I first caught wind of Hugh MacDonald when he was mentioned in an interview with Ronnie MacDonald. Ronnie mentioned a person that wrote a song about his wife Elaine Johnston’s grandmother called “The Bonny Flora Clark” in the community. That immediately caught my interest as I felt it would be a great story for the St. Georges area. He lent me a book that had belonged to his father that was dedicated to a fellow Islander, Lawrence Doyle, called, Lawrence Doyle: The Former-Poet of Prince Edward Island by Edward D. Ives. Edward Ives called Hughie MacDonald, “without any question, the best-known poet after Doyle.”
This is the part of Hughie’s story that I can find:
One of the best noted poets and song writers in the area was Hugh MacDonald. Hugh, who was known in the community as “Hughie,” was born in September 1857 and passed away the Christmas Eve of 1934 in Charlottetown. Back then, when there were many individuals with the same name it was popular that they would instead use their middle name or create a nickname to distinguish multiple people with the same name. So Hugh MacDonald was named “Hughie Lauchlan,” his middle name. He was described as a “big red –headed man from Narrows Creek” (Narrow’s Creek being the St. Georges area). He was believed to have been a farmer, sailor and a janitor at the Government House.
Hughie sang all songs by memory and never wrote any one down on paper. Hughie’s songs are regenerated from people’s memories. Some of the noted songs that were gathered by Edward D. Ives are “The Crazy Gray Mare”, “The Bonny Flora Clark,” “Gray Harbor Shore,” “Minnie Creed” and “The Hills of Cumberland,” these being only a few that people had recollection of. Within the songs there is hidden humor that would have been directed and only understood by the people in the community. There also can be much exaggeration as hills may be turned into mountains.
The song that most caught my interest in Hughie MacDonald when speaking with Ronnie MacDonald is “The Bonny Flora Clark.”
The Bonny Flora Clark Chorus goes like this:
Ye winding braes of Narrows Creek, come listen unto me,
I’ll tell you of six sporting youths that went onto a spree;
‘Twas in the chilly months of autumn when the nights were very dark,
We sailed up Grand River Harbor in the Bonny Flora Clark.
Young Fraser was our Captain, as you may plainly see,
A man that of times crossed before those dark and stormy seas;
Young Steele he was our chief mate, a man both brave and smart,
MacDonald was the pilot of the Bonny Flora Clark.
Young Bradley was our second mate, a man of courage bold,
MacDonald was our boatman, or at least I have been told;
McCormick cooked our victuals; he’s a man both brave and smart,
MacDonald was the pilot of the Bonny Flora Clark.
The captain gave his orders to get her under way,
“Heave on the weather braces, boys, and let her fill away.”
She went along so steadily; you’d swear she was the ark,
‘Til the ice ye came rolling o’er the bow of the Bonny Flora Clark.
But now we’re at the raffle among the Dundas girls,
They gathered all around us and got us in a whirl;
Miss Pope she was our leader, she acted rude and sharp,
The captain she offered of the Bonny Flora Clark.
The captain struck a sailor and the row it soon began,
And all that we can blame for it is Sandy Martin’s gin.
Poor Donald in his couch at home he sank in troubled sleep,
In dreams he saw his gallant craft fly o’er the stormy deep;
He heard the angry billows roar, the dark and stormy sky;
And the ice before the Flora Clark was flying twelve feet high.
“oh ye’un un grass un Christie, but how the winds do roar,
I’m afraid my craft will be stranded on the Graystone Harbor Shore;
That reckless crew and captain, too, will have to keep a look-out sharp,
Or they’ll run her on those violent reefs, the Bonny Flora Clark.”
But now the trip is over and the dangers are all past,
But the good ship Bonny Flora Clark, this trip will be her last;
She stood the ice for twelve long miles, but she could stand no more,
And now she lies a total wreck on the Graystone Harbor shore.
The song describes how a crew took a boat without permission from “Old Clark” up the river towards Dundas. “Old Clark” did not know their intentions for his boat. The crew struck trouble on the way back and the boat chafed the bow. Needless to say “Old Clark” was not very pleased to know his boat was missing and that Hughie had made a song about it. He named the song “The Bonny Flora Clark” after Clark’s daughter Flora. “Old Clark” himself did not approve of the boat being named after his daughter and it doesn’t seem to reason why Hughie named the boat Flora. There was no connection nor is she mentioned in the song herself. So “Old Clark” was furious when he found out the boat was taken without permission and that there was a song about it named after his daughter. "Old Clark” went to Father Francis to tell him of this song Hughie had made and father Francis sent for Hughie. When Hughie came to Father Francis he was unsure what he was wanted for and the Father told Hughie, “Now, you made a song about this man’s boat and his daughter, and I want to hear that song. I want you to sing it right here.” The priest enjoyed the song and felt that there was nothing to complain about. He felt that it even praised the boat. He was quoted as saying “they can’t punish you for a gift that God has given you. You’re all right.”
I gained more information on Hughie MacDonald from an interview with Richard MacPhee as Hughie was his great-grand uncle. I did not know he was until interviewing Richard and was quit pleased to find out. He mentioned that Hughie kept a notebook of his writings and that he has been trying to track the book down as Hughie wrote about his grandfather Allan Sixtus MacPhee, who was named after Hughie’s uncle. The story is about how Richard's grandfather was hauled off the back of a lobster boat on line day in 1902. Hopefully, someday his writings will be found and can be on display to be read for generations to come.