Category Archives: Archival Moments

No place for horned cattle on Water Street

Archival Moment

December, 1914

Credit: The Rooms NA 1558; Note the "Cow catcher" on the frount of the Street Car. Water Street West, St. John's

Credit: The Rooms NA 1558; Note the “Cow catcher” on the frount of the Street Car. Water Street West, St. John’s. Click on the photo to enlarge.

There was a time in the City of St. John’s when it was not unusual to see cows, sheep and pigs wandering the streets. Cows in fact had become such a nuisance that the street cars in St. John’s were equipped with “cow catchers.”

In December 1914 city officials declared that they had enough and decided to try and take control.

In the local media in December 1914 the Municipal Council of St. John’s posted a notice reminding citizens especially farmers that there were regulations that had been on the books since 1903 and that they must be abided. In May 1903 the Municipal Council published in the Royal Gazette regulations that were very specific:

“Horned cattle, sheep or swine shall not be driven through Water Street at any time or under any circumstances except for the purpose of crossing said street, when going too or coming from a waterside premise then the shortest possible distance shall be taken.”

In December 1914 the Municipal Council agreed that the regulation might be too harsh.

“the regulation …. bear harshly upon certain citizens and especially those engaged in procuring the meat supply of the city, thereby causing unnecessary loss, expense and inconvenience to them in their trade and business and a less stringent measure will fully protect the rights and ensure the safety and convenience of all citizens in this respect.”

Credit: The Rooms Archives, VA 14 27.

Credit: The Rooms Archives, VA 14 27. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

The city decided to compromise, no accommodation would be made for sheep and pigs, there was no place for them on Water Street, but the Council decided they would make accommodation for horned cattle.

The primary concern was the “safety and convenience of all citizens” given that Water Street was the commercial heart of the city; it was decided to devise a schedule when cattle could be herded and driven down Water Street. Council proclaimed:

“Horned cattle shall not be driven through the streets of St. John’s in numbers or herds of more than 10, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., from the first day of April until the first day of October, in any year, and from the first day of October until the first day of April, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.”

The new regulations also demanded when driving herds of 6 to 20 cattle, four competent drovers were required. When driving one single horned cattle the owner or one competent drover had to be present.

As an incentive the Municipal Notice stated if the regulations were not observed a penalty of $25.00 for each offence would be imposed by a Magistrate if convicted.

Recommended Reading: Cows don’t know it’s Sunday: Agricultural life in St. John’s; by Murray, Hilda Chaulk. ISER  Books;    2002

Lost Word:   Drover: The person responsible for moving livestock over long distances by walking them “on the hoof”.

Looks like a good Christmas on the Cape Shore

December 7, 1884

“A derelict schooner, drifted ashore at St. Bride’s … “

As Christmas 1884 approached, the people of St. Bride’s, Placentia Bay, were thinking it would not be a prosperous Christmas.  It had been a poor year in the fishery. Their fortune was however about to change unhappily born on the pain of other families from Placentia Bay.

On  December 7, 1884 residents of St. Bride’s  stood on ‘the bank’ overlooking Placentia Bay  watching as a “a derelict schooner, drifted ashore at St. Bride’s, dismasted and waterlogged…”

There was much excitement in St. Bride’s, it was quickly realized that “Sixty three barrels of flour and six puncheons of molasses” was aboard the vessel.   It was theirs to salvage, they would take it home.

In the days following the salvage effort, St. Bride’s fell silent.  James E. Croucher, the Wreck Commissioner stationed at Great Placentia had arrived in the town on December 10.  He immediately began a search for the cargo of the ill-fated schooner, but to his dismay only found   “24 barrels of flour broken and in a damaged condition, and two puncheons of molasses …”   

Thirty nine (39) barrels of flour and four (4) puncheons of molasses were not accounted for.

Croucher,  as the Wreck Commissioner was obliged by law, under the Consolidated States of Newfoundland to travel to St. Bride’s to investigate the loss of the Schooner, he could only conclude: “the remainder of the property being distributed amongst salvors by a person or parties who had no authority from me to do so.”

As he sailed out of St. Bride’s for Great Placentia the residents of St. Bride’s no doubt celebrated. With their newly acquired abundance of flour and molasses, it would be a good Christmas.

