Steamer Trunks of Turnips From 'the Prettiest Place'
The turnip comes in two flavors, about as alike as different, and both have their respective enemies. The white turnip is edible, if unpalatable, and has been used commercially as a substitute and "filler" for horseradish, which it resembles for an hour or so if taken on French toast for breakfast. The second is the Swede turnip, or rutabaga, an edible table vegetable of distinct flavor now generally waxed for keeping when offered in our finer markets. The "laurentian," an improved Swede, is grown plentifully on Prince Edward Island as a good-pay crop and is shipped about the world as the finest kind.
My mother was born on the little red Canadian garden province, and her father had "the finest turnip fields on the Island," so I was introduced to turnip early and was not alarmed to learn turnip is served four meals a day on that bright ruby of land.
When I was 6, I went from Boston with my mother to meet her parents amongst the turnips at Millview, not far from Vernon River. Since then the custom of a fourth daily meal has lapsed on the Island, but that spoonful of mashed turnip on my little plate just before going to bed helps me remember well the happy note it added to another wonderful day. Lucy Maud Montgomery causes her "Anne of Green Gables" (published the beautiful year I was born!) to say that Prince Edward Island is the most beautiful place in the world, and I used to think that was because of the fourth mug-up just before bed.
When my chance at a honeymoon came along, I took my bride to Prince Edward Island to introduce her to turnips and my grandparents, and on our second day there the Charlottetown Guardian carried this small notice:
Tuesday I will
load a car of
J. B. MILLMAN
I told my bride that Shipper Millman was my uncle, husband of my mother's sister, and that the Millman girls were my pretty cousins, and we headed our Model A toward Kensington. As we approached Kensington (Prince Edward Island isn't so big it requires long drives), we began to come up behind wagons and small trucks loaded with new-pulled turnips. The nearer we came to Kensington, the closer they were one to another, and by the time we came to the little village it was a tailgate procession.
We fell in and thus came to the Canadian National railroad tracks, where Uncle Brad had his grain elevator and storage bins, for he was a buyer, shipper, and broker for farm produce. This Tuesday, his "car" for the first turnips of the fall (it was an October wedding) was a considerable string of freight boxcars on his siding, all to be filled and moved out the next morning, crossing from Borden on the Island to Tormentine in New Brunswick by ferry. The freight cars went aboard on tracks and then connected at Moncton or St. John with the turnip-hungry world. This shipment we attended would be put on a vessel at Montreal and delivered to Cuba. Uncle Brad said Cubans love Island turnips.
From Colonial days there has been a close association between Maritimes and Maine and the "Boston States." It was said a Down East boy would head for Boston looking for work, and if he didn't find any right away he'd keep on going all the way to Massachusetts. Young ladies took the ferry from the Island, and by train or boat came overnight to Boston where, perchance, a husband eventuated. My mother had an older sister already wed and living in Boston, and that's how my father got into this story.
Early in this century the steady traffic kept neat white steamships on schedule from Boston to St. John and Halifax, and accounted for the best railroad ride on the continent - the Halifax Express out of Boston, and return, a flyer sometimes called The Gull, but by folks from PEI "the train home." It was less-known as the turnip special.
In those days, the railways allowed a passenger to check his luggage on his ticket, and a great chest called a steamer trunk was a traveler's must. Folks from PEI would plan a visit back to the Island and would go to an unclaimed baggage auction and bid in a trunk. The trunk would be filled with second-hand clothing picked up at rummage sales and flea markets of the time, and the railroad would carry it free to Charlottetown. This was a fine thing to do, and the relatives on the Island found good use for everything.
On the return trip to Boston, the big trunks would be filled with turnips.
SOMEWHERE along in the years between, I had a chat with a gentleman at Moncton, New Brunswick, who said he had worked as baggage man for the Canadian National. The trunks of clothing from the rummage sales would be taken off the Halifax Express and put into a baggage car going to the Island. Then he would get the turnip trunks coming off the Island to be forwarded to Boston. He could handle the eastbound train alone, but he needed four good men to a trunk on the way back.
This coming summer, the new bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island will replace the ferries that have emphasized the insularity of the province all these years. The transplanted Scots and the exiled Acadians to whom the Island is home can whiz to the mainland and back, and the two ferry lines will cease. Some are sad, thinking it will bring on changes to be deplored. I hear the farmers who grow turnips expect the bridge will be worth the tremendous cost, and turnip lovers of the world will find the price more favorable. Now is the time to have a last ferry ride to the Prettiest Place in the World.