‘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.