Mapping and Community in North Haven

Summer Resorts of the Coast, Lake and Mountain Regions along the Boston & Maine Railroad and Connections March 1, 1910

Mapping and Community in North Haven

Gabrielle (Brie) Robichaud is the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education’s new Secondary Education Outreach Specialist, and a USM alumnae (BA in History, class of 2017).  

Each year the OML works with thousands of Maine K-12 students and teachers in a wide variety of modalities–at the map library, in their classrooms, and via live online experiences.  We strive to make our educational opportunities available to all Maine communities, and so, in late-November, Brie packed her bags full of map reproductions and teaching materials and headed for North Haven, one of Maine’s year-round island communities, 12 miles off the coast of Rockland, to teach a variety of lessons and workshops at the island’s Community School. North Haven has a population of 350 year-round residents, and North Haven Community School is the smallest K–12 public school in Maine, with an average of 60 students each year.  What follows is Brie’s reflection on her 36 hours in North Haven.

Roughly two hours after leaving the map library Portland, I arrived at a quiet ferry terminal in Rockland. I hoisted my large map bag over my shoulder and wheeled my suitcase full of art supplies in my other hand. I brought over forty map reproductions with me, so there is no way to really “travel light.” The ferry terminal feels like a time capsule. Black and White photos of ferry crews hang on the walls. I drop my heavy luggage on the ground next to a bench. A nice older couple walks in behind me. “Are you walking on with that?” the woman asks. I explain that I am from Osher Map Library in Portland, and that I am going to be teaching several different classes and workshops over the next 24 hours. She told me: “You don’t need to be dragging that big bag, let me find someone to help you!” I insist I am fine and don’t want to be a bother. She then says something that resonates with me for the rest of my visit: “We are Island folks, we help each other out.”

I boarded the ferry and squeezed onto a bench with all of my bags and teaching materials. It’s quiet in the ferry cabin. Only one other person is inside with what appears to be her groceries. The gentle rocking of the ferry makes me fall asleep. I am awoken by my rolling suitcase hitting the ferry wall after a bit of heavy rocking. More than an hour has passed and we have arrived in North Haven. I exit the ferry, again dragging my large bag and am greeted by Amanda, who is not only the school’s Art teacher, but also the Pre-K Director, and the liaison for all of the island’s visiting artists. I learn quickly that islanders wear many hats. 

When we arrived at the school I began to set up a selection of maps from our Maine Map kit. I wanted the map-drawing workshop attendees to be able to see their home represented through some of the different pieces we have in our educational outreach map set. As I set up the maps, everyone who passed me stopped by to introduce themselves. “Do you need anything?” “Want me to grab you a bottle of water” “Do you need help setting up?” “I am heading to the store, do you need a snack?” Even though I have politely declined, I end up with several water bottles, a chocolate bar, a rice crispy snack, and a bowl of popcorn. Not only does this island take care of their own, but they take care of their visitors too. I appreciate the warm welcome.

Historic map reproductions from the OML collections for K-12 outreach programs.
Historic map reproductions from the OML collections for K-12 outreach programs.

For the evening session, I offered a short illustrated map making lesson and workshop. My youngest attendee is eight years old; my oldest is in his seventies. As we explore Maine maps together, participants eagerly scan for their home. We can lay dozens of maps out for any number of people, and nearly everyone always looks for home first.  I am told by the attendees that North Haven did not become its own town until the 1840s. This becomes apparent when looking at our older maps. North Haven is labeled as “Fox Island” or “Vinyl Haven North” or not labeled at all. It was not until we looked at a New England Tourism map from 1910 that we saw the island labeled as “North Haven.”

After spending time working on illustrated mapping techniques together, attendees eagerly began to show me their work. My youngest attendee is disappointed that she has to wait another year to enter our annual 4th, 5th and 6th grade Illustrated Map Making Contest. I assure her that with another year of practice, she is sure to do well. Her mother arrives to pick her up, and it turns out, to pick me up as well. We are both handed mason jars full of pasta for dinner as we drive to the local theater and community center. On the drive I hear all about the plays they have done, the plays they are working on, who is playing what parts, and how excited she is to be “melted” in the production of the Wizard of Oz later this winter. As an avid and active member of Portland’s amateur and professional theater community, I am amazed to see how community theater can have the same impact on this small island.

Illustrated maps created by students in North Haven, Maine.

My hosts invited me to the open dress rehearsal of Little Women, which is being performed and crewed by a huge portion of the island’s high school and middle school students. The community space where the rehearsal is taking place serves as a coffee shop, a Pre-K learning space, and a community theater. I was expecting a small “cafetorium” type theater typically found in K-12 schools, and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful theater space this community gets to utilize. Young ladies are pacing back and forth in beautiful Civil War era gowns; members of the crew dressed in all black are going over their scene changes. Everyone in the community is planning to see the play. The students performed a wonderful adaptation of Little Women, with the March Sisters each being played by different students as they “grow up.” 

After the play, I started the walk back to my lodging. It’s much darker than it was when I arrived and I am a bit turned around. I have ended up one street over from where I am staying and nothing looks familiar. Within minutes, two friendly ladies sitting on their porch ask if I need help. They kindly walked me back to my correct street without hesitation. The islanders really do take care of their people. 

The next morning I am up bright and early, anxious to start the day’s lessons. I walk myself to the coffee shop. I recognize the young woman working there from the play; she was running the light board the night before. She also works in the school. “How do you all wear so many hats in this community?” I ask her. She essentially says it’s part of the island experience. For everyone to have access to all these different amenities, everyone has to chip in their time. While some may think island life is quiet and slow- paced, the opposite is true–everyone is constantly on the move from role to role to keep everything running smoothly. 

Upon arriving at the school I set up our World Map Education Kit. These are what the high school and middle school students will be utilizing for their workshops. The high school students were able to practice document based questions and discuss the warped worldview reflected by some of the oldest maps. Many of the middle school students marvel at the imagery of Greek mythology that appears throughout the collections. Others are perplexed by the T-O style medieval maps that “make no sense.” As a group, we explore how the map makers’ world views are reflected in their creations. 

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders get to test out a new lesson! They are charged with creating the neighborhood of “Catville,” complete with their homes, stores, natural surroundings and public spaces. When assembling all of our map pieces together we have built quite the town–complete with all the things cat residents could need, like a milk shop, a cat tail forest, toy shops, and even a giant ball of yarn. After hearing all the resident cat toys were stolen by Count Dogyala, the students need to use scale and cardinal directions to track the villain’s trail, collect back the kitty toys, and place him in the Catville County Jail! This project ended up being a ton of fun, and good navigation practice for these elementary students. Each student left with their piece of the neighborhood at the end of the lesson. 

My final, and youngest, group of K-2 students participated in our “All About Maps” lesson, which we typically administer via virtual field trips several times a week. Getting to teach this lesson in person was a nice change of pace.  Each student created their own island maps, complete with scales, compass roses, map keys, and lots and lots of volcanoes (if you mention the possibility of a volcano, you better expect that everyone will have at least one to three volcanoes on their little islands). With this fourth and final lesson of the day, school wraps up for noontime so that families can make the 12:30pm ferry to the mainland if need be. 

Illustrated map of the imaginary "Flies Island" created by a student in North Haven, Maine.
“Flies Island” map created by a student in North Haven, Maine.

I am whisked away to the ferry to head back to Rockland. No one from the school to the inside of the ferry cabin lets me carry my large bag without help. A Mom with two toddlers has her arms full of diaper bags and  strollers and asks me if I can hold her son’s hand while we enter the ferry so that he is safe while the cars enter. I of course help out, as so many have done for me in the short 24 hours I have been in this community. I ended up sitting with this mother and her family for the hour-long ride back to Rockland. Her kids even offered to help carry my smaller bag on the way out.

As I get off the boat, I think back to the words I heard when I first got on the boat to start my adventure–“We take care of our own.” These words rang true for the entity of my stay, but even more than “their own,” the people of North Haven also take care of visitors and strangers. They carry each other’s loads, they watch out for each other’s children, they direct those who are lost, and they work multiple jobs so that the islanders can have everything they need. The residents make this small community a mighty one, filled with enriching educational opportunities for their students and residents, and for educators lucky enough to visit.

For more information about our K-12 Educational outreach programming and resources, please visit