Hoisted Up! (2795 views) I can still remember the sound of motorboat engines as they slowly steamed up and down the shore off Cape Bonavista. This was very busy and very rich fishing ground during that period from the early 1900s to the time of the ... click to read moreI can still remember the sound of motorboat engines as they slowly steamed up and down the shore off Cape Bonavista. This was very busy and very rich fishing ground during that period from the early 1900s to the time of the fishery closure for both codfish and salmon.
The picture depicts the way it was in that era. The fishing stage shown still stands today. It was built in 1952 or 1953, and tourists can visit it at Cape Shore Restaurant, Bonavista. The property at that time belonged to John and Charles Mifflin, my uncles.
Mifflin's Cove was a very busy place, but then, so were the other places on the Cape Shore Road in the summertime between May and September of each year. The way of life then was not as we know it today - no electricity, only kerosene lamps. They say hard work never hurt anyone, but I myself think my mom and dad worked as hard as anyone did. They never got rich from the fishery, that's for sure, but they loved doing what they did.
The picture is of my dad, Mark Mifflin, hoisted up to the stage. This was done every day after the fish was cleared away, and lowered into the water the following morning.
After my brother Eugene and I got older, we abandoned the fishery. So did my sisters Edith and Lillian, to settle for a better way of life, or so we thought at the time. Anyway, it's all over now; only the memories remain, but it was good "the way it was."
Stay Out! In my life l have had three experiences with ghosts. The last being after my mother passed in December. The one l'm writing about now happened when my children were young.
In February years ago, my sister's family were all going away for a few days. She needed someone to come morning and night to put the dog in and out, and take care of the plant seedlings she had. My daughter, Monica, said she ... click to read moreIn my life l have had three experiences with ghosts. The last being after my mother passed in December. The one l'm writing about now happened when my children were young.
In February years ago, my sister's family were all going away for a few days. She needed someone to come morning and night to put the dog in and out, and take care of the plant seedlings she had. My daughter, Monica, said she would take care of the dog and so the first three days went off without a hitch. It was the evening of the fourth day that unexplainable things happened.
It was dark when my daughter and l went down the road to Nancy's house. Upon arriving there, Monica went around back to call for the dog and get her evening food. When l descended the stairs into the basement I didn't know which way to look. All the shoes and boots from the closet were strewn across the floor. Then l noticed two larger men's boots were placed toe to toe in front of the room where the plants were. Someone wasn't happy with me going in there.
I wasn't long heading back upstairs, grabbing Monica and racing for home. Our heads were swivelling around 180 degrees making sure nothing was after us. I never realized how closely we were pressed together as we raced home, until l was telling my husband what we saw and realized my shoulder was sore.
My husband drove us back down and looked all around, but nothing was amiss. The next day l notified my sister as to what happened, she said, "Oh that's just the mother-in-law. Since she passed, many strange things have happened. Sometimes when we are just sitting around the vacuum comes on. We figure she's just trying to tell us the house needs cleaning."
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The Christmas Muskrat It is strange how preparations for the Christmas season cause the most remote memories to come to the surface. Maybe at a certain stage in your life, you keep probing deeper in an attempt to regain a little of your childhood. Although I have not seen a muskrat up close for many years, a short time ago this incident popped into my mind. It has kept coming back so often that I feel compelled to ... click to read moreIt is strange how preparations for the Christmas season cause the most remote memories to come to the surface. Maybe at a certain stage in your life, you keep probing deeper in an attempt to regain a little of your childhood. Although I have not seen a muskrat up close for many years, a short time ago this incident popped into my mind. It has kept coming back so often that I feel compelled to sit at my computer and describe it in print.
Henry John Curtis was well known in the little community of Branch, St. Mary's Bay in the 1950s. He lived in a little house situated to itself in the Easter' Cove of the community. For weeks at a time (and maybe even months), he was a hermit, a recluse, a loner. He would retreat to his simple abode and remain there until the spirit moved him to reappear. His moods were unpredictable. At times, he would go about the community quietly; at other times, he was very active, shouting out strange sayings and pretending to chase young women. I was petrified of Henry John when he was in this hyperactive mood and, at such times, I steered clear of him.
On Henry John's frequent visits to our house, he acted the perfect gentleman. He discussed the weather conditions or the scarcity of rabbits. Sometimes, to amuse us, he would sing a lively verse or two of Me Old Ragadoo. My mother always offered him a mug-up, which he accepted graciously, sitting quietly at the table with his cap placed on the floor. I often wondered how he could be so quiet at our house and so odd and scary in a different environment.
I remember one year when I was seven or eight years old, and it was a few days before Christmas. It was around dusk, the weather was cold and there was a bit of snow on the ground. I remember Henry John coming in and saying, for the benefit of my siblings and me, "Santy Claus will get here this year because we are going to have a big fall of snow." I can still picture him sitting at the end of the table, enjoying his cup of tea with a thick slice of sweet bread. When Mommy gave him a piece of fruit cake, he was more than thankful, and I think it was at this point that he was overcome by the Christmas spirit. Getting up from the table, saying that he had a "Christmas box" for us, he darted out through the porch. I waited with the excited anticipation that all children feel when they know a surprise is near. Mommy was protesting, telling him that there was no need to give us a present, and I was trying to "shush" her. I sure wanted to see Henry John's gift.
In he came a few minutes later with a reddish-brown muskrat skin (with the head still on) attached to a large board. Having never seen such a rodent before, at first I was cautious, then I was curious. Later, I was fascinated by the soft fur, the poppy eyes and the whiskers. Needless to say, Mommy did not keep Henry John's muskrat pelt. She knew he wanted to sell it and that he needed the few dollars it would fetch. She expressed deep gratitude for his generosity, and he said he would bring us a brace of rabbits later in the year, which I am sure he did.
