Instead of the typical format, I felt the following transcription of an interview with Noweth Kernow fills us in nicely. I was especially excited about Noweth Kernow because I, for one, spoke the language (English) and couple actually speak with someone on the island. This really took things to a different level. It was as close as I could get to being there. While my interest is coins, I also love the idea of learning of life on such an island. To learn this right from the source is exceptional. Most of all I want to thank Christopher Tristram Richard Le Bailly who took the time to speak with me, not just in one call, but several emails that followed. It certainly restores one’s belief in humanity when you come across a stranger that so patiently and kindly takes their time to answer the questions they have been asked so many times before. I am indebted to Chris for his help and have the utmost respect for him.
Q: Chris, that is an interesting name. Can you tell me a bit about your name?
A: My last name, Le Bailly, is my family name, a name from Jersey in the Channel Islands. Obviously Christopher and Richard are common names but Tristam is to signify my Cornish roots and I was named after Sir Tristram whose penance for sins was to empty Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor, (legend says it is bottomless), with a cockle shell. Legend has it that this pool is where they threw Excalibur after the death of King Arthur.
Q: With your ties to Cornwall and Jersey, how did you end up here?
A: Cornishmen must have a wanderlust about them as they have traveled the globe. You find people of Cornish heritage almost everywhere. So, to wind up here is not very exceptional. My ancestors, however, came to the region not long after Valpy dit Janvrin, another fellow from Jersey, established his family and a thriving merchant trade in the region. In fact, his home island was given his family name, Janvrin. My family soon left and settled here on Noweth Kernow with two other families. The first settlers had roots to Cornwall and the name of the island became New Cornwall or in Cornish, Noweth Kernow.
Q: Chris, will you give us a short history of the island and bring us to the present?
A: I’d be glad to. Noweth Kernow was first settled in either 1803 or 1804 by three families, mine being one. The men in these families has fished these waters for a few years prior to moving their families there. Initially the families had fished the waters closer to the mainland and were doing business with John Janvrin in the early years. With the waters being fairly crowded with Acadian fishermen, the three families decided they wanted to find virgin waters to fish. They discovered Noweth Kernow and began making plans to settle their families on the island. The families had been leasing from the Janvrin family and saw the island as a way to put more money in their pockets while still selling their catch to Janvrin. For many years Janvrin was the primary buyer and seller of needed supplies on Noweth Kernow. The Janvrin family had the reputation, earned or not, as keeping fishing families in debt perpetually by buying the fishermen’s cod and selling the supplies the fishermen and their families needed. It seems John Janvrin liked the families that settled on Noweth Kernow, promising to help protect them if they were harassed by any vessels. The Janvrin family owned a fleet of ships that could be hired for less than reputable jobs. Perhaps word got around that Noweth Kernow was protected by Janvrin because Noweth Kernow was never threatened in the coming decades.
Over the years more families came to the island. In fact we hit the 200 mark around 1900 but when World War II was declared, most of the community thought it was safer to move to the mainland. Many of the former settlers still live in Nova Scotia. In the 1960s when fishing became big business, more families left the island and a few of those families still come back each season.
We were getting close to being abandoned when the remaining islanders decided to recruit some young families. The deal was the men would help them build their home if the new family would buy the materials. We made sure these new families would get their land free if they would live on the island for at least 10 years. The plan gave us just enough population to be able to function as a community. You know, you got to have enough people to keep needed services and we were at the point of losing it all.
Q: It seems the population is still pretty small and you pretty much have to fend for yourselves, right?
A: Well, we have 49 people on the island all year in the island’s 14 homes and this rises to about 110 in summer.
Q: I guess tourism is a big deal.
A: Sure, tourism is an important factor but the truth be said, we’re a pretty sufficient bunch. We grow some crops we send off to a grocery store on the Mainland and all of us have a skiff to do a bit of fishing. We ice the fish down and rush it to a couple of restaurants and food stores. It’s sort of folding money for us.
