Partridge, jostling each other on the barrens

Archival Moment

May 1903

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 53-10; Woman with roasting pan of partridges.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 53-10; Woman with roasting pan of partridges.

In their enthusiasm to lure hunters to the Cape Shore in the 1880’s the people of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay, boasted that there was no better place for fishing, trouting and birding than on the Cape Shore. In fact they let it be known to the celebrated travel writer Captain Robert William Kennedy, R.N. that the partridges were so plentiful that they were “jostling each other on the barrens.”

An avid hunter Kennedy in 1880 travelled to Branch, St. Mary’s Bay, where he enjoyed the hospitality of the townspeople and all the partridge hunting that he wanted. Five years following his experience (1885) he wrote in his book Sport, Travel, and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies that it was true ‘patterridges’ (as the Branch people pronounced the name) could be seen to “be jostling each other on the barrens.”

With such grand reports of good hunting in the area it was inevitable that other ‘birders’ should be attracted to the area. It proved to be too much!! By 1900 the partridge population was near extinction.

In May 1903 the people of Branch and Trepassey were petitioning the government to protect the partridge. The local people had “for the last year or two been witnessing their entire crop of birds, swept away prematurely … by the wanton destruction of so many immature birds… “

Sir Robert Thorburn, the former Prime Minister of Newfoundland and a member of the Fisheries Board stood firmly with the people of Branch and their petitions to the government of the day. He took to writing the local press (The Evening Herald) in May 1903 he observed:

“that in comparatively few days at opening of last season shooting, (that a certain city so called sportsman), stated he killed enough birds on Trepassey and Placentia grounds to pay his expenses and that he sold 250 (two hundred and fifty) birds to one of our city grocers.”

Thorburn went on to write:

“Assuming this statement to be true, and that it is not a solitary instance or exception to the rule, does it not emphasize the necessity of preventing if possible a repetition of this wanton destruction of so many immature birds?”

The former Prime Minister, the people of Branch and the people of Trepassey argued that the partridge should remain “undisturbed until about the first of October.“ By tradition the ‘partridge season’ did not open up until October but over the years the ‘birders’ were arriving earlier and earlier.

They argued allowing the birds to mature:

“would have afforded a fair share of sport to the legitimate sportsman, be he a city man, or one of the manor born. ”  Thorburn continued : “Put the shooting back to the first of October and allow the use of firearms on no pretext whatsoever   … and the game will be preserved …. “

It appears that the petitions of the people of Branch and Trepassey were heeded the Consolidated Statutes of Newfoundland were revised to read “ No person shall hunt, kill, take, sell, barter, purchase … any ptarmigan or willow grouse (commonly called partridge).”

 Those of “the manor born” the people of Branch and Trepassey were quite satisfied! It was their petitions in the early 1900’s that saved the partridge from extinction.

The partridge (Lagopus sp) or ptarmigan is now the provincial game bird of Newfoundland and Labrador Two partridge species, Willow Ptarmigan and the Rock Ptarmigan, are found throughout the province.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’  on this subject?  Type hunting  in the search bar here:

Recommended Reading: Sport, Travel, and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies by Captain Robert William Kennedy, R.N. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburg, Scotland, 1885.

Recommended Reading: Department of Environment and Conservation, Newfoundland and Labrador. Small Game Regulations:




A German Spy (or Artist) in Newfoundland?

Archival Moment

May 22, 1915

“Capture, transform and annihilate that sterile land of Newfoundland”

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 49-93; Rockwell Kent Cottage at Landfall, Brigus

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 49-93; Rockwell Kent Cottage at Landfall, Brigus

The celebrated American artist Rockwell Kent made his first visit to Newfoundland in 1910 visiting the Burin Peninsula with the hope of finding a place to establish an art school. In 1914, Kent returned to Newfoundland settling with his wife and children in the historic town of Brigus.

Kent was a big personality, in a small town, making it inevitable that the residents would be interested in their new neighbor. They were not amused with what they were witnessing. With anti German sentiment rising as World War I approached, Kent who had studied as a youth in Germany cavorted about the town singing German tunes and extolling the virtues of German culture.

