswick on the way over, and Maine on the way back. We weren’t terribly well-off, so we camped on our travels, and had rented a small beach cottage in Cavendish (at Shining Waters Lodge) for our stay on the Island, which I think was about ten days. Confining my large (physically speaking) and boisterous parents, my sister, who was six at the time, and myself, in any sort of close quarters was always a dicey proposition, but we did so well that, three years later, we returned to PEI, and then repeated the annual performance for several subsequent years of idyllic and sun-drenched summers. By that time, we’d bought a 19′ trailer, and augmented the family by one (my brother, born in 1968), and added a dog, and on occasion, a friend, so space was still pretty tight, and we were still on a shoestring budget. But we managed, and I’m glad because the memories of those many years are totally worth the price of admission.

Typically, we left home the day after school finished in early June, not returning until the day before it started up again, right after Labor Day. Our destination each year was the North Shore, up and down the provincial shoreline between Cavendish and Robinson’s Island, and after a year or two, we found a very congenial campground at which we could park our trailer and settle in for the summer. (Note to self: Sometime, I must tell the story of the year we arrived to open the place up–we often arrived before the owners, who were based in Boston–and found that a family of loons (not the feathered kind) had taken over the house, and were parked there with shotguns, insisting that they owned the place, that it was permanently closed, and that they would shoot anyone who attempted to pass through the gates. That sort of approach was always a mistake when Dad was on the other end of the encounter, and this little debacle proved no exception to the rule. They departed in disarray, and we moved in shortly after we arrived.)

Our particular friends, situated in North Rustico Harbor, were a fishing family whose patriarch and matriarch were Beecher and Ella Court. Beecher and his five sons fished commercially, and took out tourists on deep-sea fishing excursions, as the “Court Brothers of North Rustico.” Dad found their company congenial and, I think, reminiscent of his boyhood holidays in the Welsh fishing village of Pwllelhi, and it wasn’t long before he and I were going out to pull lobster traps, and cod lines and mackerel nets at 4 AM and I was learning how to make, and repair, fishnets (not the stockings, which are instruments of the devil and quite useless, but actual nets to catch fish in). I also became a dab (see what I did there) hand at quick and filling meals featuring several kinds of fresh fish and the ubiquitous PEI potato, and frequently cooked lunch for “Beecher and the boys.”

The Court Brothers wharf was a tourist destination all its own, and several times a week, a parade of large Greyhound and Trailways buses would arrive and disgorge, from each one, dozens of tourists out to see the sights. I was, for many years, one of those sights myself, and had my photograph taken hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, being frequently mistaken for Gracie Finley, the actress who played Anne in the Charlottetown Summer Theatre musical production of Anne of Green Gables, or simply for being a bit unusual–the barefoot young girl with the British accent among the blood and fish guts, standing on the wharf filleting cod, mackerel, hake, and flounder for hours at a time, just like a pro.

The venue was historic. The Court Brothers were, by the early 1970s, the only family at the harbor who’d been continuously fishing, passing the livelihood from father to son, ever since George Court, whose family was from Stratford-on-Avon, was granted his “fishing station” by Queen Victoria in 1820. (The Crown set up a Fishery Reserve along the North Shore and deeded the fishing rights to local residents, with the price to be “one peppercorn of yearly rent to be payed upon demand” direct to the monarch.) The “fish house” was an ancient structure, dating from those early times, although the family home was newer and much bigger than the original, built to accommodate the seven children–five brothers and two sisters–of the twentieth century Courts.

So opportunities for short (3-4 hour) and relatively inexpensive fishing trips to catch cod and mackerel (2-3 miles from shore), as well as the sale of fresh fish, lobsters, and clams, an evocative location recalling much Island history, the story of the five fishing Court Brothers, and many chances for picturesque photos, brought the tourists in, in droves.

But no-one fascinated, charmed, and reeled them in faster, and more completely, than the man who, for many decades, was probably the most photographed man on Prince Edward Island.