Thinking about this muskrat story now warms my heart in a way that all the yuletide glitter and hype in these modern times cannot accomplish. Henry John had so little to offer, but the animal skin meant a lot to him. I realize now, that in his simple, down-to-earth way, he was saying "Merry Christmas and thank you for your hospitality." I know now that he taught me a valuable lesson in the practice of giving from one's heart.
Sunlight Soap A walk through the cleaning aisle of your favourite supermarket will quickly reveal that today's shelves are chock-full of cleansers, disinfectants and fresheners. When I was a child in Branch in the '50s, my family had a one-size-fits-all product and that was Sunlight Soap. My mother used Sunlight Soap for every cleaning chore and she called it a cake of soap, not a bar of soap.
The tender bottoms of every child in ... click to read moreA walk through the cleaning aisle of your favourite supermarket will quickly reveal that today's shelves are chock-full of cleansers, disinfectants and fresheners. When I was a child in Branch in the '50s, my family had a one-size-fits-all product and that was Sunlight Soap. My mother used Sunlight Soap for every cleaning chore and she called it a cake of soap, not a bar of soap.
The tender bottoms of every child in my family were washed with Sunlight Soap. I can remember quite clearly the infant days of my younger siblings, who were born right in our family home on the hill. When the little ones were merely hours old, the midwife cleaned them gently with a soft piece of flannelette and a cake of Sunlight Soap floating in a pan of warm water. I can still smell the pleasant combination of Sunlight and Johnson's baby powder from the first time I was allowed to hold a newborn baby in my arms.
Today we cannot wash our hair without brand name shampoos, conditioners, rinses and other expensive treatments. Sunlight Soap did it all when I was a child. Mommy would rub that cake of soap over our heads. I always dreaded times when she was using a new cake because the edges would be somewhat rough on my scalp. From head to foot, backs, bottoms, bellies and all got scrubbed with that familiar yellow cleaning agent. In Mass, on Sunday mornings, the clean scent of Sunlight permeated the church.
My mother used Sunlight for much more than personal hygiene. When the big aluminum pan was filled to wash the dishes, the yellow cake of soap would be dropped into the hot water. More than one greasy mess was cleaned up with a mixture of Sunlight Soap and boiled cabbage filling your nostrils. It wasn't easy getting the grease off dinner boilers and ridding the big iron frying pan of scruncheon fat. But Sunlight Soap managed to do it all.
Without the convenience of electricity and before the advent of gasoline washers, every stitch of clothing was hand-washed in a tub on a scrubbing board. And what was used to get out the dirt? Sunlight Soap of course. When the soap was fairly new, running it over the board was not too strenuous, but boy, when the cake was dwindling, it must have been hard on the knuckles. But, you just couldn't hang out white longjohns or bloomers on the clothesline with stains in them. The endurance of both the soap and the housewife was put to a rigid test when laundering the unmentionables.
Before Christmas, good old Sunlight Soap probably got its heaviest workout. Walls and ceilings had to be made spotless, not to mention the daily floor cleaning. Curtains were pulled off windows and immersed in tubs of hot suds. The Sunlight company probably loved the Yuletide season best of all.
From serving as a mould for a key impression to softening the heel part of uncomfortable new shoes, you could depend on that little cake of Sunlight. And if the squeamish will excuse me, a sliver of soap, pared to the correct shape and size, was sometimes utilized in emergency situations as a local enema. Well, any port in a storm, and there were times when doctors and hospitals were just not available. Mr. Sunlight Soap to the rescue. Thank God, we can still purchase Sunlight Soap. It's a handy commodity to have around. ... Hide full submission
My Greatest Catch that Got Away Living in the town of Laurenceton, NL in the 50s, I was like most boys growing up in the coastal communities of Newfoundland. One of my favourite things to do in the summer time was go fishing, either to the Point of Rock in front of our home, or to the neighbour's wharf, and enjoy catching mainly conners, flatfish and sculpins (ugh, they're ugly). I remember this one occasion, when I was a very young ... click to read moreLiving in the town of Laurenceton, NL in the 50s, I was like most boys growing up in the coastal communities of Newfoundland. One of my favourite things to do in the summer time was go fishing, either to the Point of Rock in front of our home, or to the neighbour's wharf, and enjoy catching mainly conners, flatfish and sculpins (ugh, they're ugly). I remember this one occasion, when I was a very young boy, going with my older brother Roy to Uncle Tom Humphries wharf. He lived a couple of doors up the road. He wasn't my real uncle. It seemed that we called all of the older folks aunts and uncles in those days. We got settled in at the head of the wharf, casting our hooks baited with worms and tied to some crude stick, usually an alder. If we were lucky we would have a bamboo. The fish were plentiful as usual. It was then that I felt this little tug on my line. Not thinking it was anything, I pulled it to the surface to check, and there it was, the smallest little flat fish that I had ever seen! It was about two inches in length. Needless to say I was overwhelmed with excitement. I got it to the top of the wharf. In my eagerness to remove it from the hook it started to flick and I lost my grasp. As it came off the hook it slipped out of my hands and back over the wharf and into the water. I was devastated! I immediately jumped to my feet and followed the little fish over the wharf. I soon found myself on the bottom and unable to swim. As fear gripped me I quickly started to crawl as fast as I could, luckily towards the shore. Thank goodness it was low tide. I soon broke water and, as any scared child would do, screamed to the top of my lungs - I expect louder than any whale breaching along the coast. The loud screams reached the ears of Uncle Tom and he came rushing to check it out. At that moment we realized that my cap had come off and was slowly drifting away. Uncle Tom grabbed my pole and casted out the hook and line and retrieved my cap. There I stood, soaking wet, scared to death, and probably a little embarrassed, as my greatest catch ever had got away. Needless to say that my brother was half scared to death as well from the ordeal. It took some time for them to get me to settle down and stop my crying as they coaxed me to go to the house. I didn't want to leave the little flat fish behind!