Q: So earning a living is tough?
A: Let’s say we’re far from rich but we don’t have such a hard life. Sure, we can’t compete with the big fishery operations. Hell, it cost us more to get it to the mainland than we’d get for it. Same with farming. But some places like Orange K Foods buys our fish and produce. Their customers like it, so we grow it and catch it for those fans of ours.
On the same token, we’re not wallowing in poverty neither. None of have any mortgages and we generate our own electricity, so it doesn’t cost much to live here…very little scratch. We all have gardens and some plant some crops. We have greenhouses, do a bit of fishing and a few of us keep some animals.
Q: Are fishing and farming primary sources of income?
A: It’s more like a second income compared to what people earn in the big city, but in the scheme of things it is very important. Now in the past it was a lot more important than it is today. Back a few decades ago, a bad season fishing or farming meant a long hard winter but I guess we figured a way to make things work without being totally reliant on farming and fishing.
Q: So everybody gets by pretty well?
A: I’d say we’re middle class but more like your parents or grandparents were. We’ve got all the need but not a lot of luxuries. And we got our neighbors to help us in hard times. Most of us hardly have any money at all, it all gets direct deposited. See, when we sell to somebody on the Mainland, they just send a check to our bank account in a Mainland bank. Anything we need from the outside, there’s the money in the bank. We all do well enough to have a car on the Mainland.
Q: I bet the car runs you some money for storing it somewhere.
A: Really we got a sweet deal. The folks that run our ferry let us park free at their parking lot. They really help us out. If we order something like a new bed or sofa, the furniture store delivers it to their warehouse and then they put it on the ferry and charge us for the extra freight. Our part is figuring out what we want and getting them a check. In fact, we do internet banking these days. We got high speed internet last year.
Q: Tell me about the island.
A; Well, we’re sort of small. The island is about 6 miles long and a couple of miles wide. I reckon the best description of the landscape is sandy and grass covered. We got a few little hills, sort of like sand dunes but the sand isn’t blowing around because of the grass. Now, one of the founding families wanted to plant a forest. Seems he loved Linden trees and he added a few other types as well. Well, most of them died but those that hung in there ended up rather stunted, I suppose from the salt in the air. Still we got a nice little wooded park and a few other stands about the island. We have got lots of fresh water. There’s a bunch of little water holes about the island and all the houses have a good well. And you bet we got indoor plumbing. Nobody wants to go out to an outhouse in the middle of winter.
Q: Tell me about the community.
A: Now everybody thinks we got a little town on the island but you see the island was sold in 100 acre lots, so each home is always down the road from the other. We don’t have a town, just a single one lane rather sandy road we add a bit of soil and gravel to make it a bit more usable. We don’t have a car on the whole island except for the Fire Department. We use ATVs and golf carts in summer and snowmobiles in winter. Now where our little forest is, we build a community building. We’ve got a couple of computers, a public phone and our one room school in there. We have a dance hall and a small church in this area and we have the Fire Station. In fact we have all been trained in firefighting and a few of us are certified Emergency Responders. In fact, we can generally handle any medical emergency until we can get the plane here.
Q: What’s this about a plane? Do you have an airport?
A: Ah, yes, the plane. Thought I mentioned it. Yes, we have a fellow that has a Cessna and he’ll fly out here. In fact, he brings in supplies during the winter and he does medical evacs for us. He’s a bit of a maverick. We don’t have an airport. We have a pole with a windsock at a clear area of the road and he uses the road as his runway. Works every time.
Q: Let’s get back to tourism. Is this a big part of the economy?
A: Well, we’re a bit offshore. A hundred seventy-nine or eighty kilometers from the mainland. So, not a lot of tourists want to go so far out to vacation. We get a few tourists. We got three guesthouses on the island that rent by the week, so we have all three of them filled up all season. The rest bring a tent and camp out, staying a day or two but there’s not many coming out. You see, the ferry can only handle 23 passengers and that number drops when you add in supplies. Rule of thumb is 23 people and 4,600 pounds of supplies. The more supplies are heading out, the fewer the number of passengers. I’d say we might have a half dozen campers in the season on any given day. So, you might say a tourist is still somewhat of a novelty.
