Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘D’Escousse’

Farewell, Poirier’s Garage

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

August 22, 2010

Clem McDonald built the service station in D’Escousse soon after the Second World War, in his father’s front yard. His wife Madeleine ran a hair-dressing salon in a little trailer nearby. Bless their memories; they were lovely people.

In 1952, Lauchie Poirier bought the garage for his son Russell, a trained mechanic who was working in Sydney. Russell came home, cut some trees, hauled them to the sawmill, built a house, married and settled down. After raising two girls and two boys, Russell and Mary are in that house yet.

Russell was soon joined by his younger brother Claude, an auto-body virtuoso. Claude bought a tiny house across the road, cut some trees, milled them, and extended his house up, backwards and sideways. The house was built over a swampy dimple in the bedrock. Claude thought to improve the drainage by splitting the bedrock. He placed a charge of dynamite in the basement, covered it with explosive matting, and set it off. The house jumped. The windows blew out. Sandra’s hair turned white. The drainage was magnificent.

After raising four girls and a boy, Claude and Sandra are in that house yet.

The service station had two bays, a tiny stockroom, a terrifying toilet, a minuscule office. The bay with the pit was Russell’s. The bay with the solid concrete floor was Claude’s. The garage became the men’s social centre in D’Escousse. Just like the Halifax Club.

Between them, Russell and Claude could fix anything from a broken cylinder head to a broken heart. I once took Claude my geriatric Volvo, lacy with rust. Could we get one more year out of it? A month later, Claude had patched it up with sheet metal, pop rivets, tar, roofing shingles and other improbable materials. From a moderate distance, the car looked good.

“Used half the ductwork in the house,” Claude said proudly. And did we get another year of life for it? Claude pursed his lips and smiled.

“I think we got two,” he said.

Russell and Claude never had much money, but they had a wonderful life. I don’t think they ever charged more than $10 an hour. They both owned big, brutal old Jeep pick-up trucks that would haul anything — trailers, stumps, boats, you name it — and they kept them going with the same skills that saved the Volvo. Claude drove a school bus. They foraged for clams, fished for mackerel, cut their own firewood, raised chickens and turkeys, planted extensive gardens. In the great rural phrase, they put together “enough to get by.”

In fact, they lived very rich lives, at the swirling heart of the village, connected to everyone, an essential part of their neighbours’ lives. In an emergency, Claude would spring from his bed at 3:00 AM and pump a tank of gas for you — and on credit, too. When my car needed service, I walked over and gave Russell the keys. When he was ready, he took the car from my driveway, did the work, and drove it back. I paid him whenever I got around to it. Customer service? You never saw anything like it.

At various times both Poiriers owned pleasure boats. I once came by the garage and found a big new shed beside the building, a new addition to Claude’s matchless collection of sheds. It had come from a lighthouse on an offshore island. Claude bought it from the federal government, filled it with oil drums and saplings, floated it home and dragged it up to the garage.

On another occasion, the boys created a snowmobile from miscellaneous salvaged parts — Skidoo, Arctic Cat, Polaris, whatever. So what make of snowmobile was it? Claude shrugged eloquently, cast his eye around the shop, spotted a nameplate, and screwed it on the snowmobile.


Russell quit in 2004, at 72. Claude painted a few more cars and then stopped. The garage slowly crumbled. It became an eyesore bulging with memories. Last month, an excavator dropped its bucket through the roof, tore it apart and spread earth over the spot. Gone.

If you listen closely, though, I swear you can still hear the echoes of tall tales and tears, lies and laughter, the warm echoes of human fellowship.

– 30 —

Silver Donald Cameron is host and executive producer of the environmental web site His new book, A Million Futures: The Remarkable Legacy of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, will be published by Douglas and McIntyre next month.

The Man I Want to Be

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

I drove up to the D’Escousse credit union to deposit a cheque, and found Willard Fougere’s car backed up to the door with its trunk open. Willard was filling the trunk with money – bags and boxes of coins.

“Willard,” I said, “I knew you were filthy rich, but I had no idea you had to load up your car when you came to make a withdrawal.”

“Oh, yes,” said Willard, his broad face opening up with a smile. “The weekend’s coming, I don’t want to run short.”

“From now on,” I said, “I’m calling you ‘Moneybags.’”

The mundane truth was that the credit union, where Willard’s wife Naomi worked, had gradually accumulated an enormous number of pennies, nickels and dimes. Willard and Naomi were taking the coins to Halifax to exchange for more usable forms of money. But I called Willard “Moneybags” all the rest of his life, and the two of us always had a chuckle out of it.

When I moved to Isle Madame in 1971, Willard and Naomi were still operating the little red general store hanging out over the water in the neighbouring village of Poulamon. In those days shopping centres were few and far away, so village stores were sturdy and essential little businesses. The individual villages of North Isle Madame still preserved some distinctness, an echo of the days when each had things like a government wharf, a post office, a general store, a one-room school. Even in 1971, the Northside had at least four stores. It only has one today.

Willard’s service was remarkable. He did deliveries, so house-bound people could shop by phone, and Willard would deliver the order right to their kitchens. He was a gregarious man, and he would stop and visit for a moment. He always knew what was going on, as storekeepers tend to do. Travelling through the villages on the north side of Isle Madame, Willard was a key component in the network of interest and concern that carries information in rural communities.

“I always saw Willard as a pillar in the community,” says Father John J. MacDonald, who knew him for more than 50 years. “He was a very welcoming person, and he easily related to all kinds of different personalities. He served in the merchant navy during World War II. That’s why there was a flag on his obituary. He was quite close to Allan J. MacEachen, did you know that?”

I didn’t, though I did know that Willard was an ardent Liberal – a hereditary affliction which is distressingly common on Isle Madame. Moneybags, Moneybags, I would think, shaking my head, how regrettable. But his Liberal sympathies were an integral part of who he was.

He and Naomi bought the store in 1957, three years after their marriage. He was 39 when they married, and she was 21, a beautiful young woman from River Bourgeois, on the opposite side of Lennox Passage. Almost 55 years later, he was still handsome, and she is still beautiful.

“I never saw him cross or cranky,” Naomi told me. “I’ve never seen him out of sorts. He was the same with me as he was with you or anybody else. He was always cheerful, always smiling.”

They sold the store in 1974, so I knew Willard mostly in his three decades of retirement. No man ever found more happiness in retirement than he did. He turned his attention to community affairs, becoming a diligent and generous volunteer in all the local organizations. His special love was the Lennox Passage Yacht Club, of which he eventually became an honorary lifetime member. The club’s membership consisted mainly of people half his age, but he worked and played alongside them with a spirit that simply erased the age difference. He was one of those people who never really become old, even though their bodies eventually give out.

He had a little red truck, and a succession of fierce little white dogs, and he would cruise the island’s roads on his various errands, smiling cheerily, with the dog sitting beside him like a co-pilot. He lived every day with zest and gratitude. When I found myself cruising the island in a little red truck, with a dog beside me, I told Willard I was training to become him, because he was what I wanted to be when I grew up. He thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.

Willard Fougere died on January 28. He was 93 years old, a living treasure in his own corner of the world. “We’ve lost our lovely man,” said Naomi when I called her. And it’s true, all that remains is our memory of his laughter and his smile.

But that’s a sparkling legacy. And I will not stop striving to be like Willard when I grow up.