His name is Emard Court, and he was the second of the Court Brothers to enter this world, if memory serves, on December 20, 1923. In a few months, he’ll be 97 years old. (You can see him on the cover of the 1990 Lands’ End catalog at the top of this post.)

Like most of his brothers, he left school early to join the family fishing business. Unlike his older brother Quinton, who was exempted due to family need, and his younger brothers, Myron, Veard, and Vance, (who were too young) Able Seaman Emard Court served in World War II, aboard HMCS Fort William, a Royal Canadian Navy minesweeper, deployed in the English Channel to clear shipping lanes of German mines preparatory to the invasion of Normandy. His duties as a spotter left him, like many of his comrades-in-arms, permanently hard-of-hearing. After the Fort William returned to Canada in September of 1945, Emard quietly rejoined the family fishing business and, like so many of the greatest generation, just got on with life. In so doing, he became part of Island history.

Spend some time on Google, or your search engine of choice, and you’ll see what I mean:

Captain Emard Court: A Living Tourist Attraction in North Rustico

You might say 92-year-old Emard Court is still fishing these days — not for lobster, cod or mackerel. Instead, he sets bait to catch tourists.

The retired captain sits by the window inside his little yellow house, right next to the North Rustico Harbour lighthouse, watching for the next tour bus.

As the tourists scramble off the bus, they head straight for the iconic lighthouse, and that’s when the captain makes his move, with the help of a walker.

He shuffles out the front door onto his veranda.

He’s every inch the image of an old fisherman: A long, white wispy beard, a red plaid shirt, topped off with a black sou’wester (a fisherman’s rain hat).

Suddenly, like fish to bait, the tourists wriggle closer to snap photos with Court, and the captain once again has his catch of the day.

It’s a scene replayed all summer.

Image of Fisherman earns Island photographer international acclaim:

A black-and-white photo of North Rustico fisherman Emard Court has earned Island photographer Berni Wood a nomination for a major international photography award.

This year the California-based Black and White Spider Awards attracted more than 7,500 entries from 71 countries.

“It was just the glint in his eyes and it was the way the sun was located,” Wood told CBC Radio: Mainstreet’s Angela Walker, who was urged by a friend to enter the photo — which she noted is in no way touched up.

She first photographed Court in colour, then changed it to black and white because she thought it better highlighted his personality rather than calling attention to the several patterns of plaid he was wearing.

“I absolutely love talking to Emard Court, he’s got wonderful stories,” said Wood. “He always lets me take his photo.”

WWII veteran receives one of France’s highest military honors:

A Second World War veteran from North Rustico, P.E.I., received one of the highest military medals from the government of France Monday.

Emard Court, who served as a spotter on a minesweeper and fought at Omaha Beach on D-Day, has become a member of the French Legion of Honour.

Lovely, that last one, which is from 2014 and part of a project launched by the French government (of all things!) to seek out still-living members of the Allied forces who were part of the Normandy invasion in order to honor and thank them for their part in liberating France.

And, sadly then, there is this.

90-year-old North Rustico man fears losing home:

The Courts have a long history in the area where Emard and his brothers built up the land in dispute by shoveling in dirt and clay to bring it above flood levels.

Family lore also has it the lighthouse stands where it does because it fell into the water after the land eroded beneath it many years ago. Members of the Court family fished the lighthouse out of the water and brought it back on land near their home, inadvertently setting off the chain of events that led to the dispute many years later.

In 1915, the federal government expropriated land around the lighthouse, including where Emard’s house sits.

The family, which has never had a deed for the land, has been involved with court cases and attempts to settle the land titles for more than 20 years [emphasis mine].

When asked why he doesn’t just move, Emard had a simple answer.

“No way,” he said.

Make that, more like 50 years. It started in the early 1970’s and I still have the rather large file folder, set of deeds and grants, and maps and documentation for the North Rustico Fishery Reserve to prove it. I expect, now that my Dad is no longer with us, that I know more about the history of that area than anyone else on earth. Unfortunately, though, Canada didn’t get a pass when it comes to the greed, graft, chicanery, lying, and self-interest of what we in the US would call the “deep state,” and the Court Family’s last years at the harbor were made miserable as a result. What a disgraceful and sorry mess, and the sad end to a wonderful chapter of Island history.

But, memories.

I, and millions more are grateful to have so many, and to have seen and known such a place and such a man.

Emard Court, it’s been an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure. Thank you, Sir. Fair winds and following seas, wherever the next 97 years may take you.

PS: I’m tagging this as a Friday food and drink post. It’s still only Thursday here, but I expect it’s Friday somewhere. Close enough, anyway.

Published in Group Writing
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  1. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Can’t say how I appreciate this and how it affects me. I hope someone reads it again after we’re gone.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She: (Note to self: Sometime, I must tell the story of the year we arrived to open the place up–we often arrived before the owners, who were based in Boston–and found that a family of loons (not the feathered kind) had taken over the house, and were parked there with shotguns, insisting that they owned the place, that it was permanently closed, and that they would shoot anyone who attempted to pass through the gates. That sort of approach was always a mistake, when Dad was on the other end of the encounter, and this little debacle proved no exception to the rule. They departed in disarray, and we moved in shortly after we arrived.)

    Please do. I’ll be on tenterhooks wondering what ensorcellment the Gagara Yasin inflicted on them. Did he turn them into anything particularly interesting? No … don’t spoil it. I’ll wait.

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Lovely post, thank you. There are so many people in this world that we don’t get meet. A beautiful reminder that history did not begin us. There’s a lesson in these stories for every generation.

    • #3
  4. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I would have never guessed potato in the cod cakes, but I think the Irish had a hand in settling these parts – wonderful story!

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    I’ll be on tenterhooks wondering what ensorcellment the Gagara Yasin inflicted on them.

    It does sound interesting.

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    That’s how we make fish cakes too. 

    You, She, look just like the Anne of Green Gables I’ve always pictured! What a sweet and pretty kid. :-) That smile! 

    I’ve been to PEI once. We took our kids for a vacation. One of the best vacations we ever had as a family. We went in late spring or early summer when the fields were newly planted. There’s a delightful valley in the middle of PEI and a road that runs along the rim of the bowl that makes the valley. The view is something I’ll never forget. Such perfectly square and rectangular planted fields, surrounded by elegant stands of trees. The entire scene looked like a Olmsted park. :-) 

    One of my favorite parts of our trip was to the capital, Charlottetown. I have never seen such a clean city. It was just gorgeous–flowers everywhere and nothing out of place. Windows sparkling. Absolutely beautiful. 

    Thank you for this wonderful post. What a good person you are to have tried to help the Court family. 

     

    • #6
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    MarciN (View Comment):

    That’s how we make fish cakes too.

    You, She, look just like the Anne of Green Gables I’ve always pictured! What a sweet and pretty kid. :-) That smile!

    I’ve been to PEI once. We took our kids for a vacation. One of the best vacations we ever had as a family. We went in late spring or early summer when the fields were newly planted. There’s a delightful valley in the middle of PEI and a road that runs along the rim of the bowl that makes the valley. The view is something I’ll never forget. Such perfectly square and rectangular planted fields, surrounded by elegant stands of trees. The entire scene looked like a Olmsted park. :-)

    One of my favorite parts of our trip was to the capital, Charlottetown. I have never seen such a clean city. It was just gorgeous–flowers everywhere and nothing out of place. Windows sparkling. Absolutely beautiful.

    Thank you for this wonderful post. What a good person you are to have tried to help the Court family.

     

    What a wonderful story, especially the photography of the family patriarch with an ice cream cone! I now have a mission with the recipe. I recently wrote about the opening of a Korean-American supermarket H-Mart nearby. I noted that they had salted fish, but did not have recipes in mind. Now I do.

    Hmmm. Cauliflower can be substituted for mashed potato and I have a gathering with friends who have been off carbs for several years. . . I assume the rinse instruction is to lower the final boil water’s salt level.

    This post is part of our August theme: “Reeling in the Summer.” We have plenty of open days. Stop by today and sign up today.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

     

     

    • #7
  8. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Thank you for this.

