Author Archives: Larry Dohey

The first letter from North America


August 3, 1527

The first letter from North America

It was at St. John’s, Newfoundlandon 3 August 1527 that the first known letter was sent from North America. While in St. John’s, John Rut had written a letter to King Henry VIII on his findings and his planned voyage. The letter in part reads as follows:

Pleasing your Honourable Grace to heare of your servant John Rut with all his company here in good health thanks be to God.

The conclusion of the letter reads:

 “…the third day of August we entered into a good harbour calledSt. Johnand there we found Eleuen Saile of Normans and one Brittaine and two Portugal barks all a fishing and so we are ready to depart towards Cap de Bras that is 25 leagues ….  In the Haven of St. John the third day of August written in hast 1527, by your servant John Rut to his uttermost of his power.”

John Rut  was chosen by Henry VIII to command an expedition to America in  1527. With the ships Mary Guildford and the Samson, he was to find a passage to Asia around or through North America and to engage in trade when he had done so.

Henry VIII may have been a bit distracted when he got the letter, he was in the process of quietly trying to annul the marriage to his first wife  Catherine of Aragon.

Recommended Activity: Letters are fascinating and are the foundation of many family and community histories.  Take some time to look at some of the old letters that might be found in your home.  The ‘art” of writing a letter is quickly disappearing as we move to e mail and other social media as the main way to communicate.

Recommended Reading: Biography of John Rut:


A skating rink in Bannerman Park ?


July 31, 1882

1800_the-timid-pupilIn July 1882 the talk in St. John’s was all about the erection of a skating rink in Bannerman Park.  The rink under the management of the ‘Victoria Rink Company Limited‘ would replace the first rink that was established in the park (in the late 1860’s) that was destroyed by a fire in the early morning of July 16, 1878.

Some of the leading citizens in St. John’s were determined that the skating rink be built. On July 31, 1882 the St. John’s newspaper, The Telegram ran an advertisement that declared:

“ Victoria Rink Company Limited: Tenders will be received up to noon on 5 August for the erection of a skating rink in Bannerman Park. Plans and specifications to be seen at the Bowring Brothers Office. W. Parnell, Secretary”

Residents of St. John’s, in the day, had some fond memories of the Victoria Skating Rink in Bannerman Park located next to the Colonial Building on Military Road.  The Victoria, and its neighbor, the Avalon, built in 1870, were designed for winter sports such as skating and curling but most people associated the two buildings with the eccentric Professor Charles Henry Danielle.  Under his guidance, the Victoria Rink became the home of elaborate fancy-dress balls and ice carnivals. These balls were huge affairs. For one  ball the local papers reported  that

“near three thousand dollars’ worth of Costumes have been brought to the country (Newfoundland) to give the Ball. It has cost weeks of labour in classifying and fitting these costumes… “

The Professor (as he liked to be called) also created a large array of fancy-dress costumes which he rented and sold. These were stored in an adjacent building (The Avalon) to the Victoria Rink.

The idea of a new skating rink in Bannerman Park did not catch the imagination of the population another proposal for a ‘Curling and Skating Rink’ on the “Parade Grounds” (now the site of the Rooms and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Headquarters) won the day. The Parade grounds Curling and Ice Rink opened in December 1882.

Skating in Bannerman Park was forgotten

In July 2013  (131 years  after the first proposal)  funding to establish a skating facility became a reality.

Today in the heart of the park, is a new ice skating trail, The Bannerman Loop aka “The Loop”. Named through a social media callout for suggested names at the request of its sponsor, Patron Donor Elinor Gill Ratcliffe and the Gill Ratcliffe Foundation, this ice trail is unique in both its presence in the city and its design. From October to April, many a day is now being spent skating with friends and family on this one-of-a-kind ice skating surface. In the warmer months, in-line skating and children cycling is the order of the day.

Professor Danielle is certain to be smiling on the Bannerman Foundation.

