What started out as Hurricane Fiona last week became a tropical storm as it passed over Atlantic Canada. We were warned about the wind, rain and storm surge but what we experienced was more than we could have imagined. While our house is not along the coast, those who were experienced an onslaught they could never have expected, especially along the north shore of Prince Edward Island, where the northwesterly winds did the worst damage. We were assaulted by the outer bands of the system to its west with the equivalent of a category 2 storm. Today more than two thirds of the island doesn’t have power yet.
It wasn’t the same wind direction which destroyed much of a Newfoundland community however. Channel Port aux Basques on the southwest corner of the island, was in the direct path of that monster of a storm and the on-shore winds from the advancing storm meant a wall of water, with each wave, estimated at over sixteen metres high and propelled by wind speeds of 130 kph, hit homes with the force of advancing locomotives. Many disappeared into the sea. One woman died. Up to one hundred homes in the area are missing or destroyed.
That community is where my husband’s maternal grandmother was from. For posterity, I wrote about that side of our family in 2014 and am updating the information to reflect events since then. To those who follow my blog, you may want to stop here.
When my husband, Rick was three, his mother, Sylvia took him for a week to visit her grandparents, Julia nee Hardy and Joe Lawrence. They took the train from Corner Brook, Newfoundland to Channel Port aux Basques where her grandparents lived.
Sylvia is the middle child of Classie (Lawrence) and Richard (Dick) Mercer. She has two brothers, Richard (Dick) and Carl. The three were born in Channel Port aux Basques and have fond memories of their grandparents especially during their youth. Sylvia wanted Rick to know these wonderful people.
Joe Lawrence was from Channel but Julia was from another community along the southwest coast of Newfoundland. While Joe lived into the late 1980s, Julia died more than thirty years earlier and Sylvia's memories of her are closely tied to the house where she lived, a house with a great deal of character.
This house had a beautiful garden where Julia grew gorgeous dahlias. She also grew rhubarb and gooseberries. It was an incredible feat to have a garden in that area because the houses were built on solid rock. Julia was a great gardener and worked hard to build up the soil for her garden.
Julia made the best thin apricot pies out of dried apricots and cooked them on plates in the oven of the wood stove. Her meals were delicious and the food was plentiful.
Julia was a robust woman with dark curly hair. She was good to Sylvia and though she shouted at her own children, Julia didn't once raise her voice to Sylvia. Dick, Carl and Sylvia, were close in age to the youngest of Julia's own children. Julia's youngest child, Clarinda was a year younger than Dick and a year older than Sylvia. Sylvia’s mother, Classie, was Julia and Joe’s oldest child. While she loved all three of her grandchildren, Julia's favourite was the oldest grandchild, Dick. He could do no wrong according to Julia.
Joe purchased their house with gold pieces which he saved by working on a ship. Later he was a conductor with the Newfoundland Railway. Julia kept the house immaculately and it was a huge house to tend. It had three levels, with the attic holding a hot water tank. This was an exceptional feature in a Newfoundland home for that time. The attic was also the storage place for mats in the summer and wool for carding.
The second level had three bedrooms, two of which had fireplaces. There was also a huge bathroom with a sink, toilet and bathtub. This was unusual as well, to have a bathroom but especially one so large and well equipped. The hall on this floor was wide enough that Julia had a bed under the hall window for guests if needed.
The unique thing about the main floor was that it had two kitchens, one for summer and one for winter use. It also had two verandas front and back, one covered with windows all around where Julia kept wicker furniture, the other had a covered deck. The living and dining rooms on the main floor were not used until the minister visited, like in so many Newfoundland homes. Only special guests ever got into those rooms.
There was a wash house on the main level as well, what we call a laundry room today. There Julia kept her wash tub and a stove for heating water in addition to the hot water provided from the hot water tank. This wash house had a table and chairs where the family ate on wash days.
In summer they ate in the summer kitchen which lacked a stove, and the rest of the year, in the winter kitchen which was warmer and had the cook stove. There was a huge window in the winter kitchen. Julia set up her rug hooking frame under that window and hooked her mats out of scraps of material. She took the mats across the Lower Road, path really, to the shoreline and washed them on the beach.
Joe's motor boat was pulled ashore on that beach. He used this boat for fishing or going to work at the railway, motoring around the point of land in Channel and steering along the coastline to the train station. Sylvia's older brother, Dick, often went in the boat with his grandfather. The lobsters were so plentiful that the two speared them from the boat. On one such trip Joe's motor cut out and he couldn't get it working again. As they drifted closer and closer to the rocks, Dick thought they were going to die. Luckily Joe didn't give up on the motor and got it going just in time to save them from a rocky, watery demise.
People moved around by boat a great deal because roads were merely paths. They often used horse and cart as well however. Sylvia's father fell off the cart on his way home one day and broke his arm, in the 1930s version of a traffic accident.
Note: Richard (Dick) Mercer, Sylvia’s brother, died in 2016.