The people of St. Bride’s also mourned, they knew that their gain came at the loss of the crew of the Schooner Stella, a crew of nine men out of nearby Oderin, Placentia Bay.  It is said that she was wrecked in the “terrific gale of November 1884.”

Ever respectful of the dead, it is reported that All the clothes that had belonged to the lost men that had been taken from the Schooner were carefully dried and forwarded to their families.”

What was St. Bride’s Like?

The 1874 census listed a population of 140 in 29 families. Thirteen residents were from Ireland and one from Scotland.  The 79 fishermen had 22 boats. The 13 farmers had 203 cattle, 30 horses, 139 sheep and 113 swine on 200 acres of land.  Products included 60 bushels of oats and 5,460 lbs. 01 butter

By 1891, the population had increased to 256, including four from Ireland. The 66  fishermen-farmers. The community also had a priest, a teacher and a merchant, and 65 of the 122 children were in school.

What about the name?

The name of St. Bride’s is quite modern, and was given from the titular Saint of the Church of St. Bridgett. On more ancient maps it was called La Stress, apparently a French name which became corrupted into Distress. This name “not being of pleasant sound”  to  the new parish priest in Placentia  was superseded by  St. Bride’s (The priest was Rev. Charles Irvine)  

 Recommended Archival Collection:  The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johns, holds 70% of the Crew Agreements from 1863-1938, and 80% of the Agreements from 1951-1976. The crew agreements include particulars of each member of the crew, including name (signature), age, place of birth, previous ship, place and date of signing, capacity  and particulars of discharge (end of voyage, desertion, sickness, death, never joined etc).

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home: At the eastern edge of the continent, bounded by the sea, the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador’s livyers was tied to the fisheries and the North Atlantic. A rich mix of dialects, ways of life, food traditions, story and song developed here. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4

Knights of Columbus Fire – 99 Dead


December 12, 1942 

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 141-3; Identifying victims of the Knights of Columbus] fire a the temporary morgue , St. John’s.

On Saturday, December 12, 1942, many people in St. John’s were sitting at home behind their blackout curtains, listening to “Uncle Tim’s Barn Dance” on the radio station VOCM. This weekly program was broadcast live from the Knights of Columbus Leave Centre (Hostel) on Harvey Road in St. John’s.

Just after 11:00 pm, people listening to the broadcast heard the singer on stage break off in the middle of a song, and then someone shouted “Fire, Fire.”  Sounds of people panicking could be heard, then smashing glass, then the broadcast went silent.

About 500 people were in the building when it caught fire. Most were listening to the radio broadcast, but some were sleeping in the servicemen’s hostel.  The windows in the hall of the newly-built K of C Leave Centre had been boarded over to meet blackout regulations. Doors were either locked, or barred from the outside. The wooden building burned very quickly. Paper streamers that had decorated the ceiling of the hall ignited and fell onto the people below. A few windows and doors were smashed open, but many people could not escape.

As the building rapidly burned to the ground, 99 people died, and another 107 were hurt. St. John’s had seen many serious fires over the years, but never one with such loss of life.

At the time, there were rumours of sabotage by a German agent, but the cause of the fire was never determined.

Residents had reason for concern.  Bell Island (just 20 minutes from St. John’s) is one of the few locations in North America that German forces directly attacked during the Second World War. U-boats raided the island twice in 1942, sinking four ore carriers and killing more than 60 men. On September 5, 1942 the  Germans sunk the  Strathcona and Saganaga. Twenty nine men were killed in the attack. The next attack at Bell Island occurred almost exactly two months later, on November 2, 1942.

The Knights of Columbus Hostel was located on Harvey Road,  a Tim Horton’s franchise  is now standing on the site.  A granite memorial  was placed a little to the east  commemorating those who died in the fire.