Recommended Reading: Stories About Bannerman Park:

Recommended Action:  Support the Garden of Memories in Bannerman Park:  People who enjoy the park can contribute to the park‘s revitalization through by sponsoring various fixtures, flower gardens, and commemorative granite stones, which will be used for the pathways in the Garden. For more information:

Recommended to Listen: Lines On The Death Of Professor Danielle (Johnny Burke)

Do you have a story to tell about Bannerman Park?



July 30, 1946


Cod Liver Oil from Newfoundland was served to the orphan children of Europe after WWII

On  (July 30, 1946) the generous financial response to a plea to assist the poor children of Europe in the wake of WWII  from the people of Canada and Newfoundland, that realized  approximately $150,000 in relief supplies was acknowledged.

In a Vatican State document entitled “Pleading for the Care of the World’s Destitute Children” one of the  first documents bringing to the attention of the world the desperate state of the children of Europe in the wake of the war it was written:

“Without home, without clothing, they shiver in the winter cold and die. And there are no fathers or mothers to warm and clothe them. Ailing, or even in the last stages of consumption, they are without the necessary medicines and medical care. We see them, too, passing before Our sorrowful gaze, wandering through the noisy city street, reduced to unemployment and moral corruption, or drifting as vagrants uncertainly about the cities, the towns, the countryside, while no one — alas-provides safe refuge for them against want, vice and crime.”


In addition to financial support, Newfoundlanders were also thanked for the six tons of cod liver oil that “they have been able to ship abroad this year (1946), for the children of Europe.”

Cod Liver Oil is pressed from the fresh liver of the cod and purified. It is one of the best-known natural sources of vitamin D, and a rich source of vitamin A. Because cod liver oil is more easily absorbed than other oils, it was formerly widely used as a nutrient and tonic.

Even before the end of WWII the realization that something would have to be done for the health of the children in war torn Europe was under discussion.  In Newfoundland a process was put in place to begin to secure a  considerable quantity of cod-liver oil so it could be distributed at the end of the war in those regions where the health conditions of  poor children demanded it. In Newfoundland, local businessman P.J. Lewis was charged with finding the cod liver oil and looking at how it could be transported to the  children in Europe.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives see GN 38.3  this file consists of Despatches from Secretary, to  the Governor, 10-’44 includes  discussion about the possible production of dehydrated cod in Newfoundland; 74-’44 Newfoundland fish for the British Food Mission and  210-’44 Fish for relief purposes after the war.

Recommended Reading: Cod- The Ecological History of the North Atlantic Fisheries by George Rose, Breakwater Books, St. John’s, 2008.

Recommended Cookbook: Salt Cod Cuisine: The International Table by Edward A. Jones, Boulder Publications, Portugal Cove, NL . June 2013 The cultural and culinary tradition of salt cod is celebrated in this very special cookbook—and while it is focused on Newfoundland and Labrador, the recipes take us to the many countries that feature salt cod cuisine.

Listen to this variant of Cod-Liver Oil by Ryan’s Fancy with lyrics so you can sing along

Recommended Museum: At the Rooms Provincial Museum visit the Elinor Gill Ratcliff Gallery and explore the ‘Rural Health and Medicine Exhibit.’  Find the bottle of cod liver oil!!



July 26, 1888

Advertisement: The Telegram, St. John’s, July 23, 1888.

There was much excitement in St.  John’s on Thursday, July 26, 1888   with the official opening of a “City Opera House.”

Throughout the week the local newspapers were advertising the highly anticipated opening with bold headlines that proclaimed   “A Grand Artistic Opening.”  The advertisements encouraged residents of St. John’s

“to reserve their tickets during the day, at J.W. Foran’s  Confectionary Store, Atlantic Hotel Building to avoid the crush at the Ticket office.”

The Tickets did not come cheap!!

Admission for Reserved Seats (Dress Circle) 75 cents; Orchestra Chairs, 50 cents; Gallery Chairs, 30 cents; Parquette, 20 Cents  and  the luxury  of a box seat a whopping $6.00.

The proprietor of the Opera House was the St. John’s businessman J.W. Foran who was well established at the J.W. Foran Confectionary Store in the Atlantic Hotel Building.  In his advertisements he stated:

“The proprietor of the city opera house (Mr. J. W. Foran) seeing the great want of a place of musical and dramatic talent, of which the rising generation have not had the advantage of hearing or seeing, has suited the opera house with all modern improvements, suitable for the production of entertainments of the very highest order – thus giving the people o St. John’s an opportunity of hearing some of the best musical talent in America. The establishment of such a space means a very large outlay, and it is to be hoped that the public will give it that substantial support which will warrant its permanency. The season will commence with the famous San Francisco Minstrels”

This talented group from San Francisco was under the management of Charles L. Howard. Engaged for a limited season only, the cost of transportation alone was nearly one thousand dollars. Before each performance, a Grand Balcony Serenade was to be given by the Silver Cornet Band.

Reviews of the performances during the following week stated that the

“minstrel’s are nightly drawing large and respectable audiences. They have advanced considerably in the estimation of our people since their first appearance which did not give the satisfaction anticipated and are steadily increasing in popularity.”

This was the first Opera House in St. John’s, but was not the first opera.

The first opera performed in Newfoundland, Thomas Linley’s The Duenna; or the Double Elopement, was presented in May 20, 1820 as a benefit for the victims of the great fire of 1817.   The Duenna is a three-act comic opera, was considered one of the most successful operas ever staged in England. Lord George Byron called it “the best opera ever written”).

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to look at MG 343.1  the script for Patience: a new & original aesthetic  an opera  written by W.S. Gilbert, Composed by Arthur Sullivan , 12 Apr. 1883. Item consists of Opera that was “given in aid of the poor by a number of amateur ladies and gentlemen at the Star of the Sea Hall, St. John’s”.

Recommended Reading:  Take some time to explore the newspaper collection in the Rooms Provincial Archives. Enjoy the creativity and detail of the advertisements.

Recommended Virtual Exhibit:  How did a young girl from  an outport community on the  northeast coast of  Newfoundland gain  international recognition on  the stages of the world?

Recommended Web Site: To learn more about opera in Newfoundland and Labrador go to: 

In 2016, to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel, Opera on the Avalon, will stage the world premiere of “Ours”, a two act opera by award winning Canadian composer John Estacio with libretto by renowned Canadian writer Robert Chafe. The work will debut at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on July 1st, 2016 – the 100th Anniversary of a day that would change the course of history for our province and its people. Read More:



Women of St. John’s, defend their goats

Archival Moment

July 25, 1914

Photo Credit: The Rooms NA 24116; Teenage boy milking a goat.

Photo Credit: The Rooms NA 24116; Teenage boy milking a goat.

There was a time in Newfoundland and Labrador when most families could lay claim to owning a few farm animals, most families had a horse, a cow, a few goats and hens. They were in most cases essential to the economic survival of the family. In St. John’s, farm animals in an emerging urban environment, in July 1914, were often the source of considerable conflict.

Animals wondering about the town were such a source of tension that the city had on staff an “Impounder” The job title would now be animal control.

John Anderson one of the new City Councilors appointed in 1914 was not impressed that goats were constantly in the small park near the East End Fire Hall destroying trees, he decided to start doing a little investigating. “Where is the impounder, who is he and how much salary does he get? The newly appointed Councillor asked.

Anderson was soon to discover that the “Impounder”   was paid a very respectable $36.50 per month but more interestingly was also entitled to a few bonuses. Anderson discovered that the ‘Impounder’ got an additional $2 for every horse or cow that he impounded but only 50c for a goat.

Anderson concluded because less commission was paid for catching goats “the impounder was directing his attention to the horses and cows that gave him a better income there by allowing goats to roam the city unmolested and destroy what property they liked.

Anderson decided to have a few conversations with the impounder to discover that there were a couple of more issues to consider.   He reported that “he had learned on various occasions from the impounder that it was almost an impossibility to catch a goat” The goats that wandered about the town mulching on the grass in the parks and on private property were quick and agile, it was much easier to catch a horse or cow.

