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Tuesday 30 June 2015

Eleanor, Part 2: St. Augustine

Eleanor Bursey Gallant's parents, Jack Bursey and Julie Maurice Bursey, were both from St. Augustine, on the Lower North Shore of Québec. This is where they met, married in 1930 and had their family. The people on the lower north shore were self sufficient people. The Burseys did everything for themselves, without any social safety nets that people have today, such as welfare, pensions, old age security, or employment insurance. The men fished, hunted, sealed, trapped, cut wood, built what was needed. The women sewed, knit, hooked rugs, cleaned, washed, cooked and baked, raised children, all without the benefit of electricity or running water.

              St. Augustine in the foreground

Sometimes the hard work took a tragic toll on the people. Such was the case for Jack's father, Reuben, who died tragically when he was hit in the head by a piece of wood. A block and tackle gave way as he and a group of men hauled a boat ashore. He was only fifty-nine.

Neither Jack or Julie had any schooling but were educated to survive life on the coast. As children, they were taught to do the practical things and co-operate with the rest of the community. Everyone learned the basics of survival, and if anyone was in need, others helped out. People relied on each other.

                Jack and Julie Bursey

One of the most important people in the community was the midwife. There were no medical services, no doctor, nor any quick way to be extracted from the community in an emergency. The midwife was a crucial part of surviving life along the coast. The Burseys alone had sixteen children and Julie had two miscarriages as well. Occasionally, a tragedy occurred, such as happened with Julie's youngest sister. She needed a Caesarian section which the midwife could not provide, so both mother and baby died. However, the midwife delivered the biggest baby on the coast, at fifteen pounds, to Julie's brother and his wife.

   Midwife Susan Boland

The Burseys, like so many families of that time, lost four children when they were young. Lila died of pneumonia, Ashley died of brain cancer, Mary, a twin, died in infancy and Janet died of rabies. The tragedy of rabies was not as common as the other causes of death. However, it was common for animals to have rabies and people speculated that an infected animal was on the bridge of the Bursey home and Janet picked up the virus that way. There was nothing anyone could have done for Janet in those days and it was a horrible death for the young child. It must have been devastating for Jack and Julie to watch their little one suffer and die as she did.

     Julie and Ashley Bursey

St. Augustine is on the St. Augustine River, which flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The settlement is near the mouth of the river; the salinity of the water lapping the shores of the community is affected by the tides. High tide brings salty sea water from the gulf into the river. The people only collected drinking water at low tide, when its salinity level was low.

This prospect was trickier in winter when the river iced over. Then, residents loaded a barrel on a komatic and a dog pulled it to the river at low tide. Through a hole in the ice, people dipped water in buckets into the barrel. The hole used for water retrieval was then covered for safety. Procuring water was a big part of life in the community.  

One can imagine the work required to wash a man's work clothes as well as the amount of clothes for such large families. All the water was hauled from the river, clothes washed with lye soap, in a pan with a scrub board. Women were strong as a result.

        School and the old Bursey homestead

Imagine the amount of food that the women cooked on wood stoves, all year long. They used ashes from the stoves as a leaven for bread. The family spread molasses on that bread and sweetened tea and porridge with it as well.

A band of Montagnais lived across the River at St. Augustine. They bartered with the villagers on the other side of the river, and both peoples came to rely on each other. They exchanged tents and seal skins for rough grub such as flour and potatoes. The barter system worked well for both groups.

Julie made seal skin boots for her family but she was very talented at upholstery as well. She could turn her hand at almost anything, even making a couch. Jack cut the wood from her pattern and she finished it.

Jack was talented as well. He made galvanized stoves, cut hair, and repaired shoes for the community. He made marbles for his children out of zinc and skates out of barrel stays which he sharpened on one side and attached the other to their boots. Jack also extracted the core from boils for ailing people by twisting a piece of wool over the boil.

Jack fished, hunted, and sealed but he also worked checking the telegraph line in later years, and as the janitor in the school. He did every job that came his way to support his family.

The Burseys, Jack and his brother Dan, had what they called a factory. Here, during the months of June to August, they canned salmon and trout for the next year. The factory was big enough for the men and their wives to steam the cans, cooking the salmon. They sold much of their product to The Hudson's Bay, keeping some for themselves at the end of the season. The children sat for hours shining the cans for the Bay.

