I grew up on the largest island in Canada's Bay of Fundy. The Bermuda of the Maritimes, the Queen of the Fundy Isles. Back in the day when I was living there and growing up, there were roughly 2,800 people on the island. No traffic lights overhead, no shopping center, no bowling alley, and the main road had one lane going in either direction with a yellow line between the two. The population has grown a bit, but the rest still applies. Fishing used to be the main source of income, now that has taken a back seat to tourism. Still fishing is the main source of income for a great many.
The year I started first grade was the first year that there were no more village schools. An end of an era. Goodbye to one room schools. How old am I you must be wondering. Well, I'll confess, I'm not a spring chicken anymore, but the fact of the matter is, that things just take a little longer coming to Grand Manan than to a lot of other places.
Grand Manan boasts one gas station nowadays, (yes there used to be several), and one main grocery store, though the Corner Store in "the Head", still carries some groceries. Restaurants are coming and going all the time, or changing hands and names. Like anywhere else, there are changes all the time, and some things that never seem to change at all.
The nearest city is an hour and 20 minutes by ferry ride, and about a 45 minute drive after that. This is where most "islanders" go for doctor appointments, shopping, etc. A trip "away" takes pretty much an entire day, so you have to plan for it, and don't forget that if you have reservations or appointments off island, that the weather or any number of maintenance issues with the ferry could mean that you don't get to go after all. The first ferry from Grand Manan loads at 7am and leaves for her crossing at 7:30. If you're travelling to the island, you have to be mindful of the departure times because if you miss that last ferry, you aren't getting back tonight. People have been known to sleep in their cars in the lineup to wait for the first trip the next morning.
There's one ATM machine, and that's at the bank in Grand Harbor. Most places that take debit/credit cards don't take Discover (if there are any), and there are no 24 hour convenience stores. (I think they close at 11pm if memory serves me correctly, that could have changed). There are no fast food restaurants, no Walmart, and the only "chain" store is the Canadian Dollar Store.
For all the things it's not, Grand Manan is many other things. Grand Manan IS a small community, with quirks and foibles, it IS the place I was born and raised. Grand Manan IS the place I went to school, played, laughed, rode my bike without a helmet, and didn't think twice about traipsing off to the "shore" to climb rocks with my neighbor. We built a camp in the trees behind my grandparent's house on the hill and swept the "floor" with a rag tag broom. We went to the beach every day it didn't rain in the summer with our grandmother, and raided the peas from Papa's garden on a regular basis. We played under and climbed the apple trees, and watched Nana hang clothes on the line ever day it was fit, sometimes they came in frozen. Ha ha! I grew up without a dishwasher, and I remember cable TV coming to Grand Manan when I was about 14. We didn't even have a microwave in our house until I think it was the year before I got married, or the same year. (yes we were probably the last holdouts on the island in that department)
Grand Manan IS still my favorite place to visit of all the places I might ever dream of going. It IS inconvenient in some ways given that there are a number of "modern" conveniences that they don't have, but if you don't grow up with them, you don't really think about it much and you simply accept that's the way it is. Grand Manan IS the place I will always call home, even many years from now. While I have changed a lot over the years, there's still salt water that runs in my veins, and the need to slow down and get back to a little simpler way of life for a week or so every year.
The thing I absolutely miss the most about Grand Manan besides my family (that's a given), is the fact that everyone knows everyone else, and while there are drawbacks to that, it's the one thing that sets the island apart. In a crisis, everyone pulls together. If you have a family member who is sick, you lose your home in a fire, whatever the case may be, Grand Manan is THE place to be. Everyone takes care of each other, and there are more offers of help or listening ears than you know what to do with. It IS the one place that when I'm there, and someone asks me how I'm doing, they stop to hear the answer, and they care. For all the inconveniences and the unholy rumor mill, there is no other place I'd rather be from and the only place I know I could absolutely go if I needed somewhere to go. People from Grand Manan are friendly, warm, honest (sometimes to a fault), and genuine. The most genuine people I've ever known anywhere. These people are real. Even if someone's real awful, I'll take that any day over a friendly phony.
So, for all it's not, Grand Manan IS home to my heart and the reason I'm the person I am today. Maybe that's why I don't seem to fit in so well here in New England, I'm too real, warm and genuine and they don't know how to handle that here. And that's just going to have to be ok, because you can take the girl off the island, but there's no way you're getting the island out of the girl!
Little by little, step by step, making my way every day.