After the tragedy

Loss of hus­band, fa­ther left For­tune Bay fam­ily im­pov­er­ished

The Packet (Clarenville) - - EDITORIAL - BY ROSALYN ROY THE GULF NEWS PORT AUX BASQUES, NL Rosalyn.roy@gulfnews.ca Twit­ter: @tyger­lylly

Wil­liam Bryne was 34 and car­ry­ing a belt full of money when he died.

The fish­er­man was anx­ious to re­turn home after a sea­son’s work on a schooner based out of Lunen­burg. Un­like New­found­land boats, which paid pri­mar­ily in trade goods, the Nova Sco­tia ships paid cash.

In­stead of wait­ing for the schooner to sail him back to Ren­con­tre East, Wil­liam de­cided it would be faster to take the train to North Syd­ney and cross the Gulf Straits on the SS Caribou. Then he would take the coastal boat back to For­tune Bay.

It was a de­ci­sion that cost the young man his life and thrust his wife and five young chil­dren into poverty.

Joan Os­mond, his mid­dle daugh­ter, was only six but still re­mem­bers get­ting the news of her fa­ther’s death. Joan had been play­ing on the beach with a friend and her old­est sis­ter, Kath­leen (LeRiche), who was nine.

“It was on a Satur­day,” re­calls Joan, who first no­ticed the blinds to an up­stairs win­dow were closed, which was highly un­usual.

“When we went into the house, the house was full.”

Joan saw her mother ly­ing on an old wooden couch, her seven-month-old brother Bill cra­dled in one arm, and three­year-old sis­ter Ruby nes­tled at her mother’s back.

“Kay (Kath­leen) said ‘what’s wrong,’ and they said, ‘your Dad has drowned.’” Joan taps her tem­ple, the mem­ory of that mo­ment still so strong.

“I re­mem­bers that. That’s locked in there.”

For Bill the clear mem­o­ries are those of hard­ship and his mother’s cease­less tenac­ity. Like many in ru­ral New­found­land, 32-year-old Sarah Bryne had lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion and even less re­sources at a time when women were not ex­pected to be­come a fam­ily’s pri­mary bread­win­ner.

Sarah was thrust into every role, from chop­ping down trees and split­ting logs to fir­ing the stove to keep her chil­dren warm and to bake their bread. Her old­est son Har­vey, who was 12 when he lost his fa­ther, did his best to help out.

“I can re­mem­ber back at five years old any­way, we never had enough,” says Bill, who wit­nessed his mother’s ef­forts to care for her chil­dren. “Mom went around door-to-door clean­ing for peo­ple… what­ever she could get. How she done it I don’t know.”

At one point the New­found­land Rangers came to the door, of­fer­ing to take her chil­dren to the or­phan­age. Both re­mem­ber their mother’s em­phatic re­fusal.

“Mom said, ‘No, I’m not putting them in a home sup­pos­ing I got to go down to that cove there and pick up kelp and cook and give them to eat,’” re­calls Joan. “And she didn’t. She kept us home.”

By the time he was seven or eight, Bill would row a dory out to the coal boat in the har­bor, and when he re­turned to the cove his mother would come down into the icy wa­ter, her skirts float­ing around her.

“She would hop in the wa­ter with two buck­ets,” says Bill, who would fill the buck­ets and watch her carry them up to the house un­til all the coal was in. “She worked.

“She baked bread every day,” said Joan, and to this day Bill still loves his bread. “That’s the most thing we ate was bread. Bread and tea.”

Bill chuck­les as he re­calls how his mother used to fire up the wood­stove and shove in a loaf of bread to warm, then try to shoo her kids away so the house could warm up prop­erly.

“Poor old Mom used to say, ‘Get away from the stove and let the heat get out.’ I’d be stand­ing on the chair with me longjohns on and say, ‘Mom I don’t want the heat to get out. I want the heat to go in my body’.”

Fight for com­pen­sa­tion When the War Claims depart­ment fi­nally of­fered com­pen­sa­tion, Sarah faced a bat­tle to get her fam­ily’s share.

One of the com­pli­ca­tions was that Wil­liam’s name had been spelled wrong when he reg­is­tered as a pas­sen­ger on the ferry, so Sarah had to prove it was her hus­band who had died on the S.S. Caribou.

“If you only know what my mother went through for the sake of my fa­ther be­ing drowned on that Caribou,” says Bill. “I can re­mem­ber when the in­ves­ti­ga­tors came.”

The com­pen­sated pack­age val­ued Wil­liam’s life at $5,000 (roughly $75,000 to­day). Even­tu­ally they set­tled on $6,000, but the New­found­land gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately seized the money be­cause Sarah had been draw­ing wel­fare for years.

“She never got noth­ing,” re­mem­bers Bill. “The New­found­land gov­ern­ment took back every cent they gave her from 1942 up to 1954.”

But all of Sarah’s hard work was not in vain. Her chil­dren feel for­tu­nate they grew up to find their own paths to suc­cess, which some­how led all five to set­tle in Port aux Basques.

At 14, Kay left home to work in Port aux Basques and even­tu­ally all of her sib­lings joined her on the south­west coast.

Joan came when she was 16, mar­ried at 19, and had three small chil­dren with hus­band Edgar (who likes to be called Eg) when Kay called ask­ing if Bill could join them.

Joan and Eg boarded the 13-year-old in the pantry of their un­fin­ished house un­til they could build a bed­room on the back.

Eg, who grew up in Cape Ray, re­mem­bers when his fa­ther, Wal­ter, used to walk to Port aux Basques for sup­plies, al­ways stay­ing overnight and re­turn­ing the fol­low­ing morn­ing. He also has a clear, in­deli­ble mem­ory of one par­tic­u­lar morn­ing his fa­ther re­turned.

“When he come back he told us that the Caribou was sunk.”

Some­times Sarah’s chil­dren would ask Har­vey – the old­est and the one who knew their fa­ther best – for a story or two.

After some gen­tle prod­ding from Joan he of­fered one pre­cious mem­ory, about how their fa­ther would raise a sin­gle fin­ger to one of his dis­obe­di­ent chil­dren, and that would suf­fice to cor­rect un­ruly be­hav­ior.

“He wouldn’t touch you,” Joan re­calls her brother say­ing. “That’s all he had to do.”

And from her mother she heard about how much Wil­liam loved to dance.

“If there was a dance up in the hall he would go,” says Joan.

Sarah would stay home and take care of the chil­dren, but Wil­liam never missed a dance.

“She said he al­ways dressed up in his brown suit of clothes. He loved brown… and he’d go to the dances. He loved to dance.”

Sarah told Joan she didn’t want to re­marry after Wil­liam’s death.

“I couldn’t imag­ine me, in her place, with five kids,” says Bill with a soft rev­er­ence. “I don’t know how she done it.”

“She dragged us all up some­how,” says Joan, who shares her brother’s ad­mi­ra­tion. “It wasn’t all fun try­ing to raise up a crowd of young­sters.”

After her chil­dren all grew up and moved away, Sarah even­tu­ally re­turned to Grand le Pierre where she was born. She died at 86, hav­ing out­lived Wil­liam by 54 years.

ROSALYN ROY / THE GULF NEWS

From left: Bill Bryne, Joan (Bryne) Os­mond and Edgar (Eg) Os­mond.

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