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Preserving our boat-building heritage
Newfoundland and Labrador funnyman Mark Critch talks Trump, Trudeau - and comedy's increasingly important role in politics.
Breakfast at Julia's
A look back at Buchans' beginnings
In the days long before big box stores and online shopping, the opening of the Avalon Mall was an exciting time for shoppers in the provinceâs capital city and the surrounding area. When the Mall first opened, on April 24, 1967, it was a shadow of its current self; at one-storey tall, it housed just 35 stores. Just about everybody hailing from the Avalon Peninsula (and in many cases, much farther afield) has memories of âthe Mall.â And as planning is underway to mark the shopping centreâs 50th anniversary, marketing manager Donna Vincent is one person who is harking back to the past.As thoughts drift down memory lane, Donna says she and her co-workers find themselves remembering long-gone stores like Birks and Ayres, once mainstays in the Mall. And while browsing through photos of the Avalon Mallâs past, she came across some surprises. âSome of the photos were amazing. I was actually flipping throughâ¦and found a photo when Mr. Dressup was in the shopping centre,â she says, adding she also came across aged Polaroids showing crowds of people gathered at the Mall to catch a glimpse of visiting soap opera stars.âThereâs some really interesting, different people that have come through the shopping centre over the course of 50 years,â Donna says.Inside the Avalon Mall in 1969 (City of St. John's Archives)Employees RememberJoyce Crewe was among the first employees of the Avalon Mall. At age 22, she began working as a secretary for the shopping centre before its construction was even complete. Fifty years later, she can still remember the opening day, which was a big attraction at the time. âIt was the most gorgeous, beautiful day, I can remember that. But in saying that nowâ¦I was spending all my time in the office with the phones,â says Joyce.As a secretary Joyce fulfilled many roles, including making announcements, picking up cheques from renters - even ordering exotic-sounding cheeses (to her outport ear) for Sobeys. For that latter duty, she wasnât paid in cash - but she wasnât about to complain.âI would order the cheese for them and they would give me two porterhouse steaks for it,â reminisces Joyce. âSo [with] my husband going to university, it was a real treat for us.âJoyce worked at the Mall for about three years, before she and her husband moved to Port aux Basques. But whenever they travelled to St. Johnâs over the years, theyâd be sure to drop by the Mall. Theyâre now living back in St. Johnâs and although the Mall has undergone so many, many changes since she worked there, for Joyce walking those halls is still a trip down memory lane. âI enjoyed that place so much,â says Joyce. âAnd when I go back to it now, it just feels like going back in time, really.âPeople line up to see the latest films on the silver screen at the Avalon Mall's old movie theatre. (Avalon Mall photo)Remember when the Avalon Mall's food court was called "Intermission"? (Avalon Mall photo)Anna Kearney GuignÃ© was a teenager when the Mall opened its doors, and, like Joyce, she recalls those early years well. That year her father, Gerard Kearney, opened Kearneyâs Watch Repair - one of a handful of stores that has stood the test of time.âThat was a big deal, to have the Mall built,â recalls Anna, adding it shifted shoppersâ focus away from the downtown area. âThe whole notion of indoor shopping was quite unusual for the time.âHer fatherâs store, which Anna now owns, started out as a little storefront with a pull-down gate. She says her father used to drop by the long-gone Strand Lounge, a performance space for musicians, where he would grab a beer after work, before hopping on a bus and heading home.Gerard Kearney was the original owner of Kearney's Watch Repair, a business that has stood the test of time at the Avalon Mall.While the business hasnât always occupied the same spot, itâs been in the Mall since the very beginning.âItâs amazing weâve been there that many years,â she says. In the early years, Anna recalls there were many more local stores at the Mall instead of the big chains seen today.âThatâs why I laugh at us: Fifty years later and weâre still there,â she says, adding she serves customers who still remember being served by her father years ago.Mall MakeoversThe Avalon Mall building has undergone numerous facelifts to keep up with the times - notably a major upgrade in 1977 that saw the addition of a second storey (making room for 75 new stores), and another in 1987, when the second half of the upper level was built. In time escalators and elevators were installed to help modernize the building and make it more accessible. Today there are around 140 stores.The Mall has always been used to host events, like this fashion show from decades ago. (Avalon Mall photo)The Strand was the place to enjoy drinks, live music and dancing. (Avalon Mall photo)While talking with some older hands at the Mall, Donna got an inside scoop on some quirks arising out of the buildingâs evolution. âThey were talking about how thereâs a hallway [from the old Sobeyâs entrance] where you can actually see the exterior of the building. So thatâs where the shopping centre ended, I guess, and now itâs sort of a services quarter. But it never got changed over from the exterior brick-look of the building. So if you walk down that corridor [off-limits to the public] you can still see the exterior brick,â says Donna. âI think there might even be sort of one stairway in a service area right now, it doesnât really lead to anything,â she laughs. âItâs sort of a stairway to nowhere.