No Place Like Home

A jour­ney to the Rock

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Colleen Ni­chol­son

WHEN THE place of birth on your pass­port says Come By Chance, you get through cus­toms pretty quickly – “C’mon, Come By Chance?” My re­sponse: “Yes, my par­ents met in Heart’s Delight, mar­ried in Heart’s Con­tent, hon­ey­mooned in Con­cep­tion Bay, and I was born in Come By Chance.” Of course, only the last part is true, and I have an older sis­ter but, as any New­found­lan­der can tell you, there’s no rea­son to let truth stand in the way of a good story.

And New­found­lan­ders are noth­ing if not good sto­ry­tellers: Michael Crum­mey, Cathy Jones, Shaun Ma­jumder, Rick Mercer, Donna Mor­ris­sey, Gor­don Pin­sent, Mary Walsh and Alan Doyle – as you’ll see next.

My par­ents’ sto­ries of mum­mers (neigh­bours dressed in dis­guise who drop by to en­ter­tain with a song or a dance in ex­change for rum or whisky “grog ”) and kitchen par­ties, iso­la­tion yet sense of com­mu­nity and gen­eros­ity grow­ing up in the Do­min­ion of New­found­land are uniquely of the Rock – the prov­ince re­mains the most un­stint­ing in Canada, with 92 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion giv­ing to char­i­ta­ble causes. And re­mem­ber the open­hand­ed­ness of the peo­ple of Gan­der in re­sponse to the di­ver­sion of air­planes and the ar­rival of thousands of come-from-aways in the af­ter­math of the 9-11 at­tacks, an episode in the Tony Award-win­ning mu­si­cal Come From Away). While I know most of my mother’s fam­ily in the town of Port Bland­ford about an hour’s drive from Gan­der, my pur­pose is to dis­cover the out­port where my fa­ther was born.

Map in hand and with sim­ple di­rec­tions from the woman at Tourist As­sist out­side St. John’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port – “Easy, m’dear. If you’s leav­ing the city on the TCH [Trans-Canada High­way], you’s goin’ west. To come back, go east.” I’m head­ing east (though it seems to be north to me) to the turnoff at the de­light­fully named town of Goo­bies. At the Irv­ing sta­tion here, the 12-foot-high moose isn’t talk­ing, but I clearly re­mem­ber my delight as an eight-year-old be­neath the gi­gan­tic statue as he bel­lowed out some long-for­got­ten mes­sage to my sis­ter and me when my un­cle stopped for gas. Few old-timers are around to ask, and the young folk don’t re­mem­ber it talk­ing – but I do. I also re­mem­ber the signs on the Tran­sCanada High­way, which stretches al­most 1,000 kilo­me­tres from the eastern cap­i­tal of St. John’s to Port aux Basques in the south­west­ern tip of the is­land, prais­ing “We’ll fin­ish the drive in ’65, thanks to Mr. Pear­son.”

FROM THE TURNOFF at Goo­bies, a 15-minute drive takes me to the com­mu­nity of Swift Cur­rent, where my eight-year-old fa­ther, four of his nine sib­lings and my grand­mother Sarah spent the win­ter of 1936 af­ter my grand­fa­ther Josiah Stacey died from a rup­tured ap­pen­dix. While many of the mail­boxes bear the name Stacey, none of them are re­lated to me – that I know of.

Roger Jamieson, owner of the Kil­mory Re­sort, my home for the night, knows most of the peo­ple in town, and he agrees – but won’t swear to it. His pic­turesque chalet de­vel­op­ment over­looks Piper’s Hole River, built on land owned by his fa­ther Don. He was the first New­found­lan­der to sit in the press gallery in Ottawa’s House of Com­mons in 1945 to re­port on ne­go­ti­a­tions that led to Canada invit­ing New­found­land to join Con­fed­er­a­tion in 1949 – or vice versa as more than one New­found­lan­der as­serts. Don was ve­he­mently op­posed, yet he later be­came a re­spected Lib­eral MP – while Joey Small­wood was the new prov­ince’s first pre­mier. In New­found­land, there re­ally is only six de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion – or less: Don and my grand­mother Sarah were raised in the same home on nearby Sound Is­land af­ter she was or­phaned.

