Nova Scotia·Profile

Sable Island: Meet a man who was born on the island

Augustine Walsh, a 91-year-old man who lives in North Sydney, can truly call himself unique — he's one of only two people born on Sable Island since 1920.
Walsh, who was born on Sable Island, last visited his birthplace six years ago. 1:34

On June 30, 1923, the pregnant wife of a wireless operator went into labour on Sable Island. A midwife stayed by her side while her husband contacted a United States Coast Guard cutter plying the waters nearby.

As luck would have it, there was a doctor aboard the American ship. He relayed instructions on how to safely deliver a child to the wireless operator on the vessel, who used Morse code to send them to the wireless operator on Sable Island. He, in turn, took the instructions and rushed them to the midwife who was helping his wife in the final moments of labour.

And that's how Augustine William Walsh was born.

Walsh, a 91-year-old man who now lives in North Sydney, is one of only two people known to have been born on Sable Island since 1920.

"I refer to it as an oasis in the middle of the Atlantic," said Walsh, who's known as Gus to his friends and family.

Augustine Walsh was born on June 30, 1923, on Sable Island. His father was a wireless operator with the Marconi Company and his mother was a cartographer. (CBC)

"Give me a choice, give me the money in my pocket to go to New York or Sable Island — and I'll go to Sable Island."

Walsh's father was a wireless operator for the Marconi Company and his mother was a cartographer on Sable Island. They told their son they spent their free time riding the island's famous horses and shooting birds.

The elder Walsh was transferred from Sable Island to Fogo Island off Newfoundland when his son was a toddler, and the family lived on Fogo for about eight years before moving to Cape Breton.

'It's like going home'

"Unfortunately we never talk to our parents enough when we're younger and the next thing you know, they're not with you anymore and then it's too late. There's a lot of questions I could have asked my father that I didn't — or if I did, I don't remember," Walsh said.

"I regret that I didn't ask them more questions. I regret that."

Walsh, who yearned to visit his birthplace and remember his parents, got a chance in 1998 when he went back to Sable Island for the first time since he left as a toddler.

He kissed the ground when his plane landed.

"It's like going home. You get a feeling that, 'Here I am, I'm home,'" he said.

"Once you go in through the dunes off of the beach, you're in a luscious valley, freshwater lakes, berries, birds, you name it. The peace and the quiet and the tranquility of it."

A second visit followed a decade later, when Walsh was 85 years old. He sent a letter to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which arranged for a visit through the Canadian Coast Guard.

He knows that was likely his last visit but he still dreams of going back — and spending the night.

"I could go back now and live there. I'd have no problem at all. I wouldn't be able to go to the shopping centre but who needs it," said Walsh.

"I would like to spend one night there, just to see what the sunset is like, what the clouds are like, what the sky is like and what it's like to be there in darkness. I've never experienced that."