Category Archives: Archival Moments

There is weather history at The Rooms

76 – 80 Merrymeeting Road, St. John’s, NL

Complaining about snow clearing: A 169-year-old tradition in St. John’s

When historians ponder the great pastimes of Newfoundland and Labrador’s  largest city, things like rowing in the St. John’s Royal Regatta or hiking Signal Hill come to mind.

But Larry Dohey, Director of Programming and Public Engagement at The Rooms has come across another historic part of our heritage — grumbling about the city’s wintry weathe.

Read more: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/larry-dohey-snowclearing-archives-1.4981639

 

 

The danger of walking on the streets of St. John’s

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

January 15, 1850

Photo Credit: the Rooms Provincial Archives: A 35-61; Snow Banks on Military Road, Colonial Building in Background

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 35-61; Snow Banks on Military Road, Colonial Building in Background.  [ca 1910]

The complaints of the residents of St. John’s about snow clearing and allowing pedestrian’s safe passage on the streets are not new.  As early as 1850 the town now city of St. John’s has been trying to negotiate the delicate balance between walkers and drivers.

An Editorial in the Morning Post and Shipping Gazette a St. John’s newspaper on January 15, 1850 speaks about the difficulty of getting about the town.  The editorial reads:

“Solely from a desire to preserve the well-being of all classes in the community, we call the attention of the Police to the extreme carelessness manifested by the drivers of vehicles of almost every kind, in neglecting to provide them with a sufficiency of bells to give the foot passenger timely notice to move out of their way.

No person in St. John’s need be reminded of the difficulty, and often danger, of perambulating the streets of this town during the winter months ….

The Police would do well to order that all vehicles, both sleighs and slides, whether drawn by horses or dogs, shall be amply provided with bells  to give timely notice of their approach; an order which, we hope will not  only be given, but strictly attended to and rigidly enforced.”

Pedestrians, if you are preambulating the streets,  wear light or reflective clothing.  These drivers need to see you!

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives Division read the old newspaper accounts that give great insight into the events of the past.  http://www.therooms.ca/archives/

Recommended Web Site: City of St. John’s Snow Clearing: http://www.stjohns.ca/living-st-johns/streets-traffic-and-parking/snow-clearing

Recommended to Read: Rain, Drizzle and Fog: Newfoundland Weather by Sheilah Roberts. Boulder Publications,  2014.    Newfoundlanders love to talk about the weather. And why wouldn’t they? The province is known for its great gales, fierce blizzards, destructive glitter storms, blizzards, and hurricanes. Sheilah Roberts delves into the archives, to find stories of Newfoundland weather. Reports from 400 years of Newfoundland and Labrador weather are interspersed with traditional weather lore, snippets of science, and dozens of fascinating photos.

 

Old Christmas Day

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

January 6   

“Old Christmas Day” or “Twelfth Day” or “Epiphany”.

The season of Christmas ends on “Old Christmas Day,” January 6th also known as “Twelfth Day.”

The name “Old Christmas” stems from a piece of legislation introduced before the Parliament in London, England called the Calendar Act of 1751 that came into effect in 1752. Before the calendar was reformed, England celebrated Christmas on January 6th.

Essentially what happened in 1752  was that twelve days were dropped from the then existing calendar (Julian) calendar that was used in England and Ireland and the new  Gregorian calendar (instituted by Pope Gregory XIII), was adopted.

In 1752 purists said that the “real” Christmas Day was not on December 25th, but January 6th, 365 days after the previous Christmas.

In centuries past, Christmas was deemed to start at sunset on Dec 24 and so the 12th night following it was January 5. Nowadays, people count from Dec 25 and so assume Twelfth Night falls on the 6th.

Christmas nativity

Epiphany – January 6  – is the day when the Church, theologically, marks the arrival of the wise men  – magi – to give their gifts to the baby Jesus: the day when some will add the wise men to their nativity scenes.

In Newfoundland it  was a night to listen and watch. It is said  that at the exact stroke of midnight on Old Christmas Eve, the  farm animals, some kneeling  will start moo-ing and baa-ing and bellowing… not in their normal way, but almost like they were crying. In Newfoundland many children struggled to stay awake to witness the phenomena.  (Sadly they would fall asleep only to hear stories from their parents.) This belief harkens back to the stable in Bethlehem, and to the animals that were present when the Christ Child was revealed to the wise men .

