Anne of Green Gables and the Baby Seals
By Ian Robichaud, founder of Harpseals.org
The Canadian Province of Prince Edward Island is primarily noted for five things. The most famous of these is an author named Lucy Maud Montgomery and her books about Anne Shirley - Anne of Green Gables.
Anne Shirley is one of the most famous Canadians known in Japan. The Japanese love her and every year, thousands of Japanese travel to the island Province of Prince Edward Island to see Green Gables, the home of Anne. Actually it is the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery, but those who visit it envision Anne, and not Lucy, when they tour Green Gables.
In Japan, the book is entitled Akage no An.
The second thing that Prince Edward Island is famous for is that it is the birthplace of the nation of Canada. It was in Charlottetown on July 1st, 1867 that Canada became a country.
The third thing that Prince Edward Island is noted for is potatoes and the rich red soil of the island situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is the source of potatoes sold throughout the world.
The fourth thing is Prince Edward Island mussels. These are now being boycotted as part of the Canadian seafood boycott.
The fifth thing that Prince Edward Island is famous for is not so romantic as Anne and not so tasty as the potatoes. It is a horrid thing, a bloody, nightmarish, cruel, and evil thing and that is the annual slaughter of beautiful, innocent baby harp seals.
During the days when Anne lived at Green Gables, the month of March saw men from Anne's province put on spiked boots, and then armed with clubs they walked out onto the hard ice offshore the beaches of Prince Edward Island, and began to bludgeon the defenseless seals in their nursery.
Before the eyes of their helpless mothers, these men kicked the pups in the face, smashed their fragile skulls with their clubs and sometimes, because they were lazy or inclined to be cruel, they would skin the little creatures alive. Any mother that tried to protect her baby was shot or clubbed in the face.
Lucy Maud Montgomery never mentioned the baby seal slaughter in her books, and understandably so. The beautiful innocent days of life on Prince Edward Island, as presented in the story would have been tainted with a lingering stench by association with this horror.
Lucy was aware of the slaughter, and most likely her beloved Captain Jim would have participated in the killing. He was once marooned for the winter on the Magdalen Islands some eighty miles off the coast of Prince Edward Island.There, the massacre of seals was, and remains a cruel annual ritual where the sealers drank the blood of the first seal they killed each season, and painted it on their face in a barbaric ritual.
Chapter XXXVII of Anne of Green Gables is entitled "The Reaper Whose Name Is Death." The title caught my attention many years ago when I first read the book as a little boy growing up in the Canadian Maritimes. My Grandfather was born and raised in Prince Edward Island.
I remember the shores of Cavendish Beach and the bloodstains on the ice. There was so much blood and all across the ice lay the skinned little bodies of baby seals. Thousands of them, their glazed large black eyes staring sightlessly into the cruel skies, reflecting the horror of the club, and the vicious boots of the sealers. Born on the ice, and nursed by their mother for only a few days, and then ruthlessly assaulted and slaughtered.
The reapers of death were the sealers of the gulf and many of them came from Anne's hometown and province.
In her book, she writes the following:
"I reckon you won't care to wrastle long with my old hand o' write. I never had much schooling," he observed carelessly. "Just wrote that there to amuse my nephew Joe. He's always wanting stories. Comes here yesterday and says to me, reproachful-like, as I was lifting a twenty-pound codfish out of my boat, `Uncle Jim, ain't a codfish a dumb animal?' I'd been a-telling him, you see, that he must be real kind to dumb animals, and never hurt 'em in any way. I got out of the scrape by saying a codfish was dumb enough but it wasn't an animal, but Joe didn't look satisfied, and I wasn't satisfied myself. You've got to be mighty careful what you tell them little critters. They can see through you."
What is interesting here is how Jim justifies his cruelty to the cod by saying that the cod is not an animal. Today, the Canadian government justifies the slaughter of the harp seals by calling the slaughter "management" and referring to them as fish. They call it the "seal fishery."
There is much talk of religion in Montgomery's book but nowhere does she say how the great Canadian missionary Sir Wilfred Grenfell once used the baby harp seal as a simile to convey the image and the idea of the "lamb of God" to the Inuit and Indian people. He used the Inuit word "kotik" meaning baby seal, and it is this word today that the Inuit use in church to define the idea.
The reality was that Anne's neighbors were reapers of death and they massacred millions of these innocent aquatic lambs over the last two centuries. They continue to do so to this day.
Each year, the Canadian government targets hundreds of thousands of seals for slaughter. In recent years, well over a million defenseless seals have died not far from Green Gables.
I wonder how many of the tourists who make the pilgrimage to Green Gables every summer would be horrified to have their vision of the innocence and simplicity of Green Gables shattered by the knowledge that Lucy Maud Montgomery's Reaper of Death continues to inflict horrific cruelty and slaughter on the innocents on the shores of Anne's beloved province of Prince Edward Island today.