“JEF­FREY’S COVE is just over there,” shouts skipper Loy­ola Pom­roy over the sound of the Merasheen’s en­gine, point­ing to a tiny in­let on the moun­tain­ous rugged six-mile-long Sound Is­land where my pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents raised 10 chil­dren in a two-storey, four-bed­room house with­out elec­tric­ity or run­ning water. Sound Is­land was one of about 50 out­ports de­serted be­fore the forced gov­ern­ment-as­sisted re­set­tle­ment pro­grams went into ef­fect from 1954 to 1975, which re­lo­cated small com­mu­ni­ties be­cause of lack of work, med­i­cal care, schools and churches. Houses were towed across tur­bu­lent waters to nearby set­tle­ments – all by man­power alone with­out the use of horses or ma­chines. But we can’t moor here and con­tinue on to a smaller is­land south of Sound

(Woody Is­land, my dad scoffs, was just a sub­urb of Sound when he was a kid). The Woody Is­land Re­sort, run by broth­ers Gary and Loy­ola Pom­roy, prom­ises a glimpse of a pre-Con­fed­er­a­tion New­found­land: no tele­phone, TV or in­ter­net but def­i­nitely home-cooked meals, good con­ver­sa­tion, laugh­ter and a glimpse of is­land hu­mour – in­clud­ing mum­mers. Af­ter my visit to the is­land’s mu­seum where I see a cap for the 1993 Sound Is­land re­union, I re­gret not ac­com­pa­ny­ing my fa­ther that year to the 50th an­niver­sary of the aban­don­ment of the is­land when he brought a head­stone for his fa­ther’s grave al­most six decades af­ter his death.

Af­ter eat­ing more tou­tons (bread dough fried in pork fat or but­ter) driz­zled with mo­lasses than I can be­lieve pos­si­ble (some of them come close to be­ing as good as my ma­ter­nal grand­mother’s al­though I don’t re­mem­ber her calling them tou­tons), danc­ing with mum­mers who join us af­ter din­ner (some of them may have been women al­though in my par­ents’ sto­ries they were al­ways men) and fall­ing asleep with the winds roar­ing out­side my win­dow, we head back to the main­land, wash­ing down but­tery tea bis­cuits with hot tea dur­ing the trip.

AT TERRA NOVA RE­SORT in Port Bland­ford, my cousin Barb Green­ing pulls up in her trea­sured red Corvette, a birth­day sur­prise from her hus­band, Joe, to show me what’s new in the town of 500 since my last visit al­most a decade ago. We pass homes with shiny new trucks and four-wheel­ers in the yard – “You can tell who’s spend­ing all the money they’ve earned in Fort McMur­ray,” laughs Barb (be­fore that city’s dev­as­tat­ing fire, al­most 15 per cent of its pop­u­la­tion was from this prov­ince).

This is the part of New­found­land I am more fa­mil­iar with: my ma­ter­nal grand­mother’s house, built by my grand­fa­ther, Alex Old­ford, had stood just a few miles down the road, over­look­ing Clode Sound in Bon­av­ista Bay. My mother’s younger brother, Roy, and his wife, Enid, now live in a house they built on that same par­cel of land. And one of their daugh­ters and her fam­ily have moved back in re­cent years. Din­ner at Barb’s in­cludes al­most ev­ery­one I’m re­lated to in Port Bland­ford. The last time I had seen them all was 20 years ago when my now hus­band, Jim, was “screeched in” as an hon­orary New­foundler, with the cus­tom­ary kiss­ing of the cod.

IN­STEAD OF HEART’S DELIGHT, my par­ents re­ally met in Sun­ny­side in 1947 where my mom was teach­ing and board­ing with my dad’s old­est brother’s fam­ily. Dad planned to head to the “main­land” af­ter the Do­min­ion of New­found­land joined Con­fed­er­a­tion in 1949. But be­fore he left, he pro­posed, promis­ing he would re­turn to marry her in 1950 af­ter find­ing a job and a home for them in Toronto. They mar­ried in Port Bland­ford, not Heart’s Con­tent. And in­stead of hon­ey­moon­ing in Con­cep­tion Bay, they cel­e­brated by trav­el­ling to Toronto – ac­com­pa­nied by one of their at­ten­dants, Gertrude Guppy. But I truly was born in Come By Chance, when my mother – preg­nant with me – re­turned home to visit fam­ily with my then three-yearold sis­ter.

Be­tween un­cov­er­ing my dad’s roots and re­con­nect­ing with my mom’s, I rediscovered my con­nec­tion to the Rock. But you don’t have to have rel­a­tives to en­joy the wel­com­ing friend­li­ness of New­found­lan­ders: as Arthur Black once said in the pages of this mag­a­zine: “That’s New­found­land. Small-ish, as is­lands go, but with a heart as wide as the Prairies.”

The au­thor’s par­ents, Fred and Irene Stacey, in Port Bland­ford, on their wed­ding day July 4, 1950. Op­po­site: sun­set in Quidi Vidi Har­bour, known lo­cally as the Gut

A shed near Cape Bon­av­ista light­house. In­set: the au­thor’s pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents, Josiah and Sarah Stacey with their first­born (of 10), Gla­dys, on Sound Is­land

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