The turnip or pumpkin, Halloween tradition.

Archival Moment

October 28, 2017

Why a Jack O’Lantern?

Halloween TurnipIn Newfoundland and Labrador the humble turnip that was long associated with Halloween has been replaced by the pumpkin.

Today, folklorist and historians would argue that our Irish and Scottish ancestors carrying the traditions that they grew up with would have carried those same traditions to the new world. One such tradition would have been to carve a turnip during Halloween in keeping with the story of ‘Jack of the Lantern.’

As the Irish tale goes, a man called Stingy Jack, a lazy and shrewd blacksmith, invited the devil for a drink and a little gambling.

During the evening Jack convinced the devil to change his form into a coin to pay his debts, if he should lose. The devil who off course never lost was quick to agree to change form. When the devil agreed, Stingy Jack decided he wanted the coin for other purposes, and kept the coin in his pocket beside a small, silver cross to prevent the devil from turning back into his old self.

When Jack died, God was not amused that Jack was playing with the temptations of the devil and refused to allow him into heaven. The devil, still furious with Jack wouldn’t allow him into hell. Jack was dispatched and was instead sent into the eternal night, with a burning coal inside a carved-out turnip to light his way. Poor Jack as a result has been roaming the earth ever since. In the Irish tradition this poor wandering soul is known as Jack of the Lantern,” it has since become “Jack O’Lantern.”

With Jack of the Lantern wandering about our ancestors in in Ireland and Scotland began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving scary faces into turnips, placing them by their homes to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits and travelers.

When the Irish and Scots immigrated to North America, it was only natural that they should bring along the tradition of turnip carving during the Halloween season. In Newfoundland turnips were readily available and the turnip carving tradition continued for hundreds of years.

In the United States pumpkins were native and could be carved with much greater ease. The lowly turnip,Jack-o-Lanterns have been gradually displaced with the pumpkin Jack-o-Lanterns which have become an integral part of Halloween festivities ever since.

In some counties in Ireland there has been a movement to bring the lowly turnip back an uphill battle to displace the American pumpkin.

In Newfoundland the pumpkin is a relatively new addition, it was the glorious turnip that shone in the window of homes even into the 1970’s. The tradition of carving the pumpkin was likely originally introduced by American soldiers living on bases throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Recommended Reading: The Dublin Penny Journal, July 1835. Page 229 – 231. ‘The Tradition of the Jack O’Lantern.’ Read More:

Colcannon Night: A Lost Newfoundland Tradition


October 31, 1896

250px-Colcannon_recipe_on_bag_of_potatoes_(cropped)Long before Trick or Treating or Halloween got established in Newfoundland, in many communities the night of October 31 was referred to as Colcannon (also Cauld Cannon) Night.

On what is now All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween  – friends would be invited to a dinner of colcannon, a  mixture of hash of various vegetables, and sometimes meat.   The surprise of the dinner was that there were four objects hidden in the large dish of colcannon, a ring, a coin, an old maid’s thimble, and a bachelor’s button.  Each object had great symbolic significance. Whoever found the ring would marry soon. To the coin-holder, riches would accrue, while celibacy awaited both the thimble-getter and button- holder.

A Colcannon Party was to be an evening of fun but for young ladies finding the button, it was most distressing,  it doomed them to be spinsters or for the young men to irrevocable bachelorhood.

The St. John’s newspaper, The Daily News in 1896 reported about such a party:

“ a Cauld Cannon party given by Miss O’NEIL of the West End (of St. John’s)   was a most enjoyable affair – over 20 couples sat down to the repast. A young lady in a Water Street book and stationary store, found the ring. Though nobody acknowledged finding the button, it is affirmed that a certain young lady, not a mile from Queen’s Street, got it but would not own it.”

Imagine the teasing that young lady had to endure.

Previous to the 1930’s Colcannon parties were as big as St. Patrick’s Day parties are today. Every fraternal organization hosted Colcannon Party that tended to be followed by a dance.

The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported on November 1, 1902:

“ The town was lively last night with cauld cannon parties.  The young folks were entertained with snap apple, while older ones enjoyed themselves at the altar of Terpsichore, the clear cold air resounding to the musical strains till early morning.”

Just in case you are naive enough to think that George Street closes late – the newspapers report with great frequency that patrons of the Colcannon or Cauld Cannon Parties were often seen staggering home as late as 4:00 a.m.

New Word:  In Greek mythology, Terpsichore  “delight in dancing” was one of the nine Muses, ruling over dance and the dramatic chorus. She is usually depicted sitting down, holding a lyre, accompanying the dancers’ choirs with her music. Her name comes from the Greek words (“delight”) and (“dance”).

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the online database at The Rooms  for descriptions of our archival records and to view thousands of digital photographs.

Recommended Exhibit: Feast and Famine draws on the permanent collection to explore the changing relationship between cultural identity and food in Newfoundland and Labrador, as portrayed by artists such as Grant Boland, Ross Flowers, Jamie Lewis, Mary Pratt, and Helen Parsons Shepherd.

Recommended Reading (on Halloween): Santino, Jack  ed. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994. [Philip Hiscock, “Hallowe’
en Guys Come to Newfoundland,” The Folklore Round Table 9 (Fall 1989): 28-36]

Recommended Halloween Traditions:  Particular to Ireland and Newfoundland:

Recommended Song:   “Colcannon” comes from the album entitled “The Black Family” which was released in 1995. Mary Black sings this in such a playful manner. A true delight of a song! Enjoy!

A fisherman for a lifetime, he has left this harbour

Clem Dohey


My father, a fisherman for a lifetime has left this harbor. Clem and Larry Dohey off Cape St, Mary’s.

Clem Dohey, age 89, of St. Bride’s, Placentia Bay, a fisherman for a lifetime, left this harbour on October 18, 2017, in the presence of his loving family.

He was predeceased by his wife, Loretta, son Billy, his parents William & Bridget Dohey, his sister Lettie Murphy and her spouse, Lar, and by his brothers John, Frank, and Jim and his spouse, Rose.

Always a high liner to his family, he leaves to mourn in sadness, his children: Eta (Anthony Nash), George (Patricia Walsh), Eric, Frances (Fred Mills), Pat (Pauline Broderick), Larry (Ian Martin), Doreen (Dominic Traverse), Father Wayne, Jean, Sandra (Fabian Manning), Orinda (Jerry Careen), Marie (Lloyd MacKenzie) and his brother, Charlie of St. Bride’s.

His great love and joy were his 23 grandchildren: Janice, Ian, Kim, Tracey, Elizabeth, Freddie, Sandra, Carrie, Justin, Pat Jr., Ashley, Peter, Christopher, Jordan, Fabian Jr., Mark, Heather, Amy, Marcus, Kindra, Evhan, Joshua and Grayson and his 10 great-grandchildren: Logan, Lavina, Emma, Kate, Addyson, Chase, Maxim, Nash, Fabian Jr. and Leah.

Clem also leaves behind a large circle of other relatives and friends, especially the residents of Beachside Manor and the Lions Manor Nursing Home in Placentia where he resided at the time of his passing.

 Mass of Christian Burial took place on Tuesday, October 24 at 2:00 pm.

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4


World War II came home to Newfoundland.


October 14, 1942

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: C 2-48; Remember the SS Caribou and Her Gallant Crew

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: C 2-48; Remember the SS Caribou and Her Gallant Crew

In the early morning hours of October 14, 1942 a lone German torpedo from the German submarine U69 hit the  SS Caribou,  the Sydney to Port aux Basques ferry on  route to Newfoundland, under Captain Benjamin Tavernor.  World War II came home to Newfoundland.

Immediately following the hit chaos ensued as passengers, thrown from their bunks by the explosion rushed topside to the lifeboat stations.

Of the 237 people aboard the Caribou when she left North Sydney, 136 had perished. Fifty-seven were military personnel and 49 were civilians. Of the 46-man crew, mostly Newfoundlanders, only 15 remained. Five families suffered particularly heavy losses: the Tappers (5 dead), the Toppers (4), the Allens (3), the Tavernors (the captain and his two sons), and the Skinners (3). The local press reported:

 “Many Families [were] Wiped Out.”

News of the sinking sparked much outrage as victims,  friends and families, and the populace at large, condemned the Nazis for targeting a passenger ferry. An editorialist with The Royalist newspaper in St. John’s wrote that the sinking:

“was such a useless crime from the point of view of warfare. It will have no effect upon the course of the war except to steel our resolve that the Nazi blot on humanity must be eliminated from our world.”

The Channel/Port aux Basques area was the worst hit as many crew members of the Caribou were local men. A funeral on October 18 for six victims was attended by hundreds of mourners, and a procession that followed the bodies to the grave sites reportedly measured two kilometres long.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Search the Rooms Archives on line:

At The Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read  VA  40- 16:  A page from The Evening Telegram, St. John’s, NL. with several newspaper articles about the sinking of the SS Caribou, including names of those lost ; death of assistant matron, Agnes Wilkie, General Hospital.

Recommended Reading: Thornhill, H. It Happened in October : The Tragic Sinking of the S.S. Caribou. Newfoundland: H. Thornhill, 1945.

Recommended Song:  The Caribou; Lyrics can be found at:

The fear of Friday 13th

Do you fear Friday 13th?

Was Judas number 13?

Triskaidekaphobia (also being referred to as 13-digit phobia) is the irrational fear of the number 13.

Some attribute it to the Bible, where the Last Supper was attended by 13 people, and some speculated that the 13th person at the table was Judas, who later betrayed Jesus.

Another belief is that the phobia of number 13 is caused by it being an irrational number and 12 being the number of perfection. Numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus.

Triskaidekaphobia can be seen even in how societies are built. More than 80 percent of high-rise buildings lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate. Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13.

How do you pronounce the word? TRIS-kə-DEK-ə-FOH-bee

Say TRIS-kə-DEK-ə-FOH-bee -ah. three times very loudly as you approach friends or groups of people and they will  (usually) step aside making a clear safe path for you to walk – most will leave you alone to work in your very safe environment.

The first Thanksgiving service was in Newfoundland?

happy_thanksgiving_turkeyThe first Thanksgiving service known to be held by Europeans in North America occurred on May 27, 1578 in Newfoundland and Labrador,  the English explorer Martin Frobisher landed here in 1578 in his quest for the Northwest Passage. The Thanksgiving service was held to give thanks for his safe arrival in the New World.

Thanksgiving day was not declared a national holiday in Canada until 1879.

From 1921 to 1931, Armistice Day (later renamed Remembrance Day) and Thanksgiving were marked on November 11.

In 1957, the second Monday of October was set as the consistent date for Thanksgiving Day in Canada.

What about the Turkey “Wishbone”?

The ancient Romans used to pull apart chicken bones hoping for good fortune. The English picked it up in the 16th century, where it was referred to as “merrythought.” In the New World, Pilgrims played tug-of-war with the bones of wild turkeys. The term “wishbone” didn’t emerge until the 1800′s. Each person grabs an end and pulls it apart. It is believed that if you get the bigger piece, your wish will be granted.

Talking Turkey

The term ‘cold turkey’ is now predominantly used as the name of the drug withdrawal process. It is also used to refer to any abrupt termination of something we are accustomed to.

The turkey looms large in North American culture and is the centrepiece of the annual Thanksgiving meal. In the USA, ‘plain speaking/getting down to business’ is called ‘talking cold turkey’, which has been shortened in present day speech to just ‘talking turkey’.

Eating turkey and feeling sleepy

Contrary to popular belief, eating turkey isn’t the main reason you feel sleepy after a Thanksgiving feast.

The oft-repeated turkey myth stems from the fact that turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which forms the basis of brain chemicals that make people tired. But turkey isn’t any more sleep-inducing than other foods. In fact, consuming large amounts of carbohydrates and alcohol may be the real cause of a post-Thanksgiving-meal snooze.

Happy Thanksgiving

“Women and children first”


September 27, 1854


Photo Credit: “Wreck of the U.S.M. Steam Ship ‘Arctic’  Cape Race, Newfoundland.  September 27th 1854.  (Source:  N. Currier lithograph.

On (September 27, 1854) two ships collided of Cape Race, Newfoundland because of a heavy fog, killing approximately 350. For the next several weeks the eyes of the world were fixed on Newfoundland as news reporters were scrambling to find any shred of news about the passengers and crews. Lifeboats with the few survivors began to arrive in towns along the Southern Shore the following day.

The Arctic, a four year old luxury ship, piloted by Captain James Luce sailing out of Liverpool, England slammed into the steamer Vesta, an iron-hulled ship piloted by Captain Alphonse Puchesne, transporting French fishermen from St. Peter’s (now St. Pierre)  to France at the end of the summer’s fishing season.

Immediately upon impact, the Arctic released lifeboats, but many capsized in the choppy waters. Lurid tales of panic aboard the sinking ship were widely publicized in newspapers. Members of the crew had seized the lifeboats and saved themselves, leaving helpless passengers, including 80 women and children, to perish in the icy North Atlantic. It is believed 24 male passengers and about 60 crew members survived.

The captain of the Arctic, James Luce, heroically tried to save the ship and get the panicking and rebellious crew under control. Upon his return to the United States he was treated as a hero, however, other crew members of the Arctic were disgraced, and some never returned to the United States.


The first of the survivors made their way to Broad Cove, near Cape Race from there they proceeded to Renews where they began to mount a search for the wreck of the their ship. The search was headed by the local merchant Mr. Alan Goodridge of Renews.  No sign was found. Some survivors and the crew of the Vesta limped into St. John’s.  The newspapers of the day were reporting that “this small city (St. John’s) is full of wrecked crews and passengers.”  

The New York Times reported:

 “many small vessels which were immediately undertaken in search of the steamer or of any of her boats, had returned from unsuccessful cruises, and that very little hope is entertained for the safety of any…”

The public outrage over the treatment of the women and children aboard the ship resonated for decades, and led to the familiar tradition of saving women and children first” being enforced in other maritime disasters.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Explore the online  collection  held at The Rooms. Search the Archives from the comforts of your home::

Recommended Archival Collection:   The Maritime History Archives, (MHA) Memorial University of Newfoundland holds a beautiful hand colored lithograph of the Arctic.  It shows the ship broke up on the rocks with passengers and crew struggling in the cold Atlantic.

Recommended Publication:  Baehre, Rainer K. (ed.) (1999) Outrageous Seas: Shipwreck and Survival in the Waters Off Newfoundland, 1583-1893. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999, ISBN:0886293588