Growing (up) on Big Tancook Island by Donna Langille

This letter, written by Donna Langille, appeared in on January 29, 2021
Growing (up) on Big Tancook Island

Upon reading the article about Chris Sanford and the Tancook Island cabbage, “Propagating cabbage, preserving heritage,” in the December issue (page 20), I took a journey back in time. After supper on cool, early-spring evenings, Dad – Percy Langille, born and raised on Big Tancook Island – would go behind the house where he selected a couple hundred tiny cabbage transplants. The family followed him down the land to the prepared cabbage bed. Dad went ahead and hand-hoed holes in the still-cold soil, mentally placing each one an equal distance apart, allowing ample room for growth. We youngsters delicately dropped one plant at each hole, while Mom – Evelyn – centred each one in its hole and packed the soil around it. This nightly event continued until thousands of tiny soldiers stood with their leafy arms pointed towards the sky.

Tended to all late spring and summer, fall brought harvest time where beautiful, matured cabbages were cut into highly sought-after Tancook sauerkraut. Of course, some were saved intact for winter use. One particular cabbage, I remember, weighed 22 pounds. Mom and Dad cut in tons of cabbage, packed the kraut in different-sized plastic pails, and sold it to loyal customers on the mainland. To them, it was not only lots of hard work but a sense of accomplishment and a way of sharing their knowledge and heritage of the island.

Before most of the cabbages were harvested, Dad scanned the field and, with the skill passed down from forefathers, selected a few, potentially perfect seed producers. Stored in the cold room all winter, planted in the rich island soil in spring, new life in the form of pods erupted filled with precious, tiny black seeds. Samples of such were highly requested after Mom and Dad were featured on an episode of Land and Sea. Packages of the black jewels were mailed all over the mainland to folks who wanted a part of the best cabbages ever grown.

Even though our land was decorated with huge, leafy green beauties, my parents also planted everything from asparagus to zucchini – savoured during the summer, stored in some manner for winter use, and generously shared with family and friends.

My father is no longer with us, but just the other day, Mom, now 93, and I were talking about all their hard work years ago. She so quietly said, “I wish I was doing it all over again.”

Donna Langille, Amherst, N.S.




1792 Documents for Big and Little Tancook and Star Island

Thanks to Glenn Stevens who made us aware of the following documents. A “Warrant to Survey”, “Surveyor’s Certificate” and “Surveyor’s Report” dated 1792 for Big and Little Tancook and Star Island.

NS Archives – Warrant to Survey. Surveyor’s Certificate. Surveyor’s Report: 660 acres. Three Islands in Mahone Bay: Great Tancook, Little Tancook and Star Island. County of Lunenburg. 330 acres to John Henry Fleiger. 330 acres to George Grant.

Tancook Island’s First Ferry Service – The Gerald LC

Tancook’s Ferry  
The Gerald LC

by Diane Crooks

During years earlier than 1935 some government subsidized vessels were contracted to make a weekly scheduled stop at Tancook Island as part of specified routes serving areas of Mahone Bay to Halifax. However, prior to 1935 there was no daily public transportation to and from the mainland which was dedicated solely to the needs of the residents of Big Tancook, Little Tancook and Ironbound islands. To meet their daily needs islanders reached the mainland and returned home by way of their privately owned boats. This mode of transportation proved adequate for the months of the year good weather prevailed but once the boats were beached and stored for the long winter months, transportation to and from the islands in private boats all but ceased.

The residents of Tancook Island along with Chester merchants worked together to gain the support of the various branches of government, including municipal, provincial and federal levels to establish a ferry service for the peoples of the islands in the winter months. Big Tancook Island was designated as its home port. The absolute necessity for a ferry was underlined and reinforced when in the early winter months of 1935 two residents f Big Tancook Island lost their lives because there was no vessel to either transport them to the mainland for medical care or to bring a doctor to the island to attend to their needs. The two deaths shocked the community and the politicians of the day.

In 1933 Wesley H. Stevens (1871-1967) of Tancook Island was commissioned by Willis D. Crooks (1900-1985), also of Tancook Island, to build a 48.6 foot Tancook Schooner. Once completed, the vessel was christened the Gerald L. C. in honor of Willis’s son, Gerald LeRoy Crooks. Willis outfitted his boat as a sword fishing vessel. Sword fishing was a seasonal industry so this allowed the vessel to be available for other duties during the winter months of December, January, February and March of each year. These were the months a ferry was sought to serve the people of the islands.