In my adult years, as I reflect on this incident, I realize it's not the size (length and/or weight) of a fish that's most important. The smallest of fish can intrigue and satisfy the heart of a child. And I believe that is so true for so many things in our life's journey.
Life in an Outport I grew up in the small outport community of Cull's Harbour, Bonavista Bay, NL in the 1950s and '60's. There were 11 families in total and everybody helped each other when help was needed. It was a quiet place, a peaceful place. In summer I went fishing with my grandparents or uncle. Sometimes we would take a lunch and stay out the bay all day. We would go ashore, build a fire and relax or ... click to read moreI grew up in the small outport community of Cull's Harbour, Bonavista Bay, NL in the 1950s and '60's. There were 11 families in total and everybody helped each other when help was needed. It was a quiet place, a peaceful place. In summer I went fishing with my grandparents or uncle. Sometimes we would take a lunch and stay out the bay all day. We would go ashore, build a fire and relax or pick berries while we waited to check the lobster traps, salmon nets or trawls depending on which license we had at the time. I loved those boat rides, especially when whales were in abundance and they came up to "blow." I wish digital cameras had been invented then. There are so many memories I have of beautiful rugged shorelines and cliffs rising majestically from the water and towering hundreds of feet in the air. As I get older the memories are starting to fade and it would be nice to have photos to keep the memories alive.
Fishing was a big part of our life but there were also chores to take care of on land. Gardens were planted in the spring with potatoes, turnip, cabbage, carrots, beets, cauliflower and lettuce. It was an awesome sight to watch these seeds grow into vegetables. There was hoeing to be done and weeding and thinning out to allow the hardier crops to thrive. But the mosquitoes......oh my God ...they were in the hundreds. At that time DDT was popular and everyone got sprayed all over with the potent killer. It is a wonder we weren't all poisoned by those noxious fumes.
Gardening was thirsty work and there were no fridges or soft drinks like today. Oh no, our drink was usually water from the well...which was cool, if not cold. If we were lucky we had Lemon Crystals, which coupled with a huge amount of sugar, made for a delicious refreshing drink. Of course we didn't always have Lemon Crystals because there weren't any stores in our small community, so we had to take a trip by boat to the next community to shop...and if people didn't run out of staple foods, they didn't shop very often. Another favourite drink was molasses water. I chuckle now to think of the kids today drinking molasses water. But we lived in a different era and we made the best of what we had. Along with gardening there was grass to be mowed with a scythe, left out to dry, turned daily with pitchforks and when it was dry enough, it was bundled into something like a big ball tied round with a rope and dragged to the barn where it was pitched up into the barn loft. This was food, along with store bought oats for the horse to last all winter.
There were fun times too. Girls made mud pies and let them harden in the sun. We played hopscotch, ring around the rosie and swam in the ocean. We also enjoyed catching squid on the sandbar at low tide. It wasn't funny when you grabbed them the wrong way and they squirted you with black ink though. The boys played Cowboys and Indians and sometimes the girls joined in as well. We were never bored. We made our own fun! In the fall, as the leaves turned from green to yellow to orange to red, the vegetables were harvested and placed in the cellar in different compartments. The cellar had shelves, which were lined with preserves made from berries and there was bottled moose, rabbit or turrs. Very seldom did we buy fresh meat or vegetables. Thanksgiving was a beautiful time when vegetables and fruit were taken to the church and thanks was offered for a successful year. There was also the harvest supper, catered for by the church women. Oh how delicious these meals were...especially the desserts. There would be different kinds of pies, cakes cookies and trifles. A child's delight for sure.
With the coming of colder temperatures, it was time to keep the wood stoves burning longer both for cooking and to keep the house warm. I attended a one room school with one teacher teaching K-11. It was the responsibility of each child's family to supply wood and splits for the pot bellied stove in the school room. I remember my grandfather or grandmother walking up to school with me before school began when it was our turn to light the fire and try and warm up the schoolroom before the teacher and the other kids arrived. Many's a morning we sat and did our school work holding pencils in mittened hands because the classroom was cold. Apart from that we were almost suffocated with the smoke that poured out of that old stove every time its door was opened to add more wood. Of course there was no running water so we had outhouses for bathrooms. Our little bottoms got quite a rude awakening when we sat on the icy cold seats in the outhouse.
Halloween was a wee bit different then. We didn't have costumes like today. We dressed up similiar to mummers and sometimes we were lucky enough to have a rubber mask. Well we thought we had it made then! We did go around trick or treating but instead of candy and chocolate bars, we were given fruit cake and maybe a glass of syrup. On November 2, which is All Souls Night, people were wary of going out because it was said that was the night when the souls came back and roamed the earth. Since there was no indoor running water or sinks, water had to be boiled on the stove in a kettle or pot to wash dishes. This water was placed in a huge pan and when the dishes were done, the water was thrown outside...not on All Soul's Night though. There was an old wives tale that if you threw water out on All Souls Night it would be thrown back in your face...so nobody wanted to risk it.
Late in November the teacher prepared the kids for the Christmas concert. If you spoke clearly enough you were given a part in a skit or asked to recite a poem or two. The remaining kids were taught to sing Christmas carols and songs as members of a choir.
Sometime before Christmas a "time" or social was held in the school. Everybody attended, young and old alike. There were sandwiches, cookies and cake. plus tea and coffee. After the tables were cleared, out came the accordions and square dancing began. Oh how I loved to watch the adults go through the different sets and the schoolhouse floor nearly buckled under all the stamping and tapping. By the time it was over, most of the kids, especially the younger ones, could be found under a table or in a corner covered up in a coat...fast asleep. I believe my love of Newfoundland and Irish music and dancing was born and fostered in that little one room school house some 55-60 years ago.
