This year I’m subscribing for the first time to a magazine called Canadian Geographic which boasts a readership of over 4.5 million at home and abroad. I recently received the March Travel Edition which featured an article about Sable Island, the most remote part of Nova Scotia, and Canada’s most recent national park reserve (December, 2013). Now under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada, its management teamed up with Adventure Canada to provide 2 pilot “expeditions” to the island for visitors to observe the rare and the beautiful first hand.
Sable Island, a compilation of beaches, bogs, heath-type vegetation, and enveloped in fog approximately 1/3 of the year, is hardly more than a spit of sand which tends to shift around. It is the only known breeding ground for the threatened Ipswich sparrow, home to “more than 190 plant species, moths and insects found nowhere else on the planet . . . six unique invertebrates. . . and 18 species of sharks [prowling] the waters” around it. These, in addition to a herd of some 4 – 500 wild horses for which the island is most famous, have fascinated people for many years.
The horses, short and stocky, first came with European settlers in 1738, and remained after it became apparent that the island was too inhospitable for permanent human habitation. So, the island was left to small groups of “rescue families” before mechanization made shipping safer, scientists and meteorologists, and others who, until recently, required the permission of the Canadian Coast Guard in order to visit.
When you search on Amazon “Sable Island”, you get almost 700 results (not all of which are relevent) of picture books, fiction, travel guides, photo journals, wildlife field guides, tales of shipwrecks and survivals, puzzles, and even a neon light sign that says, “I love my Sable Island pony”. Everything from a used paperback, Welcome to the Wild Horses, at $1.02, Sable Island: Journals 1801-1804 by James Rainstorpe Morris. to a coffee table book of photos by The Wild Horses of Sable Island Roberto Dutesco which sells for $142.39. (You can see some of his photos online; they are absolutely amazing!!) There is also a wonderful movie starring Jane Seymour, Charles Martin Smith and Mark Rendall called Touching Wild Horses, which I own and used to show to my classes.
This is a topic that is a teacher’s delight. Especially, if you are a Canadian teacher: tons of resources, a topic that captures the imagination, intriguing fiction for almost any age, and lots of facts that astound. Did you know that it was a group of Canadian school children writing to Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker in the 1960s, asking him “to protect the horses of Sable Island from a proposed cull” that prompted him to amend the Canada Shipping Act, stating that “no person shall molest, interfere with, feed or otherwise have anything to do with the ponies on the Island”? Talk about teaching children that they can affect change!
There are other islands in the Atlantic where feral ponies can be found and they, too, have books written about them. There is a series of books about the Chincoteague ponies by Marguerite Henry that are wonderful.
The horses from Chincoteague and Assateague ( islands off the coast of Maryland) are sometimes culled for auction in order to keep the island environments strong enough to support the herd. There is a wealth of information about these beautiful animals to provide activities in most areas of the curriculum, especially at about the grade 4 – 6 level, and enough novels for students to read independently or for teachers to read to the class. I hope many classroom teachers will enhance students’ learning with this wonderful topic!