William G. Ernst, Member of Parliament, and for whom the present day Tancook ferry is named, was instrumental in working with Captain Crooks to ensure that the Gerald  L. C. was modified to meet regulations necessary to serve as the ferry. Captain Crooks was willing to make the changes to the Gerald  L. C. needed to meet the standards required by the government for the vessel to be used to carry passengers to and from the islands and Chester during the winter months. One of the two masts of the Gerald L. C. was removed for the ferry season and replaced for the sword fishing season, a “house” was constructed for the ferry season and removed for the sword fishing season, three dories were on the vessel to serve as “life boats” and an ice shield was adhered to the hull for protection through the waters when ice formed in the bay. A second engine was installed to ensure ample power in all kinds of weather.

When the changes were made to the Gerald L. C. to comply with government regulations, the first contract was signed for the vessel to become the first ferry serving Big Tancook, Little Tancook and Ironbound islands during the months of December, January, February and March for the winters of 1935 through 1939 with a crew of three. The contract spells out the particulars of the agreement. As Captain Crooks did not have his official captain’s papers, he was unable to serve as the ferry’s official captain. He was designated as the Manager of the ferry and served as its Engineer. Ralph Hirtle, also a native of Tancook, was the crew member and an off island person with his official Captain Papers was hired by Willis to serve as the Captain.

It is of interest to note that this ferry service was a privately owned service that was subsidized by the government  and operated under contract between Willis Crooks, of Tancook Island, N. S. and “ the Honourable Minister of Trade and Commerce of the Dominion of Canada.”

Always a seaman up to this point in his life, and having served on many vessels in many capacities on many voyages over the Atlantic since his teenage years, Willis kept meticulous records of each ferry crossing, recording weather, number of passengers, freight carried, who paid their fares and who didn’t, costs, repairs, stops at Little Tancook, Ironbound and the wharf at Southeast Cove, arrivals and departure times at the home wharf at Northwest Cove and Chester. Special trips were also recorded as to the reason for the trip, individuals involved, who was brought on or off the islands, and the identity of the Doctor, if one was on board. One of the logs, the first signed contract and the flag from the Gerald L. C. can be viewed at the Wishing Stones Gallery and Museum, if you are interested in viewing a sample.

Ferry records for the month of Jan, 1936 show there were a total of 324 passengers transported between the islands and Chester, 12.3 tons of freight carried to and from and 2 livestock, one in and one out. There was recorded a monthly total of 26 regular round trips and 2 special round trips for medical reasons. Round trips often included trips to the Southeast Cove wharf, Little Tancook and Ironbound.

On December 31, 1935, the end of the first month in operation, the ferry log reads: “Begin with fresh northwest winds. Clear sky. Leaves Northwest Cove 8:00 A.M. Calls Southeast Cove and Little Tancook. 10 return passengers, 3 up, 2 down, 1 Ironbound, 2 Little Tancook return. 1 stove down – 300 pounds. 1 bag feed down. 1 gramophone and records down. Leaves Chester at 2:00 P. M. Calls at Northwest Cove, Little Tancook, Southeast Cove, Ironbound. Arrives back at Northwest Cove at 3:00 P.M. Fresh northwest winds. Clear sky. Cold.”

The log entry for January 14, 1936 is an interesting read. “Begin with strong northwest winds. Light snow. Leaves Northwest Cove at 8:00 A.M. Arrives at Chester via Little Tancook and Southeast Cove at 10:00 A.M. 5 return passengers. 5 up. 2 down. Leaves Chester at 2:00 P.M. Heavy northwest gales. Comes to Quaker and turns back. 4:45 P.M. Leaves Chester and arrives at Northwest Cove 5:20 P.M. 1 bag down, 3 barrels apples, groceries. Day ends with heavy northwest gales.”

An unusual day occurred on February 6, 1936. “Begins with strong southwest winds, clear and cold. 8:30 A.M. leaves Northwest Cove for funeral service at Ironbound. Arrives Ironbound via Blandford. 9:30 A.M. Lands party. And proceeds back of Ironbound. Leaves Ironbound at 12:15 for Southeast Cove with approximately 40 passengers. Heavy northwest winds, clear and cold. Arrives Southeast Cove at 1:30 P.M. with boat in tow carrying casket. Leaves Southeast Cove 5:20 P.M. Arrives Northwest Cove via Blandford 6:50 P.M. Strong northwest winds, clear and cold. Day ends the same.”

The Gerald L. C. served for 6 winters as the ferry of Tancook Island. During the winters of 1935-36, 1936-37, 1937-38, 1938-39, 1939-40 and 1940-41 she served as the ferry for the entire months of December. January, February and March.

The Gerald L. C. ferry  records are intact except for the last winter the Gerald L. C. was in service. The contract has survived but the logs and other documents for the 1940-41 ferry season were inadvertently destroyed during a spring housekeeping frenzy at Willis’s Halifax home.



Day Park Project – We’d Love to Hear From You

Construction of a small day use park has begun on the right of way of the former Southeast Cove ferry wharf.  The park construction committee is gathering stories, history and photos of the wharf, buildings and roadways.  If you have anything in your family archives that would help us tell this story, we’d love to hear from you.
The attached photo was provided by Diane Crooks.  “Wharf at Southeast Cove”

Tancook WW1 Recruitment Documents

With thanks to Glenn Stevens for these historical WW1 recruitment documents. If you have any information about these men, please leave a comment.

Mystery Update

This mysterious stone found on Big Tancook Island by Dylan Baker has garnered a lot of interest and speculation. The latest update is the opinion  of Dr. Steven Davis, Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Saint Mary’s University.

Dr. Davis, suggests that the stone was used for making spiral jewelry. The stone would have been one of a two part set and the pictured stone would have set partially into another stone. The jewelry would have been silver or gold and the liquid metal would be poured into the back of the stone and then tipped to fill the spiral on the opposite side.
German in origin – circa 1750. The stone is probably not native to the area and was carried in a leather pouch. Dr. Davis could tell from the markings on the stone. The hole was made with a drill.

The Return of the Tancook Ghost

by Diane Crooks

Over the years we have experienced many unusual incidents in our Crooks homestead over in South East Cove on Tancook Island. We have never tried to explain these strange events but have merely shared with others what has occurred during our many enjoyable summer vacations there. It’s been 12 years since anyone slept in the old house but we do visit once year for a day to touch base with our Tancook roots. On Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 15 of us dropped in, some of us choosing items to take away as reminders of the happy hours once spent in the old house. The old house is disintegrating around our ears and we are starting to remove things before the archeologists have a dig site. It’s what we were doing on Tuesday’s visit.

Diane and Kim experienced another strange incident in the little bedroom upstairs that we refer to as Aunt Sadie and Uncle Brown’s room. This room has been the scene of several of the weird occurrences, the first being a visit from a cat that brushed Earl’s arm in the middle of the night. This was only strange to us because we didn’t have a cat.

The incident on Tuesday was very similar to one that happened 40 years ago. At that time we had been in residence for 6 days. We were entertaining visitors in the kitchen when we all heard glass breaking. Everyone jumped at the noise and Diane, brave soul that she was, went upstairs to see if anything was amiss in Aunt Sadie’s room from which the noise had seemed to come.

At first glance, Diane saw nothing out of order in the room but this being her bedroom for this trip to Tancook, she wanted to make sure nothing was wrong before the witching hour of 12:00 A.M. So she sat on the bed to have a better view of the room’s contents and looked to see where the broken glass might be. It was then that Diane saw the problem.

The glass shade from the small oil lamp which rested on the wash bowl stand had fallen UP, a foot ABOVE and to the right of the lamp, and was wedged between the wall and the bar of the washstand – unbroken. Diane replaced the shade, went downstairs to report her rather strange and inexpiable find. In two seconds all the visitors disappeared as they hurried home where they thought they would be safe from the ghost. Deciding that the ghost was tired of having its home invaded and needed some peace and quiet, the Crooks packed their bags the next day and trotted back to Halifax on the last ferry.

So back we come to last Tuesday’s visit. Our mission was to choose items for the Mississauga Crooks to take back with them as it’s time to clear out the homestead before it implodes on itself. Carol, Rod, Michael and Diane were present at the time of the first lamp incident, as well as for this second round. Diane and Kim were in Aunt Sadie’s room examining the little lamp of the aforementioned incident. When Diane took the chimney off the lamp to show Kim exactly how the shade was positioned all those years ago, the shade literally flew out of Diane’s hand, hit the wall, bounced off a storage bin and crashed to the floor. As it was on its way, Diane said,”Well I guess it’s broken this time,” and she pictured in her mind sweeping up the glass. But – and I’m sure you already guessed – the lamp chimney was once again, unbroken.

The resident ghost seemed to be approving of the great adventure that awaited the lamp as it is destined to reside with Lyn and Glen in an expensive condo in Toronto with one of Mabel’s rocking chairs which found a home with Lyn years ago. If the “Tancook ghost of the lamp” travels along on the journey, Lyn and Glen should have some interesting experiences to share with the rest of us.

The end…….OR…… it?