American fishing schooners returned year after year to Fortune Bay to take part in the lucrative herring fishery. The Customs Office was located in St. Jacques which meant they would have to clear customs upon arrival and departure as well as pay any requisite fees.  Additionally, many local merchants harvested herring for sale to the Americans as well as to other countries.  The relationship, though sometimes strained, was mostly a friendly one.  This extensive contact over decades made local residents quite familiar with the port of Gloucester in Massachusetts.  It’s fishing captains and crews were on a first name basis with most residents of Fortune Bay. The names of American and Canadian schooners were widely known and easily recognized.

Gloucester was attractive to Newfoundland fishermen. Many emigrated to the United States while others worked there and commuted back to Newfoundland at the end of the season. Needless to say many men lost their lives at sea on these schooners.  Every community in Fortune Bay suffered this experience, some many times over.

The herring fishery had its good years and its bad years. 1906 was one of the bad years resulting in many of the Gloucester vessels going to the Bay of Islands to harvest bait.  The growth of the industry in that part of the country resulted in many fishermen moving from Fortune Bay to the Bay of Islands. Recently I read the report of the Commissioner of Fisheries, Joseph O’Rielly, which was presented to the Governor on February 19, 1907.  He noted that:

“ Herring was very scarce in Fortune Bay in the early Spring, but were fairly plentiful in Connaigre Bay, where a fair supply for bait purposes was obtained, especially so about the end of May or June. There was also a fair supply of small herring in Placentia Bay, and as the season advanced, they were more easily obtained. The herring seem to have temporarily forsaken this bay (Fortune Bay), which was known in former years as ‘the home of the herring.’ The supply of herring bait in the spring seems to be getting scarcer every year, many of the fishermen think it is only temporary. The regulation prohibiting the use of seines for taking herring, except for bait purposes, is working well, as it gives the fish a chance to come into shallower water to spawn.  The fishermen of the past two years report large quantities of small herring in Placentia, Fortune and Connaigre Bays, and as time went on have noticed the difference in their sizes.”(p. XI)

O’Rielly reported there was an abundance of Caplin all along the coast that year. They struck in Fortune Bay on June 18th and remained all season. Squid, on the other hand, were showing up in unusual places. They seemed to have avoided coves near headlands and were found further into arms and bays along the coast.

In his report, he went on to provide a list of the United States fishing vessels that had arrived in the Bay of Islands seeking herring. Most, if not all, would have been in Fortune Bay in previous years.   As you read through the list you will note that the names of several vessels are repeated.  I do not know if this was an error or if there were more than one vessel with the same name. You will also note that the vast majority of vessels hailed from the port of Gloucester.

Many of these American schooners arrived with minimal crews and would hire local men to assist them with fishing throughout the season.  When O’Rielly arrived in the Bay of Islands to observe the fishery he noted that many local fishermen were reluctant to go on board American vessels to fish. This was because a company operating locally, The Atlantic Fish Company, had advertised they would purchase all the fish the men could catch. Among local fishermen and business owners there was disgruntlement about the discrepancy of profits between what was received from the Americans and that which could be acquired when fish was processed locally.

Newfoundland men working aboard the American vessels were paid $1.25 per barrel for their herring but were required to pay for their nets and gear should they be lost. While this may have been reasonable on the part of the ships owners it stimulated a less honorable practice among some of the American fishermen.  Many of the American fishermen were novices unfamiliar with local conditions.  That, combined with their carelessness, meant they frequently lost their nets and gear. Knowing they would be charged for the price of replacing them they resorted to stealing the nets of their fellow workers. O’Rielly reported that he had received many complaints.  In some instances, nets, moorings and buoys had all been taken. In others, nets would be untied and removed, leaving moorings and buoys in the water.

As the season neared closing O’Rielly informed the Gloucester Captains and agents that all of the gear and nets brought to Newfoundland from the United States was admitted duty free when used bona fide for fishing purposes on and from their vessels and were not to be landed.  If any were sold to local fishermen it would be sized and the vessel and its owners would be liable to detention and fines under the Customs Laws.  As a result, none of the agents, with the exception of J. V. Bonia of Gordon Pew and Company, charged the fishermen for any gear lost or stolen.

These disputes were a continuation of disagreements between the two nations which had been occurring for almost half a century back in Fortune Bay.  Various attempts were made to legislate control of the herring fishery by the Newfoundland government which ended up in dispute among and between the Americans, Canadians, and French and British governments.  At one point in Fortune Bay there was a physical altercation between local fishermen and the Americans which resulted in an International Dispute dealt with through the courts. St. Jacques figured prominently in that event, but that is another story for another post.

Report of the Fisheries Protection Service of Newfoundland for the Year 1906 by Joseph O’Rielly, Commissioner of Fisheries, S. S. Fiona. February 1907.

Posted by: alexhickey | June 22, 2019

On Finding a List

Sometimes you come across a faded photograph of a nearly forgotten relative inside the cover of an old, rarely opened, family bible or a recipe for delicious looking shortbread cookies torn from a magazine and tucked inside a cookbook whose worn edges are stained from years of turning and flipping by busy hands in a kitchen.  Then, there are times when you find something that captures an event; something that draws from the pages of time, the names of people. Names who were part of a singular event at a particular time and place.  Names of people whose lives have faded from current memory, whose contributions to community are no longer known to most of us.

While conducting research for a larger piece of writing I am working on I came across a Letter to the Editor of the Evening Telegram in St. John’s, NL, dated November 30, 1918.  As I write this, that makes it almost 101 years since it was written, a century, four generations ago.  A pair of shoes, a jacket or living room furniture becomes ‘old’ rather quickly in comparison.  What made this delightful discovery so unique and intriguing was not the news story from a time when Newfoundland was at war and many of our young men were falling on battlefields and young women were driving ambulances, and tending to the dead and dying in hospitals here and in Europe.  It was a list from one community among many who were affected by that war, a community that sent fourteen men to fight and motivated men and women at home to support their efforts any way they could.

The list which the Evening Telegram shared with its readers that Friday afternoon chronicled contributions to the Imperial Red Cross Fund.  Miss May Randall, secretary to the local Red Cross organization and possibly a teacher in the Church of England School, canvassed the town of St. Jacques during the month of November collecting funds. As we look through the amounts of money contributed it is important to keep in mind that a dollar in 1918 would be approximately equal to sixteen dollars today.

November, 1918 was a volatile weather month on the south coast of Newfoundland. Rainfall accumulation reached 74.7 mm and snowfall amounts totaled 23.6 cm.  The average temperature was around minus 2 Celsius with temperatures dropping below freezing after the middle of the month.  That’s when Miss Randall would most likely have been making her door-to-door collection of donations to the war effort.

  • Dr. C. Fitz-Gerald       $100.00
  • D.J. Burke                 $10.00
  • T.Burke                    $10.00
  • Mr. St. Croix              $3.00
  • Mr. Ralph Skinner       $3.00
  • Samuel Young            $5.00
  • John Young                $5.00
  • Randall Young            $5.00
  • Mr. J. Pine (English Hr.)$1.00
  • Stan. Burke               $1.00
  • Mrs. D. Burke Sr.        $1.00
  • Mrs. J. Burke              $1.00
  • Mrs. John Drake         $1.00
  • E.J. Tibbo                  $1.00
  • In Memoriam D.Y.P.    $1.00
  • W.J. Burke                 $1.00
  • Bert Skinner              $1.00
  • Mrs. Isaac Dinham     $1.00
  • Mrs. B. Lynch             $1.00
  • Mrs. Thos. Evans        $1.00
  • William Drake            $1.00
  • Mrs. Albert Dinham     $1.35
  • James Young              $.50
  • Mrs. Katie Burke         $.50
  • Mr. Staples                 $.50
  • Mrs. Cluett                 $.50
  • Mrs. Kate Skinner       $.50
  • Mrs. Dyett Sr.             $.50
  • Mrs. Jas. Skinner        $.50
  • Mrs. Mary Skinner      $.50
  • Geo. Tibbo                 $.50
  • Bertha Young              $.50
  • Mrs. Penny                 $.50
  • Mrs. C. McCarthy        $.50
  • Michael McCarthy        $.50
  • Mrs. James Whalen     $.50
  • James Fiander            $.50
  • J.T. Fiander                 $.50
  • Mrs. Jas. Whittle          $.50
  • John Power                 $.50
  • Mrs. J. Dawe               $.50
  • George Yarn                $.50
  • Ted Evans                   $.50
  • Mrs. Levi Noseworthy   $.50
  • Mrs. John Noseworthy  $.50
  • Mrs. Clem Noseworthy $.50
  • Lesser Amounts          $2.30

Total`                               $151.85

This list is not a documentation of all people living in the community at that time given that it was a voluntary donation initiative. Names of many residents are absent; however, it does give us a glimpse into our past and a peek at the capacity of residents to donate to the cause.  The largest contributor was Conrad Fitz-Gerald, the medical doctor whose practice was based out of St. Jacques.  Denis Burke and Thomas Burke were business men with retail/ wholesale, and commercial fishing interests. Albert St. Croix was the Relieving Officer.  Ralph Skinner was a vessel owner and sea captain.  Samuel, John and Randall Young were also business owners with retail/wholesale and commercial fishing interests.

James Pine was a resident of English Hr. West who was either working in St. Jacques or visiting when the collection was carried out.

Eight of the contributors had relatives serving in the war. Mary Skinner’s husband William was serving in the British Navy with the Merchant Marine.  Kate Skinner’s son Edgar who was serving with the Newfoundland Regiment and at the time had been captured and was being held prisoner by the Germans. Dr. Fitz-Gerald’s son Reg was serving with the Canadian Infantry out of Saskatchewan.  Sarah (James) Whalen’s son James was also serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.  Agnes (William) Burkes son Albert was serving with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.  James Pine’s son Aloysius was also serving with the Regiment.  Denis Burke’s son Frank was serving alongside the Canadians and William Burke’s son was serving with the Regiment.  There were six other men from the harbour serving at the same time.

