Rock and a Hard Place

This past summer I started working as a tour guide for a local company. During the cruise ship season (August – October) I would often take groups to St Martins, NB, for five or six hour tours. I really enjoyed the outings and had the opportunity to meet and interact with many interesting people. What a great gig for a retired teacher.

A friend of mine works at the museum in St Martins. He loaned me a piece of chert to show to my tourists. Chert is a type of rock, flint actually, and this particular variety originates from the south-east coast of England. During the 1800’s it was used as ballast for ships travelling to New Brunswick to pick up lumber. Because these ships were not bringing over cargo, they would weigh themselves down with stone (it makes for a better ride on the ocean). Before they would come alongside to load, they would throw the stones into the water. Small pieces of chert still wash up on the beach in St Martins but it is becoming harder to find. I was determined to find my own piece.

One day last September I was on a tour with five women from Pennsylvania. They were friends and would go on a cruise together each year. Three of the friends walked towards the St Mattins caves while another stayed close to me. As we chatted, I was scouring the beach for chert, and low and behold, I found a piece. I was really happy with my find.

Hey, look, I found a piece of chert; you know, the rock I told you about in the van, the ballast stone from England.” I held the piece out in my hand.

She took it from me, examined it and said, “Wow, that’s really neat. Thank you very much.” She smiled and then put it in her pocket.


It is often said that Canadians are too polite. Well, this was an example of that. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t my intention for her to keep it.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania is MY piece of chert. I hope she enjoys having it.

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