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Close encounters of the mischievous kind
The journey to the top of the Cabox
Folklore meets function
Looking back on Patrick Collins' student career with Canadian National
It was never anything that was written down in a book or pronounced in church or you learned in school. It was simply something that was a known thing,â says Tony Flynn, 76, of Colliers, NL. âMay was the fairy month. It was passed from grandparents, to parents, and on to children by word of mouth as far back as anyone could remember.âIt was from Tony, my father, that I learned about fairies and fairy month. The things he told me are strikingly similar to the warnings and fables Iâve heard from others in my hometown of Colliers and neighbouring communities through the years.Most people Iâve talked to about fairies in Newfoundland agree that these woodland imps immigrated here with Irish settlers. My father says itâs likely the grownups used the fairies to explain things that were foreign to them in this new country. âIt must have come over with the first Irish settlers in this area, and the stories of the fairies were really just ways of explaining odd things or events in nature that didnât seem to have a logical explanation at first glance. They always loved old stories and songs, so the fairies survived here as a form of entertainment, but also a way of passing on a bit of a serious warning to young people on how to conduct yourself out in the woods or near water or cliffs or the outskirts of communities,â Tony says. âIt was easy to get lost berry picking in the fall or to take a tumble off a hill or a cliff in the spring when the weather was unpredictable, the ground was not solid and pond ice unsafe as it melted away. So watching out for the fairies or the unknown in potentially dangerous areas where young people might have otherwise let their guard down helped children be aware of their surroundings and stay safe.â He adds, âThe fairy stories probably saved more lives over the years than we may ever know.âThe fairies (a.k.a. âlittle peopleâ or âgood peopleâ) that evolved here have individual personalities. Some may be helpful; others are known to be mischievous, even malevolent. Youâd be wise to never offend them or damage their fairy ring (a conspicuous but naturally occurring ring of trees, bushes or flowers), lest you be led astray. Protections against being taken include such things as tossing a glove into the centre of a fairy ring, carrying bread in your pocket, wearing an item of clothing inside out, carrying a religious medal and not wearing red.If you spot a circle of trees or bushes like this in the woods, you've encountered a fairy ring. One way to protect yourself was to throw a glove into the centre of the ring.This fairy ring of wildflowers was seen blooming on Bell Island.Linda Corbett of Colliers recalls how her nan, Alice McGrath, had the younger ones terrified to be out after dark with her dire warnings of fairies. âMay was indeed the fairy month, and she used to make us carry bread in our pocket if going out after dark. Weâd also turn our inner T-shirts inside out so the fairies wouldnât take us. She would warn us not to go into the garden after dark or the fairies would get us,â Linda says. Her nan was a great storyteller, and this particular fairy story will give you chills.âOne particular story she told was about her cousin, Bride Doyle. Bride was Tom and Bess Doyleâs sister and lived next doorâ¦According to Nan, Bride was in the kitchen...one day and her mother was knitting. A ball of yarn fell on the floor and Bride got down under the daybed to retrieve it. When she got up, her face was all distorted and she couldnât speak. The common belief was that a fairy poked her.âBride died in childhood, and something strange happened when the poor childâs body was being driven to the cemetery by horse and carriage. âAt the end of Doyleâs Lane at that time, there was a drain which ran across the road before reaching Harbour Drive proper. When the horse and carriage reached this spot, the horse refused to cross over the drain. The pallbearers proceeded to carry the casket over the drain and attempted to get the horse to follow. When the men lifted the casket, it was an extremely heavy weight - far too heavy for the small body held inside. Lore has it that they proceeded over the drain and the casket immediately lightened. The horse then proceeded over and the casket was carried by carriage the rest of the way to the cemetery without issue. The common belief is that the fairy which poked Bride while she was retrieving the ball of yarn was in the casket with her and couldnât cross over the water. When the casket was carried over the drain, the fairy stayed on the other side.âBarbara Murphyâs grandparents instructed her on the way of fairies, too, while she was growing up in Colliers in the 1950s and â60s. âThey spoke of the fairies as a means of warning and great fear, not in a melancholy way or with any fondness,â Barbara (pictured left) recalls. âThe fairies were very active in the spring, and the month of May in particular, and the children were warned not to go too far from the house, especially to a wooded area or a hillside mountainous area, for fear the fairies would get you. You were to wear a medal or some sacred icon to ward off the fairies, or to have a piece of bread in your pockets. We never went with the bread idea as there were too many mouths at home needing the bread, besides the chickens, the pig, the horse, the cow and the sheep, so the fairies didnât get any bread from us. We did, however, don a medal in the month of May [and a different one in June].