Tag Archives: St. John’s

The first letter from North America

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

August 3, 1527

The first letter from North America

Between 1857 and 1949 Newfoundland issued her own stamps. In all more than 300 different stamps were printed,.

Between 1857 and 1949 Newfoundland issued her own stamps. In all more than 300 different stamps were printed,.

It was at St. John’s, Newfoundland on 3 August 1527 that the first known letter was sent from North America. While in St. John’s, John Rut had written a letter to King Henry VIII on his findings and his planned voyage. The letter in part reads as follows:

Pleasing your Honourable Grace to heare of your servant John Rut with all his company here in good health thanks be to God.

The conclusion of the letter reads:

 “…the third day of August we entered into a good harbour called St. John and there we found Eleuen Saile of Normans and one Brittaine and two Portugal barks all a fishing and so we are ready to depart towards Cap de Bras that is 25 leagues ….  In the Haven of St. John the third day of August written in hast 1527, by your servant John Rut to his uttermost of his power.”

John Rut  was chosen by Henry VIII to command an expedition to America in  1527. With the ships Mary Guildford and the Samson, his goal was to find a passage to Asia around or through North America and to engage in trade when he had done so.

Henry VIII may have been a bit distracted when he got the letter, he was in the process of quietly trying to annul the marriage to his first wife  Catherine of Aragon.

Recommended Activity: Letters are fascinating and are the foundation of many family and community histories.  Take some time to look at some of the old letters that might be found in your home.  The ‘art” of writing a letter is quickly disappearing as we move to e mail and other social media as the main way to communicate.  Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Recommended Reading: Biography of John Rut:  http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=247&terms=de

 

Opera House in St. John’s

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

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?  http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_memories/pm_v2.php?lg=English&ex=00000469&fl=0&id=exhibit_home

 

 

 

The Great Fire of 1892.

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

July 8, 1892   

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B4-49; St. John’s East in ruins folloing the Great Fire. (note the Basilica in the background)

Late in the afternoon of 8 July 1892, a small fire broke out in a St. John’s stable on Freshwater Road after a lit pipe or match fell into a bundle of hay. Although containable at first, the flames quickly spread due to dry weather conditions.  Within hours, the fire had destroyed almost all of St. John’s.

The fire burned into the night and did not end until about 5:30 the following morning.  Many people camped out in Bannerman Park or on property surrounding the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica), which was one of the few buildings the fire did not destroy.

As the sun rose on 9 July, more than two-thirds of St. John’s lay in ruins and 12,000 people were homeless; many had lost everything they owned, except the clothes they were wearing.

One of the accounts written about the fire was penned by W.J. Kent   who wrote:

“All the arteries which led from the water to the higher portions of the town were crowded with the terrorised mob and the screams and cries of the women mingled with the wailing of children, the shouts intensified by the ever-freshening masses of livid fire and the glare of the burning buildings, contributed to make a scene the like of which it is not often given to the lot of many to witness…. Few there were who closed their eyes that night.”

Four persons were burned to death.  The devastation that struck the city was recorded by one of the priests on staff at the R.C. Cathedral (the Basilica) who wrote on Sunday July 10, 1892”

 “There was no publications today in consequence of the great calamity that has happened in our city on Friday evening and night, when the best part of St. John’s east was entirely destroyed by fire which caused such a panic that everyone is excited and frightened and nearly 12, 000 persons are left homeless, over 2000 houses were burned besides stores, wharfs…”

At the Last Mass, Father Scott preached a very touching sermon about the fire and those who were its sufferers from its effects.  Four persons were burned to death, namely:

Mrs. Catherine Stevens    }lived on Meeting House Hill

Her daughter Louisa Stevens

And the servant girl – name not known

Also Miss Catherine Molloy, Bulley’s Lane, and elderly girl not married

RIP

 

The Great Fire of 1892

Rev. Moses Harvey at  St. Andrews Free Presbyterian Church on the day following the fire walked about the city, he presents a similar description of the devastation and plight of the victims of the fire.

“The next morning I took a walk around the awful scene of devastation. It was heart-rending. Nothing visible for a mile from Devon Row but chimneys and fallen and tottering walls. The thick smoke, from the smouldering ruins still filled the air… The wrecks of the fanes of religion stood out, then [sic] broken walls pointing heavenward, as if in mournful protest against the desecration that had been wrought.