We don’t know how many people contributed to make up the $2.30. It is interesting to note that those with lower amounts are listed last and those who gave less than $.50 didn’t get their names mentioned.

Mrs. Dyett Sr. would be Edgar Dyett’s grandmother Ellen.  Mrs. D. Burke Sr. would be the mother of D.J. Burke.

This list of names brings history alive in a very small way.  We get to see who donated to the Red Cross fund, their names and their contributions. It reminds us of what many small remote communities were concerned about a hundred years ago.  They genuinely felt their donation would assist the troops in winning the war and hopefully bring their loved ones back home.  As with most historical documents we can only determine so much information without getting into speculation and conjecture. Neither can we easily access those documents and derive as much information as we desire.  The unknown is always tantalizing such as the puzzling entry on the list In Memoriam D.Y.P., obviously a donation made in memory of a deceased loved one; but who is D.Y.P.?

Environment Canada Historical Weather Statistics

The Evening Telegram, November 30, 1918

It was one of those mornings in February, cold, a bit snowy and barely daylight.  My steaming hot coffee was slowly cooling as I busied with a few things around the kitchen. CBC radio’s Morning Show was chattering away in the background, moving from interview to interview then the news. I wasn’t paying much attention.  Then, like a prick from a needle, my attention was drawn immediately to the voice.  I was certain I’d heard the name, “Dorothy Hickey”!

Dorothy Hickey accepting NL Soccer Award of Merin April 2019

Dorothy Hickey, NL Soccer Recipient 2019 Award of Meri

The volume button doesn’t work on that device therefore I had to find the remote to turn it up.  By that time the news report had finished and the latest weather forecast was underway.   But I did hear the word soccer.  That was enough to know the announcer was referring to a woman who has dedicated over forty years to the advancement of soccer in Canada. The next day the Telegram carried a news story about the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association recognizing her for her outstanding contribution to the sport.  Here’s what I read about Dorothy or “Dot” as she is known to some.

“Hickey has worked for Canada Soccer for more than 40 years, and during that time has overseen the growth and development of the Toyota national championships. She has been instrumental in managing the air travel for teams traveling to the competition and has worked across numerous international matches in Canada.

Hickey has been staff support to the Youth Committee and Senior Amateur Committee which amalgamated into the Competitions Committee. She is also a recipient of both the Canada Soccer Award of Merit and Canada Soccer President’s Award.”

That’s when I learned she had received the Canadian Soccer Association National Award of Merit back in 1998.  A year later she was honoured with the Canadian Soccer President’s Award.  That award provides “recognition and appreciation to a person’s outstanding and unique efforts for an extended period of time, resulting in the positive and constructive development at the national level across Canada. The award winner is selected solely at the discretion of Canada Soccer’s President.” (CSA Site)

The President’s Award was given for organizing the Annual Meeting on short notice and at the same time working on the Canada Cup in Edmonton which included teams from Guatemala and Ecuador. Well done and a secret well-kept at that!

Award of Merit, NL Soccer, 2019

The 2019 award is special. This is the inaugural year for the award and is given as an acknowledgement of the deep respect the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association has for Dorothy’s contribution to soccer nationally and especially for the her efforts to encourage and further the work of the Newfoundland and Labrador organization at the national level.  It is always nice when your peers turn to you and say, “Well done! We appreciate your work on our behalf.”  It is nice to hear in your immediate place of work but when your work is on the national level it is especially sweet to hear from your home province.

When asked about the most memorable game, out of the many she worked, Dorothy hesitated, then, with confidence said: “The Men’s International Friendly on June 5, 1994 – Canada vs Brazil. The Cup was hosted in the United States that year. It was a friendly game played in Canada prior to the start of the main cup event.  At that time, the home stadium for Canadian Soccer was Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The game was played before a crowd of 52,000 people.  It was probably the most exciting game that I ever worked.   It was amazing to see so many Canadian fans in one place. The final score was 1-1.   The stadium exploded when Eddy Berdusco scored for Canada in the 69th minute to tie the game.”

She speaks highly of Lorraine Miller, the lady who hired her to work at Canada Soccer after finishing her studies in Office Administration at Algonquin College.  She says with pride, “We have been friends ever since.   I worked with Lorraine for over 30 years. She was the driving force in my advancement to become the Competitions Manager here.”

Dorothy, daughter of Pat and Patricia (Farrell) Hickey, hails from St. Jacques. That’s not a well-kept secret, for anyone between St. John’s and Vancouver who has ever met her is told in no uncertain terms that she is from St. Jacques, Newfoundland.  It was evident during the presentation ceremonies at the Shriner’s Club in St. John’s on April 5th that Dorothy commands a presence in soccer circles. Her job with Soccer Canada is Competitions Manager and as such has regular contact with folks across this wide nation.  Anyone who knows her is quite aware that she is no pushover when it comes to programming and expecting everyone to carry their share yet over and over it was obvious that there’s a soft spot in her heart for her home province. Thus it was fitting that she be on the receiving end of this prodigious award given during the Hall of Fame Induction and Provincial Awards Night.

Here’s what the program had to say about her:

When Dorothy Hickey left her home town of St. Jacques at the head of Fortune Bay to seek her fame and fortune, little did she know the impact she would have on one of the largest sports governing bodies in Canada. Ottawa and Canada Soccer would never be the same.

For more than forty years, her outgoing, friendly and sometime authoritative style captured the attention of all who managed to come into her presence. From the get go, you knew this woman had your back and that she was there for you.

In her years with Canada Soccer, Dorothy has handled various roles within the soccer community.  Her most noteworthy role has been managing the logistics for competitions, both nationally and internationally. For us at NLSA, she has been a resource extraordinaire.  If you had a question or problem pertaining to soccer, if she didn’t have the answer off the top of her head, she directed you to where you could find the answer.

Over the years, our office staff and executive personnel who deal with Canada Soccer on a regular basis, have nothing but praise for her knowledge and extraordinary willingness to assist you with your concerns.

Dorothy’s outstanding abilities have not gone unrecognized.  Canada Soccer, over the years, has certainly realized the contribution she has made to soccer across the country.  For her commitment and dedication to the development and promoting of the game, Canada Soccer has honoured her with two of its highest honours.

On the evening of April 5th in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Brian Murphy of the Newfoundland Soccer Association, introduced the Award of Merit recipient in this way:

“A person whose character or conduct deserves reward or honour certainly fits the description of our next award recipient.  Whether it was solving problems, providing direction, or lending a shoulder to lean on there was always a little extra for those of us from home.”

Dorothy, as she has been all her life, was to the point and direct in her acceptance of the award. She said:

“I’ll keep this really short. I’d like to thank the Newfoundland Soccer Association for this award, especially Doug and Jeff. You guys have been great

over the years.

When I started with Canada Soccer I hadn’t planned on staying this long. I was just trying to build up enough money to go to Vancouver. Over my forty plus years I have met a lot of really great people from this province, especially those like Doug Redmond, Jeff Babstock, Brian Murphy, Bob Antle, Bob Miller, Ben Lake and others. I was very fortunate when I went to the Competitions Committee for I had two really great people from this province to support me as my chairs – Angus Barret and Judy Kelloway.  They provided great support for me through the National Club Championships and provided advice to me on lots of contentious issues we have had to deal with over the years. I would really like to thank my partner Steve, who unfortunately couldn’t be here tonight, who has provided me lots and lots of support. Thank you Newfoundland Soccer.”

I sat at the table with Dot alongside her brother Don and in the company of Judi Kelloway, a member of the NLSA Hall of Fame and also a recipient of the CSA’s Award of Merit, as well as Angus Barrett, a member of the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame and an NLSA Honorary Life Member, along with their spouses, among others.

When she was being presented with the Award I remembered hearing her name that morning back in February.  It made me think of how special the people are that you grow up with in your hometown.  Out of the blue, you hear a name and it captures your attention;

You respond to it by remembering the person. What you don’t know most of the time is what that person has been doing all those years.  Sometimes you are privileged to find out such as with Dorothy.  Like most of us who leave our small communities to establish careers, she didn’t set out to become one of the top administrative people in this august organization, Soccer Canada. Nor, I am sure, did she expect to become known throughout the country and internationally for her contributions to soccer.  Yet, she has and her peers from coast-to-coast gratefully acknowledge all that she has invested.  Despite all of the recognition from elsewhere, the recognition of people from ‘home’ makes the smile last longer.

Canada Soccer

Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association




Posted by: alexhickey | December 11, 2018

There’ll be a ‘Time’ Tonight ©

Windowpanes relinquished their transparency as the night wore on. Their new translucent, smoke-grey coating became prime surfaces for finger drawings of initials, names, faces, Santa hats and Christmas trees.  The wood and coal pot-bellied stove, burning feverishly since breakfast, had done its job of driving moisture and chill from the room.

St. Michael and All Angels Parish Hall c1955

The creaking hinge of the side entrance door echoed throughout the main hall of the old school that morning when someone’s uncle inched it open. The air inside felt much colder than that blowing down off the evergreen encrusted hillside. After a good douse of kerosene the saturated splits he’d so carefully layered in the burning chamber, burst into flames as soon as the wooden match made contact. A single flame replicated itself over and over in seconds then the entire inferno searched frantically for somewhere else to go. A roar soared across the room through the wire-suspended stove pipe to the brick chimney shared with the kitchen stove.  He shut the door all but a quarter of an inch as he selected the three pieces of cleaved wood most likely to catch afire.  The roar continued; he adjusted the air vent, the chimney damper, then swiped his hands together in an up and down motion dislodging bits of ash and dust. Across the harbor the message embedded in the rising white smoke was unmistakable, there’ll be a Time tonight.

Other stoves were drawing mightily on their drafts, extracting maximum heat to keep the boilers boiling and the ovens baking.  Chunks of fresh meat, beef or moose, had already undergone their searing and now gradually cooked to tenderness.  Waiting on the sidelines were bowls of carefully cubed carrots and turnip sitting beside chopped onion and a small bowl of uncooked long grain rice.  In other kitchens boilers of salt pork simmered on the back burners waiting for a topping of quartered cabbages.  Cooked potatoes and carrots cooled on countertops beside their counterparts of tinned sweet peas, luncheon meats or sliced roast beef.  Tins of cookies retrieved from their cold storage sat sweating beside lattice pastry covered partridge berry pies and plates piled high with slices of dark and light fruit cake; all destined for the Time.

