The day Bay Roberts saw the light

electricityMonday, 11 May 1914, was a red-letter day in the history of Bay Roberts. That evening, electric lights were turned on for the first time. Charles Edward Russell (1877-1937), the proprietor of the local newspaper, The Guardian, remarked that it was “another step in the forward march of Bay Roberts.”

Officials with the United Towns Electrical Company Limited threw the switch to the electric current, giving light to sections of yet another Conception Bay community.

Formed in 1902, the Company had installed an 80-horsepower hydro unit on the Victoria River, near Carbonear. As the company expanded its sphere of influence, it extended service into other areas on the southern side of the Avalon Peninsula, Bell Island and Marystown.

The inauguration of the service at Bay Roberts was witnessed by a group of townspeople, along with Mr. Murphy and Mr. Duff, directors of the United Towns Electrical Company.

The first three venues to be enlightened were the Reid Newfoundland Company’s railway station, two streetlights located at Crossroads, and the staff house of the Western Union Telegraph Company. In 1913 and 1915 respectively, the latter business diverted its 1881 and 1882 Penzance cables to Bay Roberts, in the process greatly improving the speed of telegraph transmission.

During the week of 11-15 May, other places – the shops belonging to D. G. Fraser and William Parsons – were lit by electricity.

The editor of The Guardian, Charles Russell, enthused: “The street lights were very bright, and the lights in the staff house, shining brilliantly from so many windows, looked very well, indeed.”

The newspaperman had been the first person to publicly express delight and pleasure with the service.

“In spite of the conservatism and the carping attitude of some people,” he added, “Bay Roberts is making progress.”

Indeed, since the first issue of The Guardian had rolled off the press on Friday, 9 July 1909, the newspaper had gone on record as advocating local improvements. Nor would it cease its crusade.

“We believe,” editor Russell declared, “the time is ripe for an advance all along the line.” Unable to avoid inserting a pun, he added, “Now that our people are getting more ‘light’ on the matter, they should measure up to their light and walk accordingly.”

Residents had been assured by the United Towns Electrical Company that the rates for lights would be identical to those being charged in the Conception Bay communities of Harbour Grace and Carbonear. This being the case, Russell suggested, the following weeks would undoubtedly see a marked increase in the number of houses and shops being wired for electricity.

The editor added a concluding matter to engage the attention of his readers: “the securing of an annual grant from the Government out of the general revenue for street lightings purposes.” The capital city, St. John’s, was receiving such a subsidy. “Why not Bay Roberts?” he asked rhetorically.

My awful moment

RoyalsOf late, I’ve been reading Oops! Or, Life’s Awful Moments, written by the late Art Linkletter. It’s bringing a smile to my face.

The publisher describes the book as “a funny, down-to-earth sampling of those unexpected situations we all suffer and somehow manage to survive.” A few examples will suffice.

A man sneezes during a badminton game and his false teeth sail across the net like a birdie. A girl does a jackknife into a pool while her bathing suit does a swan in another direction, leaving her blushing all over. A little boy in a crowded church hears the chimes for Mass and shouts “Avon calling!”

Linkletter interviews a young girl who says she would like “a plain old man” for a husband. “Give us an example,” he prods her. “You!” she exclaims.

“Why does your mommy like your daddy’s job as policeman?” he asks another child. The answer is a classic: “’Cause he brings home wrist watches, earrings and lots of jewelry.”

“What do you want to be?” Linkletter asks a boy. “A fireman.” “Why pick that?” “Because my dad says I’m dumb enough to be one.” “What does your dad do?” “He’s a fireman.”

Linkletter asks perceptively in his introduction: “Have you ever tried to put your best foot forward and found it wedged firmly in your mouth?

Been there done that.

Linkletter continues: “The road of life is strewn with the banana peels of embarrassment.”

My awful moment is, as they say, one for the books.

A decade ago, I wrote a book chronicling the history of a certain church in the Province. Let’s say it was in the town of Bumblebee Bight. No sooner did the book appear in print when I received a phone call from an irate reader. To protect the identity of the guilty, let’s call him Wilson.