There was some time for fun however. Jack was musical, played the accordion and the spoons. For a time, one of his brother's, Harold, lived in Spoon Cove, which was an hour from St. Augustine by boat. In winter, the Burseys went to visit Harold on komatic, with the older people sitting on the sleigh with the sides built up so as to be more comfortable.

             Jack Bursey

In Spoon Cove, the furniture was pushed aside in someone's house and people danced. Jack sang too and told stories that seemed to lengthen with each telling. 

Sadly, Julie died from pancreatic cancer in her late fifties. Jack lived to be ninety-two. They were hard working people who survived in a sometimes harsh but always beautiful environment. Jack and Julie experienced terrible tragedy, then did what had to be done for the rest of their children. The Burseys were resourceful, talented, spirited people. Theirs is a truly Canadian story and a great way to commemorate Canada Day.

To be continued...

Thank you to Eleanor Bursey Gallant for the pictures and the information.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Eleanor, Part 1: Journey to the Coast

We are forged from our genetics and our experiences. Knowing where we come from, our ancestors and their stories, can help us understand who we are. This knowledge can empower us to be our best selves.

I enjoy helping others to tell their stories of courage and hard work. Every story is one from which we can learn something valuable. Therefore the next number of blogs will be about an incredible person we have come to know in Prince Edward Island. She has a connection to Newfoundland as well which makes her part of our geographical family.

The choices of our ancestors have a huge impact on the generations which follow. Such was the case for our friend, Eleanor Bursey Gallant and she has an amazing story which she is sharing this week. My family is happy to call Eleanor a friend and I am honoured to help her tell this story.

This part of the Bursey Gallant story begins with Eleanor's great grandfather Ebenezer Bursey. His family originated in Ireland and settled in New Chelsea, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. At that time in Newfoundland history, the lack of fish in the bays forced men to travel to Labrador, some by schooner, to catch fish. Some fishers stayed on the boats all summer while others fished from a land base along the Labrador coast. It was along that coast where Ebenezer met his future wife, Susan Belbin. They eventually married and settled in New Chelsea. There they raised a family and one of their sons was Reuben, born 1884, Eleanor's grandfather. Reuben became a seamen as well.

       Reuben Bursey

As still happens today, sometimes people who travel for work decide to make a permanent move rather than continue to commute to an area. This is what Reuben did in the early part of the last century. As a teenager, he left Newfoundland and moved to Old Fort, along the Lower North Shore of Québec, commonly called the coast.
When Reuben left his home, it was not yet a part of Canada. His journey to the Lower North Shore, took him to Canada and a job with the Hudson's Bay Company, a business synonymous with fur trading in that country. Fur trading was an important part of the Canadian economy for many generations and Reuben became a part of that history. He captained a ship which collected furs along the coast.

In Old Fort, Reuben met Suzanne Robin who was in service to the Goddards of Stick Point Island. Suzanne's father was from Jersey in the United Kingdom. She and Reuben married and eventually moved to St. Augustine where they raised eight children, four boys and four girls. Later, these children, including Eleanor's father, John(Jack), settled in St. Augustine and raised their families there. 

Suzanne is pictured below with sons Jack and Dan.

 Jack Bursey, Suzanne Robin Bursey, Dan Bursey

On her grandmother's side, Eleanor's family was from Québec. Her grandmother, Mary Ann Robin married Frank Driscoll and had five children. Frank died and Mary Ann married Henry Maurice with whom she had six children. Eleanor's mother was Julie Maurice, a middle child of this second family.

To be continued...

Thank you to Eleanor Bursey Gallant for the pictures and the information.

Thursday 25 June 2015

My Sister-In-Law

As she celebrates another birthday, I want to celebrate my sister-in-law, Michele. Her youthful appearance and demeanor are inspiring to others. This is for you, Michele.

My Sister-In-Law

She is a travel agent, 
Helping people fly. 
She started at it years ago, 
Oh how the time goes by.

She was born to Jack and Mary,
Who lived in St. John's town.
Six siblings were her first friends
All Taylors of renown.

Michele, of whom I'm speaking 
Is my sister-in-law.
Married to my brother Frank,
You know he was the draw.

