Lady Day Fish


August 15, 1864

The fishing season began with the blessing of the boats by the clergy.

 In Newfoundland and Labrador, August 15 is better known as Lady Day.  On August 15 there is a long established tradition that the “catch of fish” on this day was to be given over to the church.

‘Lady Day,’ the fifteenth of August,   in some parts of the province signaled the end of the fishing season.  It  was not unusual for some fishermen to ‘give it up’  for the remainder of the summer.

On August 14, 1864 Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the Roman Catholic Bishop of St. John’s   “called on the people of the St. John’s  area  to fish for St. Patrick’s Church tomorrow”  Bishop Mullock was so determined to get the fishermen up and out fishing at an early hour that he put on a special mass in the Cathedral (now the Basilica) at 4:00 a.m. “for the people going to fish…”

August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, was one of the great feast days in the calendar of the Catholic Church. So important was this day that it was considered a Holy Day of Obligation, a day to  refrain  from work, a day demanding that the faithful attend Mass.


When the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) was being constructed Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming of Newfoundland received in 1834 from Pope Gregory XVI,  the faculty to dispense the fishermen subject to his spiritual jurisdiction from the obligation of fasting on the vigils of saints.  This allowed Bishop Fleming to give permission to the fishermen to fish for the church on holy days, like Lady Day.  Bishop Fleming referred to himself as “the prelate of a congregation of impoverished fishermen.” 

Father Kyran Walsh (the priest in charge of the construction of the R.C. Cathedral (now Basilica) would collect Lady Day fish in the summer, and so raised the thousands of pounds that were needful to complete the Cathedral.

Lady Day in many communities became a day of celebration – at the end of the “fishing day” in some communities (especially in Placentia Bay) dinner and dances were held in the parish halls.

On August 19, 1944 one writer for the Western Star newspaper in Corner Brook, lamented that:

“The 15th of August passed by rather uneventfully. However, many sadly recalled the big celebrations it occasioned in days gone by, and would like to see it return to its former festivity.”

 What is happening at The Rooms on August 15th?

The phrase, “The First 500”  was born.

Archival Moment

August 12, 1914

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The origin of the phrase  “The First 500”  can likley be traced to the Church Lads Brigade Armoury, St. John’s on August 12, 1914.

On August 13, 1914 the local St. John’s newspaper reported:

“The public meeting at the C.L.B .Armoury last night (August 12, 1914) to consider the question of enlisting volunteers for land service abroad and home defense during the war, was very largely attended. All classes were represented and the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. “

The meeting was called by His Excellency Sir Water E. Davidson, the Governor of Newfoundland, and the official representative of the British crown. The Governor arrived at the Armoury “and was greeted by an outburst of cheering while the C.L.B. Armoury played the national Anthem.”

In addressing the crowd, the Governor said:

 “It behooves every British subject to aid the mother country, to finish the fight, as speedily as possible. Newfoundland must do her part laying claim as we do to being the oldest and the most loyal colony. In my telegram to the home Government, I stated we were poor in money and rich in men who are accustomed to meet all difficulties without wavering.”

The Governor continued:

I pleaded myself that Newfoundland would furnish 500 men, but I hope the number will be 5,000. “

The meeting at the Armoury concluded with a resolution that “a Committee of twenty five citizens be appointed to take such steps as may be deemed necessary for enlisting and equipping these men …”

On August 22, 1914, a call for volunteers was issued and within days 335 had signed up; two thirds from St. John’s cadet brigades. By September 26, nearly 1000 volunteers had been recruited and went to the Church Lads Brigade building on Military Road in St. John’s to enlist. Roughly half passed the required medical exams and moved to tent lines established at nearby Pleasantville.

The iconic phrase, ‘The First 500”  was born.

Recommended Exhibit: BEAUMONT-HAMEL AND THE TRAIL OF THE CARIBOU The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories.

The Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War: The First World War had an immense impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. This interactive site offers comprehensive information on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, including over 3,000 individual soldier files, interactive maps, in-depth battle explanations, and hundreds of images of artifacts, many in 3-D.


“The poor man’s holiday.” The Regatta.

Archival Moment


Photo Credit: Early illustration of Regatta from Canadian Illustrated News, 1875. Regatta Museum.

Photo Credit: Early illustration of Regatta from Canadian Illustrated News, 1875. Regatta Museum.

The St. John’s Regatta, the oldest continuous sporting event in North America, it has since 1818 been an important date on the holiday calendar in Newfoundland. In the 1880’s the “the day of the Races” was considered by many our “National Holiday.”

An editorial in the St. John’s newspaper, the Evening Telegram in July 1881 stated:

“ … we have come to regard “the day of the Races” as our National Holiday, and it is highly expedient, in the general interest that, in fixing on a particular day for these annual aquatic “sports and pastimes, …”

The editorialist wrote that “Regatta Day” should be a holiday for the laboring people:

“… because the Regatta is above all, “the poor man’s holiday.”  When “the people” go out to take their pleasure in the green fields and by the grassy lake of Quidi Vidi, it is expedient that all “the people” should be able to be there.”

The plea to have the Regatta as a National Holiday of the colony of Newfoundland never became a reality but in the hearts and minds of the residents of St. John’s it is the most significant holiday.

There is little doubt that the Regatta was “the poor man’s holiday” all of the crews were made up of the men from the working classes, the vast majority fishermen. At lakeside special ‘aquatic tents’ were reserved for the merchant classes, where they retired for refreshments.

In 1897, Sir Herbert Harley Murray, the Colonial Governor of Newfoundland refused to attend the Regatta stating that the “best” people were not patronizing the event. The son of an Anglican bishop it is likely that Murray was not happy with the boozing by the “operative and laboring classes ….taking their pleasure in the green fields and by the grassy lake of Quidi Vidi.”   He was also not amused that during the Regatta the previous  year no one stepped forward to hold an umbrella for his daughter during a rain shower. Not even the gentlemen of the town lived up to his standard of the “best” people.

See you at Quidi Vidi with the other laboring classes!!  I may be in the modern day version  of the  ‘aquatic tents”.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at  “The Rowing”  Series  which consists of 212 b&w photographs predominantly of the Royal St. John’s Regatta races and crews, The photographs include team portraits, races underway, presentation of awards and views of the people along the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake. Search the Archives:

Recommended Web Site: The Royal St. John’s Regatta:

Recommended tune (Listen):


Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division: A54-150; Crowds at Quidi Vidi Lake for the Royal St. John’s Regatta.


August 2, 2016


The Royal St. John’s Regatta is the only civic holiday in Canada that is dependent on the weather. “The Regatta” has been traditionally held on the first Wednesday in August.

On the night before the Regatta the  residents of the historic city have the option to stay at home and have a quite night or “roll the dice” and PARTY!! The choice has become known as “Regatta Roulette.”

As residents party into the night, refreshment (s) in hand, there is always the lingering question, when I turn on the radio at 6:00 a.m. will the Royal Regatta officials say “IT IS A GO” or will it be a day at work?

An estimated 35,000 -50,000 people go to lake side at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John’s  to enjoy the  races and the concessions.


The first documentation of boat races in St. John’s is taken from a very small notice in The Royal Gazette newspaper dated 1816:

 “We understand a rowing Match will take place on Monday next between two boats, upon which considerable Bets are depending. They are to start at half past One o’clock from along side the Prison Ship.”

–       The Royal Gazette, 6 August 1816

While this is not considered the official starting date of the Regatta, it does lend itself to the history, showing that boat racing did occur. The date the Royal St. John’s Regatta Committee refers to as the official start date is 1818.

Since that time the Regatta has become a staple of Newfoundland history, and has run continuously every year since, with few exceptions. The Royal St. John’s Regatta itself is a curious entity. It is:

  • the only civic holiday in North Americato be declared by a committee of persons not associated with a government body;
  • the only civic holiday that is dependant on the weather;
  • the only competition where teams have to round buoys and return to the start line in order to finish the race;
  • one of only four organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador to be granted the Royal Designation (the others are The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and The Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club).

Will we get together for a drink on Tuesday night?  Will it be a quite night at home?   Regatta Roulette!

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at  “The Rowing”  Series  which consists of 212 b&w photographs predominantly of the Royal St. John’s Regatta races and crews, The photographs include team portraits, races underway, presentation of awards and views of the people along the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake.    Search the Archives:

Recommended Museum: Special tours and visitation to the Royal Regatta Museum are available upon request. If you wish to make a special appointment to visit the Museum, please call the Boathouse at: (709) 576 – 8921.

Recommended Web Site: The Royal St. John’s Regatta:


Cod liver oil from Newfoundland


July 30, 1946


Cod Liver Oil from Newfoundland was served to the orphan children of Europe after WWII

On  (July 30, 1946) the generous financial response to a plea to assist the poor children of Europe in the wake of WWII  from the people of Canada and Newfoundland, that realized  approximately $150,000 in relief supplies was acknowledged.

In a Vatican State document entitled “Pleading for the Care of the World’s Destitute Children” one of the  first documents bringing to the attention of the world the desperate state of the children of Europe in the wake of the war it was written:

“Without home, without clothing, they shiver in the winter cold and die. And there are no fathers or mothers to warm and clothe them. Ailing, or even in the last stages of consumption, they are without the necessary medicines and medical care. We see them, too, passing before Our sorrowful gaze, wandering through the noisy city street, reduced to unemployment and moral corruption, or drifting as vagrants uncertainly about the cities, the towns, the countryside, while no one — alas-provides safe refuge for them against want, vice and crime.”


In addition to financial support, Newfoundlanders were also thanked for the six tons of cod liver oil that “they have been able to ship abroad this year (1946), for the children of Europe.”

Cod Liver Oil is pressed from the fresh liver of the cod and purified. It is one of the best-known natural sources of vitamin D, and a rich source of vitamin A. Because cod liver oil is more easily absorbed than other oils, it was formerly widely used as a nutrient and tonic.

Even before the end of WWII the realization that something would have to be done for the health of the children in war torn Europe was under discussion.  In Newfoundland a process was put in place to begin to secure a  considerable quantity of cod-liver oil so it could be distributed at the end of the war in those regions where the health conditions of  poor children demanded it. In Newfoundland, local businessman P.J. Lewis was charged with finding the cod liver oil and looking at how it could be transported to the  children in Europe.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives see GN 38.3  this file consists of Despatches from Secretary, to  the Governor, 10-’44 includes  discussion about the possible production of dehydrated cod in Newfoundland; 74-’44 Newfoundland fish for the British Food Mission and  210-’44 Fish for relief purposes after the war.

Recommended Cookbook: Salt Cod Cuisine: The International Table by Edward A. Jones, Boulder Publications, Portugal Cove, NL . June 2013 The cultural and culinary tradition of salt cod is celebrated in this very special cookbook—and while it is focused on Newfoundland and Labrador, the recipes take us to the many countries that feature salt cod cuisine.

Listen to this variant of Cod-Liver Oil by Ryan’s Fancy with lyrics so you can sing along

Recommended Museum: At the Rooms Provincial Museum visit the Elinor Gill Ratcliff Gallery and explore the ‘Rural Health and Medicine Exhibit.’  Find the bottle of cod liver oil!!

Recommended Exhibit:  Cod was King!

Did you know you can split a cod at The Rooms?

Opera House in St. John’s


July 26, 1888

Advertisement: The Telegram, St. John’s, July 23, 1888.

There was much excitement in St.  John’s on Thursday, July 26, 1888   with the official opening of a “City Opera House.”

Throughout the week the local newspapers were advertising the highly anticipated opening with bold headlines that proclaimed   “A Grand Artistic Opening.”  The advertisements encouraged residents of St. John’s

“to reserve their tickets during the day, at J.W. Foran’s  Confectionary Store, Atlantic Hotel Building to avoid the crush at the Ticket office.”

The Tickets did not come cheap!!

Admission for Reserved Seats (Dress Circle) 75 cents; Orchestra Chairs, 50 cents; Gallery Chairs, 30 cents; Parquette, 20 Cents  and  the luxury  of a box seat a whopping $6.00.

The proprietor of the Opera House was the St. John’s businessman J.W. Foran who was well established at the J.W. Foran Confectionary Store in the Atlantic Hotel Building.  In his advertisements he stated:

“The proprietor of the city opera house (Mr. J. W. Foran) seeing the great want of a place of musical and dramatic talent, of which the rising generation have not had the advantage of hearing or seeing, has suited the opera house with all modern improvements, suitable for the production of entertainments of the very highest order – thus giving the people o St. John’s an opportunity of hearing some of the best musical talent in America. The establishment of such a space means a very large outlay, and it is to be hoped that the public will give it that substantial support which will warrant its permanency. The season will commence with the famous San Francisco Minstrels”

This talented group from San Francisco was under the management of Charles L. Howard. Engaged for a limited season only, the cost of transportation alone was nearly one thousand dollars. Before each performance, a Grand Balcony Serenade was to be given by the Silver Cornet Band.

Reviews of the performances during the following week stated that the

“minstrel’s are nightly drawing large and respectable audiences. They have advanced considerably in the estimation of our people since their first appearance which did not give the satisfaction anticipated and are steadily increasing in popularity.”

This was the first Opera House in St. John’s, but was not the first opera.

The first opera performed in Newfoundland, Thomas Linley’s The Duenna; or the Double Elopement, was presented in May 20, 1820 as a benefit for the victims of the great fire of 1817.   The Duenna is a three-act comic opera, was considered one of the most successful operas ever staged in England. Lord George Byron called it “the best opera ever written”).

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to look at MG 343.1  the script for Patience: a new & original aesthetic  an opera  written by W.S. Gilbert, Composed by Arthur Sullivan , 12 Apr. 1883. Item consists of Opera that was “given in aid of the poor by a number of amateur ladies and gentlemen at the Star of the Sea Hall, St. John’s”.

Recommended Virtual Exhibit:  How did a young girl from  an outport community on the  northeast coast of  Newfoundland gain  international recognition on  the stages of the world?




A tiff over fashion, what to wear to church on Sunday?


July 23, 1854

What will I wear to mass?

Edward Morris, the Manager of the Newfoundland Savings Bank in St. John’s, Newfoundland in his diary for July 23, 1854 wrote that he had a wee tiff with his wife  (Katherine Howley) it appears she was not happy with him, she was in fact so displeased with him that she refused to go to church with him.

Edward wrote in his dairy:

“Mrs Morris went to 8 o’clock mass at the Cathedral (now Basilica) giving as a reason for going early that she had no decent dress to appear in at a more fashionable hour.”

The 8 o’clock mass tended to be the mass that the kitchen maids, scullery cooks, chamber maids, house maids, sewing maids  and  the other servants attended.  The staff would all  get up early,  attend the mass, and be home before their employers and their families got up.

There was no compromise, Edward insisted that he was going to the regular 10 o’clock mass, he was not concerned about the latest clothing fashions.

Edward was quite pleased that he did attend this particular mass and no doubt delighted in reminding his wife  that  during the celebration he was  witness to a great deal of history.


He wrote:

 Went to mass myself where the Bishop  (Mullock) consecrated two Bells part of the intended chime one the largest dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The other & smaller to St Patrick the Patron Saint of Ireland …The Bishop having consecrated the Bells ascended the pulpit and explained the ceremony.”


Edward also observed that:

“Today (July 23, 1854) the figures of the four evangelists were all fixed up in their places.”   

The statues of the four evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke andSt. John are located some thirty feet above the floor  of  the Cathedral. These are of Italian workmanship. They are of marble and are slightly larger than life-size. Each evangelist is shown with his appropriate symbol: St. Matthew with a child; St. Mark with a lion; St. Luke with an ox; and St. John with an eagle.


It was not only the evangelists that found their place in the Cathedral on July 23, 1854. Mr. Morris also noted:

“And the nuns (Presentation Sisters)  for the first time occupied the gallery appropriated to them behind the high altar.”

The  gallery is now  situated  behind a grilled window set in the east wall of the apse. From the small room behind this window, the Sisters of the Presentation can participate in the Parish Masses.

Recommenced Reading; Biographical Sketch on Edward Morris:

Recommended Archival Collection:   At the Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese: The Edward Morris Diaries:  Edward Morris was a businessman, politician, and office-holder; born in 1813 in Waterford (Republic of Ireland), son of Simon Morris. In  1852  Edward married Katherine Howley ofSt  John’s.

Recommended Virtual Exhibit: From Cornerstone to Cathedral- History of the Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s.