“How do you think the Princess and Prince got down in Bumblebee Bight?” Wilson asked.

A heated conversation then ensued.

Later I went to my book and reread what I had written. There it is in black and white: “The visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in November 1951 was quite a community event. They walked through the Community School. The three denominations – Pentecostal, Salvation Army and United Church – cooperated in activities throughout the day, including a parade and an ecumenical meeting at night in the United Church.”

I also checked out my research notes. The transcription of my interview with Wilson reveals the following: “You had free access to the school. Any time there was a special occasion, you’d go up and go in and have a little talk to the students and so on. There was still a feeling that it was a Community School, so you were kind of restricted in what you could do spiritually…. For instance, when Queen Elizabeth was here, that was quite a community thing and they went through both schools, too.”

After all, Wilson had used the word “here.” Didn’t that mean Bumblebee Bight? I thought so, but apparently not.

When quoting Wilson for my book, obviously I had taken leave of my senses when I wrote that the Royals had actually made a trip to outport Bumblebee Bight.

In retrospect, I know what happened. Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, made their first visit to Newfoundland in 1951, on behalf of her ailing father. During their Royal Visit to St. John’s on 11 and 12 November, they were involved in ceremonies at the St. John’s waterfront, the St. John’s War Memorial, the Church of England Cathedral, Feildian Grounds and Government House.

But apparently not Bumblebee Bight.

It was, I must admit, my awful moment.

Later I wrote Wilson a letter of apology, for having quoted him out of context. My concluding paragraph reads: “My only consolation is that this incident shows in stark colour that I’m far from infallible! I suspect that all books…contain an error or two. This is unfortunate, and I feel badly about it. Please accept my apology. It will serve to make me more observant and careful that similar errors do not creep into any books I write in the future.”

And, as far as I know, such blatant errors have never since snuck into my more recent writing.

Perhaps Linkletter should have the final word: “Life leaves us all looking a little ridiculous at times, so we might as well relax and enjoy it when the laugh is on is.”

A funny thing happened…

Matchbox0003A funny thing happened on my way to the counter to pay for my purchase.

For some weeks, I had been eying a certain item at a local flea market…a large glass jar that was chockablock with what looked to be hundreds of matchbox covers.

According to the online Collectors Weekly, “Matchbooks have been around since 1892, when Joshua Pusey patented the idea of paper matches, whose tips were dipped in a solution of sulphur and phosphorus and then stapled to a piece of cardboard.”

Phillumenists, as they are known, usually collect just the match cover. They ” ‘shuck’ matchbooks by carefully prying open the staple to remove the matches from the cover. The matches are discarded and the covers are stored flat.”

As an inveterate collector, I was determined to have that jar. When it was finally offered at what I considered to be a half-decent price, I picked it up and began lugging it to the counter.

Another customer, coming towards me and seeing the object in my arms, joked, “Ol’ man, I could’ve given you a light if I knew you wanted one!”

When I got home, I dumped the jar’s contents on my livingroom floor. It was, to say the least, a mixed bag: a collection of lighters, a selection of wine bottle corks, a few rocks taken from only God knows where, three discs for the game called Pogs, and a few coins.

A score or so of “fortunes” from fortune cookies included the following tidbits of wisdom: “You will soon be crossing the great waters,” “A close friend will soon need you,” and “A cheerful letter or message is on its way to you.” Considering what I had paid for the jar, I was especially pleased to read this fortune: “You will soon be rich.”

Obviously the original owner of the jar was, like the undersigned, a generalist collector.

By far, the objects that piqued my attention were the 400-500 matchbox covers. A scan of one of them accompanies this article.

My one disappointment is that none of them are Newfoundland and Labrador related.

The day Bob Hope golfed in Botwood

Hope, BobThe legendary entertainer, Bob Hope, died in 2003, two months after his one hundredth birthday. Thirteen years earlier, he had written: “People ask me why I don’t retire and go fishing. I have one stock answer that sums it up.

