When Yvonne Errico was a young bride in 1947, she was introduced to Gambier Island. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would leave the comforts of the city with its electricity and indoor plumbing to spend summers with their children on Gambier. She was even more discouraged when her husband took her hiking up a mountain — in a pair of quickly discarded sandals. Many years later, after the couple had built their cabin and she had children of her own, she recalled those early summers as wonderful times.
“Today I find New Brighton the best place to relax with a new generation of great-grandchildren,” she writes in a new publication, The Legacy: Women of Gambier Island Perpetual Calendar.
Errico is one of 12 pioneering women to tell the story of the early days on Gambier Island in a fundraising project put together by two artists, Joley Switzer and Gloria Masse. Switzer did the design, layout and computer art work, while Masse interviewed the women and collected their memories. The two make a great team, Switzer said. Some Coast residents might remember them as the two who produced a nude calendar of the men of Gambier in 2006. It was a hoot to make, Switzer recollects, it sold like crazy and funds raised went toward the purchase of medical equipment for the island.
“We have to be so self-sufficient here with our first aid,” Switzer noted. “We’ve raised funds before for oxygen and a stretcher. The men’s calendar bought the defibrillator.”
But then they discovered that the equipment has maintenance costs attached, so Switzer and Masse returned to the calendar idea, this time with the inspiration of local women elders.
“We needed to leave a legacy,” she said, and the last two pages of the calendar contain a not quite comprehensive list of all the women on the island over the age of 70, and some in their sixties — “all the women before us and who are still living with us.”
Along with the women’s own stories, there is usually a photo of how the women look today and how they looked then — 30, 40 and 50 years ago.
Switzer’s mother, Shirley Symons, was a Gambier kid. Her parents moved full time to the island in the early 1900s. She talks about fetching water from a hand-dug well and cutting firewood from the beach. She and her brother rowed in a wooden boat sometimes as far as Horseshoe Bay for groceries. One of her favourite memories was swimming in the summer nights when phosphorescence lit up the sea.
Molly Alemany recalls spending summers from 1934 to 1952 on the island and how they would eagerly meet the Union Steamship Lines bringing supplies from Woodwards and the mail that was especially important as there was no phone service. Now in her “hydro operated” home she realizes how incredibly hard her parents worked to give the family their wonderful summer experience.
Maisie Johnson remembers picking fruit from the Gambier trees and being followed by friendly deer. Pat Burton first visited Gambier in 1955. She and her late husband Cliff Burton retired there in 1982 and she has the honour, she writes, of being Gambier’s one and only Blackberry Queen. She now lives in Gibsons at Christenson Village.
Masse reports that the calendar that was introduced at a Gambier event, the September Salute to Summer, has been well received so far, and they are making plans to sell it elsewhere. A perpetual calendar is so called because it can be used year after year — there are no days of the week assigned to the dates. Cost is $15 and it can be ordered through Gloria Masse’s e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 604-886-8098.