Then they had Samantha
Their daughter, oh so kind.
She grew to be a person
Who really knows her mind.

Michele loved to garden,
With it she had some skill.
On Cottonwood she grew it all
With a view of Signal Hill.

Fishing is her first love though
Just casting out that line.
And at the Junction with her man
For her it makes things fine.

She also bowled for years and years
But decided then to quit.
She did the same with smoking
And knew she couldn't sit...

So, Michele trained for the Tely 10
She did it all last year.
Her family came to wish her well
To holler and to cheer.

And as she readies again this year
We know that she is training.
Whether off the road or on it
Healthy lifestyle she is gaining.

Young at heart and young of look,
Woman, take it as a sign
To celebrate those years you've seen 
With a glass of good red wine.

  Snowball says happy birthday

Best wishes for a great birthday, Michele. Hope it's one of your best birthdays ever.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Hair In Two Syllables

Living near your grandchildren is interesting because you see all the changes going on with them as they grow. Recently, both girls have started to make two syllables out of one syllable words. However this trend only applies to words ending in ere or air. So words such as hair become hai-er, there becomes ther-er, and so it goes. Caitlin, the two year old, is most famous for this speech pattern but Sylvie, at four, does it as well. 

Then there's the, "I did it," after everything Caitlin accomplishes. You cannot help but cheer after every such utterance because she announces it with such excitement. She was fascinated with going up and down the stairs on the balcony recently and proudly proclaimed her success.

Sylvie's new thing is the sentence, "I have a question for you," and you cannot predict what is coming. It can be about something that she or you are currently doing or something entirely off topic. If the past predicts the future, Caitlin will soon have a question for us as well.

The funniest times occur when Caitlin says things that the rest of us do not understand. Sylvie translates on those occasions.

Meanwhile, Rick and I shake our heads in amazement as both girls learn and grow.

"I'm so tired I have to sit in the chai-er," I said after playing with the girls for a few hours. You are never too old to learn.

Sunday 21 June 2015


She was born in 1945, the youngest child of Bessie and Ern Smith of Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Marie's parents were in their forties when she was born. This meant that as a young child, Marie had parents who were older that many of the parents of her friends and classmates.

It was as if she was raised by grandparents. In fact her oldest nephew is just seven years younger than Marie.

It is interesting to see the bank book which belonged to Marie's parents around the time of her birth. It shows that their bank balance was rarely more than $20.00, and many times they were overdrawn.

By this time, the boys in the family were old enough to work, so chances are they helped their parents. However, there were four other girls besides baby Marie at this time, and money must have been tight. Her oldest sister, Evelyn, told Marie that the day Marie was born at home, Evelyn took the other girls out of the house during the delivery.

As the youngest child, Marie was still at home when the other children were long gone. One by one, her older siblings left Corner Brook. Only Melvin remained and he was married with a family of his own. The others settled on the mainland or England, were married and had families of their own as well. Fred remained a bachelor but lived all over the world. Among the siblings, Marie was the constant at home with her parents.

Looking at the bank book, it is obvious that the Smiths were not wealthy people. However, they had a treasure in their youngest child, Marie, who stayed home and looked after them until they both passed away. A bank statement is a poor reflection of how blessed people really are.

Happy birthday, Aunt Marie! You deserve the best birthday ever!

Friday 19 June 2015

An Adventure With Mary

My mother did not get her vehicle license until after my father died, when she was sixty-one years of age. You cannot imagine what an accomplishment that was for her. She tried learing to drive when my brother and I were young but quit when she almost put the car through the garage door. After Dad died however, their car was parked outside the door and Mom had to rely on others to get around. She had the incentive to drive then. After her third attempt to get her license, Mom was successful.

When it came time to get work done on the car, Mom always went to the same garage. The first time she went there, it was shortly after she had her license. The garage had a pit in the middle of each car bay. 

"Put your car in here, Mam," said the mechanic. 

Mom looked at the car bay and said, "I don't know about that," pointing to the pit.

"You can do it, Mrs. Just take yer time."

Mom touched the gas and the car leapt forward, down into the pit. Though the car was undamaged, it took six men four hours to get the car out. 

