Author Archives: Larry Dohey

Was that a hoar frost last night?

Archival Moment

Was that a hoar frost last night? Enough to “barber” a person !

June 6, 1890

 1 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John's (The Observatory) was equipped as a weather Observatory

1 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John’s (The Observatory) was equipped as a weather Observatory

Many Newfoundland weather sayings are the traditional weather sayings of the British Isles and Ireland from which much of ancestral folk heritage arises. Newfoundland weather is unpredictable and changes quickly. Therefore, many weather sayings are locally based, derived from years of weather observations from the land and the sea.

One such expression is “hoar frost in autumn is a sign of south wind and rain.”

There was a time when meteorologists reported without any blush such descriptions as:

“At four o’clock this morning the hoar frost stood thick as snow on the roof.”  

It “hoar frost” is not a phrase that is often used by our weathermen today but it is a meteorological phenomenon that technically means “a white coating of ice crystals formed by sublimation of atmospheric water vapor on a surface. Also called white frost.

In Newfoundland and Labrador it is also known as “barber frost.”  The Evening Telegram reported on May 10, 1881   that “the temperature fell to seven degrees below zero’ and the cold was aggravated by piercing winds and the dense hoar frost, or “barber” as the seamen aptly term it. Seeing it cuts them like a razor. “

On June 6, 1890 the local “The official meteorological report stated that there were ten degrees of frost last night. At four o’clock this morning the hoar frost stood thick as snow on the roof.”

The name hoar comes from an Old English adjective that means “showing signs of old age”; in this context it refers to the frost that makes trees and bushes look like white hair.

A little known fact is that in the shadow of The Rooms at 1 Bonaventure Avenue is the building known locally as “The Observatory”, it was originally owned by John Delaney, (1811-1883). His interest in meteorology led to the development of a local meteorological service under the aegis of the Meteorological Service of Canada. A regular informant of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1873.

1 Bonaventure Avenue was equipped with an Observatory when it was constructed. It was a two-storey structure attached to the rear addition but has since been demolished. It was from this structure, and the attached house that Delaney studied meteorology as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Was that a hoar frost last night? Will this be a summer of “south wind and rain” ? Your weatherman knows the answer. Give him a call.

Archival Collection: At the Rooms an excellent source for studying weather are the Telegraph Office News Ledgers (GN 18) and the Reports of Light house Keepers about the province. Series consists of photocopied reproductions of handwritten news books kept by staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs reporting daily on local and international events, viewed as of interest to the local audience. Subjects included are sealing reports, shipwrecks, local disasters and aviation reports. The daily news reports also included a brief synopsis of the local weather.

Sacred Newfoundland Ground in France


June 7, 1925

Photo Credit: NA 3106; Opening of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, France

Of the five memorials established in France and Belgium in memory of major actions fought by the  Newfoundland Regiment, the largest is the thirty hectare site at Beaumont-Hamel, nine kilometres north of the town of Albert. This site commemorates all Newfoundlanders who fought in the Great War, particularly those who have no known grave. The site was officially opened by Field Marshal Earl Haig on June 7, 1925.

Shortly after the Great War, the Government of Newfoundland purchased the ground over which the 1st Newfoundland Regiment made its heroic advance on July 1.

Much of the credit for  this and the other memorials is due to (Reverend) Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Nangle, a Roman Catholic priest from St. John’s who as Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and Newfoundland’s representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, negotiated with some 250 French landowners for the purchase of the site. He (Father Nangle) had a leading part in planning and supervising the erection, at each of the five Newfoundland Memorials sites in Europe, of a statue of the noble caribou, the emblem of the Regiment, standing facing the former foe with head thrown high in defiance.

The landscape architect, who designed the sites and supervised their construction, was Mr. R.H.K. Cochius, a native of Holland living in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The caribous were the work of the English sculptor, Basil Gotto. He also executed the statue of the “Fighting Newfoundlander,” which Sir Edward Bowring gifted to the people of St. John’s.

Recommended Reading:  Soldier Priest: In the Killing Fields of Europe Padre Thomas Nangle Chaplain to the Newfoundland Regiment WWI by Gary Browne and Darrin McGrath.

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

Recommended Exhibit: Beaumont Hamel and The Trail the Caribou. The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories.



The first “talking pictures” in Newfoundland

Archival Moments

June 1, 1914

Advertisement: Evening Telegram (St. John's, N.L.)

Advertisement: Evening Telegram (St. John’s, N.L.)

There was much excitement in St. John’s on June 1, 1914 the talk in the town was all about the Casino Theatre on Henry Street, audiences at the old theatre were treated to a “talking picture” that united for the first time, sight and sound, through “talking” motion pictures.

