A trea­sure trove of trivia

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

Did you know that the French de­stroyed the set­tle­ment now known as Bay Roberts in 1689 and again in 1705, but each time the community was re­built? That Shearstown and Makin­sons were once called Spa­niard’s Bay Pond and Ju­niper Stump, re­spec­tively? That Ro­man Catholics at Car­bon­ear were con­victed for say­ing the mass and tak­ing con­fes­sions in 1755? That work on St. Ge­orge’s Church in New Har­bour was ac­cel­er­ated af­ter the build­ing nearly col­lapsed un­der the weight of a large gath­er­ing met to greet Bishop Llewellyn Jones in 1879? That the community of Blake­town re­sulted from the first gov­ern­mentspon­sored re­set­tle­ment in New­found­land?

I could go on, but I’ve given enough ex­am­ples to show that the prov­ince abounds in trivia.

Now, the best of the best has been in­cluded in David E. Scott’s book, “New­found­land and Labrador Place Names.” The sub­ti­tle is more to the point: “place name ori­gins, at­trac­tions, trivia, le­gends, char­ac­ters, (and) New­found­land firsts.”

In over 500 pages, the au­thor has ac­com­plished no mean feat by ex­plain­ing the ori­gin of the name of each of the 863 com­mu­ni­ties listed on the 2011 of­fi­cial travel map of New­found­land and Labrador, as well as 791 other names of for­mer com­mu­ni­ties or ge­o­graphic fea­tures. It’s a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure trove of trivia de­signed to whet the reader’s ap­petite.

Scott ad­mits, “Some may ques­tion why a per­son with an On­tario ad­dress has the pre­sump­tu­ous­ness to write a book about New­found­land and Labrador.” His an­swer is sim­ple: “We can’t all live where we’d pre­fer to!”

He says his “love af­fair with the prov­ince be­gan when the first hun­gry rain­bow trout snapped at my dry fly from the wa­ters of the Ashua­nipi River in western Labrador.”

Af­ter his brother moved to the is­land of New­found­land, Scott made “per­sonal vis­its, fol­lowed by many busi­ness trips, to cover fed­eral elec­tions as a news­pa­per re­porter/colum­nist and to ex­plore the is­land as a travel writer/pho­tog­ra­pher and, later, guide book au­thor.”

Af­ter hav­ing trav­elled in al­most 100 coun­tries on all con­ti­nents, he “can truth­fully re­port that … the place that has al­ways wel­comed me most warmly has been New­found­land.” In On­tario, he sug­gests, “many res­i­dents have yet to be­gin to even un­der­stand the mean­ing of the word hos­pi­tal­ity.”

The value of Scott’s book is en­hanced by over 200 lit­tle-known facts and oc­cur­rences in the prov­ince, more than 200 at­trac­tions, and 71 mini-bi­ogra­phies of “fa­mous, in­fa­mous and notso- fa­mous- but- still- very­in­ter­est­ing New­found­lan­ders, folks who achieved some­thing out­stand­ingly pos­i­tive — or neg­a­tive — dur­ing their life­times.”

As a trivia afi­cionado, I continue to be amazed at the wealth and rich­ness of the prov­ince’s his­tory, whether of crime and pu­n­ish­ment; dis­as­ter; firsts; icons, sym­bols and em­blems; in­ven­tions; and hu­mour. Take in­ven­tions, for ex­am­ple. Did you know that the Calpin Patent An­chor was in­vented in Bay Roberts in the 1880s by lo­cal in­ven­tor Thomas S. Calpin? He de­scribed his an­chor as “a con­tin­u­ous bar of iron and is self-ad­just­ing … They re­quire no man­age­ment be­fore drop­ping, are read­ily stowed away, and it is im­pos­si­ble for a craft to sweep this an­chor as there is noth­ing that the moor­ings or ca­ble can hitch to.” Calpin’s in­ven­tion is still in use.

Did you know that Labrador in­spired fresh frozen foods? “It could be com­pellingly ar­gued,” Scott says, “that the process of quick freez­ing and de­hy­drat­ing foods was in­vented in Labrador.”

Clarence Bird­s­eye of New York vis­ited Labrador be­tween 1912 and 1917 as a trap­per and fur farmer and was in charge of a fox farm at Muddy Bay 1915-18. “On a bit­terly cold and windy day he was catch­ing rock cod through the ice to feed his an­i­mals. Al­most as soon as they hit the air, the fish froze, but when they thawed later in the kitchen they jumped about again.” Back home, he de­vised the quick-freez­ing process now cred­ited to him.

An­other in­ven­tion was in­spired by a church ser­mon. “In 1867,” ac­cord­ing to Scott, “Joseph Ed­mund El­liott was lis­ten­ing to a ser­mon in St. James Church at Change Is­lands. The ser­mon was about a re­cent mirac­u­lous catch of fish. While lis­ten­ing to the ser­mon, El­liott con­ceived the idea for a new cod trap, so ef­fec­tive it is still in use.” Who would have ever known? A dip into Scott’s mas­sive com­pen­dium is a worth­while ven­ture. You may even be sur­prised at the off­beat trivia you find, whether about pol­i­tics, re­li­gion, ship­wrecks or weather.

Scott has also writ­ten sim­i­lar books about place names in New Brunswick, Prince Ed­ward Is­land, Nova Sco­tia and On­tario.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

The As­cen­sion Quar­tet put to­gether a stel­lar per­for­mance dur­ing a guest ap­pear­ance at the fourth Sur­vivors, Pink Rib­bons and An­gels fash­ion show and silent auc­tion in Bay Roberts on Oct. 9. The event was a ma­jor suc­cess, rais­ing some $26,000 for the first New­found­land and Labrador chap­ter of The An­gel Fund, which pro­vides fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to those who have been di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer. Shown here are, from left, Amy Bar­rett, Jen­nifer Tar­rant, Tif­fany Janes and Belinda Porter.

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