Men’s white shirts, dipped in clothes blue to enhance their brilliance, their collars starched, hung at ready as did carefully chosen women’s dresses, skirts and blouses.  Children’s best had been set aside for this night for weeks. A few would sport brand spanking new outfits straight from the fall pages of Eaton’s catalogue.

Morning preparations gave way to afternoon anticipations for a Time was an all ages event.  Quibbly eaters who couldn’t imagine drinking soup or eating pork and cabbage out of dislike for the menu and those who couldn’t bear the thought of eating someone else’s cooking, ate heartily at home before setting out for the school.  By the time the afternoon became duckish a parade of boilers and boxes snaked along the roads and up the hill.  The stove in the hall could accommodate but a limited number of boilers thus by arrangement their arrival was staggered throughout the evening.  Warmed over soup just didn’t have the same appeal.

Tables in the kitchen were set and seemingly within seconds were lined with hungry customers.  Children first was usually the rule although a scattered adult male who’d been imbibing throughout the afternoon held no compunction for protocol and found a convenient seat among them.  It resulted in a scattered ‘tut-tut’ or shaking of heads; however, by and larger, it was simply smiled at and allowances made, after all it was Christmas.

We hadn’t been told the hazards of smoking back then.  Consequently, nearly every adult smoked cigarettes or a pipe.  Though the ceilings were high the air soon became thickened, casting a soft hazy atmosphere to the hall.  Whenever the porch door opened a cloud of smoke and steam erupted into the night.  A back door to the kitchen was kept slightly ajar throughout the evening to vent steam, closed only occasionally when one of the women complained of being chilled. Shortly afterwards, within minutes, another would discreetly ease it open again.  Such was one of the games carried out in the kitchen.

Sacred Heart Parish Hall c 1930

Drinking among the women wasn’t as pervasive as smoking. Yet, during a Time more than one quietly took a nip from a ubiquitous container brought from home, its contents pre-mixed to her personal taste. Men too shared flasks of various spirits, some with official stamps on their necks and others filled so many times that any stamp that might have been there was long washed away.  Drinking from the same flask didn’t seem to be a problem for some, while others preferred a tumbler from the kitchen given with the admonishment, “Don’t you break it, or else I’ll have your head!”  When confronted upon offering the last few drops in a bottle the usual response to “ I don’t want to drink your last drop”, was, “Don’t worry, b’y, there’s lots where that came from.”  And indeed there frequently was.  St. Pierre and Miquelon were not that far away.

Standing boldly in the corner of the room was an evergreen, its branches festooned with donated bells, balls and shiny baubles along with handmade cards and cardboard cutouts.  Tinsel hung precariously to its pin boughs, weaving and shimmering in the warm yellow glow of kerosene lamps strategically hung around the room. In another corner might have been a ‘jig-pond’ where children paid one or five cents to toss a bent nail at the end of a line over a sheet hung across the corner, behind which a volunteer hooked on a wrapped gift and tugged on the line. There was enormous excitement in hauling back to discover what lay inside the recycled Christmas wrap from the previous year. Once supper was served there might be a children’s bingo game around the main table in the kitchen or a scattered game of cards among those who either couldn’t or preferred not to dance.

Creaks from frost-filled hardwood floors of morning were replaced in evening by the incessant pounding of leather soled shoes step dancing in the center of the room. As soon as the fiddler or accordion player struck the first note a motley collection of dancers took to the floor.  In time the dances became more ordered with the Lancers, the Reel and various other half-remembered patterns of movement where everyone was content to follow the lead of others. These were punctuated by an occasional break to cool off outside the door. Children took great delight to see steam escaping the bodies of the dancers as soon as they hit the cool night air.

The stove by now had relinquished its role and cooled as the temperature of the room was sustained by body heat.  As the evening went on and the tone of dancing grew more frenetic, someone was sure to be keeping an eye on the stove pipe lest it work loose from the vibrations. So, too, did someone keep an eye on the lamps.  Should one begin to smoke or run out of fuel there was always someone to the rescue.

Kitchen activity wound down to a minimum with most of its traffic being to the water barrel after about nine o’ clock.  Children were ushered home to the care of sitters and the adults danced the night away. An hour or so prior to the event coming to an end a few of the women would re-heat a pot of soup for those keen on a late night snack.

Is this reminiscence nostalgic, coloured by time and memory lapses?  Yes. Does it describe the event in its entirety, leaving nothing out? No. Was a Time for everyone, with no exclusions? No. Undoubtedly there were elderly who couldn’t get out, some whose fortunes didn’t permit the luxury in a given year. Does it offer a peek into community celebration of Christmas in one of our small coastal coves and harbours? Yes. Were there differences between a Time in the Roman Catholic Hall and the Church of England Hall? Of course there were but the essence was the same.

Was it a universal experience? I don’t know.  It seemed to be at the time. The presence of two denominations in the community meant two such events during the Christmas Season.  Most residents went to both; however, there were always a few whose religious persuasions held them back.

During the twelve days of Christmas there’d be a Time in each of the road-linked communities surrounding St. Jacques.  One could never get to attend every one of them; however, a few were in order for all residents.  A cautionary order was frequently given to youngsters in our house about being back from Mummering by seven-thirty because mom and dad were going to the Time in Coomb’s Cove or Boxey.

Christmas was an occasion to suspend most matters of the world and enjoy the company of others; a time to relish the bounty of life around us and revel in the freedom of uninhibited dancing for its own sake. Times have changed as they have with every generation and the nostalgia of one becomes the curiosity of the next. If you’ve never encountered use of the work “Time” in this context here is an excerpt from the wonderful Dictionary of Newfoundland English, by G.M Story, W.J Kirwan and J. D. A Widdowson.


Posted by: alexhickey | September 27, 2018

International Dispute in St. Jacques, 1891©

Much of our history has been passed on to us through storytelling around kitchen tables, in fishing stages or through small groups of people congregated in their workplace. Oral history isn’t simply someone recalling a series of facts for an avid listener anticipating the listener will remember and tell others. Rather it is spoken memories, stories, and song whose function is to share and communicate knowledge through time. Often one of these stories begins with, ‘Do you know…’ or “I was told by so-and-so about the time…’  From there a story unfolds. I am reminded of an occasion when a very dear friend, Maurice Burke (now deceased) asked me the following question.  He said, “Do you know there was a shot fired across the bow of Americans schooner during the Bait Dispute here in St. Jacques?”

Immediately he had my interest and he proceeded to tell me the story of the incident.  This post isn’t about that that incident but a related one. It was Maurice’s story that piqued my interest in this International dispute between world powers of Great Britain, the United States, France and Canada that carried on for decades in one form or another during the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth  centuries. Given St. Jacques’s position as a major port of call in Fortune Bay, related to the Herring Fishery during those years, a great deal of the dispute played out in and around St. Jacques harbour.

Recently I was looking through a digital copy of the Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892 and read in Appendix A of that book the following article from the April 4th, 1891 edition of the Halifax-based Morning Herald newspaper.  It describes one particular incident between Captain Wrayton of the Canadian schooner Ocean Belle and the Customs Officials of Newfoundland.  In this instance Newfoundland would not permit Canadian vessels to purchase Herring for bait.  This was tied to the ongoing international disputes referenced earlier.

The text of the article is reproduced verbatim below.

Section 1: Halifax Morning Herald Story on Bait Dispute in Fortune Bay, 1891

Is it Retaliation? Outrageous Treatment of a Halifax Captain by Newfoundland Customs Officials – They refuse to allow him to obtain a Cargo of Herring – No Bait in Newfoundland Waters for Canadian Vessels.
Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892, [Enclosure 2, in No. 72.] APPENDIX “A.”, The Morning Herald, Saturday, 4 April, 1891

The schooner Ocean Belle, Captain Wrayton, arrived yesterday from St. Jacques, Fortune Bay, Nfld., after a passage of 55 hours, 8 of which were consumed in passing through ice. He relates a remarkable experience of the tyrannical conduct of Newfoundland government officials. A Herald reporter called upon Captain Wrayton last night to ascertain the facts. He has, for the past two or three years, gone to Fortune

Bay to purchase fish for disposal in this market. He had always conformed to the local requirements and had never been molested. The Ocean Belle reached Fortune Bay on March 17th, and between that time and the 24th, had secured 300 barrels of herring.

On the 25th, he had concluded a bargain with Captain Patrick Farrell for the purchase of 250 barrels more, which would have completed his cargo, when the government boat Greyhound with Customs Collector Hubert appeared on the scene. Captain Wrayton was sent for and informed that he would be allowed to take no more fish. This was in consequence, the officers said, of instructions from St. Johns. Everybody was prohibited from selling herring. Policemen were put on board Farrell’s vessel, which lay alongside the Greyhound, to see that these orders were carried out.

The next day Collector Hubert ordered Farrell’s fish to be thrown overboard, to make sure that it should not be sold to Wrayton, and alleging that it was illegal to have it in his possession. The arbitrary measures were enforced, the officials said, in accordance with instructions from headquarters, though they did not furnish any documents. Captain Wrayton asked for a written statement from the officials that they had refused to allow him to prosecute his business, but they were careful not to give anything of the kind.

They would assign no reason for their action, but merely reiterated the order that under no circumstance could he obtain the fish. This, in view of the fact that he had furnished the required bond for SI, 000 that the fish he purchased would not lie disposed of in St. Pierre.

Captain Wrayton could not believe that those officers were acting legally, and left Belloram for East Bay to endeavor to get his cargo tilled up. Soon after his arrival there Commissioner Sullivan came after him in the steamer Fiona and boarded the Ocean Belle, asking the captain what he was after. He told him that he had secured 300 barrels of frozen herring for Halifax and that he needed 250 more to complete his cargo.