The impounder also reported that another problem that he encountered were the women of St. John’s. The impounder reported ‘when he did succeed in catching a goat, one the women of the neighbourhood would attack him and that in all cases he would have to surrender the goat to the woman.’

Women were quite determined to defend their goats. It was these goats that were often the source of the families’ milk and cheese.

The Council has little sympathy of the impounder, Anderson suggested he was “making a bonanza of it” and that in the future he would have to give a more strict accounting as to how many animals he had impounded.

 The distain and dislike that some had for goats that wandered about the city damaging property especially private property was palatable. In 1855 Thomas MacDonald was dragged before the courts for shooting the goat of his neighbor, James Cochrane. In 1880 William & Albert Hann sued their neighbor Charles D. Chambers for damages done to their property. They later killed the goat.

 Did you know that according to St. John’s Animal Control bylaw (#1514), that you are permitted to have your own goats (ducks and chickens), they all fall under the same bylaw as your friendly neighborhood dog and cat.

Did you know that “animal shelters” evolved from “pounds” , which were used in colonial towns to round up and hold wandering livestock that could be redeemed from the “impounder” for a fee. Because an economic value was placed on these animals, (horses, cows, goats) they were often reclaimed. When the system began to be used to impound wandering dogs and cats, these animals were often killed because little monetary value was placed on them.

Recommended Archival Collection: [Fonds GN 170] Newfoundland and Labrador court records collection. You will find some amusing and not so amusing antics of goats and their flustered neighbours.

Recommended: Support the work of the SPCA. The vision of the SPCA is to prevent animal cruelty; educate about humane treatment of animals; provide shelter and love to abandoned and abused animals; and encourage adoption to suitable homes. Read More:

Goats in Song. Have you heard about the the goat in the town of Mobile on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland. Sing along:

Has Newfoundland Folk Music influenced Bob Dylan?

Archival Moment

July 25, 1965

Dylan sings Newfoundland Folk

Bob-Dylan-at-Newport-1965Music critics have written that Bob Dylan’s career path was established on the night of July 25, 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island where he performed a rock-and-roll set to a chorus of shouts and boos from a dismayed audience. The folk purist in the audience did not like the fact that Dylan was moving away from his ‘folk roots’ and embracing ‘rock and roll’.

Sitting in the wings as witnesses to this musical shift were two Newfoundlanders who had on the same weekend performed on the same stage, Arthur Nicolle and Annie Walters of Rocky Harbour.

Arthur Nicolle and Annie Walters were two well established traditional Newfoundland folk singers who were invited to prestigious Newport Festival by Robert Jones and Ralph Rinzler, they travelled Atlantic Canada and the USA in 1964 cultivating the use of traditional talent at the festival and unearthing these artists from various locations. In 1965, Jones joined the operation of the Newport Folk Festival and in 1965, he accepted a position at Festival Productions.

The two Rocky Harbour residents were originally brought to the attention of the world through the work of Kenneth Peacock. He is considered one of the pioneers of the Canadian folk revival movement; between 1951 and 1961 he visited Newfoundland six times to do folksong research. A number of the songs in his collection were taken from Nicolle and Walters.

The Friday evening concert at the Newport Festival (July 23, 1965) that featured Newfoundlanders, Arthur Nicolle and Annie Walters also featured the internationally celebrated artists Peter, Paul & Mary and Pete Seeger. The audience was estimated to be as large as 17,000 persons.

The connection between the Newfoundlanders and Bob Dylan especially Mrs. Annie Walters connection is of particular interest.

It is a part of the folk festival tradition for singers to listen to their peers in ballad swapping sessions. It has been speculated that Dylan may have been at a swap session where he heard Mrs. Annie Walters sing a few of her songs. One of the songs in her repertoire was ‘The Blooming Bright Star of Belle Isle’ the Newfoundland adaptation of an old Irish love song, ‘Loch Erin’s Sweet Riverside’, the song tells the familiar story of a lover who returns after a long absence and tests his sweetheart’s fidelity before revealing himself.

Dylan released the song, five years after the Newport Festival under the title “Belle Isle.” The song is performed by Bob Dylan and appears on the album Self Portrait (1970) and on the box set The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait 1969-1971 (2013).

The song has made the seemingly unlikely journey from outport anthem to the mainstream of North American popular culture.

The program, for the 1965 Newport Festival that Mrs. Annie Walters brought back as a souvenir to show her family and friends was acquired during the past month by the Canadian Museum of History.

The Fender Stratocaster electric guitar that Dylan played at the festival sold for nearly $1 million, the highest price ever paid for a guitar at auction. A new book by Elijah Wald, Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties, takes a look at the event that two Newfoundlanders sat in the wings and witnessed.

Recommended Archival Collection: Memorial University of Newfoundland Kenneth Peacock fonds Accession Number SC 1.6. The collection is 144 audio cassette copies of field recordings done in Newfoundland and Labrador by Peacock in the summer months of 1951 and 1952 and at various times during the years 1958-1961, along with copies of Peacock’s tape indexes. Much of this material was published in 1965 as Songs of the Newfoundland Outports.

Recommended Reading: Folksongs and Folk Revival: The Cultural Politics of Kenneth Peacock’s Songs of the Newfoundland Outports by Anna Kearney Guigne, 2008.

Recommended Recording: Annie Walters & Arthur Nicole can be heard singing on the LP “Songs of the Newfoundland Outports” released in 1984 by Pigeon Inlet Productions. (Unfortunately it is now out of print). Original recordings by Kenneth Peacock.

Kenneth Peacock’s Songs of the Newfoundland Ouports is available CD ROM since 2005 from SingSong Inc. It includes the full lyrics and music for the 517 songs in the original printed edition, all of Mr. Peacock’s notes and photographs, 244 original recordings, including those of Arthur Nicolle and Annie Walters. It also includes an audio file for each song to enable people who don’t read music to hear the song melodies.

Listen to Dylan sing traditional Newfoundland:

The 39th Annual Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival is poised to be another incredible weekend of entertainment for the whole family. The Festival is the coming together of community, province and culture – our province is renowned for its contributions to the musical fabric of Canada and we do all we can to wave that flag high and proud. For more information:


The young girls and the temptations of St. John’s


July 17, 1883

Girls Friendly Society

Servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.”

Servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.”

On July 17, 1883 an independent chapter of Girls Friendly Society (GFS) was formally established in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The members of the Society were young women in domestic service. The primary goal of the society was to help the young domestic servants working in the big houses in St. John’s arrange recreational activities on their day off.

It appears that the original founders of the society were quite concerned about the young women, with all of the temptations that the city offered. Such was their concern that one of the activities of the individual branches of the GFS was to send members out to meet the new arrivals at the harbor or train station. If required the new arrivals would be offered assistance in obtaining lodging and work.

The GFS under its own constitution was determined that the domestic servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.” They were most determined to keep these young women of the streets and participating in respectable activities. One of the central rules was that “No girl who has not borne a virtuous character to be admitted as a Member; such character being lost, the Member to forfeit her card.”

gfscardThe constitution also stated that the GFS would “obtain for every working girl of unblemished character a friend in a class above her own.”

The Society was originally founded on January 1, 1875 in England. This group was affiliated with the Church of England and run along diocesan lines. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the first patron of the organization later being replaced by Queen Victoria.

A report in 1903 on the activities of the GFS in Newfoundland stated:

“In spite of storm and stress of weather, and long, cold evenings, the Members and Candidates seem to hold on their way with meetings and lectures, sales of work and classes, and their eagerness for books is quite touching.”  

By 1910 the GFS had expanded a report on the Society read:

“In Newfoundland the Society continues its successful work, and the Bishop (Church of England) has keen interest in it. There are four Branches and a large number of Candidates. Quarterly meetings, weekly social meetings, classes, lectures, etc. are held. There is still an energetic Members’ Committee at St. John’s, and the Anniversary is kept on the same day as in England.”

Recommended Reading: History of the Girls’ Friendly Society Compiles by Agnes L. Money. New and Revised Edition, 1911. London Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., LTD. 44 Victoria Street, Westminister, S.W.