As Christmas neared, baking of fruit cakes, cookies and pies kept the house smelling of cinnamon, ginger and other spices. Molasses was boiled, left to harden and then two people with "buttered" fingers pulled and twisted it into "taffy." It was then cut into bite size pieces and put into a can with a lid and kept in a cool place. This was also the season for making home brew beer and moonshine. The brew was mixed and put in a huge wooden barrel, covered with a heavy quilt and left by the chimney to ferment. When it was ready, beer bottles were sterilized and filled with beer, a tsp of sugar was added and the bottles were capped and put away to "age." For moonshine, there was a big metal can with a curled up metal tubing attached. Beer was placed in the can, the can was placed on the old wood stove and after a period of time, a clear white liquid made its way through the tubing into a jar or bowl. This was bottled and known as moonshine...you weren't potent I know...100 % pure Alcohol...it would burn the guts right out of ya.
Winters seemed very long then because once the bay froze over we were isolated until spring thaw unless the ice became thick enough to walk on. The men would walk out a few feet and chop a hole in the ice to see how thick the ice was. They would continue chopping every 6 feet or so until they assured themselves the ice was safe enough to walk to the next community. When the ice was really frozen solid, my uncle would harness the horse to the sled, follow a path through the marsh and across the ice to pick up supplies in the nearby community. Those sleigh rides were so much fun. We huddled in the sleigh covered by quilts while the frost in the air turned our faces a bright red and our fingers and toes stung from the cold temps.
Of course us kids thoroughly enjoyed the deep snow drifts that gathered in our yards. Depending on the type of snow, we made snow forts, tunnels, snowmen and had snowball fights. When the snow had become hardened we used to slide down the big hill on sleds or toboggans, a piece of cardboard or canvas or whatever we could find that would send us flying over the snow amid squeals and shouts of delight. Then there was skating on the bay. One section was cleared off for the boys to play hockey and the remainder was a skating rink. Oh how we loved skating at night with the moon glistening on the snow. I guess I should mention that by the time we went home, our feet were frozen in our skates and our hands frozen in our mittens. Anyone who has lived this life knows how painful it is when the hands and feet start to thaw out. It didn't deter us though. The next evening or night we were out skating again.
With the spring thaw a whole new adventure opened up for us kids. After school we donned our rubber boots and went copying pans of ice. (To jump from one floating pan of ice to another in a children's game or pastime of following or copying a leader when the ice is breaking up in spring in a cove.) It was both exciting and scary as the larger pans broke apart or started to sink as we jumped on them. We often went home with our feet soaking wet but apart from a slight scolding we were never prevented from playing that game, which in looking back, was both dangerous and foolhardy. In spring the adults prepared the gardens for planting and the fishing gear for fishing and the cycle started all over again.
My Mom Remembers... My mom Alma June Swain (nee Butler) was raised in the small fishing village of Bauline, located along the Northeast Avalon Peninsula north of St. John's on Conception Bay. Her family eventually moved into St. John's and never returned to live there but just to visit old friends and many relatives.
This summer, over a glass of wine, she shared a one of her fondest memories while growing up in Bauline.
She ... click to read moreMy mom Alma June Swain (nee Butler) was raised in the small fishing village of Bauline, located along the Northeast Avalon Peninsula north of St. John's on Conception Bay. Her family eventually moved into St. John's and never returned to live there but just to visit old friends and many relatives.
This summer, over a glass of wine, she shared a one of her fondest memories while growing up in Bauline.
She remembers a cool fall afternoon when she was about 10 years old; she was walking with her dad to Sunday school. It was September 27th 1942, a small plane appeared over the bay, it seemed to be in trouble, erratic movement, not the normal drone of engines rather a sputtering sound. The plane went down in the bay after several minutes of watching it flounder with a trail of smoke streaking the sky behind it. A fishing boat with her dad, Charles Butler, and four others rushed out to help and check for survivors. The pilot was pulled from the water; he was alone on the small plane. After what seemed to be an eternity the fishing boat with the rescuers returned to the dock with the pilot and brought him into the house. Her dad came walking up to the porch with nothing but his jacket wrapped around his waist. You see, he had given up his pants to the pilot, everyone knows that the Atlantic Ocean is as cold as an ice cube; the pilot was freezing so the fishermen gave up an article of clothing. Just so happened her dad gave up his pants. To this day, the image of her dad, wearing just a jacket sends her into fits of giggles. The pilot was Flight Sergeant Guy E. Mott of the 125th fighter squadron RCAF.
Many years later after her dad had passed away; Sergeant Mott came to the house asking for Mrs. Charles Butler. He brought her some flowers and wanted to thank Mr. Butler personally for his help in the rescue...and his pants. In the United Church is a plaque that credits the men with the rescue. The names on the plaque are of course Charles Butler, and four others. Unfortunately mom can't remember their names
Sergeant Mott went on to be a Fighter pilot "Ace" in World War II
As told to her daughter Cindy in the cottage at Good Spirit Lake, Saskatchewan
Most houses which I knew in St. John's, NL in the early 1930s had a small fenced off backyard for playing. Not the duplex we rented at 10 Merrymeeting Road.
Located at the top of Parade Street, it was a relatively newer side by side, built by a well known builder, Selby Vokey, on a narrow lot with no room for a backyard. Attached to the house and backing ... click to read more10 Merrymeeting Road
Most houses which I knew in St. John's, NL in the early 1930s had a small fenced off backyard for playing. Not the duplex we rented at 10 Merrymeeting Road.
