Tag Archives: excursion

July and the Weather Saint

Archival Moment

15 July 1881

July 15 Weather Watch

July 15 Weather Watch

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain’

July month in Newfoundland was the month for the ‘excursionists’.  It was the month when most established organization’s would be in the process of planning excursions ‘around the bay’ for their members. The date on the calendar that the organizers for these excursions were watching was July 15.

July 15 in Newfoundland was traditionally known as St. Swithin’s Day, (or more properly, Swithun) a day on which people watch the weather for tradition says that whatever the weather is like on St. Swithin’s Day, it will continue so for the next forty days.

The residents of St. John’s, many of English ancestry were very familiar with the Elizabethan weather-rhyme:

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

The excursions were holiday outings by coastal vessels or train  to the Newfoundland outports, the most popular being Renews, Placentia and Trinity. Upon arrival in these villages the ‘townies’ would be greeted by the locals where they would be treated to a breakfast “after which the sports of the day would commence.”  Some of the ‘sports’ included horse  races, foot, hurdle and sack and wheelbarrow races, shooting matches and in the evenings dramatic entertainment and lantern shows .

Organizers for the excursions were disappointed to find on July 15, 1881 that it was a wet day.  The local St. John’s paper, The Evening Telegram reported.

“A wet St. Swithen’s Day. Oh, whatever trials are yet in store for excursionists this season.“

Organizers of the excursions were well aware that individuals would be less reluctant to reserve a spot on an excursion if inclement weather was anticipated.

Who was St. Swithin?

St. Swithin (or more properly, Swithun) was a Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches. A legend says that as the Bishop lay on his deathbed, he asked to be buried out of doors with the poor where he would be trodden on and rained on. For nine years, his wishes were followed, but then, the monks of Winchester attempted to remove his remains to a splendid shrine inside the cathedral on 15 July 971.  According to legend there was a heavy rain storm either during the ceremony or on its anniversary.

This led to the folklore tradition that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day (July 15th), it will rain for the next 40 days in succession, and a fine 15th July will be followed by 40 days of fine weather.

How did the tradition get to Newfoundland?

Beginning in the early 17th century, immigrants from the West of England (mainly from Wessex) began to settle in Newfoundland. By the early 1800s they had founded numerous fishing villages and towns and comprised about 60 percent of the resident population. The Wessex component was the largest ethno-European group to settle Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of these immigrants (80-85%) originated in the counties of Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, with notable additions from the adjacent counties of Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Cornwall.

Recommended Website: http://www.math.mun.ca/~wessex/wordpress/

Recommended Song:  Billy Bragg,  St. Swithin’s Day:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljJl-E5bzm4


Excursion around the Bay

Archival Moment

April 23, 1889

Excursion around the Bay

Advertising for the ' Excursion Season'

Advertising for the ‘
Excursion Season’

There was a long established tradition in St. John’s, known locally as ‘the excursion’ that saw hundreds of the citizens of the town make reservations in late April on one of the costal boats or on the train for “an excursion around the bay.”

The first of the excursions began on the May 24th weekend as part of the Empire Day celebrations. Excursions continued well into August.

Typically the excursions were arranged by one of the many societies, associations or church groups for their members. It was for many the social event of the year. A typical ‘excursion’ included an early morning departure by coastal boat or train, arrival in the host community for a breakfast prepared by the local women, a picnic lunch, a walk about in the town, and an opportunity to hike or trout. In some communities a sports day would be, some of the ‘sports’ included horse races, foot, hurdle and sack and wheelbarrow races, shooting matches. The day would end with a comic concert or dance and supper.

The most desired destinations for an excursion were Harbour Grace, Trinity, Witless Bay, Renews and Placentia.

These junketing expeditions or excursions were also occasions for a ‘drunken spree.’

One group that enjoyed the excursions were the politicians. In April 1888 the legislature was closed to allow for an excursion to Placentia. This particular junket came under criticism because “the cost of the said entertainments was being defrayed out of the public purse.”

One critic of these excursions, referred to the excursion to Placentia as “the drunken spree in Placentia.”

Writing to the Evening Telegram (April 23, 1889) the critic wrote that the members of the government were joined by the members of the opposition, “how can such persons (the opposition) thereafter denounce such expenditure as an act of public robbery (which it is) or any other similar acts of public robbery.”

For the vast majority however it was a day of considerable fun. Perhaps your organization should plan an ‘excursion around the bay.’

The tradition was so ingrained in the hearts and minds of Newfoundlanders that the term “excursion bread” or “scursion” was coined to refer to a dry sweet biscuit, shaped like a cake of ‘hard tack’ taken by the travelers in their pockets to eat between meals.

Recommended Archival Collection: Views of Newfoundland. VA 6; VA 7 (185 photographs: b&w)  Series consists of two photograph albums which reflect the observations and travels of S. T. Brooks and wife and colleague Betty Watt Brooks in Newfoundland and Labrador between 1935 and 1938. The collection consists primarily of photographs depicting communities on the Avalon Peninsula and Conception Bay, including St. John’s, Ferryland, and Brigus. The photographs illustrated salt fish industry, outport agriculture, domestic arts and crafts, and historical curiosities.

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea: Excursion around the Bay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0q3Pm2rFVQ

Recommended Reading: Excursions in and about Newfoundland during the years 1839 and 1840 by J.B. Jukes.