Read these personal accounts of what life was like way back when in Newfoundland and Labrador, sent by our readers.
Grass Growing Through Concrete by Linda Greenfield as told by Ida House-Davis
Sitting with my mother (finally at home after five months in hospital), I recalled a friend's advice to ask my parents about as much family history as possible, because when they are gone - so is that history. If not researched, important family happenings would be lost forever. For some reason, at this time, an old memory of my mother's words came to mind. Years ago ... click to read moreby Linda Greenfield as told by Ida House-Davis
Sitting with my mother (finally at home after five months in hospital), I recalled a friend's advice to ask my parents about as much family history as possible, because when they are gone - so is that history. If not researched, important family happenings would be lost forever. For some reason, at this time, an old memory of my mother's words came to mind. Years ago Mom had told me that during WWII a German submarine had surfaced at their wharf in Port Saunders, Newfoundland. How is it I never pressed her for more details about this fascinating story? This time, I asked her to tell me EVERYTHING about it. Her memories were clear as she went back in time to 1939. She would have been 10 years old.
This is what she recounted. In 1939 Port Saunders had a population of about 200 people. The only access to this little fishing community was by sea. No roads to anywhere else existed there at that time. Electricity and indoor plumbing didn't even make an appearance here until about 1962. So in 1939, when the sun went down on this seaside village - it was dark outside! As WWII began, locals often saw allied convoy ships in daylight sailing across the gulf. My mother said they could see that our ships would often put up smoke screens to hide their exact location from enemy vessels. When the convoys were around, the residents had learned that German submarines could be around also. Port Saunders has a very deep harbour where submarines could navigate with ease. The harbour provided shelter from storms at sea, and shelter from attack. When the people of the village saw the convoys they would black out their windows, hiding their kerosene lamps, and warned everyone to stay away from the docks. This warning was made especially clear to the children. My mother says she remembers one particularly nervous father screeching at his children to get inside and put the curtains down. My grandfather had said, "Dare's Bill off 'is 'ed agin to-noite." She said Bill's voice carried over the water for all to hear adding drama, and some humour, to his audience. While these episodes struck fear into the hearts of knowing adults, it only served to fuel a sense of adventure to a group of mischievous 10- year-olds.
My mother and her wee gang of village children promised their parents they would stay away as warned, but no sooner out the door, they went directly to the wharf. My mother said she was one of the ringleaders egging the others on. This is hard for me to imagine as she is a shy quiet woman as an adult. Hearing this was a little like the scene from the movie Back To The Future where the son thrown back in time, is surprised to find that his mother was so rebellious as a youth! Mom and the pack of 10- year-old rascals were off to the wharf! Sure enough, as hoped, the strange submarine was there under cover of night. Suddenly the hatch opened. One might liken the moment to a scene from a movie where earthlings wait with bated breath for the door of a spaceship to open revealing inner aliens! Out of the inky blackness a number of men stepped out from the sub of the 'alien' ship onto the wharf motioning the children over. My mother says she remembers that they were very kind and friendly with warm smiles. The fearless little band accepted their host's invitation into the ship and walked downward into the submarine. At this point in the recollection, my father, never really ever hearing this story in its entirety either, said it must have been an allied submarine. My mother, protesting, said she had a very clear memory of the sub's grey walls painted with small white swastikas, not to mention the German accents. The men took the children into the galley and offered them anything they wanted from a table of oranges, chocolates and many treats. Living in a remote northern village these children had never even seen an orange before. Mom said their eyes were big as saucers at the wonders they saw within, the engine room being especially awesome. The men took them all through the sub and then returned them up the staircase and onto the wharf. My mother said one man with clear blue eyes took her on his lap, kissed her on the side of her blonde head and said, "Sweet little girl." In halting English, he spoke of his family back home. Perhaps there was another little blonde haired girl there too he was thinking of. The men then escorted all the children to the shore making sure they got off the wharf safely and waved goodbye.
These men represented a brutal regime. Perhaps those at sea were not so aware of what was happening back home. Perhaps the wicked goals of the Nazis were not fully developed in the minds of German troops at sea in the beginning of 1939 when war started. Perhaps they were drafted without a choice in the matter. One can only speculate about the mindset of men no longer on the earth. Who can tell? What I do know is that on one moonless night in 1939, men of war set aside The Third Reich, and were kind to a handful of curious Newfoundland children. Many Nazis let the concrete of hatred seal off their heart's humanity. But that night, green grass grew up through the concrete.