    • #8
  9. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    I would have never guessed potato in the cod cakes, but I think the Irish had a hand in settling these parts – wonderful story!

    There are several communities of Irish ancestry on PEI. The potatos though, cross cultural boundaries, I think because the very sandy soil is ideal for growing them. So they’re in everything.

    The international ambassador for PEI potatoes was for many years, Stompin’ Tom Connors, and his anthem, “Bud the Spud.” I present it below without comment:

    • #9
  10. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    MarciN (View Comment):

    That’s how we make fish cakes too.

    You, She, look just like the Anne of Green Gables I’ve always pictured! What a sweet and pretty kid. :-) That smile!

    Thanks! I’m sure it was just the long red braids, and probably the freckles. 

    What always amazed me were the number of tourists from Japan who visited PEI in order to visit Cavendish and Green Gables and steep themselves in Anne Shirley lore. I’ve always been rather camera-averse, and most of the family photos of me were taken unobtrusively. But these folks were sweet.

    I’ve been to PEI once. We took our kids for a vacation. One of the best vacations we ever had as a family. We went in late spring or early summer when the fields were newly planted. There’s a delightful valley in the middle of PEI and a road that runs along the rim of the bowl that makes the valley. The view is something I’ll never forget. Such perfectly square and rectangular planted fields, surrounded by elegant stands of trees. The entire scene looked like a Olmsted park. :-)

    One of my favorite parts of our trip was to the capital, Charlottetown. I have never seen such a clean city. It was just gorgeous–flowers everywhere and nothing out of place. Windows sparkling. Absolutely beautiful.

    Glad you had a good time. It’s a great place for a family vacation, and such pretty countryside. There’s not as much of it as there once was, but still. Tyne Valley, maybe?

     

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What a wonderful story with all the best ingredients: history, personalities, personal stories. I could imagine your Dad loving to speak with Emard. Thank you for sharing him with us!

    • #11
  12. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    @she sent me the cod cakes recipe a couple of years ago, and I will vouch for it (though my wife and kids complained about the fishy smell in the house for days).

    • #12
  13. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    Ah, She, your piece is wonderful and brings back memories. I’ve never made it to PEI, but my family would make trips to Cape Breton Island every couple of years. We would usually drive from wherever we lived at the time to Boston, where we’d join with my paternal grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and head on up the Maine coast, crossing into Canada at Calais, ME. We’d drive across New Brunswick (often stopping at the “Reversing Falls” and “Magnetic Hill) to Nova Scotia. We kids would get excited when we saw the Canso Causeway, because we knew the long drive would be over in a couple of hours.

    On the drive we’d avoid the chain restaurants (such as they were) and stop in family restaurant off the highway. My mother and sister would always get lobster. My dad and we boys would get some form of beef. I now regret not getting the lobster!

    • #13
  14. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    danok1 (View Comment):
    I now regret not getting the lobster!

    I fondly remember ordering lobster sandwiches at Arbys in both Nova Scotia and Maine as a kid.

    2 years ago we took our family up to Maine, and made sure to stop at the little roadside lobster shacks for lunches and dinners.

    I also ordered lobster ice cream in Bar Harbor. I’m afraid I cannot recommend that one. You would think lobster, being sweet, and pairing well with butter, would work in ice cream. And maybe it would. But in this case it didn’t. The place simply made a sweet-cream ice cream with lobster chunks thrown in. I think this was a mistake, and a more proper recipe would instead use a lobster bisque to flavor the entire mix, since a bisque already uses lots of cream, and is already naturally sweet. My kids have noted that I have been griping about this for 2 years now and should put my money where my mouth is and make the stuff myself. But they haven’t yet elevated this suggestion to a double-dog dare, and my wife hasn’t cleared me to make a bisque again any time soon due to the airing out required afterwards. I will report if / when I do go through with it.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    But they haven’t yet elevated this suggestion to a double-dog dare

    I double-dog dare you to make lobster bisque ice cream, Skip. (Someone had to do it.)

