Stories from Our Land: Celebrating Canada’s 150

EDITOR’S NOTE: In conjunction with Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017, members of the Manitoulin Writers’ Circle are crafting stories and poems to pay tribute to our country on this pivotal milestone birthday.

The Importance of Charms

by Vera Constantineau

The last day of Grade 8 my teacher, Mr. Fred Smith, gave me a sterling silver charm in a little box, the type of box you would get if you had purchased something worthy at one of the local jewellery stores. I wish I could tell you what I received this charm for, but it seems I no longer have any idea. I was an okay student, but I didn’t excel at anything.

The box is long gone, but happily, I still have my charm. I remember looking closely at the shiny surface of my little silver piece that day. I could see trees, a lion, sky and grass embossed on the front, with the letters P.E.I. It was a generous gesture on Mr. Smith’s part; however, I remember thinking, rather ungratefully, that it would have made more sense to have received a charm of the province of Ontario, since I didn’t know a soul from P.E.I.

Time moved on, as time does. When I graduated from Little Current High School, I enrolled at Sheridan Technical School in Sudbury where I completed a one-year commercial course, aptly named Special Commercial. When I successfully completed Special Commercial, I got a job in Classifieds at the Sudbury Star. My sister, Marie, and I shared a small place located at the very top of the Bloor Street hill. From our window one could see New Sudbury and beyond.

One Friday night I hopped on the Greyhound bus and travelled back to Little Current to spend the weekend with my mother. When I returned on Sunday night to our apartment, Marie said she’d made a friend while I was gone. She told me all about how she’d been approached by a young woman while on her way to work. I was already preparing my lecture about talking to strangers when she said, “Her name is Frances and she has brothers.” I cut the lecture back by half.

The PEI charm.

It turned out there was way more than one young woman; the entire group of Newly Met Persons included two sisters, three brothers, a brother-in-law, two young children, and a slew of friends, all of whom came from P.E.I. Suddenly my life was full of P.E. Islanders and as the weeks, months and years went by we became solid friends.

I learned a bunch of new phrases common to the folk of that other Isle. For instance, “S’notting” which, when translated, seemed to mean “Can you believe that?” And: “Is that all the far you are?” Which is self-explanatory and seriously cracked me up. And “Weak, eh?” which is explained with this example: if someone bought a new car, in admiration one would say, “Weak, eh?”

Receiving a charm of P.E.I., something so inconsequential back in Grade 8, took on much greater significance after Marie met Frances. In honour of my new friends, I strung the charm on a silver chain and wore it faithfully for years. That group of people had a big impact on my life, but an even bigger one on my sister, Marie’s. She married one of the brothers, Ralph, and they moved to British Columbia, where together they grew a great family.

If my sister had not met Frances, and if we had not all become friends, she would not have her family and I might never have had the experience of standing at the rail of the ferry that ran from the mainland to P.E.I. I vividly recall my sense of awe at my first sight of the red soil of that beautiful place. I remember saying to Frances, “It really is red!”

In addition to visits to the East Coast, I had visits to my sister and brother-in-law in British Columbia. Her chance meeting, and its aftermath, gave me the impetus to travel the entire expanse of Canada. I love the mountains. I’ve stuck a toe in two oceans. And the land that lies in between the east and west coasts is well worth the drive across country.

When I look at my charm now, certainly I think of Mr. Smith and his generosity, I think of my classmates and our continuing friendship, and I realize a person never knows how, some time down the road, the smallest things can take on huge significance.

That two islands, beautiful Manitoulin Island and beautiful Prince Edward Island, should give me such bounty in my life is something I will always be grateful for, along with my charm, of course.