Posted by: alexhickey | January 27, 2016

The ‘Queen Mary’ of St. Jacques ©

The 1935 Census of St. Jacques shows 380 people living in the community, many of Irish and English descent. If you listened carefully you would still hear a few distinct, still unchanged accents of English and Irish emigrants among those residents who were born in those countries. Dr. Conrad Fitz-Gerald and Matthew Hunt were from England while Father John Curran, Mother Alphonsus, Sister Patrick, and Patrick McEvoy were from Ireland. Others like Albion Dinham, his brother Isaac Dinham, William Dawe and Henrietta Burke were born of a parent who came from England. Barry Lynch’s father was born in Ireland. All in all there was still a strong connection between St. Jacques and Europe consequently a fairly high level of interest in events happening across the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the economic Depression which blanketed the western world in 1935 there was still an air of expectancy and excitement in the lives of people in St. Jacques. Trading vessels came and went from the Harbour, delivering goods and services to other communities throughout Fortune Bay and along the rest of the south coast of Newfoundland. Fishing schooners changed crews and unloaded their catches from the Grand Banks, and schools taught children a great deal more than to simply read and write. As the 1930’s gave way to the 1940’s life began to improve for many.

The mail boats delivered the Daily News newspaper from St. John’s to its local subscribers and the Twillingate Sun to others. In some households one could read a variety of newspapers from the Boston States and now and then The London Times or The Irish Times. Radios were no longer a novelty. Rising from the sides of many houses were radio antennae which reached to the roof where the bare copper wire was secured to a solitary stick attached to the eaves of the house and sometimes strung like a clothesline to another building or to a pole erected forty feet from the house in an effort to find the broadcast signal. Inside the dial was set to the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland (BCN) where news of the world was re-broadcast to listeners throughout Newfoundland who could pick up its signal.

Against this background the people of St. Jacques were quite aware of world events so it was of little wonder that the maiden voyage of the RMS Queen Mary was noted and discussed among the population. On March 24, 1936 the Daily News reported that the Liner Queen Mary successfully completed the first stage of her journey down the Clyde River in Scotland.

The Queen Mary on her Maiden Voyage.

The Queen Mary on her Maiden Voyage.

Later that year on June 1, it reported that the Cunard White Star liner Queen Mary entered New York on her maiden voyage, failing to make a speed record. She had been less than an hour slower than the SS Normandie. Sometime after that the name Queen Mary was given to a local landmark which endured for almost forty years.

Imagine a summer evening and teenagers strolling around the harbour; the game of life and courtship in full swing. The clothes will look different and the slang or jargon spoken by youth will vary, depending upon whether it is the decade of the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s or early 60’s – yet, the behaviours will be much the same. You’ll see clusters of them walking around the harbour, an ebb and flow to their numbers and formations as they stroll, much the same as a flock of birds in flight. Occasionally a couple will break away from the group and wander along their own path at their own pace, sometimes re-joining the group or spending the rest of the evening as a couple.

There will be favourite locations for the group to pause and ‘hang out’. One of these was the ‘Queen Mary’, a large naturally occurring rectangular rock about ten feet in length along the side of the road adjacent to what was then known as Red Rail Hill. The rock has an inordinately smooth surface on the top, square at one end and tapered like the bow of a ship at the other. Exposed by workers when the first rudimentary roads were constructed around the harbour over a century earlier, the rock rested up on the hillside until several enterprising young men during the early 1940’s decided to lever it from its resting place and move it down the incline to the side of the road. It was this group of young people who dubbed the rock, the ‘Queen Mary’. If it had been christened with another name prior to this, then the name had been lost to history as is almost the name ‘Queen Mary’.

The photo below doesn’t show the ‘Queen Mary’, however, it does locate it. The rock was positioned to the lower right of this image, just outside the fame.

Red Rail Hill 1960

Red Rail Hill 1960

How the RMS Queen Mary received its name is equally as interesting. It is told that the builders of the ship intended to name her after Queen Victoria; however, when a representative of the Cunard Company told King George V that they wished to name the new ocean liner after Britain’s greatest queen, he replied that he was quite pleased they would be naming the ship after his wife, Queen Mary. With that answer, there was no going back to the first choice. We don’t know exactly the date the St. Jacques ‘Queen Mary’ received its name or who gave it that distinction; however, we do know it reflected the British Liner Queen Mary which had been launched a few years earlier in 1936.

In its more vernacular description it was also known as ‘the courting rock’, for it frequently supported a single couple as they explored their relationship and got to know each others nuances. When sitting on the ‘Queen Mary’, you were positioned to look straight out through the mouth of St. Jacques Harbour and beyond to the wider Atlantic Ocean. The number of young people sitting there varied and waned as the evening wore on, leaving those in more serious relationships alone as darkness crept over the harbour.

The Royal Steamship Queen Mary’s reign of the seas came to an end when she was officially retired from service in 1967. Her last voyage took place from Southampton, England on October 31, 1967 bound for Long Beach, California, United States. Today the Queen Mary is a floating restaurant, museum and motel. It was around that time that the ‘Queen Mary’ of St. Jacques met its end. The main road passing through the community was widened and upgraded; small hills were leveled and depressions filled in. The ‘Queen Mary’, had it been left as it was, would be near the middle of the north lane of the road as it is today. Sadly, with the herculean efforts of a bulldozer, the rock was dislodged and sent crashing down the embankment to the shoreline where it was buried with successive loads of fill as the roadbed was widened.

Today, the St. Jacques ‘Queen Mary’ isn’t a restaurant, museum or hotel. Nor is it a courting rock! Its pieces have blended into the landscape along with the voices and bodies of many of those who sat there on its deck staring out to sea, on a voyage of life that took them to many corners of the earth and back.

Evening View From the 'Queen Mary' Rock in St. Jacques

Evening View From the ‘Queen Mary’ Rock in St. Jacques

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Responses

  1. Enjoyed this story immensely!

  2. Thanks again, for honouring the Queen Mary as the “courting rock”…and for that photo taken from the Rock at sunset….Keep up your excellent written tributes to the historical and folk tales of the many great St.Jacques people who “each in his/her unique way made ( and is making)St.Jacques a wonderful community> John B


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