â Additionally, her brother was warned to stay away from Batâs Hill in Colliers, as the fairies there might get him, and back in her day, newborn babies were not to be left alone outside or laid on a blanket on the ground, for fear the fairies would take them.Barbara says, âWhen we moved into our new house in the month of May 1975, my husbandâs grandmother almost cried and begged us to wait until the month was over because to move in May was to move with the fairies. We did, however, move and there are days when I still wonder if Iâm âin the fairies,ââ she adds with a smile.A couple of Conception Bay folk have stories linking fairies to Labrador. Hubert Furey, an accomplished storyteller, author, performer and modern-day master of the recitation, has a great story of a man from Harbour Main who, in the days of sailing schooners and long before modern communication, mysteriously disappeared for a short period of time from a very remote section of the Labrador coast. The man returned just as suddenly and with current knowledge of local happenings in Harbour Main, hundreds of kilometres away on the island of Newfoundland. The insights he had were impossible for him to know or have heard from anyone in that time or place. He claimed to have been transported home, perhaps by fairies. The crew, of course, laughed and dismissed the incident, but after returning to Harbour Main at the end of the fishing season, all the things the sailor claimed to know (and shouldnât have) turned out to be exactly true.Clarence Mercer, chair of the Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation, also has a Labrador fairy story involving a man living in Bay Roberts some 65 or 70 years ago. This fellow was working at a fishing rooms located somewhere in distant Labrador. He was a well-seasoned traveller and quite familiar with that particular area. Supposedly he went for a Sunday morning stroll and inexplicably got lost in a tiny spot he knew very well and could not find his way out. It was only on the third attempt to find him that he was able to get out and return to his crewmates. The event made so little sense that it was attributed to the fairies leading him astray.I remember a kindly old soul, the late Rob Brown of Colliers, regaling me with fairy stories in my youth. He told me of fairies leading animals or people astray or âlaying a beating on someone with sticks or boughs of trees.â There was even something called a âfairy blastâ - a strange wound or bizarre mark suddenly appearing with no obvious origin. People who had changed in personality or actions or appearance after being lost and returned were said to be âfairy-led,â and children were gently warned to forgive such folks for minor slights and to be always kind to them, for they were not to blame. But all these stories were before my time, so I asked Rob one day, when he was in his 80s, why he thought there were no new reports of fairies. He looked at me through his Coke-bottle thick glasses and gave me a big smile, saying, âThe lights came in and pushed back the dark. When we only had kerosene lanterns, there were fairies and spirits hiding around lots of places, and it was only a few masses and a few prayers for departed people and stories to tell to keep them at bay. Now with all the electricity and lights and TV and gizmos and distractions, there is no room for the fairies out around here no more. Youâd have to go back in the woods or far in the country where it is dark and quiet to find them. But they might still be out there yet.âI wouldnât doubt that Rob may have been right, so if you go down in the woods this May, bring some bread in your pocket, just to be on the safe side, of course. - Story and photos by Dennis FlynnClick here to read "The Fairies," a poem by Downhome founding editor Ron Young.
If you are doing some shopping this May, you are safe to purchase pretty much anything you want. But don't you dare buy a broom. That's the stern warning of many in Newfoundland and Labrador, including Terra Barrett's mother.âI started looking around for houses in April, and when I started looking, my mother bought me a broom,â Terra says. âShe didnât want me to buy a house in May and have to buy a broom, because then Iâd sweep my family away. She didnât want me to have bad luck. My mom is very superstitious; her mother is very superstitious as well. A lot of the superstitions she has come from her mother.âTerraâs mother and grandmother are not the only Newfoundland and Labrador moms with broom concerns. In 1968, Memorial University student Virginia Dillon noted that on the Southern Shore, folks held the same belief. âI have heard of no examples to âproveâ this, but to this day my own mother will not buy a broom in May, nor will she allow anyone to buy her one,â she wrote.In an old Fogo Island story, a woman was warned against buying a broom in May. According to the legend, she bought it anyway, and a few days later her child died. With stories like these in circulation, itâs no wonder that mothers were worried.Birch brooms had many uses in Newfoundland and Labrador, from sweeping out fishermen's rooms and clearing snow off bridges, to sweeping kitchen floors and even signalling that no one is home. Brooms are also purported to predict the arrival of visitors, something Grace Shears learned from her grandmother, Annie Gillis, of Highlands in western Newfoundland.âI remember her telling us as small children, whenever a broom fell and it landed across a doorway that company was coming. Very seldom was it wrong!â Grace says. âI still say it.âA broom leaning across a closed door might mean something very different, especially if you are from St. Brendanâs, McCallum or Tilting. âAlmost everyone uses a broom to signify that they are not home. Itâs really common in Tilting,â says Paddy Barry. âIf the broom is there, everyone knows [they] shouldnât be entering your house because youâre away. Good as a padlock! If you want to be really secure, use the birch broom.