Witch Bottles

Katie Poirier has been transforming old glass bottles, mostly vanilla, she found in a trash pile in her apple orchard into witch bottles. Her property was once the location of the Piusville general store. She believes the vanilla bottles came from the store because real vanilla extract has a high alcohol content and with prohibition on PEI not ending until 1948, vanilla was considered a cheap easy-to-access alternative to alcohol. Melissa Heald photo

The discovery of old vanilla bottles buried in a trash pile at the back corner of an apple orchard has led to a new found sense of purpose for one Piusville resident.

In August 2015, Katie Poirier and her husband purchased the property where the Piusville general store was once located, the business opening around the 1900s.

Ms Poirier grew up near the property. On the land is an old apple orchard.

“We used to come up when I was a kid like every year, every August, when the apples would come out and we would pick apples,” she recalled.

Shortly after buying the land, Ms Poirier was walking around in the orchard with her mother when she made a discovery.

“I just caught it at the corner of my eye and there was just this pile of garbage and some stuff sticking up,” she said. “I just started walking around back there and I dug through and I found an old vanilla bottle.”

Ms Poirier believes the bottles came from the old general store that once supplied the community of Piusville. Real vanilla extract was known to have a high alcohol content and with prohibition on PEI not ending until 1948, vanilla was considered a cheap easy-to-access alternative to alcohol as general stores could legally order in vast amounts to quench the thirsts of their patrons.

“It’s almost as strong as vodka,” said Ms Poirier about the potency of real vanilla.

With no modern day waste management practices, Ms Poirier suspects the general store would regularly dispose of its trash at the edge of the apple orchard.

Ms Poirier said finding the old vanilla bottles was really cool because she is someone who really likes history.

“And I like my history,” she added. “I love family history.”

Ms Poirier didn’t want to just throw the bottles away either. Instead, she wanted to find a project that would allow her to reuse the bottles.

That led her to creating her version of what are known as witch bottles. Centuries ago, people would gather various items and place them inside bottles for protection against evil.

Ms Poirier made her first batch of witch bottles for friends around Christmas the year she discovered the trash pile. She cleaned and decorated the bottles, filled them with dried herbs or flowers and a lavender sprig.

The following Christmas, she made bottles for her family.

Ms Poirier said she really liked making the bottles and is now hoping to turn her passion into a small business. She’s currently enrolled in the Small Business Manager program at Holland College.

Ms Poirier recently had some of her witch bottles on sale for the first time at the Westisle Christmas Market.

Discovering the vanilla bottles has been a healing experience for Ms Poirier.

“For the last five years I have been kind of searching for a purpose,” she said. “I went to university and I tried the whole career thing and it just did not fit for me... I just needed something that was from me for me.”

Ms Poirier said she wants to pass on that sense of healing onto others.

“That’s my ultimate goal, just to help people feel better and smile,” she said. “You look at the bottle and just gives a little bit of a boost.”

Even five years later, Ms Poirier continues to find bottles out in the orchard and not just vanilla bottles either.

“There’s liquor bottles, food bottles, ketchup bottles, pop bottles... All sorts,” she said.

Ms Poirier figures she found close to a thousand glass bottles so far.

And since the trash pile hasn’t been added to since the store’s last owner left, the bottles she’s been finding are from the 1940s onward.

“They’re old,” she said.

Ms Poirier began cleaning up the pile this past spring. Along with the bottles, she’s been packing away metal, sorting out waste and getting rid a lot of trash.

She is storing the many bottles she’s found in a trailer that was on the property when her and her husband bought the land, which has been relocated to the back of the property, near the apple orchard.

Ms Poirier said she spends hours digging for bottles and believes she barely scratched the surface of what is hidden in the trash pile.

“I love every single second of it,” she said. “It’s just so exciting to find a new one.”

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