Category Archives: Archival Moments

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 :  http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?ClientSession=16a80abc:154b2cdf7b9:-7fd2&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355

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.

“Be Sober and Watch” – Take “The Pledge”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

May 12, 1985

 

The Pledge Card

On  May 12,1985 the members of the Total Abstinence and Benefit Society (TABS) met in St. John’s and dissolved the Society by a resolution of its members. The society had been formally established in St. John’s by the Revered Kyran Walsh in 1841.

It was not the first movement to introduce the philosophy of temperance in St. John’s and by extension the rest of the Newfoundland

. Edward Wix the Church of England Missionary had helped organize a temperance society which met almost every month between 1833 and 1838 and published the Newfoundland Temperance Journal.

Members of the TABS enrolled under the society’s motto of “Be Sober and Watch”, and had taken “the pledge” to abstain from alcoholic beverages.

The words of the famous “pledge” which members took was:

“I pledge myself with the Divine Assistance that as long as I shall continue a member of this Society I will abstain from all intoxicating liquors unless for medical or religious purposes and that I will discountenance intemperance in others.”

The society was a well established sponsor and host for numerous literary and musical and theatrical events. The logic of the society was to provide a good alcohol free venue  to counter the appeal  other entertainments.

In the 1930’s TABS was very optimistic about their future building their new hall at  344 Duckworth Street in, St. John’s, at the time the largest Art-Deco style building ever erected in the city. The building is best remembered as the Capital Theatre (Henry Street entrance) and CBC Radio Building.

When the Society was dissolved in 1985 the Registration Books, Minute Books and other related material was deposited in the Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese.

Recommended Archival Collection:   At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore: MG 599:  Sons of Temperance, Twillingate; the collection consists of minutes of meetings, re: list of officers, parades, general business  and MG 1009: Sons of Temperance, St. John‘s Division No. 3: Minutes of the Sons of Temperance for 1865-1867 beginning with the inaugural meeting. Minutes include lists of officers including ages and occupations of members, resolutions, finances, quarterly reports, membership fees, expenditures, etc.

Recommended Song: Murphy Broke The Pledge (Irish Descendants) based on the Johnny  Burke Ballad, Murphy Broke the Pledge   [1851-1930] of St. John’s, NL (1894). This variant arranged by the Irish Descendants (Rollin Home, 1998)    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAUzJmUkC7A

The Effects of Bad Rum

Archival Moment

May 12, 1879

Making swish, drink it in moderation!

Making swish, drink it in moderation!

We have all had the occasion when we might have imbibed a little too much alcohol. But none so much as was drunk on one of the wharves in St. John’s on a Saturday afternoon in May of 1879.

One man got so drunk or ‘spiritualized’  that one of the reporters with the St. John’s newspaper the ‘Evening Telegram’ felt compelled to write about it.

The newspaper reported:

“The effects of bad rum were practically illustrated at the South Side of St. John’s, on Saturday. Several casks that once contained the precious beverage were rolled together on one of the wharves for the purpose of being filled with oil, when the idea suggested itself to the employees that free drinks could be obtained for all round by simply rinsing some of them out.

The men who were gathered poured a quantity of water from one cask to another until the proof satisfied those immediately interested and then all present were permitted to freely test the quality.

As a matter of course, a general misunderstanding arose, and a scene of indescribable confusion followed.

One stalwart seaman, belonging to the Dot ( a fishing vessel) of Prince Edward Island, who imbibed rather too freely, became so spiritualized that he thought that he could walk on water to the other side of the harbor.

Divesting himself of the greater part of his clothing, he stepped off the wharf; but unfortunately his faith was weaker than the rum and, like Peter of old, he began to sink.

After considerable time had elapsed, during which work was suspended all round, some parties pushed off a boat and the infatuated man was rescued and placed on terra firma, wiser than before he tried the experiment.”

The newspaper reporter was describing an old practice, the men were engaged in making swish or liquor produced by pouring water into a recently emptied rum barrel.

In Newfoundland there has always been those with a passion for making ‘swish’ and did not take kindly to interference.

On May 2, 1973 the St. John’s Daily News posted a poem  that was critical of  John Crosbie, Minister of Finance  and  liquor taxes that were being considered  by the government of the day.

Hon. John Crosbie

Swish will cost ten dollars

Inflation isn’t bad enough
But Johnny Crosbie makes it tough
He’s putting up the drop of stuff
Swish will cost ten dollars

Into the barrels from the store
So much hot water you would pour
A three buck deal but now it’s more
Swish will cost ten dollars

Liquor soaked into the wood
Drawn out by water as it should
A swishy product make’s that’s good
Swish will cost ten dollars.

If Crosbie likes to spread his name
Quite sad will be his claim to fame
The jacked up price on him we’ll blame
Swish will cost ten dollars.

Making moonshine on one’s own
Will Mr. Crosbie now condone
Why not, the way that things are goin’
Swish will cost ten dollars

Archival Collection at The Rooms:  Temperance societies in Newfoundland had been advocating for prohibition dating back to the 1860’s. In 1915 the Government of Newfoundland held a referendum proposing prohibition. Prohibition, which came into effect  (1917 –1925), prohibited everyone except doctors from buying, selling or possessing liquors containing more than two percent alcohol.   Explore GN 2/5 271-G. Office of the Colonial Secretary. Correspondence and report of the Commission of Enquiry into the administration of the Prohibition Act and appointment of the Liquor Controller 1920-1925.

 

May snow has healing powers

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

May Snow

Where is the May Snow?

“May Snow”  is something that  none of us are keen to welcome but  it is  a phenomena that we have all known.

William Shakespeare, like the rest of us was not keen  on  ‘May Snow”  in  ‘Love’s Labour Lost’, he wrote:

 

“At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows. (1.1.105)”

But if we get snow we might as well make the best out of it.

In this province our ancestors  and government  insisted “May Snow” should be bottled and used as a remedy to cure sore eyes.

A brochure printed by the government of Newfoundland in 1955, titled “Historic Newfoundland  and Labrador” stated:

Many old people testify to the efficiency of this strange cure.

The “Dictionary of Newfoundland English” observed:

“Snow from the first snowfall in May would be collected because it was supposed to have healing powers. It would be used to cure sore eyes. It was called May water.”

J. K. Crellin, in his book “Home Medicine: The Newfoundland Experience” offers a suggestion for those unhappy with their complexion. Crellin in his research discovered that one’s complexion would be improved by soaking one’s face in the first snow in May month.

Snow is associated with purity and innocence as in the expression  “as pure as the driven snow.”

Another expression that is deeply rooted in the folklore of many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador is the expression

“A snowfall in May, will take freckles away.”

It was not uncommon for the young Irish girls to bathe their faces in May snow water with the wish and the prayer that their freckles would disappear. The expression is countered by another wonderful old Irish saying

” A face without freckles is like a night without stars”

Let us embrace our weather, take it as it comes. Let’s bottle this May snow. It truly is good for sore eyes!!

Recommended Website:  Environment Canada:  http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/city/pages/nl-24_metric_e.html

 

“Buy a broom in May, sweep your friends away..”

Archival Moment

May Month

"Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away."

“Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away.”

If you are shopping in May to replace an “old broom” you might want to consider the old English rhyme that goes:

Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away.”

Some would even argue that one should not use a broom at all in May;  the English rhyme  for this superstition  goes:

 

If you sweep the house with broom in May, You’ll sweep the head of that house away.”

The origins of these superstitions have been lost but it is likely that the Newfoundland influence can be traced to 19th-century England in particular in Suffolk County home of the ancestors of many Newfoundlanders.

The superstition was also held by our Irish ancestors, they refused to make brooms during the month of May. It was the general rule in Ireland, to gather a stock of brooms, before May Day (1st May) in order that they should last through the month.

The broom has also taken on some considerable symbolic value.

Photo Credit: The Rooms: A 50-38: Little Girl with her broom, women's work!

Photo Credit: The Rooms: A 50-38: Little Girl with her broom, women’s work!

The broom is often associated with woman and good housekeeping.  As a result of the association, it was the practice that when a wife had been absent from home “longer than justifiable”, a broom, decorated with a ribbon, would be hung over the doorway, as an advertisement for a housekeeper.

The men also took advantage of the broom as a symbol.  When the man puts out the broom, it is understood that he invites his friends to carouse with him during his wife’s absence. Nowadays, it might be called an invitation to a shed party!!

In Newfoundland, P.K. Devine, a journalist and a teacher, and one of the first important native Newfoundland folklore enthusiasts observed that boats were “broomed” to let people know that they were for sale. Instead of an advertisement in the local paper, the old “birch broom” used in sweeping the deck, was hoisted to the mast-head to let everyone in the harbor know that the schooner was for sale.

Making brooms was considered a noble profession and most towns had a small family business geared towards making brooms or a medium sized business that included the manufacture of brooms.  The Directory for St. John’s in 1890 for example identified Robert Martin of 18 Duckworth Street and Joshua Mills of Kickham’s Lane as broom makers for the business of F & M Company.   In rural Newfoundland certain fishermen because of their natural talent were identified as the “broom makers” and often made the brooms to support their meager income from fishing.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s a small Broom Industry was created at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) manufacturing brooms that were sold in the shops of St. John’s and other towns. It is an art form that has now all but died.

With regard to the old English rhyme “Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your family (and friends) away.”   I tend to be a bit more relaxed in May month about house cleaning and absolutely no broom in sight!!

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives: Broom Industry: GN 13. Dept. of Justice (1939-1948) 1   folder  Box number, 106.

Recommended Reading:  Admiral W.H. Smyth, 1788—1865, The Sailor’s Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms (London: Blackie and Son, 1867)

Recommended Song:  Lish Young Buy A Broom (Shanneyganock) with lyrics and video http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/30/broom.htm

College built from Prison Stone

Archival Moment

April 27, 1857
St. Bonaventure’s College – The Old College

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 35-28; St. Bonaventure's College.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 35-28; St. Bonaventure’s College.

St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s known locally as (St. Bon’s) was designed by James Purcell and built by Patrick Keough. It is considered one of the most recognized educational facilities in the province.

In 1855 there was a public auction to sell more than 30,000 building stones from Waterford, Ireland, which had been imported to build the local penitentiary. The Catholic Bishop of the day, Right Rev. John Thomas Mullock, took advantage of plans to build a smaller penal institution and purchased sufficient surplus stones to construct a monastery.

On April 27, 1857 the bishop laid the cornerstone of the building, a year later, in March 1858, the new facilities opened. Dormitories were installed upstairs as the institution operated as a seminary.

Seven years later in 1865 the college began to admit secular students and, in 1889, the Irish Christian Brothers assumed administrative responsibilities for the school.

The building is now known as the Old College or the Skinner Building and is located directly across the street from The Rooms.

Recommended Reading
: Noble to the View:  J. B. Darcy, Creative Publishers, St. John’s, 2007

 

 

“The Art of Gerald Squires: Materials and Sources”

Stan Dragland, literary critic, editor, novelist, and poet will present the annual Newfoundland Historical Society (NHS) George Story Lecture.

The lecture takes its name from George Morley Story (1927-1994), past president of the NHS  and winner of the NHS’s Heritage Award for 1982-1983. Dr. Story joined Memorial University’s Department of English Language and Literature in 1954, where he established an international reputation as a lexicographer and Renaissance scholar, and pioneered the study of Newfoundland history, culture, language and literature.

Dragland in his presentation will discuss the celebrated Newfoundland painter, Gerald Squires. His presentation is based on his research for the long essay in a new book on Squires timed to appear alongside Squires’ 2017 retrospective—opening at The Rooms, May 12th. 

The lecture promises to explore the many sources now available—not only the pictures and sculptures, the criticism and interviews, but also the wealth of archival material preserved by Gail Squires and held in Holyrood.

Especially important are Squires’ own eloquent writings, many of them never published, some of them chosen to grace the lecture. Dragland explores the painter’s passionate grasp of archetypal impulses—heaven and hell contending in his personal cosmology—and tries to suggest how such tensions are embodied in his pictures. An important sub-theme is Squires’ deep-seated ecological consciousness, more relevant and valuable than ever in the context of accelerating threats to the biosphere.

Lecture and illustrations will present Squires as he is well-known and well-loved, but also with dimensions that are not common knowledge. The viewer/listener may also expect to see and hear about some surprising images that came to light after Squires’ death.

Location: Hampton Hall, Marine Institute

Date: Thursday, April 27, 2017     Time: 8pm

Parking: Free parking is available in front and to the west of the building.

Please circulate  to family, friends and colleagues.

For more information:

Tel:(709)722-3191      E-mail: nlhistory@gmail.com

http://www.nlhistory.ca/

Recommended Exhibit: Gerald Squires: Spirit Visible from  May 13 – September 4, 2017  at The Rooms.