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Living in Codroy Pond
A story from my dad, William Brake. My dad's family moved from St. Georges to Codroy Pond in 1925 when he was 12 years old. This was a very small railway maintenance town where his dad worked with the railway. The only way in and out of that town was by rail. All trains stopped there for about twenty minutes to take on water for the steam engines. Now he was the oldest of a large family and they took advantage of the train stopping in different ways. Daily passenger trains had people from everywhere, including tourists. My dad and others could board the train while it was stopped and try to sell different things. His mother, being of Mi'kmaq descent, taught him how to weave birch baskets. He told of weaving small birch bark baskets and filling them with whatever berries that were ripe at the time. They were a big hit. They sold rabbits in wintertime and sometimes knitted articles. Train crews looked forward to seeing them come aboard and they were always welcomed. Times are different now, the world sure has changed around us.
Gunnar Laurel, Bush Pilot Ace
By Arthur A. Locke I have always had a keen interest in flying. I remember my first year or so in Roddickton (in 1948) we settled into a four apartment "company house" with three other families for that winter (we arrived in November). The building was owned by the Sanders & Howell Limited, a company of Carbonear who owned operated a large sawmill and woods operation here in Roddickton. I can still recall "keeping on" at my mother to go up to the Clem Norman's (now deceased) General Store, which was situated about 100 yards from us toward the roadside, to get large cardboard boxes from which I could make aeroplanes. Although I wasn't very old at the time (perhaps about five), I had already developed a keen interest in flying and in aircraft. I can still remember a small airplane, which had a bottom like a boat, landing in Roddickton Harbour just behind our home. It fascinated me! This interest in flying and in aeroplanes stayed with me during most of my school years (and continued into my adult years as well). I can remember making a model Cessna 180 (Super Cub I believe) from Balsa wood and tissue paper, in which was an engine with a prop (these were the days before remote controlled flying). Attached to a three-winged mechanism in the cab of the plane were two light steel cables, which exited through the tip of one wing and were attached to strong nylon line. The biggest drawback was that the plane could only fly (controlled) by the length of the line! I would start the engine with a battery. It had a glow plug that became hot and burned gas. Then it would take off! I used to fly and land this on the ice or in large open spaces. It seemed, however, that I was mostly interested in the smaller planes , not the larger ones (although I do remember in my early adult years of having plastic models of the B19 and the B29). I also recall PAL (Provincial Airlines Limited), which flew out of St. Anthony Airport, sometimes used what was known as "The Metro," which I loved. It was a very small plane; some called it "The Flying Culvert." Someone said it was so small that you had to lie down in it to get room for your legs! Well, it wasn't that small, but it was small enough for me to like and I remember flying in it several times through the years. Anyway, back to my story. I was at Memorial University in St. John's during the winter of 1960-61, and in early May my friend Austin Canning (now living in St. John's) and I got tickets to fly home. We boarded a TCA (Trans Canada Airlines was a forerunner of Air Canada) flight in St. John's and flew as far as Gander. As there didn't seemed to be any motels available at the time, we were introduced to a somewhat elderly lady who hired out rooms. This is where we stayed for about a week, from Friday to Friday because the weather was down and the snow was piling high, until Austin and I were fortunate enough to catch a ride home on a mail plane. So Austin got on board of one and I in another. They were the relatively small Beaver aircraft (made by de Havilland) owned and operated by EPA (Eastern Provincial Airways Ltd.), which had been hired by government, I assumed, to bring the mail to the smaller outports. When you got on board you sat in the right front seat opposite the pilot because the body portion of the aircraft was stuffed with mail bags. You had said your last word for a while when getting on board, as you couldn't hear anything after that because of the noise of the engine! (I wonder now sometimes what the decibels would have been?) So you just sat there and stared out the window or at the instruments all the way. Once in the air over Gander, we flew for what seemed like a long time (looking back upon it now I suspect it was for a couple of hours). Every now and then I would catch sight of the Beaver airplane in which my friend Austin Canning was riding. The sky was blue and clear, and it appeared that the week-long storm was over. However, when we got over Englee (a town about ten miles south of Roddickton) our plane ran into a snowstorm. The pilot battled it for a few minutes, trying to make Roddickton, but then I heard the engine rev up and the compass needle on the instrument panel pointed due north. I said to myself, "He's not going to Roddickton," as I knew that Roddickton was northeast from where we were. I'd say we flew for about 20 minutes to a half-hour or so, and then my pilot saw a pond he was apparently familiar with (the area where he had decided to land wasn't big enough to land a mosquito on, I thought at the time) and he put the plane down. We taxied (if you would call it that) to a stop not too far from a small wood cabin by the pond. (I found out later that this was Durnford's Pond, about 10 miles from St. Anthony.) I don't know if the pilot (who I learned later was Swedish pilot Gunnar Laurel - perhaps the best known of the bush pilots of the day) knew the people who owned the cabin or if he decided to break in. Inside we found a couple of snow shovels which we took to carry out our next task. In broken English, Gunnar Laurel (who I noticed for the first time looked rather young!) told me to follow him toward the end of the pond, to where his skis had first touched the ice when he landed. Following his lead, we shovelled up an embankment of snow about 12-18 inches high and about 12-16 feet long. We would tamp the snow, which was a little wet, down every foot or so with our boots and shovels as we piled it, so that by the time we were finished we had a fairly solid tapered pile. On Gunnar's instructions about a half-hour later, we climbed into the plane, "To go up and look at the weather," he said in his broken English. It was a good thing that I liked flying because he pointed the plane toward the embankment we had just shovelled. When the skis of the plane hit the embankment, the plane kind of popped into the air and he appeared to "catch it" just in time to clear the trees near the edge of the pond. It sounded like he revved up the motor, while the plane seemed to just skim the tops of the trees. (It probably wasn't that low, but it sure looked and felt like it!) The pilot did that a couple of times, but the weather hadn't changed, so he knew we weren't going anywhere in a plane that evening. We then walked to the highroad, which wasn't very far away and bummed a ride with a motorist to St. Anthony. I stayed there all night with my aunt (Chris Heath, now diseased), but I don't know where Gunnar stayed (perhaps with some friends). In the morning, the weather had cleared and Gunnar had arranged for a ride for both of us back to the airplane. We climbed aboard the Beaver and, after a few final checks and a grin by Gunnar, we took off for Roddickton once again using the snow embankment we had shovelled on the pond the evening before. We arrived there about half an hour later and landed on the frozen Roddickton Harbour. As I climbed out of the airplane onto the snow-covered ice, I wondered if anyone else had ever had such an experience! A year later, I was teaching school at Englee. One day while teaching we heard a roar. It seemed like a plane was about to take the roof right off the school. Everyone ran outdoors, frightened. It would be some time later before I learned it was Gunnar's plane we heard. Apparently Gunnar had come to Englee in the Beaver with a load of mail, but he couldn't land on the harbour ice because of the large crowd of people who were streaming onto it to meet the plane (the only contact with the outside world in those days and a cause for excitement). To clear a pathway through the people so that he could land, he "buzzed" the harbour by flying low and revving up his engine. Man, you should have seen the people heading for the shoreline as they heard the engine roar! They were afraid of being hit by the plane! Anyway, Gunnar was more than successful in clearing a landing strip on the harbour ice at Englee that day! Thank goodness for small blessings! (as we often say) Additional Notes: If you want to learn more about Gunnar Laurel, perhaps the most famous of the NL bush pilots, you can do this by visiting the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander, where the full story of Gunnar is told. It is true that he taught other bush pilots things that possibly saved their lives and the lives of others (the snow embankment we shovelled and piled that day may be one of them!). I realized recently that I am perhaps one of a very few still alive (I am about 79 now) who flew with Gunnar as a passenger. Gunnar was born in May 1923 in Sweden. He immigrated to Canada in 1951 and passed away on December 30, 1988. His grave site is located in Gander.
Back in the 1950s
I grew up in the town of Windsor, NL. Windsor was the first incorporated town outside of St. John's, on November 1, 1938. Back in the 1950s, walking to school was something that every kid did. There was no such thing as a school bus, or a car ride from the parents. We all walked. Not every family had a car, so walking was it. As I left for school in the mornings mother would say "stay on the side of the road and watch out for cars." We walked in all sorts of weather - rain, sleet or snow did not stop us. It was practically unheard of that the school would be closed due to weather. School started at 9:00 am, and we were out the door at 8:15 am or 8:30 am, depending on the conditions of the day, and how long it would take you to get to your destination. You'd meet up with your pals along the way and talk about things that kids talk about. As I would leave my house the Musical Clock would be playing on CBC radio and Aubrey Mac or Harry Brown, or one of those announcers would be giving the news and sports report. Mac would say, "If you can't take part in sport, be a good one anyway." Then he would probably play a Broadway tune like "Some Enchanted Evening", or "Bali Ha'i", or "Get Me To The Church On Time", or something by Pat Boone, Elvis Presley, or Vera Lynn. Does anyone remember "The Four Aces" who made "Three Coins in a Fountain" famous, and did you know that they formed that group while being stationed in Stephenville? The tic toc of the Musical Clock (Syncopated Clock) became a stomach-churning time reminder on days when I was leaving to write the latest exam. Some schools had uniforms, while most did not. You probably wore the same shirt or pants for a week. "Breeks"for the boys and long stockings covered with warm skirts for the girls was what was worn in the winter. Boys mostly wore "Lumps" or "Logans" on their feet. I suppose the Breeks were washed at some point but I don't remember it happening during the winter months. And you only had one pair. When those were worn out, or too small to wear, you got another pair. We all appreciated the seasons as much as kids could. Most houses would burn coal for their heating source and as you trudged along to school in early October the leaves would be changing. On a really cold day the smoke from the chimneys would go straight up in the stillness of the morning. The smell of the burning coal would be mixed in with the odours coming off the land, from the dew, and the acid smell coming from the Grand Falls Paper Mill. In the winter the odours would change because of the snow and ice and extreme cold, but the coal smell and the paper mill smell never varied. I remember rushing home from school on "baking day" to get that hot crust of bread that was right out of the oven and then smother it with peanut butter. It was pure delight. The taste still lingers. As opposed to kids today, we were practically gone outdoors from dawn to dusk. There was no cell-phone, or computer games to take our attention. We made our own fun playing various games like cricket, baseball (in the sand pits) or rounders, hop scotch, kick the can, hide and seek, and spotlight. Most of us kids had bicycles and that got us quick transportation to "The Station" or downtown Grand Falls. I don't believe my mother ever knew that I regularly used to peddle in to the Grand Falls Drug Store, some two miles away, to check on the latest comics. We would often peddle down to the Station to see the Express Train come in, and see who was, getting on or off. It seemed that, for us kids, safety was not invented in the fifties, and with all the things we did, we rarely got into scrapes. In early October, there was the World Series to listen to on CBC late afternoon. It was usually the New York Yankees beating up on the Milwaukee Braves, The Brooklyn Dodgers, or the New York Giants. But on occasion these National League teams won as well. From Mickey Mantle to Pee Wee Reese, to Warren Spahn, we knew them all, and we knew their stats. Saturday nights in winter were spent near the radio to pick up the hockey game from Maple Leaf Gardens, in Toronto. "Hello Canada and hockey fans from the United States and Newfoundland. From high in the gondola over centre ice at Maple Leaf Gardens this is Foster Hewitt bringing you the game tonight between the Leafs and the Habs." We knew all of these players as well, from Rocket Richard to Jean Beliveau to Tod Slone, Harry Lumley and George Armstrong. Does anyone still remember that Dickie Moore won the NHL scoring championships in 1958 and 1959? There was only one radio station so if you didn't listen to CBC you listened to nothing. As kids we were starved for rock and roll music and when we got a program like the Saturday Morning Hit Parade, or the request show from "The San" in Corner Brook, we were practically glued to the radio. "Hawaii Calls" was a program on Saturday nights that gave me a thirst for travelling to Hawaii. Which I did in later years. I can hear it now, "From the shores of Waikiki, it's Hawaii calls." "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon" was aired practically every Christmas season. We all rushed home from school for the 5:00 pm episode, even though we had heard the same program for years. "The Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Program" and The Hour of St Francis" mixed in with the Salvation Army offering, "This is my Story", were programs that gave us a wide range of viewpoints on religion. In Newfoundland, we celebrated Guy Fawkes night on November 5, and some still do. But not as much today as we did back then. It was known to us as "Bonfire Night", and from the time that we were seven or eight, until we were twelve or so, a run of five years in the 1950s, my pals and I would gather materials together and cut boughs to use for our bonfires. It was usually held on some large plot of ground or bog area. This collection of materials would start after Thanksgiving, and by the time of the fire we would have amassed a large collection. We probably didn't know much about Guy Fawkes, from merry old England, and his arrest while guarding the explosives for the Gunpowder Plot on the life of King James I. We just knew it as a night when we would have our event and the fires were all over the town, driving the fire department nuts. Although, there were few, if any, serious breaches. Usually, the parents supervised and the fire did not last late into the night. Breakfast in the winter started with porridge, and followed up most likely with a slice of toast and bologna. And the bologna had to be Maple Leaf. Nothing else would do. The Maple Leaf brand was so prevalent that grocery stores would say it was a waste of time to bring in other brands - they just would not sell. The lunch hour was dinner during the week with some tasty cooked meat/fish and vegetables. It was unheard of to say that you didn't like something. You ate it all and you were thankful. Supper was what was called tea. So you might have a dish of beans, or macaroni and cheese, but it was not really a cooked dinner. Often, when father was working, the cooked meal would be ready for 5:30 pm. On Saturdays I would have chores to do and mixed in with this was a visit to Paddock's meat store. There I would usually ask for a 2 and a half pound roast, a half a pound of spiced ham, a half a pound of bologna, perhaps two pounds of salt beef, a small piece of fat back pork, and fish, both salt