Located at the top of Parade Street, it was a relatively newer side by side, built by a well known builder, Selby Vokey, on a narrow lot with no room for a backyard. Attached to the house and backing on the lane was a single garage. I don't remember much about it and suspect it was not rented with the house so we had no use of it. Directly adjacent to the garage was a small open space providing entry to the laneway. Abutting this space was Johnson's Garage. Our back door led to a stoop with steps opening directly into the lane. It was the last house built on the street, so the builder had restricted space. Directly behind our house was a narrow lane that led behind the rest of the gardens of the houses on that street as well as the adjacent Newtown Road, so we had to make the best of what we had. I remember having picnics and birthday parties there with my sister Ann and our friends on a small table set up for that purpose by my mother. She would prepare fruit drinks and snacks and we would sit around and enjoy ourselves immensely. I had a good friend David Lang who lived immediately behind us on Newtown Road. We would erect club houses from brim bags set against the back of the house and sit in there eating boxes of Cracker Jacks until we made ourselves ill. There would be the odd accident as when once we accidently set the club house on fire but fortunately were able to extinguish it before any damage was done.
The kitchen in our house was a large squarish room located at the back of the house overlooking the lane. At the end adjacent to the adjoining house was a floor to ceiling kitchen cabinet with glass doors housing our kitchen dishes. Directly in front of it and hanging from the ceiling was a single light bulb in a socket with a pull chain switch. This presented a challenge and an invitation for a young boy, and I remember once when the bulb had burned out removing it and putting a pair of metal pliers into the socket to try and fix the problem. Unfortunately the electricity was still on and it gave me quite a jolt. A wooden table with four chairs was placed against the outer wall and opposite against the inner wall was a cook stove initially coal and finally oil fired. There was a door leading from the kitchen into the front hall. The other door led to a small back porch and immediately to the right in the porch was the door leading to the basement, down a steep flight of wooden stairs.
The front door lead directly from a small vestibule into a small hall. Doors lead from the hall to the kitchen directly ahead, another door to the left lead to the living room with a bay window. Immediately on entering the hall from the vestibule and to the right was the base of the stairs leading to a small landing and thence turning left against the outside wall to the second floor. Adjacent to the landing was an oil fired space heater with a funnel going to the second floor where it exited from a wall.
The small squarish living room had a bay window overlooking the sidewalk on the front of the house. On the opposite side of the room was a small grate with a rather plain mantle piece.
The stairs to the second floor had two landings leading up to a circular hallway with a small bathroom and three bedrooms adjoining.
The bathroom was rather narrow with a toilet and wash basin immediately opposite the door, and an iron bathtub to the right. There were no windows save a skylight immediately above the bathtub.
The bedroom to the left of the bathroom was the master bedroom and faced the front of the house with a bay window overlooking Merrymeeting Road.
Adjacent to this room was another bedroom facing the street. This room was considered a guest room. For several years during the war it was occupied by my aunt Stella. She was with us during a period when her children were born. I think she suffered from post partum depression and mom looked after her during those years. Stella married a Canadian soldier from Stellarton, NS. After she returned home to Nova Scotia the room was occupied by other people who boarded with us. They were usually military personnel, but on one occasion I remember we had a Scotsman who worked at Bowring Bros. Ltd. as a window dresser. Renting spare rooms to military persons was quite common in St. John's during the war years.
To the right of the bathroom was another bedroom assigned to me. It had a single window overlooking the narrow laneway at the rear of the house and the rear gardens of two houses on Newtown Road, to the left Jimmie Skanes' home and next to that to the right the home of Jimmie Lang. Son David was my best friend.
Immediately to the right, as you ascended the stairs to the hallway, was another bedroom assigned to sister Ann. It had a single window overlooking the rear laneway and also the Lang house on the left and the Reid home to the right, both fronting on Newtown Road.
A door from the kitchen led to a small back porch with a door straight ahead leading to a balcony and another to the right leading to a set of basement stairs. There was a small deck outside with steps leading to the narrow lane below. There wasn't a garden as such so we had to use the lane as our play area.
The steep staircase leading to the basement lay to the left against the foundation wall. Immediately ahead there were two smallish windows in the foundation wall overlooking the sidewalk on the front of the house. Under these windows were two board bins for storing coal. Opposite these bins and on the inner wall were storage shelves. Coal was unloaded on the sidewalk near one of the basement windows and eventually shovelled down into the bin inside. Coal was delivered by horse cart in those days.
During the war years (1939-1945) all windows had to be shuttered during the evening hours to avoid stray light emission which might be detected by enemy aircraft aloft. There were various designs employed to do this and it was essentially left up to the individual owner. In our case Dad had used a wooden frame covered with black fabric, the frame snugly fitting into the window frame. These frames had to be up at dusk and taken down again at dawn. Autos at that time had to be fitted with hoods over their headlights and the fenders on all vehicles had a white border on them to help with visibility during blackout hours. Certain citizens in each neighbourhood were designated as fire wardens and were allocated helmets, arm bands, stirrup pumps etc for use in emergencies. My father was so designated.
We lived at the beginning of Merrymeeting Road on the East end, immediately at the top of Parade Street. Our front door led immediately onto the sidewalk. Next door to the West were the Parsons, Selby and Jean, and their two daughters. Next moving west was Mrs Howell, a widow living alone with her many cats. Immediately to the East of us and facing the top of Parade Street was Johnson's Service Station. They also had a small confectionery store attached. The neighbours on Newtown Road whose backyards backed on our lane were the Reids (Ernie), Langs (Jimmie), and the Skanes moving North. Others on Newtown Road I remember were the Homers, Jacksons and Downtons. Immediately across the street on Newtown Rd was Shamrock Field, the home of the Newfoundland Regiment. Across the Street on the corner of Parade and Merrymeeting was Flinn's corner store and immediately opposite us on Merrymeeting Road was the Hatcher home. Friends Barry and Bubbie Windsor lived five doors West on Merrymeeting Rd. Barry and I were good friends. I believe the Windsors were originally from Wesleyville. I remember on occasion when a schooner of a relative from there would arrive in St. John's, we would go down to the harbour and pay a visit, and we were always welcomed.
