The day we toppled into Gilbert’s Bay
In the 1990s, I copyedited 11 books by Benjamin W. Powell Sr. Born in Carbonear, he has lived most of his life in Charlottetown, Labrador.
During those years, he and I contacted each other countless times through phone calls and letters. But we didn’t meet in person until the summer of 1995.
One day I called up Uncle Ben, as he is familiarly known. “We’d like to visit you this summer,” I said.
“Come on,” he responded. He later suggested a mutually suitable date, and the wheels for our meeting were set in motion.
Late in July, my eight-year-old son, Christopher, and I drove to St. Anthony and flew from there to Charlottetown.
The short jaunts between St. Anthony, Mary’s Harbour, Fox Harbour-St. Lewis, William’s Harbour and Charlottetown were unique experiences in themselves, considering my longest flight to date had been a 10-hour one from Montreal to Russia in 1978.
Uncle Ben and one of his daughters met us at the airport. I recognized him immediately, having studied his photo on his books through the years.
I shook his hand and threw my arms around him. “You must be Uncle Ben,” I said. “Mr. Janes.” At last! Meeting the so-called father of Charlottetown. Christopher realized we were standing next to a living legend.
The next day, Uncle Ben took us for a boat ride to Peter’s Brook. En route, he pointed out various spots of interest from his books.
We stopped in at Yellow Fox Island, where he showed us a typical Inuit grave, dating from the late 19th century, created by rocks built up around the skeleton, a couple of bones remaining. We reverently stood in silence as a sense of history enveloped us.
A day later, Uncle Ben’s son, Irving, and grandson, Lewis Jr., took us in the Ramsey H. Powell for an unforgettable three-hour steam to Gilbert’s Bay. The five of us will long remember the journey, if for no other reason because of an unexpected plunge Christopher and I took into Gilbert’s Bay.
We passed the natural rock formation, the Hole-in-the-Wall, continuing through the deserted places of Occasional Harbour, Ship Harbour, Snook Cove, Fishing Ships Harbour (Christopher thought it was Fish ’n Chips Harbour), Parsons’ Tickle and Winter Tickle, before heading up Gilbert’s Bay.
The scenery around us was breathtaking. The stark, harsh granite cliffs and mountains bespoke the pioneer spirit needed to survive on the Labrador.
As we approached Uncle Ben’s fishing lodge, I observed two things. First, we were to anchor at a floating dock and, second, a narrow gangway led from the dock to the shore. And, I’ve never been the bravest around water at the best of times.
Naturally, I had to be brave for my son’s sake, and I certainly didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the hardy, seasoned Powell sailors.
Christopher wondered how we would get ashore. He and I held a brief conference. “We’ll do it,” I said in a fatherly voice. Here’s the plan I had in mind: “You go first, and I’ll stand behind you and place my hands on your shoulders.” Father knows best.
My plan sounded good in theory but, unknown to me, there was a single iron rod beneath three planks, extending from the dock to the shore. Anyone walking the gangway had to step precariously in the middle of the boards.
Christopher stepped onto the gangway, while I stood behind him and gripped his shoulders. “Okay,” I said, “let’s go.” He moved and I moved. He was tiny and slim, his father much more hefty. I made a couple of tentative steps. My next step, on the outside of the planks, was the one that caused the upset.
Seconds later, we both toppled from the gangway and plunged into the bay.
My immediate thought was Christopher. I heard him calling, “Help! Help!”
For a moment, I panicked as I fought to remain on the surface. Then, realizing we were wearing floater jackets, I stopped struggling.
Neither of us could swim; we both sucked in water. He hung on to the gangway, while I began drifting away.
“Grab the rope, Mr. Janes,” Irving called out.
Looking around, I saw the rope. I grabbed it and pulled myself ashore, while Lewis walked out on the gangway and dragged Christopher out of the water.
While Christopher and I were removing our socks and drying them out, he said – although he denies it to this day – “That was fun, dad. Can we do it again?”
As the Good Book says, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.”
The stark, harsh granite cliffs and mountains bespoke the pioneer spirit needed to sur
vive on the Labrador.
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Bay Pond along the Crossroads in the Conception was spotted moving around the frozen Arnie’s visitor to its waters on Jan. 12, as this seal motorists. AN ARCTIC VISITOR — Bay Roberts had a unique and attracted the curious gaze of passing
gliding around the ice for most of the morning North community. The marine mammal was