Fyfe family rebuilding after devastating fire

By Jim Brown

For decades they were surrounded by history but in just a few minutes it had all turned to ashes. A nearly 200-year-old farmhouse, built 40 years before Confederation, was reduced to a smoldering firepit.

This is all that is left of the Fyfe family’s 190-year-old farmhouse.

The historic home prior to the fire.


The Fyfe family lost nearly everything in the Feb 20 blaze. They may have felt alone in the immediate aftermath, but they soon learned they had an entire community standing with them during the difficult rebuilding process.

Alfred Fyfe, his wife Karen, their daughter Michelle Fyfe and her fiancé Kristen Rochford didn’t have to wait long to find shelter. A good-hearted neighbor, Leslie MacKay, invited the family to stay as long as they wished at his farmhouse.

“We’re just overwhelmed by the support and the affection we’ve received from the community,” said Karen.

“It really is humbling to know there are so many people like this in our community.”

Friends and supporters organized a benefit for the Fyfe family for Friday, March 22 (snow date March 23) at the New London Community Complex. The Fyfe family benefit, featuring items for auction, a 50/50 draw and a cash bar, will start at 7 pm, with the doors opening at 6. Monetary donations will be accepted at the Malpeque Bay Credit Union.

A GoFundMe campaign is trending and by March 6 had already exceeded the campaign’s $10,000 target, with close to $14,500 raised for the Fyfe family in just three weeks. One of the benefit’s organizers, Sandra Blackett, said more than a hundred items had been donated so far, which included overnight stays at hotels in Summerside and Charlottetown.

“We’ve got people everywhere who are helping out,” she said.

Karen Fyfe said the family farm hasn’t missed a beat since the fire, with her daughter, her husband and her daughter’s fiancé all carrying the load.

There are 35 “momma” cows on the property and several have given birth since Christmas Eve Day and the birthing season will continue into April and May, said Karen.

All considered, things could have been much worse. The fire could have spread to a nearby barn and threatened livestock, she said.

“That barn could have been gone, Alfred’s workshop could have been gone,” said Karen.

The family is still counting their blessings everyone escaped without injury. The family dog and cat are alright, as well as three pet ducks and several laying hens.

The family has insurance and will be able to build another farmhouse, but it won’t be nearly as big as the 3,000-sq foot historic building that had been on the property since the late 1820s and had been in the Fyfe family for six generations.

“It was built and lived in before Canada became a country,” said Karen, wistfully.

“It’s a huge loss…the history and the craftsmanship,” said Karen of the home where five children had been raised and she had lived since 1981.

Anyone wishing to donate items to the Fyfe family benefit can call the following numbers: Janet Cotton, 886-2528, Bethany Cousins, 439-6723, Sandra Blackett at 886-3239 and 303-3164, Stephanie Moase, 886-2599, Nancy Sanderson, 621-1958 and Angie Matheson at 626-9902.

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Strange crop for this time of the year along Highway 6, near Margate

Story and photos by Jim Brown

Motorists travelling this stretch of Highway 6 on March 1, near Margate, saw something unusual on the road’s shoulders and in streaks in the middle of the pavement – thousands of tightly-packed kernels of corn. Provincial officials did not return phone calls by 5 pm of that date to explain the presence of large quantities of this crop, but an internet search unearthed stories in other parts of North America of corn replacing road salt for melting ice. The corn helped reduce the environmental damage caused by large quantities of salt washed into nearby watercourses and absorbed into vegetation. It is not known whether the corn was dumped by accident or deliberately.
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Black History Month celebrated at Kensington library with drums and traditional dance

Story and photos by Jim Brown

Mufaro Chakabuda, left with Kat Carroll during a drumming session.

Mufaro Chakabuda, who was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, was a special guest at the Kensington Heritage Library on Feb 23, during Black History Month on PEI. She gave a compelling presentation on her native country and the 54 nations that make up the continent of Africa.

The presentation also featured traditional drumming and dancing, with everyone getting to their feet to join her in ceremonial dances.
She said Africa’s largest nation by population is Nigeria, with 150 million people.

Mufaro went on to say Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline in Africa and is bigger than Air Canada and British Airways.
There are literally thousands of different tribes in Africa, with each tribe having its own language and culture.

In many ways African nations are ahead of the developed world. There is much more to Africa than the grim stories that routinely make news headlines.
Rwanda, for instance, leads every other nation on earth in an important environmental initiative.

“They are the first country in the world to introduce a no-plastic policy,” she said.

Anyone with plastic items in their possession, even a toothbrush, can be charged with a criminal offence.

Mufaro, who arrived in Canada at the age of 19 to study at Dalhousie University, went on to found the Maritime Centre for African Dance with just $20. She also founded a publishing house and a charity for scholarships directed towards Zimbabweans.

Mufaro Chakabuda shares a lighter moment with Kensington youngster Zoe Carroll.

Zoe Carroll, after a miscue or two quickly picked up the beat of Mufaro’s drumming.

She has won numerous national and regional awards for her entrepreneurial accomplishments and her community leadership.
Mufaro divides her time between her work in Canada and her native Zimbabwe.

She said she hoped her presentation, in addition to entertaining people, would leave everyone with a “realistic picture of the continent.”

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Big changes coming to Stanley Bridge Centre building this summer

By Jim Brown

By this summer visitors returning to the popular Stanley Bridge Centre, home of successful farmers markets, history circles and concerts, will see some big changes.

For one thing, the port-a-potty at the back of the building will be gone and a leaky roof fixed.

As much as $35,000 will be spent making necessary improvements, which should make it easier for food vendors to set up.

