Dr. Grenfell as I knew him
Some years back, one of Grenfell’s secretaries asked me if I would introduce him to an audience in the Metropolitan Opera House. It has been the usual thing for several years to have an opera benefit to aid the Grenfell Association in its work.
My job was really to just say a few words regarding what I knew of the work in Labrador. Long before the people began coming to the Metropolitan, I wended my way to the box marked 45. In a little while, Dr. Grenfell came in. I had not seen him since the evening at the Academy of Music at Philadelphia.
Always in his work in Labrador, he would stop at Turnavik, and Father would give him all the news of what had been going on regarding myself.
Since Father has given up Turnavik, that is, he hasn’t gone there himself, I stop on my return from Greenland and give some of the old servants books, tea, coffee, sugar, flour and whatever I have left over. Sometimes I give them a spare coil of rope they can use for moorings for their seal nets in the fall, and gasoline, boards, planks, nails etc.
For the last years, Labrador has been hit by the hard times, and it has been difficult for the people living there to dispose of their summer and winter’s catch (codfish, salmon, trout and the winter’s furs), that is, to get any price for it. Like everybody else in the world in the good times, they were riding high and mighty, and now it is difficult for them to settle down where they can only get a bare existence.
Of course, Dr. Grenfell was very much interested in what I told him about the people, and leaving them well provided to face the winter etc. We chatted along those lines.
Presently the box began to fill up with other guests and the Metropolitan Opera House was filled to the doors. Every box in the tiers was filled. Really, it was a grand sight to see so many people there, which meant that the interest in Dr. Grenfell’s Labrador work was still active, and this gladdened him so much that he was lost in praise and good feeling to all concerned. Contentment and happiness radiated from him.
A great audience
Then he said, “Bob, I am to introduce you.” Then again he said,“You will introduce me.” To tell the honest truth, I wasn’t thinking much about it anyway, except that I was glad to be there and glad for his sake, as well as the people up at Labrador, that such a great audience was in attendance.
Just before the first scene ended, one of the secretaries came into the box and touched Dr. Grenfell on the shoulder. I was intensely interested in the singing, and would rather have stayed there than go down with the doctor on the stage. He said, “Come on, Bob. Come on.” And away we went, walking up the catwalk to backstage. Out he went on the stage. He began to talk.
In his talk, he was up on the bridge of the Strathcona in Labrador, moving around in the little coves. The sick and the bereaved, those in trouble mentally and physically, were coming aboard, while others had good news that certain members of the family had been restored to health, and things were getting along fine with them. And now, he was asking for help and telling that audience what wonderful people they were and that, through hard fortune in this fastchanging world of modernism, those people, through no fault of their own, were not able to keep abreast of the times. And that they were the forebears of the Empire Builders of the British Empire, that they were coming back and that, with a little help from the good people of the United States, they would become once more independent.
I knew that, when he got off on that tack, there was no getting him back to the backstage again. He sure had his signals mixed and, when it came time to introduce me, he had forgotten. The audience cheered and clapped enthusiastically. The warm reception lifted him to the ecstasy of pure joy of doing and living his life on the Labrador all over again.
He was telling them that through him it was the medium whereby their deep gratitude was brought. It was so like him and I was thrilled to hear him.
By and by, [ Giulio] GattiCasazza [1869-1940] was running up and down backstage, and you could see the sulphur coming out of his mouth. He just blew up completely, and we had a job to restrain him from going on the stage and either throwing Sir Wilfred off or getting him back. [Lucrezia] Bori [1887-1960], too, was becoming hysterical and wringing her hands. So I went up to her, caught her around the waist and gave her a spin or two.
The next thing I knew, I was grabbed and forced out on the stage. When Grenfell saw me coming, he stopped and began to apologize, telling the audience that his intention was to introduce me as a “ product” of Labrador.
The audience now understood what it was all about and they rose to the occasion in a tremendous ovation. I was now in the centre of the stage, amidst all the thundering applause and, in a few words, told them that this was not my first appearance on the Metropolitan Opera stage. The other happened when Governor [Charles Evans] Hughes [1862-1948], now Chief Justice [of the United States] Hughes, and the citizens of New York, gave [Robert E.] Peary [1856-1920] a $10,000 gift, when he lectured on his discovery of the North Pole, April 6, 1909. I then told briefly of Grenfell’s work on the Labrador. The audience was splendid, and Grenfell had a good time.
To be concluded...
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at email@example.com