There was also the matter of a very large order of eight tons of coal that he had ordered and purchased for his winter’s supply. To pour salt into the wound of rumor no locals were admitted to his studio that remained locked with a sign that read “CHART ROOM — WIRELESS STATION — BOMB SHOP.” The last straw was that he painted a German eagle underneath the sign.

The locals concluded that the coal was for German submarines that were lurking in the waters off Newfoundland and his studio was definitely a German spy station passing on naval intelligence to his German friends!

He had to go!!  The government of the day quietly investigated sending police constables to Brigus to interview him. Kent was not happy with the investigation. He wrote to Governor Davidson at Government House in St. John’s stating:

“if an investigation had been conducted by men of probity and understanding, as I from the beginning have demanded, instead of by half illiterate constables, themselves of the mob, it is impossible that I would now be leaving this country”

There were few who had sympathy for him. In accordance with the decree of the government he was compelled to depart Newfoundland on the steamer “Florizel” in 1915.

Not happy with the order to leave Newfoundland he took several parting shots at the people of Brigus and the people of Newfoundland generally. One was in a letter; the other was in a painting.

In a letter to the journal The New Republic on 22 May 1915 one of the most influential liberal magazines in the United States he wrote that he hoped some German would “capture, transform and annihilate that sterile land” of Newfoundland.

The painting that best reflects his frustration with Newfoundland is House of Dread. The painting depicts a drab house with a woman falling from a window and a man below hunched against the wall. Kent said of the painting “It is ourselves in Newfoundland, our hidden but prevailing misery revealed.”

One would think that this would have been the last of this troublesome painter but in 1967 Joseph Robert Smallwood, the Premier of Newfoundland and an admirer of Kent’s work decided to try and make amends. He wrote to him:

“I certainly would not blame you (Rockwell Kent) if you felt nothing but revulsion at the thought of Newfoundland and yet from all I have ever read of yours, and heard about you from mutual friends, I would truly be surprised if you had not taken it all with good humour … How can Newfoundland show her regard for you? …Would you come back here? Would you be this government’s guest on a visit back to Newfoundland, including Brigus? … Please forgive us for past injuries, and please be magnanimous enough to be our guest some time at your convenience …”

In July 1968 Kent did return to Newfoundland as a guest of the Newfoundland Premier. During his visit he was the toast of the town with the Premier being profuse in his apologies for the treatment that he had been given in 1915 and hosting a grand luncheon with several hundred guests. Kent seemed to be pleased with the reconciliation. In appreciation in 1968 he published a book, After Long Years that included a number of drawings from his time in Brigus. He dedicated the book to his new friend Joseph R. Smallwood.

The house that Kent made his home in Brigus was in in the area of Brigus called The Battery, The house, known today as the Kent Cottage at Landfall. The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery Division and Canada Council for the Arts, supports a series of summer Artist-in-Residence programs at the house. Since 2005, The Rooms and Landfall Trust have partnered to annually co-sponsor a summer Kent Cottage resident artist. In 2008, the Trust started an annual writer’s residence program at the Cottage.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’  on Rockwell Kent?  Type his name in the search bar here:

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives, GN 1/10/0 Box 2. Letter’s of Rockwell Kent to Sir Walter Davidson, 1915.

Recommended Web Site: Landfall Trust of Brigus, Newfoundland and Labrador





The Portuguese in Newfoundland


May 27, 1955


It is estimated that four to five thousand Portuguese Fishermen carried the Fatima statues through the streets of St. John's .

It is estimated that four to five thousand Portuguese Fishermen carried the Fatima statues through the streets of St. John’s .

One of the highlights of the 100th Anniversary celebrations of the Basilica – Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s in 1955 was a parade of four – five thousand Portuguese fishermen from the “White Fleet” who marched through the city of St. John’s on  May 27, 1955.

The fishermen walked in procession from the waterfront to the Basilica –Cathedral and presented a gift in the form of Our Lady of Fatima, comprising a group of nine statues, of poly chromed and gilt plaster.