Bowring Park, situated some 20 or so km outside St. John's, was a favourite place for us to visit during summer months when the weather was fine. On at least one occasion I remember going there by bicycle with a friend; it was a long journey. Most times though we covered the distance by bus. The coach stopped right at the park gate. I remember the distinctive fencing around the park. It was cross hatched and constructed of spruce saplings. Automobiles were restricted from the park. There was a main roadway through the park as well as the various side roads. The lawns were immaculate with many flower beds which were a riot of colour in mid summer. A river ran through the park and was crossed by a high bridge. The view from that bridge was spectacular giving a panoramic vista of the surrounding area. There were well frequented tennis courts and a swimming pool which was crowded on warm summer days. There were two famous statues in the park which we always visited during our trips there. One was the Peter Pan statue, donated to the park by the Bowring family, founders of the park. The other was the Caribou statue commemorating the Royal Newfoundland Regiment whose insignia it represented. In the middle of the park was the Bungalow, the admin centre which also housed a well frequented canteen. I remember so well the visits to that canteen where hot dogs and pop were a particular favourite of mine. There was also a pond in the park where you could rent small flat bottomed row boats. The pond was frequented by a flock of swans as well as species of ducks.
Sunday afternoon was always a particular favourite of mine, along with my close friend David Lang. Often we would spend the afternoons on Signal Hill. At the top, of course, was "Cabot Tower," a historic building in its own right but as kids we were more interested in exploring the surrounding topography. Half way up the road leading to the tower and on the left was Dead Man's Pond, a small body of water which apparently was very deep, as it was said to have no bottom. This pond was a favourite resting place for numerous sea gulls. The panoramic view from the top of Signal Hill was breathtaking. To the west the city of St. John's. To the East the vast expanse of open ocean leading to Ireland. The narrow entrance to St. John's Harbour lay just down over the hill. Adjacent to that and to the eastward was a narrow gully which we always found intriguing. On one such occasion we ventured down there to explore it. I remember my dad telling the story of how a paper carrier was torpedoed off St. John's. She limped into the harbour loaded with water soaked paper tightly filling her hold. The paper had to be removed by carefully controlled dynamiting. It was taken to the top of Signal Hill and dumped down into the gully. Over the years much of it had rotted but there was still some remains at the surface. That particular afternoon we spent too much time investigating the interesting area and arrived home very late in the early evening. My parents were aware of where we were and thought the worst. My Dad was in such a state that he grabbed me and threw me across the floor when I arrived. This was the only time I remember him being physical with me.
Mammy Gosse's Tavern
David Lang's mother, Jean nee Gosse, was the proprietor of a Tavern on New Gower Street named "Mammy Gosse's Tavern." I believe it was an old established watering hole formerly owned and run by Jean's mother, known affectionately as "Mammy Gosse." It was a busy place, frequented mainly by long shore men who worked on the docks nearby. It was located on the downstairs floor of an old three-storey building and the upper two floors were vacant, except for a few items scattered about. David and I used to visit the upstairs on Saturday afternoons, mainly to look at the various interesting items stored there. In order to get upstairs we had to pass through the tavern. It was a noisy, crowded place, thick with blue smoke mixed with the odour of beer. We never lingered there, but made straight to the rear where there was a flight of stairs leading upstairs to the second floor. The room was basically empty except for a few items scattered about. One of these was an interesting old trunk which we rummaged through regularly, never knowing what we would find..
South Side Hills Hikes
Often in the summer time on weekends David and I would go for hikes up South Side Hills. To get to the base of the hill we would have to leave our homes and walk down Parade Street to the top of Carter's Hill, which was lined on both sides with small dilapidated houses. Then we proceeded down this street to New Gower Street and then wound our way to the South Side and then start the trek up South Side Road. This steep road meandered up to the top of the hill through rows of smallish bungalow type houses, most in a dilapidated state of repair. It was obvious that the owners were poor by the standards of the city. Part way up and on the left side of the road was the beginning of a pathway that led up the hill through low shrubs. Eventually the path led over the hill, across barrens and away to Freshwater Bay which could be seen in the distance. What a fantastic panoramic view. There were small ponds around in which we enjoyed fishing. The trout were few and small but we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the surroundings. We usually brought a small picnic lunch to tide us over during the trek.
Capital Coach Lines.
The bus system in St John's at this time was named Capital Coach Lines. They had their main garage and terminal building at the top of Merrymeeting Road on the left side proceeding east. Coaches were the standard type, considered modern by our standards. Coach tickets were the order of the day and you could change to another loop using transfers. In the cold winter months it was a treat to board the warmth of the coach. Riders often included the usual city "characters' such as "Silly Willie" and "Trots McCarthy." The main terminus for the various loops was located at the juncture of Lemarchant Road and Freshwater Road, at the foot of parade Street. All coaches eventually ended up here and it was a main transfer terminus.
Great Grand Dad's Store
I learned that my Great Grand Dad, Frederick Charles Cornick, had owned a general store located at 4 Freshwater Road, just across from the Capital Coach Line Terminus. As a boy I often passed by this store on my way home from school from Prince of Wales College on Lemarchant Road to our home at 10 Merrymeeting Road at the top of Parade Street, but never realized its significance. Great Grand Father lived next door to the store in "Bridport House," which had a glass pane over the front door with that inscription on it. I later learned a bit more about the place through correspondence with the grandson of a subsequent owner. Apparently the basement was particularly interesting because it had a small river running through it.
Nearby streets leading off Merrymeeting Road southward down toward Freshwater Road included going from East to West: Parade Street, right in front of our home, next Spencer Street, then Field Street, then Lime Street, and on to Mayor Avenue.
Down Carter's Hill
At the foot of Parade Street beginning on Lemarchant Road and continuing to Duckworth Street was Carter's Hill. It was a typical poor area with dilapidated unpainted row houses in bad state of repair.