and fresh. Then it was off to the post office to check the mail and then to spend my 30 cents on three comics. That could be anything from The Lone Ranger to Roy Rogers. My allowance for the week was a dollar, so I had to save some for the ten-cent show on Saturdays, and the occasional candy bar or licorice (I loved it.). All too often I would have spent my allowance early in the week and then I would bug my sister for some of hers. She sometimes gave in, or Mom relented and produced an extra quarter. Saturday lunch was rushed so that my sister and I could get to the movie theatre for the 2:00 pm showing. We went early to get a good seat. It was at the movies that I picked up a lot of my world knowledge because we saw quite a variety of movies over a ten-year span. I would look forward to Saturdays all week. After the movies my pals and I would reenact the westerns. My, my, how many bad guys did I round up with Gene Autry and Johnny Mack Brown in those days. As much as I loved Saturdays, I detested Sundays. I was sent to church by my mother. Sometimes to the Grand Falls United Church and other time to the Windsor Salvation Army. It wasn't until the late 1950s and early 60s that there was a United Church in Windsor. I suppose I gained the love of Gospel music from attending the Salvation Army. I did appreciate their musical ability, with the horns, trumpets, tubas and drums. The "saving of souls, the life everlasting, and the railway to heaven" never did make much of an impression on me. On Sundays there were unwritten rules of what we could do and couldn't do. I found it such a bore. And I usually could be found reading a Hardy Boys book, or the latest western, in these down times. Christmas was always a happy time of the year. I loved the build-up to Christmas, and my favourite day was Christmas Eve. I suppose it was in regard to the expectation of what was to come on Christmas Day. Opposed to that, Christmas day was a bit of a downer. I loved the gift giving and the turkey dinner, but there was something about Christmas Day that never quite brought it up to the expectations that I thought it should be. Go figure! I enjoyed the 12 days of Christmas and we usually did a little janneying (mummering) among friends in our neighborhood following Boxing Day. Taking a drive through the towns to see the variety of lights was an event that was a favourite of my sister and me, and also my mother. Coaxing Dad to do the drive was another story. He was usually reluctant to do any more driving than he had to. I suppose getting his license later in life would have made him a more cautious operator. But who knows! Easter was a real downer for me. Even the Easter Bunny and eggs did not help. I hated Good Friday with a passion, and still do. No pun intended! The thought of a crucifixion, and the rising from the grave after three days made absolutely no sense to me, and still doesn't. I loved various aspects of the Christian Church but the assumptions of virgin birth and resurrection, which the early church was built on, was not something I could believe. I don't know if people have more problems today that they had in the 1950s. It seemed to be a simpler time. Today, with the media so prevalent, we know things almost before they happen. I think there was a more neighbourly approach to living and dealing with situations back then. Perhaps time has coloured my glasses. However, I don't live in the past, but the past brought us to what we are today and I have fewer years in the future than I did in the past. So, here's to nostalgia!
Memories of Christmas
Raised in a small community with eleven siblings in my family, we have many fond memories of growing up. A few days before Christmas my brothers and sisters and our Dad would go into the woods to get a tree. Dad would cut it down with an axe and we would put it on a hand cat - a home built sleigh. We would all sit on the sleigh with the tree and go down the hill. What fun! We would push it on the flat. We would dry the tree overnight and the next morning we would put our decorations on it that we made the night before. Bulbs we made out of egg cartons covered with foil wrap and a piece of wool to hang them on. We cut up white paper and coloured it green and red to make a chain for the tree. Some was made for decorations on the ceiling. Next, we hung our stockings - Dad's old wool socks. Next morning, we opened our socks first - apples, oranges and some candy wrapped in brown paper, was it ever good. We opened our gifts, which were something to wear, a doll for the girls and cars for the boys. We had our Christmas dinner, which was some kind of meat or a good ol' turr with the vegetables. Also we can't forget our syrup and cake. After our dinner was eaten and our chores were done, we each got a piece of canvas from our kitchen floor that was replaced with new. We would all go sliding on the main road because there was very little traffic back then. Good old memories of days gone by. Did we ever have fun!
The Journey of Joseph Dunne
At the young age of 17 in the year 1889, Joseph Dunne secretly boarded a ship in Saint-Malo, France as a stowaway. The ship set sail for Saint Pierre. After arriving in Saint Pierre he came to realize that he was not allowed to stay there and the Gendarmes (police) would deport him back to France where he would be severely dealt with by the law. He then made a decision that would change the direction of his life forever. With the help of some people in Saint Pierre he secured food water and a row boat and rowed off in the North Atlantic, all alone in the dark in unknown waters, never to return to his homeland again. As daylight broke and the sea became rough, Green Island Rocks came into his view and he managed to land his boat upon the shore. While awaiting for the waters to calm he found shelter underneath his overturned boat. Three days later when the storm abated he headed out into the North Atlantic again hoping to find a place to call home. He eventually landed in Point Crewe, 12 Miles from Saint Pierre. My grandfather, John Crews was surprised to see this little dory off in the distance. He boarded his motor boat , went to meet this unknown man and towed him into land. (Ironically my grandfather's son Kenneth Crews (my father) in later years married this man's daughter, Charlotte Dunne.) This was a new beginning for Joseph Dunne, a 17 year boy in a foreign country unable to speak the English language. A whole new life thousands of miles from his family whom he never made contact with again. Good fortune came his way when he was connected with a man from Saint Pierre who was living in Point Crewe at the time and helped him learn the English language. In time Joseph met and married Mary Belinda Thornhill and they settled in Dantzic Cove where he built a house and lived there for approximately 50 years. They raised 3 sons and 8 daughters. Joseph became a British subject in 1904 at which time Newfoundland was a British colony. He made a living by fishing, farming and caulking the decks of banking schooners in Grand Bank and Fortune. While his sons enjoyed the luxury of using gasoline engines, he chose to continue rowing to the fishing grounds. He was never one to use a motor boat. In 1952 Joseph and his son Benjamin Dunne moved to Point Crewe and built a house. Joseph lived in Point Crewe until the year of his death. Having lived a long, healthy life he died suddenly in 1960 at age 88.