The statues were presented to Archbishop Patrick J. Skinner of St. John’s, by Reverend Father J. A. Rosa, chaplain of the Portuguese fleet, on behalf of the officers and crews of the fleet, and the people of Portugal.   The grotto  where the statues were placed is located under the west gallery in the Basilica Cathedral.

Only two other pieces of public art celebrate the presence of the Portuguese in Newfoundlandand  and Labrador.

MiguelCorte Real Andrade visted the site of his ancestor last week.

MiguelCorte Real Andrade visted the site of his ancestor 2015.

The statue of  Gaspar Corte-Real Portuguese navigator – he reached Terra Nova (Newfoundland)  in the 15th century. This statue was unveiled on May 1965 in front of Confederation Building in St. John’s.  It was a gift from from the Portuguese Fisheries Organization as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the Portuguese Grand Banks fishermen for the friendly hospitality always extended to them by the people of Terra Nova.

Another installation of public art to celebrate the history of the Portuguese in Newfoundlandare the series of murals located on Duckworth Street.  (near the site of the  Sheraton Hotel) The murals depict scenes from towns in Portugal.


Portuguese Memorial, Mount Carmel Cemetery, St. John's.

Portuguese Memorial, Mount Carmel Cemetery, St. John’s.

The most recent memorial to the Portuguese fishermen is the unmarked grave of White Fleet Fisherman, Dionisio Esteves. He died during the 1966 fishing campaign while unloading his daily catch of codfish. He was crushed between his swamped dory and the steel hull of the fishing vessel. His grave site has come to symbolize all those Portuguese fishermen who lost their lives fishing in Newfoundland waters. The memorial is located in Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Cemetery, St. John’s.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’  on the Portuguese in Newfoundland. Type Portuguese in the search bar here:

Recommended Reading: Port O’ Call, Memories of the Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s, Newfoundland, by Priscilla Doel (Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, 1992).

Recommended Website:  Watch and listen as  the Portuguese carry the Fatima Statues to the Basilica Cathedral, on May 27, 1955.

Victoria Day, the 24th of May


24 May

Queen Victoria: Born May 24, 1819

Victoria Day as we know it today has been known under a number of different names. Our parents and grandparents perhaps best remember it as Empire Day.

With the death of Queen Victoria, who died on 22 January 1901, the nations of the British Commonwealth  including Newfoundland began to search for a way to best celebrate her contributions.

The first ‘Empire Day’ took place on 24th May 1902, Queen Victoria’s birthday. Newfoundland was among the first of the commonwealth nations to officially declare Empire Day an official holiday in 1903.

The holiday has given rise to the

  “The 24th May is the Queen’s Birthday. If we don’t get a holiday we will all run away.”

Empire Day remained on the calendar for more than 50 years. In 1958 Empire Day was renamed as British Commonwealth Day, and still later in 1966 it became known as Commonwealth Day. The date of Commonwealth Day was also changed to 10th June, the official birthday of the present Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1957, Victoria Day was permanently appointed as the Queen’s birthday in Canada. In the United Kingdom, the Queen’s birthday is celebrated in June.

Archival Collection at The Rooms: What have we in the archives about Queen Victoria:  In the search bar  type Victoria:

Victoria Day in Newfoundland and Labrador marks the beginning of the summer, it is time to open the cabins  and get the camping gear out!!

Recommened Song:  Buddy Wasisname – 24th Of May.



“Sell the boots for the keep of the soldier’s graves in France”

Archival Moment

May 14, 1918

In the trenches ‘Seal skinned boots’ offered the best possible protection against trench foot.

In the trenches ‘Seal skinned boots’ offered the best possible protection against trench foot.

On May 14, 1918, Mr. Frederick Harris of Glovertown, Bonavista Bay received in the post a package that read:

“one package of effects, which belonged to your son, the late #2607 Private Eugene Harris of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.”

Twenty (20) year old Eugene had died in action in the trenches of France a few months earlier.

The package contained “one identity disc and one cigarette case.”

