Open House at the Rooms Provincial Archives

November 22, 2014

November 23 from 12:00 - 4:00  Visit the Archives

Saturday, November 22 from 12:00 – 4:00
Visit  the Rooms Provincial Archives

Come and share in the Open House at the Rooms Provincial Archives in celebration of Archives Week on Saturday, November 22 from noon to 4:00 p.m.

This is an opportunity for you to visit the Archives Reference Room to see archival treasures including rare maps, photographs and documents that will be on display for this one day only.

It will also be an opportunity for you to talk with Archives reference staff about the genealogy collections that are held in the archives or to talk about family, community or school projects that you would like to work on in the future.

The day will include archival films in the theatre; a “Behind the Scenes” vault tour and a guided interpretive tour of an archival exhibition.

A special program has been designed for our younger visitors. Children will be invited to join in the fun at the Maps and More section.

The Rooms Provincial Archives has kilometers of text, half a million images, thousands of films and videos and through them, the opportunity to discover all the peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their personal lives, politics, social activities, military actions and the exploration and exploitation of our natural resources are all documented in the Archives.

The staff of the Rooms Provincial Archives would be pleased to help you find what you’re looking for in the largest archival collection in the province.

Admission to the Archives  sponsored events  is FREE!

For more information contact:

The Rooms Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador

Phone: 709.757.8144 | Fax: 709.757.8017

A Soldiers’ Letter Home

Archival Moment

November 21, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division A 58-152, For Victory

There was a tradition in the early days of the First World War that saw many of the letters that were written by young soldiers, to their loved ones, published in the local Newfoundland papers.

One of the first “Soldiers Letters”, written home, that was published, was dated November 1, 1914 from Private Frank Richardson, Regimental Number 66 to his parents, Mr. Thomas and Mrs. M. Richardson at 68 Bannerman Street St. John’s. The letter was published in the Evening Telegram on November 21, 1914. Private Frank Richardson was 19 years old.

Frank Richardson marched with 536 other men, on October 3, 1914 from the training camp at Pleasantville, St. John’s to board the SS Florizel, a steamer and sealing vessel that had been converted into a troopship. He with the others, that we now call the First 500 or Blue Puttees, was cheered on by a large gathering of citizens, including his parents. On 21 October the men of the Regiment arrived at Pond Farm Camp, England, there they spent seven muddy chilly weeks.

A reporter form the prestigious newspaper Time of London described Frank Richardson and his the Newfoundland Regiment as:

A smart Newfoundland contingent which has recently come in has the name of the colony similarly on its shoulder-straps. The newcomers are usually distinguished from the Canadians by their blue puttees. The type of man is the same-sturdy, strong, and unassuming. They are a splendid body of men, and had a great welcome from their brothers-in-arms.” (The Times of London , November 5, 1914)

All of the “soldiers letters” are interesting in that they give a unique perspective into the daily life and routine of a young soldier.

Frank Richardson’s  letter is typical in that it starts with a standard greeting, wishing his parents good health. He wrote:

“I write you hoping to find you as well in health and spirits as I am.” He continues “Father and mother don’t be downhearted. I am all right and hope that you are the same.”

Private Richardson was aware that his parents were extremely stressed because of rumors that his transport ship, the Florizel, that carried the First 500 from St. John’s to England had sunk. He wrote:

“You must have received a shock when you heard we were gone down. I mean the time the news spread down there that we were lost at sea, but we are not, the Germans will not put us down. There are better times coming.”

The letters tended to also make the promise of regular communication. The young soldier wrote:

“Last night we went over to the Y.M.C.A. It belongs to the Canadians. It is place for singing and dancing; you can buy what you like there, so I brought a book of writing paper with envelopes. I hope that you will soon write me.”

He continued:

“It takes a letter a long time to come from here, so don’t worry about not getting letters from me every week. I will make it a practice to write you every Sunday evening, and post it Monday, and you do the same father.”

A constant theme that can be found in the letters is the sense of urgency on the part of the young Newfoundland soldiers to be part of the war. All of these young soldiers wanted to be in the trenches fighting.   Private Richardson wrote:

“I wish that we were the front. We are going to get our guns tomorrow’ we have the whole fit out now.   All the boys are well and happy. Just now we received our guns and bayonets, some class of regiment now.”

