Folk be­lief and leg­ends of Bay Roberts and area

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

The Bay Roberts area, not un­like other places in the prov­ince, abounds in folk­lore and be­liefs, leg­ends, tra­di­tional cures and reme­dies, along with tales about fairies, ghosts, pi­rates and buried trea­sure.

Dale Jarvis, In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage De­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer with the Her­itage Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador, ob­serves, “While elec­tric street­lights and fast-mov­ing cars may mean that the spir­its haunt­ing old ceme­ter­ies are less likely to be seen these days, the old sto­ries still ex­ist.”

To pre­vent these sto­ries from slip­ping from sight and mem­ory, the Bay Roberts Cul­tural Foun­da­tion and the prov­ince’s her­itage foun­da­tion have been doc­u­ment­ing lo­cal sto­ries and tra­di­tional knowl­edge. The re­sult is a book­let, “Folk Be­lief and Leg­ends of Bay Roberts and Area,” edited by Lisa Wil­son and il­lus­trated by Gra­ham Blair.

Many of the sto­ries were con­trib­uted by Kim­ber­ley Welsh’s class at As­cen­sion Col­le­giate, Bay Roberts, while oth­ers were taken from oral his­to­ries Lisa Wil­son con­ducted with se­niors from the area.

Be­liefs in­clude ex­it­ing through the same door you en­tered on Fri­day to stave off bad luck, and cross­ing your socks when you re­move them be­fore bed to pre­vent bad dreams.

Cures and reme­dies in­clude tak­ing a gold ring and cross­ing your eye to re­move a sty, mak­ing bread poul­tice to heal boils and skin in­fec­tions, and us­ing sting­ing net­tle soup or tea as a blood cleaner. To cure warts, cut a potato in half, then bury one half and for­get about it. Or, throw salt over your shoul­der.

Ghost sto­ries are a dime a dozen. Wil­bur Sparkes’ grand­fa­ther, look­ing down over Aunt Jane Churchill’s Hill in Bay Roberts, spied “this white thing.” He said, “Now, that’s the Devil, try­ing to tempt me.” I won’t spoil it for the reader by re­veal­ing the end­ing to this story.

A Port de Grave ma­tri­arch, Greta Hussey, tells about a woman in Hibb’s Cove who taught school on Kelly’s Is­land. A mail­boat, en route from Holy­rood to Bell Is­land, caught fire and burned. “Af­ter­wards they would see her ghost com­ing down the bay.”

Fairies tra­di­tion­ally have had a rep­u­ta­tion for ab­duct­ing people. Josh Rus­sell of Clarke’s Beach was told of an old woman on Bar­rack’s Lane, Bay Roberts, who had “the fairies in her back­yard and even (had) lit­tle houses in her back­yard made for them.” Ger­ald French of Bay Roberts re­mem­bers his mother telling him of a “lit­tle tiny small woman” by the Ca­ble of­fice who sud­denly dis­ap­peared.

How­ever, fairies were help­less against charms. Kerri Neil of Spa­niard’s Bay warns, “Don’t go into the woods with­out bread in your pocket and odd socks on to pro­tect yourself from the fairies.” Ali­cia Linthorne of Up­per Is­land Coves con­curs: “carry bread crumbs and/or sil­ver to keep fairies away.”

And then, there are un­wel­come vis­its from the so-called Old Hag. My late fa­ther of­ten awoke at night, im­mo­bi­lized by her.

“The Old Hag,” Lisa Wil­son ex­plains, “is an in­fa­mous char­ac­ter in New­found­land folk be­lief who preys upon people who are fast asleep.”

Bran­don Cross of Shearstown sug­gests: “if you spell your name back­wards you’ll wake up.” Ryan Adams of Up­per Is­land Cove re­calls the time the Old Hag paid him a visit: “there was a weird smell, like old clothes, and it felt like some­one was in the room with me.” Brittany Cor­bett of Clarke’s Beach tells about the Old Hag chok­ing her fa­ther. “He couldn’t scream for help or breathe. He could feel the hands on his throat.”

Olive Strick­land of Spa­niard’s Bay tells of “a man who came to town and set­tled for a while.” He built him­self a lit­tle shack in Jug­gler’s Cove, in Bay Roberts East. He had a box wrapped in can­vas. “He car­ried it up and he got aboard the train. No one ever heard tell of him af­ter. It had to be some­thing,” Olive sug­gests, “it was all they could do to lift it aboard.”

Dale Jarvis con­cludes his Fore­word, “We are cer­tain that this collection rep­re­sents only a small part of the oral tra­di­tions of the re­gion, and that there are many more sto­ries out there wait­ing to be told.”

A ques­tion­naire is ap­pended to the book­let to en­cour­age read­ers to “go out, ask some ques­tions, and tell some sto­ries of your own.”

“Folk Be­lief and Leg­ends of Bay Roberts and Area” is slated for re­lease on 3 May at the Bay Roberts Vis­i­tors Pavil­ion, from 2-3:30 p.m. Stu­dents from As­cen­sion will read some of the sto­ries. The drop-in event is open to the pub­lic.

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

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