A "moose-boy" was a regular crew member on the old French vessels. He was a cook, galley-slave, errand boy, and general lackey combined. Being young at sea, he had very few friends. His only companions were the tough and ruthless older men who bullied him according to their whims. By them, he was slapped, cursed on, and kicked around again and again. He either broke completely under the strain, or turned hard and cruel like his tormentors, or else quietly endured their abuse. Many managed to escape, and little did they know that their quick dash across these beaches marked a special chapter in Newfoundland history. The runaways were not all boys, but many were. From a familiar ship to an unknown country was a big step for a small boy to take. For once ashore, he became a hunted animal. The alarm from the ship, plus his new surroundings filled him with terror that dulled his very senses. Panic and desperation moved his feet. Instinct drove him further and further into the woods until the landscape gave him protection. There he hid until his pursuers gave up the search and his ship sailed away. With her went part of him - his home, his native tongue, his job and his boyhood. Behind her, the ship left a new and bewildered creature. For he was now neither man nor boy. A stranger even to himself, related to no one, belonged to nowhere and possessed nothing. The French fleet to the Grand Banks were small schooners with crews of about thirty men. They operated a lot off Saint Pierre. Many French firms had permanent headquarters there, but transported their fishermen to and from France in passenger liners. Thousands of men would arrive in the spring, man the schooners and make ready for sea. Before going to the Banks they would d proceed to Newfoundland's west coast for bait. One of their main bait depots was Bay St. George. It was at Bay St. George that many youngsters ran away. In the year 1880, Bay St. George saw fewer of those bait ships than before. Because of the new law they couldn't buy bait, so many attempted to steal it. One of those poaching schooners was called the Josephine. On that trip she was outsmarted by her moose-boy. He was 12 year old, Peter LeRoux. Peter was born in Bourges, France, in 1876. Bourges was a little country village surrounded by large, isolated dairy farms and was the central marketplace for all their products. It was at Bourges that hundreds of men gathered every February to sign on for Saint Pierre and the Grand Banks. On the eve of their departure, their town declared a holiday. A special fair was organized, every home held open house, all strangers became friends. For a short while, music and laughter dulled the thoughts of long separations and festivities continued until the last wagonload of me left for Saint-Malo. Peter's father, Jean Marie LeRoux, was a Saint Pierre fisherman. In his absence one year his wife died and his three sons were separated. On his return, Mr. LeRoux found his 5 year-old, Peter, working on a nearby farm for a cent a day. At the age of ten, he accompanied his father. They planned to go to Saint Pierre on the liner Propatrie - the father as a passenger, the son as a stowaway. Peter's first visit to a seaport was to Saint-Malo. Saint-Malo was one of the great harbours of France that for centuries had built and outfitted ships for the high seas. But what Peter saw that day was far from anything he had ever imagined. There were no ships gently swaying on anchor. No sails fluttering in the breeze. Instead, only a dense thickness of weird, crisscrossed shapes silhouetted against the sky. The whole scene looked like a forest recently devastated by fire and just as still. The bay itself looked like a forest floor. A continuous solid stretch of brown plank over which scurried in all directions figures like thousands of ants. Peter didn't know about the tides of Saint-Malo. Didn't know that at low tide the harbour is as dry as beaches, that the hulls of ships are sucked into mud. Couldn't see from the approaching roadside that the figures were men. Their backs bent under heavy burden, working against time, or the noisy echoes came from the clunkering and clobbering of thousands of sabold feet on bare wooden decks. The tide rises in Saint-Malo harbour in the form of a bore about 20 feet high. The movement of those millions of tons of water creates a thunderous roar. Gives a danger signal that warns every living creature to take shelter. The mountainous wave strikes with lightening speed and gigantic force. That day it his Saint-Malo with the impact of an explosion. The solid wooden floor was broken into hundreds of pieces and tossed upon the water like bits of wreckage. Only when the wave spread itself out did the ships float peacefully at their moorings. At high tide it was every man for himself. Peter was no exception. His father barely had time to point out their ship. From there on the lad was on his own. As ships weighed anchor, thousands of sails unfurled to the sun. Peter's last sight of France was a spectacle to remember. That barren forest suddenly burst into bloom and changed Saint-Malo harbour into a vast field of huge white flowers. On board the Propatrie, Peter searched for his father but he searched in vain. The man was too late on that trip. The 1700 passengers who answered roll call were ordered to use their trunks for berths and make the best of it. The second meal out, nine hungry stowaways were rounded up and brought before the captain. After a stern lecture and threats of imprisonment they were given food in a pan. In customary French fashion, several people ate out of one dish. Onboard ship, the food-pan is a precious item. No pan, no food. It took ten days to cross the Atlantic. One hundred miles off Saint Pierre, the Propatrie butted heavy ice in a raging storm. It was early March when the steamship reached the harbour. The passengers were taken ashore in schooners. In the blowing gale and mountainous waves ships were wrecked and men were drowned. That day, Peter got his first lashing from an angry sea. Beaten and bruised he crawled ashore at a place called Dog Island. There were sixty families of fishermen living on Dog Island. To them, shipwrecks and stowaways were nothing new. They befriended Peter. Kept him busy and out of prison. For a year the lad delivered bread from home to home and from ship to ship. The next spring when the crews again returned from France, Peter found his father. They met by accident in the town of Saint Pierre. That brief visit was happy and heartbreaking at the same time. Both by then were serving hard masters and both were going separate ways. It was the last time Peter ever saw his father. He kept remembering the man's advice "go to Newfoundland if you can get there." After two years of beating around, Peter got his chance. He sailed on the Josephine, a schooner notoriously cruel to her moose-boy. The minute the Josephine dropped anchor in Bay St. George, Peter made his plans to escape. As moose-boy he wasn't allowed ashore. When all hands left for the nets he was given strict orders. Have meals and coffee at moments notice. The French seamen drank their coffee mixed with brandy. One night Peter made an extra special brew. He stirred into the coffee lots of sugar and all the brandy he could find. When the men added their own ration to this they had a very potent drink. In no time, the whole crew was drunk. Peter was master of the ship. He quietly packed his cloth bag, sneaked over the side into a dory, and rowed ashore, leaving the men slumped in the galley and the Josephine like a ghost at her moorings. The night was damp, cold and still and so dark that Peter had to feel his way along with his hands as well as his feet. He didn't know where to go or what to expect, and was so terrified that a harmless flock of sheep sent him scurrying up a tree. That's where he spent his first night in Newfoundland. The next morning he came upon a man by the name of Gouldie. Mr. Gouldie took care of his belongings for him. By signs, warned him of approaching crew members and indicated where he should hide. Peter ran on and on. Finally, exhausted, he fell and crawled to the entrance of what he took to be a root cellar. He lost his balance and dropped into a deep hole. In there, his only company was a small ray of light. When that deserted him, he attempted to climb out. The top was just beyond reach. Peter took his sabots off his feet, filled them with earth and made himself two solid stepping stones. Barefooted, he stood outside and gazed around. He was cold and hungry. But what he saw satisfied all his needs and filled him with a deep warmth. His ship was gone. He was free. The kind of freedom he had never known before. He could walk now, not run. There was time to explore his wonderful new world. In the distance he saw several large buildings. Cautiously, he approached one and peeked through the open doorway. Inside there was a man and a woman, sitting at a small table. The woman whore a long black dress and on her head she wore a large white bonnet. "Ah," thought Peter, "a nun. But she must be a bad nun to be here in a store with a man." She spoke to Peter and realizing he was French, she sent for a neighbour. The neighbour spoke French alright, but she also stuttered. Between the stuttering and the signs, Peter finally understood. He was to go to the big house on the hill. He followed the lady like a crackie. Took it for granted he was on his way to a convent. Inside, everything was newly papered and painted and spotlessly clean. The boy's bare, muddy feet on the tacky floor made klicking-kluck sounds and dirty marks every step he took. The lady was extremely kind. She washed his face, hands and feet, attended to his scratches and bruises. Prepared him a hot meal and gave him a bed. Young Peter marveled at his good fortune as he went off to sleep and kept thinking that the bad nun was a very kind person and that a convent was a wonderful heaven for a lonely boy. To make a long story short, Peter was not at a convent. He was in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Butt. It was the bonnet that fooled him - Mrs. Butt was wearing a sun-bonnet. Large sun-bonnets, made of paper, were quite common at that time. They were worn by ladies who worked on the fish flakes. The Butts were well known business people of St. Georges. They had no children, so they adopted Peter. Peter was not one to take something for nothing. There was little time to sit behind a school desk. He mastered English and the three "Rs" at a kitchen table. From there, he graduated to a shop desk, trader, fisherman, lobster packer, and much, much more. In time, he paid a debt to his foster parents and gave a gift to his adopted country. Over the years he developed his narrow, lonely trail into a wide road and paved it with respect. His only equipment was a deep love for his new found land. On March 14, 1963, Peter LeRoux passed away and was buried March 17, 1963 at Deer Lake, Newfoundland. - By Wayne LeRoux
The Way it Was
I was first taken out on the waters of St. John's harbour and beyond, by my father in 1939. It was an exciting ride for me then, just a 5-year-old boy. It was made in a 20-foot cod skiff powered by a single-stroke Grey marine engine that made a funny put-put sound as we went along. After first enjoying the sights and smells of the harbour, we passed through the tiny slit of opening that forms the narrows and leads out into Freshwater Bay and the open Atlantic beyond. Overhead out there, sea birds in the thousands - puffins, murres, kittiewakes and gulls fly about creating a steady uproar of shrieks, between dives into the sea from nests high up on the towering cliff faces all around the bay to feast on large schools of capelin that are just arriving to spawn on shore. Later, perhaps at around 12, somewhere between Bell Island and the little cove of St.Phillip's in Conception Bay I find myself rowing alone in a small punt, disobeying the stern warnings of my dear aunt Eliza never ever to do this. I delight in experiencing the roll of the sea out here, the excitement. There are experiences out here like no others so I'm held fast and cannot break away for the safety of the distant shore. Perhaps it is the life that lies here beneath the surface that excites me so. I sometimes feel its presence even though unseen as it slides beneath the bottom of the punt, to appear seconds later, a few metres away, a huge presence. It rises up to inspect me with a curious eye for an instant, before descending again into a more comfortable zone. I do not know what it is that I see. Perhaps its a basking shark. I had seen a big 25ft one recently lying dead on the beach tangled in a fishing net. If so, that's good, because the fishermen tell me that it's harmless. And the pilot whales are harmless also , unless they come too close and accidentally capsize the tiny punt that I'm commanding. What am I doing here anyway? Oh yes! I remember now. I'm chasing after the older teenage boys who I admire so much. They always come out here jigging for fish, and I want to join them. When they see me they shout out at me. "What're ya doin' out 'dere alone in dat boat b'y? Your aunt Liza's goin' to be some cross wit us, if she finds out 'bout dis. Ya'd better be some careful in dat boat dere and not turn 'er over, b'y." I very carefully row back to the beach again.
