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Sunday 29 November 2015

Umbrellas Revisited

Since the recent terrorist attacks in various parts of the world, there have been repercussions, as attacks against Muslims living in our country have occurred. Our government is bringing refugees from Syria as well, and there are mixed feelings among Canadians about this move. Social media can be an avenue for hate speech. Fear can make people say and do terrible things that become their own form of terrorism. However, a simple encounter can open our minds to others. My husband, Rick and I had such an encounter. I've written about it before but it is worth another look in this current climate.

It was pouring rain as we waited for the bus. The trip from Vienna to Prague

had been uneventful but after a day of walking around the city, 

including a tour, then sightseeing on our own,

 we were ready to head back. 

Meanwhile, it poured, but we had our umbrellas.

We stood under the eave of an old building but it was raining so hard that our feet were soaked from the water pouring off the overhang and the umbrellas. Then a young couple stood in front of us, getting soaked as they stood waiting with the group. I felt for them and tapped the young woman, wearing a hijab, on the shoulder. She accepted the offer to share my umbrella and the ride back to Vienna became much more interesting than any tour could provide. 

They were a young Kuwaiti couple; he was a student of engineering in Cardiff, Wales. They were in Vienna on vacation, taking day trips to neighboring cities as were we. As a young Muslim couple, they always researched the city they visited to find places to eat which followed their dietary laws. We looked for places frequented by locals.

Lucky for us that day there was a huge traffic jam, so the trip back to Vienna was much longer than usual. This gave us more time to talk, which we enjoyed. We learned about life in Kuwait, how it compares to Saudi Arabia, and their experience in Cardiff. My husband, Rick and I had been to Cardiff the previous year so we shared our experiences with them as well.  We talked about life in Canada and our part of it, Newfoundland, at that time. 

Our lives were very similar. While our cultures, religious beliefs and environments were very different, it soon became evident how much we had in common. Family was as important to them as it was to us. They valued art, music and literature, as well as science and history, like we did. What made us similar was so much more than what separated us. Four people who shared umbrellas figured that out in a few hours on a bus.

Borders meant nothing to us. Politics was meaningless. Learning about each others' lives was all that mattered. 

Umbrella anyone?

Friday 27 November 2015

Furry Tales of the Trail

The Confederation Trail is a trail system which is island-wide in Prince Edward Island, Canada. It is a great place to walk or bicycle on what was the original railway bed. In winter, it is used for snowmobiling. The other three seasons, my husband, Rick and I love walking this trail, especially when we have the granddog, Georgie, with us.


Some problems with my legs have kept me from the trail this year but we ventured out for a short walk. It was a cool day in early November and many of the trees had lost their foliage. The sun's rays shone through on occasion, illuminating the leaves that still clung to a few stately yellow giants.

As we walked along, Georgie enjoyed her time off lead when we were the only ones there. After a few minutes, a man appeared ahead of us, coming our way, making it necessary to put Georgie back on lead. 

Dogs are a great way to make friends...or enemies. So many people love dogs and ask about them, the name, the breed, the behaviour or the age. This was the case that day. Georgie broke the ice when she stole the man's gloves. Before long Harold Richards told us his name and we asked to take his picture.

Harold grew up in Little Sands, in eastern PEI although now he and his wife live in Summerside. His father was a lobster fisherman but the family was self sufficient. His father grew vegetables, raised some cows, pigs, hens. They had apple trees as well and picked strawberries and blueberries. Harold had two brothers and three sisters. The children all had chores and this time of year, helped their father cut wood for the next winter.

At the age of fifteen, Harold left home for Toronto after working with his father for two months. His father gave him a $100.00 bill for the two months work. Harold thought he was rich. Many islanders went to work in Ontario in those days and Harold had a number of cousins living there. He rented his own place for $9.00 a week. It had a table and a hot plate but he could not afford much else. 

At a store nearby, if he bought a pound of bacon, he received a dozen eggs free. However, Harold didn't have a frying pan so he used an empty sardine can as his frying pan. He worked at Laura Secord, making $1.25 an hour, then $2.15 an hour at his next job. Over time he improved his salary but life on the island called him back home.

In PEI, Harold worked construction, even working on the Confederation Bridge, linking the island to mainland Canada. He worked as a lobster fisherman as well as a scallop fisherman for twenty years. Harold retired four years ago at the age of sixty-six. Every day possible he walks the trail, enjoying nature, meeting people.

