Through the years

Blanche Biles vividly re­mem­bers her life in St. An­thony and the Bight

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL - KYLE GREENHAM ST. AN­THONY, NL

As she rocks in her win­dow­side chair, with pho­to­graphs of old friends and old mem­o­ries placed along the walls and shelves, 93-year-old Blanche Biles re­tains a vivid mem­ory of all her years liv­ing in the St. An­thony area.

The specifics of names, dates and events are never far from her rec­ol­lec­tion.

Be­gin­nings

Biles was born in the small fish­ing vil­lage of St. An­thony Bight, and lived there till she was 18. While the school in St. An­thony Bight has been with­out use for many years, Biles re­calls when her tenth-grade class there had 37 other stu­dents and only one teacher.

As a teenager, Biles spent two sum­mers work­ing at a sal­mon plant in the Bight. It was in the pre-Con­fed­er­a­tion days of 1938, when labour did not of­ten come with high pay.

“I was 14 when I went to work there,” said Biles. “I got eight cents an hour my first sum­mer and the next sum­mer I got 12 cents an hour.”

At 18 she moved to the town of St. An­thony where she worked at the old Co-op store from Novem­ber 1942 to De­cem­ber 1945. Biles says when she started she made $25 a month, and when she left she was mak­ing $50 a month.

Biles’ sib­lings and par­ents also moved to St. An­thony in the early 50s.

Af­ter dat­ing for four years, she mar­ried her hus­band Luke on New Year’s Day, 1945. They had known one an­other since child­hood.

“It was a new life on a new Blanche Biles, 93, spent her life liv­ing in the town of St. An­thony and the Bight. The specifics of names, dates and events are never far from her rec­ol­lec­tion. year,” Biles rem­i­nisced.

The ref­er­en­dum

Biles re­mem­bers the ref­er­en­dum to bring New­found­land into Con­fed­er­a­tion as a par­tic­u­larly rough time for St. An­thony and the is­land as a whole.

“There was a lot of poor peo­ple then, New­found­land wasn’t in a very good shape,” she said. “For fish, there was no price and for labour you couldn’t get much.”

Biles’ fa­ther was a fish­er­man and the prof­its then were scarce. She says the mer­chants on Wa­ter Street were of­ten a plague on out­port com­mu­ni­ties like St. An­thony.

“They didn’t get no money, just turned over the fish to the mer­chants,” Biles said. “Dad would have 100 boxes of frozen sal­mon one year, and he only got two and a half cents a pound for it.

“That was the prob­lem – the mer­chants on Wa­ter Street were starv­ing the peo­ple of New­found­land to death. They were mil­lion­aires and the fish­er­men had no other choice with

nowhere else to sell it.”

Biles says af­ter the ref­er­en­dum changes grad­u­ally came around. The baby bonus and changes in old-age pensions brought a re­vi­tal­ized at­mos­phere to much of New­found­land.

“Be­fore Con­fed­er­a­tion, you had to be 70 to get any help from gov­ern­ment, and even then, you only got $5 a month,” she said. “Af­ter Con­fed­er­a­tion, old-age pen­sion­ers got $35 a month, and that was a big change.”

The nurs­ery

Af­ter get­ting mar­ried, Biles looked af­ter Luke’s par­ents for seven years and then ran a board­ing house un­til 1965. She then en­gaged in a nurse as­sis­tant course and worked in the town hos­pi­tal for 19 years. Twelve years of those were spent work­ing in the nurs­ery.

It’s a time in her life Biles re­mem­bers fondly.

“I think the most we had was 24 ba­bies at one time,” Biles said. “We’d mea­sure the baby, take its tem­per­a­ture, and give

the baby its first bath. I re­ally en­joyed it.”

From the time she started at the nurs­ery to her re­tire­ment, there were a to­tal 6,000 ba­bies born.

“And that’s straight from the med­i­cal records,” said Biles. “There was lots of ba­bies then, no ba­bies now.”

Luke spent much of his life work­ing as a fish­er­man, but even­tu­ally worked as a su­per­vi­sor at St. An­thony Seafoods Ltd. for 35 years.

Later years

Af­ter years strug­gling with Alzheimer’s, Luke died in 2005. As his sick­ness grew, he lived in the John M. Grey Cen­tre and Com­plex for four years and four months.

Biles came to see him ev­ery­day.

“I went ev­ery day and gave him a meal,” she said. “Ev­ery day – I didn’t miss one.

“I still miss him. He was a lov­ing hus­band; a good man. We had a good life.”

Now years on, Biles re­sides on her own. She spends much

of her time knit­ting and en­ter­tain­ing friends and rel­a­tives, but the thought of Luke is never far from her mind.

“It’s a rough time get­ting used to it, you never get over it,” she said. “Time heals it to a cer­tain ex­tent, but you never get over it.”

Of her im­me­di­ate fam­ily, Biles is the only one to have reached the age of 80. Her par­ents and broth­ers died in their sev­en­ties, and her sis­ter died of can­cer in her 40s.

Although she has had 13 surg­eries from hip re­place­ment to back surgery, Biles says she’s still in one piece.

Now 93, she keeps busy knit­ting items for friends and rel­a­tives, as well as for the United Church and Hos­pi­tal Auxiliary. While a pri­vate home care worker helps her with house clean­ing, Biles still cooks for her­self.

“I get lots of vis­i­tors,” she said. “When you get to 93 you make a lot of friends over the years.”

KYLE GREENHAM/THE NORTH­ERN PEN

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