âTo mark the Mallâs golden milestone, Donna says events and activities will kick off this month and continue for the remainder of the year, âincluding contests for customers to share their memories with us and maybe share some old photos of the shopping centre with us as well,â she says. Specific events will be posted on www.shopavalonmall.com as plans are firmed up.âWeâll be giving back to the community for their support over the last 50 years. So itâs a pretty exciting time,â she says. - By Elizabeth WhittenIn honour of the Avalon Mallâs golden anniversary this year, we reached out to Downhome Facebook friends, and our own staff, for favourite mall memories. Here is a sample of the responses we received:Accidental ShoplifterâI remember my aunt telling us the story of when she took my mom to the Mall for the first time. Mom was going from store to store picking up school clothing for us eight kids. The security guard was chasing her while my aunt was watching and laughing so much she couldnât speak. Finally the security guard caught up with Mom and told her she had to pay for her purchases. Mom said, âMy son, Iâm not close to finishing my shopping yet.â Lol. She didnât realize she had to pay in each store. She was so mad at my aunt when she saw her doubled over laughing.â - Wanda Murphy, via FacebookWho Ya Gonna Call?âI remember the old Empire Theatre where, in 1984, I went to see the movie Ghostbusters with my older teenage friends. The movie was rated 14+ and I was only 13. My friends, who were ahead of me in the line, bought their tickets and went inside. When I got to the window, the lady asked me how old I was and, being too honest, I told her. I remember standing at the ticket window, cheeks flushed and on the verge of tears as the lady looked at me and said, âIâm sorry, honey. I canât sell you a ticket.â All was lost until my friend came back out and convinced a random stranger to buy my ticket for me because I was too shy (and too upset) to ask. And so, with that, all was right with the world again.â - Heather Lane, Downhome Inventory Control ClerkEscalator ExcitementâI lived in Placentia and my first memory of the âHUGE store,â the Mall, was when we were visiting my aunt and cousins one day in the early â70s. My aunt took us all to see the Mall. It was my first time riding an escalator and when we got on it, I was so exited that I was shivering uncontrollablyâ¦Also, there was a bus that ran weekly from Placentia to the Mall and back every Saturday. We paid $5 return trip from Placentia. In the mid-â70s, my friend, Edith Murphy Careen, and I travelled that bus a few times to go shopping in the Mall. We had such a good time all day long until 5 p.m. came around and we caught the bus back home.â - Karyn Nash Collins, via FacebookSlumber PartyâIn the late â70s, when I was a young teenager, I dropped into the Avalon Mall after basketball practice when a sudden winter storm blew in. Many businesses in the city closed immediately, including the Mall. About 20 shoppers, myself included, wound up spending the whole night there. I remember late at night snacks were handed out and some of the stores re-opened to give us stranded folks something to do while we waited out the weather. Me? I wiled away the time dribbling my basketball around the corridors. Does anyone out there remember getting stuck at the Mall that night?â - Robert Saunders, Downhome Senior Account ManagerIdentity CrisisâThe Strand! The first place that made me feel old - when the bouncer didnât know what an NLC ID was and wouldnât let me in. I was like, 25 or something. The coat check lady came to my rescue as she was older than me! I watched the Blue Jays win the World Series upstairs in Sherlockâs, and wore out the dance floor whenever Biscuit played. And I think itâs the first place I ever had a White Russian (definitely not my last). LOL. - Janice Stuckless, Downhome Editor-in-ChiefA Good GambleâI spent every Thursday night at The Strand in my late teens/early twenties. I donât gamble as a rule, but I had a few coins left over after buying a drink and put them in the video lotto and won $200. Yippee! When you are a poor student that is like winning the Lotto 649!â - Tina Bromley, Downhome Chief Financial OfficerWoolco BargainsâI remember as a child saving my money to go to $1.44 Days at Woolco. Great memories.â - CyrilandDorcas Dooley, via FacebookStrandedâWent to the Strand all the time. On my Nineteenth birthday, I didnât have my ID and they wouldnât let me in. My boyfriend, who was actually not quite 19, was allowed in. Got a good laugh out of that.â - Dodie Crawford, via Facebook
In a world where a message can be delivered to just about anywhere on the planet in a matter of seconds, there is something endearing about the idea of a message in a bottle. Given the unforgiving nature of the churning ocean and the vast stretches of rugged, inaccessible coastlines, the chances of stumbling across one can seem like one in a million. But one man from Bryantâs Cove, a community in Conception Bay North, Newfoundland, is helping to up those odds.Craig Drover, 47, spends his summers crab fishing off the Grand Banks, as captain of the FV Arctic Eagle. He cast his first message into the frigid Atlantic Ocean just over 11 years ago.âIt was out of boredom, mostly,â he laughs. âWe start at five in the morning, with all the crab pots. Then, itâs five in the evening and youâve got another 12 hours of doing nothing.â When a response came the following year, Craig was shocked. So, he decided to try his luck again. And again. And again. As he threw off more bottles, the responses kept coming.Craig Drover with one of his message-filled bottlesTo date, 65 of Craigâs bottles have been found: 16 in France, 15 in Ireland, 10 in Scotland, eight in Spain, eight in England, two in Portugal and one in Wales. A stray made its way as far north as the Faroe Islands, while four bottles found themselves down south, with one landing in Florida and three in the Bahamas.âThatâs a weird route, that one,â says Craig. Nautical scientist Tom Walsh says those last four bottles would have likely travelled on the North Atlantic Drift (a current that flows across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe), floated down the coast of Spain and got caught in the Canary Current before coming back across on the North Equatorial Current. âThey would have had to make a trip across the Atlantic and back; thatâs the only way I could see them getting down there,â he says.Each response that Craig receives is photocopied, framed and labelled with the flag of the country in which it was found. He displays them on his garage wall, along with newspaper clippings and photos sent to him by some lucky recipients, posing with their foraged treasure on an array of diverse coastlines. All are smiling ear to ear.These are just a sample of the many bottles Craig has had returned to him from all over the world.It is obvious from Craigâs memorabilia collection, which occupies a considerable amount of wall space in his large garage, that what started as a hobby has grown into something much larger. While reading the response letters that line the walls, itâs impossible to ignore the excitement of the finder. Their elation nearly jumps off of the paper.Craig and his wife, Kelly Ryall-Drover, who responds to the majority of emails and letters, have developed personal relationships with many of the recipients, keeping in contact with them and sending gifts.âSouvenirs, Christmas gifts, that kind of thing,â says Kelly. âOne couple just had a baby, so we sent over a little baby suit.âThis element of a special, personal connection is evident through many of the letters sent between Craig and the finders. Despite the fact that he includes his email address in the note, some prefer to send a unique response that they feel is a little more appropriate, considering how they received their letter. Thatâs exactly what Mike Ingerman, 38, (pictured left) did after he found a bottle while visiting a beach in Wales.âHe gave me his email address, but I thought, you know what? Iâll post it on Facebook and just see what happens,â explains Mike from his home in Liverpool, via Skype.âWithin about three hours, it got over to Canada and within about five hours, people were saying on the message that they knew who it was.âMike and Craig made contact within 24 hours, and after three days, the Facebook post had been shared over 7,000 times.âThereâs just this kind of boyish excitement to the whole thing. I was like a kid when I found it. You canât explain it. Itâs just really good.â Cameron Ross, 28, shares that sentiment, but opted to reply via handwritten letter. Ross is originally from New Zealand and now resides in Ireland, where he was walking on a beach with some friends and their kids in the Connemara region of county Galway one day when one of his friends happened upon a bottle stuck in some rocks.âAt first, I thought it was just this elaborate hoax that my mate Eric planned out, because his kid was always obsessed with pirates, but it was actually true! I was buzzinâ for days. I think I was more excited about it than the kids,â Cameron says in a telephone interview.âThereâs definitely this old school romanticism, this pirate-like thing about finding a message in a bottle, and I felt that, in the style that his message arrived to us, it wasnât quite fitting for me to send him a text or look him up on Facebook. It kind of takes the mystique out of it because the response is instant.âA barnacle-encrusted whiskey bottle, containing one of Craig's messages, washed up in France.So, what is it that drives the romanticism of this radically analog way of communication, especially in a society full of digital over-communication?Cliff Buffington, who runs the website www.messageinabottlehunter.com and has a page boasting over 35,000 followers on Facebook, thinks there are a number of reasons. âI think we are fascinated by messages in bottles because they stand for so much,â says Cliff, who spends his free time hunting bottles and tracking down owners. âThey stand for science, they stand for love, they stand for friendship, they stand for curiosity and they stand for history.âFor those interested in finding their own bottles, it might be best to start carrying good luck charms because it seems like pure chance has everything to do with it, and some are luckier than others. One woman found two of Craigâs bottles on separate occasions on a beach in France, about a mile away from each other. Another man found two in the span of three months on a small island off the coast of Scotland.âIt must be luck,â says Craig. âNeedle in a haystack, some say, but weâre talking about two needles in the Atlantic Ocean.â - By Stacey Seward