ââRunningâ a Birch BroomFor such a simple object, birch brooms have a long history in Newfoundland and Labrador folklore, and the expression âhair like a birch broom in the fitsâ is still used by many frustrated parents getting their children ready for the day ahead. Birch brooms are handmade brooms whittled from a single piece of birch, with one end of the piece of wood stranded and peeled back to form the brush. Once employed by street sweepers in St. Johnâs to clear a path for pedestrians, or used by fishermen to clean out their punt, birch brooms are no longer a common sight. Many of the old broom makers, like Heber Heffern of Salvage or Nigola âNicklyâ Jeddore of Conne River, are no longer with us. Joshua Young is one of the remaining birch broom masters. Originally from the southwest coast of Newfoundland, he now lives in Mount Pearl and is still a deft hand at ârunningâ a broom. All he needs is an axe, a sharp knife, strong line, a length of dark red birch with few or no knots from his favourite spot along the Burgeo Highway, and patience. An experienced broom-maker like Joshua can transform a stick of birch into a broom in under 90 minutes. Joshua Young of Mount Pearl learned the art of birch broom making while growing up in Grey River on the southwest coast.âMost everyone in Grey River could run a broom,â Joshua remembers. âYouâd have a couple in your house, year-round. Youâd have it for brushing your kitchen floor, brushing the snow off your boots in the wintertime, brushing off your bridge, cleaning off your boats in the spring of the year, clearing off your fishing stage. There were so many purposes you could use it for.âI learned from my parents. Dad would be sitting by the old kerosene lamp, by the woodstove, in the nighttime, running out a broom, telling stories or singing a song. He was Jacob Young; my motherâs name was Phoebe.âJoshuaâs godmotherâs husband was known locally as âThe Broom Manâ - a prolific maker of brooms. âIâd go to their house, and the old fellow would be sitting there, running a broom, telling stories, and Iâd be watching him. I went down to visit him and he said, âJosh, Iâve got so many brooms I canât get rid of them!ââ Joshua went upstairs and the old fellow had brooms everywhere, stuck under the bed and piled up in the corners.âI said, âYou have got a lot of brooms!â So I went down to my boss on the wharf, and said, âI want some brooms for the Cold Storage.â The boss said, âWe canât get any!â and I said, âOh, I can get you some brooms!ââJosh got on the phone and ordered 13 dozen brooms from The Broom Man. âBy golly, he had them on the ferry the next morning to Burgeo!âI met up with Joshua and got him to run me a broom. His skill with the knife and wood is incredible as he carefully peels back the bristles of the broom one at a time. He whittles out the shorter under-brush section first, then reverses the stick, peeling the outer bristles in the opposite direction, folding them back over the ones previously carved, then tying them off with line. The long handle is then chopped and planed down to the right thickness, and the broom is ready for sweeping. âNothing against the younger people today, but most arenât going to take the time to learn something like that,â Joshua says. âWe grew up with it, that was our heritage. It was all about survival; nothing was wasted.âEach of his brooms is a unique work of art, and a testament to Joshuaâs familiarity with his tools and materials. He makes brooms for friends and family, and has sold his work in craft stores across the island. Today, you might be lucky enough to purchase one of Joshuaâs brooms in shops on the Northern Peninsula, or at the Colony of Avalon Craft Shop in Ferryland. Just donât buy your broom in May. - Story and photos by Dale Jarvis
It all started around a kitchen table, as all great discussions do. My best friend Doug was telling me about his previous hiking trip to one of Newfoundlandâs highest hills. I was giving serious thought on doing it on my own, until he said he wanted to hike Newfoundlandâs highest peak known as the Cabox. That sparked a fire that wouldnât die down in my mind.The Cabox is located on Newfoundlandâs west coast roughly between Stephenville and Corner Brook, in an area known as the Lewis Hills. It is also part of the International Appalachian Trail. It towers above all other hills in Newfoundland at an elevation of 2,670 feet. We decided to go for it and chose September 3 as the date. It was on the Labour Day long weekend, and we thought by the end of the summer the rivers would be at their lowest and the bogs and barrens will be at their driest.While waiting for the hiking day to arrive, I thought it would be great to combine one of my favorite hobbies, amateur radio, with the hike by operating SOTA (Summits on the Air, www.sota.org.uk) while at the Cabox. SOTA is amateur radio for the more adventurous. It involves taking your radio equipment to a summit, hill or peak and âactivatingâ it by making contacts from there. You need just four contacts with other radio operators to activate a summit. I devoted every waking moment to getting a SOTA association up and running in time for our trip, and on Canada Day 2017, SOTA Newfoundland was official.With the SOTA association in place, our gear situated and trail mapped out, we headed out. We lucked out weatherwise, and as we travelled westward it kept getting better. It took the better part of a day to travel from the east coast over to Stephenville. We then followed a woods road north. That evening we made basecamp. When the sun had set, all the clouds in the sky had disappeared and every star and constellation filled the sky. Doug is an amateur astronomer and pointed out every star and constellation we could see. We could have stayed up for hours just staring at the sky, but we had a very rough hike the next day and morning was approaching fast.We awoke just after 4 a.m. The pain of an early rise was quickly brushed aside as the bright stars were still in the sky. Breakfast was quick and off we went. Early on we were faced with a very wet bog, then trekked through small rolling hills and more bogs. It was difficult at first, as it was still dark and we were running on flashlight and twilight. We came to our first big dip about three kilometres into our hike. The sun was just popping up over the hills and we saw moose and partridge. The entire area was painted in sunlight, showcasing one of the most amazing and beautiful sights I had ever seen. You would have thought you were on Mars. Ahead was a huge 400-metre gorge, carved by wind and water, that we would have to climb. We crossed a bone-chilling river and started up.The adventure included several wildlife sightings, including caribou.We continued up the large gorge, and on the top you could have thought you were in northern Labrador. We started picking out plants and berries only found in the northern climates. I even picked up some Labrador tea plant leaves to make tea once I was back home.From the top of the gorge hiking got a lot easier. There were still lots of hills to traverse, but nothing as bad as we had previously experienced. The sun was now high in the sky and providing more heat than I wanted with 30 pounds of gear on my back and still more hills to climb. We continued, hopping across rivers and manoeuvring around ponds. An hour later the peak was finally in sight.Loren and Doug celebrate their arrival atop Cabox.By noon we had made the 12-kilometre journey and reached the top of the Cabox, where there is a plaque to mark the summit. A herd of caribou greeted us. We soaked in the beauty around us. We had a bit of fun taking our photos with the plaque before working on setting up my radio. With the radio set up, I began scanning for contacts. I was worried that after all the hiking and gear lugging, I would not be successful. Luck was on my side, though, and in 20 minutes I had my four required contacts in the logbook. I kept going until we had to pack up for the 12-kilometre hike back. I was able to make contact with radio operators from Ontario and several US states - MI, MA, CT, PA, OH, NJ, VA and more. It was not really the best time of day to contact European stations, unfortunately, and we could not stay any longer.Loren constructs an amateur radio tower on the highest peak in Newfoundland.Content with the contacts and time running short, I packed up the gear and we headed back. We made excellent time and were able to make it back to base camp by early evening, just in time to see two moose. A well-deserved meal and a glass of something strong was in order. We both slept like a log that night and continued on home the next day.Growing up in rural Newfoundland, I have always had a great respect for its geographical beauty and an appreciation for its animals and wildlife. This amazing trip was the pinnacle of both. I was able to combine my love and passion for this beautiful province with the (in my opinion) best hobby in the world. - Story and photos submitted by Loren Butler
Patrick Collins is a man of many trades: a past station operator with the Newfoundland Railway, a retired educator and current author. He was born and raised in Riverhead, Conception Bay North, NL. Although he cherishes his career as a teacher, he maintains that some of his fondest memories are of working for the railway. He recalls being hired to work at the Harbour Grace Station as a student in 1973.âI applied with Canadian National to become a station operator, which we received train orders so, you know, we had one track, a single narrow-gauge track. And when trains are on the same track coming towards each other, they hired people to say what train would go off on what sidingâ¦And so I became an operator and itâs much like an air traffic controller except youâre dealing with trains,â Patrick explains. âSo, I trained in Harbour Grace in the old railway station, and thatâs where I got a job with CN. I wrote a test on the old Ambrose Shea that was docking at St. Johnâs. And J.L. Brazil was the Chief Train Inspector. And there was 50 of us and I was the 10th one to get hired.â Patrick Collins (left) and Dale Jarvis of the Heritage Foundation (Kelly Drover photo)Working with the railway was a wonderful experience for young people at the time. They learned a variety of skills and were provided with rare opportunities to travel.âYou have quite a job as a young man,â says Patrick, âyouâre only 17 or 18. And once you spend six weeks in Harbour Grace learning how to take train orders, how to give them out, and how to handle freight, how to balance the books, then you were sent on the road across Newfoundland to replace people who were either sick or on holidays. So as a student from April until August, you were on the road to places like Corner Book, Whitbourne, Doyles and so on.âHarbour Grace Railway Station, c. 2016 (Michael Philpott photo)This job placed a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of young men. There were many overnight shifts when the workers struggled to stay awake, and then there were freight shipments coming through that were of the utmost importance.âI remember the train coming down with a load of Mary Brownâs secret recipe. Aboard were boxfuls of secret recipe dough that they use for the deep fried chicken at Mary Brownâs, which is here in Harbour Grace. And I remember that being quite secretive, the owner coming up and saying, âMake sure none of those boxes are stolen.â There was a freight shed that was right next to the station that is gone now, and that was very securely looked after.âThe unique culture and lore that exists among railway workers is something that Patrick has not since been able to reproduce in his other jobs. âProbably, the most important thing which I have discovered is that railway employees have a common identity. They seem able to remember most of the same events, stories and local characters,â he says. âTo establish their common identity, is the mixture of pride, humour and seriousness which they have about their work.â - By Katherine Harvey Click here to listen to the full interview with Patrick Collins.The Collective Memories Project is an initiative of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador to record the stories and memories of our province. If you have a memory of old-time Newfoundland and Labrador to share, contact Dale Jarvis at email@example.com or call 1-888-739-1892 ext 2 or visit www.collectivememories.ca.