The early letters were also very revealing about military location and military strategy. He wrote:

“The Turks have declared war on Russia. We may be going to Egypt, the Turks will try to get through there and we have to try and stop them. That is the talk that is going around there.”

Following the publication of the first batch of letters home in 1914 official censors and newspaper editors were careful to omit details about troop locations and morale.

Richardson concluded his first letter home with the line.

“So I close now in love. I am your loving son Frank.”

Frank Richardson did get his wish to get to the front. He saw action in Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915; he was wounded at Beaumont Hamel, France on July 1, 1916 requiring extended hospitalization. He was killed in action on August 16, 1917. It is not known if other letters that he wrote have survived.

Recommended Archival Collection:   From your home visit the website, The Great War:  The site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War,. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.

Recommended Museum Exhibit: Flowers of Remembrance: Level 2 Museum Vitrine: A number of flowers are associated with the First World War by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including the familiar forget-me-not and poppy. Such commemorative flowers and their role in the collective memory of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are profiled. Using artifacts and period imagery relating to The Great War commemoration, The Rooms staff explore the significant role these flowers played across the last century

Recommended Song:   Recruiting Sergeant (Newfoundland-Great Big Sea) Recorded by Great Big Sea, Warner Music. Listen:


Tidal wave reached the Burin Peninsula


November 18, 1929

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A86-90; Eastern Cove Pond, Lord’s Cove. The Rennie home. Sarah Rennie and three of her children were found drowned in the kitchen. Survivor Maggie Rennie was found in her bed on the second floor

On November 18, 1929, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale out in the Atlantic Ocean on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland created a tidal wave ( (tsunami).  When the ground shook at 5:02 p.m., some thought there had been an explosion in the mines or on a distant vessel. Yet nothing immediately followed the violent tremor so people resumed their previous activities.

Traveling at a speed of 140 kilometers per hour, the tidal wave reached the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland  at 7:00 p.m.

Detailed accounts of the devastation were made known on November 23 when a deputation from Burin consisting of Hon. G. A. Bartlett, Rev. Fr. James  Miller, and Capt. W.H. Hollett traveled to St. John’s to meet  with the Executive Government.

Father Miller (the Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Parish, Burin from 1925 -1934) spoke to a reporter from the “Evening Telegram”  (the St. John’s daily newspaper) and told him of the distress and needs of the people in the stricken area.

Father Miller told the reporter that the fishermen were hit hardest, not by the loss of their own fishing gear, boats and stages, but by the fact that in many cases the whole community depended on one or two firms, now so badly shattered that it was impossible.

Several times during the conversation with The Telegram reporter Father Miller referred to heroic rescues by the local fishermen. In the darkness, with chaos everywhere, they calmly set about their work – climbed floating houses, searched amongst debris, and rescued the women and children.

“They (the fishermen) were most heroic, but they least suspect it” Father Miller told the Telegram.

This giant sea wave claimed a total of 28 lives – 27 drowned on the Burin peninsula and a young girl never recovered from her injuries and died in 1933. This represents Canada’s largest documented loss of life directly related to an earthquake.

At Port aux Bras a fisherman saw his home being swept away. He tried to save his wife and family but was blocked by another floating house. He was helpless as his imprisoned family whirled into darkness. His house was pulled out to sea faster than a boat could steam.

Mr. Ern Cheeseman of Port au Bras on the Burin peninsula in a letter to his brother Jack a few days after the tsunami wrote:

You could hear the poor humans who were caught, screaming, women and men praying out loud. Oh God, Jack, it was terrible Excuse this scribble but we are not over the shock yet. Every move one hears one jumps expecting the same to happen again.”

The Newfoundland government sent ships with doctors and supplies. Canada was the largest foreign donor donating $35,000 individual Newfoundlanders raised more than $200,000 to help their countrymen.

Apart from the Burin tsunami, two others have been reported, at Bonavista in 1755 as a result of the Lisbon earthquake, and St. Shott’s in June 1864. These caused damage, but no reported loss of life.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read MG 636: South Coast Disaster Relief Committee Report consists of a list of losses by settlement, reports, telegrams, correspondence, minutes of meetings; regarding the tidal wave and earthquake disaster on the Burin Peninsula, 1929. The collection also includes a report of the South Coast Disaster Committee, 1931.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Take some time to look at the Tidal Wave photographs in the collection of the Rooms Provincial Archives.  A series consists of ten postcards documenting the damage to Burin area during a tidal wave (tsunami) along the South Coast of Newfoundland, Nov. 1929. The photographs were taken by Rev. James Anthony Miller, Roman Catholic priest, Burin. Miller’s film was developed by S.H. Parsons & Sons. The photographs were reproduced as postcards by Parsons. The photographs were also published in the New York Times (8 Dec. 1929).