Past the spectral tree scraping the sky, its branches reaching for cumulus clouds, I spot the T-Rex resting on low haunches in the peaceful valley. I have no fear as I approach. I am, in fact, filled with anticipation, for the T-Rex is not an ancient predator but the former Port Rexton community centre - now the home of Port Rexton Brewing Company.Inside, sunlight falls upon a dark wood, acoustic guitar cozying up to a glass cabinet showcasing vintage growlers (small glass jugs once used to carry draught beer bought by the measure at local pubs) from around the world. I smell something pleasantly reminiscent of the clinging hops vines that once grew in my grandmotherâs yard. There is the echo of banter and the clink of glasses as a small group a few minutes ahead of me concludes their tour. Near the entrance to the taproom, two long wooden tables with eight red chairs apiece coexist with a pair of plush, green armchairs in a companionable space ringed with local artwork under firefly-like lighting. At the rear, at least a half-dozen huge, stainless-steel cylinders dominate a railed off lower area in the open-concept production space.The brew process is on full display, part of the facility's attraction.A chalkboard behind the bar announces todayâs five varieties of beer: Gardeners Gose, Sweater Weather Smash DIPA (Double India Pale Ale), Baycation Blonde, Horse Chops IPA (India Pale Ale), and (my eventual personal favourite) T-Rex Porter. (During my tour, I learn that the Gardeners Gose is actually a relatively rare treat of a beer and this one uses coriander from the greenhouses at nearby Fishersâ Loft, as a substitute spice instead of hops.)This facility, one of several microbreweries now operating in Newfoundland and Labrador, opened last July and has been enjoying a very warm welcome. Iâm lucky the owners can sneak away for a chat with me about the brewing business.The talented beer aficionados behind Port Rexton Brewing are business (and life) partners Sonja Mills and Alicia MacDonald, both of whom have extensive experience with microbreweries in Nova Scotia. They were motivated to set up operations in Port Rexton after recent visits to Sonjaâs hometown of nearby Clarenville.Microbrewery partners, Sonja Mills (left) and Alicia MacDonaldâWe had a personal connection to the area, as I knew growing up and hiking around here how beautiful it is and all the tourism potential,â says Sonja. âWe were married nearby three years ago at English Harbour and knew we would love to move back to the area. It turned out this building was available, and it went from there.â She adds, âI was actually in this building when I was in Grade 7 for a dance, so I did know about it. I guess it is kind of full circle to come back here. Of course, beer is now legal in it.âAlicia is a nurse practitioner-turned brewmaster. When I ask her why they chose Port Rexton, she replies âWhy not?â She explains, âWhen we were living in Halifax we were initially thinking of opening a brewery near Truro, Nova Scotia and had really researched the idea and saw the great opportunities, but after we relocated to Newfoundland we fell in love with this place.âThe location was ideal for them, Alicia says, being on the Trinity Bay side of the peninsula, and when they learned this vacant building was in danger of being torn down, they decided it needed to be saved. âSo that is what we did and it has worked out great.âItâs only been a year, but the brewery has been running full tilt.âWe brew about five times per month and that is based on the size of our fermenters. We have three fermenters and the beer sits in them for about two weeks to two-and-a-half weeks, and when it is ready to move we brew again,â Alicia explains. âEvery batch of beer is, on average, about 450 litres.âShe adds, âWe have been very pleased with the first year and gotten visitors from all over the globe, and even some well-known beer world writers/celebrities who have been great. If you canât get out to Port Rexton in season (the facility is open to the public May to October), we are starting to have our beer on tap in St. Johnâs at places like Mallard Cottage, Adelaide Oyster House and Merchant Tavern. As Iâm enjoying my sample beverage, I look around and wonder on the buildingâs history. Alicia explains that before this was a community centre, it was a school. The âT-Rexâ was a nod to the principal, Tom Rex. That gets me thinking.âDid you keep any school notes found during the conversion to a brewery?â I casually ask Alicia.She gives me a very curious glance and replies, âWhat makes you say that?â Recalling my school-age mischief and minor romances, I confess, âBecause I, and almost any of the kids I grew up with in rural Newfoundland, would have passed a few notes in class. At least a few of them would have been lost or confiscated by the teachers or simply left behind.âWithout another word, Alicia departs and returns a few minutes later with a small box of aging paper. Smiling, she says, âWe found most of these hidden behind the stairs. It must have been a bit of a secret location for the kids to pass messages. There were a lot of them.â Visitors get a peek at some notes left behind by students who once attended school in the building that now houses the Port Rexton Brewery.As I pick through, I see the wrappers of Big Turk bars and other treats of the day. There are a childâs drawings of a woman with a 1950s-era beehive hairdo and an assortment of fashions. There is a letter in swirling script dated September 22, 1964: âJudy Bradley, I guess you are mad with me, but I donât care. So you know I am mad with you, too. (Ha) (Ha), Linda.â I grin and hope that after 53 years Judy and Linda are no longer mad at each other.My favourite item takes up a full sheet of fading beige paper. In blue ink, in upper and lower case letters, a youthful hand had written: âYou and I have a game of cowboys after school.âAs we continue digging through this treasure box, we gain the attention of several visitors. Together we smile and laugh at these childish notes and share our own stories over our sample beverages. Itâs a spontaneous gathering of new friends to talk about old times.At the end of the day, itâs only fitting to raise my glass and toast to the health of the Port Rexton Brewing Company.Long may they taste success. - Story and photos by Dennis Flynn