We met a friend that day and so did Georgie, in spite of her bad behaviour. We enjoyed speaking with Harold and later discussed what he told us.

Island Families, like many in rural Canada, were self sufficient, without a social safety net such as Employment Insurance which we have today. Families produced their own food and worked from dawn to dusk to survive. There is a proud history in this province and those stories must be told

Can you imagine a fifteen year old today leaving home, renting a place in Toronto and supporting himself? The courage, ingenuity, and determination Harold exhibited were incredible. Harold did it because that was what people did at that time.

Harold was a young man with the spirit of adventure and the curiosity of youth. He started with a sardine can as a frying pan. Necessity made him creative. Leave it to youth to adapt as required though some would not have been as successful as Harold. Well done, sir!

                                   Georgie eyeing Harold's gloves again

You never know what interesting people you will meet on the Confederation Trail especially when you bring the dog.

 Thank you to Harold for allowing me to post part of his story.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Doggie Spa

We have never owned a dog but now we have a granddog. Our daughter and her family have a golden retriever named Georgie. Over time, we have provided grooming services for Georgie, learning as we go and she appears to love it. Last week, Georgie had her long overdue spa day with us. The fur flew!

This golden is such a beautiful creature and the fur, her crowning glory, is a chore to trim, especially if it has not been done for a time.

Such was the case that day when we brought Georgie home with us. First of all though she was excited to be in the car and watched for all the neighbourhood dogs when we turned into our subdivision. Like a good friend, she greeted them as we passed.

We trim Georgie's fur as she stands on the table. 

The appearance of the old blanket on the table is her sign to jump up. That day, she did not wait for the blanket to be stretched out before she was up there, eager to be combed and brushed. 

After what seemed like forever, with both my husband, Rick and I covered in hair, she was done, fur trimmed, nails cut, teeth brushed, ears cleaned and bathed. 

The only odour left was the familiar smell of dog.

Mission accomplished...until next time. 

Sunday 22 November 2015


We had occasion to look after our granddaughters one day last week. We did the usual things, arts and crafts, and a visit to the playground.

But one thing the girls love to do is play dress-up and at our house, the dress-up items are the clothes they bring with them, including underwear.

The oldest, Sylvie, thought it was fun

to put the underwear on her head. Then she tried it on her sister. It was hilarious!

There was a time however, when some women in Newfoundland wore underwear on their heads when they made bread. We had no direct experience of this in our families, but we knew about it.

When we worked in Buchans, Newfoundland, the students discovered that Rick was the bread maker in our house. This was forty years ago and not a common practice among the miners in that town. One boy was curious about Rick's attire whilst making bread. He asked, "Do you wear your own underwear or your wife's on your head when you make bread, Sir?"

Rick was perturbed by the question. He asked the boy, "What are you talking about?"

"Mom puts underwear on her head when she makes bread," was the reply.

"Oh!...there isn't any underwear on my head when I make bread," said Rick.

When Rick told me, we laughed of course. That's one way for a man to wear women's underwear.

It is a good thing that hair nets came into fashion in the food service industry, don't you think?

Thursday 19 November 2015

The Wonder of Grace Newell

I am interested in the women in our history whose stories are seldom told. They often disappear in the records when they marry and take their spouses' names.. If we are lucky, we find their birth/baptismal information but their mothers' maiden names are seldom given. Marriage records can be helpful but often are destroyed, missing or non-existent. Finding a matrilineal line is difficult.

Then there is Grace Newell. Grace was married in 1860 to Eli Mercer. She is my husband's great great grandmother on his mother's paternal side. We have not been able to find Grace's birth date but we imagine it to be in the 1830s. The baptismal records for that time do not exist for that area. If she was born elsewhere in Newfoundland, finding her baptismal information will be a long search. We may never know the names of Grace's parents.

                     Grace Newell

We know that Grace married Eli Mercer in 1860 in Bareneed, Newfoundland. The name Bareneed itself conjures up interesting images. There are several theories as to the reason for such an unusual name, the most accepted of which relates to the bare land and exposure of the area on the Port de Grave peninsula in Conception Bay.
We are fortunate to have a picture of Grace which is unusual for the time. Some of the earliest photographs in Newfoundland were taken in the late 1850s. The date of this photo is unknown.