Commissioner Sullivan’s word is law in those regions. He acts as though he were both government and court, and he positively refused to allow him to obtain a single barrel. He was doubtful, indeed, he said, whether he would allow him to retain what he had already secured.

Sullivan put a force of police on the Ocean Belle to guard the schooner, while he went to Bay L’Argent to communicate with the government, telling Captain Wrayton that he would inform him of the decision. He was kept waiting for three days and then could get no satisfaction. Nothing was said, however, of confiscating the 300 barrels he had in the hold. Farrell feels as deeply aggrieved as does Captain Wrayton. It was a clear loss to him of 250 barrels for which he had a willing purchaser. It looks a little as if Sullivan had found that he was going too fast in his conduct. It is evidently simply a case of retaliation against Canadian vessels.

The Newfoundlanders profess to think that Canadian influence destroyed Bond’s alleged chances for negotiating his reciprocity treaty with the United States; Canadians are accordingly put on the same level with the French; they are to be equally harassed and closely watched. Commissioner Sullivan said that bait was to be given to Canadians on no condition. He had, he told Captain Wrayton, received telegraphic orders to that effect from St. Johns, and they would certainly be carried out. The injustice of this is the greater when Americans are freely allowed to take all the bait they desire.

An instance of this is the case of Parker, Eakins & Co.’s. Yarmouth schooner. Her captain was informed by the officials that no vessels belonging to the dominion could obtain bait under any circumstances, though the Yankees were given all the facilities they desired, to do so.

Captain Wrayton intends this morning presenting his case to T. E. Kenny, M.P. He thinks he has a good claim against the Newfoundland government for damages, and intends to push his claim.

Section 2:  Newfoundland Government Proclamation, 1891 – Instructions for Magistrates, Customs Officers, &C, in relation to enforcement of “Bait Act, 1889.”

Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892, APPENDIX C. Cape Ann Advertiser, Friday, 10th April, 1891

Under proclamation of the Governor, no exportation, or side, or purchase, or taking of bait fishes of any sort, is to be permitted without a license.

Licenses of three sorts will be granted: Free of charge to vessels belonging to Newfoundland prosecuting the deep sea fishery to purchase, haul or take bait fishes; one to Newfoundland punt fishermen, free of charge to catch bait for sale to foreign vessels or otherwise ; and one free of charge to American vessels to purchase bait.

In all cases of application for licenses (except Newfoundland punt fishermen who catch for sale), the party applying must make an affidavit setting forth all the particulars required to be stated in the license. (See Bait Act, 1889,) This affidavit may be made either by the master of the vessel for which the license is applied for, or by the owner, the agent of the owner, or on behalf of the master. Blank forms of these affidavits of each sort are furnished. The affidavits may be made before a magistrate or a Customs Officer.

You will notice that the licenses have been signed by the colonial secretary, and they must be also signed by the person issuing the licenses, either a customs officer or magistrate. No license shall be granted except to Newfoundland and United States fishing vessels, and before granting such license the customs officer or magistrate shall require to have produced to him the ship’s register in the case of Newfoundland vessels, and in the case of United States vessels the clearance papers from the American customs.

All vessels shall be restricted to eight barrels of herring per dory; to ten barrels of caplin per dory, and to four barrels of squid per dory, and shall be compelled to take out a new license upon each entry into any port in this colony. A second license to purchase or take herring bait shall not be granted within eighteen days from the date of the previous license, and a second license to purchase or take caplin or squid bait shall not be granted within fourteen days from the date of the previous license.

Upon granting a license to an American vessel, you shall notify the customs officers at all the other ports of entry, by telegram or letter that you granted such license, stating date of issue, so as to prevent such vessel from obtaining a second license within the period stated above.

In the case of a vessel taking bait at your port, you will see that only the quantity named in license is taken aboard.

If a vessel is found supplying bait in contravention of the’ provisions of this act, the license of said vessel shall be forfeited forthwith.

No American vessel is to be permitted to leave the port where she has baited unless the bait purchased has been iced down.

R. BOND, Secretary’s Office, 20th March, 1891. Colonial Secretary.

Section 3:  Affidavit Sworn By Captain Wrayton of the Ocean Belle, Halifax 1891

Upon return to Halifax Captain Wrayton swore an affidavit as the events of his trip in preparation for court action against the Newfoundland government.  Below is the text of that statement describing his experience.

Statement of Michael B. Wrayton, master of the British schooner “Ocean Belle,” of 68 tons burthen, owned by John Allen & Sons, of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Left Halifax, N.S., 21st January, 1891, for Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, to pro cure a cargo of frozen herring; arrived at St. Jacques on the 29th following. Entered vessel at custom house, paid duties and received coastwise clearance from Collector Clinton. Asked him for instructions and if any further papers were necessary for me to procure herring. He answered me, “There is nothing to prevent you securing your load of frozen herring; you can do so, as far as I am concerned. I have no instructions to the contrary.”

Left St. Jacques on the 4th of February, sailed to Belloram and other places about the bay in search of herring but secured none until the 16th of March, when we took on board one hundred and seventy-five barrels. On the 20th of March took another lot of sixty barrels. At midnight on the 23rd of March we returned to Belloram.

On the 25th purchased from one Patrick Farrell two hundred and sixty barrels of fresh herring. Just as the purchase was concluded, the steamer “Greyhound,” employed by the government of Newfoundland, steamed into Belloram with Philip Hubert, Collector of Customs at Harbor Breton, on board, who at once sent a policeman on board my vessel and demanded the removal of the hatches. I protested against disturbing the hatches, the weather being soft, but finally had to comply with his demand. I was then asked to go on board the “Greyhound,” when Collector Hubert informed me I could take no more herring, at the same time forbidding Farrell delivering me any of the lot I had secured from him, and placed a policeman on board to prevent his doing so.

On the following morning (26th) Collector Clinton arrived from Bay L’Argent  (Telegraph Station) and I at once went with him on board the “Greyhound ” when a consultation was held to decide what to do with the herring I had already on board.

They decided to take a bond from me to land fish at Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the same time stating their instructions were to allow no Canadian vessel to secure fresh herring. I asked them to put their refusal in writing. This they refused to do.

During the 26th the wind changed to north north-east and the weather turned intensely cold. Tried to secure herring again from Farrell, but policeman prevented him handling them.

On the morning of the 27th (the steamer “Fiona,” also employed in the Newfoundland government service and having on board Commissioner Sullivan, not having arrived as expected) I sailed for the Bay, the East.

On the way down secured a lot of twenty-five (25) barrels of herring, spread them on ice for freezing and engaged two hundred and fifty (250) barrels more from one Jeremiah Petit ; had about one hundred (100) barrels in boats to spread on ice when steamer “Fiona” arrived and Commissioner

Sullivan boarded my vessel asking me what I was doing here. Told him I was trying to freeze balance of my cargo if allowed to do so. He then asked me if Collector Hubert had not forbidden me taking herring. I replied he had, but that he had refused to put his order in writing or give or show his authority for the course he was taking.

Commissioner Sullivan then demanded the hatches removed, looked at the fish and ordered the hatches replaced: at the same time forbidding me taking another fish. I then demanded of him a written notice that I should secure no herring. This he positively refused to give and was some time in doubt whether he would allow me to take what herring I had already on board.

Finally I was allowed to take vessel to St. Jacques with the first catch of herring. Before leaving, Mr. Sullivan ordered the men in charge of the one hundred (100) barrels of herring to throw them overboard, which was done in the presence of myself and crew.

The night following was intensely cold. I then had to go on board the “Fiona,” when I was compelled to take a most binding oath that the herring I had on board would not be used for bait in Nova Scotia.

We cleared from St. Jacques for Halifax, N. S. where I arrived on the third day of April and handed vessel and cargo over to her owners, John Allen & Sons, who took immediate charge.

Further, I wish to state that at the time the several lots of herring were secured by me or during the following few hours, the weather was exceptionally cold and I could have loaded the vessel to her utmost capacity which counted out amounts to three hundred and fifty thousand (350,000) herring, but was prevented doing so solely by the officials of the Newfoundland government, who threatened to use force against me should I persist in taking any fish against their instructions.

M. B. WRAYTON, Canada, Province of Nova Scotia, County of Halifax.

I, Michael B. Wrayton, of Halifax, in the county of Halifax, and province of Nova Scotia, master mariner, do hereby solemnly declare as follows:

1. That I am the Michael B. Wrayton referred to in the statements hereto annexed.

2. That the foregoing statements are just and true and contain in a condensed form the facts in connection with my voyage to Newfoundland in the schooner “Ocean Belle,” and the transactions in connection therewith.

3. That I have not in any way whatever endeavoured to overdraw the same, but have related them as they actually took place, and I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and by virtue of an act passed for the suppression of voluntary and extra judicial oaths.


Solemnly declared at Halifax, in the county of Halifax, this 20th day of April, A.D. 1891,’before me.

J. L. Barnhill, A Commissioner of the Supreme and County Courts for the county of Halifax.

Section 4:  Explanatory Notes

The S. S. Greyhound served as a part mail packet, park tug boat throughout Fortune Bay in the late 1800’s. This was one of several small vessels contracted with the government to deliver mail and passengers in various bays around the island of Newfoundland.

The S. S. Fiona was a Colonial Cruiser. These vessels, owned by the Colonial Government of Newfoundland, patrolled areas where foreign fishermen were present to enforce regulations and collect duties where appropriate.  The Cruiser “Fiona” was sold by the government in 1918.

Phillip Hubert was Collector of Customs and one-time magistrate at Harbour Breton from 1866 until 1898 and again from 1907.  He was born in Jersey England.

Charles Clinton was a telegraph operator stationed in Bay de L’Argent, Fortune Bay.  He was born in St. Pierre and later moved to St. Jacques where he became Custom’s Officer and Commissioner of the Supreme Court.

Patrick Farrell was ship owner, trader and fish merchant operating out of St. Jacques.

Belloram – this spelling of Belleoram omits the “e” in the middle of the word.

