Ex­plor­ing oral history in Spa­niard’s Bay

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cbn­com­pass.ca

The Spa­niard’s Bay Her­itage So­ci­ety held a night of sto­ry­telling and oral history at the Wes­ley Gosse Me­mo­rial United Church Her­itage Mu­seum last week. Lo­cal sto­ry­tellers, as well as renowned New­found­land folk­lorist Dale Jarvis, spent the evening re­lay­ing pieces of the town’s past through words.

Sto­ry­telling was the theme of the evening at the Wes­ley Gosse Me­mo­rial United Church Her­itage Mu­seum in Spa­niard’s Bay on Aug. 26.

An­chored by renowned New­found­land folk­lorist Dale Jarvis, the evening was a part of an ini­tia­tive un­der­taken by the town’s Her­itage So­ci­ety to ex­plore the oral history of the re­gion.

On a cool Au­gust evening in­side the ven­er­a­ble tes­ta­ment to the history of Spa­niard’s Bay, dozens of peo­ple ven­tured to the church to lis­ten and share their sto­ries. Some sat in pews, while other filled rows of chairs. As peo­ple spoke and moved, their shad­ows danced on the floor and the walls.

When mov­ing around the an­cient struc­ture, they in­ter­acted with type­writ­ers, wag­ons and old saws.

The evening was filled with ev­ery man­ner of oral history and tall tale. There were New­found­land fairy tales, ghost sto­ries and a touch­ing story of a pair of hockey skates and their owner who did not re­turn home.

He left for St. John’s with the lo­cal hockey team, played a match and then en­listed in the mil­i­tary in 1941. He died shortly there af­ter.

Amidst the phys­i­cal history of Spa­niard’s Bay, mem­bers of the her­itage so­ci­ety cap­ti­vated the au­di­ence as they took turns telling tales passed on through gen­er­a­tions. Per­haps it was from a friend they knew or just a story that bridged the gen­er­a­tional gap be­tween fam­ily mem­bers.

Peo­ple like Ed Neil and Bill Tit­ford were en­gag­ing and an­i­mated as they pre­sented story af­ter story.

The mark of a good sto­ry­teller is the abil­ity to en­ter­tain their sub­jects, while also ed­u­cat­ing them to some ex­tent. That could mean as­pects of life of days gone by or a sim­ple fam­ily story about us­ing a ma­son jar.

One by one tell­ers rose to re­lay their mes­sage. Stand­ing in front of the church’s pulpit — first con­structed in 1894 — they stood half in light and half in the dark.

It brought im­ages of telling sto­ries in front of the fire. No doubt, it was a flash­back for those who re­mem­ber gath­er­ing around the fire­place to hear their grand­par­ents re­count sto­ries they heard their fa­ther’s tell them in a sim­i­lar set­ting.

When all of the lo­cal speak­ers had fin­ished, it was Jarvis’ turn to en­ter­tain and he did not dis­ap­point. Start­ing with tales of fairies and lost sight be­fore fin­ish­ing with a pair of fairy tales that oddly in­volved a young fel­low named Jack.

A master sto­ry­teller in his own right, Jarvis swung axes, trounced through an­cient forests and saw in­spir­ing land­scapes as he guided lis­ten­ers through the world he cre­ated us­ing words.

At the end of the evening, the sto­ry­tellers and the lis­ten­ers min­gled and told more sto­ries of fairy folk, the supernatural and well-known cit­i­zens.

PHOTO BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

Renowned New­found­land folk­lorist Dale Jarvis swings an imag­i­nary axe while in the midst of telling a New­found­land fairy tale dur­ing a night of oral history at the Wes­ley Gosse Me­mo­rial United Church Her­itage Mu­seum in Spa­niard’s Bay on Aug. 26. The event was put off by the Spa­niard’s Bay Her­itage So­ci­ety.

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