Recommended Reading: Hanrahan, Maura. Tsunami: The Newfoundland Tidal Wave Disaster.St. John’s: Flanker Press, 2004.

Newfoundland Woman Interned in German Prison Camp

November 16, 1941

Mr. and Mrs. Andrew B. Edwards of Lawn, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland wrote Cluny McPherson, Assistant Commissioner of the Red Cross at St. John’s on 16 November 1941 informing the Red Cross that their daughter Marie Andrew Edwards, age 22 was interned in a German prisoner of War Camp in France. The Edward’s were aware that McPherson was the local representative of the International Red Cross.

Mary Andrew Edwards: was born in Lawn, Placentia Bay. She was the daughter of Andrew Edwards and Nora (Picco). She received her early education in Lawn and at age sixteen she went to work in St. Pierre et Miquelon.

After a few years in St. Pierre et Miquelon she felt the calling to religious life, this she confided to her parish priest who encouraged her to join the St. Joseph of Cluny Sisters, a teaching order of nuns at St. Pierre. Upon being accepted into the congregation at St. Pierre she took the name Sister Therese. She left St. Pierre et Miquelon in 1938 going to a convent in Paris.

After the Nazis victory over France in 1940, Sister Therese and four hundred nuns from different congregations were rounded up and sent to Prisoner of War Camps. She was in a particularly difficult position, as a Newfoundlander, she was carrying a British passport.


During one period the commander of the POW camp, allowed the nuns to have Mass celebrated by priests and bishops who were also prisoners of war there. Sister Therese and two other sisters of the order were allowed to take Religious Vows, the ritual that officially made them nuns.

Near the end of the war the Swiss Red Cross investigated the camp, finding many of the prisoners were very ill. They encouraged the Germans to release the nuns to a healthier camp. This was done.

When Sister Edward’s was liberated she was sent to Africa for six years after which she was recalled to France. After a few months in France she was sent to New Caledonia.

After twenty three years there she was allowed home to visit parents and family members, after which she returned to the mission. She did this a few times in the ensuing years and at one time she and her sister Nora – who also joined the convent – came home together.

Mary Andrew Edwards died in 1997.

Nora Edwards at 97 years young is still active in her religious community. In March she celebrated her 75th anniversary as a member of the religious community.

Recommended Archival Collection: Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese of St. John’s File 107-15-8

Recommended Book: Did you know that German’s were interred in camps in Newfoundland during WWII? Read: Gerhard P. Bassler. Vikings to U-Boats: The German Experience in Newfoundland and Labrador. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

An Afternoon of Songs and Stories

The Blue Puttee Descendants’ Dinner

An Afternoon of Songs and Stories

Dinner PosterA dinner is being held this Saturday to share songs and stories of Newfoundlanders in the Great War, and raise funds for a new documentary about what happened after they came home.

‘When The Boys Came Home’ will be a collection of stories detailing how veterans moved on after the war. Writer/director Mike Wert says they are listening to memories from descendants who knew members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment first-hand.

Wert says he was intrigued by how these people could get over something like a world war and move on with their lives afterward.

PTSD wasn’t a concept familiar to the people of 1918. Wert says veterans were left on their own to deal with the horrific things they’d experienced, and while few would ever talk about the war, the experience would affect them in different ways.

The Blue Puttee Descendants’ Dinner, a 3 course meal with dessert tea & coffee, will happen this Saturday, November 15 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Masonic Temple in St. John’s.

Those attending the dinner are encouraged to bring photos, memorabilia and to share stories.

Featured during the dinner will be WWI songs by Spirit of Newfoundland and the presentation for a short drama written by Fred Hawksley and performed by Kevin Lewis & Ray Saunders

For more information contact Mike Wert.

E Mail:

Phone: Call 579-3023

Robert Lewis Stevenson “Kidnapped” in Newfoundland?