Q: I suppose the economy is pretty active on the island.
A: First, we haven’t a store or shop on the island. They just don’t exist. Now we do some trade and it is a cash economy but mostly Saturdays is our day. You see, we come up to the community house on Saturday mornings and bring the stuff we don’t need…produce, eggs and various sundries. We use our own money among our neighbors. It’s like a little swap meet.
Q: How do your homes compare to the mainland?
A: We’re set up pretty nicely. We mostly live in cottages, say 1,000 to 1,200 square feet. We have indoor plumbing and pipe in water from the well. We use wind power and sometimes solar for our electricity. We all have generators just in case. I’d say we have pretty mainland typical homes. They’re just built more like homes made in the 1930s and 1940s on the mainland. Most have only one bathroom and our rooms are a bit more cozy.
Q: Tell me about getting on and off the island.
A: Well, let’s see, I think we had about 210 ferry runs last year and then we did some gas runs and rubbish runs. It’s just a couple of hops each way. Our ferry service runs back and forth a couple of times a day in the season. The ferry runs the 65 kilometers to our nearest neighbor where we hop a 6 seater for the second hop to the mainland. Mostly that is only a few times a year. You see our neighbor is an island a bit over 400 people and the Coast Guard has a station there, so they’ve got a good hospital and medical staff. We can do most of what we need there. So, taking the morning run we get there by the noon hour, tend to business and take the 3 o’clock back and are home near about 7.
Now if we take the run to the mainland we have to take our car. There’s a ferry that runs to the mainland but this one takes passengers, cars and supplies. It takes all day to get to the mainland by sea. You get there just in time for a meal and bed. Most of us have friends or relatives where we can stay a couple of days and tend to business.
When we buy groceries, we send in an order by email to Orange K and they box it up and send it out. They even have ice chests for us, on deposit, of course. So we order Monday afternoon and by Tuesday night it’s here. Now, in winter it comes faster because Charlie flies it out. Takes 4 or 5 hours that way but it costs a lot more so we, I mean all of us on the island, order at the same time. It is ‘five hundred and fifty Canadian’ to fly out so we all work together to make it easy on all of us. Now, Charlie is real good to us. When we needed some medicine out here he flew it right out and wouldn’t take payment. He’s a good fellow. Got a good heart. So’s Captain Burt. Those guys really put our needs above profit. Real quality people. We are sure to take care of them too.
Q: So how much is the island a community and I’m speaking socially. How well does everybody get along with each other?
A: Well, living here my whole life, I have a hard time comparing. We get along like a big family. We really work on respecting each other and being there for one another. We seem to be quite friendly. Never heard of knocking on a door ‘til I was about grown up. We’re always looking out for one another and we have some game nights and socials, sometimes a couple of times a week, especially in winter or when it is gloomy.
Q: You mentioned a school, church and such. Tell me about this.
A: We do have a school. It’s one room and the kids attend the first six years at the school. We only have one part time teacher, otherwise it’s the mothers who share the teaching, of course with some good coaching and lesson plans to follow. Once the kids reach 7th grade, it’s book learning from home. In fact, our kids do very well. Never had one refused by a college or university.
We have a church too. It’s not used regularly. We have an annual service with a visiting preacher each year but aside from that we gather for Bible Study or Worship when somebody decides to hold a service. We probably have a service every month at the Church and a bit more frequently in the winter months.
Now, our Community Room has a couple of computers and a phone and fax. Mostly the kids use the computers since we all have computers at the house. We do our Saturday shopping here. We sit around, gab and sip coffee while casually buying a few things we need. It’s a nice visit each week.