“Fish don’t applaud.”

The world was Hope’s vaudeville circuit. And, Newfoundland applauded him on several occasions, including one memorable time in Botwood.

From 1919 to 1945, the seaport town enjoyed a lively and, at times, intense love affair with aviation. During those years, Botwood hosted a variety of visiting dignitaries and celebrities. Bob Hope and his troupe were stormbound there in 1943. His subsequent memories of his Newfoundland excursion are vintage Hope.

In the summer of 1943, Hope signed up to play the European Theatre of Operations for the new United Service Organizations. He recruited an old friend, Jack Pepper. They joined Frances Langford and Tony Romano on the first overseas trip of the Hope Gypsies. They were booked to open for American troops in England and North Africa.

They spent six anxious days in New York, awaiting word to leave. One clear, moonlit night, their Pan American Clipper was finally ready for takeoff.

The Clipper rose from Long Island Sound, circled eastward and passed over the Statue of Liberty.

Between seven and eight the next morning, their aerial bus made a breakfast stop in Nova Scotia.

It looks like a good time, Hope thought, to get some of that Nova Scotia salmon for breakfast.

Back in the air, he occupied himself by playing gin rummy.

They landed at Botwood to refuel. They were asked to do a show for 700 or 800 of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Coastal Command stationed in the town.

“Brave bunch of kids,” Hope wrote years later. “Great audience.”

As soon as their show was finished, they prepared to leave. But they remained immobile.

“The days up there are so short,” Hope wrote, “it turns dark faster than one of those new pennies. And the weather had closed in so badly it wasn’t safe to take off. So we played golf that afternoon. I found out that wasn’t safe either.”

In recounting his Botwood experience, Hope asked a rhetorical question, “Has anybody ever played golf at Botwood, Newfoundland?” The implied answer is “No.”

Golfing in Botwood“Then let me tell you about it,” Hope continued. “The wind is so tough you’ve got to keep ducking your own drives. I played 18 holes and wound up about half a mile behind where I teed off.”

Carl Rose, the illustrator of Hope’s book, I Never Left Home, depicted the author’s Botwood golfing experience. The gallant golfer, facing into the wind, has just driven the ball from the teeing ground. The ball suddenly does an about turn, in response to the wind, and zooms like a boomerang back down the course to the surprised golfer.

The next morning, there was a brief delay in takeoff. Dashing over to the military hospital, Hope’s troupe put on a quick show, before leaving for the plane. It was a beautiful day as the craft lifted off.

“The wind that had whipped my golf ball all over the Northeast the day before,” Hope wrote, “turned out to have other and greater strength.”

The Clipper was only out over the Atlantic about an hour, when suddenly it seemed to be turning in a wide arc.

Hope called to a steward, “Hey, O’Toole, what’s cookin’?”

“We’re going back,” he answered.

“Going back. What makes you think so?”

“We’re turning around.”


“I was so busy making you a sandwich the Captain didn’t want to disturb me to explain.”

Hope asked the captain why they were returning to Newfoundland.

“The wind’s against us,” he responded tersely.

Hope informed the captain that the wind had been against him while he was playing golf at Botwood, but that didn’t cause him to give up.

Six more shows and a day or so later, the Clipper lifted off for Ireland.

The Hope Gypsies went on to fulfil their mission, in the next 11 days covering 1,306 miles and playing 48 American bases.

The Newfoundland incident was a brief episode in Hope’s life. But for some people in Botwood, the visit by the Hope troupe held special significance. According to one correspondent, it was “the first time we’d ever had live entertainment on the base.”

The septuagenarian who volunteered as Chaplain

ShearsWilliam Charles Shears (1839-1928) was a Trinity boy who became a Church of England clergyman. He served as parish priest at Bay Roberts, starting in 1868. Around 1900, the community of Spaniard’s Bay Pond in his parish was renamed Shearstown in his honour. Leaving Bay Roberts in 1903, he relocated to Boston, MA.