And the poor inhabitants, where were they? It made the heart ache to see the groups of men, women and children, with weary, blood-shot eyes and smoke begrimed faces, standing over their scraps of furniture and clothing — some of them asleep on the ground from utter exhaustion — all with despondency depicted on their faces. They filled the park and grounds around the city. Many hundreds escaped with nothing but the clothes they wore… .”

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type “Great Fire” in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives

 

 

Mysterious Iceberg off St. John’s

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

June 24, 1905

“Our Lady of the Fjords”

Mysterious Iceberg in St. John’s Narrows, T.B. Hayward. June 24, 1905

On  June 24, 1905 T.B. Hayward a St. John’s artist and photographer pointed his camera in the direction of a mysterious iceberg off the Narrows of St. John’s, and snapped a picture of what is likely the oldest known photograph believed to be a depiction of a supernatural Christian presence.

The photograph in ques­tion depicts what many people believe is a clear picture of a wondrous iceberg showing the figure of the Virgin Mary in the narrows off St. John’s. How similar to a statue the original iceberg looked is unknown. The photographer (T.B. Hayward) was really a painter of Newfoundland scenes, particularly marine scenes. His method was to photograph a scene and then paint the photograph.

The Catholic Archbishop, in St. John’s, Michael Francis Howley, who saw the iceberg from the steps of the Basilica Cathedral, was so impressed by the extraordinary iceberg that he wrote an article published in The Tablet, the Catholic Diocesan newspaper for Boston describing the iceberg as the “Crystal Lady.”  He also endorsed the sale of postcards and photographs that were produced by Hayward for mass production.

Archbishop Howley perceived the iceberg to be a sacred sign, so moved by the sight that he com­posed a sonnet in honour of the frozen statue entitled “Our Lady of the Fjords.” In the sonnet, he refers to the glistening ice figure as “a shimmering shrine – our bright Atlantic Lourdes. The sonnet was published Newfoundland Quarterly in 1909.

Our Lady of the Fjords

Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!

Contemporary Newfoundland author Wayne Johnson says his father grew up in a house blessed by water from this iceberg, which they called the “Virgin Berg.” Johnson wrote about the iceberg in his book  Baltimore’s Mansion.

The timing of this wondrous iceberg, this Marian apparition appearing in the St. John’s Narrows  was quite  significant.

June 24 on the Christian calendar is the Feast of St. John the Baptist.   On June 24, 1497  John Cabot “discovered”  Newfoundland,  it is the feast day of the patron saint of the R.C. Basilica Cathedral and the Anglican Cathedral  in St. John’s and the namesake for the capital city, St. John’s.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? The Rooms has hundreds of photographs of icebergs. Type “iceberg” in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives

Recommended Reading:   Kodak Catholicism: Miraculous Photography and its Significance by Jessy C. PAGLIAROLI : Canadian Catholic Historical  Association (CCHA) , Historical Studies, 70 (2004), 71_93

Recommended Archival Collection:  Very few photographs of Thomas B. Hayward have been identified.  If you are aware of other photographs and sketches created by Thomas or his father J. W Hayward the  Rooms Provincial Archives Division would love to hear from you.

“When the able and the young go away to work…”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

 May 23, 1869

The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, VA 14-146 / G. Anderson

On  (May 23, 1869) Edward Morris of St. John’s wrote in his diary  about all of the activity at the dockside in St. John’s . He observed “about 500 men” getting ready to leave Newfoundland  in search for work.  He wrote in his diary:

“Yesterday the “Merlin” Steamer left Shea’s Wharf for Nova Scotia with upwards of 500 men to work on the inter colonial railway. The saddest evidence of the depressed state of this colony (Newfoundland) that has as yet been presented.  When the able and the young go away to work upon the roads in the other provinces in preference to remaining to prosecute the fisheries it speaks little for the inducements of the fisherman’s occupation.”

 The jobs that the 500 Newfoundlanders were seeking by taking the Steamer ‘Merlin  from St. John’s to Nova Scotia were jobs on the inter colonial railway, under construction,  linking the Maritime colonies and Canada. Completion of the railway was made a condition of Confederation in 1867.

The out migration, that Edward Morris witnessed, by his fellow Newfoundlanders is a constant theme in Newfoundland history.  The people of Newfoundlandand moved to other countries for a wide range of reasons throughout the 1800’s, emigration occurred on the largest scale during the last two decades of the century when the cod fishery fell into severe decline and caused widespread economic hardship.

While some people left their homes permanently, others worked in foreign countries on a seasonal or temporary basis before returning home. Most emigrants moved to Canada or the United States. The vast majority to “the Boston States.”

In more recent years Newfoundland and Labrador has witnessed (1996 and 2001) about 47,100 people pulling up stakes and leaving the province. The Conference Board of Canada’s most recent long-term forecast predicts the province’s population will fall from about 527,000 now to 482,000 by 2035.

Despite baby bonus incentives and other government efforts since 2008, the population is expected to shrink more here over the next two decades than any other part of Canada. An aging demographic will be compounded by out-migration of workers — especially if offshore oil production wanes.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type emigration in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives

Recommended Reading: Newfoundland: Journey Into a Lost Nation by Michael Crummey and Greg Locke. McClelland & Stewart. Chronicles the passage of a time when cod were still plentiful and the fishery shaped the lives of most of the island’s inhabitants, to the present, when an economy, propelled by oil and mineral development, is recasting the island’s identity in a new mould.

Recommended Website: Statistics Canada – http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/subject-sujet/theme-theme.action?pid=3867&lang=eng&more=0

 

 

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/

“Dunning” his neighbor and friend leads to fistcuffs and assault.

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

January 20, 1885

Dunning - 17th century verb dun, meaning to demand payment of a debt.

Dunning – 17th century verb dun, meaning to demand payment of a debt.

Many people trying to manage debt problems have unfortunately experienced the added stress of dealing with persistent calls from collection agencies. Today, the collectors harass by phone but there was a time when it was much more personal, much more “in your face.”

In January 1885 Charles Coveyduck of Upper Gullies was determined to get his friend and neighbor Edward Corbett to repay  £5 that he had loaned him, so determined  was Coveyduck that he harassed Corbett day after day. This relentless pursuit was known as “dunning”, the word stems from the 17th century verb dun, meaning to demand payment of a debt.

Edward Corbett was fed up with the “dunning” and told his neighbor in no uncertain terms.  The conversation got rather heated, Coveyduck shouted that “he had something better to do than dancing attendance upon Corbett”  and “called Corbett out of his name.”

Their animosity had grown such that the local St. John’s newspaper, The Telegram reported on January 20, 1885:

“Thereupon Coveyduck caught Corbett by the collar of the coat and administered what the spruce young chap on Prescott Street would term “condign punishment.”  However, it was a square game of fistcuffs on both sides, a mode of settling disputes that has a certain recommendation, in itself in these troublous times. They departed bad friends and as Coveyduck wadded through the evergreen glades of the pleasant village of Upper Gullies he vowed that he would make his antagonist “sweat for it in Mr. Prowse’s Court.”

True to his word Coveyduck with his lawyer, Mr Carty at his side and Corbett with his lawyer,  Mr. Emerson at his side stood before Judge Prowse.

His worship, Judge Prowse heard the case fully but as there were certain mitigating circumstances in favor of the accused, (the excessive dunning) he fined Corbett only fifty cents and costs.

The smile was soon wiped off Corbett’s face, in the subsequent civil action for recovery of the £5, judgment was given to Coveyduck in the full amount claimed.

The two friends, Coveyduck and Corbett, should have heeded the words of Shakespeare:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to explore  GN 170 Newfoundland and Labrador court records collection. (microfilm) The collection  of court records looks at  decisions of the court s predominantly  involving debt,  forgery, manslaughter, murder, property disputes,  assault, smuggling, noise complaints, larceny, damages, judgments, casting away of vessels, indecent assault, rape, arson, drunkenness,  etc.  http://www.therooms.ca/archives/

Old Word:  “Dunning” is the process of methodically communicating with customers to ensure the collection of accounts receivable. Communications progress from gentle reminders to almost threatening letters as accounts become more past due. The word stems from the 17th century verb dun, meaning to demand payment of a debt.