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 bur­tonj@nfld.net

Bob Bartlett

Wil­fred Gren­fell

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