It wasn't what Ed and Paige Turner were expecting to see as they rounded Gull Island. The longtime owner-operators of Turnerâs Boat Tours have been ferrying sightseers around the islands of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve in eastern Newfoundland for more than two decades, making the usual stops to gaze at whales and seabirds, including puffins, petrels and gannets. But on a recent boat ride to test some new gear ahead of the coming tourist season, the husband and wife team spotted something that shocked them: a penguin.âAt first I just saw something moving - something a fair bit larger than what weâre used to seeing out on these islands,â begins Ed. âSo out came my binoculars and, I tell you, I couldnât believe what I saw. Still canât.â Paige was just as taken aback when she took her turn with the binoculars. âTo be honest, I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with the tea weâd been drinking,â she laughs. âBut there he was, plain as day, just waddling around like he owned the place.âWhat the Turners saw through their binoculars on Gull Island was later confirmed to be a king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), the second largest of the worldâs penguin species. Standing as tall as 95 cm when full grown, they tower over the seabirds that regularly flock to Witless Bay each spring. They primarily inhabit the Antarctic region, and have been found as far north as the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego, but this marks the first time one has been reported in North America (outside of a zoo).From his boat, Ed managed to take several photographs and a short video of the penguin before it finally moved out of his line of sight. He emailed it all to Memorial University, where Dr. Shirley Knott, a professor of marine biology, identified the species and gender: male.âI was quite alarmed,â says Dr. Knott, who is currently collaborating with researchers in Argentina to figure out just how the flightless bird could have wound up so far from home, and what the implications of its arrival might be. âOf course, any time a species is introduced to a new region the major concern is what affect it might have on the native flora and fauna,â says Dr. Knott, adding it seems as though the penguin has adapted well to its surroundings. âAccording to the images Iâve seen, and my colleagues abroad have seen, the penguin appears to be thriving, showing no signs of emaciation or feather loss.â Regarding its mysterious arrival, Dr. Knott says there are no plausible theories yet. A more pressing issue, she says, is whether or not the penguin should remain in its new home.âItâs an unprecedented occurrence, so thereâs really no good way of knowing how a king penguin might interact with, say, our provincial bird when it returns for breeding season. Will the puffins shy away from their regular nesting sites because of this massive bird theyâve never encountered before? Whoâs to say?âAn Alberta zoo has expressed interest in housing the penguin in its Antarctic exhibit, and a local moving company has offered to transport the large bird across the country free of charge. Others, including Ed and Paige, are hoping the penguin gets to stay. âIf the little bugger managed to get all the way up here, I says he should be allowed to stay!â says Ed. Paige agrees, and adds that the possibility of a penguin sighting would be a boon for their boat tours, due to begin in June. âOh my God, I hope he gets to stick around for the summer,â says Paige. âOr at least until April Foolsâ Day.â GOTCHA!
He's experienced zero gravity with the Canadian Space Agency, flown in the back of a fighter jet, developed friendships with the likes of Jann Arden and Chris Hadfield, and threw his childhood hero, Paralympian Rick Hansen, off a bridge.Rick Mercer has travelled from one end of the country to the other and up to the High Arctic on a quest to bring Canadians closer together in his hit CBC TV shÂÂow, âRick Mercer Report.â âIâve been all over the country and thatâs always been a passion of mine. I have always wanted to travel the country and Iâve been able to do it through work, non-stop for 15 years. Thatâs something that I wouldnât change for anything in the world,â he says. But this month heâll file his last report for the show. Last September, Rick announced this would be the 15th and final season, a decision he didnât make lightly.In the early days he says he used to worry about running out of Canadian adventures to embark on, until he came to the conclusion heâd never run out. âWhen you start a show you hope to get through a year or two and then, you know, you dream of hitting five or six years, but thatâs basically the lifespan of a TV show.âWhile the ratings are still high and Rick still loves his job, he decided it was time to try something new. âAnd I always admired shows that ended on their own terms, and thatâs a pretty rare thing in show business. Shows generally get cancelled,â he confides. âThe creators donât generally stop doing it.â A Mandate to Celebrate The âRick Mercer Reportâ is a beloved staple of Canadian television and it was a show that could only work here. A number of years ago the show won a Rose dâOr award for best comedy. Afterwards, people from all over were interested in buying the format rights to replicate its winning formula to launch a German, Italian or Australian version of the âRick Mercer Report.ââBut when they looked at the show, none of them could figure out why anyone would create a show like that. I mean, one week my guest could be the Prime Minister of Canada, another week itâs an oyster fisherman, another week itâs a guy sheep farming off the coast of Newfoundlandâ¦another week itâs a rock star. People couldnât figure that out.âThey were like, âWell, whoâs going to tune into this show? People who want to see rock stars or people who want to see, you know, sheep farmers?