Two hundred and ninety kilometres southeast of Halifax lies an island of sand. It is about 42 kilometres in length and only 1.3 kilometres at it’s widest point. Its dunes rise not more than 90 feet above sea level. There are no rocks, no crags, only one small stunted tree. And yet it has been a significant player in history along the eastern Atlantic.
Surprisingly, this little patch of sand is not bare. In fact, the marram grass that grows across it’s length holds it all together as it’s roots form a tangled network. You may also find wild cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, primroses, beach pea, wild roses and many other types of vegetation. At one time cranberries could be had in such abundance that they were exported from Sable Island to those on the mainland.
There are small ponds of fresh water, a few freshwater fish, birds of various descriptions, seals, and wild horses. It is not known exactly how the first horses arrived. Perhaps they were shipwrecked on the island, perhaps they were brought there purposely. However, when the Acadians were deported from Halifax, their farms and animals were taken and some of these horses were shipped to Sable Island and became wild. At various times during the islands history, new horses were contributed as breeding stock and many were taken from the island to be sold at auction.
Scattered around the coast of this island are the sad remnants of ships who ran aground in the miles of sand traps that surround it. The icy northern waters meet up with the Gulf Stream and create strong currents and also thick mist making navigating difficult.
At different times during Sable’s history, people have lived here. Some because they were cast on her shores, some because they were part of an establishment to help save lives when ships ran aground. The first Humane Establishment was set up by Governor Wentworth in 1801 and it continued for 148 years and was the means by which many lives were saved.
Recently Sable Island has been given the designation of a national park reserve. This will give greater protection to it’s flora and fauna, however it will also provide the opportunity for increased tourism…
This is where you can go to see Sable Island horses, without having to go to Sable Island itself: Shubenacadie Wildlife Park
Books: Sable Island — An Imaginative and Exciting Journey to the World’s Northern Galapagos, and an Eloquent Plea for the Preservation of a Unique and Timeless Part of Nova Scotia, by Bruce Armstrong, Formac Publishing Company Ltd., 1981, 2010.
Free as the Wind, Saving the Horses of Sable Island, by Jamie Bastedo (picture book|), Red Deer Press, 2007.
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