The package was also supposed to include a pair of seal skinned boots that the father had sent to his son but the father upon hearing that his son had died wrote to the war office and suggested:

“I would like you to sell the skin boots and give the money toward the keep of the soldier’s graves in France, the socks and mits I would like to be sent to my other son No. 3365 Private Clarence Harris in France. I don’t suppose he will need the boots as I sent him a pair when I sent the other dear boy the boots … “

When he was writing the letter Frederick Harris was not aware that his other son Clarence had also died. News had not yet reached the family.

Two of his sons lay dead in the trenches of France.

The Harris family like thousands of other families in Newfoundland upon hearing of the death of their sons were determined that if their child was to be buried in foreign soil that the grave be a respectable plot and well maintained. It was the prayer of this grieving father that the sale of the seal skinned boots would help in some small way to offer this dignity.

Five years following the death of his two sons Frederick Harris writing to the war office asked for a photo of the graves where his sons were buried. With photo in hand he wrote:

I received the photos of the grave of my boy Eugene Harris. Thanks very much.”

The only remembrance that the families had of their “soldier boys” was a photo of the grave that was hung in an honored place in the household and the few contents of the package of effects that was sent to them.

The men of the Newfoundland Regiment that fought in the trenches of France in the Great War suffered prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions that often lead to ‘trench foot.’ It was not unusual for young soldiers like Eugene Harris to write home and order ‘seal skinned boots’ that offered the best possible protection against the wet and cold.

The sale of Private Eugene Harris’s pair of seal skinned boots at the request of his father was one of the many acts of generosity shown by Newfoundlanders that would eventually see the erection of memorials in France and communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Lest we forget!

Archival Exhibit: The Trail of the Caribou in Trench Maps: Level 3, Inside Archives Reference Room. The Rooms Provincial Archives collection of trench warfare maps provide researchers with an opportunity to learn more about our long and rich military history and the important role Newfoundland troops played during the First World War.

Recommended Website: Find the Regimental Records of the men of the Newfoundland Regiment here. This is a work in progress not all records are on line.  Search here:




The crowded sidewalks of St. John’s

Archival Moments

15 May 1879

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. A -2-35. Water Street, St. John's, looking east.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. A -2-35. Water Street, St. John’s, looking east.

On May 15, 1879 the Colonial Government of Newfoundland declared that they had had enough of the businessmen on Water Street obstructing the natural flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks of the historic street. It appears that the businessmen were hindering traffic by placing their wares in “boxes, barrels, and packages”   on the sidewalks.

To show that they saw this as a very serious matter, constables dragged before the Police Court in St. John’s “forty two (42) representatives of the business houses on Water Street.” The parade of businessmen to the Police Court included according to the local St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram, “men in the highest social and commercial positions in the country.”

The Telegram continued:

“It was certainly unique to see so many of our leading civilians arraigned at the bar of justice, and we must confess that our feelings were truly indescribable when we entered the court room and glanced around.”

The Evening Telegram reporter seemed to be enjoying the spectacle observing with some embellishment that:

“There they were, men in the highest social and commercial positions in the country, philanthropists, merchant princes and politicians of the first order; constrained by the omnipotent mandate of the presiding genius of the magisterial bureau. In short they were there on a charge of violation of the following the Municipal Regulations Act.”

The particular act that they were dragged before the courts to answer too was the regulation or act that read:

“Any person who shall place or deposit on any sidewalk in any of the said places, except in transit, any boxes, barrels, packages, or any other matter or thing, so as to obstruct free passage on the said side walk, shall for very offence forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding twenty five dollars.”

Water Street, St. John’s was the hub of the cultural, social and economic activity in St. John’s in the 18th – 20th century.

In 1877, just two years before this mass arrest of the business leaders of St. John’s, Rochfort’s Business Directory, the “Business and General Directory Containing Classified Lists of Business Men of St. John’s” gave a detailed listing of all trades on Water Street and reported that there were on the historic street many different kinds of enterprises.

Some of the businesses on the historic street included: 3 Photographic studios, 8 Auctioneering houses, 4 Bakeries, 2 Blacksmiths, 3 Boarding houses, 15 Boot and Shoe Makers, 15 Butcher Shops, 3 China and Glassware Dealers, 4 Confectioners, 2 Coopers, 2 Dentists, 1 Distiller, 28 Drapers, 2 Engineers, 2 Furniture Dealers, 31 Grocers, 3 Hairdressers, 3 Harness Makers, 11 Hardware Dealers, 2 Hotels, 2 Joiners, 3 Leatherware Dealers, 4 Lumber Merchants, 32 General Merchants, 6 Millinery, I Painter, 2 Plumbers, 2 Pump and Lock Makers, 6 Stationers, 1 Stonemason, 19 Tailors, 7 Tin, Sheet and Iron and Copper Workers, 8 Watchmakers, and 50 Wine and Spirit Retail Stores.

With so many businesses being located on Water Street vying for the attention of the same customers it was not surprising that they should position their products on the sidewalks to try and lore customers into their shops!!

Do you have any problems navigating the sidewalks in St. John’s?

Archival Collection: Type  Water Street  in the key word search bar of :

Recommended Archival Collection: City and Town Directories held in archives give incredible insights into the business life of Newfoundland communities. A few of the directories that should be consulted when doing research are Hutchinson’s Directory of Newfoundland (1864); Lovell’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); McAlpine’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); and Rochfort’s Directory of Newfoundland (1877).

Recommended Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4.

“Emigration is continuing to go on still to a fearful extent.”


May 14, 1863

Emigrants Leave Ireland by Henry Doyle.

Emigrants Leave Ireland by Henry Doyle.

On  May 14, 1863 John Murphy, from the Copper Works, Brass and Bell Foundry  in Dublin wrote to Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the R.C. Bishop of Newfoundland to acknowledge receipt of payment for bells crafted for the Roman Catholic Cathedral in St. John’s (now Basilica).

John Murphy was a Coppersmith who established his business at 109 James’s Street, Dublin, in 1837. Murphy was one of the best at his craft.  His bells were awarded prizes at the Dublin and London Exhibitions and First Prize in 1900 at the Paris Exhibition.  Many of these bells found their way to Newfoundland.

Ordinarily a receipt payment would not garner much attention but with this receipt Murphy included a note to the Newfoundland Bishop that inferred  that the economy of Ireland  was such that the Irish were having to leave their home land for other parts of the world. Murphy wrote:

 “Sorry to tell you that trade is very quiet in Dublin and all over Ireland. At present the clergy are not disposed to get many bells as the people are not in good spirits from the manner particularly that the government is hurting the poor farmers by not giving them some security in their land. Emigration is continuing to go on still to a fearful extent.”

The 1850’s and 60’s were difficult economic times in Ireland and many of the Irish artisans in order to sustain a living had to sell their work to the emerging church in the new world or emigrate.

Almost 153 years to the day hard times have once again visited upon Ireland. Emigration numbers have accelerated sharply since the start of the downturn in the Irish economy in 2008, when an estimated 31,300 left the country.

Encouraging emigrants to return home to Ireland is a central part of the Irish Government’s first diaspora policy, published in March, 2015. The hope expressed at the launch, was that by 2016 the number of Irish returning would outnumber those leaving, after seven years of high emigration.

The figures for returning Irish have been falling as the numbers applying for permanent residency and citizenship abroad in such places as Canada have risen. In the 12 months to April 2014 just 11,600 Irish returned home, down from 15,700 the previous year and almost half the figure from 2008.

Canada  has been actively trying to lure the young Irish. In 2013 Canada  increased  the length of work visas for young Irish and doubled the quota of those who may arrive through the International Experience Canada (IEC) program.

Some of  these young  Irish  were  like their ancestors  were making their way to the shores of  Newfoundland and Labrador, but like Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador  over the next few years may be looking at emigration as well.

Archival Collection: Type Irish in the key word search bar:

Exhibit at The Rooms:  Come and explore Talamh an Éisc: The Fishing Ground on Level 4.  This exhibition introduces you to the Irish who have been here since the late 1600s while exploring the communities they built and celebrating the contributions they made to life here in Newfoundland.

Recommended to watch:  ‘The Forgotten Irish’ is a community of Irish people living over two thousand miles from Ireland on the beautiful Cape Shore of Newfoundland.  We welcome all of you new Irish!!