The kids worked for weeks to get enough wood but it didn't seem like work. Every spare minute for almost two weeks prior to the fire, they scrounged as much wood as they could get. Of course their parents didn't want to give up any wood; it was too precious to the family. So the kids scoured the woods and all around their part of town so that by November 5, their bonfire would burn big and long. There was a time when they burned old tires. Those days of toxic smoke are long gone now.
Bonfire night in Newfoundland commemorates Guy Fawkes night, the November night that Fawkes was discovered guarding a storage room full of gunpowder secreted under the House of Lords in London. Fawkes and other English Catholics wanted to kill James 1 of England, blow up Parliament and replace him with a Catholic King. This Gunpowder Plot was foiled however.
Since that time in 1605, in England, Fawkes is burned in effigy on bonfires November 5th every year and fireworks follow. Part of the tradition carried to Newfoundland where there are usually only bonfires.
We did not celebrate bonfire night in my family. I don't even remember hearing about it until I moved to Buchans. I think it was because we were Catholic we didn't celebrate the defeat of the Catholic cause in England. In Buchans all the kids collected wood for their fire and got together to have fun. The four hundred year old cause meant nothing to young people in the closely knit community.
The Smith family has memories of those nights in Corner Brook when they were young. Rick's mother, Sylvia, remembers the effort to get the wood for the fire in her neighbourhood on the west side. She poked a stick into the fire on one occasion and when she withdrew it, a drop of hot tar fell on her arm, burning her. The scar was there for decades.
Aunt Marie remembers the bonfires near her home as well. Gathering the kindling was a big venture for the kids. They roasted, rather burnt, potatoes in the fire. The kids cut into the charred spuds, hoping that the middle of the potato would be roasted. Sometimes they were lucky.
Rick remembers the big venture of cutting trees and collecting boughs and wood for the bonfire in Maple Valley when his family lived there. The boys worked hard to drag and pile their wood across the road, where they too charred potatoes in the flames. Today kids roast marshmallows and wieners.
The bonfire tradition has died in Prince Edward Island. The centuries have obscured the tradition and blurred the memories of those who used to partake. The threat of fire in the sparsely populated countryside was always a danger.
Tonight in the community of Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, there will be a huge community bonfire at Centennial Field followed by fireworks. This event will conclude the Red Maple Festival which is new to the town since we lived there. While the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night is over four hundred years old, it has evolved with the times in Grand Falls-Windsor to be a part of a bigger festival. Tradition continues but with a twenty-first century twist.
To the bonfire revelers in Newfoundland tonight, stay safe, and don't eat too many charred wieners and marshmallows. Enjoy!