In Newfoundland the tradition is that the Christmas tree should be taken down on Old Christmas Night, because it is bad luck to leave it up after that. In Greespond, Bonavista Bay small gifts were distributed to the children  on Twelfth Night or Epiphany in celebration of the gifts that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus

Also in Newfoundland there is the established tradition of twelfth-cake and twelfth bun and bon fires on Old Christmas Day. These traditions are cited in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. The stories go that on the

last night we[‘d] make a pan of sweet buns, twelfth buns, and give ’em to the people. Every house we’d go to we’d give ’em a bun for Twelfth Night.” 

It is said that the cake was baked as part of the refreshments offered to the clergy   who would visit homes on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, to bless each house in the parish.

The tradition of bonfires in Newfoundland is also supported. The Dictionary of Newfoundland English  reports:

“I have heard my grandmother (born 1835) talk about the ‘Twelfth Cake’, and an old gentleman of about the same age, but living in a different part of the island, told me that he had heard his father say that it was the custom to make twelve small bonfires in the village on Twelfth Night.” 

A tradition that had  remained dormant  in Newfoundland  is the Irish tradition of “Nollaig na mBan” or “Women’s Christmas”  this was an old custom that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It goes back to the days when large families were the norm. Men never lifted a finger in the house to help, and were never expected to.  But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one day, at least. On January 6th, men would take over of the housework, offering women a chance to go out to relax with each other.  It was a tradition that is deeply rooted especially in  Kerry and Cork, home to many of our ancestors. Several informants suggested  that the tradition  was  also observed especially in Western Newfoundland, when the women gathered on Twelfth Night – Old Christmas Day.  Many “new” Irish now living in Newfoundland have also  revived the tradition by gathering on Old Christmas.

Recommended Archival Collection: Parsons  Christmas Annual, 1899. Contains assorted articles, stories, poetry and photographssome of which are Christmas-themed

Recommended Reading:  Dictionary of Newfoundland English:  http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/

A traditional “girls’ night out”

January 6, 2019

“Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas” is an old tradition that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It was a tradition that is deeply rooted especially in Kerry and Cork, home too many of our ancestors.  Several informants suggested that the tradition was also observed especially in Western Newfoundland, when the women gathered on Twelfth Night – Old Christmas Day (January 6).

Getting Away from the Drudge

Christmas is the time if the year that woman were especially busy and when large families were the norm they were especially busy! The work or “drudge”  as it was known among women included laundry, ironing,  mending, baking , daily tidying of kitchen and parlor, cleaning, childcare, three meals a day, hauling water, keeping the fire burning in the stove. Then there was making the family garments and seasonal preserving of fruits, vegetables and meat. Women tended to  be responsible for livestock and poultry. With Christmas more responsibilities were taken on including the purchasing presents, packing and wrapping gifts and decorating the house.  It was a full day.

But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one evening, at least. On January 6th men would take over of the housework, offering women a chance to go out to relax with each other.

Hidden in the Snug

Prior to the 1960s, Ireland’s drinking establishments were almost exclusively the domain of men, and no respectable woman could or would be seen drinking inside. It wasn’t a law, but it was the reigning social convention, and many bars wouldn’t let women in. But that doesn’t mean that Irish women never drank. They just did it in a slightly less conspicuous way: inside a small, screened-off room attached to the bar called the snug. In the comfort of the “snug” they reflected on the past year telling stories and singing a few songs!

In general, Irish women for Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas”  largely drank at home, inviting their women friends to join them.   The men typically removing themselves from the house where the girls were too meet.  In Newfoundland with no snug the women typically gathered in the homes of their women friends.

Enjoy the night!!

Ladies, enjoy the night!! “Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas” call up the girls and get out of the house for a night!!

If you know of this tradition being practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador I would love to hear from you!

Auld Lang Syne – Times Gone By

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

Auld Lang Syne – Times Gone By

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 62-58. A Joyful New Year from Newfoundland.

The most commonly sung song for English-speakers on New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is a Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland.

“Auld Lang Syne” literally translates as “old long since” and means “times gone by.” The song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness, “For auld lang syne , we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet.”

There’s plenty of documentary evidence establishing “Auld Lang Syne” as a New Year’s Eve  favorite since the mid-19th century:

The New Times reported in 1896:   “The company joined hands in the great music room at midnight and sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as the last stroke of 12 sounded.”

It was a Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo who popularized the song. Lombardo first heard “Auld Lang Syne” in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. When he and his brothers formed the dance band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year’s eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, and a tradition was born.

The song became such a New Year’s tradition that Life magazine wrote “if Lombardo failed to play ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ the American public would not believe that the new year had really arrived.”

There is  – as with all things –  a Newfoundland connection. The musical Auld Lang Syne was written by Newfoundland born playwright Hugh Abercrombie Anderson. Born in St. John’s , Anderson was the son of  the politician John Anderson.  In 1921 he became manager of a theatrical business in New York  owned by his brother John Murray Anderson. Under the pen name of Hugh Abercrombie he wrote the musical Auld Lang Syne, a musical romance in two acts.  It was used as the theme song in the 1940 movie Waterloo Bridge.

New Year’s Eve Countdown & Fireworks : When the clock strikes midnight  tonight, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador  are the first in North America to celebrate the New Year.

Pet owners are reminded that the noise associated with ‘gun fire’ and ‘fireworks’ will likely be a frightening experience for your pet – please attend to your pets, most pets would prefer to be inside during the fireworks display.

 

While standing with friends tonight singing  Auld Lang Syne  pull out this posting and sing along !!

 TIMES GONE BY

Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago!

 

 

Chorus:
For times gone by, my dear
For times gone by,
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For times gone by.

We two have run about the hillsides
And pulled the daisies fine,
But we have wandered many a weary foot
For times gone by.

We two have paddled (waded) in the stream
From noon until dinner time,
But seas between us broad have roared
Since times gone by.

And there is a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of yours,
And we will take a goodwill drink (of ale)
For times gone by!

And surely you will pay for your pint,
And surely I will pay for mine!
And we will take a cup of kindness yet
For times gone by!

Happy New Year.

I hope that you are enjoying your “Archival Moments”. 

An invitation: The tradition of the New Year’s Levee

Archival Moment

JANUARY 1, 1915

On January 1, 1915 Governor Walter Edward Davidson of Newfoundland made reference in his private diary to the tradition of the New Year’s Day Levee in St. John’s. He wrote

We received from 3:00 – 6:00 o’clock. It has been an ancient custom for men to call on their lady friends on New Year’s Day. It is dying out but 236 called here. It is usual for them to call also on the Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Anglican Bishop .”

The “ancient custom for men to call on their lady friends on New Year’s Day”  that Davidson referred to in his diary has disappeared in Newfoundland but the tradition of the levee has survived.

This levee was a reception that was held early in the afternoon of New Years Day, typically at the residence of the host.  Attending these levees was an annual ritual in the town.

The first recorded Levée in Canada was held on January 1st, 1646 in the Château St. Louis by Charles Huault de Montmagny, Governor of New France (later Québec).  In addition to shaking hands and wishing a Happy New Year to citizens presenting themselves at the Château, the Governor informed guests of significant events in the Mother Country, as well as the state of affairs within the colony.  This tradition is carried on today within The Commonwealth in the form of The Queen’s New Year’s Message.

The Levée tradition was continued by British Colonial Governors in Canada, and subsequently by Governors General and Lieutenant Governors, and continues to the present day.

INVITATION:  Her Honour The Honourable Judy M. Foote, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador and His Honour Howard W. Foote, invite you to join them at Government House for the traditional New Year’s Levee.  Tuesday, January 1, 2019 from 2:30 to 4:30 pm.

 

 

 Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read Governor Walter Davidson’s Private Diary. MG 136.5

The Last Duel in Newfoundland and Labrador

Dueling pistols held in the collection at The Rooms they were used in the last duel to cause a death in Newfoundland, in 1826.

 

The last duel in St. John’s took place 25 September 1873.  The choice of weapons was pistols. A young  fellow named Din Dooley  had come to town from Heart’s Content and was soon attempting  to win the heart of a prominent city lass  (Miss White)  who was already spoken for by one Augustus Healey.

The matter could only be settled by a duel.

