‘You can’t ever for­get it’

Cer­e­mony to com­mem­o­rate 50th an­niver­sary of the sink­ing of the Ice­land II


Al­though it hap­pened 50 years ago, Jo­hanna MacPhail will never for­get a gut-wrench­ing pre­mo­ni­tion.

MacPhail dreamt that the 10 crewmem­bers aboard the steel drag­ger Ice­land II, in­clud­ing her hus­band John Hends­bee, were dead.

“It was re­ally storm­ing bad the night that I had it,” re­calls MacPhail, 73, of Strat­ford, P.E.I.

MacPhail was left shaken over how real this dream felt. The 23-year-old’s pre­mo­ni­tion was chill­ingly ac­cu­rate.

The Ice­land II, which had set out from the port of Souris, went aground on the rocks off Cape Bre­ton’s south­ern shore, near Fourchu.

Capt. Tom Hod­der, mate Tony Mac­Don­ald and en­gi­neer Al­bert Mac­Don­ald, along with Butch O’Han­ley, Lee Jenk­ins, James Carter, Clo­vis Gal­lant, Reg­gie Foote, Clarence Malone and Hends­bee, all died in the mishap.

This was Hends­bee’s first time ven­tur­ing out to fish floun­der and cod in the win­ter months. He only got the in­vi­ta­tion for this out­ing af­ter one of the fish­er­man was too ill to join the ex­pe­di­tion.

The last time she spoke to her hus­band was on Feb. 17, the day their daugh­ter, Jo­hanna, turned one. They also had a two-and-ahalf-year-old daugh­ter named Clara.

When Hends­bee didn’t call home fol­low­ing this treach­er­ous storm on Feb. 22, 1967, MacPhail made some phone calls and was told the fish­ing boat was safely in port.

“I thought that was strange be­cause any­time that they went into port some­place, he al­ways called home.”

MacPhail was stay­ing with her mother and brother in Bear River while her hus­band was on the three-week ex­pe­di­tion.

“It was on a Satur­day,” re­calls MacPhail. “I was just go­ing out to get gro­ceries when Fan MacIn­tyre, an­other fish­er­man, came to the door and he said, ‘they found the boat and there is no sur­vivors.’”

They were mar­ried for four years and three months.

As MacPhail sits in the com­fort of her home, she fin­gers Hends­bee’s gold wed­ding band.

“Be­fore he left he said if any­thing ever hap­pens to me, I want you to al­ways wear my ring,” said MacPhail. “You know how when you are young you say, ‘noth­ing is go­ing to hap­pen, don’t be talk­ing like that.’ And that is all I ever got back.”

Al­though MacPhail kept her prom­ise, she did find love again. She has been mar­ried to Paul MacPhail for 47 years and had two more chil­dren.

To com­mem­o­rate her late hus­band, MacPhail will be lay­ing down a sin­gle rose in Souris to­day as part of a cer­e­mony mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the sink­ing of the Ice­land II. Her daugh­ter, Jo­hanna Mor­ris­sey, Hends­bee’s youngest daugh­ter, will also be in at­ten­dance.

Al­though MacPhail does think about Hends­bee from time to time, she doesn’t live in the past.

“Life goes on no mat­ter what hap­pens,” said MacPhail. “You can’t ever for­get it. You have to learn to live with it.”


Jo­hanna MacPhail of Strat­ford, P.E.I., holds a pic­ture of the Ice­land II that was taken af­ter the ves­sel went down in stormy water off the coast of Cape Bre­ton 50 years ago. Her hus­band, John Hends­bee, was one of the crewmem­bers who died.

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