Gus Walsh takes pictures of horses on Sable Island during a visit Saturday. Mr. Walsh, 85, believed to be among the last born on the island, lived there until he was two before moving to Fogo Island, N.L.(Canadian Coast Guard)
Man, 85, believed among last born on Sable Island thrilled by return
'An oasis in the Atlantic' - Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca (external - login to view)
When Gus Walsh stepped out of a helicopter and onto Sable Island recently, it was a homecoming.
"Thereís a natural instinct that tells you, somehow, that youíre home," said the 85-year-old Cape Breton man, believed to be one of the last people to have been born on the island, located about 300 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia.
"Your emotions take control for a little bit because youíre now stepping on the place where you were born and where your mother and father lived."
Mr. Walsh was born on Sable Island on June 30, 1923. A midwife went over to the island a month earlier to help with his birth.
"I think it must have been all right (because) Iím still here," he said with a chuckle.
Mr. Walshís father was the Marconi wireless station operator and his family lived on the island until he was two years old before moving to Fogo Island, N.L.
The family settled on Cape Breton Island when his father was transferred to the Marconi station in Glace Bay.
"Iím a creature of islands," Mr. Walsh said in an interview from his home in Sydney Mines, where he has lived with his wife Vivian since 1949.
Sable Island only has a handful of residents who work at the weather station or do scientific research.
"The island itself is like an oasis in the Atlantic," Mr. Walsh said. "Thereís ponies and seals, birdlife, vegetation, all kinds of activities going on."
"You can go to New York or Boston or Halifax or Toronto (and) you donít see anything like that unless itís in a zoo."
He said he wouldnít mind living on Sable Island again.
"Peace and tranquillity, clean air, you name it, itís all there, no noise, nothing."
The retired millwright said he was able to get quite close to several of the islandís hundreds of wild ponies.
"Itís a thrill. They roam wherever they want and theyíve got lots of foliage there to nibble on and grass and fresh water and everything they need to survive. They look just like prized horses. Theyíre beautiful."
Mr. Walsh first returned to Sable a decade ago, courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard, which makes occasional trips to the island to deliver supplies.
"I got a hankering to go see what it was like where I was born."
Mr. Walsh said he feels privileged to be allowed to visit Sable.
"They tell me that 99 per cent of the people that apply to go there never get approved to go because the island is very heavily restricted."
The station where he had taken his first breath was all but gone during that 1998 visit.
"The only thing sticking out of the sand was the chimney. The station itself was enveloped in the sand."
On his recent trip to Sable aboard a helicopter delivering fuel, there was nothing visible of the former station at the west end of the island.
He and a friend, Hamilton MacNeil, flew from Shearwater to Sable on Saturday aboard a coast guard helicopter, which also took them out to the coast guard icebreaker Sir William Alexander, anchored off the island, for lunch.
"My buddy and I had liver and onions," Mr. Walsh said. "Then they had a dessert there that was just out of this world."
According to the provinceís bureau of vital statistics, only two people have been born on Sable Island since 1920.
"I think Iím the only one living," said Mr. Walsh, whose birth certificate names the isolated spot long known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for its hundreds of shipwrecks.
"My ties to Sable Island allow (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) to look at it in a compassionate way."
Would he ever return to Sable?
"Iíd go back tomorrow if you can get me there," Mr. Walsh said.
For those interested.