Satisfaction was to be obtained in Fort Townsend hollow, a small glen located behind what is now the site of The Rooms on Merrymeeting Road, St. John’s.

At the exchange of the shots Dooley fainted while Healy stood firm.  Unknown to the love sick protagonist, their seconds, Fred Burnham and Thomas Allan, had loaded the pistols with blanks, turning the tragedy into farce.  Their friends  (seconds) were sitting back and saying, ‘This is really crazy. They’ve been friends their whole lifetime; why are they allowing this woman to come between them?

After Din came to the combatants, as well as their seconds, and the crowd went to Casey’s field close by where they settled the score with fisticuffs. Not surprisingly Healey won the fight.

Though Healey won the fisticuffs, neither swain won fair lady. It is reported that she married a man far less belligerent, and certainly less romantic.

In true Newfoundland fashion a song was written about the duel.

On Friday last at half past two,
Two love-stricken chaps,
Up in Fort Townshend Hollow met
For satisfaction’s raps.

One of them, Gus Healey was,
The other Dooley Din,
Come over here from Heart’s Content,
Miss White’s green heart to win.

Sergt Sullivan the gallant cop,
Brought six Policemen out,
And turned the pistolizing crowd
Around to the right about.

With pistols hugged beneath their arms,
They went to Casey’s Farm,
Where Dooley Din got well oiled-off,
Behind John Casey’s barn.

More information on this duel is posted here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/canadas-last-duel-was-in-newfoundland-1.4959608

Source: The Oldest City, The Story of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Paul O’Neill, Press Porcepic, 1975.

 

Gun salute rings in the New Year

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

 

The "firing off the guns" on New Year's Eve is a long established tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The “firing off the guns” on New Year’s Eve is a long established tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The “feu de joie” or  “fire of joy”  is a gun salute that was common place in Newfoundland in the past,  an activity that is associated with bringing in the New Year.

The tradition continues in many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, at the stroke of mid night gun shots are fired as residents bring in the New Year.

In an article entitled “The Folk-Lore of Newfoundland and Labrador,” appearing in  the St. John’s newspaper   “The Evening Herald,” (December 29, 1892),  the Anglican Missionary priest, Rev. Arthur C. Waghorne discusses Christmas traditions that are observed in Newfoundland  which “either continue to prevail, or have been only lately  disused.”  One of the traditions that he refers to is the “firing off the gun.”

In his article he notes that the tradition of the “firing off the gun” is not as popular as it was fifty years ago confirming that the tradition has been established in Newfoundland since at least 1842 and perhaps much longer.

One could speculate that the tradition might have been established in Newfoundland as early as 1621 with the arrival of Lord Baltimore’s first settlers in Ferryland.  We do know that the practice in North America dates to at least 1642 when a law in Maryland  (also established by Lord Baltimore)  was passed  ordering that:

“No man to discharge 3 guns within the space of ¼ hour… except to give or answer alarm.”

The law was introduced in Maryland because gunshots were the common method of warning neighbors of an emergergency (fire) or a pending attack. Because so many people were shooting guns while celebrating on New Years Eve and other celebratory occasions, it was impossible to know what was happening.

It is a tradition that is gradually fading – with the “shooting in the New Year” being gradually replaced by fire works that have the advantage of supplying   both the noise and visual effect.

It is generally accepted that the practice of shooting off the guns on New Years Eve comes from the belief that evil spirits dislike loud noises. The guns were fired off to ward off any bad luck that the spirits might bring.”

New Year’s Eve Countdown & Fireworks : When the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, the people of Newfoundland are the first in North America to celebrate the New Year.

Pet owners are reminded that the noise associated with ‘gun fire’ and ‘fireworks’ will likely be a frightening experience for your pet – please attend to your pets, most pets would prefer to be inside during the fireworks display.

Recommended Reading: Devine, P.K.  Devine’s Folk Lore of Newfoundland in Old Words, Phrases and Expressions, Their Origin and Meaning (St John’s: Robinson & Co., Ltd., 1937)

 

“They had veils over their faces … mummers”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

December 27, 1862 

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 4-158; Mummering in St. John’s, Newfoundland

In Newfoundland the tradition of mummering or jannying  (December 26 – January 6) is often associated with the mummer’s parade, home visitation, music and the occasional drink!  The tradition has a darker side.

Few people know that in order to mummer in Newfoundland participants at one time needed a license to do so and that for almost 100 years mummering was outlawed!!

In the tradition of mummering, friends and neighbours conceal  their identities by adopting various disguises, covering their faces, and by modifying their speech, posture and behavior.

It was not surprising that some, using these disguises, would be up to no good. Some in disguise would use the mummering season to retaliate against those that they disliked or had some grudge to settle.

In order to control mummering and the violence associated with it in June 1861, the Newfoundland government passed an act which dictated that:

“any Person who shall be found… without a written Licence from a Magistrate, dressed as a Mummer, masked, or otherwise disguised, shall be deemed guilty of a Public Nuisance”. Offenders were to pay “a Fine not exceeding Twenty Shillings”, or to serve a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment (Consolidated Acts of Newfoundland, 1861: 10).

Artist: Stephanie Baker Sutton

On December 27, 1862   in the Town of Harbour Grace, Constable Joseph Nichols arrested and dragged before the local magistrate,   Joseph Pynn and a few of his friends, Constable Nichols told the court:

“they had veils over their faces and was disguised in female clothing and the other in men’s dress, they were acting in all respects as mummers.”

The magistrate was not amused,  Jospeh Pynn was “fined each 20 pounds sterling  or 7 days imprisonment.” Pynn and his friends were not about to spend Christmas in jail – the court record shows that “Stephen Andrews paid the fine and all discharged.”

The idea of a license to mummer did not go over very well.  Mummering was a passion ingrained in the culture of the Newfoundland people. The St. John’s newspaper the Public Ledger in January 1862 suggested that 150 licenses had been issued during the preceding Christmas season, but that many more participants in the custom had failed to comply with the new legislation.

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives:  GN5 /3B/19 Box13, File Number 3

Recommended Reading:  Any Mummers ’Lowed In? Christmas Mummering Traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. Flanker Press, St. John’s,  NL.  2014.  Folklorist Dale Jarvis traces the history of the custom in Newfoundland and Labrador and charts the mummer’s path through periods of decline and revival. Using archival records, historic photographs, oral histories, and personal interviews with those who have kept the tradition alive, he tells the story of the jannies themselves. 

The Rooms is dressed for Christmas – come  take a look at our Christmas trees!  We have a special “mummers tree”.

 

The Harbour Grace Affray

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

December 26,  1883

The  Harbour Grace Affray

Unknown artist: Scene of the Harbor Grace Tragedy, St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th, 1883. Lithograph, Printed and published by H. Seibert and Brothers Lithographers, New York R9266-3300

Unknown artist: Scene of the Harbor Grace Tragedy, St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th, 1883. Lithograph, Printed and published by H. Seibert and Brothers Lithographers, New York R9266-3300

St. Stephen’s Day (known nowadays as Boxing Day) is a significant date on the Newfoundland calendar. It was on St. Stephen’s Day in 1883 on which the Harbour Grace Affray took place.

On St. Stephen’s Day, 1883, the hostility that was forming in the town of Harbour Grace between the Protestants and Roman Catholics came to a boiling point. Approximately 400 – 500 members of the Loyal Orange Association held their annual parade through the town.

It was during their march around the town that a group of 100 to 150 Catholic men from Riverhead formed a line in an attempt to prevent the Protestants from passing through the lane from Harvey Street to Water Street because they felt that the Orangemen were encroaching on their territory.

From this confrontation came five deaths and 17 injuries. Resulting from this event, known as the Harbour Grace Affray, nineteen people were arrested and brought to trial.

Due to conflicting evidence and suspected perjury, all charged individuals were acquitted.

Killed in the Affray:

  • William Jeans, aged 21, Carbonear
  • William French, 40 years, Courage’s Beach, Harbour Grace
  • Patrick Callahan, 56 years, Southside Harbour Grace
  • John Bray, an aged man, Courage’s beach, Harbour Grace
  • Thomas Nicholas, Oterbury, Harbour Grace

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives: GN 170 Newfoundland and Labrador Court Records: Files consist of charges relating to the Harbour Grace Affray.

Recommended Reading:  The Harbour Grace Affray: St Stephen’s Day 1883 by Patrick Collins, DRC Publishing,  St. John’s, NL, 2011.