August 27, 1886
There was a custom in all Newfoundland communities whereby the local residents would greet all visiting dignitaries with a ‘loud salute of guns’ also known as “feu de joie.” If the dignitary was arriving by boat the men of the town would line the wharf with guns aimed to the sky shooting a volley as a sign of welcome. If the delegation came by road, the men armed with their guns, stood along the road, often near a green bough archway, that was created for the dignitary to walk under shooting the volley as he entered.
In early August 1886 the men of Placentia gave a loud salute of guns from the “plaza” of Placentia that greeted the ears of Mr. George H. Emerson, MH.A., as he walked ashore into Placentia from the costal steamer, just arrived from St. John’s. Emerson was well known in Placentia, he had been elected the year previous as the Liberal member of the House of Assembly (M.H.A.) for Placentia and St. Mary’s.
Upon hearing the “feu de joie” the locals noticed that Emmerson “doffed his sombrero bowing deeply and graciously, acknowledging the compliment extended to him” by the citizens of Placentia.
Emerson was however soon blushing with embarrassment. A juvenile from Placentia who stood witness to his bowing shouted:
“The guns are not for you, sir they’re for Mr. Fowlow’s wedding that took place last night.”
It appears that the men of Placentia were not on the wharf to greet Mr. Emerson but rather they were there to ‘salute their guns” to their friend Mr. Fowlow who had just married and was about to depart the town on the same coastal steamer that the young politician had arrived on.
The firing off the guns or “feu de joie“ as a young couple left the church, after exchanging vows, was a long established tradition in Newfoundland. Another tradition was to fire the guns as they departed the community on their honeymoon.
Embarrassed that he had stolen the limelight Mr. Emerson confidence “drooped and he sought out his hotel.”
Upon arrival at the hotel he quickly” ordered a cocktail, which soon put him in good feather again”.
The Editor of the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram on August 27, 1886, with tongue planted firmly in cheek wrote:
“In the sweet by and by when he leads one of his fair constituents to Hyman’s altar, he will be entitled to all the honor and comfort derivable from Placentian feu de joie.”
To take someone to Hyman’s altar was an expression that referred to taking someone to the altar to marry. Emerson, the Editor of the Evening Telegram suggested, would not receive the salute of guns (the Placentian feu de joie) until his marriage day.
Recommended Archival Collection: The Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language (MUNFLA) comprises extensive collections of Newfoundland and Labrador folksongs and music , folk narratives , oral history, folk customs, beliefs and practices, childlore and descriptions of material culture. Explore your traditions at MUN!!
Recommended Reading: Dictionary of Newfoundland English G.M. Story, W.J. Kirwin, and J.D.A. Widdowson, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, The DNE is a historical dictionary based on evidence taken from printed sources and, in addition, on evidence of tape-recorded speech in the province. After its great popular success in 1982 and widespread published reviews, it has continued in print to the present. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/d7ction.html
Recommended Museum Exhibit: The Rooms Provincial Museum Division, Here, We Made a Home: The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery, Level 4. See a short film video “Wedding salute in Fogo.” The video captures the traditional Newfoundland and Labrador, ‘loud salute of guns’ or a fusillade also known as “feu de joie.”
New Phrases: — n , feu de joie a salute of musketry fired successively by each man in turn along a line and back C18: literally: fire of joy] . The custom continues in many communities in Newfoundland especially on the Cape Shore where guns are fired as the newly married couples leave the church.
When was the last time that you witnessed a ‘salute of guns’ in your community?
When was the last time that a green bough arch was erected in your community to welcome some dignitary?