Sand, Sea and as Much Serenity as You Could Ever Want

They tell a story in the Magdalen Islands about a winter so bitter that they were completely cut off, with no way to guide their boats through the frozen harbors.

Running out of supplies and desperate, they penned letters detailing their plight, sealed them in an empty molasses cask, affixed a tiny sail to it and cast it into the sea. Two weeks later, it washed up on the mainland, the Canadian government dispatched icebreakers, and the people of “the Maggies” were saved — as in a fairy tale.

Except it really happened. In 1910, an errant ship severed the undersea telegraph cable connecting the islands to the world; a tiny, bobbing barrel really did save them from disaster.

But not obscurity. As I drove across the border from Maine into St. Stephen, New Brunswick, the Canadian agent, inspecting my passport, asked me where I was going. When I responded, “The Magdalen Islands,” he narrowed his eyes, cocked his head and said, “The what?”

A place apart

The Magdalens — Les Îles de la Madeleine in French — are an archipelago of eight islands, seven inhabited, six connected by bridges, causeways and sandbars, the whole shaped like a fish hook, or maybe a question mark, both fitting. Altogether, they comprise less than 80 square miles and have a population of about 12,000.

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