The Ocean Belle was a banking schooner built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  She was frequently used by in the procurement of Bait in Fortune Bay for the Nova Scotia Bank Fishery

Section 5:  Links

The Cruise of the Ocean Belle  – Click to Download

Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada, 1892

Posted by: alexhickey | May 2, 2018

Where Once They Lived ©

 “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it.  From the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”  Author Unknown

Frederick R Page Map NL1859

Centre for Newfoundland Studies. Memorial University of Newfoundland Libraries. Map also issued with: Page, Frederick R. A concise history and description of Newfoundland: being a key to the chart of the island just published. London: R.H. Laurie, 1860.

We Newfoundlanders are frequently confronted with the question, ‘Where are you from?’ The answer is much more complex than simply telling the person where you live. I can choose to live anywhere in the world but I will forever be from that place where I was born and has shaped my life in ways I am still discovering.  For some that sense of belonging transcends birth; children whose parents were born in a particular place vicariously and actually maintain their own sense of attachment.  It is akin to Thomas Hardy’s sense of place where his characters play out their lives and circumstances against the background of Dorset in southwestern England.  The natural world surrounding Wessex is for Hardy a character unto itself; it becomes something with authority where people thrive within it rather than above it. Therein resides the answer to the question.

There is no dispassionate view of those places we carry lovingly, longingly and sometimes bitterly within our being.  They are intrinsic to who we are and even in denial their presence maintains an emotional grip. How we see those places is driven by the paths of our lives lived.  Interwoven with our ‘Wessex’ are the complexities of who we’ve become, who we think we are and whom others believe we are.  There is a difference between the ‘looking out’ and the ‘looking in.’

If we take those two perspectives and apply it to the question of where we are from then we must consider the differences between what one sees from within the place looking out and what one sees from outside the place looking in. If we further restrict the perspective to how we physically differentiate the two positions then we allow ourselves to see, as if on a map, that place we come from. Someone who lives their entire life on the land, seeing their community through the lens of their kitchen window will have an entirely difference concept of what that community looks like physically than someone who has seen it from the sea.

Land-forms viewed from the ocean camouflage warts and shortcomings, presenting to the eye an aesthetic beyond the mundane and grittiness of life in the moment.  It encourages us to reach higher, more globally in our thinking, to a notion of place that is metaphoric, laden with symbols, belief, memory and dreams.  Sit for a minute on the thwart of a buff-coloured wooden dory, trimmed with emerald green gunnels.  Beneath, the swell of the ocean cradles your fragile yet stalwart vessel, seeks to infuse its rhythm to your body.  Resistance results in awkward jerky uncomfortable physical balance and equilibrium responses; however, when you find that rhythm the gentleness brings calm, the awkwardness slips away. You move in unison, no longer conscious of the rise and fall or the lateral swaying.  When you get there it’s like taking a deep breath, holding it momentarily, then exhaling slowly, allowing relaxation to flow unencumbered through your body. Now look back to the land.

The steep spruce cloaked hillsides are rounded; their formidable boulders and ravines diminished to undulating forms.  They’ve been given gentleness, a majesty where the forest has become much more than prickly pin boughs.  Cliffs whose dramatic faces weather winter storms and stand witness to the passage of time serve to accent the transition between ocean and land.  Deep crevices and scree become shadows and shape reducing their foundering layers and eroded base to a beige grey pencil line demarcating the two worlds. Waves washing against the worn and weathered boards of the dories sides pass in succession, moving inexorably with the tide to become mere ripples in the distance.  Above, the blueness of sky bears witness to an occasional seagull gliding, its eyes scanning the ocean’s surface, including you looking back at its effortless flight.

Headlands, coves, harbour entrances punctuate the shoreline, denying individual identity to the settlements of here, now and yesterday.  We can easily see the landforms without our presence on them.  Imagine what it must have felt like to the earliest people who approached our island shores from the sea; how they must have marveled at the looming dark ridge interrupting the far horizon, then the ever intensifying green spruce and fir punctuated sporadically by birch and maple.  As they neared the shoreline they would have been in search of safe places to land, sheltering places to build and comforting places to live. Our indigenous people who travelled over ice and in canoe, our European  settlers who arrived by ship and those who continued to seek this place in recent times all saw the shape and colour of the land before anything else.

When we ‘look in’ from that vantage point we are struck with emotive things such as beauty, reverence, perhaps fear and trepidation of the unknown.  Either way these are big feelings that supersede the everyday mundane moments of living within a community ‘looking out’.  Since its earliest days of settlement the shores of Fortune Bay has been scattered with communities whose size ebbed and flowed with time and the local economy of the fishery.  Over the centuries generations of people experienced the difference, seeing the headlands of their home from both directions.  With the inevitable march of time many of those communities faded and disappeared, the details of their life stories vaporizing as morning fogs lift with the rising sun.  Today we hear them in music and song, poetry and image; we hear them in lamenting voices of resettled peoples and see it in their faces; we see them in photographs packed away on the pages of memory.

Row your dory or transform it into a powerful engine driven craft and journey throughout the Bay; explore every shoreline indentation and ask, did someone live here?  Chances are, if you are motivated to ask there is something suggesting it to you. You are on the outside ‘looking in’, yet somewhere in time there were others in that cove ‘looking out’.   Their view of the same rocks, reefs, sunkers, trickling streams and breaking waves might have been much different for they lived this space; for them it was where they were from.

When I state “I am from St. Jacques” its resonance within me is greater than the physical arms of the harbour which gives it shelter. It also reaches back through time for centuries and through all of the lives come and gone that bring colour, sound and touch to that resonance. Such is the case for nearly every cove and harbour found along the intriguing shoreline.  Someone came from there.  Today, few of us can call these communities by name; fewer still can speak out loud the names of families or the given name of a local midwife, shop keeper, or the fisherman whose elegant stage graced the western side of the harbour.

There are remnants to be found if you dig through layers of dead grass and the burrows of field mice or if you push back the overgrown branches of evergreens in search of still-standing marble monuments.  Along the beach head, or in among the pebbles, broken crockery, glass and stubborn metal spikes might catch your attention if you look closely enough.  Should you find a place to sit and survey your surroundings your eyes will begin to discern patterns in the soil upon which foundations gave rise to homes, or patterns where the meagre soil was tilled to grow root vegetables.  Should you stop by at the right time of year, delicate whiffs of rose petals may drift across your nose or the intense fuchsia of a bleeding heart plant might stand in contrast to the deep grey lichen covered granite boulder behind it.  Listen, the sound of water ebbing and flowing washing the shoreline is the same as it was a hundred years ago when it lulled residents to sleep.  Turn your head in that direction and absorb the same breath of the ocean that entered windows opened along with warmth of morning sunlight. Someone came from here.  Someone ‘looked out’ from here once.

There are documents and maps which tell us the names of these communities.  Many are the communities we know today. Some are familiar, some forgotten, some remembered.   When passing by one of these former communities, it is not unusual to hear someone say, ‘how could people live in such a small and rocky space?’ There lies the question again for those of us on the outside of that community cannot understand what it meant to live there and those that did live there would have found it difficult to explain why. And yet they did, with enormous pride!

The list below is compiled from data found in the 1869 Census of Newfoundland. Over half of these communities are now but memories; however, it is interesting to ‘look in’ on them a hundred and fifty years later.  All names are spelled as they were found in Census documents.  The recorded population for 1869 is given after the name of each community.

  • Fortune – 669
  • Grand Bank – 751
  • Little Barrisway – 7
  • Grand Beach – 24
  • Frenchman’s Cove – 76
  • Brunet Island – 82
  • Sagona – 276
  • Garnish – 209
  • Point Enragee – 70
  • Langue de Cerf – 18
  • Fox Cove – 42
  • Jack Fontaine – 35
  • Bay L’Argent – 70
  • Little Bay East – 38
  • Harbour Mille – 95
  • Head of Fortune Bay – 79
  • English Hr. East – 101
  • New Harbour – 19
  • Femme – 9
  • Conn – 19
  • Long Harbour – 144
  • Rencontre – 107
  • Isle Glue – 10
  • Doctor’s Harbour – 16
  • Lally Cove – 77
  • Bay de East – 12
  • Bay de North – 71
  • Pool’s Cove – 55
  • Turnip Cove – 29
  • Corbin – 44
  • Barrow – 45
  • Belleoram – 309
  • Belleoram Barrisway – 24
  • St. Jacques – 108
  • Blue Pinion – 16
  • English Hr. West – 211
  • Mose Ambrose – 57
  • Boxey – 42
  • Blanchet – 6
  • St. John’s Bay – 22
  • Coomb’s Cove – 89
  • Wreck Cove – 22
  • Red Cove – 42
  • Bay de L’ Eau East – 22
  • Bay de L’ Eau Island – 51
  • Miller’s Passage – 89
  • Little Bay West – 85
  • Jersey Harbour – 155
  • Harbour Breton – 361
  • Connaigre Bay, Great Harbour – 48
  • Connaigre Bay, Dawson’s Cove – 30
  • Connaigre Bay, Seal Cove – 35
  • Pass Island – 161


Posted by: alexhickey | February 26, 2018

©From the Galley to the Kitchen:

Songs of Charlie MacKinnon in the Lives of St. Jacques Fishermen

Newfoundlanders have always gone away to work reaching back to the earliest days of settlement.  When you think about it, many of the British and French fishermen who came here to fish prior to permanent European settlement were also men going away from their homes to work. Little wonder that practice gained a foothold in the population.

Living in St. Jacques meant adjusting to temporary seasonal population shifts because of work patterns.  Almost every man in the community of my father’s generation spent some time on boats in the fishing industry during their work career.  Others who weren’t on fishing vessels were employed in the coastal shipping trades.  It was a minority who didn’t go to sea.

Many of the men found employment in the Nova Scotia fishing industry.  They sailed the schooners of the nineteenth century and transitioned to the trawlers of the twentieth century as crewmen and captains. When spring was approaching the horizon the exodus would start and many would not be seen again until shortly before Christmas when they’d return home for their brief stay during the winter months.

They fished out of such towns as Lockport, Shelburne, Bridgewater, Liverpool and Lunenburg on the southeast shore of the province and in such fishing towns as Port Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Sydney, and North Sydney on the northeast shore. Though the working conditions were hard and the pay low by today’s standards many of them worked there for years.  There was a common thread which ran among them even though they worked in different towns on quite a variety of vessels and in different fisheries – that was music.

Music became their solace, their buoyancy which lifted them beyond the days’ work, took them home for a few minutes, and placed them in the arms of lovers or in a kitchen with their mothers.  Some of the music and songs they took with them to Nova Scotia, others came from the folk music of that province while more came from the strong influence of American bluegrass and country genres. This was evident in the songs they sang when they came home.

It was through these men I was introduced to the recordings of Lee Moore, Mac Wiseman, Hank Williams and other American recording artists.  It was also from them I heard the early recordings of Hank Snow and Wilf Carter.  In the late fifties and early sixties a Cape Breton recording artist gained prominence in the songs they sang in ships galleys and around kitchen tables, often with a few glasses to wet their whistles. His songs reached St. Jacques before his recordings for the men fishing out of Cape Breton learned them at source.

LP recordings weren’t widespread in the communities between Belleoram and Wreck Cove until the mid-sixties when electricity became available to all residents. There were households operating on their own electrical generators which meant St. Jacques wasn’t devoid of record players.  An occasional house still had the wind-up variety which played 78 rpm recordings.

It was his version of the Wreck of the John Harvey that I first heard even though my grandmother was quick to point out that there were many more verses to the song that weren’t included on that recording.  The fishermen had their favourites which quickly became family and community favourites through repeated exposure. Some of these included Down on the Big Shoal, Black Around Their Eyes, Wreck of the John Harvey, and The Legend of Kelly’s Mountain.  Of course I am referring to the indomitable Charlie MacKinnon!

Charlie MacKinnon from the album cover, My Cape Breton Home, 1961

Charlie MacKinnon became a household name in St. Jacques.  There were very few people in the harbour who didn’t sing along to one of his songs at one time or another.   His album “Songs of My Cape Breton Home”, recorded in 1961, was the source of many of his most popular songs; however, another album recorded in 1967, “Free and Easy While Jogging Along”, proved almost as popular.  The 1961 recording also included The Ballad of a Teenage Tragedy, An Old Haunted Castle in Scotland, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Bonny Bunch of Roses, The Wash Out on the Line, Waters of Iona, Twilight on the Cabot Trail and The Little Irish Maid.

If I close my eyes I can hear men such as Tom Osborne and Jim Hynes singing, Down on the Big Shoal. As often as not, those men who didn’t sing loudly such as Uncle Den McCarthy and Ralph Fiander could be heard singing along as well as the evenings wore on.

The frequency with which one is exposed to specific pieces of music contributes to a feeling of ownership in that the pieces become a part of the fabric of your life.  These songs of Charlie MacKinnon were not incidentally heard and forgotten, they were sung, remembered and incorporated into the work history of the community. The singing of Down on the Big Shoal resonated with the fishermen, their families and friends for they intimately knew the song’s references.  Black Around their Eyes spoke to the earlier generations of Newfoundlanders who worked the coal mines of Cape Breton and their many descendants in and around North Sydney know to the St. Jacques fishermen. Through that exposure we incorporated Charlie MacKinnon’s songs into our collective memory and in some ways appropriated ownership. The Wreck of the John Harvey held particular resonance for it existed in lived memory of many local residents who knew the crewmen and the witnessed the event.

We knew Charlie through his songs and ranked him with the best. Charlie MacKinnon, who died in 1987 at the age of sixty-eight, was born in Little Bras d’Or on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.  Among his musical influences were traditional Cape Breton musicians, and other performers such as Hank Snow, Wilf Carter and Jimmy Rodgers.  He wrote some of his own songs; however, there was a poet/songwriter who had a profound influence on his repertoire.

That poet was Lillian Crewe-Walsh who was born in Neil’s Harbour on Scaterie Island and grew up in Glace Bay.  When she met Charlie MacKinnon in the late 1950’s, it is told, she suggested he might consider putting some of her poems to music. He did this for six poems and among them were his biggest hits. The first one to gain traction upon its release was The Ghost of Bra’Dor which became a Canadian hit in 1958. The other five are:

Waters of Iona

My Cape Breton Home

Kelly’s Mountain

The Little Irish Maid, and

Wreck of the John Harvey

Charlie MacKinnon gained a reasonable degree of popularity and most likely could have achieved wide success as a performer, however, he chose not to pursue the life of touring and performing year-round.  Instead he continued to work at the Sydney Steel Plant where he spent his career. He did tour the Maritimes and Newfoundland and performed on local radio shows.  His legacy stands strong within his Cape Breton community and throughout Atlantic Canada.  Like Charlie, most of the fishermen who brought his songs to the kitchens and living rooms of St. Jacques have also passed on.  They too are remembered through his lyrics learned in the galley’s of fishing boats and sung around the kitchen tables of home.  Many of them are still fishing down on the big shoal.

Charlie MacKinnon Discography:

MacKinnon, Charlie with the Downeasters – The Wreck of the John Harvey // Aunt Martha’s Washing Tub Format: 78 rpm, Label: Rodeo RO. 203 78, Year: 1958

MacKinnon, Charlie with the Downeasters – The Ghost of Bras d’Or // My Cape Breton Home Format: 78 rpm, Label: Rodeo RO.197, Year: 1959

Songs Of My Cape Breton Home ‎(LP, Mono), Arc Sound Ltd. A547, 1961

The True And Authentic Life Of ‎(LP, Mono) Arc Records CX. 27 1963

Songs Of My Cape Breton Home ‎(LP) Arc Sound Ltd. A547, 1964

More Songs Of My Cape Breton Home ‎(LP) Arc 654 ,1965

Free And Easy While Joggin’ Along ‎(LP, Album, Mono) Arc Records A-731, 1967

Sings Ballads Of The Maritimes ‎(LP, Album) Arc Records ACS 5030, 1969

The Best Of Charlie MacKinnon Songs Of Cape Breton ‎(LP, Album) Arc Records  ACS 5029, 1970

MacKinnon, Charlie – Sings Songs of the Misty Island (LP) Cabot Music Publishing World Record Corp. WRC1-2922, 1985

Compilation – Rodeo Records Salute to Sydney: Cape Breton Island on Its 175th Anniversary Format: 33 1/3 rpm, Charlie MacKinnon – My Cape Breton Home, 2016

Places to Visit

Lillian Crewe Walsh – Cape Breton Magazine

The Wreck of the John Harvey –

Disaster Song Tradition – The John Harvey Story

MacEdward Leach and Songs of Atlantic Canada

Cape Breton’s Lillian Crewe-Walsh: A Treasury of Ballads and Poems: With a Conversation about Lillian Crewe Walsh by Ronald Caplan (ed)

Cape Breton’s Diversity in Unity

Posted by: alexhickey | December 19, 2017

Christmas Scents©

Sacks of Prince Edward Island potatoes, carrots, cabbages, turnips and parsnips don’t seem to be the type of thing to stir excitement among children; however, each fall there was heightened anticipation in my St. Jacques neighbourhood when the vegetable boat arrived at the government wharf.  Helping to load the heavy sacks onto the pickup truck and then off-load and carry them into the dark cellar for winter storage was thrilling.  Climbing in over the stacks to cover them with heavy blankets to give protection from frost added to that feeling of being part of something important.  In later winters vegetables were delivered by truck from J. Petite and Sons or Clifford Shirley’s store in English Harbour West, dropped off beside the gate to be transported by wheel barrow to the cellar. This wasn’t quite as adventurous and felt more like work.

We didn’t grow many root vegetables even though there was no shortage of arable land to do so.  Our family, like most others in the community during the postwar years, depended upon the fall shipments to get us through the winter.

Christmas Apples

The attention of every child in the household was ensured by an additional attraction which arrived in a barrel. Imagine being eight years old again and a barrel of Gravenstein’s are delivered and stored in your cellar. You feel as though you have been catapulted into apple heaven.

Savour for a moment the delicious aroma of red succulent apples drifting across your nose as you slowly open a door.  That exotic, intoxicating aroma fills the room.  Ever so gently you ease the door closed behind you and you pause, standing motionless in that bouquet, absorbing it through the pores of your skin.  Twirl on the balls of your feet and the indulgence twirls with you.  More than the aroma of a single apple in one’s hand, more than a bowl of apples on a kitchen table and more than a single corrugated box of apples in the local store, more, a lot  more!

Combine those evocative whiffs with the redness accentuated by delicate hints of yellow and green, a short woody stalk curving at a slight angle from the top.  Feel the coolness of their waxy surface to your fingertips as you cradle one in the palm of your hand.  You can almost hear the crunch of your teeth biting into its crispness and feel the sweet juice as it sprays against your wrist.

I don’t recall how many years the practice of buying apples by barrel lasted.  What I do recall is the power of one’s nose in fueling an appetite for them.  Just a whiff would set off the urge to make another trip to the barrel, but along with the barrel came dire warnings not to attempt sneaking into the cellar.  That warning was sufficient to keep one out for a while but not forever. The cellar door was airtight and padded against the cold so when it closed the heady aroma of living in an apple orchard dissipated. An added impediment to pilfering apples was the fact that the cellar door was located in the back porch thus any time the door was opened the smell of apples let everyone know. There was no need for alarm bells.

Just as dramatic and equally as exotic was the warm, spicy, rich, mouth-watering aroma of fruitcake escaping from the well-worn oven door of the Enterprise stove.  The transformation of a fruitcake in the oven from a gooey mess to a delectable treat for the human taste buds is nothing short of magical.  As its ingredients of dried and candied fruit, mixed peel, raisins, currants, nuts and spices heat up and release their enticing flavours they combine with the browning effect on its outside, filling the kitchen with anticipation of Christmas.  Cakes were baked well in advance of decorating the house, allowing time to age and develop like good beer and wine, complex characteristics for the palette and nose.  When Christmas cakes went into the oven the year was waning and the days to Christmas dwindling.