On 21 September 1914, Shears wrote The Honourable Walter E. Davidson (1859-1923), Governor of Newfoundland.

“I have just learned from the Newfoundland papers,” he began, “that you are raising a Regiment of Newfoundland boys for active service in the big war now being waged in Europe.”

He had been prompted to inquire if the Governor needed a chaplain to minister to the spiritual needs of the troops. If so, then Shears was the man–he was volunteering his services.

The minister was “of British birth,” his father being “a West Country Devonshire Viking,” and his mother, a Healey, once “removed from the old sod; so,” he declared, “I am half English, half Irish, the best mixture of blood in the world.”

Admittedly, Shears was no longer young in years–he was 75–but he was “young in constitution, health, strength and activity.” He also boasted of soundness of “wind and limb.” During his more than four decades of missionary labour in Newfoundland and Labrador, he had gone “through the rough training which would fit me for the exposure and hardships of campaigning.”

He had been debarred by his “calling from shouldering the rifle or drawing the sword.” Therefore, acceptance “for the service of the land of my fathers” as a chaplain would make him “truly glad and supremely happy.”

He enclosed “a small bill,” to be given “to any Fund being raised for the Regiment.”

Apparently such an offer was in keeping with Shears’ makeup. The editor of the Bay Roberts newspaper The Guardian, Charles E. Russell (1877-1937), referred to the minister’s self-sacrifice and faithfulness.

“For him,” Shears’ obituary reads, “work and life were synonyms. His life was work, and work was his life.” In Newfoundland, he was reputed to be a minister of “fidelity and zeal.” He was “a man mighty in good works, and constant in the service of his Master, and of his fellow-men.”

Russell added an editorial note that Governor Davidson had informed The Rev. Shears “that no chaplain would be sent with the Regiment.”

Graham E. Noble

The following is a revised version of an entry which I wrote for the fourth volume of the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1993.

Noble, Graham E.NOBLE, GRAHAM EDMUND (1922-2003). Clergyman. Born Springdale. Son of Jonas and Ida (née Holmes) Noble. Educated Springdale; Eastern Pentecostal Bible College (EPBC), Peterborough, ON. Married Mildred Jean Spencer of Cottrell’s Cove in 1951. After working for nine years with the Royal Air Force transport command in Gander and with British Overseas Airways in Iceland, Noble became a partner in his father’s lumber mill at Springdale, Jonas Noble and Son. Experiencing a religious conversion in 1954, the Nobles entered EPBC in 1956, graduating in 1959. After conducting meetings in Ontario and Newfoundland, they established a church at Howley. In 1962 they were called as pastors to Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle in St. John’s. In addition to his other duties, Noble became the speaker on “The Old, Old Story,” the longest-running locally produced religious radio program in the province, airing for the first time on 10 February 1952 over VOCM. In 1982 he was appointed Chaplain for Institutions (St. John’s) for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland (PAON), a position he held for 10 years. He served on the school trustees for the denomination. He was a member of the general executive committee and also assistant general superintendent. In 1990 the Nobles spent six weeks in Sri Lanka teaching national pastors. He retired in 1996. In March 2003 he was honoured with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

Word and Work

The following is a revised version of an article which I wrote for the fifth volume of the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1994.

Word and WorkWord and Work. The premiere issue appeared in May 1952. It was published and printed by the Eastern District of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland. Edited by E. Raymond Pelley (1907-76), who was pastor of the Clarke’s Beach Pentecostal Church, the four-page magazine contained sermons; news from churches, official functions and pastors; editorials; and reprints from other Pentecostal periodicals. The masthead is drawn from 2 Thessalonians 2:16-19, “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work (KJV, emphasis added). The subscription price was five cents per copy. Only four issues are known to exist: I:1 (May 1952), I:2 (September 1952), I:3 (December 1952), and I:5 (September 1953). Word and Work has ceased publication.

Dolly G. Walker

In the late 1980s, I was invited by the managing editor of the Dictionary of Newfoundland & Labrador Biography to contribute biographies of select personalities. For a variety of reasons, some of my submissions were not included in the reference work. The one on Dolly G. Walker follows, with updates.