Snowdrifts In 1955, I was 21 years old and working as a telegrapher with Canadian National Railway. I spent most of my time as a relief agent, and therefore worked in most stations on the system, including two ballast pits. During February that year I was training in the various departments, upgrading to become the supervisor of student operators. One day my boss, the Chief Train Dispatcher called, and said they needed an experienced operator on ... click to read moreIn 1955, I was 21 years old and working as a telegrapher with Canadian National Railway. I spent most of my time as a relief agent, and therefore worked in most stations on the system, including two ballast pits. During February that year I was training in the various departments, upgrading to become the supervisor of student operators. One day my boss, the Chief Train Dispatcher called, and said they needed an experienced operator on Gaff Topsails for a specific assignment. They were about to raise the rail bed, thinking it would lessen the accumulation of snow from the severe drifting. They needed someone to measure snowfall, estimate the wind strength and direction and report this to the train dispatcher every four hours, and they were sending me.
It was mandatory volunteering.
Being advised of the immediate requirement, I went home to Hr. Grace to get some work clothes, as this was not a shirt and tie job. I travelled to Whitbourne and boarded the westbound Express the next evening.
Earlier I telegraphed ahead to Millertown Junction, to ask the operator there to get the local grocery store to pack a box of groceries with items they thought I would need. It worked. The Express train stopped for about two minutes 13 miles east of Gaff Topsail, at a place called Quarry, in the middle of nowhere, the most isolated, barren place I ever saw. Watching the tail lights of that train produced a lonesome, frightening feeling. Fortunately, they had included a dish pan with my groceries, which became my shovel to clear the snow from the door. I saw a small shack almost covered with snow. A rough, tiny place the track maintenance people used to have lunch, and a tiny, tiny shed next door and across the track was a water chute. Everything else was a sea of white snow. The railway was supposed to have sent coal and bedclothes. There was no coal, and the four bunk beds had no mattresses, but there were plenty of blankets. I used the blankets to make a bed on the desk, where I bunked for 23 days. There was a telegraph key and a crank phone. I could telegraph out, but they couldn't telegraph in, and I could hear on the phone, but they couldn't hear me. My coworker at Gaff Topsails itself sent a telephone technician the next day, and he fixed both. He also sent me a 12-gauge shotgun and a box of shells. I couldn't figure why. There was nothing there to shoot, or so I thought. The only live thing I saw was a fox who came once a day to drink from a drip at the water chute. Later I discovered there were hundreds of partridges, but they were white, and I couldn't see them.
Next, what to do about a fire? I discovered that the tiny shed was full of creosote shims (used to level the rails). I used my faithful pan to clear the snow to them and loaded up. Next I had to melt snow for water. There was a rather sophisticated stove (a warm morning), so I had heat in no time. Not having a kettle, I used the cans from the beans and soup. I got heck from the roadmaster for burning his shims, but my boss straightened that out. I began sending the weather reports every four hours, and missed only one in 23 days.
The environment wasn't too friendly, as the highest bush was not more than two feet high for miles around, and they were buried with snow. The drifting snow was incessant. The place made Kitty's Brook, 25 miles to the west, with a population of six, seem like a metropolis. The temperature hovered around -10 to -15 F and the coldest I saw it was -27. I believe the altitude was in excess of 1000 feet, and there was snow, snow, snow. I'm told there was one spot where, after a train went through, the snow was so high it seemed like a tunnel. The 13 miles to Gaff Topsail itself was all upgrade, so Quarry was in a hollow.
Nothing to do with the weather, but that was the year the Newfoundland Brewery put out green beer for St. Patrick's Day, and all I had was an ad in the Sunday Herald, and a date for the Velvet Horn in Holyrood, which I couldn't keep.
I didn't know a thing about cooking, so I spoiled more food than I ate. The grocer had supplied the ingredients for a salt beef Jiggs dinner, which was so salty and burnt from my cooking venture, I had to throw it away. Thank the Lord he included tin food, and a pocket knife, which was my can opener. My saviour was the bologna and the eggs. After a few days, the Rotary Plow came through, and I went onboard to say hello. I smelled salt beef and cabbage dinner and asked if I could have some, but the cook refused, saying it wasn't his to give. The men had paid for it collectively. Fortunately, there was a Mr. McCarthy, the travelling engineer on board, and he heard the conversation. He told the cook to give me what was left. I ate wonderfully well for the few days. I am still indebted to Mr. McCarthy.
