Archive | November 2013

Owning a cottage a risky business on the Island

ImageIt used to be cottage ownership was a simple thing for Islanders. If you had the down payment and could afford to take out a loan from the bank you could buy your own little piece of paradise in the form of a quaint little “fixer-upper” clinging to a patch of manicured grass with an enticing ocean view.

All you really had to worry about was whether any mice, skunks or raccoons got under the floorboards in the fall and winter and started chewing the wiring.

Every once in a while a small critter would die before escaping outdoors, leaving one terrible stench to greet anyone opening the building in the spring.

And, of course, those howling northeasters could always be counted upon during especially harsh winters to rip off roof shingles and anything else that wasn’t tied down.

It was much easier in the days before climate change worked its way into everyone’s consciousness.

Now we got to worry about huge, towering waves splashing over rock walls and destroying the little cottage of dreams.

Our family is fortunate to own a cottage in Fernwood, built by the previous owner in the late 50s or early 60s. Not much to look at, with the blistered and peeling paint fading by the moment and much of the siding warped beyond belief. Still, the cottage was sturdy enough to weather more than half a century of fierce storms and it’s still standing.

But only a couple of years ago a fierce winter storm surge sent a towering wave of water over the property to knock the cottage off its concrete blocks. Water rushed inside and coated everything with a thick layer of salt and seaweed.

A newly constructed deck was ripped away, but, fortunately, we were able to reattach it.

Mother Nature has played nice since. We’ve even got our entire lawn back, much of which had been scraped away in the surge.

There are hundreds of waterfront cottages on the Island, perhaps closer to a thousand. On PEI, at least, cottage ownership isn’t something reserved for the wealthy and well-to-do. Anyone, from restaurant servers to processing line workers in potato and fish plants to teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals can afford to buy waterfront land. It is still possible, though not as common as it used to be, to purchase an ocean front cottage (of the rustic variety) and a little piece of land for it sit on, for less than a hundred grand. Anywhere else in North America, other than perhaps Cape Breton and more desolate parts of Newfoundland, that same property and cottage would cost closer to $500,000 than $100,000.

Thousands of Island families can afford to dream of the cottage life on PEI. But for how much longer?

As if we needed to be reminded, earlier in November renowned environmentalist David Suzuki paid a visit to PEI, to warn Islanders about the horrific toll that climate change is about to take on all of us. Within four decades ocean waters will rise by a metre and it’s coastal areas and islands that will take the brunt of rising seas.

We, on PEI, are especially vulnerable to coastal erosion and it’s already happening.

It’s a shame really. Islanders have done far more than most of the rest of the country to tackle global warming. Within a few years the vast majority of our power will come from renewable sources such as wind turbines and bio-fuel, but we are destined to pay among the highest price in a changing climate.

I, myself, have become resigned to the eventual loss of that beautiful, decaying cottage our family has owned for decades. It will be swept away, whether it’s this winter, next winter, or a few years from now.

When that happens, we will do what many other Islanders, who have already lost their summer haunts have done. Build another one or, if the damage isn’t too catastrophic, make repairs and renovations.

That is the price we all pay for owning a waterfront cottage on Canada’s smallest province. Quite simply, anyone who lives anywhere near the ocean on PEI and throughout Atlantic Canada knows the view from the deck or the window is worth more than a million dollars.

When the tide is out in Fernwood, glistening sand bars extend as far as the eye can see, with the Confederation Bridge a majestic backdrop.

You can sit on the deck and see the shores of New Brunswick.

It’s a wonderful part of the world we Islanders live and play in.

I just hope it stays that way for a little longer.


A good reason to park the car

A good reason to park the car

Photo taken near New Glasgow, PEI, early August, 2013.

Why not ‘adopt a lobster?’

By Jim Brown

It seems any time there is a financial crisis in the PEI lobster industry, which is about every season, the same predictable solutions are always trotted out to boost low shore prices. Basically we should spend more money on marketing lobster to overseas countries and try to get thousands of fishermen to tie up their boats and to hold protests at processing plants. Governments are also lobbied to help co-ordinate license buyout programs to reduce fleet sizes.

Those measures have, at best, met with mixed success.

Why not try something completely different before the entire industry goes belly up?

There’s nothing to lose, really.

Here’s my modest proposal: let’s  approach a wildlife advocacy organization, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare or Greenpeace, with a guaranteed money-making strategy that will result in more lobsters returning to the sea alive.

Why not start an “adopt-a-lobster” program targeted at millions of environmentalists and animal rights supporters around the globe?

Charge each donor $20, $30, $40 or more for every mature lobster they adopt. These lobsters, of course, would be released back into the drink, with fishermen splitting the money with the participating environmental and animal advocacy groups coordinating the program.

Everyone wins including lobster fishermen who get several times as much money as they would selling their product to traditional lobster buyers.

Meanwhile, wildlife and animal rights organizations would earn some pretty good coin too, enough to finance many other worthwhile projects and to keep the lights on.

Imagine the impact of hundreds of thousands of lobsters, perhaps millions, being taken off the market. In addition to sustaining wild stocks it might also offer a boost to languishing prices.

Just think what a boon such a program would be to Islanders who make their living from the sea. Participating lobster fishermen could earn thousands of extra dollars a year even as they reduce their fishing effort. To make the project easier to manage participating fishermen could agree at the season’s start to fish a reduced quota based on an upfront payment from the organization administering the program.

It’s not hard to imagine fishermen using social media to send photos and videos of freed lobsters to donors and also capturing in real time a typical day on the seas.

The PEI lobster fishing industry could forge a very strong brand, which would bolster the concepts of sustainability and humane harvesting of a valuable resource. Remember, many European countries have enacted strict laws to reduce unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. Many potential consumers won’t eat lobsters that are boiled alive.

Can you hear the lobster’s scream? is their rallying cry.

The opportunities for such a project to prosper are much greater now with the recent signing of a Canada-EU free trade deal.

Of course the industry could always do what it’s always done – reduce fishing effort to raise prices, only to have plants flooded in PEI by cheap New England lobsters.

They could pin all their hopes on expanding to Asian markets, but how likely are the chances of success when it costs much more to ship Atlantic Canadian lobsters thousands of kilometers? Australia already has a thriving lobster export business to China and other Asian nations.

And besides, Maine and Massachusetts fishermen are going to try to access the same markets and because they can ship on a larger scale they’ll likely provide product at a much cheaper cost.

But the Island is fortunate to have a ready made, attractive brand built on an image of exotic, unspoiled beauty, mingled with the powerful and enduring story of Anne of Green Gables. Farming and fishing and spectacular landscapes are woven deeply in the fabric of life on PEI.

It’s as natural as the pristine air we Islanders all breathe.

So what’s to lose? Of course this strategy won’t provide the entire answer, only a modest income per boat, but it will help.

Let’s at least toss a line into the water and see if we can get a nibble.

Looking down on PEI

Looking down on PEI

This photo was taken in the early fall from a four-seater aircraft operated by FD Air Tours, based in Slemon Park, Summerside.

Fading fall sunlight

Fading fall sunlight

The beautiful Stanley River at sunset, in early October.

A fall day on the beach

A fall day on the beach

Beautiful Cavendish beach was deserted in late September except for a few hardy tourists, some of whom even waded into the still-warm waters. This photo claimed one of the weekly prizes in the provincial government’s fall photo contest.

Boat at it’s moorings, early fall

Boat at it's moorings, early fall

The Stanley River, Stanley Bridge, was filled with pleasure craft in late September. This photo was taken in the early evening, in the fading sunlight.