Walker, Dolly GolstonWALKER, DOLLY GOLSTON (1926-88). Overseer of the Newfoundland and Labrador District of the Apostolic Faith. Born Walnut Hill, Florida. Married Terry B. Walker on 17 February 1945. Walker held the office of youth leader, pastor and evangelist with the Apostolic Faith, a Pentecostal denomination headquartered at Portland, Oregon. In 1963 and 1974, she visited Newfoundland and conducted evangelistic meetings. In 1975, she relocated to Newfoundland, where she became overseer of the Newfoundland and Labrador District of the Apostolic Faith, succeeding Stanley Hancock. Church headquarters are located at Roddickton. Walker produced a book of gospel music, Channel of Blessing, and two audio cassettes based on that work. “The compilation of these Hymns,” she wrote in the Preface, “is the fulfillment of a dream Channel of0004I had as a young adult. Times through the years I felt an inspiration to write some of my thoughts, consecrations, prayers, testimony, etc., which you will find in this book.” She died of cancer on 18 August 1988 at Florida. Marjorie Reid (interview, 24 January 1994; letter, February 1994), D. G. Walker, Channel of Blessing (1988), souvenir funeral program for D. G. Walker (23 August 1988).

The revival of an urban legend

Some years ago, I read an intriguing newspaper story which states that a well-known library is slowly sinking. I clipped it for future reference.

LibraryAccording to the account, Queen Elizabeth II library at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL, has fallen heir to a common urban legend. The building is slipping into the very earth on which it is built. A second oddity, albeit less common among popular urban myths, is that the same structure was built backward. A third urban legend is that the facility houses a ghost, who haunts the hallowed halls of learning.

According to the first urban legend–the library is slowly sinking–the design engineers neglected to consider the weight of the books the building would hold. As a result, the monstrosity is slowly slipping downward. Indeed, according to this legend, several bookshelves must remain empty in order to avert imminent disaster.

According to the second urban legend–the structure was built backward–the windows facing Columbus Drive were intended to face Elizabeth Avenue. Unfortunately, the building was erected backward, because an ignorant engineer misread the blueprints.

According to the third legend–the library houses a ghost–I simply refuse to go there, for it defies my sense of what is rational and what is not.

The newspaper story was too good to consign to a paper shredder or “File 13,” so I sent a copy to Jan Harold Brunvand, aka “Mr. Urban Legend,” America’s premier folk detective.

“Oh, yes,” he replied, “I have had sinking libraries in my books since (I wrote) ‘The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends’ in 1993.” He thought the newspaper account “was a very nice article about the MUN version of the story.”

Incidentally, Brunvand and his wife had a nice time in Corner Brook not so long ago…and that isn’t an urban legend.

“Even though I failed to catch a salmon,” he said, “we saw amazing wild flowers and scenery.”

I pulled Brunvand’s book–The Baby Train and Other Lusty Legends– from the shelves of my personal library which, to my knowledge, is not sinking, and checked other references to sinking libraries.

Brunvand has heard this urban legend attached to, among other institutions, the University of Utah library; Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; Colgate University in Hamilton, New York; Robart’s Research Library at the University of Toronto; the University of Waterloo in Ontario; Northwestern University; the Science and Technology Library at Brown University; the new library at the University of California at San Diego…. The list is seemingly endless.

Such stories titillate the reader, making for delightful reading.

Meanwhile, libraries can sink. As Brunvand notes, the Sweetwater Country Library in Wyoming is haunted by the cemetery on which the building was erected.

“When the library was completed, serious structural problems began. Eventually, the library began to sink.”

Back to that sinking feeling at Memorial: former librarian Richard Ellis burst this urban legend bubble. The structure is maintained by columns, he says, which are unaffected by the weight of the books on the shelves. If the building were indeed sinking, it would be easy for all to observe, he adds.

