Author Archives: Larry Dohey

Is this holiday about St. George or William Shakespeare?

Archival Moment

April 23

Since 1936 their have been voices in Newfoundland suggesting that St. George's Day be called Shakespear's Day.

Since 1936 their have been voices in Newfoundland suggesting that St. George’s Day be called Shakespear’s Day.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, April 23, is St. George’s Day  celebrating our ‘English ancestry’.

 (The provincial holiday is held on April 24, the nearest Monday.)

 

St. George’s Day has long been acknowledged as a significant date in Newfoundland and Labrador but it was not celebrated as a holiday until April 23, 1921.

Traditionally it was a day filled with pageantry and parading. Typically all of the English Protestant organizations including the Newfoundland British Society, Loyal Orange Association, Society of United Fishermen, Independent Order of Oddfellows and the Sons of England Benefit Society, lined up in honor of St. George parading through the streets of St. John’s.

Throughout the town on St. George’s Day all of the men would be sporting a red rose in their lapel, the national emblem and flower for England

April 23 is however not only about St. George it is also all about William Shakespeare.

In Newfoundland there have always been enthusiasts for William Shakespeare and on April 16, 1936, George W. Ayre, a lawyer from St. John’s writing from his home at 24 Circular Road wrote to the local newspapers:

“Now, I should like to call your attention to the fact that the 23rd of April is far more important than its being St. George’s Day and that is that it is also the day on which Shakespeare was born and died, his birthday and deathday, and Shakespeare is as far above St. George as the intellect is above the physique or something mental is above something physical.

St. George is more or less confined to Englishmen or the person of British Empire, as their Patron Saint but Shakespeare is the intellectual ocean into which the little tributaries of intellect flow. He is the myriad minded man, the greatest, mind, possibly, that ever was on earth, and as Englishmen, for he was an Englishman, as Britishers, for he was a Britisher, as men of intellect, as his was the greatest intellect, we should honour his birthday and deathday.

He is not only all these but he is the outstanding genius of the world, whose works are studied by schoolchildren, scholars, actors, and others, of all countries.

We could easily afford to drop the 23rd of April as just, St. George’s Day.

We cannot afford to drop it as Shakespeare’s Day.

Let us therefore honour Shakespeare on that day, (April 23) let there be Shakespearean recitals and performances; let there be dances, concerts, etc. all in honour of the greatest mind that was ever in the world.”

There were those in St. John’s who were not amused with the letter; in fact they were quite baffled. Mr. Ayre (the gentleman penning the letter) was the first President of the St. George’s Society in St. John’s.  Ayre’s loyalties were clearly suspect. One of his first acts as the president of the St. George’s Society (founded on April 23, 1921) was to encourage theatrical groups in St. John’s to present Shakespearean plays on April 23.

Many thought it was really a bit much for the President of St. George’s Society, which was to advocate for their great patron St. George to write that:

“We could easily afford to drop the 23rd of April as just, St. George’s Day.”

Who was St. George?  According to legend, St. George, a soldier of the Imperial Army, rescues a town in what is now Libya from the tyranny of a dragon. St. George overpowered the beast and then offered to kill it if the townspeople would convert to Christianity and be baptized. The story is that there were 15,000 conversions on the spot. Openly espousing Christianity was dangerous and eventually the authorities of Emperor Diocletian arrested George. He was martyred about 303 AD.

Many of us associate St. George with his flag. The standard, the Cross of St. George was flown in 1497 by John Cabot on his voyage to discover Newfoundland. In 1620 it was the flag that was flown on the foremast of the Mayflower (with the early Union Flag combining St. George’s Cross of England with St. Andrew’s Saltire of Scotland on the mainmast) when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Renews, Newfoundland  to replenish their supplies before they went on their way to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

St George is the patron saint of England. He is the patron of soldiers and archers, cavalry and chivalry, of farmers and field workers, Boy Scouts and butchers, of horses, riders and saddlers.

He is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Genoa, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Istanbul, Lithuania, Moscow, Palestine, and Portugal. But only in Newfoundland and Labrador have we declared this day a holiday!

Recommended Action: Wear a Red Rose in your lapel on April 23 just to remind people that you know why you had the day off. If you want to celebrate the birth and death of Shakespeare impress your friends by reciting a few lines from the bard.

Excursion around the Bay

Archival Moment

April 23, 1889

Excursion around the Bay

Advertising for the ' Excursion Season'

Advertising for the ‘
Excursion Season’

There was a long established tradition in St. John’s, known locally as ‘the excursion’ that saw hundreds of the citizens of the town make reservations in late April on one of the costal boats or on the train for “an excursion around the bay.”

The first of the excursions began on the May 24th weekend as part of the Empire Day celebrations. Excursions continued well into August.

Typically the excursions were arranged by one of the many societies, associations or church groups for their members. It was for many the social event of the year. A typical ‘excursion’ included an early morning departure by coastal boat or train, arrival in the host community for a breakfast prepared by the local women, a picnic lunch, a walk about in the town, and an opportunity to hike or trout. In some communities a sports day would be, some of the ‘sports’ included horse races, foot, hurdle and sack and wheelbarrow races, shooting matches. The day would end with a comic concert or dance and supper.

The most desired destinations for an excursion were Harbour Grace, Trinity, Witless Bay, Renews and Placentia.

These junketing expeditions or excursions were also occasions for a ‘drunken spree.’

One group that enjoyed the excursions were the politicians. In April 1888 the legislature was closed to allow for an excursion to Placentia. This particular junket came under criticism because “the cost of the said entertainments was being defrayed out of the public purse.”

One critic of these excursions, referred to the excursion to Placentia as “the drunken spree in Placentia.”

Writing to the Evening Telegram (April 23, 1889) the critic wrote that the members of the government were joined by the members of the opposition, “how can such persons (the opposition) thereafter denounce such expenditure as an act of public robbery (which it is) or any other similar acts of public robbery.”

For the vast majority however it was a day of considerable fun. Perhaps your organization should plan an ‘excursion around the bay.’

The tradition was so ingrained in the hearts and minds of Newfoundlanders that the term “excursion bread” or “scursion” was coined to refer to a dry sweet biscuit, shaped like a cake of ‘hard tack’ taken by the travelers in their pockets to eat between meals.

Recommended Archival Collection: Views of Newfoundland. VA 6; VA 7 (185 photographs: b&w)  Series consists of two photograph albums which reflect the observations and travels of S. T. Brooks and wife and colleague Betty Watt Brooks in Newfoundland and Labrador between 1935 and 1938. The collection consists primarily of photographs depicting communities on the Avalon Peninsula and Conception Bay, including St. John’s, Ferryland, and Brigus. The photographs illustrated salt fish industry, outport agriculture, domestic arts and crafts, and historical curiosities.

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea: Excursion around the Bay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0q3Pm2rFVQ

Recommended Reading: Excursions in and about Newfoundland during the years 1839 and 1840 by J.B. Jukes.

The Rooms launches First World War bilingual online exhibit

The Rooms continues its First World War commemoration with the launch of a bilingual online exhibit entitled “Beaumont-Hamel and the Trail of the Caribou: Newfoundland and Labradorians at War and at Home 1914-1949.”

 

On July 1, 2016, The Rooms marked the 100th anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel with the largest First World War commemorative efforts in Canada.

This extraordinary new online exhibit  and virtual tour enables The Rooms to reach residents throughout the province and country.

You can view the new online exhibition and virtual tour at http://theroomsgreatwarexhibit.com/

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Recommended Exhibit: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. 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. – See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/always/beaumont-hamel-and-the-trail-of-the-caribou#sthash.lv9JmCbn.dpuf

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

 

 

“The Titanic has struck a berg”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

April 14, 1912

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. At that time, she was the largest and most luxurious ship ever built. At 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, she struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland. Although her crew had been warned about icebergs several times that evening by other ships navigating through that region, she was traveling at near top speed of about 20.5 knots when one grazed her side.

In 1912, the Marconi wireless radio was still in its infancy state as far as utilization. Marconi operators, Harold Bride and Jack Philips  on the direction of the ships Captain  (Smith)  put on the headphones and immediately began tapping out CQD – MGY … CQD – MGY  which translates  to CQD = Come Quick Danger or  attention all stations, D =  distress or danger, and MGY was the Titanic’s radio call letters.

Walter Gray, Jack Goodwin and Robert Hunston were serving at the Marconi Company wireless station at Cape RaceNewfounldand  400 miles west of Titanic.  The wireless news was being handled by them.

TWO FRIENDS: THEIR  LAST CONVERSATION

It would have been a very difficult night for Walter Gray at Cape Race.  The Marconi operator on the Titanic was his good friend Jack Philips.  Jack had been the last person that he had seen in England before he had departed for Newfoundland.  Walter had been excited all the day of April 14 – he was waiting anxiously at Cape Race waiting for the Titanic and his good friend Jack to come within ‘hearing” distance of Cape Race.   Walter later wrote:

“That evening I held brief conversation with Philips. He emphasized the magnificence of the vessel, the wonderful group of passengers and the good time being had by all.

Later in the evening the second operator (Hunston) called out “Mr. Gray the Titanic has struck an iceberg and is calling C.Q.D. (COME QUICK DANGER)  I immediately dropped what I was doing and ran to the operating room.

