Autumn and Thanksgiving in Newfoundland

The first Thanksgiving in Canada is said to have been celebrated nearly 50 years prior to the pilgrims of New England, making it the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America. This is a reference to the (disputed) claims that Martin Frobisher had a homecoming feast and English prayer service on (or near) Newfoundland in 1578, after surviving a voyage to the Northwest Passage. Of course, Frobisher’s feast would have come from his English Protestant traditions, rather than later narratives that developed for holiday - celebrating the harvest season.

Despite the Frobisher stories, Thanksgiving was not a government-recognized holiday in Newfoundland until confederation with Canada in 1949. Before this, Newfoundlanders celebrated the entire harvest season (Halloween included) in its own unique way. Similar to the traditions of many European countries, fire celebrations and traditions were popular in Newfoundland in the autumn. The most widespread of these traditions were the “torch nights”, where men would parade their communities at night with makeshift torches. There were many traditions surrounding Halloween, as well, such as the Colcannon (cál ceannann in Irish) dinner celebration - though, this will be discussed in a future post.

Speaking of food, Thanksgiving dinners in Newfoundland are generally quite traditional and include a number of unique cultural dishes, most of which are tied to the Irish and English heritage. Aside from a turkey stuffed with savory dressing, the feast may include boiled salt beef, pease pudding, Yorkshire pudding, boiled vegetables, and dandelion greens. Popular condiments for such a dinner (and not unusual to be seen on the table year-round) are mustard pickles and pickled beets. With the most common dessert being a lassy duff or figgy duff (traditional puddings), or maybe a blueberry grunt if the picking season has been plentiful.

Does your family have any traditions or foods that are customary?

Harry the Stonecarver

Harry Brite is an Inuk man who was born in Hopedale, Labrador but raised in St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. During his younger years Harry worked as a fisherman and boat pilot, traveling all around the island working and adventuring. Nowadays he mostly stays in St. John’s, where he is a familiar face in the downtown area: “I’m always around. I’m here and there all the time, you’ll see me.” Many who do see him walking around town don’t realize his talents as a stone carver. Harry only started carving about 12 years ago, taking it up after watching someone else. He uses pyrophyllite stone for his carvings, and basic tools such as a hacksaw and a selection of files. Harry always notes the richness of color in the stone he chooses, as well as the different markings the stone has to offer. As an artist, he is concerned with how he executes form, while keeping his carvings focused on personal interpretations of iconic images and animals of the north. These include whales, whale tails, inukshuks and what he refers to as “hoods.” His hood carvings depict the faces of women, with winter hoods covering their heads.

The images above show Harry posing with some recent carvings from this past summer, as well as how the stone looks at the beginning stages of his work.

Contributed by L. Wilson

The Irish Heart of Newfoundland (1991)

Here is a wonderful video made by a group of women of the Cape Shore, assisted by Bruce Gilbert and Fred Campbell, and sponsored by Cape Shore Area Development Association.

He stopped the car about twenty times and he’d get out and look all over the country and he’d say to me: “This is God’s country. God Almighty owns this country.”

Salvage, Newfoundland and Labrador

Situated at the tip of the Eastport Peninsula this charming and historic village offers rugged coastal scenery and fine examples of vernacular architecture in its carefully restored fishing stages. This is the oldest community on the Eastport Peninsula and among the earliest permanent settlements continuously inhabited in the province and the country. There are fewer than 200 permanent residents in Salvage but increasingly more visitors make Salvage their summer home.

We are lucky to live close enough to visit a couple of times each year, and even luckier to be there when crab is in season and the slightly weather-beaten Sea Breeze pub is open to serve a fine meal.

Photos and text by John King via his blog Newfoundland Townscapes

Encounters with Caribou

On a 5:00 am hike around the point in Port au Choix, Newfoundland, encountering 6 caribou on the barrens. 35mm photographs taken by David Barclay in August 2014.

Newfoundlanders at the 2014 Atlantic Film Festival

Below is a small selection of films produced in Newfoundland and/or by Newfoundland filmmakers that will be representing the province in Halifax for the next week. This year marks the 34th instalment of the Atlantic Film Festival, an event that celebrates and encourages the work of Atlantic filmmakers while also hosting a variety of exceptional Canadian and international work.

54 Hours (Bruce Alcock) - a beautiful animated film exploring the 1914 sealing disaster.

Atlantic Shorts Program 1 - contains the short drama Cancergirl (Allison White).