Coal and an alarm clock arrived after a couple of days, and it became easier on me and the shims. I kept the fire going and was comfortable, but all alone. Oh, the lack of wisdom. Before the arrival of the alarm clock, when the dispatcher needed me, he would keep shouting on the phone (which I had left off the hook and near me) until I answered.
One day a freight train came through, and the conductor asked if his son-in-law and a friend could come for a couple of days to shoot some birds. I agreed, and hoped they could cook. They showed me how to get the birds, and clean and cook them. He advised me the birds blended into the snow, but their eyes didn't, and that's how he saw them. There were times when he killed eight or 10 birds with one shot. They cooked a big "scoff," and besides the ones he took home, he left me a dozen. Cooked. They had their own sleeping bags, and were comfortable and warm. After that, each day was about the same until I got called back to St. John's. They were to send a fellow to relieve me, and when he got off the Express and realized he would be there alone, he asserted "If you get on that train, I will too." I stayed and soon they sent a second fellow for the duration of the exercise.
On arrival in St. John's I went to the paymaster's office, as he had my paychecks stopped, suggesting nobody could have worked that much time. I challenged him to find one slip without an authorization number. It again took my boss to get that "back on track." As a matter of interest I made more money that month than some people made for the whole year. The boss gave me the remainder of the week off and I went home to get dress clothes and begin training again.
Life got back to normal, but even now, I sometimes wonder what about if I had become ill out there? There was one period when not a train got through for five days. Again I say, oh, the folly of youth. Would I have done this 20 years later, or now? Not a chance.
I must emphasize though I thoroughly enjoyed my time with CN and met a multitude of wonderful people, some of whom are still friends almost 60 years later. ... Hide full submission
Val Dunn Gander, NL
(1 rating, 1 votes)
He Always Brought Her Mayflowers Traditionally, the spring of the year lured father gleefully into the woods and across the sparsely snow-covered bogs near our home on the west coast of Newfoundland. With winter finally over, the promise of warm sunny days in the air, he'd set out to put down rabbit snares and check to see what the moose had been up to all winter long. He'd spend hours, walking for miles, and knew those woods like the back ... click to read moreTraditionally, the spring of the year lured father gleefully into the woods and across the sparsely snow-covered bogs near our home on the west coast of Newfoundland. With winter finally over, the promise of warm sunny days in the air, he'd set out to put down rabbit snares and check to see what the moose had been up to all winter long. He'd spend hours, walking for miles, and knew those woods like the back of his hand. Father never used a compass, for he had a naturally keen instinct for direction. He grew up in those woods, fished the brooks and ponds, and learned how to be one with nature. Fearless, strong and more content in the woods than anywhere, father held a deep reverence for nature. He dearly loved his native Newfoundland; she was part of him.
Mother, not one to go traipsing through the woods, would stay home with the seven of us, her spirits boosted by the knowledge that with the coming of spring we'd be spending most of our time outside playing instead of under her feet all the time. Of course, we did have lots of winter fun too, but it usually didn't take too long to soak our home-knit mittens and felt- lined boots, and then we'd be back in the house. She knew father would be gone most of the day, and in the back of her mind she wondered if he'd remember.
Ever since they'd been together, and that was nearly fifty years, his first trip into the woods in the spring sent him searching for Mayflowers to bring back for mother. Those small, delicate white lilies that smelled like heaven itself were always her favourite flowers! And father never returned without them.
He'd come home at the end of the day, with wet feet, oftentimes a pair of rabbits over his shoulder, a bright warm smile, and a bouquet of Mayflowers for mother. The look on her face as she held the flowers to her nose, sniffing their enchanting fragrance, is forever imprinted in my memory. She'd hug and kiss him and then we'd all get a sniff of her flowers. They were so very special to her, and a sure sign of spring's promise!
Spring 2011 is fast approaching, stirring the beautiful memory of father presenting mother with her much anticipated bouquet of Mayflowers, the only flowers he ever gave her and the only ones she ever wanted.
