PEI

How this Islander worked his way across the continent in the mid-20th century

From skipping bail in South Dakota to camp cooking in the far reaches of Hudson Bay, Gene Rogerson's new memoir covers a lot more ground than the average boy's from Crapaud, P.E.I.

A long road ended back in the dairy industry on P.E.I. for Gene Rogerson

Gene Rogerson saw a lot of North America before settling down on P.E.I. again. (Mitch Cormier/CBC)

From skipping bail in South Dakota to camp cooking in the far reaches of Hudson Bay, Gene Rogerson's new memoir covers a lot more ground than the average boy's from Crapaud, P.E.I.

Born in 1938, Rogerson was working in Crapaud Creamery, which his father managed, when he was 14. It would have been easy to assume that his life was laid out for him.

But Rogerson had other ideas, and left the Island when he was 17.

"I was, back in those days, anxious to get out," he said.

"See Toronto, anyway. That's where my friends were going."

From Far North to South Dakota

He ended up seeing Toronto on his way to the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, where he earned a diploma in butter making. He found a job in Fredericton, but friends convinced him to return to Ontario. He hitchhiked to Toronto and got work in a meat plant.

That only lasted a year. Next up was cooking at a weather station on Southampton Island, in Hudson Bay 1,000 kilometers north of Churchill. He stayed 18 months and returned to Toronto. There he made the decision to move on again in a way that happened several times through his youth.

"I thought I'd come back home, but I met up with a couple of old buddies in Toronto. Well, partying a bit again and they were going down to South Dakota," said Rogerson.

"There's a relative of yours there, they said, Irving Rogerson, whom I'd never met. Anyway, we got down to Rapid City and got ourselves a cottage and lady friends and the lady friend that I ended up with took my identification and what money I had and I never saw her again."

Return to P.E.I.

Partying in South Dakota did not work out so well for Rogerson. One particularly rowdy event landed him in jail. He was released on a promise to appear in court, but his friends convinced him to skip bail and return to Canada.

He drove a truck for an oil company in Fort McMurray in the 1960s, but his roaming life was coming to an end. He returned to P.E.I. to a job as a provincial dairy inspector.

But it wasn't the end of all his adventures. On the side he raised wild turkeys and pheasants, selling them around the Maritimes, and even tried releasing some turkeys to establish a wild population in Brookvale.

"It wasn't two days and they were all back trying to get back into the shed," he said.

Rogerson's book, Memoirs of a Boy from PEI, Born in '38, is available at the Bookmark in Charlottetown.

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With files from Island Morning

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