Archival Moment

November 13, 1850

Robert Lewis Stevenson, Happy Birthday!!

Photo Credit: Paddy the Newfoundland checks out the statue of Robert Louis Stevenson. Picture: Greg Macvea for The Scotsman. Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850.

Photo Credit: Paddy the Newfoundland checks out the statue of Robert Louis Stevenson. Picture: Greg Macvea for The Scotsman. Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850.

Robert Lewis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 13 November 1850. The celebrated writer was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer. His most famous works are Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, (1886).

A literary celebrity during his lifetime, Stevenson now ranks among the 26 most translated authors in the world.

Stevenson never set foot in Newfoundland but he and his family were very aware of the place. Stevenson was extraordinarily well-travelled, a lover of sailing on the seas, and of finding new adventures the world over. In October 1887 writing to a cousin R. A. M. (Bob) Stevenson from his summer home in Saranac Lake, Adrrondacks, NY he described a voyage from Scotland to New York. In the letter he wrote:

”We took so north a course, that we saw Newfoundland; no one in the ship had ever seen it before.”

Stevenson’s mother who was on the voyage wrote:

“The weather was very bad and off Newfoundland, (Robert Lewis) Stevenson caught cold and was for a few days really ill. Yet he declared throughout the whole voyage he was so happy that his heart sang. He was a true son of his father and grandfather in that he had always loved the sea…”

Stevenson wrote of the voyage:

“It was beyond belief to me how she (the ship) rolled; in seemingly smooth water, the bell striking, the fittings bounding out of our state- room. It is worth having lived these last years, partly because I have written some better books, which is always pleasant, but chiefly to have had the joy of this voyage. ….”

The celebrated writer had another connection with Newfoundland and Labrador.

The D & T Stevenson, lighthouse engineers from Edinburgh, Scotland, was named after his uncle (David) and father (Thomas); they were responsible for advising, designing and supplying the original lighting apparatus for the lighthouses at Ferryland, (1869) and Rose Blanche, (1871).

It was the grandfather of Robert Lewis Stevenson (also Robert) from the firm Stevenson and Sons of Scotland that provided a copper domed lantern room and lighting apparatus for use at Cape Spear in 1836.

Visits with his family to remote lighthouses in Scotland as a youth, like those erected in Newfoundland, are thought to have inspired his books Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

Happy Birthday Robert Lewis Stevenson.

You should have come ashore!

Recommended Website: The Robert Lewis Stevenson Website is the most comprehensive web resource dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, designed for all: academics, school children and everybody interested in learning about RLS.

Tears for a mother and young wife


November 11 –Remembrance Day

Vincent Carew headstone, Belgium.

Vincent Carew headstone, Belgium.

On November 17, 1916 Vincent Carew of Cape Broyle, Newfoundland quietly enlisted to “fight for country and king.”  He was 23 years old and the father of two young children.

His wife Elizabeth, when she heard the news that he had signed up was distraught. She immediately wrote a letter to the Governor telling his officials that she had “two small children” and that she did not want her husband to go to war.  The governor’s secretary wrote back that there was nothing that he could do.

One month later on January 31 – Vincent Carew – marched with all of the other Newfoundland volunteers, from their make shift tents near Quidi Vidi to the S.S. Florizel – the troop ship that was waiting in St. John’sHarbour to carry them to the war zones of Europe.

Seven months later on July 10, 1917 he was killed in action in Belgium.

Those who survived, wondered about where their loved one’s had been buried in the fields of Europe. They often wrote to government officials asking for a photograph of the grave site.  Elizabeth Carew wrote and received the photograph of her husband’s grave site in 1922.

She wrote back to government officials “Received the photograph of the grave of Private Vincent Carew. Many Thanks.  Yours,  Bessie Carew.”

The headstone s located in the Bard Cottage Cemetery, Belgium.

On November 11 – Remember Bessie Carew and all who knew and know the pain of losing a loved one in war.

Recommended Archival Collection: Over 6000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during WWI.  Each soldier had his own story. Each story is compelling. To read some of these stories go to click on soldiers at the top centre. Find a soldier from your home community or with your family name. Read his life story.

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea – Recruiting Sergeant

Recommended Book: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers: Royal Newfoundland Regiment World War One, St. John’s, DRC Publishing, 2010.