Tag Archives: feu de joie

Gun salute rings in the New Year



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)


Firing guns at weddings

Archival Moment

February 10, 1882

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 104-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 104-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

There is a long established tradition in Newfoundland that encourages the “discharging of fire arms” for the purpose of creating a noise especially to celebrate a marriage. As the bride and groom leave the church the men of the town stand about discharging their guns in celebration.

On February 10, 1882 the Editor of the local paper the Twillingate Sun, Jabez P. THOMPSON, spoke out against the custom suggesting that rather than discharging their guns, pistols and firearms that they would be better served to buy present for the newly married. He wrote:

“It has been suggested that if persons are anxious to manifest esteem for their newly married friends, could it not be done in a more tangible way by presenting them with a valuable present, which the cost of the powder so used would be likely to procure. We would recommend such a plan.”

Francis BERTEAU, Stipendiary Magistrate in Twillingate was another who was not fan of discharging guns at weddings. The Magistrates objection was prompted by the fact that a case was before him in his court, a short time before, the cause of the complaint being that the plaintiff’s horse had taken fright by the firing of guns while passing the public streets.

The Editor argued:

“Magistrate BERTEAU has given caution against the unnecessary discharging of fire arms, as prevention to any serious accident that might accrue by a persistency in such a dangerous practice.”

The government of the day was also keen to stop the practice, in January 1882 a new law was passed that read:

“Any person firing any Gun, Pistol or other Fire-arms in any City, Town, or Settlement in this Island for the purpose of creating a noise or disturbance, or without some necessity or reasonable excuse for so doing, shall for every such offence pay a penalty not exceeding Twenty Dollars.”

The new law was to fall on deaf ears; the tradition of firing guns at weddings continued and remains a tradition in many communities throughout the province. Those who fired the guns always found “some necessity or reasonable excuse.”

The tradition of ‘firing the guns’ at a wedding continues in communities long the Cape Shore. Do you know of other communities?

The ‘firing of the guns’ is not to be confused with a ‘gunshot wedding’!

Recommended Archival Collection: Planning on doing some family research. The Rooms Provincial Archives is home to the largest collection of Parish Marriage Registers in the province.

Recommended Reading: Getting Married in Newfoundland and Labrador: http://www.servicenl.gov.nl.ca/birth/getting_married/



A grand Newfoundland welcome or a “Placentian feu de joie”

Archival Moment

August 27, 1886

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 1074-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 104-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

There was a custom in all Newfoundland communities whereby the local residents would greet all visiting dignitaries with a ‘loud salute of guns’ also known as “feu de joie.”  If the dignitary was arriving by boat the men of the town would line the wharf with guns aimed to the sky shooting a volley as a sign of welcome.  If the delegation came by road, the men armed with their guns, stood along the road, often near a green bough archway, that was created for the dignitary to walk under shooting the volley  as he entered.

In early August 1886 the men of Placentia gave a loud salute of guns from the “plaza” of Placentia that greeted the ears of Mr. George H. Emerson, MH.A., as he walked ashore into Placentia  from the costal steamer, just arrived from St. John’s. Emerson was well known in Placentia, he had been elected the year previous as the Liberal member of the House of Assembly (M.H.A.) for Placentia and St. Mary’s.

Upon hearing the “feu de joie” the locals noticed that  Emmerson “doffed his sombrero bowing deeply and graciously, acknowledging the compliment extended to him” by the citizens of Placentia.

Emerson was however soon blushing with embarrassment.  A juvenile from Placentia who stood witness to his bowing shouted:

 “The guns are not for you, sir they’re for Mr. Fowlow’s wedding that took place last night.”

It appears that the men of Placentia were not on the wharf to greet Mr. Emerson but rather they were there to ‘salute their guns” to their friend Mr. Fowlow who had just married and was about to depart the town on the same coastal steamer that the young politician had arrived on.

The firing off the guns or “feu de joie“  as a young couple left the church, after exchanging vows,  was a long established tradition in Newfoundland. Another tradition was to fire the guns as they departed the community on their honeymoon.

Embarrassed that he had stolen the limelight Mr. Emerson confidence “drooped and he sought out his hotel.”

Upon arrival at the hotel he quickly” ordered a cocktail, which soon put him in good feather again”.

The Editor of the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram on August 27, 1886, with tongue planted firmly in cheek wrote:

  “In the sweet by and by when he leads one of his fair constituents to Hyman’s altar, he will be entitled to all the honor and comfort derivable from Placentian feu de joie.”

To take someone to Hyman’s altar was an expression that referred  to taking someone to the altar to marry.  Emerson, the Editor of the Evening Telegram suggested, would not receive the salute of guns  (the Placentian feu de joie)  until his marriage day.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language  (MUNFLA) comprises extensive collections of Newfoundland and Labrador folksongs and music , folk narratives , oral history, folk customs, beliefs and practices, childlore and descriptions of material culture. Explore your traditions  at MUN!!

Recommended Reading:  Dictionary of Newfoundland English G.M. Story, W.J. Kirwin, and J.D.A. Widdowson, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, The DNE is a historical dictionary based on evidence taken from printed sources and, in addition, on evidence of tape-recorded speech in the province. After its great popular success in 1982 and widespread published reviews, it has continued in print to the present. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/d7ction.html

Recommended Museum Exhibit:  The Rooms Provincial Museum Division,  Here, We Made a Home: The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery, Level 4. See a short film video “Wedding salute in Fogo.”  The video captures the traditional Newfoundland and Labrador, ‘loud salute of guns’ or a fusillade also known as “feu de joie.”

New Phrases: — n  , feu de joie  a salute of musketry fired successively by each man in turn along a line and back   C18: literally: fire of joy] . The custom continues in many communities in Newfoundland especially on the Cape Shore where guns are fired as the newly married couples leave the church.

When was the last time that you witnessed a ‘salute of guns’ in your community?

When was the last time that a green bough arch was erected in your community to welcome some dignitary?