Category Archives: Archival Moments

A Newfoundland Saint in Placentia?


February 21, 1699

Didace Pelletier of Placentia.

Didace Pelletier of Placentia.

The road to being canonized  in the Roman Catholic Church can be  a very slow process as can be attested by those who  have been working  to have Didace Pelletier canonized a saint. Brother Didace has Newfoundland connections.  He worked in Placentia, Newfoundland at what was then called Our Lady of the Angels Parish from 1689-1692.

Claude Pelletier was born on June 28, 1657; his parents were Georges Pelletier and Catherine Vanier, from Dieppe, France.

As a little boy, he was sent to the apprentices’ school not far from Sainte Anne de Beaupré, Quebec where  he learned the carpenter’s trade, in which he excelled.

After learning his trade, he entered the Recollets ( a religious order of French Franciscans) at Quebec City in the autumn of 1678, at the age of twenty-one. He was clothed with the Franciscan habit in 1679, and received the name Didace in honor of a Spanish Saint, the patron of  Brothers; he made his religious vows one year later, in 1680.

Brother Didace lived at Our Lady of the Angels mission in Quebec City for another three or four year. Because of his talent as a carpenter, he played a large part in the construction work which the Recollets of that time were undertaking. He was sent to Bonaventure Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence  located 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) off the southern coast of Quebec’s  Gaspe’ Peninsula.  (1683-1689).

In 1869 he was sent to Plaisance (now Placentia), where he worked for three years on the construction of the first church in that town.

Following Placentia he was transferred to Montreal (1692-1696), and finally to Trois-Rivières, Quebec (1696-1699). It was Trois-Rivières, while doing carpentry work at the Recollets’ church, that he contracted a fatal case of pleurisy.

Brother Didace was rushed to hospital; there he requested the last Sacraments, despite the opinion of a doctor who declared him in no immediate danger.

After participating in the prayers for the dying, he  died on the evening of February 21, 1699.

Between 1700 and 1717 the bishops of Quebec set up nine hearings relating to at least 17 miracles attributed to Brother Didace.

Suggested Reading:   Cowans, Alan. “Pdletier, Didace.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol.1, ed. David M. Mayne, 336. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.

Recommended on Line Reading: Victoria Taylor – Hood: A thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Department of Religious Studies Memorial University of Newfoundland August, 1999. Newfoundland.

Potholes and Gulches


February 19, 1880

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 32-7; Horses and sleighs loaded, Water Street, St. John’s.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 32-7; Horses and sleighs loaded, Water Street, St. John’s.

A word that is rarely used in Newfoundland and Labrador nowadays is the word “gulch”. (also gulche) Long before the term “pot hole” was used to describe a hole in the surface of the road, the preferred term was “gulch.”

In 1880 one of the issues that angered people was the state of the roads, so much so that some people wrote to the local papers to complain.

On February 19, 1880 in the local paper the Evening Telegram one subscriber wrote:

“Allow me through the columns of your valuable paper to draw attention of the government to the deplorable state of Water Street owning to the late heavy fall of snow. This street is almost impassable for man or beast, and unless something is speedily done, in the way of filling up the “gulches” traffic will be at a standstill.”

In February 1917 the local St. John’s newspaper the Daily News reported

“A heavy fall of snow brings its trouble to the horse traffic on our streets which are filled with gulches.”

The term “gulches” continues to appear in local publications until at least 1937.  The St. John’s, Evening Telegram reported:

“Traffic conditions on Torbay Road are very bad, the road being studded with many treacherous gulches”

Those who took the time to write to the local papers and complain had a legitimate concern. The horse was often their only means of transportation and these ‘potholes” or “gulches” presented a major problem.  If a horse stepped into a deep enough pothole or “gulche” there was the possibility that the animal could be crippled.  A broken ankle or leg was often fatal for a horse.

Long before “pothole” found a place in our vocabulary the preferred term to describe the phenomena was “gulch.”  In the United States and some parts of Canada  the preferred term to describe the phenomena was “chuckhole”  because  the ‘gulches”  were being created by chuck wagons  that were being used to carry food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the United States and Canada.

The first time that the term “pothole” was used was in 1826. The term “pothole” never took hold in Newfoundland until the 1940’s when we had the combined influence of the American invasion of culture and the automobile gradually replacing the horse.

When driving about the town – just as it was in 1880 – watch out for the gulches!!  I mean potholes!!

What are the current road conditions:

Recommended Archival Collection: GN2.19.2  File consists of a letter book  (1834-1836) of correspondence from the colonial secretary primarily to the outport road commissioners and to the commissioner for the relief of the poor. The correspondence recorded the allocation of public funds to roads and bridges both as a means of improving transportation and relieving poverty by providing employment.



Truxton and Pollux: “No m’am, that’s the colour of my skin.”


February 18, 1942

Standing Into Danger

The American destroyers Wilkes and Truxton and the supply ship Pollux were on their way to the Argentia Naval Base when they went off course and smashed on the rocks in Lawn Point and Chambers Cove on the Burin Peninsula on February 18, 1942.

The Truxton and Pollux were a total loss. Two hundred and three officers and crew (203) lost their lives. Their life jackets which were not equipped with crotch straps slid off on impact with the water.

Residents of nearby St. Lawrence and Lawn managed to rescue 186 survivors.

At this time the US Navy was segregated. Of the 46 survivors from the USS Truxton, one was black. When Lanier Phillips was rescued by residents of St. Lawrence they treated him the same as they treated the white survivors. He woke up in a room surrounded by a group of white women who were bathing him — many of the rescued sailors had jumped into cold ocean waters covered with a layer of heavy black bunker C oil, which then coated the men. All were in need of cleaning. Phillips noted that if he had woken up in his home state of  Georgia,USA, naked and surrounded by white women, he would have been lynched (and the women branded and run out of town).


One of the women helping with the rescue had never before seen an African American and was puzzled that the crude oil seemed to have soaked his skin to the point of colouring it. She was determined to scrub it off, and Phillips had to tell her that, no m’am, that’s the colour of my skin. Phillips  later found himself sitting at the family table, using the same china cups and plates that the family used, and was dazed (and appalled) to find himself in one of the family beds, looked after by the lady of house who didn’t seem to be afraid of being in the same room with a black man. He said he didn’t sleep all night, it terrified him.

This experience in St. Lawrence galvanized the Navy Mess Attendant to fight racial discrimination within the US Navy. He later became the Navy’s first black sonar technician. After completing a 20 year career in the navy, Lanier Phillips joined the exploration team of Jacques Cousteau. He helped find and uncover a sunken atomic bomb, became active in the civil rights movement, and now  travels’  speaking to young men and women in the U.S.military about the destructiveness of bigotry and racism.

Dr. Lanier Philips received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree May 31, 2008 from Memorial University of Newfoundland. The university cited what it called ‘his resistance to and capacity to rise above repression’.  In 2011, Phillips was given honorary membership into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador for his work in civil rights in the U.S.

Phillips died on March 12, 2012, at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives read  MG 956.187, A letter from Joseph Manning, Lawn to Gerard Ryan, Corbin:  a description of Manning’s experiences during the rescue of seamen from the USS Pollux and USS Truxton.

Recommended Reading: Oil and Water, a play by Robert Chafe  is based on the true account of shipwrecked African American sailor / veteran Lanier W. Phillips and his experiences in St Lawrence, Newfoundland.  (Text above taken from the play list of Oil and Water)

Recommended Reading: Standing Into Danger by  Cassie Brown Flanker Press Ltd, St. John’s, NL


Former Ocean Ranger medic gives rare photos to The Rooms

Former Ocean Ranger medic gives rare photos to The Rooms

Photo Credit: The Rooms A 41-36

Two photograph collections donated to The Rooms include about 100 personal photos from the Ocean Ranger, staff at The Rooms are trying to identify some of the men pictured in the photographs. After reaching out to Ocean Ranger families, the archivists are now asking anyone who might help with the identifications, or who might offer some context to the images. Read More:

PLEASE NOTE: The February 14 performance of RIG: Voices from the Ocean Ranger Disaster has been cancelled due to impending severe weather. Call 709-757-8090 for tickets or email Tickets are available for February 15 and 16.





The Lawyer’s Valentine

Archival Moment

February 15, 1881

Love your lawyer!

Love your lawyer!

It is unfortunate but when it comes to matters of the heart the perception is that lawyers are not inclined to be romantic.  It has been said that they have difficulty establishing an ‘emotional connection’. They are in large part driven by logic. Love, of course, does not tend to be logical.

On Valentine’s Day, February 1881, a St. John’s lawyer sent a poem by the American poet, John B. Saxe to the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram determined to make the public aware that there were some in his profession that were deeply romantic. They just had/have their own language to express their romantic intentions.  The poem reads:

The Lawyer’s Valentine

I’m notified, fair neighbour mind,

By one of our profession,

That this, the term of Valentine,

Is Cupid’s Special Session.

Permit me, therefore, to Report

Myself, on this occasion,

Quite ready to proceed to Court,

and file my declaration.

I’ve an attachment for you, too;

A legal and a strong one;

O, yield onto the Process, do;

Nor let it be a long one.

No scowling bailiff lurks behind;

He’d be a precious noddy,

Who failing to arrest the Mind,

Should go and take the Body!

For though a form like yours might throw,

A sculptor in distraction;

I couldn’t serve a Capias, no;

I’d scorn so base an Action!

Oh, do not tell me off your youth,

And turn aware demurely,

For thought your very young in truth,

You’re not an infant surely!

The Case is everything me;

My heart is loves own tissue;

Don’t plead a Dilatory Plea;

Let’s have the General Issue!

Or since you’ve really no Defence,

Why not, this present Session,

Omitting all absurd defence

Give Judgement by Confession.

So, shall you be my lawful wife?

And I your faithful lover,

Be Tenant of your heart for Life.

With no Remainder over!

(Take some time to send this ‘Archival Moment’  to your lawyer. Perhaps your lawyer is your Valentine!)

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives see the Valentine cards of Marion Adams. During the First World War (1914 – 1918) , Marion Adams of St. John’s  received Valentine cards  from two suitors.

Source of Poem: The Lawyer’s Valentine, by John G. Saxe originally appeared in the New York Times, on February 18, 1860.


From your Valentine. Did you see a bird or speak or hear a name?



Saint Valentine

The true origin of Valentine’s Day may always be in question, but most historians seem to agree on the basic elements. St. Valentine, as he has become known, was a  priest in Rome during the times of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius, who was known in his times as “Claudius the Cruel” had decreed that his soldiers were no longer allowed to marry. It was Claudius’s belief that single, men without families were the best soldiers.

Valentine found this law absurd and went against the law, marrying couples in secret. This was soon discovered by Claudius II and Valentine was taken to prison and ordered beheaded. It is said that in his final days in prison, Valentine wrote a letter to his jail keepers daughter who had been visiting him during his imprisonment. He signed the letter, “From your Valentine”. This is what is now thought of as the first Valentine card.

St. Valentine is said to have died on February 14th and this is why we celebrate the holiday on this day.

The Saint Valentine who is celebrated on February 14 remains in the Catholic Church’s official list of saints (the Roman Martyrology), but, in view of the scarcity of information about him,  he has been demoted  – his commemoration was removed from the General Calendar for universal liturgical veneration, when this was revised in 1969.

Many traditions have evolved around St. Valentine’s Day.

If a woman sees a robyn flying over head on Valentines Day she will marry a sailor. If she sees a sparrow, she will marry a poor man, but will be very happy. If she sees a goldfinch, she will marry a millionaire.

• The 1st name you hear or read on Valentine’s Day will be the name of your future mate.

Whether we chose to believe legends developed around Valentines Day or not most of us are true romantics at heart.  This is the day to remember those that you care about!!


The Ocean Ranger


Photo Credit:

The Rooms Provincial Archives : A-41-36; Ocean Ranger, Lost February 15, 1982

On February 15, 1982 at 0052 hours local time, a MAYDAY call was sent out from the Ocean Ranger, noting a severe list to the port side of the rig and requesting immediate assistance. This was the first communication from the Ocean Ranger identifying a major problem.

At 0130 hours local time, the Ocean Ranger transmitted its last message:

 ‘There will be no further radio communications from the Ocean Ranger. We are going to lifeboat stations’.

Shortly thereafter, in the middle of the night and in the midst of atrocious winter weather, the crew abandoned the rig.

All 84 crewmembers died.  56 were Newfoundlanders. Over the next four days search teams were only able to recover 22 bodies, 2 lifeboats, and 6 life rafts.

Families across Newfoundland and Labrador,  struggled to cope with the loss. In every community in the province in every church, in every school people gathered to find comfort.  At a crowded ecumenical service at the historic Basilica  Cathedral  in St. John’s, friends and relatives attended a memorial service to pay tribute and to search for answers.  The Catholic Archbishop of the province surrounded by clergy from all churches used the occasion to call on both the federal and provincial governments to establish “a joint enquiry into the terrible accident”.

Recommended Archival Collection: Two new ‘Ocean Ranger” collections are now held at The Rooms.  The David Boutcher Collection features photographs taken by David on the Ocean Ranger in 1982.  Many of the photographs feature friends and fellow crew members.  David died on the Ocean Ranger.   Also available is the Lloyd Major Collection, Lloyd was a medic on the Ocean Ranger, his 52 photographs feature individuals who worked on “The Rig”  and structural features of The Rig.

Note: Many of the individuals in these photographs have not been identified and we would welcome the assistance  of families and friends  of the victims to help us in this process.

Rig: Voices from the Ocean Ranger Disaster

Date: February 14, 15 and 16, 2017  Time: 7:00pm – 8:00pm Cost: $30, 10% discount for Rooms members

35 years ago, the Ocean Ranger oil rig sank in severe weather, taking 84 of its crew to the bottom of the sea. Based on the book by Mike Heffernan, this play brings to life the real memories of the victims’ families and the people who risked their own lives trying to help those on board.  Call 709-757-8090 for tickets or email

– See more at:

Recommended Book (Fiction): Moore, Lisa .  February. House of Anansi Press (2010).  February is a fictional exploration of the impact on one family of the 1982 sinking of the oil rig Ocean Ranger.

Recommended Book: (Non Fiction):  Heffernan, Mike (2009). Rig: An Oral History of the Ocean Ranger Disaster, Creative Publishers, St. John’s.  This is an illustrated collection of first-person accounts from former rig workers, victims’ families, government officials, media, and search and rescue crews.

Website: Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster: