Category Archives: Archival Moments

Influenza Epidemic Raging

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

March 2, 1919

Influenza Notices were  posted on all  Public Buildings.

In March 1919 Newfoundland  and Labrador was being ravaged with the dreaded Influenza Epidemic.

The local government and the churches were in the fore front of the fight against the spread of the dreaded disease. In St. John’s, on March 2, 1919,  the Catholic Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche, issued a Pastoral Letter removing any obligation of fast and abstinence during the 40 days of Lent. The rationale was that if Roman Catholics were observing the ritual Lenten fast and rules of abstinence that they might be weakening their immune systems making them more susceptible to the pandemic.

On March 12, 1919 a notice was read in all churches that:

“Owing to the prevalence of influenza among the people, His Grace the Archbishop by the authority of the Holy See, grants during this present Lent, a general dispensation from the fast, except on Good Friday”

A variation on the same notice was read in the churches of all denominations.

The move, thought small was unprecedented. One of the many steps that were taken to try and stop the spread of the disease.

St. John’s as an international port of call for ships from around the world was exposed to all the good and ill that came with its geographical location. In 1918 with the influenza epidemic raging throughout the world, it was only a matter of time before the province became vulnerable to the disease.

The pandemic reached Newfoundland on 30 September 1918 when a steamer carrying three infected crewmen docked at St. John’s harbour. Three more infected sailors arrived at Burin on October 4 and they travelled by rail to St. John’s for treatment. A doctor diagnosed the city’s first two local cases of influenza the following day and sent both people to a hospital. Within two weeks, newspapers reported that several hundred people were infected in St. John’s.

Soon after the outbreak, government officials closed many public buildings in St. John’s, including schools, churches, and meeting halls, and introduced quarantine regulations for incoming ships. Many outport communities also closed public buildings to curb the spread of influenza. By the time the epidemic was over, 62 deaths were reported in St. John’s and 170 more in outport Newfoundland.

The effects were most devastating in Labrador, where the disease killed close to one third of the Inuit population and forced some communities out of existence. Death rates were particularly high in the Inuit villages of Okak and Hebron.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Room Provincial Archives explore Death Records 1918-1919.  Reels 32 and 33 and GN 2/5. Special File 352-A, Colonial Secretary’s Department. “Correspondence Re: Outbreak of Epidemic Spanish Influenza in Newfoundland.” November 1918- June 1919.

Recommended Publication: Boats, Trains, and Immunity: The Spread of the Spanish Flu on the Island of Newfoundland.  Craig T. Palmer, Lisa Sattenspiel, Chris Cassidy: Newfoundland and Labrador Studies: Vol. 22 – Number 2 (2007) http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/10120/10396

 

 

“The long and hungry month of March”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

March 1

Photo Credit: At the Rooms Provincial Archives: VA -15-A -28-10 Twillingate Garden Cellar

In Newfoundland and Labrador the month of March has traditionally been referred to as “the long and hungry month of March.”  The expression finds its origins in our ‘food’ history.

“The long” is taken from the fact that March follows – the shortest month in the year – February.  “The hungry month” can be explained by looking at the availability of food especially root vegetables and how supplies were preserved throughout the winter months.

The preservation of food for our ancestors (before the weekly and for some daily visit to the grocery or convenience store) typically involved freezing, salting or pickling.

With no electricity one of the essential structures to be built on the family property was the “root cellar.”  Root cellars served to keep food supplies from freezing during the winter months and cool during the summer months.

Typically, families would put a variety of root vegetables in the cellar in the fall of the year; the main vegetables being potatoes, turnip, and carrot.  Other food supplies placed in the root cellar over the winter months included beets, preserves, jams, berries, and pickled cabbage.  Fish and wild game also found a place in the cellars including turres, moose, caribou, salt meat, and salt fish.  In addition to what was stored in the cellar  some families had access to  domestic animals such as cows, goats, and sheep.

As the winter wore on the supplies that had been gathered and stored in September and October  – especially the vegetables – would gradually diminish,  by late March, supplies would be very low.

The coming of March  marked a time of optimism and hope.  March was the time for sealing or “swilin’ time.” Seal meat would give some reprieve to `the long and hungry month of March’  by which time the family food store was very low.  At this time of the year, in many parts of the province, sealing provided the only opportunity to obtain fresh meat and the pelts brought long awaited cash.

It would be springtime before the hope of the first new vegetable of the year would show, the spring green, know locally as dandelion leaves, the first vegetable after a long winter.

It is the long and hungry month of March.

March is Nutrition Month in Canada.

Recommened Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives there is a small collection of photographs under the heading agriculture, gardens, crops, and hay.

Recommended Web Site: Elliston, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador is the Root Cellar Capital of the World.  http://www.rootcellars.com/

Lost Words: “Lazy Beds”:  a type of potato bed – a farming method where the sod was not removed but turned over with the shovel between the beds, thus simultaneously forming the trenches and raising the beds.Newfoundland andLabrador is one of the few places in the world where this type of potato bed can still be found.

 

 

 

 

Ashes, fasting and movies.

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

Ash Wednesday (March) is the beginning of Lent.

What are these ashes all about?

ash-wednesdayA colleague looked at another colleague today and wondered why she had dirt (ashes) on her forehead.  (March 1, 2017) in the tradition of most Christian churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and others) it is Ash Wednesday, originally called dies cinerum or day of ashes.

Ash Wednesday is the name given to the first day of the season of Lent, in the typical Ash Wednesday observance, Christians are invited to the altar to receive the ashes. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each, while speaking the words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

For over twelve hundred years on the dies cinerum (day of ashes) faithful followers have approached the altar and received ashes upon their foreheads. These ashes are made from the burnt palm branches that were blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

Abstaimning , fasting and generally changing one’s lifestle during Lent was  taken very seriously.  People would often give up there favourite food, would refuse to play cards and or attend dances and other social functions.

Imagine, no movie fro 40 days!!

No movies during Lent

No movies during Lent

During Lent of 1909, Michael Francis Howley, the Catholic Archbishop of Newfoundland was very concerned about a relatively new form of entertainment that had become quite popular. His concern about this “new entertainment” stirred him to release a Pastoral  Letter to be read in all churches. The Pastoral Letter outlined the rules and regulations of Lent for that year.  The letter was very direct and forbade Catholics:

“to attend any worldly amusements; such as balls, dances, even in private houses, parties, theatrical or other entertainments, such as these new forms of moving pictures, or shows of any kind held in Public Halls by whatsoever name they may be called.”

The first moving picture in the province a showcase of moving images of famous persons was shown on February 19, 1901 at the British Hall (later known as the Paramount Theatre).

The idea of abstinence and fasting  is not exclusive to the Christian world.

Buddhism, the Buddha Himself encouraged monks and nuns to limit their food intake after the noon meal, and therefore it is common practice among Buddhist monks and nuns to refrain from eating after noon until the next morning on a daily basis.

Jews fast for six days which are spread out at various times in the Jewish calendar year; this means abstinence from food and liquids for both men and women – unless certain exemptions are necessary such as illness or pregnancy. The most important and holiest day of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), and on this day Jews will fast and pray for a period of 25 hours.

Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset for 30 days during the month of Ramadan, (which is the month the Prophet Muhammad revealed the Quran), followers are to abstain from food, liquid and smoking. Fasting is considered the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam (These pillars are: i. Creed; ii. Daily prayer; iii. Almsgiving; iv. Fasting; v. Pilgrimage), and it is obligatory for both men and women.

 

Shrove Tuesday—Pancake Day

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

February 28, 2017

Pancake ChefMardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from “to shrive,” or hear confessions) or Pancake Tuesday.

The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins. This year Ash Wednesday is on March 1.

GIVE HIM “SHORT SHRIFT”

On Shrove Tuesday,  (February 28) Christians were encouraged to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began.

The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression short shrift”. To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. The longer expression is, “to give him short shrift and a long rope,” which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.

What is in that pancake

Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that aren’t allowed in Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during Lent.

Pancakes were a simple way to use these foods, and one that could entertain the family. Objects with symbolic value are cooked in the pancakes, and those who eat them, especially children, take part discovering what their future will be as part of the meal.

The person who receives each item interprets the gift according to the tradition:

  • a penny—to symbolize poverty
  • a nickel—to symbolize wealth
  • a string—to symbolize a fisherman (if a boy got the string, he would be a fisherman, if a girl did, she would marry one)
  • a holy medal—the house blessed with a priest or a nun.
  • a hair clip—hairdresser or barber
  • a button — to symbolize that you would never marry – a bachelor or an old maid
  • a pencil stub – a career in teaching: imagine a lead pencil in your food!)
  • a thimble—to symbolize that you would be a seamstress (a girl) or a tailor (a boy)
  • a wedding ring—to symbolize that you would marry soon

Where is that nickel?

 

 

A Newfoundland Saint in Placentia?

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

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. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk1/tape10/PQDD_0035/MQ62435.pdf

Potholes and Gulches

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

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: http://www.roads.gov.nl.ca/default.htm

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.”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

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).

“NO M’AM, THAT’S THE COLOUR OF MY SKIN’

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