I have often heard great stories of people visiting my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador and falling in love with the laid-back lifestyle and the people. I now have a story to recount myself. I am from Topsail, Conception Bay, and I am married to a lady who comes from Gander Bay in Central Newfoundland. We left Newfoundland in 1988, living for several years in Red Deer, Alberta, and then moving and settling in Ottawa, Ontario. We have lived in Ottawa since 1991. Every year we love to go home to visit family and friends. In September 2012, we planned a visit to coincide with the opening of the recreational cod fishery, as it is one of the things I love to do when back home. My wifeâs brother, Gary Coates, has a business in Summerford, NL, and is an avid outdoorsman - delving into fishing and hunting when the seasons are open. It was while cod fishing with Gary that I experienced an outstanding example of Newfoundland hospitality.After a day on the water, Gary and I were cleaning our catch near where we had launched the boat. It wasnât the ideal spot for the job, as we didnât have a platform to clean and fillet the fish. A local fellow came by and spoke with Gary and told him that if we had intentions of going out again we were welcome to use his fishing stage not far from where we were. He gave Gary some directions and left. The following day, we were fishing off Herring Neck and very quickly caught our limit of 10 cod. We headed back to shore to clean and fillet our catch. As we motored into the inlet, however, we couldnât spot the stage weâd been told about. Gary spotted a couple of fellows on shore. They had a stage all set up and, as often happens in Newfoundland, it turned out that Gary had a connection to one of the men. This fellow, Roland Smart, was the grandfather of the girl that Garyâs youngest son was dating. Gary asked him if he was aware of the stage theyâd been told about. Roland responded, âNo, not off hand, but my friend and I are just about to leave and go fishing ourselves. You are quite welcome to use my stage.â Gary thanked him, and after they left we proceeded to clean and fillet our fish. A short time after they left, a lady appeared on the deck of the house overlooking the stage and asked if we would like to come in for a cup of tea before leaving. She turned out to be Rolandâs wife, Julia. We thanked her and continued to clean our fish. As we were finishing up I said to Gary, âAre we going to take her up on the offer before leaving?â We both decided that maybe we would just leave. But before we knew it, there she was again, out on the deck, reminding us of the invitation. So, we said to each other, âWhy not?â and took off our outer clothes and climbed up the walk to the house. We were no sooner in the door and she was asking how we liked our eggs. The next thing we knew, we were sitting down to eggs, Newfoundland steak (bologna) and homemade bread - to the tune of Newfoundland music playing in the background. She sat down with us and we had a wonderful chat. Not five minutes ago we were strangers, and now she was feeding us and chatting with us as if we were old friends. I was absolutely taken aback by her hospitality and it just reconfirmed what I always knew about Newfoundlanders.My wife and I were just recently home in August of this year to attend the wedding of Garyâs son and Roland and Juliaâs granddaughter. Iâd been informed some time ago that Julia had passed away, but it was so nice to run into Roland at the reception. I took the opportunity to remind Roland about that previous meeting Gary and I had with him at his stage and about what his wife did for us that morning. I told him that after returning home to Ottawa I had written an account of it and had intentions of sending it to Downhome to see if maybe you would be interested in including it in a future issue. However, procrastination got the best of me and it stayed stored on my computer. I thought that it would be fitting to acknowledge Julia now, even though it has been several years since Gary and I met her. I still have a wonderful memory of that day and her invitation for a cup of tea. And what a wonderful cup of tea it was. Rest in peace, Julia Smart. You are a true example of good old Newfoundland hospitality. - Submitted by David Allen of Ottawa, ON
