Downhome's Grant Loveys recently visited the workshop of a man we've dubbed the "Shoal Harbour inventor." Oliver Vardy spends his days thinking up and constructing new and unique musical instruments. Perhaps the most unique is an invention that Oliver calls the Melody Chord Harp. It is essentially a combination of guitar, harp and lap steel, with elements of each instrument working together in a totally new way. Its five individual sets of guitar strings are each tuned to a particular chord. Parallel to these strings is a single string that can be plucked with the thumb and a metal slide, providing a haunting melodic accompaniment to the strummed chords. It's a strange little machine, but it sounds wonderful.
Watch and listen as Oliver strums a tune.
For the full story on the Shoal Harbour inventor, see the May 2013 issue of Downhome.
Big waves, whales, icebergs, seabirds, moose – you get the picture. In the May 2013 issue, we explore some of the very best places to spot icons of Newfoundland and Labrador. Below is awesome video footage of some of our iconic treasures.
On windy days, the shores of Middle Cove Beach on the Avalon Peninsula are lined with folks eager to see amazing wave action. But in 2010, some wave watchers got a rude awakening from Mother Nature when a rogue wave washed ashore on Middle Cove Beach. Check out this YouTube video of local news coverage of the phenomenon.
While the waters of Witless Bay, as well as Twillingate and Southern Labrador, provide almost guaranteed whale sightings in June, July and August, tour operator Ocean Quest takes whale watching to a whole new level with its "Close Encounters" tour.
In a province where two communities (St. Anthony and Twillingate) lay claim to the title "Iceberg Capital of the World," folks eager to see and photograph these glacial wonders are right to come here in search of them – and each spring and summer they do, in droves. But a group of tourists visiting Twillingate in July 2008 got an extra special iceberg sighting, as a giant berg foundered and fell into the churning waters before their very eyes.
We scoured YouTube for cool video footage of a moose - and this tourist's close encounter atop Gros Morne Mountain was, we felt, the most impressive. (Warning! Some mild foul language in this video - and who can blame her?)
Residents of Buchans, Newfoundland will likely remember this very special 1980s episode of CBC's "On the Road Again," hosted by Wayne Rostad. The quality of the video isn't the greatest - but the quality of the story makes up for it!
*Note: For long-time readers of Downhome, the magazine's illustrator, Snowden Walters, used Clarence the Caribou as inspiration for a series of cartoon sketches that appeared in The Downhomer in the 1990s. Click here to check them out.
Our province's heritage breed are known as hardy workers, used to plough fields and haul logs. But the Newfoundland pony featured in the video below, owned by passionate pony promoter Liz Chafe of Cappahayden, Newfoundland, is blessed with a rather unusual talent - we're fairly confident he'd make for stiff competition on any soccer field.
Actors & Re-enactors
The folks acting at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site have to reach far back in time to get into their characters. In reconstructed sod huts Viking re-enactors mimic the Norse ways of life that played out here more than 1,000 years ago.
Watch this video and come along for a tour of the Point Amour Lighthouse, the second tallest lighthouse in Canada, located at L'Anse Amour, Labrador.
Placentia-native and master boat builder Jerome Canning details the province's historic boat building tradition in the following video. With the help of the Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton, Newfoundland, locals with knowledge of the now rare art form are passing the tradition to younger generations.
Parks Canada cameras follow along as Inuit descendants visit the homeland of their ancestors, known now as the Torngat Mountains National Park.
Watching waterfalls cascade down over high cliffs surrounding this 16-km glacier-carved, land-locked fiord in Gros Morne National Park, you'll think you've been transported to another time.
The puffins of Elliston usually prefer to stick to a small island a short distance from the headland - but this one decided to wander over for some close-up camera shots!
From our vantage point, Newfoundland looks very small. The Gaff Topsails, hundreds of square kilometres of stunning west coast land covered in snowdrifts so immense they resemble dunes, is just a small white smudge on the province’s grey-green face – like a spoonful of sugar dumped on a slab of speckled granite. Newfoundland’s innumerable ponds are, from here, no more than a collection of icy spots connected by threads of river winding chaotically around hills and plateaus and other formations too tiny to make out. In the distance, a thin strip of land extends like a finger: the entire length of the Burin Peninsula jutting into the sea, everything slightly pinkish from the sunrise. The sun too is visible, and the Avalon Peninsula, and even the curve of the earth. And there in the corner, the black nothingness of space. From this perspective, everything looks small.