    • #15
  16. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Arahant (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    But they haven’t yet elevated this suggestion to a double-dog dare

    I double-dog dare you to make lobster bisque ice cream, Skip. (Someone had to do it.)

    I’m afraid you don’t have much pull here. It’s not enough to overrule She* Who Must Be Obeyed.

    *In this case referring to my wife, not She-the-author.

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I’m afraid you don’t have much pull here. It’s not enough to overrule She* Who Must Be Obeyed.

    I bet with all the CoVid failures and shutdowns that it would be easy to rent a commercial kitchen for a few hours.

    • #17
  18. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Ah, She, your piece is wonderful and brings back memories. I’ve never made it to PEI, but my family would make trips to Cape Breton Island every couple of years. We would usually drive from wherever we lived at the time to Boston, where we’d join with my paternal grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and head on up the Maine coast, crossing into Canada at Calais, ME. We’d drive across New Brunswick (often stopping at the “Reversing Falls” and “Magnetic Hill) to Nova Scotia. We kids would get excited when we saw the Canso Causeway, because we knew the long drive would be over in a couple of hours.

    On the drive we’d avoid the chain restaurants (such as they were) and stop in family restaurant off the highway. My mother and sister would always get lobster. My dad and we boys would get some form of beef. I now regret not getting the lobster!

    Cape Breton is very beautiful. I haven’t been there for a long time, but would love to go again sometime.

    Oh, Reversing Falls and Magnetic Hill bring back a lot of memories!

    • #18
  19. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    danok1 (View Comment):
    I now regret not getting the lobster!

    I fondly remember ordering lobster sandwiches at Arbys in both Nova Scotia and Maine as a kid.

    2 years ago we took our family up to Maine, and made sure to stop at the little roadside lobster shacks for lunches and dinners.

    I also ordered lobster ice cream in Bar Harbor. I’m afraid I cannot recommend that one. You would think lobster, being sweet, and pairing well with butter, would work in ice cream. And maybe it would. But in this case it didn’t. The place simply made a sweet-cream ice cream with lobster chunks thrown in. I think this was a mistake, and a more proper recipe would instead use a lobster bisque to flavor the entire mix, since a bisque already uses lots of cream, and is already naturally sweet. My kids have noted that I have been griping about this for 2 years now and should put my money where my mouth is and make the stuff myself. But they haven’t yet elevated this suggestion to a double-dog dare, and my wife hasn’t cleared me to make a bisque again any time soon due to the airing out required afterwards. I will report if / when I do go through with it.

    Put enough sherry in the bisque, and it won’t matter what the ice cream tastes like.

    • #19
  20. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    She (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    danok1 (View Comment):
    I now regret not getting the lobster!

    I fondly remember ordering lobster sandwiches at Arbys in both Nova Scotia and Maine as a kid.

    2 years ago we took our family up to Maine, and made sure to stop at the little roadside lobster shacks for lunches and dinners.

    I also ordered lobster ice cream in Bar Harbor. I’m afraid I cannot recommend that one. You would think lobster, being sweet, and pairing well with butter, would work in ice cream. And maybe it would. But in this case it didn’t. The place simply made a sweet-cream ice cream with lobster chunks thrown in. I think this was a mistake, and a more proper recipe would instead use a lobster bisque to flavor the entire mix, since a bisque already uses lots of cream, and is already naturally sweet. My kids have noted that I have been griping about this for 2 years now and should put my money where my mouth is and make the stuff myself. But they haven’t yet elevated this suggestion to a double-dog dare, and my wife hasn’t cleared me to make a bisque again any time soon due to the airing out required afterwards. I will report if / when I do go through with it.

    Put enough sherry in the bisque, and it won’t matter what the ice cream tastes like.

    It will if I use cooking sherry – that stuff is salted.

    • #20
  21. Rapporteur Coolidge
    Rapporteur
    @Rapporteur

    This was time well-spent to read, @she – especially the Lands End angle. I’m appreciative that you took the time to write it!

    • #21