My Favourite Christmas Memory
I was born 82 years ago in Pound Cove, Bonavista Bay. My favourite memory of Christmas is mummering, During the two weeks of Christmas we went mummering every night except Sunday. My friends and I always had lots of fun. Every house we went in we danced and then were served NL syrup and sweets. Don't know where out mother got enough old clothes to dress us each night. Sometimes clothes not so old. Our faces usually covered by a piece of old lace and then an old cap pulled down to keep it on. Oh the floors were so wet and dirty when we'd leave, but the ladies of the house didn't mind. They enjoyed it and so did their husbands. Pound Cove people then were a rare breed, the best including my mom and dad (Abel and Allie). I will never forget my childhood or my friends. - by Martha (Hounsell) Beson
Santa Comes to Grand Falls
One year in the late 1950s, I decided that I was a big boy, and would dispense with my childish belief in Santa Claus. I had overheard enough hints that the Santa 'stuff' was a big hoax. It had been such a delicious belief that he existed only to bring joy to boys and girls on Christmas Eve. But for one last Christmas, I suspended disbelief, and was convinced that my earlier convictions were indeed true. It all began around six o'clock on Christmas Eve. My older brother, Cec, had recently graduated from high school, and was enjoying his first job. He drove a van for Newfoundland Brewery. Despite the fact that he was far too young for such a job, this bothered no one. He delivered beer to local clubs, corner stores and homes. Picture it - a 17-year old with a van full of beer. On Christmas Eve, Cec was making his final delivery on Junction Road. As he was getting into the van, he saw the face of an old man staring into the passenger window. He had a white fluffy beard and a bag draped over his shoulder. At this time of the evening there were few people out and about. Cec went around to the other side of the van. "Young man, you wouldn't know where an old man might stay for a few days, would you?" Of course, Cec was well-beyond believing in Santa Claus. But that was the very thought that passed through his mind. Santa Claus!! And he's putting me to a test. He shook his head to banish the thought, and realized his childish first impression. It took him but a moment to consider. Our grandparents often took in boarders. But usually these fellows would be gone home for Christmas. "Yes, jump into the van. I think I might have just the place for you." Never thinking that Christmas was a reprieve for Mom Q, as we called our grandmother, from cooking and cleaning for the boarders. We had always called our grandparents 'Mom Q and Pop Q', short for 'McHugh'. Mom Q was reluctant to admit a stranger on Christmas Eve. But Pop Q intervened and welcomed the man into the kitchen. Of course, Pop had to do none of the work associated with putting up the boarders. He just enjoyed having a yarn, finding out where someone hailed from, and who they belonged to. Glad to have the man settled, Cec came home to our house. We heard him tell Mother about 'Santa Claus', who was staying at Mom Q's house. We gathered round to hear the details. No one was more eager to hear this than I. Oh boy, Santa is really here in Grand Falls! All my earlier misgivings evaporated. "Did he have his red suit on?" "I didn't see it. Maybe it was in his bag. I don't think he wears it daytimes. Only on Christmas Eve." "Oh Mother, we got to go over to Mom Q's house." "No, no, it's too late now. He'll be too busy getting ready. We'll see him tomorrow." I didn't get much sleep that Christmas Eve. Us kids were up pretty early on Christmas morning. After the excitement of opening our presents, we wanted to rush down to Mom and Pop's house. But Mother managed to hold us until noon, for our traditional Christmas dinner there. And there, in our grandparents kitchen, stretched out on the daybed, talking to Pop Q was Santa!!! Fat belly, snowy white beard, and a thin shock of hair on his head. The only thing missing was the red suit. We were already prepared for the idea that he only wore it on Christmas Eve. I thought, how lucky were we to have Santa Claus at our grandparents' house. We asked a few tentative questions. He played along with the role, and entertained our queries. Pop Q soon let us know that we'd bothered Santa enough, and shooed us off. During Christmas dinner I peeked over in Santa's direction as often as I dared. He was deep in conversation with Pop. I decided that they were old friends. Wow, I couldn't believe it. Over the next few days I made up excuses to go over to our grandparents' house to see him. But one day he was gone. No one ever said who he really was, or where he had come from. I don't ever remember telling my friends about our very own Santa. Surely they would have made terrible fun of me. I just wanted Santa for myself. I believe I really knew he wasn't the 'real' Santa. I just didn't want to burst the illusion. Today, Cec I sometimes reminisce about that Christmas long ago, and about our Santa. We decided that he came to us that Christmas as a special present. I wonder about him and what became of him. I hope he enjoyed that Christmas with our family. We sure did.