John Hennessey, Amarnath Mukhopadhyay and I are 125,000 feet up, in the lower quarter of the stratosphere, nearly 40 kilometres above southwest Newfoundland. But we’re also in a quiet study room at the Queen Elizabeth II Library at Memorial University. We’re looking at a picture John and Amarnath took on February 16, 2013.
How did two university students take a picture from 125,000 feet in the air? The answer seems deceptively simple: they tied a camera to a weather balloon and sent it into the sky. But the real story is much more complex. It begins last year in a medical science lab.
“John came to me one day, we were working in the lab,” Amarnath says. “He had seen this video online of a couple of teenagers from Ontario who had done a similar thing, sent a Lego man into space. He mentioned there was no one in Newfoundland who had done this before. The reason was that the weather is so rough here and the chance of the equipment falling into a river or the ocean is really, really high. We thought it was a cool idea and decided to give it a shot.”
Amarnath Mukhopadhyay and John Hennessey with some of the equipment used during their space flight.
Behind the scenes
Together they researched exactly how things would work, meticulously planning every step: how they’d get the camera up into the air, what type of balloon they’d use, what to fill the balloon with, how to take the pictures and, perhaps most importantly, how to get the camera back. John purchased the camera, a GoPro Hero 2 (a very hi-tech, very small camera normally used for mounting on helmets and other objects in extreme environments, which can record high-quality video and take still photos), the balloon (a 1,500-gram Totex weather balloon that can carry 200 cubic feet of gas) and a GPS system that would allow them to track the balloon’s progress and locate the landing site. They also used special high-altitude ballooning software called “habhub” to plot the course the balloon would take.
Then, after six weeks or so of number crunching and material tests, they were ready. Their first launch took place in Pasadena.
Watch the first launch, from Pasadena, N.L. and footage taken during the flight
“We went out on September 29 and launched the balloon for the first time. It went relatively smoothly,” Amarnath says.
The balloon went up, the camera recorded the stunning footage and returned safely to earth, in Millertown Junction. Success. John and Amarnath uploaded the footage to YouTube and immediately began work on the second launch. But this one would be different. “We got such good feedback from doing it the first time that we decided to do it again in the winter and get a nice view of a snow-covered Newfoundland,” Amarnath says. John adds, “We wanted to be able to show people the juxtaposition of Newfoundland when it’s frozen and when it’s not frozen. Because Newfoundland is 70 per cent covered by fresh water, in the wintertime it really does become a frozen land.”
So, on the morning of February 16, John and Amarnath woke at five o’clock at the Corner Brook Comfort Inn and began preparing. “We thought about stepping right outside the hotel and launching it,” John says, “but we entered the data into the software and it said the payload would land right at the mouth of the Exploits Bay, which would have been dangerous because the bay is saltwater and would not have been frozen.”
Through a process of trial and error, John and Amarnath eliminated various launch spots, plugging data into the software and watching the course the balloon (pictured left) would take appear on the screen as a long green line cutting across much of central Newfoundland. Finally, they settled on Gallants, a small settlement roughly halfway between Corner Brook and Stephenville, as the crow flies.
John and Amarnath were excited as they went through their procedure – checking the gear, filling the balloon, securing everything. When they were ready, they counted down from 10 and let go. The balloon soared, swaying a fair bit at first, but eventually straightened out, and, for two hours 20 minutes, drifted along in the freezing, silent air, nearly 40 kilometres above central Newfoundland until it popped from the cold and the payload attached to a parachute coasted to the ground.
For the second time, the launch was a success. They used the GPS system to zero in on the payload, and eventually found it 182 kilometres northeast of the launch site, perched a few feet beyond the north bank of the Exploits River (pictured left). They say they were lucky; had the launch taken place in the summer or fall, the payload would have fallen directly into the river and been swept down into the falls.
Watch the February launch, from Gallants, N.L. and footage taken during the flight
Along for the ride
Two successful launches under their belt, the honour of being the first Newfoundlanders to send something into space, all that breathtaking footage, and the two still aren’t done. In fact, they’re ramping up. “We want to go higher and higher,” John says, “not only for ourselves, but also to educate the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, to entertain people with beautiful images of our province.”