As for the building standing backward, Ellis explains, “The light coming into the main reading room is a north light, which is the preferred light for reading rooms and art galleries, and it’s not as hot as south light. It was meant to be built that way for that reason.”

I’ve thought much about how these urban legends about MUN’s library arose. I think I now have the answer: My brother, who lives in Alberta, heard it from a friend who is related to the wife of a banking official in St. John’s whose brother is a student who had a prof whose spouse heard it from the cashier at the bookstore. Sounds like an airtight case to me!

Which is exactly how urban legends spread. Obviously Memorial’s library can’t escape the world of urban legends.

Justice prevails: A memoir of child abuse

Brown0002Sandra Mae Brown is a survivor of child abuse.

Born in Botwood, NL, she now resides with her partner in St. Catharines, ON. She has three children and eight grandchildren. She loves spending time with her family, and likes going on road trips and making happy memories.

This, despite the fact that many of the memories of her early life are anything but happy. As a child, she was beaten, starved and left to die by her parents.

She has now told the story of the horrendous abuse she endured, including how she bravely stood alone and took her parents to court. The title of her book is Justice Prevails.

“My hope,” she says, “is that, by sharing my experiences, I can prevent similar things from happening to other children, so that they won’t have to go through what I had to endure.”

Writing her story has been, she says, “a long and arduous journey,” consuming 15 years of her life.

Leaving school with only a grade three education, she learned, with the help of her friends, children, grandchildren, coworkers and neighbours, “to read and write enough to see my dream of sharing my story become a reality.” She has achieved her goal of sending “a message to the world” and drawing “public attention and action to the issue of child abuse.”

I personally do not believe that forgiveness means forgetting. I asked Sandra Mae this very question.

“Forgiving is not forgetting about the things that were done to me,” she responds. Instead, “I think it’s more about letting go in order to move forward with my life.”

Sharing her story, as difficult as it was, has been, she states, “the key to my freedom.”

In a transparency born of pain, she admits, “I’ve tried drugs, drinking and meds from doctors. I’ve been in the hospital for six weeks at a time.”

However, nothing worked for her until she, in her words, “started writing and, believe me, that wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I did because today I’m so happy with all that I’ve accomplished…. I’m very much at peace with my life now.”

As an abused child, she often prayed, asking God to deliver her.

“Let me take you back to that dark room,” she says, referring to the “dark hole in the wall,” where her parents had moved her when she only six. “It’s so cold inside, my fingertips are sore and bleeding as I try hard to break free. The smell of my own body waste makes me sick. I hear voices outside, but nobody seems to hear me crying for help. Mother’s footsteps scare me. I’m afraid because, at any moment, she’s going to pull me out, only to beat me again. It’s so dark, I can’t even see my hands in front of my face.

“I pray to God for help, but help doesn’t come. I say to myself, ‘Maybe God didn’t hear me praying.’

“But now,” she continues, “I believe God was there beside me all the way. I truly believe one must talk through the valley in order to claim the victory in the end. I also believe life’s hardships can be our best teacher.”

Justice0003Sandra Mae’s message resonates with her readers.

“I’ve gotten messages from across Canada from people telling me how touched they were by reading my book.

“One mother said she had to stop reading and call her daughter, whom she hadn’t talked to in years, to say she was sorry and to tell her how much she loved her and wanted to see her again.

“One young lady wanted to send a copy of my book to her mother in hopes of making things right between them again. Today they’re like best friends. Her father sent me a note of thanks.

“I feel so blessed to have all the support from people I don’t even know.”

She hopes her book will “go far and wide around the world,” but not for the sake of selling more copies. Rather, she hopes it will “save other children who are suffering from child abuse.”

She has a practical word of advice for her readers who may have gone through abuse in their own lives: “Don’t let the abuse define who you are.”

Meanwhile, she believes it is “very important for people to open their eyes to child abuse. A home may look pretty on the outside, but that doesn’t mean it’s clean on the inside.”

Sandra Mae Brown self-published her book, Justice Prevails, which is printed by Friesen Press of Victoria, BC.