Recommended Presentation:  Knights of Columbus Hostel Fire of 1942: A Timeline and Behavioural Assessment; The Rooms: FRIDAY, December 8, 2017 at 7PM. In 1942, the Knights of Columbus hostel in St. John’s burned to the ground with the loss of 99 people. Less than two weeks later, Justice Brian Dunfield was appointed to investigate the blaze, compiling over a thousand pages of testimony. Now, 75 years on, the testimony which is housed in the NL provincial archives remains a vital resource for scholarly activity. It is important that researchers in fire safety learn from such events – both from the point of view of the fire growth and spread, but also the human behaviours witnessed or reported.  The talk will use a vivid graphical representation of the hostel to present a timeline of events, showing how the fire spread throughout the building, where people were located at various key moments in the fire and behaviours reported as the fire developed.  Presenters: Josée Ouellette (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), Rob Brown (Marine Institute, Memorial University), Steve Gwynne (Fire Safety Unit, National Research Council Canada), Aoife Hunt (Movement Strategies, UK)

Recommended Archival Collection:  GN 128 Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Destruction by Fire of the Knights of Columbus Hostel, December 12, 1942In this collection researchers will find  typed transcripts, questionnaires completed by military personnel, commissioner’s notes, statements by civilian witnesses, lists of civilian witnesses, and eight blueprints of the Knights of Columbus Hostel.

Recommended Book: The Last Dance by Darrin McGrath: Flanker Press, St. John’s, 2002.

North West River, Labrador

The Rooms: IGA 14-161 Innu Women at North West River

In 1985 the Provincial Archives acquired the records of the International Grenfell Association (IGA).

The collection consists of 26 photograph albums documenting all aspects of the activities of the International Grenfell Association (IGA) and its predecessor agencies, especially the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.

The albums include 4,731 photographs. Many of the photographs were taken by Mission staff. The overwhelming majority of the photographs are for the years 1892 to 1940. However, there are also a small number of photographs for the 1880s and the late 1940s.

Take some time to look at just one of these photograph albums featuring North West River, Labrador that were recently put on line by The Rooms.

You can now look at these photographs on line:


The Knights of Columbus Hostel Fire of 1942 Presentation

The Knights of Columbus Hostel Fire of 1942

Where: The Rooms Theatre

When: Friday, Dec 8, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Cost: Included With Admission

In 1942, the Knights of Columbus hostel in St. John’s burned to the ground with the loss of 99 people. Less than two weeks later, Justice Brian Dunfield was appointed to investigate the blaze, compiling over a thousand pages of testimony. Now, 75 years on, the testimony which is housed at The Rooms Provincial Archives remains a vital resource for scholarly activity. It is important that researchers in fire safety learn from such events – both from the point of view of the fire growth and spread but also the human behaviours witnessed or reported. Join Josee Ouelette, (R.C.M.P); Steve Gwynne, (Fire Safety); Rob Brown, Ph. D (Marine Institute, Memorial University and Aoife Hunt, Ph.D. (Managing Consultant at Movement Strategies London, United Kingdom) they use a vivid graphical representation of the hostel to present a timeline of the events, showing how the fire spread throughout the building, where people were located at various key moments in the fire and reported behaviors as the fire developed.

Horses, turned into the roads and woods to die of frost and starvation”

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: NA19658: Horses grazing ina field

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: NA19658: Horses grazing ina field

Archival Moment

November 29,1893

In November 1893 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in the local St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram published an article “enlisting the services of supporters throughout the colony.”

The article read:  “The SPCA desires to enlist the services of its supporters throughout the colony in detecting and punishing cruelty, and, at this season, the practice of exposing old horses and other animals.”   The article stated:  “Worn out horses are often turned into the roads and woods to die of frost and starvation.”

The Executive of the SPCA were keen to stop this cruel practice and insisted that “the crime should be effectually stamped out.”

The SPCA which was established in Newfoundland in November 1888 was originally formed to eradicate this practice and other cruel hardships that the horses had to endure such pulling excessively heavy loads.

The Executive of the SPCA wrote to the readers of the Evening Telegram that “Without the watchful assistance of the public, the efforts of our agents must be of little effect.”

Since their founding in 1888 the SPCA had encouraged laws “wide enough to cover all cases that may arise, and the magistrates never fall in their duty when such cases come before them.”   They proposed however that “While it is the duty of all Justices of the Peace to execute this law upon offenders, it is no less the duty of every citizen to prosecute cases coming to notice.”

In 1893 it was the hope that  “branches of our Society (should be) formed in every outport where a Justice is within reach.”

To assist with establishing societies  outside of St. John’s  “Either Mr. Greene, Q.C. (Hon. Treasurer) or Mr. Johnson, Q.C. (Hon. Secretary)  of the St. John’s Society  will be ready  at all times to assist in the formation of branch Societies an in instructing as to the method of prosecuting offenders.”

Recommended Archival Collection:  At The Rooms Provincial Archives: MG 593 is the SPCA Collection 1912 -1927. It consists of correspondence; complaint books, and investigation reports into complaints of cruelty.

Recommended Song: Tickle Cove Pond. Allan Doyle (Great Big Sea).

Recommended Web Site:  Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – Please support the SPCA on line auction: Please click on the advertisement line above.

Prisoner Escapes Penitentiary, Reward Posted

Archival Moment

November 25, 1887

"Manslaughter Without Mercy"

“Manslaughter Without Mercy”

There was much excitement in St. John’ on November 25, 1887, the talk in town was all about the whereabouts of Michael Whelan, a convicted murderer who had escaped from the penitentiary at Quidi Vidi Lake. The local newspapers ran advertisements that stated:

“Whereas, Michael Whelan, a prisoner in the Penitentiary, under sentence of manslaughter, escaped recently from prison, and is now at large. Notice is hereby given, that reward of two hundred dollars will be paid to any person or persons who shall give the police authorities such information that shall lead to his arrest; and all persons are cautioned not in any way to harbour or aid the said Michael inn his escape.”

Michael Whelan, a fisherman of Horse Cove, (now St. Thomas) was charged with the willful murder of Livi King of Broad Cove, on the 6th of October 1883.

Witnesses swore that the tension between the two men was driven by alcohol and religion. According to the trial testimony it seems that the custom of those travelling from St. John’s to the Broad Cove – Portugal Cove area in those days on horse and cart was to make an occasional stop for a drink along the way. They stopped at M. Lundrigan’s to pick up a bottle to bring home, next they stopped at Walsh’s, near the pond, for a few drinks. It was here that the trouble started. It seems that Whelan “was cursing the Orangemen” and King threatening to “go down and haul down the chapel.” Nothing good was to come of this.

Michael Whelan pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Levi King when he was arraigned. The trial took place on November 28, 1883. It took the jury one hour to decide on a verdict of “manslaughter without mercy.” Whelan was sentenced to prison for life in H. M. Penitentiary.

On November 25, 1887, between seven and eight o’clock seven prisoners left to work on a drain which they were constructing from the General Hospital (Forest Road)  to Quidi Vidi Lake in the charge of two prison officials. Amongst the prisoners was Michael Whelan.

Whelan had been slowly plotting his escape gradually ingratiating himself into the good books of the prison officials. He was rewarded for his good behavior by being allowed to join the other prisoners in their work detail. While at work in the drain he asked to retire “for a natural purpose”. He was permitted to do so.

In the meantime the prison wardens were distracted by the other prisoners, when Whelan saw this he made a dash for liberty; he was a powerful man and a fast runner; he followed the margin of Quidi Vidi Lake to the East end. The officer gave chase; Whelan outdistanced the prison officials and disappeared into the White Hills.

Despite an intense search using all of the police resources and the large reward offered for Whelan’s capture, he was never caught. Police watched his home and questioned his friends but to no avail, he was not to be found.

An inquiry into the escape established that this was a planned escape, not some spontaneous act by the prisoner. Whelan’s prison guard told the inquiry that he should have known that something was up because Whelan had taken his Rosary beads that had always hung on his bed post. Typically,  when he went with the prison work crews  the beads were left in his prison cell.

There were lots of rumors about what happened to Michael Whelan, some said that he made his escape to Placentia, a town where the Whelan family were well established, and from there he got away to America in a fishing schooner.

It is known that his wife left Newfoundland some years after his escape for America, fueling rumors that he had established a home somewhere in the Boston States. Twenty years following his escape in November 1906 the Evening Telegram speculated that she was living with him in Boston.

The Whelan’s were among the first settlers of Horse Cove; the town changed its name to St. Thomas in 1922 and was amalgamated with Paradise in 1992. St. Thomas with the amalgamation is now the oldest settled part of the town of Paradise and the Whelan’s remain among the residents.

It is not likely that Michael Whelan came home but did any of his kin visit with him? Did he keep his connections to friends and family in Horse Cove?

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives see GN2.2 Evidence taken at the Magisterial Inquiry, The Queen vs Michael Whelan for the felony of Prison Breach, November 29, 1887. A transcript of the trial can be found in the Evening Telegram (St. John’s, N.L.), 29 November 1883.