February 19, 1880
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 32-7; Horses and sleighs loaded, Water Street, St. John’s.
A word that is rarely used in Newfoundland and Labrador nowadays is the word “gulch”. (also gulche) Long before the term “pot hole” was used to describe a hole in the surface of the road, the preferred term was “gulch.”
In 1880 one of the issues that angered people was the state of the roads, so much so that some people wrote to the local papers to complain.
On February 19, 1880 in the local paper the Evening Telegram one subscriber wrote:
“Allow me through the columns of your valuable paper to draw attention of the government to the deplorable state of Water Street owning to the late heavy fall of snow. This street is almost impassable for man or beast, and unless something is speedily done, in the way of filling up the “gulches” traffic will be at a standstill.”
In February 1917 the local St. John’s newspaper the Daily News reported
“A heavy fall of snow brings its trouble to the horse traffic on our streets which are filled with gulches.”
The term “gulches” continues to appear in local publications until at least 1937. The St. John’s, Evening Telegram reported:
“Traffic conditions on Torbay Road are very bad, the road being studded with many treacherous gulches”
Those who took the time to write to the local papers and complain had a legitimate concern. The horse was often their only means of transportation and these ‘potholes” or “gulches” presented a major problem. If a horse stepped into a deep enough pothole or “gulche” there was the possibility that the animal could be crippled. A broken ankle or leg was often fatal for a horse.
Long before “pothole” found a place in our vocabulary the preferred term to describe the phenomena was “gulch.” In the United States and some parts of Canada the preferred term to describe the phenomena was “chuckhole” because the ‘gulches” were being created by chuck wagons that were being used to carry food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the United States and Canada.
The first time that the term “pothole” was used was in 1826. The term “pothole” never took hold in Newfoundland until the 1940’s when we had the combined influence of the American invasion of culture and the automobile gradually replacing the horse.
When driving about the town – just as it was in 1880 – watch out for the gulches!! I mean potholes!!
What are the current road conditions: http://www.roads.gov.nl.ca/default.htm
Recommended Archival Collection: GN2.19.2 File consists of a letter book (1834-1836) of correspondence from the colonial secretary primarily to the outport road commissioners and to the commissioner for the relief of the poor. The correspondence recorded the allocation of public funds to roads and bridges both as a means of improving transportation and relieving poverty by providing employment.