The day we top­pled into Gil­bert’s Bay

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

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 bur­tonj@nfld.net.

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/The Com­pass

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

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