We get together for suppers and entertainment at the Dance Hall at various times. A Dance is usually with a couple of neighbors playing songs. It gets used for weddings and reunions as well.
Q: Let’s talk Government. I guess Canadian law applies?
A: Well, that’s kind of a funny situation. I think we all agree were are Canadians but they have a sort of a hands off attitude. They consider the island as a private community just as they would private land. So, our Government is our Community Association. There’s 7 of us on the board. We gave up on elections long ago. We just serve until we figure it is somebody else’s turn. Then we resign and somebody else takes over. The Community Association meets about 4 times a year and most of what they do is take care of transportation on and off the island, get things ordered like the gravel for the road. They coordinate the fuel runs and trash hauls. They make sure the Community Room, school, dance hall and fire department and EMTs have all they need. In fact they pay property taxes on the island which is pretty low…I think about $8,000 a year, Canadian. We pay an annual fee to the Community Association. The Community Association has worked hard to hold fundraisers and find ways of bringing in money to cover about all we need.
Q: What is life like on the island?
A: Well, it’s likely pretty boring compared to yours. We sort of tend to things on the land and home, do a bit of visiting some days and that is about it. We don’t have local TV but we watch movies, spend time on the computer and get in some reading.
We had cell phones but they cost too much so we went back to using two way radios, I think you call them walkie talkies but they go further.
We all have high speed internet service.
We all have an adult beverage here or there but mostly it’s a stiff drink after dinner or before bed. We don’t get social drinking and nobody gets drunk. Even the kids don’t sneak off to booze it up.
We don’t have any police. In fact, can’t think of a time we needed an officer on the island. We don’t have any courts either. Can’t think of a time we needed a judge to rule on a case my whole life. Now we do have some little problems here or there, but we just tell a board member and they talk about it at the next meeting. They always set the rules to follow and everybody does. I think we just know we’ve got to keep to a few rules to maintain our lives on the island.
Q: Earlier you mentioned the island was pretty self sufficient. Can you give more details.
A: Sure I can. Like I said, we all got greenhouses and gardens in summer, so we do lots of canning. We got a beekeeper that has some great honey. There’s a little dairy and we have a few pigs and chickens so if we need some bacon and eggs for breakfast we can get it locally. One fellow does butchering and most of us are handymen to some degree. And our rule is we pay for everything with our local money so there’s no hard feelings.
It might surprise you to know we got a little newspaper and we have an all volunteer radio station. It’s in an old milking shed. The Community Association handles both of these and the newspaper has lots more subscribers off the island than it does on the island.
Q: Getting back to government, or I suppose Community Association, How much say do folks have and how costly is it to support everything?
A: Well, the Community Association is the only government on the island. They can set any rules they like. If you break the rules, they can fine you. So, they are the law and government in that respect, but they are also our friends and neighbors so they take care to hear from everyone with a concern and they take a minimal intrusion attitude. I mean they might make a rule of no campfires and no outdoor burning but such rules are set to protect all of us. They make you show up 15 minutes before the ferry if you have a reservation because the ferry service needs such a rule to be efficient. So, as to making laws, I rather call them rules of conduct that help make life a bit easier.
As for the taxes, I pulled out our financials from the first meeting of the year. Now, before I give you the figures, I want you to know these amounts vary each year depending on what it takes to keep everything up to par.
This year there’s $69,153.07 in the operating fund. Now the Marina is getting $27,133.66. The Community Association has $21,618.50. The Fire Department has $19,500.31. The Church gets $1,901.60. There is $900.40 not allocated. In November we will see how we finally came out on things.
The Community Association does a great job. I cannot remember a year we weren’t in the black. Lots of years we wind up with several thousand dollars in surplus funds. I guess you could say that’s our rainy day fund.