While the cakes were being mixed a good heat was established by banking the firebox until the metal of the stove exuded heat from all sides.  Once the oven temperature reached its desired target and was sustained, it was only then the cake was put inside. Accompanying the ritual was another warning to us children to not go ‘jumping about’ or stamping your feet’ for fear of making the cake “sink” in the middle.

Though I’ve never baked a fruitcake I’ve eaten quite a few of them through the years and have a particular liking for the dark variety.  When I say variety I acknowledge that, though they may share many common ingredients, fruitcakes have more than subtle variations from one house to another, in taste, smell, volume, density, appearance and presentation.  Cloves, cinnamon, allspice, mace and nutmeg, brown sugar, molasses, coffee, ginger, butter and occasionally dark rum, all combine to seduce one into a world of decadent dining. From one house to the next, differences could be ascertained based upon the measure of spices used – one Aunt preferred the use of more cloves than another; one neighbour had preference for more allspice than her sister-in-law.  By the time I reached adulthood I could identify the baker of a cake through its ambrosia and distinct flavours.

During the early years of my childhood the tree didn’t arrive inside the house until after all children were securely tucked into bed on Christmas Eve with warning that sleep was a condition to be met for Santa Claus to come.  Trying to force oneself into a state of sleep rarely works as most of us have learned.  Therefore, lying in bed, eyes tightly closed, ears wide open to every sound and a nose monitoring the air for anything out of the ordinary was a common state for most of us on Christmas Eve.  The first hint that changes were happening downstairs was the smell of the tree as it was carried through the house to the living room.  How could one mistake the pungent, near mystical odour of a freshly cut balsam fir when it first encounters the heat from a blistering hot wood stove?

The scent still has a reassuring feeling associated with it for when it wafts across my nose I feel certain that spirit of Christmas has entered the house.  When smelled late into the night on Christmas Eve it’s soothing effect was just the thing to tip one into a state of relaxation sufficient to bring on sleep.  That sleep wasn’t populated with visions of sugar plums or angels; it was tormented most of the time by states of near wakefulness wondering if Santa Claus had arrived yet.  A tentative opening of one eye cast towards the window would reveal the approach of daylight and the time to bound down the stairs to the living room. However, as often as not, I finally feel asleep and had to be awakened when the time came to get up.

Walking down the stairs was like walking into an evergreen forest for the scent of the Christmas tree became stronger with every step.  There is little that compares to the sight of a fir tree seen decorated for the first time on Christmas morning.  Brilliant colours and reflections of light bouncing of delicate glass bulbs and strands of silver tinsel were as alluring as any circus or carnival of lights anywhere in the world.  Seeing the tree in all its decorated splendour and absorbing that intriguing outdoors smell given off by the resin-filled blisters on the bark of the balsam fir, were almost as significant as the wrapped presents sitting beneath it.

Throughout Christmas Day and the days which followed the tree would remind us of its presence by its scent.  You could be sitting in the living room or anywhere in the house and all of a sudden pick up on its release of nature into the air.  Whenever that happened it brought a smile of appreciation to my lips and still does to this day.

A few days ago I was browsing a display of artificial trees which were quite convincing in their emulation of the real thing to the untrained eye of someone who hadn’t grown up in or adjacent to a forest.  Hanging on a stand adjacent to the display was a container of metal tubes labelled spruce, pine, and fir.  My curiosity got the better of me despite having a good sense of what was in each of them.   When I opened the container a strong chemical smell assaulted my nose and made my eyes water.  You would have to close your eyes really tight to imagine it truly smelled like a fir tree.  It left me with a little sadness that somewhere children would wake up Christmas morning to that smell, not knowing the difference between it and the delicate tendrils of the real forest as it softly and gently ebbs and flows throughout a room.

Layer on top of these scents that of freshly made cookies from the oven cooling on the kitchen counter-top and you have one of the most fulfilling experiences the sense of smell can deliver.  Shortbread cookies topped with cuttings of red and green caramelized cherries in their centre compete for attention with textures of melting chocolate and coconut and add to the already luxurious presence of deep dark mysterious date squares whose filling comes from far, far away in the moist sub-tropical countries of North Africa.   Molasses buns were a staple treat several times during the year, however, their presence at Christmas was a comfort, a sense of continuity that this Christmas experience was grounded in other parts and time of our lives. The same can be said for raisin tea buns and loaves of home-made bread eaten while still steaming from the oven. In the case of bread though, it was usually quite a challenge to convince the baker that it must be eaten now while still hot instead of waiting for it to cool down to make it easier to slice!

In as much as these all add to the depth and breadth of an olfactory Christmas, the single-most cookie which evokes soft fuzzy memories, delicate savouring of its nuances on the tongue and lends itself to either breaking between fingers or teeth, is the inimitable gingersnap.  More especially are they Christmas cookies when they are made in shapes of evergreen trees, snowmen and candy canes.  These flat, delectable delights distinguish themselves from ginger cookies in their hardness and the distinct “snap” when broken into pieces.  When these Christmas treats are baking the unmistakable presence of ginger in the air evokes more of Christmases past than any reading of Dickens Christmas Carol.

While we gather as friends, family and kindred spirits this time of year let’s stop and “smell the roses”, as they say, count our blessings and reflect on the small human things which make events like this special in our memories.  The things we smell, the sights we see around us, the taste of favourite foods and the people we reach out and touch create the feelings and memories we carry through our lifetime and pass on to others.  Rarely in our busy lives do we consider taking time to reflect and act on those reflections, however, when the end of the calendar year begins to roll around we are most likely to fall victim to such a human disposition regardless of a faith or belief system.  The universality of reaching out to those things which have brought comfort into our lives and still do, is one measure of our humanity.  This year I remember the scents of the season and the threads they have twisted and woven through the fabric of my life.  Our lives, like the humble but decadent fruit cake are all woven differently, yet running beneath the surface are the nuances which make us unique and at the same time remind us of all we have in common.

For me it’s Merry Christmas! For you, it’s whatever salutation brings you joy!

Posted by: alexhickey | November 5, 2017

Remembering Lance Corporal Edgar G. Skinner 1897-1953 ©

Most of us think of the men and women who served and died in war, when we hear the word Remembrance or the phrase Lest We Forget – and so we should.  There is, however, much greater depth to those words, more inclusivity and broader meaning.  There is an abundance of things to remember about war and the toll it extracts on people, places, institutions, culture, religion, society and governments. Yet, the greatest meaning does lie with the lives of those who volunteer or are conscripted into military service.

WW1 or the Great War as it is often called, ripped the innocence out of Newfoundland and left us with a legacy of loss, the extent of which is still being felt generations later.  Though all of the participants in that conflict are now dead, the cultural and genetic memory persists.  We are left on this centenary to ask questions, marvel and wonder at the decisions made by political and military leaders; admire the fortitude and patriotism which sent young men and women to a foreign soil; and lament the losses which affected nearly every community dotted along the coastlines of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Last year there was much attention given to the Battle of Beaumont Hamel where many young Newfoundland lives were lost. Since then, the one hundredth anniversary of the four year war seems to be over.  There is but sporadic attention to events beyond that unfortunate battle. Very little is heard of the heroics of our Newfoundland soldiers as they carried on fighting until peace was at hand. There were heroics and medals awarded as well as commendations and proud moments for over two years after Beaumont Hamel.

One battle which had profound effect on the Newfoundland Regiment took place as part of the continuing Battle of the Somme in April 1917. Newfoundland soldiers carried the day and delivered results well beyond expectations; however, the toll was enormous.  166 men were killed, 141 were wounded, and 150 were taken prisoner; the single largest capture of Newfoundlanders by the German military during the entire war.

The list of names of those who died has been widely circulated; however the bravery of those men who were injured or taken prisoner is often ignored. Their contribution to battles won and lost as well as to the overall thrust of will and valor which contributed to victory in the end, is less recognized.  Those men who were taken prisoner especially so.  This year I choose to remember the Newfoundlanders taken as Prisoners of War and their contribution to all those things we say, have derived from that war.

In highlighting the POW’s from Newfoundland I single out a young man from my hometown of St. Jacques – Lance Corporal Edgar G. Skinner, regimental number 2929.  Edgar volunteered for service immediately after finishing school at Bishop Field College in St. John’s where he was studying to become a teacher. After school closed for the summer the nineteen year old student spent a few days home in St. Jacques visiting family. He returned to St. John’s in early July and enlisted. By the time he shipped overseas on the S. S. Sicilian on August 28th he was assigned to the First Newfoundland Regiment 3rd Battalion, C Company, Platoon Number 12 – Section 16.  In his platoon with him were G. Moore, J. Tizzard, C. Day, W. Murphy, E. Dunphy, J. Sceviour, J. Lambert and D.E. Phelan of St. John’s as well as F.F. Simms of Burin; J.H. Little of Bonavista; S. Hodder of Horwood, Notre Dame Bay; C. Forsey and J. Harris of Grand Bank; J. Loveless of Seal Cove, Fortune Bay; and F. Morris of Trinity.

In less than a year he would be resident in a German Prisoner of War Camp.  At this point in time I know little of his experiences or of his treatment by German authorities.  I can assume with relative certainty that his time spent there was not pleasant, and that his treatment was not good.  Thousands of stories of life inside those camps have come to life over the century since and we can reason that Edgar Skinner experienced quite a bit of what these other men suffered.

Their suffering wasn’t limited to injuries they may have received in the Battle of Monchy; it also included the self-perceived ignominy of being taken prisoner.   It meant you could no longer fight beside the men you commanded or trained with; nor could you carry out orders to take the enemy.  You were forced to work for the enemy tending fields, building roads, repairing trenches, and burying their dead in the battlefield often while your own side unknowingly showered bullets down upon you.  You suffered there behind enemy lines thinking that there were those on your side who saw the fact that you were captured as cowardly.  You imagined that some thought you had surrendered to the enemy to avoid fighting.  All of these things played on the minds of POW’s causing them extreme mental anguish.  Coupled with the continuous hard labour most were forced into, and the poor nutrition which they endured, it is a wonder that any of them made it through to the end of the war.  Some didn’t.

