A Long Walk

July 13, 2021

Father O’Shea’s Diocesan Reflections July 13, 2021

Hank (Henry) Gallant of Tignish and his Centennial Walk

Hank grew up in the Nail Pond section of Tignish Parish.  His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Alyre Gallant and he has one sister. Even as a youngster in school he dreamed of a trans-Canada walk. While living in British Columbia he undertook a five-year preparation for this adventure by climbing mountains and doing road runs at times up to many hours a day.   Finally, on February 6, 1967 on Beacon Hill in downtown Victoria, BC at 9 AM he dipped his toes in the Pacific Ocean and headed east with St. John’s, Newfoundland his destination point. It was Centennial year in Canada, our country’s 100th birthday, the major high point for Hank’s adventure. Starting out in sunshine and warm temperature he was off with a large sign on his back reading: “Walker, no rides please.”  

His closest friend for this long journey by foot was his back pak, weighing 50 pounds which carried his guitar, two mouth organs, an extra pair of boots, his 5 by 7 foot tent material, necessary clothing, his kettle named McQuack and other incidentals. Another close friend, besides his faithful back pak, was Canada’s great outdoors in which he lived so intensely those many months. Apart from the sun and lovely phases of the moon, there were blizzards and rain, the heat and cold, also the exceptional scenery across Canada so varied and beautiful.

As one might expect, Hank encountered on his journey more than his share of unfriendly people. Four hot rodders tried their best to rob and injure him but a big truck stopped and the driver saved him from this near tragedy. He received many strange stares from people with some sarcastic motorists slowing down and hurling insults, unfriendly biking youth, ugly remarks from individuals, ignorant drivers trying to push him into the ditch, pelted with rocks, held up by another gang with knife to his throat but saved again by a friendly motorist, thrown out of restaurants at times, due to his rough appearance no doubt. But on the bright side, Hank mostly met just good and friendly people: happy school children, invitations galore for meals and often overnight, meals brought to him, invitations for singing some nights with free rooms, many people just stopping to chat or waving, more free meals and free lodging, many RCMP drivers just stopping to say hello, overnights with families, motorists quite naturally offering him rides but no-no, young children especially so interested and pleasant, welcome by villagers, by towns and cities, even in very cold temperatures.

Passing through PEI in October was, of course, very special with so many welcomers along the way, especially in Charlottetown where a large gathering honoured him gloriously. The people of Cape Breton and then Newfoundland went out of their way to welcome Hank grandly. His final 50 miles or so were no doubt his happiest footsteps, the termination of his life’s dream nearing completion.

Finally it all fell in place. On November 13, 1967, at 11 AM Hank signed a map of Canada at Confederation Centre in downtown St. John’s. Then after participating in other welcoming fanfare among such friendly people he dipped his toes in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. He had been on the road for nine months and one week, his footsteps having covered 5226 miles, marked by boots and blizzards, bitter cold, scorching sun, clouds of mosquitoes, black flies and always the hard pavement. For Hank it was the happiest day of his life which by accident on planning just also happened to be his 25th birthday.

He weighed just 127 pounds, having lost 28 over the roads, badly burned by the sun and winds but feeling fine overall. His few words of response to the crowds were “It’s finished. I’m the first.”  Apart from ongoing sore feet over the long journey, Hank had some health problems which exploded in Montreal during his view of Expo 67.  There in mid-August he was rushed to hospital, suffering from blisters, burning fever, chills, overall weakness and poison ivy infection. Under kind hospital treatment for a few days he was able to finish his dream in excellent health.  

Not long after his cross-Canada walk Hank settled back in Tignish, married a fine local lady and raised four children, all while working there in the fishery. Today Hank is 79 years young and enjoying good health, a proud Nail Ponder with happy memories every day. Well done Hank and much deserved appreciation for your great gift to PEI and to all of Canada.

This St. Joachim’s Church in Vernon River, the fourth for that old parish, is surely among the most beautiful in the diocese. Opened with great celebration in the late 1870s, over the years it has been witness to large assemblies, great choirs and faithful vocations to marriage, religious and priestly life. Outwardly, it’s great spire, visible for miles around, became victim to serious decay and had to be taken down some 60 years ago. Its replacement was just a small metal pointer which the pastor, Father Urban Gillis, referred to as “that damn needle.” The nearby large brick rectory, built in 1868, was the home of pastors until 2014 and demolished in 2020.

Year of St. Joseph

Pope Francis last fall announced a “Year of St. Joseph”, extending from December 8, 2020 to the same date in 2021. During the remaining months it would be good to have meaningful observances of this special occasion. Perhaps strangely, we have only one parish here, Kelly’s Cross, dedicated to St. Joseph. Earlier, for a century or more, we had St. Joseph’s convent in Charlottetown and for just a few years a mission chapel in Cavendish dedicated to him. In our noisy world today Joseph has much to teach us: role as father, working man, faithful spouse, receiver of special messages, humility, silence (not a word in the Gospels), a truly unassuming and humble saint. Prayerful celebrations of this year of St. Joseph on a parish, zone or diocesan scale would be uplifting. Your ideas on this, kindly share with all of us.

Awaiting our next Bishop

Our first diocesan bishop and also the oldest at the time of his installation here was Bishop Angus MacEachern, aged 70 in that year of 1829. At age 76 he was also our oldest bishop here at the time of his death. MacEachern was our only bishop born outside Canada, being a native of Scotland. His priestly footprints on PEI covered 45 years with eight of these serving as auxiliary bishop of Quebec in these maritime regions. Among other attributes, he was a man of many languages. First of all, he had Gaelic and English. Then having studied for ten years in Spain he would have had a good grasp of that vocabulary and from his long-time usage of Latin, he surely had ease with that tongue also. His facility with French was not great but ministering among the Acadians here and elsewhere, he would have made an effort to be understood. At least he was quadrilingual, at home in four languages. Not bad.  Our Bishop MacEachern also had the distinction, or otherwise, of having four burial places. At his death in 1835 he was buried in the basement of the relatively new church at St. Andrews. Later, when the new and much larger parish church was built at St. Andrews in 1862 his remains were interred in the basement there. When that lovely church was destroyed by fire in 1946 (from stoves and faulty piping), the bishop’s remains lay in the open basement there, under a cement covering, for a number of years and was visited by many people. From there eventually the remains were interred in a temporary plot in the outdoors nearby. Finally, in 1970 the present-day “Bishop MacEachern Memorial Chapel” was opened and the remains were entombed there. Have you visited this historic diocesan site yet or lately? One of our older priests compared all these episcopal moves from place to place to the Israelites of old who wandered hither and yon before eventually reaching the promised land. And so, as Bishop Angus MacEachern was our first, may we continue to pray for our new bishop, number fourteen, that he will be just the one we need for the next few years with their turmoil and share of change for sure.

Fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you, never be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, bear hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has called us to be holy.

                                                                        2 Timothy 1, 6 – 9

July 13 2021