In the April 2016 issue of Downhome, we bring you the stories behind the provinceâs wooden boats and the people who built, and still build, them. We saved the following two tales just for the web. The Gunning PuntJerome Canning photo Itâs March, sometime in the 1950s on Horse Islands. The hungry month, they call it. Llewellyn Curtis has been preparing for it. Itâs been on his mind all winter, as he whittled down the frames of the gunning punt he was building, getting them thinner and thinner, until they were as light as they could be without failing.He sucked in the sides, pulling the small puntâs gunwales closer together. He knew he was pushing the limits of how thin this boat could get. But look at a herring - thin and quick. Thatâs what this boat would be.It was a cranky boat, rowed out of the harbour by a hungry man; handled by an unskilled oarsman, that boat would have nothing in her but water. Llewellyn knew this. He also knew how to handle a pair of oars. Had to, really. There werenât many motors around Newfoundlandâs Northern Peninsula.This boat (pictured above) was an embodiment of necessity - it had to be fast to retrieve the birds and seals he was about to shoot. Too slow, and he would return empty handed to his family, hungrier. And he had to be the one to build it, because in these parts, if you wanted something, you made it. But it proved its worth, this boat. He got his seals and his birds. And, like he figured it would, the boat calmed down with a seal in the bottom for ballast.It was a good boat, worth keeping. A boat his grandson would have - some 60 or 70 years later - hanging in the rafters of his stage, to be spotted by a folklorist on a hunt of her own, accompanied by a boat builder who would one day retell this story of the cranky beauty from Horse Islands. Musical Inspiration Thereâs an old traditional Newfoundland folk song, "Squid Jigging Ground," written by Arthur Scammell of Change Islands in 1928. He names Bobby Watton and his brother Nobby in the song, along with other squid jigging fishermen from Change Islands. In the summer of 2016, Crystal Brae, a folklorist with the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, was in Change Islands, searching for wooden boats to document. She was staying in an AirBnB, where her hosts pointed out the old store shed that once belonged to Bobby. Later that day, she spotted an old boat up against a shed and began asking around, looking to see who owned it.It was in rough shape, but Crystal could see that it had the lines of a row punt that had been modified to accept an outboard motor. To her experienced eye, this boat was old enough to have been used during the transition from row to motor power.The current owner told her it was once Bobby Wattonâs, followed by âYou want it? Take it.âHer small car wouldnât fit a boat, and she declined. But her hosts took the fellow up on his offer, and Bobbyâs boat, possibly even the boat he was in that day Arthur surveyed the scene, recording it in song, is now back in Bobbyâs store, likely the spot it was built more than 70 years ago, says Crystal.Find more stories about traditional boats and their builders in "Dories & Stories" in the April 2016 issue of Downhome. - By Tobias Romaniuk
Behind the news desk, Mark Critch stands up straight, adjusts his tie and flips through the scripts in front of him. By all accounts, his demeanour is one of a serious news anchor. But, there's a faint twinkle in his eye. And if you look closely, you can see the corners of his mouth turn upward, just slightly.The dramatic, blank stare after the punchline gives it away. It's the kind of look you might expect from Rex Murphy if you were to ask him the most trivial question in the world. It's all in the facial expressions and comedic timing. The audience in front of him erupts into laughter.Of course, Mark isn't really a reporter. He just plays one on TV. At 42 years old, heâs an actor, comedian, writer and star of the CBCâs award-winning news parody, political satire and sketch comedy show âThis Hour Has 22 Minutes,â now in its 24th season. âBut, if I wasnât doing that, Iâd probably do journalism,â says Mark. His father was a prominent radio news director in his hometown of St. Johnâs, Newfoundland, and politics was often a conversation at the dinner table - which isnât surprising, given that Critch is well known for his witty political commentaries and ambush-style interviews with politicians and celebrities. His ability to manoeuvre between the lines of news, comedy and politics is impressive and his knowledge of all fields is extensive.âItâs amazing, the way Mark is able to focus so intellectually on whatâs going on in the world, comment on it, go toe to toe with world leaders and then switch it back the other way, and just come in and be entirely silly and make people laugh,â says Jason Shipley, a floor director on â22 Minutes.â Co-star Meredith MacNeill agrees. âHe just knows it, he knows what to do. His mind is so quick; he works really fast. Iâd say that working with Mark Critch is like working with one of the quickest minds in the world,â says Meredith. Mark always knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. As a child, he was hugely influenced by the comedy show âWonderful Grand Band,â which featured Newfoundland and Labrador entertainment legends like Ron Hynes, Tommy Sexton and Greg Malone.âI didnât want to be on âHappy Days,â I didnât want to be on âThreeâs Company,â I wanted to be on that show. I wanted to write my own stuff, set in Newfoundland, and do it. And thatâs what Iâve been able to do,â he says.At 15, he rented the iconic LSPU Hall in downtown St. Johnâs and would sneak away from school to practice sketch comedy, mostly satirical commentaries on Newfoundland and pop culture. After his first performance, he was hooked. That show ran for seven years, and Mark began to make a name for himself, landing more and more acting and comedy gigs. The CBC approached him, offering him work as a radio commentator and eventually on the evening news hour. Thatâs when Mark really started getting into the political side of comedy.Newfoundland and Labrador has produced some of Canadaâs most well-known political commentators and satirists - Rex Murphy, Rick Mercer and Mary Walsh, to name a few. Since its beginning, the cast of â22 Minutesâ has been mostly made up of Newfoundlanders, something Mark attributes to a political culture within the province that easily lends itself to comedy.