Atlantic Shorts Program 2 - contains a selection of local films such as Between Two Walls (Roger Maunder), Boarding (Jenina MacGillivray), and the sci-fi comedy Me2 (Martine Blue).

Cast No Shadow (Christian Sparkes) - the first feature film from celebrated filmmaker Christian Sparkes; a dark fantasy adapted from a novel by the acclaimed artist Joel Thomas Hynes.

CBC Atlantic Shorts Gala - a gala showcasing the skill and diversity of Atlantic filmmakers, contains the local film Flankers (Justin Oakey).

Danny (Justin Simms) - an NFB produced documentary following the charismatic former leader of the province, Danny Williams.

How To Be Deadly (Nik Sexton) - a feature length film starring absurd townie comedian and dirt bike enthusiast Donnie Dumphy. Not much else to be said, really. Deadly ol’ time!

Sister Morphine (Brad Gover) - a gritty documentary following nurses struggling with drug addictions, discrimination, and stigmas they face both privately and professionally.

We Were Wolves (Jordan Canning) - though not set locally, this dramatic family comedy is the debut feature from an award-winning local filmmaker with quite the resume.

Any islanders who happen to be in Halifax, come out and support some local filmmakers! More information about the festival here.

Flankers (2014)

A clip from a film shot this spring in the communities of Ochre Pit Cove and Northern Bay - up the north shore of Conception Bay. Its world premiere is next weekend in Halifax at the 34th Atlantic Film Festival, as the only Newfoundland-based film in the CBC Shorts Gala. Enjoy and share!

The Wood Piles of Woody Point

Though many aspects of the outport lifestyle have seen drastic change over the past few decades, some traditions have stayed intact out of necessity. Homes without central heating are common in the outports, particularly as you head north on the island. Because of this, families still rely on their trusted wood burning stoves. For these residents, harvesting local wood is a must every summer, into fall. The wood piles around Woody Point in Gros Morne National Park inform us that cooler weather is on its way. It is a great deal of work, and in this photoset we see a few different stages of that process.

Contributed by L. Wilson

Squid Jigging Grounds

A striking set of photos documenting a group of men jigging for squid off the shores of Carbonear, Conception Bay, in 1960.

Photography by Chris Lund (1923-1983), a celebrated still photographer whose work was preserved in the National Film Board’s Still Photography Division - a vast collection of Canadian photography now shared by Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The Convicts of Newfoundland

Centuries after Newfoundland was settled as a fishery, islands a world away were being settled as European penal colonies. In the late 1700s, the lands of Australia (known first as New Holland, later as New South Wales) and Tasmania (settled as Van Diemen’s Land) went through tumultuous times as penal colonies and “free provinces” were settled - primarily at the hands of the English.

During the height of convict shipment in the 1800s, Newfoundland was already primarily an Irish Catholic population, so it is no wonder there are records of its residents being sent down under to serve time. These residents would have been tried and convicted in Ireland (or even England). Two young brothers in particular, Lawrence and Thomas Baldwin, were convicted of separate thefts and shipped to the colonies on the Java and Hero, in 1833 and 1835 respectively, along with hundreds of other men and women. Other incarcerated Newfoundlanders include John Woods (Southworth, 1822), John Watson (Prince Regent I, 1824), and Edward Shaw (Nautilus, 1840).

Further, the transportation of convicts created larger problems for Newfoundland in July 1789 when a ship of Irish prisoners destined for Botany Bay (Australia) instead landed in Bay Bulls after provisions ran out and a contagious fever was rampant. The prisoners made their way into St. John’s, where most of the males were kept in a makeshift plantation-style prison. After the “jail fever” spread and took the lives of over 200 inhabitants, and after violent incidents such as attempted arson (with the intention of burning down the town), the residents of St. John’s were in fear and looked to authorities for a solution. Though it took months, the majority of remaining prisoners were sent back to England, then finally to Ireland. This event can be considered the beginning of a series of reforms to the judiciary system in Newfoundland, though the powers that be considered the handling of the situation a success.

There exists a database of all Irish convicts who were shipped to New South Wales from 1788 to 1849. For each prisoner, it lists their name and their ship, hometown, date of birth, and their crimes.

For a detailed account of the events of July 1789, see here.

Contributed by Justin Oakey