Tag Archives: Roche

Influenza Epidemic Raging


March 2, 1919

Influenza Notices were  posted on all  Public Buildings.

In March 1919 Newfoundland  and Labrador was being ravaged with the dreaded Influenza Epidemic.

The local government and the churches were in the fore front of the fight against the spread of the dreaded disease. In St. John’s, on March 2, 1919,  the Catholic Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche, issued a Pastoral Letter removing any obligation of fast and abstinence during the 40 days of Lent. The rationale was that if Roman Catholics were observing the ritual Lenten fast and rules of abstinence that they might be weakening their immune systems making them more susceptible to the pandemic.

On March 12, 1919 a notice was read in all churches that:

“Owing to the prevalence of influenza among the people, His Grace the Archbishop by the authority of the Holy See, grants during this present Lent, a general dispensation from the fast, except on Good Friday”

A variation on the same notice was read in the churches of all denominations.

The move, thought small was unprecedented. One of the many steps that were taken to try and stop the spread of the disease.

St. John’s as an international port of call for ships from around the world was exposed to all the good and ill that came with its geographical location. In 1918 with the influenza epidemic raging throughout the world, it was only a matter of time before the province became vulnerable to the disease.

The pandemic reached Newfoundland on 30 September 1918 when a steamer carrying three infected crewmen docked at St. John’s harbour. Three more infected sailors arrived at Burin on October 4 and they travelled by rail to St. John’s for treatment. A doctor diagnosed the city’s first two local cases of influenza the following day and sent both people to a hospital. Within two weeks, newspapers reported that several hundred people were infected in St. John’s.

Soon after the outbreak, government officials closed many public buildings in St. John’s, including schools, churches, and meeting halls, and introduced quarantine regulations for incoming ships. Many outport communities also closed public buildings to curb the spread of influenza. By the time the epidemic was over, 62 deaths were reported in St. John’s and 170 more in outport Newfoundland.

The effects were most devastating in Labrador, where the disease killed close to one third of the Inuit population and forced some communities out of existence. Death rates were particularly high in the Inuit villages of Okak and Hebron.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Room Provincial Archives explore Death Records 1918-1919.  Reels 32 and 33 and GN 2/5. Special File 352-A, Colonial Secretary’s Department. “Correspondence Re: Outbreak of Epidemic Spanish Influenza in Newfoundland.” November 1918- June 1919.

Recommended Publication: Boats, Trains, and Immunity: The Spread of the Spanish Flu on the Island of Newfoundland.  Craig T. Palmer, Lisa Sattenspiel, Chris Cassidy: Newfoundland and Labrador Studies: Vol. 22 – Number 2 (2007) http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/10120/10396



Is there a Stradivari in St. John’s?

Archival Moment

MARCH 19, 1892

ViolinThere was much discussion in the music community in St. John’s on March 19, 1892, conversation driven by a news item in the St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram, about the possibility of an authentic Cremona violin, dated 1681 in the city.  This was no ordinary violin this was reputed to have been created by the master genius of violin-makers, the maestro of Cremona, Antonius Stradivari.

Antonio Stradivari (1644 -1737) set up his shop in Cremona, Italy, where he painstakingly handmade made violins and other stringed instruments. He took a basic concept for the violin and refined its geometry and design to produce an instrument which is now the standard. Stradivari’s violins have been judged by history to be the best.

The owner of the alleged ‘strad’ in St. John’s was “Mr. P. Roche, a storekeeper of this city”. Roche was according to the St. John’s Business Directory for 1890; a storekeeper working for the business; J and W Pitts located on at 24 South West (Water) Street. He had done some preliminary work on investigating the provenance of his violin. The Telegram reported:

“The word (the name of the maker) and the figures (year)  are inscribed on the inside of the back (of the violin) and may be seen by looking through the scroll worked holes in the front of the instrument.”

The article went on to read:

“There are five known famous violins by a celebrated maker from that city, (Cremona) each of them worth hundreds of guineas. One has been in New York, one in Munich, and one in London; three are still missing.  There are very many less famous Cremona violin, whether Mr. Roche’s belongs to the most celebrated class, he is taking steps to find out. It was purchased many years ago by his brother in Halifax.”

What happened to the violin?  We really do not know – perhaps it remains with the descendants of Mr. Roche who may not be aware of the fine instrument that they have!!

Today, a conservative estimate on the value of the violin, if it were authentic, would range from $1 to $5 million.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives: MG 591 Kiwanis Music Festival programmes, 1951-1976; Music Festival Association of Newfoundland booklets re: regulations, schedule etc., 1966-1976.

Recommended Reading: Antonio Stradivari, His Life and Work (1644-1737) W. Henry Hill, Arthur F. Hill & Alfred E. Hill  Originally Published in 1902

Support the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra:  Read More:  http://www.nso-music.com/

“An ocean horror that has come home, the SS Florizel”


February 23, 1918

500px-SS_florizel-722641The SS Florizel, set out amidst poor weather conditions on its regular route from St John’s, Newfoundland to New York City on February 23, 1918 under the command of captain William Martin.  By February 24th a storm had both diminished visibility and interfered with the ship’s equipment. With the crew confused and mistaken about the ship’s position, the Florizel struck a rock called Horn Head near Cappahayden on the Southern Shore.

Ninety-three  (93) crew and passengers perished, while 44 were miraculously rescued after 27 hours spent braving punishing seas and bitter cold.