A Banana Story
by Hayward J. Prince There's a radio station in Winnipeg, CHNR, the nostalgia station. They play great oldies from past decades. I used to hear my favourite announcer, Gary Robertson, say, "This is CHNR FM, 100.7, where the past is always present." Those words are so true, because sometimes Gary would play a song that would remind me of something that happened to me forty or fifty years ago. It's the same when it comes to things I see and touch. For example, once, while shopping at the Great Canadian Superstore, I came across a virtual sea of bananas, more than I had ever seen in one place before. Right away it triggered a memory of a time when this would have been heaven to me or to a certain late relative. Let me explain. When I was a kid, I loved bananas and often wished I could afford all the bananas I could eat. When I would go to the grocery store for Mom, I would get a banana to eat on the way home. Also, I would often ask for a banana box to put on my head on the way home for walking or running around the harbour, as it was a real protection against that cold northeast wind of the bay. The holes at each end of the box were my windows on the world at that time in my life. I guess we all wish life stayed that simple. But I wasn't as interested in bananas quite as much as one of my relatives. I recall the story being told that the first time he went to New York - I believe in the 30's - he hadn't ever seen a banana before. Apples and oranges were familiar to him; they were shipped routinely into Newfoundland, but bananas were too perishable to survive the long and arduous trip to his outport home. When a New Yorker gave him one, he ate it without peeling it and was puzzled because everyone was staring at him. He also wondered why everyone raved about bananas - they didn't taste that great to him. Yes, just as nostalgic music from the forties, fifties, and sixties brings back great memories to me, so does the sight and taste of a delicious banana.
Memory of South Brook
I drove the Trans Canada Highway to Corner Brook a while ago and passed the entrance to South Brook, as I have passed it so many times in the intervening 60 years, and I spent a few moments reminiscing about that Labour Day Weekend in 1959 when one family in South Brook was so kind to our family. My late husband, then a young social worker, had been transferred to Corner Brook and I had gotten a job teaching French at a high school there. We packed up our things and our toddler and with our old Escort packed to the roof left St. John's early Saturday morning for the seven-hour drive over the (mostly) dirt road to Gander. It was a long and tiring but uneventful day; we were glad to tumble into our bunks at the barracks hotel, The Saturn, after a brief meal. On Sunday morning we were off to an early start wanting to make Corner Brook by dark. We planned a stop at the Taiwan restaurant in Grand Falls for lunch. Our little son had been cranky leaving Gander, so I'd given him a bottle (Carnation milk, hot water, and corn syrup in a glass bottle with a rubber top as was the fashion in those days), and he'd slept most of the way to Grand Falls. We were all ready for Chinese food. I often look at young mothers now in fitted-out changing rooms, with a wide variety of disposable diapers to choose from, a packet of baby wipes at hand, and think of that day in the crowded ladies' room. I'd packed all the baby supplies in a large plaid bag - cloth diapers, bottles, cans of Carnation and corn syrup, wet clothes in a plastic bag, and an extra bag or two for the used diapers. It all got the job done, however. We were soon on our way again anxious to reach Corner Brook. In those days - and I wonder why I remember the road so fondly - the Halls Bay Line running north from Badger to South Brook was a narrow, winding dirt road that, even though graded frequently, had sharp stones sticking up through the surface. Driving on it was always tense as flat tires were more than likely. We took our time driving it and about three hours after leaving Grand Falls we decided to have a snack (carried with us, of course) and give our son a bottle. I reached for my plaid bag but it wasn't anywhere to be found - I had left it in the ladies' room at the Taiwan! All I had was an empty bottle left over from the early morning and some cans of Carnation and extra diapers in the trunk. My husband wisely refrained from saying anything except "What do we do now?" We were approaching South Brook and, inspired, I said "stop at the fourth house on the right." He did. Finally he said, "what now?" I explained that this was the first house that had smoke coming out of the chimney and they therefore had a fire in; I was going to knock at the back door and ask if I could wash out the bottle I had and open my can of milk and have some boiling water and a little sugar for the baby. My husband said, "you can't do that, you don't know these people." I should explain that he came from a small Conception Bay town where everyone knew everyone else and where had such an emergency happened there, he would have had no problem asking at any house. On the other hand, I was a 'townie' from Cochrane Street who would have crawled back to the East End rather than knock on a West End door to ask a favour. (Although from all I know about West Enders they were, and are, just as hospitable as other Newfoundlanders!) As it turned out, I was right about the people of South Brook. I went up to the back door of the fourth house on the right; I knocked briefly; I went in. In the kitchen were five people - a man and a lady of middle age, an older woman, and two other people. I explained to the lady my problem, and it was a problem no longer. It was "come in, my dear," "no need to open your can of milk we've got one we just opened," "turn up the stove," "the kettle will take a few minutes," "tell your husband to bring the baby in," "give me that bottle I'll wash it out," and so on. They may have been somewhat taken aback at first by this strange young woman at the door, but their natural kindness soon took over and we were offered tea and biscuits, the kettle was boiled, the bottle was filled, and we were on our way. My great regret is that I did not ask their names so I could have sent a thank you note or a Christmas card. But I never drive by the entrance to South Brook but I remember their kindness and I have always had a warm spot for the town and its people. The story has another bit attached to it. We stopped for gas at what was then probably the only gas station between South Brook and Deer Lake - somewhere at a road junction (to Springdale or Baie Verte, I think). Even though it was Sunday afternoon, the small confectionery store was open and we went in. I told the man behind the counter about our mishap and the kindness of the people where we'd stopped. He said, "At the Taiwan, you say, a plaid bag; give me an address in Corner Brook where it can be dropped off. I've got a friend who's a trucker from Corner Brook, he'll be through here en route to Grand Falls in a little while. I'll tell him to pick it up and take it over to you." I gave him my cousin's West Street address as we were going to a hotel, and sure enough three days later the plaid bag was dropped off as promised. Maybe this could have happened anywhere, I don't know. I've certainly met very kind people in places as diverse as Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Chicago. Nonetheless, when we talk of the hospitality of our own people it is this story I think of, and the family in South Brook all those years ago that typifies for me the kind of folks we are and the kind of culture we struggle to maintain.
Resurrecting childhood memories of outport NL never fails to instill in me the assurance that I grew up in the right place at the right time.
Remember the stillness of a sunny Sunday morning with not a ripple on the water in the cove. So still, you could hear the squeaking sound caused by the friction of wooden paddles rubbing against wooden thole pins as someone rowed a punt. The stillness was further broken by the ringing of the church bell. The stillness is broken today by things once considered taboo on Sunday. The sound of power saws, lawnmowers and automobiles all but drown out the sound of the church bell.
I remember summer holidays when young girls would visit our community from different parts of the province. All hell would break loose on times as the lads in the cove weighed for the attention of those "fair damsels". Fisticuffs sometimes resulted from heated confrontations.
Animals roamed freely, horses and sheep would enter fenced properties through a left open gate. Trying to get the animals to exit through the same gate proved difficult as they would go around and around several times before deciding to leave. Close observance of the animals as they performed their mating rituals helped us to disperse the myth that storks and stumps were involved in where babies came from.
As boys we gazed over the "stage head" into crystal clear water, observing a host of sea creatures. Every year squid and capelin rolled ashore on the beaches. Sadly, your gaze now falls upon murky water with automobile tires, bicycle frames and plastic containers littering the bottom where the sea creatures were. The squid and capelin no longer enter the toxic water of the cove.
A small brook flowed behind our house. It yielded many a meal of delicious trout. I recall lying in bed at night listening to the babbling water of the brook. The brook still babbles but no one eats the trout.
One memory I try to block but cannot is the memory of the outdoor toilet. Our "Cottonelle" so to speak was the Eaton's catalogue and brown paper bags. I would rate the flush toilet invention right up there with the invention of the wheel. On a humorous note I remember when our cove was connected by road to a neighbouring community. My father, fortunate enough to own a car took a man and his wife for a ride. As they rode along the wife looked at her husband and said, "If we had a car like this we would be killed more than once."
