Climbing Fox Island

Fox Island has been a puzzle to me ever since I discovered that some of my ancestors supposedly lived there back in 1753. I wanted to see it, to try and figure out what drew them to the place. Well, after visiting the island, I am just as puzzled as ever.

Fox Island is a huge chunk of rock, covered with ground-hugging plants, some tall wildflowers and a few patches of low-growing shrubs such as alders. It is an excellent place for berry-picking if you are prepared for the steep descent with a bucket of berries in one hand – you certainly could not carry two buckets at the same time!

I hiked to the top of Fox Island on Saturday, 14 August 2004 – for the first and last time! All ‘trails’ on the island are mere sheep paths, including the ascent path. Climbing up is a real hazard, on a narrow path that is really not meant for human feet. Granted, there are ropes tied to trees in several places to hold on to and that should have been my clue that the path was really not safe for inexperienced climbers.

The first part of the climb takes you to a small open area, known as ‘the Porch’, where a fortified garrison was established during Queen Anne’s War. The trenches, now covered by lush green vegetation, are what make the terrain so uneven in that area. Without knowing the history you would never know you were walking over centuries-old military trenches. I saw no evidence of the 1995 archaeological dig.

From ‘the Porch’ to ‘the Peak’, the very top of the island, at 35 metres (243 feet) above sea level, the walking is much easier though still fairly steep. The view from the top is wonderful but, to me, did not justify the strenuous climb. Admittedly, however, there was some fog lingering around the coastline that day. Again, the terrain here is all humps and hollows with rock formations protruding through the greenery in places.

My descent from Fox Island was more difficult than the climb up. From the peak down to the ‘porch’, the trail was easy to follow but the rest of the way down was not so easy. Of course my sense of direction has never been good and I have no experience in following sheep paths. After several attempts, I was unable to find the path I had climbed up by so I made the risky decision to forge my own way down. Not a wise decision. I half slid, half scrambled down the steep side of the island, testing for solid footholds and holding on to bushes for support until I made it safely to the bottom.

I cannot imagine anyone living up on the island itself. Fishermen would have had a dangerous descent in early morning, likely before daybreak, then a steep climb up again in the evening. The daily task of obtaining water would have been exhausting - not to mention dangerous!

Did the settlers move into structures on the island that were left behind by the 1711 Naval garrison? Or did they build homes on the beach between the island and the mainland? The beach would be the logical choice for a number of reasons: a place to pull fishing boats up out of the water; easier to bring water for home use, etc. Most obvious is the knowledge that early settlers had a tendency to build as close to the ocean as possible because they depended so much on the fishery.

Having been there and seen Fox Island and the surrounding area, I can not see where the five households recorded in 1753 might have been located. Of course, over the span of 250 years the land has undoubtedly changed somewhat and it is hard to imagine what it was like at that time. The one thing I can safely say is that I did walk on Fox Island where my ancestors walked in 1753! And I have no desire to do it again!

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, February/March 2009

Non-fiction 1

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