â And then there was an adventure tourism travel component to it. And that didnât seem to make sense to them. And then there was a sketch element and then there was a political element, and it was all in one show.âHe laughs, recalling the foreign producers all determined it wouldnât work in their home countries. âBut it kept working in Canada because I think, at the end of the day, the show celebrates; thatâs what it does. Its mandate is to celebrate. If I visit Ferryland, itâs because itâs the greatest place on earth. And if I go out with an oyster fisherman, itâs because itâs a fascinating job. And if Iâm there, Iâm celebrating.âTypically, a comedianâs instinct is to tear others down, but that was never Rickâs approach. âAnd over the years Iâve gotten tremendous access because I think people trust me and they know that if Iâm there, Iâm there to celebrate them.âHe calls the show âunapologetically Canadian,â which people responded to. âEverything about our show is Canadian, right down to the music,â he says. âAnd I think people find it fascinating to see other parts of the country. Travel in this country is often prohibitive for most people; itâs a big country, itâs really expensive to do. So I think they like looking into these windows that I put on the show every single week.â Viewers tuned in to catch a glimpse into a world completely unlike their own, perhaps that of a Ferryland sheep farmer. âAnd I think thatâs what theyâll remember the most.âRick alongside astronaut Chris Hadfield at the 2011 Windsor International Air Show (Michal Grajewski, Mercer Report photo)Ranting Like RickOne of the most iconic images of Rick is of him looking right into the camera, engaging viewers as he launches into a rant like no other, stalking the graffiti-plastered back alleys of Toronto.Ranting has taken on a life of its own beyond the TV show. Laughing, Rick says heâs actually putting together a ranting guide for schools because itâs become part of the curriculum across the country. Creating a rant can teach young people how to research a subject, write succinctly and structure an argument, while enhancing public speaking skills.âI could spend all day, every day answering letters from teachers who are running rant programs in the school,â he chuckles. âAnd I love it, I absolutely love that thatâs happening. And being able to rant and do it on national television is certainly a privilege that Iâve felt very grateful to experience because I think there are a lot of ranters, certainly in Newfoundland thereâs a hell of a lot of ranters. Itâs just I get to do it on television.âThereâs something cathartic about ranting, too. âYou donât want to keep things bottled up too much. The thing about a rant is it can be anything. I mean I tend to rant about things I find absurd or sometimes I rant about things that make me angry, and sometimes I just rant about things that make me happy,â says Rick. He canât name a favourite rant, though a few do mean something special to him. When Gord Downie passed away last year, Rick thought a lot about his longtime friend. âIt didnât cross my mind to rant about Gord, didnât seem appropriate,â says Rick. But one day he was in the office and ended up telling a story about Gord getting in touch with Rickâs father because Gord wanted to know how to properly pronounce the name of a town in Newfoundland and Labrador. It led to Gord developing a friendship with Rickâs father. âI thought it told a story about Gord, that spoke to the nature of the man in ways that maybe hadnât been said before. So I told that story in the form of a rant, and I was very pleased with that,â says Rick.Primarily, a rant has to come from a place of passion, says Rick. âYou canât fake it and Iâve never, ever faked it. And sometimes thereâs subject matters that I think I should rant about, but I just canât do itâ¦It has to be something that youâre sincere about,â he says.âThey truly are, you know, opinion pieces. Itâs the one aspect of the show that I have always written, 100 per cent on my own. Because it is opinion and you canât have an opinion by committee.âRick says heâs been privileged to use this platform as a way to reach out to the audience about stories not in the news or not being talked about. For instance, he has a veteran friend who lost both his legs - and every year he has to go to Veterans Affairs and prove he still has no legs in order to keep receiving his benefits. âAnd I ended up ranting about that and, you know, there was some progress - not great progress, but there was some progress made on that file because of the rant, and thatâs a pretty good feeling if you can create a conversation.âWith the âRick Mercer Reportâ about to go off the air, Rick says heâll still have plenty of opportunities to reach audiences. âTimes have changed so much. I mean if I want to rant about something, I can just turn on my phone and rant about it,â he says.Rick with longtime friend Jann Arden at the top of Toronto's CN Tower (Mercer Report photo)The Road to SuccessGrowing up in St. Johnâs, Rick had plenty of homegrown comedians to look up to. On television he watched acts like the Wonderful Grand Band and CODCO, who taught him that it was possible to make a living in comedy, âAnd so it didnât seem [a] completely farfetched notion, I knew at least there was a handful of people doing it. So it was possible.âPrior to launching the âRick Mercer Report,â he was part of the team that formed another long-running CBC TV show, âThis Hour Has 22 Minutesâ (now in itâs 25th year and still going strong). âI think that one of the critical elements of the success of âThis Hour Has 22 Minutes,â especially in the beginning, was the fact that the show was driven by four people from Newfoundland. It was four Newfoundland voices, and I think that has always played a big part in the success of the show.âLike many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Rick moved to the mainland to make a living and now resides in Toronto, but he still keeps close ties to home. âI have a cabin in Newfoundland and my parents are in Newfoundland, and Iâve only ever thought of Newfoundland as home,â he says, breaking off into laughter. âYou know, wherever Iâm living, Iâm living there because thatâs where my job is. So I honestly canât say what the future holds, but Iâm certainly going to spend a lot more time in Newfoundland.âThe last episode of the âRick Mercer Reportâ airs this month, but heâs certainly not looking to retire, saying people in show business never really call it quits. âYou know Christopher Plummer just got an Oscar nomination, heâs still working, God love âim. You know Gordon Pinsent; any time I bump into Gordon Pinsent, heâs talking about what heâs doing next at his next job, and I donât think that will ever change.âHe does have a few live shows booked, but he expects to have more downtime than before. âThe TV show is absolutely all encompassing, I mean itâs nothing to go like 20, 21 days at a time without half a day off...So when the show is in production itâs just go-go-go-go-go and thatâs certainly going to be a big change in my life, but Iâm looking forward to that,â Rick admits.âAnd as much as Iâve enjoyed every single, pretty much every single adventure that Iâve ever gone on, Iâm getting to a point in my life where Iâm a little less eager to jump out of a plane or throw myself off the side of a cliff.â - By Elizabeth Whitten
When I mentioned I was on the hunt for abandoned outports, one of the cooks in the B&B where I was staying in Hay Cove suggested Big Brook. So I packed up and drove towards Cookâs Harbour, stopping at a gravel road with lots of wood piled up, just as the lady had instructed. From there I drove very slowly, negotiating the many potholes. Eventually, I got out and walked (and walked) until I came upon a river that cut right through the old road - where I decided to turn around. After finding and driving down yet another pothole-laden road, I gave up on Big Brook. That was during my vacation to Newfoundland and Labrador in June 2014. On subsequent trips to the province over the next couple of years, I hunted down other abandoned outports, but Big Brook kept popping up in my research. So last year I contacted Parks Canada for assistance, and a lady named Erika kindly responded: âYou can drive north from Eddies Cove to Halfway Brook. There is no bridge, but the brook can be walked across if water levels are low (very likely with the weather weâve been having). That is the route that staff took last month. The route from the north driving south to Big Brook may or may not be in good condition, because we havenât seen it lately. Neither brook has a bridge. Probably best to go in from the south if you wanted to go by the most recent informationâ¦âI checked the map and determined Iâd have to hike about 12 km one way after Halfway Brookâ¦in a bear and moose zone. I then read through a couple of blog entries from people who had gone or were planning to go to Big Brook. One of them noted that a regular car could definitely make it driving down from the northern part of the road if the driver went slowly and cautiously. In St. Anthony, I spoke to the woman at the Sir Wilfred Grenfell Interpretation Centre who confirmed this. She said her husband had driven to Big Brook recently in a regular car. âYou just have to drive slow,â she cautioned. In early September, up at about seven oâclock in the morning, I took off driving and arrived inâ¦Cookâs Harbour? Somehow Iâd missed the road to Big Brook. It was cold, windy and bleak. Two guys and a woman were standing on the stairs in front of the convenience store, so I pulled over to discuss my dayâs adventure. The woman, who ran the place, said, âThe road gets easier after the beginning, âcause then itâs gravel, my love.â I drove on to Wild Bight, which really did have a wild look with its rugged, treeless barrens accompanied by wind and dark skies. I stopped here and there to take photos. Then I continued on to the Cape Norman Lighthouse over the potholed, gravel road. It really seemed remote. Finally, I turned around and headed for the road to Big Brook, which I was told would be marked by an osprey nest. And before long, sure enough, there it was. I took a right turn onto the rubble road of potholes. The pothole-laden road to Big BrookVast expanses of limestone barrens on the way to the abandoned communityI drove about 5 km/hr, then 15-20 km/hr when the potholes gave way to gravel and dirt. Eventually, much of the road turned to rubble rocks. Up and down, up and down, the car jarred. It was definitely the roughest road Iâd ever been on in Newfoundland and Labrador - rougher than the road in Maryâs Harbour and the highway to Burgeo. Government maintenance of it ceased after the town resettled in 2004. Part of the resettlement decision was made because the children had been missing too many days in the winter because the older ones had to travel to Cookâs Harbour for school. The first 2 km or so is mostly woods with some ponds, then it quickly opens up. At Watsonâs Brook, I crossed over the narrow little bridge, which was still in good condition. The scenery became spectacular - wide open with no trees at all to block the view. Vast expanses of limestone barrens lay before me as I continued onwards. Magnificent! I stopped a moment to chat with a moose hunter, who said his friend was off chasing a moose theyâd spotted. Then farther down the road, up and down, up and down bumping, I saw the other guy zooming on his quad, rifle on his back. It was amazing how fast those things could go on such rough terrain. Then - bang, bang, bang. Iâd driven over one of those big, aluminium drainage pipes that crossed the road. This one was not fully buried. I stopped and noticed a foot-wide piece of metal hanging from the underside of the