Uncomfortable situations with a little fear involved is a guaranteed memory retainer. Such was the case when a classmate of mine in the lower grades. At recess time, he had a misfortune in the bushes as he answered the call of nature. He had to return home to clean up and change his clothing. Upon the resumption of class the teacher inquired as to the whereabouts of our classmate. The class with limited vocabularies was unable to find the words to describe what had happened. Only after being faced with the threat of staying after school hours did someone blurt out enough information for the teacher to get the picture as to what had occurred.
I recall the church ladies having a fundraiser. The mother of a friend of mine baked a cake with something hidden inside. The idea was to pay for each guess as to what was hidden in the cake. My friend relayed to me what his mother had placed inside. You can well imagine the looks of suspicion when I piped up with the correct answer which was a "budgie bird feather." The cake was delicious.
I remember the local storekeeper. As a child, it was like a performance to me as he used a knife to cut portions of bologna, ham and cheese "exactly" to the specifications of the customer, wrapped them with the exact amount of brown paper torn from a mounted roll. He completed his act by neatly tying the purchase and bursting the string with a "snap."
When I was a boy there were twelve inches in a foot. The first day of spring was the 21st of March and not the 20th. At bedtime, folks wound up the "time piece" and threw the cat outside. Remember when blueberries were red because they were green?
My Father, Martin Seward
In Newfoundland and Labrador, fish means codfish. All other fish are known by its proper name; cod is known by one word, "fish." It was common to hear someone say I caught a tub of mackerel, five halibut and two quintals of fish. Cod was split, which was the removal of the sound bone (spine). Most fisherpersons can split fish, but a few were exceptional; my father, Martin Seward, was one of those few. Many stories have been told of Dad's speed at removing the sound bone. One such story is a member of his fishing crew counting fourteen sound bones in the water before the first one reached the bottom. The following was related to me many years after Dad died, and over forty-plus years after he retired from fishing. In the early 1990s, while crossing Newfoundland on a business trip, I stopped for a few days to visit relatives and friends in the Southwest Arm. One of the visits was to Ulysses Lambert, a friend and crew member of Dad's. his wife Lillian introduced me to her son, who appeared to be in his early twenties. He looked at me and said, "Are you a relative of Martin Seward's?" I told him I was Martin's son; he said, "I bet you can't split fish like your father?" I replied, "I cannot split fish period." I asked him how he knew about Dad's fish splitting since he wasn't born when Dad retired from fishing. His answer, "Wherever I travelled, and the subject of fishing came up, Martin Seward's name was always mentioned for his speed at splitting fish." Another story comes from Skipper Allan Tucker from St. Jones Within, who was a very successful schooner captain in the Labrador fishing seasons. He was the original owner of the schooner, Norma and Gladys. Marie and I had the pleasure of spending about two hours with Allan in 1992. We were on a trip across Newfoundland that I will not soon forget. We stopped at Clarenville to visit my cousins, Robert and Will Balsom and their families. While we were there, their sister, Janet Balsom and her husband Oliver Tucker arrived. Oliver is the son of Allan Tucker. I inquired about his father and was told that his father was in good health. Oliver and Janet were living with Allan at the time and invited us to follow them home to St. Jones Within. We pulled into the driveway behind them and with Janet leading the way we entered Allan's home. Janet introduced me to him, saying, "Do you remember this, man?" He shook his head and said no. It had been over forty years since we had seen each other. I said, "You do not know me, but you might remember my father, Martin Seward," he turned to me and said, "My God, could he ever haul the bones out of a fish." Janet made us an afternoon lunch, after which Allan asked me to come into the front room (living room). "I have a story to tell you." He informed me of the many schooners he owned or sailed. On one wall was a picture of each, and in the middle was a portrait of his late wife, Violet. He then related the following series of events that occurred during the summer of 1945. I paraphrase. I was looking for a splitter to join us on our first voyage to Labrador in the new Schooner Norma and Gladys. I heard about your father's skill as a fish splitter, and I went to Southport and asked him to join our crew, he accepted. After launching the Norma and Gladys, we left for St. John's to pick up supplies and sailed for Labrador. On arrival, we set out our traps, but the fish were scarce. On Friday, I went to the local village. While there, I learned of a church supper to be held the next afternoon at 5 pm. When I returned, I told the crew that if we had the next day's catch of fish cleaned up, we would go ashore for a well deserved home-cooked meal. The next day, Saturday, we went to haul our traps and found them loaded with fish. On our return and after a quick mug-up, we forked the fish up on the deck and started the cleanup. Looking at the vast amount of fish we had to clean, split, and salt, I decided we could not make it to the dinner. Before I told the crew, I went to Martin and told him we would not be going to dinner. Martin asked. "Why?" I said, "We have too much fish to split." He said, "Skipper, you put them on the table, and I will split them." Skipper Allan turned to me, and with a smile, said, "We made the supper." When Marie and I were ready to leave, I asked him if Marie could take a picture of him and me together. At first, he hesitated, I told him I would like to have it to show my children and grandchildren. He gave his ok. We left shortly after. That was the last time I saw him. Meeting Skipper Allan Tucker is a memory I will never forget. The picture of us hangs in my office. Some years later, I had a conversation with Allan's son, Oliver, who told me he heard his father say, "Martin was fast at splitting fish but more important, he was clean." He meant Dad left very little flesh on the bone.
Christmas Around the Bay When I Was Young
The Christmases of our youth were fun-filled days. The anticipation of Christmas morning built during the week ahead. I remember singing in the choir at Midnight Mass it was the only time I was in church after dark and sitting in the choir loft singing O Holy Night with the sound of the organ and our voices blending, the lights, the warmth, and the snow falling outside was magical. Walking home on the crunchy snow and knowing in the morning the tree would be up with the colourful lights all lit and the stockings and gifts ready to be opened was a wonderful feeling. The stockings always had the same things in them an apple, a banana, an orange, and little bunch of grapes. We each got one gift and it was usually something we really wanted. Every Christmas Eve my Dad would come home from Town (where he worked) and bring a stranger with him, he never failed in doing this. One year he was late and I remember him saying he had a hard time convincing this young fella. He would bring a young man home who couldn't get home for Christmas, they would stay just for a meal with us all around the table and then they would head out to make their way back to their rooming house in Town. He said, "No one should be alone on Christmas Eve." He would head out during the day to the woods behind our house and chop down our tree. We never saw the tree until Christmas morning we would walk into the kitchen and there it would be all lit up in colourful lights with shiny tinfoil like rings around them and decorated with a variety of decorations, often most were homemade. I remember spending days stringing popcorn to put on the tree. We would run into the kitchen in the morning and stand staring at the lit-up tree, it was a thing of beauty. We always got our stockings first and ate some fruit. My favourite was the Red Delicious Apple. There were Christmas candy, cookies, cakes and purity Strawberry syrup to be had at various times and various houses. Boxing day was the day I was allowed to go around to the houses to see their trees, I would bundle myself up in warm clothes and head out, I'd knock on doors and ask the Mrs if I could see her tree. Some folks would ask my name and I would say it and in I'd go they would plug the tree lights in and I would marvel at the beauty of it all. Some were loaded with tinsel, some heavy with spray snow but all had tons of lights and were just the most magical things I'd ever seen. I'd always compliment them on their beautiful trees. Everyone's tree was a bit different but the smell of the cooking, the warmth of the homes, and the enjoyment I felt just staring at the colorful lit up trees was priceless. Often during the season, the mummers would come barging in and that was delightful, you never knew who they were with the homemade costumes done up to change the way the person looked. Mummers were given a drink and a bit of Christmas cake often one or two would sing or step out in a dance. You could usually tell the one who brought their fiddle by the way they played it. If you guessed who someone was they had to uncover their face and there was great laughter in the house when the mummers came in. We usually had some time off from school over Christmas and if there was enough snow we would haul our coasters out and slide down the hills. Lots of snow meant forts could be build and snowballs made ahead of time. Then we would form teams and have epic snowball fights. I almost forgot... The Christmas Concerts in the hall, how could I forget those. We would practice for what seemed like months. It was delightful! Christmas around the bay when we were young was looked forward to all year and enjoyed to the full. The music, the food, the fun with friends and family, was renewing and you felt happy and part of the society around you. I really loved Christmas around the bay when we were young.