Of Grace herself, we only know what we can see from the photo or infer from her appearance. She has strong features, dark hair and eyes, with high cheek bones. Some people have suggested that Grace had Indigenous ancestry in her family line though the Newells in Newfoundland were originally from Britain. We would need to find her matrilineal line to confirm this suggestion.

Her hair, though tidy, gives severity to her features. In the 1860s, a woman's long hair was parted and flattened to the head around the face and gathered in at the back of the head. By the 1870s, hair was gathered on top of the head so this picture may be from the 1860s. Could this picture have been taken before Grace married?

It is interesting that Grace had a brooch at her collar. This piece of jewelry and the picture itself were not the common property of fishermen's daughters. Such families had difficulty feeding the children, leaving little for pictures or jewelry. Grace's family may not have been of average means for the time. Her father may have been a merchant or a planter.**

After their marriage, Eli and Grace lived in Bay Roberts, Eli's home. Eli was a fisherman, according to an occupational directory of the time. There they had five children, the youngest of whom was my husband's great grandfather, Richard Mercer. By the time Eli died in 1907, he was a planter.

            Richard's Graduation

Eli and Grace's son, Richard, married Clarinda Moulton of Burgeo. Her father was a merchant. Richard met Clarinda when he was stationed in Burgeo as the Church of England minister. It was said that their wedding was the social occasion of the year.

           Richard and Clarinda

Clarinda and Richard had nine children, not all of whom lived to adulthood. One son survived, my husband's grandfather Richard, born 1909. One of his sisters, Faith was born in 1920. While her colouring is lighter than Grace's, the shape of her face is unique among her siblings and similar to her grandmother's strong cheek bones.

Faith married late in life and did not have any children. We are remembering her today and giving her a place in the family story.


When I see the pictures of Grace Newell Mercer and her granddaughter Faith Mercer Randell, I wonder whose features I exhibit. Dad always said I looked like his mother...

*The photographer is JP Newell, who was born in Bareneed. We cannot help but wonder if he is a distant relative of my husband. His photo galleries, accessible on the upper left corner, are beautiful.

**The first fishers of Newfoundland were migratory, sailing from Britain in the spring and returning again in the fall. The first resident fishers were called planters. Over time, the term referred to a man who owned a fishing vessel.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

The Cathedral

My grandparents on my mother's side were religious people, catholics to the core. Daily family rosary occurred regardless of whom was visiting their home. They attended Mass weekly if not daily. Nan and Granda gave up certain food items for Lent, observed all the days of obligation, fasted, went to confession, ate fish on Friday, and prayed every morning and night.

Any transgression my grandfather made, such as swearing, Nan said, "You should be makin' your soul, Gus, not at that." Granda always dismissed what Nan said about his soul. He figured his soul was "made" by the work he did to support his family and all the prayers he said throughout his life.

One Sunday last month, I spent part of the morning walking on the boardwalk by the bay. The usual population of seniors on the trail was absent. "Making their souls," I said to myself, hearing Nan's voice in my head as I walked the trail.

There was a time I would have been in church with them. This morning, my cathedral is by the bay, 

my choir-the birds, 

the congregation-my fellow walkers, 

some of whom minister to the animals. 

Prayer rises from the sound of the waves as they lap the shore and the trees as they creak and sway in the breeze. 

Nature is the sacrament.

As I drive home, I realize I have been "making my soul" today too, not as Nan did, but just as prayer-like in its own way. However, what would Nan think?

Our daughter has one cousin, my niece Samantha. Today is her twenty-first birthday. Have a fabulous day, sweetie. You deserve the best!

Sunday 15 November 2015

A Walk and a Smile

Trying to beat the rain, my husband Rick and I headed to the boardwalk by the ocean last week for a walk. By the time we arrived at the trail, it was raining so we headed to the local recreation complex just up the road.

This is a beautiful facility, which is well used by the community. It has a pool, a bowling alley, a gym, meeting rooms, restaurants, a race track, two ice surfaces, one in a stadium with seating, and a walking track. Early morning as it was, the place had seniors, skating and walking the track.

Toned, fit seniors were working out in the gym and the pool had a seniors' exercise class while a group of moms and babies swam at the far side.

Seniors are a vibrant part of the community in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. From education courses in Community School and Seniors' College, to volunteering, and physical activity, many seniors lead full, busy lives. Every time we go to the walking track I smile to see how busy it is.

We are slow today as I have leg problems, so a group of fast moving people pass us. I stop to get some pictures and a older gentleman stops to speak. He walks four to five times a week with his wife who has finished her walk for today. He moves on and as I approach the starting line again, there he is, sat with his wife. We exchange smiles and I approach to speak with them.

They were married in their sixties, the second time for each. Marrying at that age, their children were raised; they have had a good life together. Now in their eighties, he has diabetes and she has poor eyesight. The walking track is perfect for them, keeping them active, giving them an opportunity to socialize. Walking is keeping him out of a wheel chair. He is a musician, and plays in two bands to this day, entertaining in seniors' homes to some people who are younger than he is. His wife speaks of his music which she enjoys. The twinkle in their eyes gives a hint of the young people they are at heart.

These two seniors were a true inspiration for me and represent two of the great stories on this track this day. A smile is all it takes.

Thursday 12 November 2015

The Old Squid Jigger

We found this squid jigger last week when we tidied up the garage. It belonged to my husband's father.

                                           Squid Jigger

Melvin had jigged for cod, never squid, but he had this jigger among his possessions. It reminded me of the images from my youth; the evenings in Motion Bay, Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, when the in-shore fishing boats dropped anchor and caught the bait for the next day.

The fisherman lowered a line of jiggers into a school of squid which were hooked by the sharp barbs on the jiggers. Squid have an ink sack and eject the ink as a defense mechanism. They squirted as they were hauled into the boats.

Newfoundland had its own culture before it became a part of Canada in 1949. Our ancestors, mainly from England and Ireland, brought their language, customs and traditions with them. Over the centuries of hard work on the land and sea, they forged a bond and a culture unique to this island home. The music they sang was steeped in Irish and English tradition but their own music and song grew from their common experience.

One such song, the Squid Jigging Ground, written by Art Scammell, grew from an island tradition. It tells of the pursuit of the "squids," and an interesting cast of characters, waiting to catch them and the drama when they do. 

There is a video link below of Hank Snow singing The Squid Jigging Ground. While Hank Snow was not a Newfoundlander, he was from the east coast of Canada. The video link shows the squid fishery so it is worth a look and listen.

There are several interesting things about this song.

A cape ann, mentioned in the song, is an oil skin cap with a wide brim that slopes at the back and has ear flaps. It ties under the chin. It is also called a sou'wester.

Any gathering of Newfoundlanders usually involves a discussion of politics. Squires in the song, was a Liberal prime minister of Newfoundland and is discussed as part of the yarnin' or storytelling.

One of the characters is "chewin' hard tack," a hard, dry, flour and water biscuit-like food that is almost non-perishable. British sailors ate it on long sea voyages. Newfoundlanders eat cakes of it today, reconstituted with water and call it brewis. It is commonly eaten with watered salt fish, a staple of the Newfoundland diet for centuries.

                                          Hard tack today

The squid "juice" covered everything, so Scammell wrote,

"And if you get cranky without yer silk hanky,
You'd better steer clear of the squid jigging ground."

The link to the video is here.

There are giant squid shown in this video as well. That is another story.

Tuesday 10 November 2015


My mother-in-law, Sylvia Mercer Smith, 

      Sylvia Mercer Smith

gave her great granddaughters a locket once owned by their great great great grandmother, Clarinda Moulton Mercer.

                          Clarinda Moulton Mercer

Clarinda was from Burgeo, Newfoundland. This locket is an interesting item for several reasons.

Clarinda's father, Thomas Moulton, was the fish merchant in Burgeo.

          Thomas Moulton

The merchants controlled the lives of people in the community. They determined the price of the saltfish that the fishermen worked all season to catch and cure. Then they sold goods to the fishers, who used the value of the catch as payment for goods. For a fishing family to have cash was unusual. Often they owed money to the merchant, who valued the fish and the goods they bought. 

It would be rare for a fisherman's daughter to possess such a locket. Her family would have difficulty to feed and clothe the children, leaving nothing for jewelry or anything that was not essential for survival. Clarinda's family was wealthy for that time.

The gold locket has what looks like initials M M engraved on the front.

On the back of the locket is a clover leaf, in green stones inside a heart of stones.

Within, there are two pictures, one of Clarinda 

and one of her brother, Edgar, a soldier in the Newfoundland Regiment, 

which fought with the British in the First World War. He died November 22, 1917 from wounds inflicted in battle.

Today, ninety-eight years later, Edgar is one of the people we remember on this day. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. His sister remembered him during her life and in the years since her death, her family has taken up the torch.

Today is the two year anniversary of my first blog post. It too was about Remembrance and includes a photo of Edgar.  Here is the link.

Next year will be the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, a part of the Battle of the Somme during that terrible war. During that fight, the Newfoundland Regiment, with approximately eight hundred men, went "over the top" of the trenches on July 1st. One hundred and ten survived with only sixty-eight answering roll call the next morning. It was a huge loss to the colony of Newfoundland.

A special commemorative piece called Sing You Home-Remember Them at The Rooms, done for the one hundredth anniversary of the battle, is a beautiful way to remember the Newfoundland Regiment and those who fought for king and country.

We will remember them and all the brave men and women who fought for our freedom.

Sunday 8 November 2015

In Service

Many of our foremothers in Newfoundland went into service at an early age, working as servants to people, often far away from their own homes. Some were in service as early as ten years of age.

Often their own families could not feed them, so the girls were sent away to another family who could. For room and board and a few dollars, the girls worked long hours for little pay and their earnings helped to support their families.

One of our family friends, Clara, born 1926, went into service at ten years old. Her father, a fisherman, could not feed the family after a poor fishing season. Clara had to quit school and soon, her father took her by boat to another family along the coast. There she did all the housework which she was physically able to do at ten years of age. The money she made helped her family and they had one less mouth to feed. Clara worked hard and never complained about the circumstances which brought her to work as a child.


In my husband's family, his grandmother, Bessie Earle Smith, born 1902, went into service as well. We do not know the circumstances which brought Bessie to that work. We know her mother died when she was young and her father remarried. Bessie worked in Millertown Junction, in-land and west of her coastal home of Durrell.

Bessie was a small, deaf woman, short in stature, with tiny hands. Hearing aids, acquired later in life, helped but did not fix her hearing. One can imagine how hard she worked as a girl or young woman carrying water, scrubbing clothes and floors, baking bread and all the other tasks given to a girl in service.


It must have been lonely for the girls, living away from their families in new surroundings, living with strangers. How many tears were shed in the lonely hours when they were too exhausted to even think? How were they treated, as not all girls and young women worked in ideal situations? Like others of that time, they were taught to take whatever came. They did not speak of their experiences.

Some were happy to be in service because it meant an end to hunger. During those tough times, one family friend was so hungry, whenever he had a chance, he ate the feed his father had for the hens. His father could not understand how the chicken feed disappeared.

Both Clara and Bessie went on to have families of their own. Bessie raised her family in Corner Brook, visiting Durrell a number of times over the years. Clara and her family moved to Mount Pearl where she eventually worked outside her home. She retired back to Trinity Bay, to the home where she was born.

Looking at their pictures today, one can only wonder what their young lives were like. What stories were behind their faces?


Sunday morning, two degrees and sunny but the wind is gusting to 80 kilometers an hour. Time for a walk. Not my normal thought in such conditions but the glorious sun is drawing me out. Alone this morning, I head to the western side of the boardwalk by the bay,

 where the trees provide some shelter.

It is high tide with white caps on the harbour 

as the waves stir up that red earth around Prince Edward Island. The water is muddy this morning. 

The boardwalk is deserted except for a handful of people of various ages. 

Weekdays, seniors dominate the trails.

As always, the birds and squirrels are present, 

watching every move as people often leave seeds for them. The chickadees, 

blue jays and crows vie for their place in the food distribution game. 

The sound of the wind in the trees is a constant companion, as the giants sway and creak. The sound is invigorating and energizing yet comforting on the lonely trail.

In places, the sound of the ocean dominates. The rough water breaks onto rocks rather than the usual sandy shoreline; rocks placed along the shore to help prevent erosion. 

The sea is rough for this harbour on the south side of the island. Sea gulls nearby sound like a choir.

Near the end of the walk, the sounds of children are carried on the wind. Approaching the last bend, there is a group of young women, not children, lying on the ground in a circle facing skyward and taking selfies. 

Back to the twenty-first century...