car. I tried ripping it off, but that didnât work. Was it part of the car or part of the pipe? I wasnât sure, but continued on. I had no problem driving, except for the tap, tap, tap of that piece of metal on the road. Then finally, in the distance, I could see the rusted shipwreck my research told me I should expect, and I knew I had arrived. Luckily, the author didn't have to cross this brookStage heads in Big BrookIt took me an hour and five minutes to get to the little settlement. I parked and took some photos, walking around the abandoned stages and houses. Inside one of the houses, old magazines, books and kidsâ toys littered the floors. I walked down into the basement: Lots of broken toys and magazines there, too. Then I walked on a dirt road a bit, eventually arriving at the brook where the bridge once connected the north and south parts of the old road. There was no way I could have walked across from the other side! It was waste deep and moving rapidly. Down the brook, back towards the town, I saw two guys with a quad half in the water. It looked like they might have been stuck. âNeed help?â I asked. âNope!â they said. They were cleaning the quad. Lloyd and Don were their names. They lived in Corner Brook and had spent the last 10 days in Lloydâs fatherâs old house. Theyâd caught a moose yesterday morning. Don showed me the meat hanging in a shed. Then their two wives, Shirley and Audrey, popped out of the house. Lloyd took me for a quad ride to visit the shipwreck, after which he invited me in for tea. We all sat in the old house sipping tea and eating carrot cake and crackers with bakeapple and partridgeberry jelly. Outside, Lloyd pointed out the old caplin table, the old schoolhouse, the outhouse he built in the â60s, the two old stage heads (one of which was owned by his family) and his fatherâs last boat, parked near the old school. The government wharf, he said, was in such good condition because it was built only one year before resettlement! The old schoolhouseInside the old schoolhouseI then continued exploring the old buildings. Stepping inside the schoolhouse, the feeling of time gone by and emptiness really hit. The two chalkboards, one of which was no longer on the wall, and a pile of notepads were all that remained. No more children. Outside I took more photos before finally driving off. It was an amazing visit. On the way back, I stopped now and then to take more photos of the vastness. How to encapsulate it in a photograph? Probably not possible. A little red fox poking around in the moss and lichen peered at me. I tried walking closer, but it scooted off.The road to Big Brook is the most magnificent road Iâve ever been on, taking me through vast, alluring and fascinating barrens - perhaps the closest thing to being on the moon. - By George Slone
"Little Sally Saucer, sitting in the water, rise up Sally and wipe away your tears, turn to the east side, turn to the west side, turn to the very one that you love best," recites Teresa Boland of St. John's as she recalls a popular children's game from her youth."So anyway, Little Sally Saucer closed her eyes and she wasnât allowed to look until youâd say âRise up Sally and wipe away your tears.â It was a âring around the rosesâ game. Everybody would hold hands and the person who stayed in the middle was Little Sally Saucer. When they said âTurn to the very one that you love best,â whoever Sally touched [became] Little Sally Saucer then." This is just one of the games Teresa Boland (pictured left and above) of St. Johnâs remembers. Born in 1947, she lived on Prince Street until moving to Southside Road when she was about five years old. Teresa has fond memories of playing in her neighbourhood, including stilt races.âWe used to use stilts all the timeâ¦They were made with a long piece of two-by-four and then youâd put another block down lower and youâd stand on it. You would probably be two or three feet from the ground. So youâd be standing on these, and youâd be holding onto the stilts, and youâd be walking, you know. We used to race down Southside Road on them, and we used to have the stilt fights. Youâd try to kick [your opponent] off with your stick, and if you lost your balance or went off your stilts youâd lose the game. It was a rough game to play. You wouldnât think it though, you know. We didnât think it at the time. Now youâd have to have a helmet on to do that. We never wore a helmet. I donât even think there was any such thing as helmets back then.âWhile most kids had proper winter slides, in the summer they might fashion one out of leftover cardboard or canvas for sliding down the grassy hills. Teresa also has memories of playing on the railroad track and going swimming in natural waterways behind her home on Southside Road, as well as playing with paper dolls on winter days.âCutouts were paper dolls. The doll used to be made of cardboard. There were different kinds of dolls and youâd dress them up,â Teresa explains. âWe used to have catalogues, Eatonâs and Sears, and we used to cut out the beds and then that would be the dollsâ furniture.â Like boys with their sports cards, the girls would trade their dolls with friends. Teresaâs family moved to Topsail from Southside Road when she was 14 and she lived there until she married her husband, Jim. The two have been married for more than 50 years and live in St. Johnâs, where they raised their five children. Teresa is currently writing a book about the Ocean Ranger disaster and volunteers with the MacMorran Community Centre. - By Terra BarrettThe Collective Memories Project is an initiative of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador to record the stories and memories of our province. If you have a memory of old-time Newfoundland and Labrador to share, contact Dale Jarvis at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 1-888-739-1892 ext 2, or visit www.collectivememories.ca.