The St. John’s, newspaper, The Evening Telegram declared that this new technology created by the American Inventor Thomas A. Edison, just one year previous, known as the ‘Edison Kinetophone’:

“has taken its place among the high class theatrical attractions now touring Canada and the United States, and is successfully competing with the largest of dramatic and musical organizations.”

Those attending the premier of the first talking pictures in Newfoundland were enthusiastic in their praise:

“it was with a general feeling that the kinetophone has scored …. the most novel success of this new mechanical form of entertainment.”

Audiences were delighted, the evening began with “the talking pictures being preceded by a film shown in the ordinary way with musical accompaniment … “. Typically, all theatres had pianos and or organs and the musician played along with the scenes as they appeared on the screen.

Following the silent film “the talkies (were) thrown on, music and voice, the clear natural tones of the actors as they appear in the different subjects is truly a marvel of genius.”

There were three presentations. In one of the subjects Sprigs from the Emerald Isle the dialogue songs and pipe music (were) so real so vivid in its presentation that the audience forgets the mechanical contrivance and last night broke into loud and prolonged applause.

The night also featured an interview with Baseball Manager John J. McGraw, manager of the New York Giants who won the National League pennant in 1913 and ended with with another talkie that scored a hit the “Four Blacksmiths” a vaudeville singing and talking act.

The reviewer for the Evening Telegram, declared that this new form of entertainment – these talking pictures would be a success. He wrote:

Every member of the audience last night spoke in most appreciative terms of the talking pictures in all their aspects the synchronization and marvelous record of human voice … it is safe to say that many of the pictures should be repeated before the company closes their engagement.”

The enthusiasm of the audiences in St. John’s was not shared by Thomas Edison the inventor. In 1913 he had produced thirteen talking pictures but by 1915 he had abandoned sound motion pictures.

It was discovered that because the sound portion was played on a phonograph that was separate from the projector, it was difficult to get the sound and the motion synchronized perfectly. Audiences found this annoying. Edison was an inventor, he was not a very creative film producer, many people thought his films were boring. Each lasted only six minutes, and portrayed scenes from famous plays or vaudeville acts.

The dissolution of the Motion Picture Patents Corp. in 1915 may also have contributed to Edison’s departure from sound films, since this act deprived him of patent protection for his motion picture inventions.

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



Not a trick: The Rooms hosting classic 120s game nights

Photo Credit: The Rooms VA 87-62.6; Playing cards

Not a trick: The Rooms hosting classic 120s game nights

Game dates back to 16th Century Europe, with rich history in N.L.

Read More:


Date: May 31 & June 28
Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Cost:  Included with price of admission, pre-registration recommended  Have you always wanted to learn how to play 120’s but have never had the chance?  Join our enthusiastic volunteer instructors as they share their love of this iconic card game.

Offered on the last Wednesday of the month in May and June. Spaces are limited and pre registration is recommended for each session. To register, please contact Visitor Services at 757-8090.


The town clock in St. John’s


June 1, 1859

Basilica 1841On June 1, 1859 the talk in St. John’s was all about the installation of a ‘Town Clock’ and ‘Sundial’.   The “town clock” was being installed in the East Tower of the Basilica Cathedral and the “sundial” in the West Tower.   For the residents of St. John’s the installation was significant. The “town clock” was a symbol of self confidence, a symbol of permanence.

In 1859 a town clock was considered one of the principal characteristics of a town. Could you really have the status of a town without a town clock?

In St. John’s, a comparable installation in modern times would have been the installation of the first escalator in the Old Woolworth’s Building.  This new contraption signaled that St. John’s was taking on the trappings of a modern city!!

The “Town Clock” that was being installed was manufactured by Borrel of Paris, and boasted a dial in enameled lava. In the tradition of the town clocks of the day, it was not a clock to be “watched” but rather designed to be “listened” too.  Residents of the town would listen and on the hour and half-hour, as the new clock struck the great bell (the Bourdon) it would sound out.  There are reports that when the clock struck it could be heard for miles around even as far away as Torbay.   (The word “clock” comes from the same root as glocke, the German word for bell.)

In the “west tower” the sundial was being installed primarily for aesthetic balance. The sundial is the most ancient instrument for measuring time. Before the invention of mechanical clocks mounted on towers, “sun clocks” were the only instruments used to indicate the public time.

In 1954, the mechanical works of the clock were converted to an electrical system, and a new dial was installed.  The ‘sundial was removed.

In 2009 two new clocks were installed in the towers of the Basilica replacing the original clock and sundial.

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

Recommended Website: Take a virtual tour of the Basilica.




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.

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.