âWe joined [Canada] in â49, so that shapes the point of view. Youâre always an outsider, which is great for comedy. Itâs a hard place to live and thereâve been very hard times there and that forms a certain snarky, dark sense of humour because you need that to get through the hard times.âNewfoundlanders talk about politics all the time, thereâs a lot of arguing, and I think that comes from having to give up your nation not all that long ago. People argued about politics in a big way, and I think that kind of stuck,â explains Mark."This Hour Has 22 Minutes" host Mark Critch has been making audiences laugh since he was a teenager. (Courtesy 22 Minutes)When it comes to arguing about politics nowadays, however, the Internet has changed things significantly, and Mark has noticed a shift in the way that people deal with politics and each other.âThe way politics goes online, people are just âI hate you, youâre evil, youâre different,â and itâs getting crazy now. Itâs gone way too far. Thatâs not what politics is,â says Mark.âWith Facebook, itâs all your friends, and algorithms show you things that youâre going to agree with. And thatâs why people are shocked that Donald Trump won, because everything online is showing them that everyone on the planet thinks the way they do. And itâs a lie.âAs far as Mark is concerned, the only way to really understand whatâs going on in the world is to get out there and actually speak to the people you may disagree with.âThe more discourse like that, the more the world becomes a better place because you can start to see maybe some cracks in your own logic, but you also get to see peopleâs reasonings for why they think the way they do,â he says.In that spirit, Mark feels that itâs his duty as a public figure with a large platform to interview politicians from all parties and backgrounds as fairly as he can - fairness in both the amount that he pokes fun at them and in allowing them to respond.âIâm not just ranting at them, they can say something and I have to respond to it, so itâs fair. Weâre both doing it without a net, so itâs an equal contest. When youâre listening to them, when youâre reacting to them, thatâs when the best stuff happens,â says Mark.Mark Critch ribbing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Courtesy 22 Minutes)Mark also feels that itâs his responsibility to air things that some politicians would rather not see made public. He made national headlines back in 2013 when â22 Minutesâ aired a clip of him hauling out a joint in Justin Trudeauâs office, a stunt which Trudeauâs staff requested not to be broadcast. According to Mark, âIf somebody asks you to take something out, you canât, because then you work for them.â Stephen Harper, on the other hand, required that questions be screened prior to an interview, something Mark refused to agree to.For Mark, the political satire on â22 Minutesâ isnât just about making people laugh; itâs a way of engaging the nation with politics on a larger level. Clips on the showâs Facebook page often have millions of views each. According to Mark, more Canadians will tune into â22 Minutesâ on a Tuesday night than The National, which is one of the reasons why so many politicians agree to appear on the show and keep coming back.âIf you have people who are interested in your party or your view, thatâs great,â Mark says. âBut when you get your message to people who donât care at all, or would never care about it in a million years, and you get them to watch it for two minutes, thatâs a pretty powerful tool, and itâs a great agent for change.â - By Stacey Seward
Nearly 60 years ago, Guy Victor Barnes left his hometown of Buchans, NL, and moved to Ontario. His son, David Barnes, recently reached out to Downhome to help tell his father's story of growing up in the Central Newfoundland mining town.In Newfoundland and Labrador's history, there's no other town that originated in quite the same way as Buchans. Valuable ore deposits were found in the middle of nowhere in Newfoundlandâs interior in the early 20th century, and the mine - and by extension, the town - was established to extract those natural resources. While towns like Wabana on Bell Island already existed and expanded because of the mining industry, Buchans was formed for and around the mines. Guy, born in 1934, was one of five children born to George and Dora Barnes (nee Sharp) of Twillingate, who moved to Buchans and raised their family. Guyâs father was hired on July 3, 1926, as an operator in the mineâs mill and, according to Guy, was one of the first 10 people hired for the mine. When Guy was 16 years old, he became a carpenterâs helper at both the Rothermere and MacLeans mines in Buchans. Other mines in the town included Old Buchans, Lucky Strike and Oriental, for a total of five. As a carpenter, Guy helped build the mineâs deck head and pump house, and he regularly worked at the carpenterâs shop. He was also sent out to help repair homes in the town, everything from putting up drywall to building the foundations of new homes, as well as shingling and any other maintenance that might be needed.Guy Barnes at the MacLeans Mine deck head (Courtesy Karen Gallant)Life in BuchansDue to Buchansâ remote location, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) pretty much controlled the town, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website. No one else was allowed to set up a private business in Buchans and the company owned all the homes. In fact, ASARCO even dictated who could get into the town via the railway.But it wasnât all work in this company town. âWe had everything - doctors, hospitals, entertainment. It was a small town and everyone knew everyone,â Guy told his son, David. Guy can remember the many ways the employees and their families found to relax. âBuchans hockey team was all the rage. They were championship winners and Dadâs friend played on the team. So he went to the games in town and travelled on the train to see them when they played out of town. Dad was on the rowing team. The mining company made a swimming dam down from the mud hole,â David told Downhome in an email. âThere was sail boating, there was a ski hill, the company bus took them to Red Indian Lake to go swimming and fishing,â David continues. There were also dances twice a week and a movie theatre while Guy was growing up.Off to the MainlandGuyâs last day on the job with Buchansâ mines was April 25, 1958. Like many young men, he left his hometown for the mainland in search of better opportunities. It was certainly a different experience, moving from company-controlled Buchans, Newfoundland to a major Canadian city. In Buchans, Guy was only allowed to work at the mines, whereas a myriad of job opportunities were available to him upalong. He continued on as a carpenter and eventually opened his own business, Guy Barnes Carpentry, which he ran for 37 years.He met his wife, Flora, at a dance hall in Toronto. âHe knew at first sight that she was the one,â David writes. They were married on December 3, 1960, and have three children: David, Gary and Karen. David and Gary followed in their fatherâs footsteps and became carpenters.Itâs the quiet life for 82-year-old Guy today. He and Flora live in Orangeville, Ontario, with their children nearby.Buchansâ mines, meanwhile, closed in 1984. - By Elizabeth Whitten
In the late 1920s, cars and radios began to appear in our town of Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Our family's first radio was equipped with earphones, and only one person at a time could listen to it. It was powered by a pack of large, round screw terminal batteries. Later, when main line electric power came along, we became the proud owners of a Philco cabinet radio with a loud speaker. It was on this radio that we kids first heard Big Ben and the voice of the King on Christmas Day. We also owned a 1928 (second-hand) Studebaker sedan. It was referred to by (envious?) non-owners as the âFrazer Hallâ on wheels because it allegedly resembled that ugly church meeting hall.While short-wave radio reception from the UK was good, standard AM broadcasts from Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Newark, New Jersey, were the only two East Coast stations we could be sure to be able to tune into - and this was in the early 1930s! Even VON St. Johnâs was unavailable to us at that time.Later on, we were privileged to tune into the St. Johnâs station, but we were quickly disappointed that the âBarrelmanâ show, sponsored by Gerald S. Doyle Cod-liver Oil and starring Joey Smallwood telling tall tales, was a large part of the main bill. Little else of much interest outside the environs of St. Johnâs was aired. For example, we had to tune into New Jersey to listen to things like the Joe Louis boxing matches, while we heard not much besides Joeyâs wisdom and the St. Johnâs weather on VON.This same Joey Smallwoodâs gift of gab and twisty oratory would eventually propel him to much greater heights and achievements, including the bringing of Britainâs oldest colony into the Canadian federation. Without him, the completion of the Canadian federation might not have been realized. Joey (modestly) referred to himself as âThe Only Living Father of Confederation.â Among Joeyâs most passionate beliefs was that only a Liberal government in Ottawa made any sense. At every opportunity he made clear how little he admired the PCs when they came to power, led by Diefenbaker. He left the impression with the people of the outports that, were he and his Liberals not to be re-elected at any time in the future, such Confederation benefits as Old Age Pensions and Child Allowances could be lost.On one occasion, in 1959, perhaps to ensure his omnipotent image was justified, Joey used his position to make sure he - and nobody from Ottawa - would be the first to greet the Queen when her aircraft landed at Torbay Airport on the first stop of her Canadian Royal Tour. I was there as captain of the C5 VIP aircraft and bore witness to this spectacle.The official printed program for her arrival aboard a BOAC Comet jet indicated that Prime Minister Diefenbaker would officially greet Her Majesty as she deplaned. However, the prime ministerâs aircraft from Ottawa was late, and his appearance was further delayed by the fact that his aircraft had been (craftily?) diverted to a remote, supposedly secure, parking spot on the airfield.While the prime minister was being rushed by limo from his aircraft to the terminal area where the Royal aircraft was already parked, Joey took matters into his own hands. Rather than wait, Joey stepped forward and indicated to all concerned that the Queen should now deplane. She did, and Joey officially welcomed her, first to Newfoundland - and then to Canada!And when he finally appeared to greet the Queen, the prime ministerâs famous jowls were visibly shaking as he realized Joey had upstaged him. Meanwhile, Joey was beaming from ear to ear as he presented the prime minister to Her Majesty! Prime Minister Diefenbaker did not act as happily as he tried to look. - Submitted by General Bill CarrBill Carr is a retired Lieutenant General of the Royal Canadian Air Force.