Amarnath elaborates, “What we’re planning to do for the next project is aim for approximately 150,000 feet, whereas the last two balloons reached between 120,000 and 125,000 feet.” Doing that, however, requires more resources. They’re planning on using a balloon twice as big as the ones they’ve been using, one that can hold two tanks of hydrogen gas. They’ve purchased a camera that can deliver better footage. And they have a new idea: sponsorship.
“We’re asking companies if they’re interested in donating money. If they have a logo or something we can take up into the stratosphere over Newfoundland and Labrador, we’d be more than obliged to do it,” John says, noting interested companies can reach them through their YouTube channel (search “Newfoundland Weather Balloon” on YouTube or Google).
Already Downhome has signed on. Says company president Grant Young, “Our readers have taken Downhome magazine with them everywhere – tops of mountains, across deserts, under water. This is our 25th year as a magazine. What better way to celebrate than by attempting to reach for the stars?”
Downhome magazine in hand, John and Amarnath are preparing for the next launch, their biggest ever, scheduled to take place May 18, 2013.
For them, the sky is the limit. – Story by Grant Loveys
Although they are defined differently, the terms “genealogy” and “family history” are often interchanged. Genealogy refers to tracing family lineages for a family tree. Family history, on the other hand, is much broader and includes biography information, pictures, letters and other documents associated with a person or family. Both are very demanding tasks, often requiring extensive research. Like most tasks, they begin with a desire and a plan and then a knowledge of the resources available to complete the job.
Below are some helpful tips to get you started, followed by websites that offer assistance.
1. Start with yourself, and work backwards though your immediate family and then through relatives on both sides of your family.
2. Write down their full names, dates of birth and for those that have passed away, the dates of their death.
3. Check public records for birth and baptismal certificates. For family history information, check recordings, newspaper clippings and school records.
4. Record and develop your family tree and family history using computer software or a free or pay-for-service website. Some sites offer a free trial period to determine if the product is best suited to your needs.
The car I was driving steered obediently as I drove the stretch of almost empty highway in the direction of a sign that read TCH West. This was the last leg of a necessary and important journey for me. It was 1999, I was 50 years old, and feeling a restlessness that was all encompassing. For the past 34 years I had lived in Nova Scotia, having married a member of the RCMP whose career took him to many different places in that beautiful province. Nevertheless Newfoundland was forever in my heart. This feeling of unease forced me to set out once and for all, by myself, to make a big decision. I needed to know if I really could leave the province of Nova Scotia with all its beauty, farmland, and the home of my children. I had many friends, worked as a Registered Nurse in a hospital where everyone knew everyone else, and I was well settled in a way of life. So, in the summer of 1999 I took time off work, tired and anxious for my life to change in some way. Little did I know then what remnant from my past would help seal the decision for me.
Once I made it back to the island of my childhood, someone mentioned to me in passing that the Kyle was sitting in the harbour at Harbour Grace and had been repainted and looked like she did when she ran as a coastal boat. The whole thing came as a bit of a surprise, because over the years I had looked upon the rusting hulk, the remains of a ship obviously, but had never known that it was my Kyle. And to find out it had been her, and that now she was looking as good as new, made we want to set out and see her for myself.
Growing up around the coast of Newfoundland in various communities I was certainly quite familiar with the coastal boats; they were an accepted part of our lives in the outports. Those boats, such as the Northern Ranger, the Baccelieu, the Burgeo, and the Bar Haven, to name just a few, were like today's air transports. They were necessary to carry goods and people from place to place and were an absolute necessity for the isolated outports of the Northern Peninsula and Labrador. When the steamer arrived everyone headed to the government wharf to watch the activity, the unloading of goods and passengers, and although we were warned as children not to dare go around the wharf, we still did it. We were just really inquisitive and wouldn't miss it for the world as we watched the activity from atop a grassy hill.
So, here I was 50 years later, still going to see the coastal boat, but in a slightly different way. In no time I was driving through Harbour Grace. The sun was shining, the flags were fluttering in the wind, and as I rounded the final turn I saw her in all her beauty. The painting of the hull had done wonders for the dear old Kyle in her retirement years. I felt my spirits soar.