Mr. Smith At The Narrows
Introductory Note The tragic loss of three members of one family from Shea Heights, St. John's when they went fishing outside the Narrows in September 2016, brought to mind my own frightening experience when I was a boy. It seems that only by a quirk of fate, we did not suffer the same outcome. I can relate to Shea Heights because our family lived on Mill Bridge Road which was just below South Side Road West. In those days Shea Heights was called the Brow. In my story, the main character, Mr. Smith and his family lived on South Side Road West just below the Brow. The house where the Smiths lived is still there; however, Mill Bridge Road and where our house stood are gone, being absorbed by the expansion of the harbor. My story begins in the late summer of 1945. I was ten years old. Mr. Smith At The Narrows It was only about two weeks before school started and shortly after we had arrived home from Aunt Eliza's when Mr. Smith came to visit us with an unusual request and it was a complete surprise to me. Mr. Smith and his family were good friends of ours, and they played cards together often, Mr. Smith was Chef Petty Officer in the Canadian Navy, and he was stationed in St. John's. As it was he arrived at our house one day and asked Mom if I would like to go fishing with him in the harbor outside the Narrows. Mr. Smith was on leave, and it would be the last chance he had to take his son Ray out fishing before his leave was over, and wondered if I would like to come along as it would be company for Ray; who was a year younger than me. It was alright with me because I loved to go fishing. Mom asked him how he was going to go fishing, since she knew he did not have a boat. He assured her by saying he had a fisherman friend down in the Battery and had arranged for a loan of a boat and gear from him. So it was arranged we would go out the following Saturday morning. When we got to the dock where the fisherman had the boat, I was surprised to see it was not a fishing skiff like my Uncles, but it was more like a dory, about twelve feet overall; with one end squared off on which was mounted a small outboard motor. It looked like a coffin to me. However, I had every confidence in Mr. Smith; him being a sailor and all. The fisherman friend showed Mr. Smith how to start the motor and after several tries, finally got it going, the outboard was not new and no more then a four hp motor and had a very unhealthy sound. My confidence factor dropped a little as we left the dock. Mr. Smith was a big man and when he sat in the stern, by the motor, the bow stuck up in the air, so he had me sit at the bow and Ray sat in the middle on the thwart, to balance out the load. Mr. Smith was in a jovial mood as we headed to the Narrows; saying how many fish we would catch. Now, as most people know the St. John's harbour is a naturally land-locked harbour, and inside the Narrows the water is always calm. Outside the Narrows it could be blowing a gale with waves up to four feet, but once a boat got inside the Narrows; the winds were abated by the high cliffs of Signal Hill and the harbour was like a mill pond. Once we got to the mouth of the Narrows and faced the open Atlantic, we could see it was all white caps and it was blowing a small gale, and there was an appreciable drop in the temperature of about ten degrees that you could feel. We were almost outside the Narrows, about even with the Fort Townsent lighthouse, when the first big wave hit us. The wave hit the bow of the bow and almost knocked me overboard, but I had a good grip on the gunwales and held on. Ray on the other hand who was just sitting on the center seat was knocked to the bottom of the boat, and began wailing like he was scared to death. Mr. Smith was not jovial any longer and kept a good grip on the tiller to keep the boat pointed into the waves. The boat was bouncing up and down like a cork; and then the worst thing happened: the motor conked out. The next big wave hit the boat broadside, and there was a note of apprehension in Mr. Smiths voice as he told us to sit still and not stand up. This was hardly necessary as Ray was lying flat in the bottom of the boat and was drenched by the cold water as it cascaded over the side. Mr. Smith was trying desperately to get the motor started, and now without any power the boat was blowing in the wind and waves toward the Fort Townsent side that was just a huge grey rock rising out of the ocean, and I could see the waves crashing high in the air as they hit the rock. Mr. Smith was working feverishly on the cord trying to get life into the motor, but each time he pulled the cord it sputtered, but would not start; I said, "don't worry Mr. Smith, I can row" and crawled over Ray and put the oars into the pins in the gunwales and pulled on one oar to get the boat into the wind. The effect of the one oar dragging on one side and me pulling the other helped steady the boat somewhat. The outboard was really old and did not have the recoil housed internally with an automatic recoil; instead the cord had to be manually wrapped around a large fly wheel that was mounted externally on the top of the motor. This was extremely difficult to perform in a small boat that was bouncing up and down in waves up to three feet, and the wind blowing the boat toward the rocks. Each time he pulled the cord and it did not start, he had to wrap the cord around the fly wheel again, and although it was probably less then a minute to do, it seemed like forever. We were now within a stone throw of the Fort Townsent side, and after about six tries, finally and not a minute to soon, the motor sputtered into life. Mr. Smith gradually turned the boat back into he harbour, and once inside again it was calm. "Well boys," Mr. Smith said, "I guess it's a little to rough to go fishing today; we'll go again another time." When we got back to the dock, and faced the boats owner, Mr. Smith was fit to be tied. Being a big man and also a sailor he had a few choice words for his fisherman friend; saying something about not giving that motor to his worst enemy, and also a few swear words about the thing conking out, and how we were almost swamped. These words were not for young ears, but I was old enough to know what they meant, and they were my feelings exactly. When Mr. Smith dropped me of at my house, Mom asked, "how come you're back so soon, and why is Ray soaking wet?" Mr. Smith told her briefly of our adventure, and downed played the danger because he did to want to alarm her. He said in parting that we would go fishing again when the weather was better; but we never went fishing outside the St. John's Narrows again. In Retrospect The quirk of fate, mentioned beforehand was the fact that the motor stalled before reaching outside he narrows. What seemed like a misfortune at the time, was probably what saved us, because had we gone beyond the Narrows completely, our little boat and motor were not made for the three and four foot waves, and gale of wind of the Atlantic. We would have been swamped for sure. In those days we had no life jackets or flotation device of any kind. As I write this, we learn of another tragedy to a family of crab fisherman and a friend, which just occurred in May 2020 off St. Lawrence on the Burin Peninsula. Appendix The Transportation Safety Board investigation into the loss of the small open fishing vessel, Pop's Pride off Cape Spear NL on September 6, 2016 concluded on October 18, 2017 and was released on November 27,2017. Marine Transportation Safety Investigation Report M16A0327 which can be found at https://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/marine/2016/m16a0327/m16a0327.html