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Tic-Toc This Den is Locked – Picking Blueberries in Cape Breton

The 60s were a magical time. Magical and unique in so many social aspects. and changin' time all over the world. Life on the Island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia had a particularly unique social climate for children and teenagers of that decade on that island oasis.

August was the time when blueberries were ripe for the picking and moms all over the island would send their children out to pick this miracle blueberry. One of nature's most healthy foods. In the fields and on the hills of Cape Breton blueberries flourished. This little miracle of nature grew in low brush areas; especially, areas that had sustained a brush fire in the previous 2 years.

The blueberry picking venture could bring you to the hill near the Sydney Radar Base, the secret-to-this-day location called 'Blueberry Hill' in Whitney Pier, or the woods near communities like New Waterford. Blueberry picking was almost always a group outing. Ages 5 to 25 ventured out together in the early morning, with lunches in hand and dressed to protect against the heat of the noonday sun.

Each person in the picking troupe was assigned their own container into which their blueberries went. The youngest would likely have a plastic margarine container. The older ones would pick right into a 4 quart basket. I remember other people whose berries went into those old glass 1 quart milk bottles. The basket was open to the air and stopped the berries from sweating and getting mushy, a problem people had with the glass milk bottle.

Tall tales of weird nature sightings or stories of pranks-pulled were lively dinner table talk after a day of pocking. There always seemed to be a practical joker in every crowd! Like when my older sister, Marie, was with on a blueberry picking outing. Our cousin, Karl, was in the same berry-picking group. He brought Marie to a rich ripe blueberry patch and let her pick a full container of berries before telling her that he had 'peed' on that berry patch! Was he telling the truth? He hasn't said a word to this day!

There was one rule of blueberry picking etiquette that remained the cornerstone of social order. A simple phrase that was respected by all berry pickers, no matter their age. Simply, when a picker found a berry-ladened bush, he or she was able to claim is as their own. In an authoritative, but polite voice, the picker would call out, “TIC-TOC, THIS DEN IS LOCKED!”

Once spoken, it was clear that the blueberry patch was singularly owned by the picker who called out “Tic Toc this den is locked”. For the most part, this real-time land claim to a blueberry patch was respected. Others in the group might move nearer to the newly claimed patch. But, unless invited to pick, other pickers stayed away from that 'Tic-Toc'd' area. They would go off a find there own private blueberry bush. Soon you would hear that cry repeated throughout the day “Tic-Toc this den is locked!”

Now this cry of the wild blueberry picker was common in Cape Breton. Its origin is unknown. Was it unique to blueberry picking in Cape Breton? Did it filter out into mainland Nova Scotia and on to the continent of North America?

Respect for rules. Respect for others. Growing up in Cape Breton Island was full of these tidbits of social order. Nice memories! Blueberry picking memories are still being made today on the 'Island of Islands', Cape Breton.

Submitted by:

Carl Chesal

Carl Chesal is a business and channel development consultant, trainer, photographer, and avid snowmobiler. He owns BizFare Enterprsie Inc (www.bizfare.ca), Foursight Marketing and Consulting, and Foursight Photography (www.foursight.on.ca), which provide business, marketing, and internet marketing consulting services. Carl with wife, Janet, also operate a number of e-commerce web-sites: MyLeatherExpressions.com, CoolComfortWear.com, PewterExpressions.com, HomeAndBodyHowTo.com, ExqusiteJewelryDesigns.com





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