The Mystery of the Picture of Mom and the Old House on Isle Madame

Marie Jeffrey 1915

Marie Jeffrey in  1915

All I knew from when I was a kid and I first saw this picture, was that this was a picture of my mother next to a house on Isle Madame, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was in or near the town of D’Escousse, where she was born. Taken around 1915, when she would have been 11 years old, I thought it might be a picture of the home of a member of the Kavanagh family, my grandmother’s maiden name. In early September 1999, I spent three days on the island and could not seem to locate it. But on the last day, Vic Dawson, whom I first met on the internet and had been my guide around the island, took me to visit with Val Poirier, my 2nd cousin and closest relative still on the island.

Val told us quite a few stories about the people on the island. I asked where the Kavanagh family lived and he said that it was just down the road, but that house had burned down in the 60s and possibly not by accident as there was a dispute over ownership. This was a disappointment and it looked like I was not going to see the old house. Then I showed him the picture of my mother in front of an old house and I wondered if he knew where it was.


2nd Cousin, Val Poirier

In this audio clip, ValPoirier gives me a surprise answer to my question about the house in the picture. “You’re sittin’ in it!”

Val attested to all the changes that had taken place in the past 84 years since my mother stood outside: the windows and the mud room have been moved, the dormer and cellar doors added. This is the oldest, continuously occupied house on the island, built over 200 years ago and has remained in the Poirier family ever since! Below, I am standing near where my mother stood over 80 years earlier.


Dave Pivin, at the old house in 1999

View from Front Door

View from Front Door


In April of 2009, my cousin, Val Poirier, pictured above, passed away. The home was kept in the Poirier family and was beautifully renovated as a summer rental along with another Poirier family home on the island by Wayne & Cecilia Poirier. Photos of both homes be seen at this site, along with their history.