The occupants were mostly low income people who worked at the various downtown trades, such as long shore. The children congregated outside and we always felt uneasy as we walked the street fearing reprisal from these kids. Urchins loitering in doorways was a common sight. There was a constant odour there associated with sewage and urine, because it was still an area with no sewage hook-up and dependant on the collection by the notorious "night carts," which circulated in the evening hours. Much of the urine was deposited directly into the open drains leading down both sides of the street. It was common to see drunkards staggering from house to house. Altogether Carter's Hill was not a pleasant area to pass through and we navigated through there only rarely.
Going to the Movies
Saturday afternoons were movie times. There were a number of movie houses in the city including the Capital on Lemarchant Road; the Cornwall on Cornwall Avenue; the Nickle on Military Road, across from the Roman Catholic Basilica; the Star Theatre on Henry Street, the Majestic Theatre at the corner of New Gower and Duckworth Streets; and the York Theatre on Water Street affectionately known to one and all as "The Bug House." Although we frequented all these theatres at one time or another by far our favourite was the Nickle, because the matinees on Saturdays always featured cowboy movies, a great favourite of the kids. Crowds would gather on the steps in front of the doors leading to the theatre and there was much pushing and shoving to get first access when the doors opened. There was a balcony at the rear and this was our favourite spot if we could get a seat there. Sometimes small items would be tossed from the balcony to the area below which would bring the ushers to the area to apprehend the culprits. They often wielded wooden sticks and inflicted punishment when the need arose. Trading comic books was a favourite pastime before the movie started. As you might guess there was generally a lot of commotion at that time. The thing I remember most about the Cornwall Theatre was that it had large circular metal air vents in the ceiling. A favourite pastime of us kids was to shoot peas at these vents using rubber bands as a sling shot, which produced the desired sounds.
Next door to our home on Merrymeeting Rd. and located at the top of Parade Street was Johnson's Garage. We often frequented the garage, which always had interesting things going there. There was an air hose located outside the building, which we used to inflate our bicycle tires. Sometimes the garage workers would fix flat tires on our bicycles for us. There was a service bay, which always seemed occupied. Attached to the garage was a small confectionery store run by the owner's wife where we would often indulge our sweet tooth. During the war years of course sweets were rationed and not readily available. But after the war was over this was lifted and they became available again. Our favourite chocolate bar was O'Henry.
One hangout my friend Dave Lang and I frequented was a small confectionery store halfway down Field Street. The owner was a colourful person who was thought to be somewhat shady. He had a pinball machine in his store and Dave and I played it frequently. Others frequented the site but we did not know any of these people.
Partway down Spencer Street on the right was Duffet's grocery. It was a small store. It had a small bell over the door, which rang to announce visitors. We used to purchase staples from Mr Duffet regularly including sugar, flour, peanut butter (in bulk by weight), molasses from a puncheon (in bottles). All these items were purchased by the use of Green Stamps, issued by the government to ration these staples during the war years.
This confectionary store was located across the street to the left and at the corner of Merrymeeting Road and Parade St. The building was a rather large three-storey structure, which appeared to not have been painted for many years. There were twin narrow storm doors over a small entrance porch. There was a tall fire ladder standing against the building at the rear of the structure. There was a pungent stale odour inside the shop. We often went there to buy Lime Soda and Crinkle Buns, local delicacies. Often Agnes Flynn, daughter of the owner, would be behind the counter with her mother. She was a child of about 10 years and was suffering from Down's Syndrome. Then one evening in summer the building was razed by fire and when daylight came we saw the scarred remains of the building with windows out and smoke stained clapboard. We later learned that Agnes succumbed to the fire. It left a deep impression on us as kids.
In the winter right after school and before supper we kids went sliding. I was the owner of a wooden "Champion" slide with two steel runners and a steering crossbar up front. We always lay belly down on the slide and steered with our hands using the crossbar. Our favourite places to slide were down Parade Street on the sidewalk and on the hill in front of Memorial University grounds. The grounds were located on the corner of Parade St. and Merrymeeting Road. It would always be dark when we returned home and often our hands and feet would be numb from the cold. We would warm them at the open oven door and they would cause much tingling and sometimes pain. The month before Christmas we would return home after sliding in time to huddle around the radio and listen to daily episodes of a Christmas radio serial called "Johnathon Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon." The serial played for a month and finally concluded on Christmas Eve.
Memorial University College
I enrolled in Pre-Med at Memorial University College in 1952 but did poorly with the courses because I was uninterested, and spent most of my time doing other things such as ping pong etc in the common room. The various biology courses were given by Dr. Cater Andrews, the head of the Biology Dept. and by Eli Lear, an assistant professor. One course involved dissecting coloured latex injected frogs to learn about the circulatory system. Our physics courses were taught by Dr. Brecken. The laboratories usually ran late and it was always dark before we finished them. The inorganic chemistry course was given by Dr. Cooper and the organic one by a professor whose name escapes me. English was taught by Dr Seary. I remember I spent much time in the common room playing ping pong with other chaps including Edsel Bonnell and E.J. Kearley. I only lasted several years at Memorial and salvaged enough credits to gain entry to the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, ON in 1956 where I enrolled as a microbiology student in the baccalaureate program.
Holloway School (formerly the Methodist College) was located on Long's Hill. Miss Helen Leslie was the principal. At the top of this hill on the right hand side going down the hill was Mickey Duggan's barber shop. We got our hair cuts there as kids. The school yard, located in front of the front entrance to the school, was a favourite place to play before school and also at recess time. It was surrounded by an iron fence. Alongside this yard to the left was the Presbyterian Kirk. We used to hold our scout meetings in a room in the basement of the church on Friday evenings. In the kindergarten class room we had a sand box for play. Every morning Miss Dingle would use a wind-up gramophone and play various classical music, including march tunes and we had to march around the room in single file. The inside of the school was furnished with dark stained wood, which always had a distinctive varnish aroma. The lights in the classrooms were suspended from the ceilings. The windows opened from the top using a long pole furnished with a hook. The teachers I remember were Miss Green (art); Miss Dingle (principal); Miss Halfyard; Mr. Douglas Osmond (music). All classes paraded in file from the individual classrooms to the auditorium (Pitts Memorial Hall) for opening ceremonies each morning at which time morning prayers were said. The hall was located on the top floor of the school with an exit over a ramp leading to Harvey Road. Once a year the annual awards ceremony was held in Pitts Memorial Hall. At that time various awards and proficiency prizes were given out to the students who had to go to the stage to receive them. Once a week we had physical education when we went to the gym in the basement. It had a stained hardwood floor, a basketball court, wooden rungs on the walls and overhead wooden ladders for climbing. Sessions here were supervised by a teacher.