Donning the headphones, I heard Philips call for help using both distress calls, C.Q.D. and the newly-introduced S.O.S. His call included the ship’s position in Latitude and longitude, weather conditions, and the story of striking the berg. When he ceased, I called the Titanic and inquired whether I could assist in any way. Philips thanked me and asked me to stand by.

A short time after 2:00 a.m. a very weak distorted signal was heard and the “Virginian” being much closer picked up what they thought was Philips voice trying to get a message out and that was the last word from the radio operator, Philips.”

Less than three hours later, the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking more than 1500 people with her. Only a fraction of her passengers were saved. The world was stunned to learn of the fate of the unsinkable Titanic.

Water Gray’s good friend Jack Philips was one of those that perished.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division: The Cape Race Log Book:  A journal of predominantly one line entries highlighting events of local, national and international interest, as maintained by various members of the Myrick family at Cape Race and Trepassey.  Includes reference to the sinking of the Titanic.

Recommended Reading:  The Life Story of An Old Shetlander, Walter J. Gray, Shetland Times, 1970.

Newfoundland Mustang the First

Archival Moment

April 17, 1964

Stanley Tucker with the first Mustang at Signal Hill.

Stanley Tucker with the first Mustang at Signal Hill.

There was a bit of excitement at George Parson’s Ford dealership in St. Johns on April 17, 1964, a crowd of people were at the dealership looking at a Wimbledon White convertible with the 260 cubic-inch V-8, it was the first time that any of them had seen a Mustang.

In the crowd was Stanley Tucker, an airline captain with Eastern Provincial Airlines (EPA)  based out of St. Johns.  Tucker, fell in love with the car and told George Parsons dealership agent Harry Philips  he wanted to buy that Mustang. Philips originally hesitated wanting to hold on to the car to get a little more publicity out of it. When Tucker came with a check in hand the next day, Parson’s sold the car to Captain Tucker.

Tucker at the time did not know it but  he had unknowingly purchased Mustang #1, the very first Mustang off the assembly line.  In an interview with Mustang Monthly Magazine years later Tucker said:

 “For a long time, I was the only Mustanger in Newfoundland. It was quite an experience. Many times, other motorists would force me to the side of the road and ask me about the car – what it was, who made it, how did I like it and how much did it cost? The car has been a real joy to own and drive. Getting into it is something like slipping into the cockpit, and I feel as much a part of the machine as I do when I’m flying.”

Not long after Tucker unknowingly purchased the now-historic car, representatives from Ford learned that their Canadian promotional vehicle, the first-ever Mustang, had been let loose. Ford wanted the car back, but Tucker wanted to drive it. Tucker drove the car about St. John’s for nearly two years, putting 10,633 miles on the odometer.

Meanwhile, Mustang sales blossomed. Before Mustang, Falcon held the Ford record of building a million vehicles in two years, 16 days. Mustang broke that record by reaching the million mark in one year, 11 months, and 24 days.

As Ford prepared for the millionth Mustang celebration, a Ford official made Captain Tucker an offer: In exchange for the first Mustang, Ford would trade the millionth Mustang. At the millionth Mustang celebration in Dearborn, Michigan on March 2, 1966, Tucker stood at the end of the assembly line with a Ford executive and accepted his new car.

While Tucker posed with the millionth Mustang, a white convertible, he didn’t actually receive that car. Tucker had earlier placed an order with George Parson’s Ford in St. Johns for a 1966 Silver Frost convertible with a black top.

Meanwhile, the white Mustang #1 with VIN 5F08F100001 once again became property of Ford Motor Company. The Mustang that only knew Newfoundland roads is now at home in the Henry Ford Museum.  In 1987, the car went on permanent display in the “Automobiles in American Life” exhibit, still sporting the 1965 Newfoundland and Labrador license plates.

Archival Hint:  Did you know that when trying to date a photograph  often one of the factors considered is the age of the cars that appear in the photographs.  Most archives have access to car experts  – antique dealers  – that help in the dating process.

Hot cross bun, only on Good Friday!!

Archival Moment

GOOD FRIDAY, 1869

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

On Good Friday in 1869  Edward Morris, the Manager of the Newfoundland Savings Bank  went out for his daily constitutional,  a walk about the town of St. John’s.  He interrupted his walk, deciding to drop in on his friend Robert Kent.  Upon arriving at the house, he discovered that his friend was out but his father (Jimmy) was at home, in a heated argument with the servant of the house.

In his diary Edward Morris explained.

“I found  (Jimmy) disputing with the servant about a bun which she was giving him as a cross bun, he seemed very dubious, as indeed he might, for it was one of the old familiar type of common penny buns”.

This was not a small matter in 1869. Good Friday was a day of fast,  but one of the treats, on this day, was what we now call a hot cross bun.  Jimmy Kent  was not to be deprived of his “cross bun”  for  the inferior  “penny bun’.

Edward Morris had to play the referee. He wrote in his diary:

However, as I was appealed  to  for a decision , I was obliged, for expediency sake, to compromise  myself by saying  it was very like Lash’s Cross Buns and that seemed to reconcile poor Jim to the deception”

Lash’s on Water Street, St. John’s had a reputation for making the very best Hot Cross Buns.

All of the St. John's shops would sell Good Friday or Hot Cross Buns.

All of the St. John’s shops would sell Good Friday or Hot Cross Buns.

Competition between  the many bakeries and shops in St. John’s to capture  the Good Friday Buns customers was fierce.  Advertising  typically started in the St. John’s newspapers on ‘Spy Wednesday’   and more on ‘Holy Thursday’  encouraging  the purchase of the Hot Cross Buns. You could easily place an advance order but they had to be picked up on Holy Thursday. All the shops were closed on Good Friday.

In Newfoundland, the Hot Cross Bun is the most famous, and probably the oldest, of the many English buns.  The Hot Cross Bun was originally eaten only on Good Friday.

According to tradition, Father Rocliff, a monk and the cook of St. Alban’s Abbey, in Hertfordshire, on Good Friday in 1361 gave to each poor person who came to the abbey one of ‘these spiced buns marked with the sign of the cross’, along with the usual bowl of soup. The custom was continued and soon spread throughout the country.

Hot Cross Buns became enormously popular in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if one recites the ditty:

 “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be”

Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten.

Definition: What is Spy Wednesday?  Wednesday (April 12)  is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day in Christian scripture,  Judas one of the disciples made a bargain with the high priest to betray his friend  Jesus for 30 silver pieces. (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:1-6).

 

Is seal flipper, meat or fish?

ARCHIVAL MOMENT 

What to eat on Good Friday? 

Seal Flipper Pie

Seal Flipper Pie

The question has long been a thorny theological issue: is  “seal flipper pie”  meat or fish. It’s an important question because this Friday is ” Good Friday”, and on the menu in many households and restaurants in this province will be “flipper pie”

Good Friday is the day Catholics and others Christians commemorate Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s a day by tradition that most  people abstain from eating meat.  Fish tends to be the meal of choice for Good Friday.

The inclusion of seals within the category of “fish” is a most difficult issue for the more pious or traditional  in the community.

Those that are convinced that seal flipper pie can be served as fish do have some convincing historical  – doctrinal evidence to stand on.

As early as 1555,  the Swedish scholar and Catholic Bishop, Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), last Catholic Archbishop of Uppsala,  (Sweden)  in his history  (Historia de gentibus septenrionalibus. ) wrote that  in Sweden seal flesh was regarded as fish during Lent and eaten on Good Friday.

Research at the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archives indicates seal flippers are classed as fish.

In many Newfoundland and Labrador communities Catholics have been by tradition permitted to eat “flipper pie” during Lent which coincided with the seal-hunt. Local legend says a Pope, through the local bishop, once declared the seal to be a fish so that during Lent and on meatless Fridays, Newfoundlanders had a better chance avail of this “seasonal”  food source.

It has to be true. In a commentary on Bill C-45:  “An Act respecting the sustainable development of Canada’s seacoast and inland fisheries”  federal government officials in the commentary on the document wrote.

“The inclusion of seals within the category of “fish” stems from a long tradition, possibly explained by the ruling of the Church of Newfoundland that seals were fish, “so that even the most pious Newfoundlander can eat seal meat on Friday or during Lent.” 

According to the Code  of Canon Law (1917)  some interpretations  of certain of these church laws suggest that animals associated with water are allowed to be eaten during Lent, such as beaver, otter and frogs. This might also explain why traditionally, in Bay Bulls and the communities of the Southern Shore of Newfoundland that  turrs and sea ducks could be eaten on Fridays in Lent.

So, what will be on your plate on Good Friday?

Recommended Website: Bill C-45: An Act respecting the sustainable development of Canada’s seacoast and inland fisheries. Prepared by: François Côté, Science and Technology Division Elizabeth Kuruvila, Law and Government Division 20 February 2007. http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?ls=c45&Parl=39&Ses=1

Recommended Reading: D. M. Lavigne and K. M. Kovacs, Harps and Hoods: Ice-Breeding Seals of the Northwest Atlantic, University of Waterloo Press, Waterloo, 1988, p. 104.