Years later, after Mom died, my sister-in-law, Michele, took her vehicle to the same garage. The workers there remembered my mother when Michele said her name. They laughed about the event. Mom was famous at this garage; every new employee heard about her exploits years after she was gone.

Life was rarely boring with our mother.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

A Day with the Girls

We were fortunate enough to spend a day with our granddaughters, Sylvie and Caitlin, this past weekend. Time disappears when they are around, aches and pains almost forgotten. Exploration, curiosity, and energy are the order of the day, with a reminder to enjoy each minute because this time in our lives is fleeting.

Such fun!

              Waiting for Nanny and Poppy

        Planting seeds

         They're Small

               Nan Nan Doing Caitlin's Hair

              Lunch Time

                    Fun Squirting Water

                Storytime before Naptime

                           Ipad Time

                       Sylvie at the Ipad

                   Fun after Supper

                        Hide, Caitlin!

Sunday 14 June 2015

The Tin

Last week, I wrote about Reverend RF Mercer, my husband's great grandfather, a minister with the Church of England. He worked in various places around Newfoundland over his career, including Harbour Breton and Catalina. We did not have any keepsakes from Reverend Mercer until recently. 

Rick's Aunt Marie on his father's side, has a tin collection which she has saved for years. One of the tins in her collection was a tin from Reverend Mercer. It is a small tin, which held altar candles. Her brother, Melvin, gave her the tin for her collection. It held small items in his garage such as nuts and bolts.

The little tin has seen better days but it is interesting nonetheless. The tin and the candles it once held were made by Charles Farris Ltd. The company also sold altar wine, church furniture and sanctuary oil. It is still in operation today as Charles Farris, Chandlers, 1845, London. The company, in operation for one hundred and seventy years, still makes Church candles. It started during the early years in the reign of Queen Victoria and continues today into the twenty-first century. The longevity of this candle business is quite a feat.

With the size of this little box and the small candles, we wonder if the candles were brought to homes during visitation of the sick or dying, to be lit during prayers. What stories still linger in this little container? 


Thank you to Aunt Marie Smith for the little candle tin and the story which resulted.

Thursday 11 June 2015

The Old Fashioned Make-Over

One of my husband's ancestors, his great grandfather on his mother's side, was a minister in the Church of England. Reverend Mercer's son was my husband's grandfather, Richard Mercer.

Years ago, when our daughter was young, we visited Catalina, Newfoundland where Reverend Mercer is buried. 

      Rev. RF Mercer's 

He was posted at St. Peter's in Catalina twice during his career. 

            Names of Clergy
          St. Peter's Church

Rick's parents, Melvin and Sylvia, accompanied us to Catalina. 

      External and internal views of St. Peter's

After the reverend died, his family sent his suits to his son. Sylvia's mother, Classie, used the material in the suits to make gored skits for Sylvia. At the same time, one of Classie's sisters gave her a sweater that she was no longer wearing. Classie unraveled the sweater and knit one for Sylvia. 

            Sylvia in the pulpit at St. Peter's

Many women, such as Classie, had the ability to make-over clothes for their families. Sylvia loved her new clothes, made lovingly by her mother from material and wool from her family, and she was so proud of them. 

Today there are many television programs about making over your own personal style or home. However, this old fashioned make-over provided 'new' clothes for families, a more basic need than the current use of the concept implies. Besides, re-cycling of the materials is certainly a twenty-first century concept. There is a lot we can learn from the old ways.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

The Dancing Butterfly and Her Sister

If you are lucky enough to become a grandparent, you are granted the privilege of watching another generation as they grow into the world. It is one thing to be a parent, but something entirely different to be a grandparent.

This past Saturday, we had the pleasure of watching our granddaughters at the dance recital in which the oldest child, Sylvie was performing. The two year old, Caitlin, was seated with her family during the two hour performance. 

While Sylvie did her moves, as she calls them,

jumping, turning, pointing toes,

 raising arms, moving across the stage,

Caitlin watched. However, Caitlin watched all the performances and said,"Shhhh," to her mother if Claire spoke in her ear. Caitlin's rapt attention was as interesting as the performances on the stage.

   Caitlin during intermission

Before she was two, Sylvie loved to watch The Nutcracker on youtube. It will be interesting to see if Caitlin wants to dance too; or, is she just an excellent spectator?