Memories Of Our Christmas Concert Christmas Tree (1 comments) What a wonderful memory of hauling our eight foot Christmas tree back home from in over the frozen marshlands around Wesleyville, Bonavista Bay. The teacher would let us leave class one afternoon, a few days before our school Christmas concert to find ... click to read moreWhat a wonderful memory of hauling our eight foot Christmas tree back home from in over the frozen marshlands around Wesleyville, Bonavista Bay. The teacher would let us leave class one afternoon, a few days before our school Christmas concert to find a large tree. Usually, there were six of us who got to leave early for this special Christmas chore. On the night of our Christmas concert the tree was well decorated with classroom and homemade decorations. We were all so proud of our efforts and seeing our tree so well decorated. The parents and grandparents would bring gifts to place under the tree before Santa Claus arrived the evening of the concert ringing his bell so loudly and jumping all around Wesley Hall. All those memories are as fresh as this morning's snowfall, and the designs of Old Jack Frost on the homestead bay windows. Wonderful memories! ... Hide full submission
Cracked Ice I was only ten years old when my three best girl friends and I went down to a frozen-over river just 10 minutes away from one of the girl's houses. We jumped on the ice covering the river, daring it to break, but it didn't. The ice was frozen several feet deep and it was very thick. Up the river, there was a crack in the ice and like the idiots we were, we decided ... click to read moreI was only ten years old when my three best girl friends and I went down to a frozen-over river just 10 minutes away from one of the girl's houses. We jumped on the ice covering the river, daring it to break, but it didn't. The ice was frozen several feet deep and it was very thick. Up the river, there was a crack in the ice and like the idiots we were, we decided to jump it. I went first, jumping over to the other side of the ice and back again and sat down on the ice. There was roughly a five-foot break between the next ice chunk. As another girl jumped back, she cracked the piece of ice I was sitting on. The sound echoed through the air and before I could do anything, I was emerged in freezing water. I thrashed wildly - I was never that great of a swimmer - and kicked my legs fiercly. I was wearing heavy winter clothes and could barely stay afloat because of the weight of it. Gasping, I reached out and grabbed a piece of ice, yelling for my friend to help. She just stood there, mouth agape, staring at me. I clawed at the ice, but I couldn't get a grip. "I'm going to die." I thought. So I sent a quick prayer up to Heaven and asked one last time for my friend to help me. She didn't, but my other friend rushed over, grabbed my arm and pulled with all of her might. She was the littlest and least athletic of all my friends, but later on she said that her love for me drove her to get me out of there. I thank God and my friend very much for helping me - if I would've been in there another two minutes, I wouldn't have been able to keep treading and would have probably gone under the thick ice.
Christmas in Corner Brook I moved away from home, 107 Caribou Road, in 1968 to Fort William, Ontario, Thunder Bay. Now, I have been back about four times and as I get older, I find I am missing it more. I remember Christmas the most...Mom's baking, the smell of bread fresh from the oven in the wood stove, Dad doing his best to make sure that the tree was perfect by cutting off branches from one tree to put ... click to read moreI moved away from home, 107 Caribou Road, in 1968 to Fort William, Ontario, Thunder Bay. Now, I have been back about four times and as I get older, I find I am missing it more. I remember Christmas the most...Mom's baking, the smell of bread fresh from the oven in the wood stove, Dad doing his best to make sure that the tree was perfect by cutting off branches from one tree to put in the proper place on the good tree by drilling holes in the trunk and carefully hiding them by turning the tree just right way. Those cookies ..couldn't get enough.
Christmas was always exciting for me and my siblings. We never had a lot, but we had a great time.
Company dropped in and we looked forward to the new mitts and scarf that an aunt knitted for us. The relatives would come by and a party started. We would be allowed to stay up for a while, but not too late. Always looked forward to Christmas dinner...and it was Dad's job to make sure that the gravy was perfect, no lumps. I watch my grandchildren now at Christmas and look back at my house when I was growing up. Nothing has changed except the cost and the kind of gifts. I hope soon that I can get back to the Rock and spend another Christmas with my mom and dad.
I'll stop now, wipe away the tear and submit.
If you read this and remember who I am contact me at email@example.com
Cops And Mummers: A Christmas Story Christmas traditions can be varied depending upon where you live of course. On the west coast of Newfoundland, traditions are pretty much the same as anywhere else, with one minor exception. There's this thing called "mummering" that up until the time I was ten years old, I'd never even heard of. My Irish mother was from a small village on the east coast of Newfoundland where she grew up with this strange tradition. But I ... click to read moreChristmas traditions can be varied depending upon where you live of course. On the west coast of Newfoundland, traditions are pretty much the same as anywhere else, with one minor exception. There's this thing called "mummering" that up until the time I was ten years old, I'd never even heard of. My Irish mother was from a small village on the east coast of Newfoundland where she grew up with this strange tradition. But I remember a Christmas when it seemed mummering had begun transitioning to the west coast of the island too.