Prince of Wales College
After leaving Holloway School in 1948 I went to Prince of Wales College for grades 7 to 11. This United Church College was divided with girls on one side of the building and boys on the other. There was no mingling of boys with girls in the various classes except for one I remember, Latin, which I believe was taught by Miss Effie Horwood. The principal was Mr. Cyril Parkins. Mr Ray Curnew taught math and French, Mr. Phil Forsey taught English, Mr Wally Hudson taught civics and manual training. Every Friday morning students all gathered in the auditorium for assembly and prayers, usually led by the Chairman of the Board, Dr. Baggs. In those days religion was taught as a separate subject by Dr. Curtis. The College was well equipped for sports with a gymnasium and even an outdoor ice hockey rink behind the building. School was quite a distance from my home on Stoneyhouse St., which I walked every day.
Post Prince of Wales College
After I graduated from Prince of Wales College in 1952 I spent the early summer months working in the parts Dept. of Terra Nova Motors, a GM dealership in St. John's. My job was to drive a pickup truck and go to various dealerships picking up parts. This only lasted a short while however and after that I worked for Canadian National as an assistant steward on an old steam powered bulk carrier, I made one trip aboard her from St. John's to Dingwall, Nova Scotia where we picked up a load of gypsum. We proceeded from there to Newport News and on to Baltimore, where we loaded coal and then proceeded back to St. John's. My job as the assistant steward was to keep the officer's cabins supplied with the various items such as towels, soap etc. The vessel was an old steel hulled steam-powered vessel and she had four engineers aboard. I suffered severely from sea sickness during the voyage. I remember there was a sadistic 4th engineer aboard who suggested I eat oranges to cure the ailment, which of course only made things worse.
In 1950 we moved from our original home on 10 Merrymeeting Road to a new house at 10 Stoneyhouse St., in the Hosing Corporation. This meant that we had a long way to walk to get to school, sister Ann to Bishop Spencer College and I to Prince of Wales College. The new house was a modern bungalow with a garage beneath the front veranda. The house cost about $20,000. Dad had to take a second job to make ends meet. For a while he did night-time book keeping for a lawyer by the name of Pinsent and latterly work for the National Institute of the Blind located at Pleasantville. Clarence and Elsie Powell lived across the street and were good friends of my parents. Also living on the street were the Clarence Badcocks, the Stones, the Doves, the Longs and two sons; the Blairs; the Harry McDonalds, Fred and Gem Cornick, and Ted Russell and his wife. Two of my boyhood friends lived on Popular Avenue at the bottom of Stoneyhouse St, Fred Davis and Bill Jeans. Two other friends, Donald Janes and Bill Knight lived on Maple Street to the west and paralleling Stoneyhouse St. In the backyard, which was terraced, was a long rose trellis along the southern side of the house, and an arched honeysuckle trellis located under the kitchen window. The sweet aroma of honeysuckle wafted in through the open kitchen window on warm sunny mornings during breakfast. On the lawn in front of the house was a beautiful Wiegelia bush. We also had several lilac trees in the backyard. Dad made the basement into an apartment accessed through the back door. An architect acquaintance of Dad's, Mr. Lench, drew up the plans. The rent from the apartment supplemented Dad's income. It was a wise decision on Dad's part, because it meant he no linger had to hold down other jobs.
The Anglican Cathedral was the church I attended during most of my childhood. It was a dark, smoke-stained imposing stone structure of Gothic style. Inside the structure were vast columns reaching to the ceiling with carved gargoyles, and stained glass windows. There was a pipe organ with pipes reaching to the ceiling. Wooden pews filled the inside. As well there was a wooden lectern with an immense carved eagle. Across from this stood the pulpit and towards the rear was an immense alter running the entire width. I enjoyed the services because it gave me a sense of calm. The music was soothing, the order of service beautiful. Although I had no feelings of a higher being there, the vastness of the structure gave me a feeling of insignificance. The Cornicks had made this cathedral their home since first coming to St. John's in the mid 1800s. They were very musical and many sang in the choir. In fact grandfather Harry Cornick and all his brothers sang together at one time during their youth. During my stay there Cannon Slade was the rector. He was a meek and mild man. Communion particularly stands out in my memory, especially on rare occasions seeing my late uncle Rex coming back from the communion rail with a large grin on his face. He was a colourful character, and seemed so out of place in that setting.
St. Thomas's Church: The Garrison Church
The Smith's (Arthur Bliss Smith and Family), my grandfather on my mother's side, were members of this church since moving to St. John's in the early 1900s. My mother and father, Olive Smith and father Cyril Cornick were married there by Rev. Canon Howitt. Mother had a white covered prayer book given them by Canon Howitt Rector of St. Thomas at the time of their wedding. I do not have many memories of attending services at this church in my early years and later on during my childhood I switched to the cathedral. I do, however, remember attending meetings of the Scout troop I belonged to at Cannon Wood Hall.
These are just a few of my childhood recollections, which immediately spring to mind. They are indelibly etched in my mind as if it were only yesterday. I consider myself blessed to have grown up in a most interesting place during very interesting times. St. John's will always have a special place in my heart.