By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
Spruce Island also known as Butler Island
The island is located on the northeastern side of the Bedford Basin near Long Cove, named as such because of the many spruce trees occupying the island. In later years it was called Queen Mary’s Hat because from a distance the island resembled the flowered hats worn by the Queen Mother.
The island had many occupants since 1750, such as Magdelena How, the Honourable J. Butler, the Great Eastern Sardine Company and businessman Fred George who purchased it in 2015. The island was a favourite spot for the young people of Bedford to swim out to, although it was a fair distance from the shore and quite dangerous. A formation of rocks called “Chicken Rocks” also known as “The Hens and Chicks Shoal” can be seen jetting out of the water near the island.
Stories were told down through the years of buried treasure on Spruce Island and a phantom sailor who roamed the coves of Bedford searching for his ship. In 1852 to 1858 several Americans came to Bedford, paid board at the Ten Mile House and were there to search for buried treasure around Parker’s Brook, Admiral Cove, and Spruce Island. After years of searching, suddenly they left the area and were never heard from again. Did they find treasure??
Spruce Island, although only a small island, holds many secrets; one story published in the Bedford Mirror in 1872 told an interesting story about a Barque which left England and arrived in Halifax Harbour. The ship smuggling goods of wine, silks, cigars, and other valuable cargo met up with a schooner carrying a cargo of oysters from Prince Edward Island and two passengers.
Under the cover of darkness, the oyster cargo was transferred to the Barque. The Captain so cleverly used the oysters to cover his cargo from sight, to mislead the inspection officers when his ship docked near Georges Island. The schooner’s papers were also given to the Captain before leaving on its homeward voyage. They also painted the schooners’ name on the Barque to correspond with the papers given to the Captain. After the Barque was cleared by the inspectors it sailed into the Bedford Basin carrying the precious cargo, along with the two passengers that were aboard the schooner.
The lady and gentleman passenger told the Captain that due to family issues they did not want their name or destination known and they did not want to land in Halifax. A deal regarding secrecy on both sides was agreed upon and the captain consented to take them to Boston after he unloaded his cargo. Pirates Booty or Duc d’ Anville’s Treasure – The Captain suggested that the couple remain on a small island (Spruce Island) near where he anchored his ship, today the area is known as Parker’s Brook. The couple agreed and that same day arrangements were made with the Mi’Kmaq to put up a new birch-bark wigwam for the couple to live in, because the Captain thought it might take a few weeks to disperse his goods. Provisions, as well as a quantity of oysters were taken ashore from the ship to sustain the young couple until the ship was ready to sail again. They happily remained on Spruce Island for two weeks during which time they kept busy exploring their beautiful surroundings. One day while taking a stroll through the trees they came upon a flagstone (a rock made of sandstone) and decided the flat surface would make a fine seat for them, so they began digging up the rock. To their great surprise they uncovered an iron box which they excitedly opened, finding a treasure of dazzling jewelry studded with precious stone, a fortune in doubloons (Spanish gold coins) and other foreign coins. No identification was found in the box so they decided to keep it and quietly took it with them when they returned to the ship.
Many years passed and, in the autumn of 1860, a man was seated on a rocky summit on Spruce Island reading a book when a boat manned by four stout oarsmen landed on the beach. A gentleman dressed in a mourning suit came ashore and he addressed the man, telling him about his early stay on the island with his wife. He also added that after they left the island they lived in the United States for a few years until he was called home to inherit the titles and estates of his deceased father, who had disapproved of his wife because of her low status. He said that his wife was now in heaven and that he had come from England, sailing on the “Great Eastern.” My research found that the “Great Eastern” did arrive in Halifax on August 18, 1860, and departed on August 19, 1860, to England with 72 passengers aboard. The gentlemen in deep sorrow wanted to revisit the island, where he had enjoyed the happiest time of his life. He told him about the tin box and the treasure within, how he used it and donated much to charity and religion. He then gave the man a purse of gold to give to the poor Mi’Kmaq of the area and said good-bye. Elsie Churchill Tolson in her book “The Captain, the Colonel and Me” said that the amazing thing about this story is that oyster shells could still be seen on the island after all these years. The couple who found the treasure on the island remains a mystery. Perhaps Royalty?
Indian Island also known as Crosby Island
Crosby Island is a very small island located on the western side of Bedford Basin. The island has many coniferous trees on it and the banks are a good height above sea level, giving a good view of the Bedford Basin reef, also known as ledges. Several species of birds, including the spotted sandpipers, occupied the island. My husband Don and I visited the island in 2005 and what a special place it was, peaceful and because of its height had a wonderful view of the surrounding area. We had a picnic there and I brought along my metal detector, unfortunately no treasure was found that day, only a rusty old nail. Today the island can no longer be called as such because it is connected to the mainland due to infill, which was in the plans of the Bedford Waterfront Development Project. A group of people called “Save the Bedford Waterfront Society,” formed in 2012 are doing their best to restore the island back to its former shape. Indian island was originally named after the Mi’Kmaq, who were the first people to come to the Basin shores every summer and had one of their encampments on the island. Later called Crosby Island after a man named Senator A.B. Crosby who purchased the Florence Hotel in 1915 and changed the hotel’s name to the Rockaway Inn. The hotel was located on a hill facing the Bedford Highway and the little island, known then as Indian Island was located in the back of his hotel.