You see, I had a connection with this ship; I was born in Mary’s Harbour on the Labrador coast in 1948, and it was this ship that came to the edge of the ice in Mary's Harbour, and took Mother and me on my first boat trip. Having given birth to me just a month before in the Nursing Station in Mary's Harbour must have made it a cold and uninviting ocean trip for my mother I am sure. We were going home to my father, a Newfoundland Ranger, who was stationed at Port Hope Simpson. My mother and I were taken to the Kyle in December, which was sitting in the frozen harbour, the biting winds almost unbearable. But that boat was the only way back to my father. And the Kyle took us safely to Port Hope Simpson.
Fifty years later, I found my eyes fixed on the proud old ship, valiantly trying to hold herself upright, her colours bright under the sun. My mind drifted back to that long ago boat ride. Where had Mother and I been on the boat? Were we cold? Sick? Was I a good baby? After thinking on such questions for an hour or more I made my decision, a decision that I have never regretted. I was coming home to Newfoundland.
The feeling of being where I belonged and where I should be had taken hold. There was an unmistakable drive to be back on the island where I grew up, where my roots were, where my family lived, and where my childhood memories kept me grounded.
The Kyle is still in Harbour Grace, and I will visit her again. But this time I will be on a different journey, a journey taken from a new home in Newfoundland, with the comfort in my soul of knowing I am where I need to be.
The third annual Cain's Quest, held March 9-14, 2008, was deemed another success. At the starting line in Labrador City, 27 teams from eastern Canada and the U.S. lined up, ready to test their mettle in the longest snowmobile endurance race in Canada - 2,000 km of ungroomed powder, over hills and valleys, across lakes and bogs, and in extreme cold and snow conditions. It's an extreme challenge and this year 13 teams failed to make the entire trek to Churchill Falls, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and back to the finish line at Labrador City. The winners of the $25,000 first place prize were teammates Gerard Rumbolt and John Efford from Labrador City. They finished the course at 10:33:01 on March 13. The last team crossed the finish line at 1:18:00 on March 14. Here are some views of the race, submitted by Downhome readers Neil Simmons and Darrell King (also an organizer with Cain's Quest).
Short-listed for the Winterset Award, Paul Rowe's first novel, The Silent Time, is a gripping story of tragedy and eventual triumph for a family in a fictional Newfoundland outport. After marrying an older man, Leona Merrigan escapes her meager existence in Three Brooks and moves to Knock Harbour on the Cape Shore. Here, she gives birth to three sons and finds a happiness she'd never known before. But the life Leona has created is shattered when she makes a split-second decision that results in the tragic loss of her family.
Years later, Leona is considered somewhat of a recluse, alone but for the company of her deaf daughter, Dulcie, and the men who come to purchase her moonshine. But life gradually improves for Leona and Dulcie with the intervention of a compassionate politician who puts their welfare above his own. The dramatic story unfolds against a backdrop of important events in Newfoundland’s history. Rowe will make you fall in love with Leona and Dulcie, who persevere in the face of enormous odds to overcome the tragedies of their past.
Red Eye Tonight Mary Barry
St. John’s-native Mary Barry has received much praise since the release of her latest album, Red Eye Tonight, winning both Female Artist of the Year and Jazz/Blues Artist of the Year at the 2007 Music Industry Awards of Newfoundland and Labrador – and rightfully so. The success of her third independent studio album is a testament to her incredible talent. Barry’s voice is at once soft and lively, accompanied by the spirited energy of an instrumental band. A bilingual singer/songwriter, Barry includes two beautiful French songs among the 13 tracks on this album. The sultry sound of Red Eye Tonight has secured a Barry firm footing among the great singers of this province.
The Case of the Missing Beauties Freeman B. Cull
In his third book, Freeman B. Cull has brought to life true stories of violent deaths and mysterious disappearances that took place many years ago on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. He has infused these stories with fictitious detail to provide "answers" to the unsolved and the unknown, weaving together a trio of tragic tales based on true events involving three brave women. Beginning with the facts as they are known, Cull has used his imaginative mind to fill in the details of the real disappearances of Beryl Roberts, Nancy Hope and Mary Reardon. All met with extraordinary circumstances that have kept their mysterious tales alive long after they each went missing. In Cull's dramatic tales, one died searching for her children in a raging blizzard; another scooped up her children and slipped out of town leaving little trace; and another ended up the victim of an accidental murder and subsequent coverup.