“We’re going to do a renovation that will expand our entrance, give us washrooms, give us a kitchen, and completely do the roof (including the steeple),” said Don Reid, a member of the Stanley Bridge Memorial Society’s board of directors.

The work includes a ramp to improve access for people with disabilities.

Mr Reid hopes to have the project started sometime in mid to late March and finished in time for the busy tourist season.
“Right now I have two, possibly three vendors who are interested in renting the centre from us.”

The board has even bigger plans for the future, which would require more than $400,000 to completely renovate the building, including putting in a new foundation.

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Parks Canada issues response to Resort Municipality concerns about heavy tree damage from recent storms

Story and photos by Jim Brown
Jim Brown can be reached at peijim@hotmail.com

For weeks Resort Municipality councilors expressed concerns about the fate of hundreds of fallen trees in the Cavendish area under Parks Canada’s jurisdiction in the PEI National Park.

On Jan 14 Parks Canada emailed a written statement following a request from the Stanley Bridge Centre website.

The full statement is provided below:

“Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world. We are aware of fallen trees on its properties along Highways 6 and 13 in Cavendish. Safety is always our number one priority and our trained Dangerous Tree Assessors have examined the area and have removed trees that have the potential for safety risk and exposure to persons. The determination on which trees to remove was based on industry standards and assessed exposure.
 
“Parks Canada takes wildfire risk reduction activities seriously and is taking the necessary steps to reduce the threat of wildfires in all areas of the park. In this regard, Parks Canada developed a fuel modification prioritization tool that utilizes national FireSmart standards to identify forest areas at risk based on scientific methodology. All fuel modification (forest thinning) work in PEI National Park is justified through this evaluation tool and the program resources are managed in accordance with this assessment. Most recently, in the Cavendish area, forest stands surrounding the Cavendish Campground and the Cavendish Visitor Information Centre have been treated. The safety of the public, our crews, park infrastructure and neighboring lands is always our number one priority.
 
“We acknowledge the community’s concerns regarding the aesthetics of the senescent white spruce stands visible from Highway 6. Forest stands in PEI National Park are identified for management actions (i.e. stand thinning/restoration) based on Parks Canada’s priorities of ecological integrity, visitor safety, and fire risk. This type of forest provides valuable habitat for many species of animals and is an important part of a forest ecosystem. Should it become necessary, we will consider these stands in the future as opportunities for forest restoration programs arise.”


In an earlier interview Resort Municipality CAO Brenda MacDonald and Mayor Matthew Jelley, among others, voiced their frustrations about the slow progress made dealing with hundreds of fallen trees in early December.

Brenda MacDonald stated recently area residents had approached her and Council seeking action. Some had offered to help cut and clear away the fallen trees, which could become a fire and safety hazard in the spring and summer months.

The issue first surfaced at planning board meeting in December in which the spectre of California-style wildfires was raised.

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Winners announced just in time for Christmas

The names of two lucky winners were picked from hundreds of tickets at a draw during the Dec 10 monthly meeting of the Stanley Bridge Memorial Society (SBMS). The meeting was held at the Kensington home of vice-president Helen MacEwen. St John’s NFLD resident Chris Pearsey won a beautiful painting of the Stanley Bridge wharf by acclaimed Margate artist Karen Slater. Stanley Bridge area resident Marilyn Simpson won a stunning mural sized photo of the Confederation Bridge, shot by North Granville photographer Clayton Smith, who is also the SBMS’s president. The Stanley Bridge Memorial Society would like to express its gratitude to everyone who bought a ticket for this important fundraiser.

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Storm toppled trees in PEI National Park could pose fire risk in Cavendish

Story and photos by Jim Brown

Is it possible massive numbers of fallen and uprooted trees in the PEI National Park, in Cavendish, could set the area ablaze during the summer season?

According to members of the Resort Municipality’s planning board the PEI National Park could face the same fate as much of California, which endured record-breaking wildfires in November.

Dislodged trees are everywhere following a fierce wind and snow storm recently that plunged much of the Island into darkness for days.

“They’re down everywhere, all the way out from Green Gables to Rainbow Valley,” said CAO Brenda MacDonald.

“It’s a complete mess…It’s terrible out there.”

Parks Canada’s representative on the planning board, Barbara MacDonald, said Parks Canada would investigate those concerns and take remedial action if it was necessary.

Brenda MacDonald said she had to called the Department of Transportation during the storm to remove trees that had fallen across and blocked Highway 6.

Once fallen trees dry out someone walking along on a hot day, flicking a cigarette butt into the woods, could start a devastating fire, said a board member.

Planning Board Chair George Clark-Dunning echoed President Donald Trump’s quote about how the Finns protect their forests from fires by “raking” the underbrush.

“It started a whole cavalcade of (humorous) tweets,” he said of Trump’s misstatement.

“We’ve had at least 15 complaints from property owners since last week saying what is Parks (Canada) doing about this mess, and businesses as well,” said Brenda MacDonald, adding Council would be addressing those concerns at the Dec 10 meeting.

“Spruce trees don’t send down a deep root system, they run across the ground. When it’s wet and windy they wobble. When they’re planted together as thickly as that they’re tall and spindly (and go down),” said board member Arnold Smith, adding it doesn’t take long for them to rot and dry out.

Even before the storm trees were dangling over the boardwalk, ready to fall over, said Brenda MacDonald.

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Huddling together at the gas station

Nearly everyone on the Island lost their power on Thursday, Nov 29, with Stanley Bridge residents finally getting their lights back on at 6:20 pm. Shortly after 8 am, the Race Trak gas station at the Stanley Bridge roundabout was filled with customers and passersby. Many had lost their power earlier that morning, and then rejoiced when it came back on, only to be cruelly disappointed when everything went black again, this time for more than nine hours.


Photos by Jim Brown

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