Mummering consisted of adults dressing in costumes on Christmas night, disguising themselves as best they could, going from door to door visiting both friends and strangers. When they were received at each house, they'd enjoy a drink of Christmas cheer, play a few tunes, perhaps dance a few jigs, and have the people who lived there try and guess who they were. I'm sure it was great fun for the adults! However to a child who'd only ever seen people dressed in costumes at Halloween, and then it was mostly children, an encounter with adults completely disguised at Christmastime was an experience she'd never forget!
That year our family of nine had shared the usual warm family traditions, from finding that perfect Christmas tree, to mother's annual reading of "The Night Before Christmas," to finally waking up on Christmas morning and discovering Santa had once again surprised us with presents we didn't ask for. Although we didn't usually get the things we wished for, there were seven of us children and our father was a hard working self-employed man, so we were happy with whatever we got. After all there were millions of children in the world so how could every child possibly get everything they asked for anyway? Mother always helped us with our letters to Santa, emphasizing that fact, in effect shortening our lists dramatically.
Mom and Dad always spent Christmas Eve, and Christmas day with us children, right up until after supper in the evening on Christmas day. Then they took some time for themselves, visiting their friends (who also had seven children) to play cards and perhaps enjoy a few seasonal spirits. My oldest sister, who would have been 16 at the time, usually remained at home to babysit.
But that year, my sister wanted to visit her friends, so Mom and Dad left my other sister, who was two years older than me, in command! We spent the evening playing with our games and things from Santa, but around 9:30 my sister tried to make us go to bed. The younger ones listened to her and went off to their beds, but my brother and me decided to defy her and stay up. After all, she wasn't that much older than me so why should she get to stay up?
It was around 10 o'clock when we heard a car door slam outside our house. Now we lived almost on the outskirts of town, so there was very little traffic on that dirt road, especially in wintertime. As it was much too late for Christmas visitors, I stood in by the living room window, wiping frost off the pane, straining to see who could be in our yard at that time of night through the lightly falling snow.
It wasn't until the two very tall people reached the stairs leading up to our front door that I was finally able to clearly see who was coming. Fear sent shivers down my spine as screaming I jumped back from the window. In a barely audible voice that trembled, I said, "There's mummy and a zombie coming up the steps."
Laughing, my sister pushed past me to look out the window. Her face turning completely ashen, she screamed, running from the window as fast as her feet could carry her, hiding under the bed in the bedroom we shared. So much for her being in charge of things! Meanwhile, my little brother ran in to the kitchen, grabbed the breadknife off the sideboard and hid behind a big chair in the living room.
Thump, thump, clump, the footsteps drew ever nearer the narrow enclosed veranda at the top of the steps, while I stood there alone, frozen with fear, unable to run. The telephone was on a little table right next to the front door, the telephone directory beneath it. Grabbing the phone and directory, I did the only thing I could do. Hiding next to my brother behind the chair, I looked up the number to the RCMP station in town.
By this time the monsters had reached the door and were knocking, turning the knob back and forth. I knew at any moment they were going to get in and we'd all be dead! The phone at the police station only rang once. "Sir there are two very big scary creatures at our door, and they're trying to get in and kill us."
The officer on duty was a good friend and hunting buddy of my father, and when he identified himself and asked for my name, intense relief washed over me at his familiar voice. "Are your mother and father home?" He asked.
"No, they're playing cards at Mr. & Mrs. White's house." I said; my throat constricted with complete terror.
"Listen to me now. Don't open the door," he said, "stay where you are and we'll be right there." When I hung up the phone I said every prayer I'd learned since I could talk, begging God not to let those horrible creatures get inside.
After what seemed like an eternity of knocking and shuffling outside the door, we finally heard the sirens and saw the blue and red flashing lights on the living room ceiling. That was when the uninvited guests started slowly back down the stairs. The police would nab them now!
I'd never felt so happy in my entire ten years! We were safe and the monsters were going to jail. For a split second I imagined the ghouls overtaking the policemen and then coming back for us because we called the cops in the first place. But sneaking over to the window, my sister having joined me from under the bed, we watched the two RCMP officers talking to the strangers.
And then the strangers removed their masks and we stared open-mouthed at two very good friends of my parents. It seemed my parents had forgotten the two had promised to drop by for a visit that evening, wanting to surprise my mother with a little touch of her east coat tradition!
Needless to say, I didn't get into any trouble for calling the cops on the mummers that night, but that was the last time the mummers came to our house at Christmastime!