These men endured war at the hands of their enemy unlike anything human beings had seen before.  Their suffering was daily, nightly, and weekly, seemingly without end as the war dragged on.  They were allowed to write letters home, however, their letters were heavily censored, allowing only the perfunctory salutations and most general comments to get through.  Below is an example of a letter from Edgar Skinner sent to his widowed mother on August 19th1917, which she submitted to the St. John’s Daily Star for publication.

Dear Mother,

Again I have the chance and pleasure of letting you know that I am still well.  My address is on the opposite side (my name, number, and company, and after that the writing which is over your address).

Try and write the Red Cross and tell them to send me some parcels. Do not worry about me.

I hope Lester, Owen, and you are well.

From your loving son.



No. 2929 L.C.E.G. Skinner, B. Co., 1st Nfld. Regiment

Prisoner of War

Kriegsfangenan, Friedrichsfelf, Germany.

This was not Edgar’s first letter home for he says, “I have the chance of letting you know I am still well.”  He makes no mention of the injury to his head he suffered during the Battle of Monchy le Preux, nor does he suggest he is being maltreated.  In fact, at first glance it would seem that all is well.  Twice in the short letter he tries to reassure his mother.  He asks her not to worry about him and goes on to inquire about his brother-in-law and nephew.

He asks little of his mother but to entreat the Red Cross to send parcels which is something the Red Cross had positioned themselves to do by this stage of the war.  His seventy-three words are sparse and devoid of anything related to his status as a POW.  Nor does it contain any comment or question about the war. He provides a mailing address but we do not know where he is being held prisoner. There is no indication of who else may be there with him. In short, the letter is almost devoid of information.

The Daily Star offered the following comment below the letter:

From the above it is evident that prisoners of war are only allowed to write at fixed intervals, dependent probably upon good conduct or upon the pleasure of the Camp Commandant. Lance Corporal Skinner was made prisoner in April when so many of our boys were either killed or captured.

Commander Edgar G. Skinner, WWII – Library of Canada Photo

There were other letters from Edgar during his time as prisoner of war.  All of them held true to the scarcity of information in this letter. Edgar remained a prisoner of war until he was repatriated on December 25, 1918.

The twenty-one months Edgar Skinner spent as POW must have been horrific in many ways. He wasn’t alone in his experience.  Other Newfoundlanders shared the experience though not always in the same prison camp.  What we must never forget about those prisoners of war is that they too were serving their country, giving of their mental and physical strengths to see it through to the end and victory.  What they didn’t know, and must have thought about every day, is what might happen to them if their side lost the war.

Lance Corporal Edgar Skinner returned home to St. Jacques after the war and later moved his mother and nephew to Canada.  There, he rose to the position of Captain on oil tankers shipping between Canada and South America.  He also joined the Navy Reserve and when WWII broke out, volunteered again to serve.  This time he entered the war as a commanding officer and served on a variety of navy ships including the HMCS Arrowhead and HMCS Monnow. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Canada and the RCNR Officer’s Decoration (RD) by the United Kingdom. Commander Skinner participated in the Battle of the St. Lawrence and the Battle of the Atlantic while on convoy duty.

Following the war he retired to private business in New Brunswick and died six years later.  Edgar was born August 14th 1897 and died on February 28th, 1953 at the age of fifty-five.

Edgar Skinner was the son of Captain Abram and Catherine (Kate) Skinner.  Their home was located amidst the other Skinner homes in the bottom of St. Jacques harbour, sitting on the lower side of the main road between houses owned by Ralph Skinner and Albert Skinner.  Like most of those homes, that building is long gone.  After the Skinner’s left, it changed ownership several times.  Captain James Dyett lived there for a period of time as did Jacob and Blanche Fiander when they first married. The last owner was Mrs. Agnes McCarthy.

There are no direct descendants of Captain Abe Skinner and his family living in St. Jacques now.  But for a monument in St. Michael and All Angel’s cemetery erected to his father who was lost at sea when Edgar was in Europe and a tombstone to his sister Lizelle in the Roman Catholic cemetery there is little trace of them having been here. There is only one cousin of Edgar’s left in the community who is now in her mid-eighties – his second cousin Burnsie (Skinner) Lawrence

For me, that is even more reason to stand on Remembrance Day and remember the sacrifices of men like Lance Corporal Edgar George Skinner.  Let us not forget the many ways in which our people served in the Great War and all those before and after.  This year when the names of those who died are read, let’s remember as well those brave Newfoundlanders who suffered serious injury and those who were taken prisoner by the enemy like Lance Corporal Edgar G. Skinner.


POW Letter Edgar Skinner 1917-11-13 Daily Star p.8

Further Reading/Viewing

Sons of Terra Nova – The Battle of Monchy

Prisoners of War During World War 1


Macleans – Newly discovered letters show darkness of WWI POW camp Patricia Treble, October 21, 2016

Prisoners Mail

Monchy-le-Preux, April 14th 1917





Posted by: alexhickey | September 22, 2017

St. Jacques Island Lighthouse©

A few years ago the Government of Canada announced that it would divest itself of a number of light houses across the country including the one on St. Jacques Island in Fortune Bay. Provincial governments were given first option to take them over, followed by municipal governments and barring interest from them, a third party could submit a proposal.  If there was no interest the lighthouses would simply be left to deteriorate over time or be dismantled.

I reflected on the possibility that we could see the end of the iconic lighthouse on St. Jacques Island if no one showed interest.  At that point I decided that if the provincial government or the municipality wasn’t interested I would make an effort.  That set in motion a process which led to the establishment of the not-for-profit St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation with a Board of Directors and the submission of a business plan to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2013.  What followed was three years of meeting, planning, negotiating and eventually signing a Memorandum of Agreement signing over the lighthouse, out buildings, the light keeper’s residence and the island to the St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation.

The Corporation has as a mandate the preservation of the light tower for future generations and the provision of programming to inform and educate people about the light tower.  It intends to do that by developing the light keeper’s residence as a tourism rental facility and artist retreat which will raise funds for the preservation of the light tower and programming. The planning for this is now underway.

We also sought to have the lighthouse designated as a National Historic Structure by Parks Canada.  This took another level of effort and months of work.  In the end we were successful in achieving our goal.  The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse is now recognized as a National Historic structure in Canada.

What follows is the text of the case Parks Canada accepted for this designation taken from their site which you can view at Parks Canada’s Page on the St. Jacques Island Lighthouse.

Heritage Lighthouse

Description of Historic Place

St. Jacques Island Light Tower

The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse, also known as the Fortune Bay Lighthouse, is a 12 metre (39 foot) white, cylindrical, cast iron tower. Built in 1908, the lighthouse is the first on site. The lighthouse is situated on a 30-metre (100-foot) cliff on St. Jacques Island overlooking Fortune Bay, on the Southern coast of Newfoundland not far from St. Pierre and Miquelon. The island’s high visibility has made it a location marker for mariners for centuries.

Heritage Value

The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse is a heritage lighthouse because of its historical, architectural, and community values.

Historical values
The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse is an excellent example of the system of lighthouses that was initiated in 1811 on the coast of Newfoundland and grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pre-Confederation lighthouses built in Newfoundland during this period were typically pre-fabricated cast-iron towers. This design was preferred for the climate of the Newfoundland coast because the towers were durable, relatively inexpensive and easy to erect on remote sites. The St. Jacques Island lighthouse illustrates the expansion and development of the lighthouse system during this period, when the British colony was still almost entirely economically-dependent on aquaculture (fishery).

The lighthouse also illustrates Newfoundland’s relationship with industrial England, where the pre-fabricated lighthouse was manufactured by the renowned Chance Brothers and Company. The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse was fundamental to the socio-economic development of the communities in Fortune Bay. The lighthouse aided in providing safer navigation for a local fishing fleet that tripled in size at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It facilitated the use of St. Jacques as a safe harbour for off-shore fishing vessels during stormy weather, a role it had served since the early 17th century, and made local and transitory navigation more secure for small inshore vessels, mail boats, passenger ships and commercial vessels.

Architectural values
The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse demonstrates excellent aesthetic design with its elegantly tapered, cylindrical tower with a well-proportioned and attractive lantern. There are only two openings on the tower: a small window located a third of the way up the shaft and a rounded iron door at ground level. The lantern features a “crow’s nest”inspired gallery reminiscent of the enclosed lookouts found on the mast of ships.

The lighthouse exhibits very good functional design in its pre-fabricated, cast-iron construction technology typical of the Newfoundland coast during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tower consists of rounded rectangular sections that were pre-fabricated in England, and subsequently assembled on site. Seams were filled with lead and caulking, creating a smooth exterior and eliminating any edges or seams where water from the harsh maritime climate could collect or infiltrate the building and lead to corrosion.

Community values
The lighthouse embodies the coastal maritime character of its setting, and is a local landmark in Fortune Bay, as evidenced by the picturesque qualities of its design and form. Its location on a steep 30-metre cliff and the lack of vegetation surrounding it makes the lighthouse highly visible from all around the Bay.

The town of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove is comprised of six communities nestled within various inlets that incorporated in 1972: St. Jacques, English Harbour West, Mose Ambrose, Boxey, Coomb’s Cove and Wreck Cove. When the town incorporated and its boundaries were drawn up, it did not include St. Jacques Island, which was under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The town of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove is currently in the process of having its boundaries redrawn to include St. Jacques Island specifically for the purpose of having the lighthouse designated as a municipal heritage site, reinforcing the importance of the lighthouse to the community.

Related buildings
There are four related buildings on the site that contribute to the heritage character of the lighthouse: (1) the 1960 light keeper’s residence; (2) the 1960 Generator Building; (3) the 1960 Equipment Building #1; and (4) the 1999 Equipment Building #2.

Note:  Since this was prepared by Parks Canada, the town of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove has been successful in achieving a boundary change which now includes St. Jacques Island. The St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation anticipates that the designation of the light house as a municipal heritage building will take place in the near future. This will be the first building so designated by the town. 

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