A treasure trove of trivia
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.