Betty_MunnOne of the passengers on this ship was a three year old little girl named Betty Munn who was sailing with her father; she was torn from his arms in this disaster. In memory of her death there is a statue of Peter Pan (the fairy tale she loved most) in Bowring Park.

Fifteen members of the crew were young  Spanish  “firefighters”  or stokers responsible for feeding the engine furnace  with coal.  Eleven of their bodies were recovered and buried in the same plot in Mount Carmel Cemetery, St. John’s.  A memorial plaque stands over their grave.

The story remains etched in the family history of many families in Newfoundland. Craig Tucker on staff at The Rooms Provincial Archives wrote:

nicolles” My great-grandfather  (Leonard Nicholl)  was killed in the disaster, his body was never recovered. He was on his way to Halifax to work as a carpenter after the Halifax explosion. He left a wife and 5 sons with no support. The eldest was 10 at the time, and I guess he became the breadwinner.”

The task of preaching and bringing comfort to the families of those who had suffered the loss of loved ones fell to Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche of St. John’s who in a sermon at a memorial for the victims said:

“With the exception perhaps of the great Sealing Disaster of a few years ago [the SS Newfoundland, 1914], never has there been in our history — strewn as that history is with marine tragedies great and small — an ocean horror that has come home to us with such appalling force as the great disaster of the ‘Florizel’ which now throws its shadow over our city and our Island.”

The Marine Court of Enquiry into the Loss of the SS Florizel was established on 2 March 1918, on the recommendation of Governor Charles A. Harris. The Court was mandated to enquire into the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Florizel and the conduct of the master, crew and owners. James P. Blackwood was appointed commissioner. The report was made public on 29 May 1918.

The final verdict;  Martin failed to take soundings before changing course to round Cape Race. A sounding would have indicated that he was not in the proper location.

The vessel has a storied history; she participated in the rescue of sealers during the Great 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster and was also used as a transport vessel during the First World War. In October 1914 she carried the famous First 500 volunteers of the Newfoundland Regiment, the Blue Puttees, to Europe.

Recommended Archival Collection: Take some time to come to visit the Rooms Provincial Archives and explore GN 123 the seven volumes of typed transcripts, passenger lists, a list of the crew and passengers lost, manifests and customs clearance, the Florizel crew agreements and the report of the Minister of Marine and Fisheries regarding the wreck of the Florizel.

Recommended Reading:  A Winter’s Tale: The Wreck of the Florizel By Cassie Brown, Flanker Press, 1997.

Recommended Activity: Visit the statue of Peter in Bowring Park or the Spanish Memorial in Mount Carmel Cemetery and remember little Betty Munn and all of those who died on the SS Florizel.

“Archbishop, spinning in his grave”


September 23, 1950

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 23-129; Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 23-129; Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche

Edward Patrick Roche was born in Placentia  on February 14, 1874  son of Edward Roche and Mary Riely (O’Reiley) He was educated at St. Patrick’s Hall School  and St. Bonaventure’s College, both in St. John’s, and studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood at All Hallows College, Dublin, Ireland, being ordained there June 24, 1897.

In 1907 he was transferred to St. John’s where he became Chancellor and Vicar-General of the Archdiocese under Archbishop Michael F. Howley.

On February 26, 1915 Pope Pius X appointed him Archbishop of St. John’s. He was consecrated as Archbishop at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s, on June 29, 1915.

It was as a supporter of the return of Newfoundland to responsible government and as a determined opponent of Confederation with Canada he gained much notoriety in the late 1940s. The campaign for confederation found in him one of its fiercest opponents.

He was convinced that no good could come to Newfoundland from Confederation.  The archbishop argued through the pages of The Monitor, the monthly Roman Catholic newspaper that before confederation could be thought of,  responsible government— as promised by Britain — was the way to go.  He was actively involved in the 1948 referenda campaigns, encouraging all Newfoundlanders, but particularly Roman Catholics, to vote for the return of responsible government.

Roche died on September 23, 1950, a little less than a year and a half after Confederation, after having served as Archbishop for over 35 years.

He was buried in the crypt under the main altar of the Basilica Cathedral.

Even in death, some Roman Catholics argue, Archbishop Roche was not reconciled to Confederation.  When Archbishop Roche’s great foe the Confederate Premier Joseph R. Smallwood died in December 1991 the provincial government approached the Roman Catholic Basilica Cathedral to host a state funeral for him.  The Basilica has the larger seating capacity of any church in the city.  The irony of having Joey Smallwood in the Roman Catholic Basilica was not lost on some parishioners.  It is said, that one of the Basilica Parishioners was urged to go into the crypt during the funeral service because the suspicion was that “Roche was spinning in his grave because Smallwood was in his church.”

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives  explore GN 154  Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa  fonds. This series consists of letters to the Chairman and the Secretary of the Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa from various societies, business firms, unions, and government agencies concerning the ramifications of confederation with Canada for Newfoundland interests. The series are arranged by subject.

Recommended Publication: Confederation: Deciding Newfoundland’s Future, 1934 to 1949 by James K. Hiller, St. John’s, Nfld: Newfoundland Historical Society, 1998; reprinted with minor corrections 1999 75p. : bib, illus, map

Recommedned Reading on Line: ‘The True Father of Confederation’?: Archbishop E. P. Roche. Term 17, and Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada  by John Edward FitzGerald.  Newfoundland Studies 14, 2 (1998)  http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/787/1141

Recommended Song:  Joan Morrissey, The Anti Confederation Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLpWCiFyHT0