The story of how Capt. Edward Kean adopted a boy, and later a bear.
By Emma Kean Martin
Every family has a member who is known and remembered for his kindness and generosity. This is the story of such a man. However, to understand this story, you need to go back to a time in Newfoundland history when people in small fishing outports were much more isolated than today. In those days, few Newfoundlanders had the opportunity to travel and meet people from other countries and cultures.
In those days, most people in outport Newfoundland were fishermen. Many owned their own schooners, and with a small crew, they would spend summers fishing on the coast of Labrador. Each fall, they would salt and dry their fish, then take the catch to St. John's and sell it to one of the large merchants. From there the fish would be exported to Europe and to the islands of the Caribbean, where it would be traded for rum, molasses and other goods.
This story is set in Bonavista Bay, in a small town called Brookfield, where my great-great-grandfather, Edwin Kean, lived. Growing up, he fished in the summers and went to school in the winters, and after Grade 4 he left school altogether and joined a crew.
After so many years working in fishing boats as part of a crew, he finally saved up enough money to travel to Boston and buy a schooner of his own. It was a large schooner, painted black with the name Kingfisher painted in white on both sides. After he sailed her back home, he used her for fishing and shipping goods around the bay.
Later Captain Edwin married his wife, Jane, and had one son, Ellis. He then built a large house and was the first in Brookfield to have indoor plumbing.
One fall in the 1920s, when he was in St. John’s trying to find a buyer for his catch, he met a black boy who was no older than 15. The boy was homeless and hungry, so he gave him a meal. After eating, the boy thanked him and left. Next day, the boy returned to the same area and Capt. Edwin offered him another meal. For the rest of my great-great-grandfather's stay in St. John's, the pattern repeated itself. On the day Capt. Edwin prepared his ship to return home, he finally learned the boy's story.
His name was Davy Payne, and he came from the Caribbean on one of the trading ships. He didn’t want to return, so he jumped ship. After hearing the boy's story, Capt. Edwin decided to adopt Davy and treated him like his own son.
It is a testament to the type of man Capt. Edwin was that he would take in a stranger even though he was not a wealthy man. No doubt his wife was kind-hearted to agree. As for Davy, the poor black child from the sunny Caribbean, we can only speculate on his courage, and possible bewilderment, in moving to the cold northeast coast of Newfoundland. No doubt his arrival in Brookfield was met with much curiosity. Nevertheless, as far as we know he was accepted by the townsfolk and became a true Newfoundlander.
No doubt there were some things he had to learn along the way. For instance, on one occasion they were ready to start the season and an hour before sailing, the cook became sick. So Capt. Edwin said, “Now, Davy, you will have to go as cook.” He was then given quick instructions as to what to do and what to cook. One of the meal plans involved soaking prunes in water. At that time, prunes came in 10-pound boxes, so Davy put the whole box of prunes in water for 24 hours. I guess they were eating prunes for several days.
A few years after adopting Davy, Capt. Edwin sailed again to the Labrador. While there, he happened to come across a young bear cub on the beach next to its mother, who had been shot. Fearing that the baby cub wouldn’t survive on its own, he decided to take the cub home and keep it as a pet. He named the bear cub “Bob” and kept it for many years. The bear was well-trained and got along well with Ellis, Doug and other children of the community.
Before the fall, Bob ran away. Capt. Edwin and his sons searched the woods for days, fearing that a hunter would mistake him for a normal bear, or that he wouldn’t survive on his own. On the fifth day, they found Bob – and he was not alone. In the five days he was gone, he had managed to find a mate. So Capt. Edwin and his sons agreed that Bob would do fine on his own.
At the age of 58, Capt. Edwin Kean caught pneumonia and died. After his passing, Davy moved to Corner Brook and became a boxer.
Even though my grandfather's life was cut short, his life was filled with blessings and he was happy to share his time and kindness with anyone who needed his help.