Now the Community Association tries to find ways to get this money without making us come up with it. About twenty years back somebody suggested a newspaper. So, the Community Association puts out the paper. I think we got just 1,000 subscribers and that alone brings in, let’s see here, $39,724.98. Now, that’s a big chunk. That will just about run the Marina and the Fire Department alone. Then we get money from camping fees and docking fees for the boats and the Community Association has game night, movie nights and other things where donations make up the rest of what we need. Now, last year the Fire Department was looking at another truck and one family that spends the season here and has done pretty well, well they donated $15,000 toward a new truck. They’re related to one of the families that has a home here. We got another $5,000 donation but I can’t recall what that was for.
All of us on the island pay a $40 membership fee each year. I guess you could say that’s the taxes we pay. They get a little more out of us. We have work days to get things done to keep the operating budget low. We all went out and spread a bunch of gravel on the road ourselves instead of hiring a crew. We gave the Church a new coat of paint last month. If I’m remembering right, I think those of us on the island donated about $8,000 last year in our little gatherings, you know, game night and that sort of thing.
Q: As I told you Chris, I work in the radio business. Tell me about the radio station.
A: There’s not much to tell. There’s an old milking shed on the island and we put up an antenna, bought a little transmitter and started broadcasting on the FM band. It’s mostly just continuous music, but a few do a show on the station. The Community Association considers it the best way to reach everybody fast, so we look to the station for news and announcements. We all listen and we all know we can get any news we might be missing on the hour and they give a weather report regularly. The station doesn’t make any money but somebody might want to run a couple of announcements and donate a few coins to the station. I think it brought in about $900 last year. Even though the station runs is on a resident’s land and the fellow bought the whole setup himself, it is the responsibility of the Community Association and they agree to pay for the operating expenses. Anybody can do a show on the station anytime they want, so it is a real community station.
Q: And how about the newspaper. Tell me about it.
A: Well, it comes out every week of the year and it costs $39.50 a year. It’s a pretty big paper for such a little place. I think the editor was saying it was usually about 4,000 words per edition. There’s no advertising but everybody buys a Christmas Card in the Christmas issue and that brings in about $300, more or less.
Now, for content, there’s local news, the school report and various other reports. It’s sort of a running diary of life here and sometimes there might be a historical article or perhaps a student will write an article. The subscribers really seem to like it a bunch. I think we have a thousand subscribers, so we must be doing something right. Oh, yes, and we print it right here on the island. When it’s done some folks meet and put it all together, stick on the mailing labels and stamps and get it sent out.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: Sure. Come see us some day. We are friendly folk who like showing off our island and giving you a glimpse into our lives. I’d suggest a week’s stay so you can meet everybody and really experience life here. Lots of folks that visit say they’d love to live here, so it’s not just those of us on the island that think this is a pretty special place.
NOWETH KERNOW ISLAND MONEY
As Chris mentioned, Noweth Kernow has a local currency that sees lots of use because the real dollars are typically tucked away in bank accounts. Chris said virtually all the money the islanders make is through the sale of produce, food products and fish to clients off the island. The buyers cut a check that gets deposited in the respective islander’s bank account. From there, money is doled out for purchases made off the island, so the flow of real money on the island is basically nil since it stays in bank accounts.
To put some money in circulation, the Community Association considered the suggestion of a local currency, figuring they could sell some of the coins as souvenirs to visitors.
The local coinage is the designated currency on the island. Visitors must convert their cash to the local currency upon arrival and can cash in any unused coin when they leave. Residents must buy coins from the Community Association via an online check payable to the Association.
It sounds fairly illogical to have a local currency but after hearing why they chose to do so, it makes sense. With very small communities the members of the community go to great extremes to keep friendly relations. When they traded and bartered, there were too many times one party felt shortchanged leading to a bit of resentment. When cash is used for every transaction, everything is agreed upon at settled at once and there is little room for misunderstandings or buyer remorse. So, more than anything, the local money keeps everything friendly.
By paying cash in local coinage for every service or item, you have a level playing field. If you buy a dozen eggs or bottle of milk from a neighbor, you use the coins but bigger purchases would be made using a check via online banking since the number of coins needed might be substantial.