This is a photograph of Galeon La Pepa, a Basque ship that may resemble La María del Juncal (Source: Anonymous).
Domingo de Luca was a humble storekeeper aboard La María del Juncal, a Basque ship stationed in Plazençia, now Placentia, in 1563. It’s prime purpose was to harvest cod. There was nothing out of the ordinary.
However, de Luca was not favoured by fortune and became gravely ill. When he eventually passed away, the Will he left behind indicated the unquestioned presence the Basque have played in the history of the Placentia area.
Crossing the Ocean
The Basque followed in the footsteps of the seaworthy Vikings. In and around 1,000 CE, the Vikings had already done the honours of reaching what is now North America, no surprise for a sea-venturing culture. All the chronicles of the Vikings have been recorded in The Saga of the Greenlanders.
Norwegian Bokmål: Leiv Eirikson oppdager Amerika Leiv Eiriksson
As expert shipbuilders, the Vikings had already reached Helluland, likely Baffin Island and the region around Nunavut. They’d journeyed further south near central Labrador to find Markland. Continuing, they travelled further south to Vinland, which was most likely the Gulf of St. Lawrence, L’Anse aux Meadows and perhaps as far south as New Brunswick. However, despite reaching North America, knowledge of their travels did not spread very far in Europe.
Summer on the Greenland coast circa year 1000 by Carl RasmussenSource: By Carl Rasmussen – bruun-rasmussen.dk, Public Domain, Wikipedia)
Only centuries later was this treasured knowledge able to circulate. It was in 1497 when John Cabot made the groundbreaking news that new lands lie west of Europe. News travelled fast.
By the 15th of May, Domingo de Luca had realised his illness was serious enough that he best dictate a short will to the ship’s notary, Joan de Blancaflor.
As part of his will, de Luca included the usual information regarding his debts and receipts. He also made certain to appoint the ship’s master and another individual to function as his executors.
Image of the Will belonging to Domingo de Luca (Source: Sabino Laucirica).
However, the most noteworthy inclusion in his will was one statement—his “body be buried in this port of Plazençia in the place where those who die here are usually buried.”
This clearly indicated several things about the Basque. They had been evidently present long enough for there to be a place of worship present in the region. Furthermore, others had already been laid to rest in Plazençia. Moreover, they had been visiting long enough for the Basque to feel comfortable being left Plazençia. And in all likelihood, that it was a place of worship ensured the Basque, it would be acceptable to be laid to rest in that location.
Evidence of the Basque
Prior to the writing of the will, we had known of the Basque presence based on headstones that had been left. The earliest was dated to 1677. This was found in the cemetery surrounding the late St. Luke’s Anglican Church, now St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre.
Image of a Basque headstone found in the cemetery surrounding
St. Luke’s (Source: Christopher Newhook).
Although it became an Anglican church in 1714, when it was first founded in the 16th century, it was as a Roman Catholic church. After the British were given Newfoundland, following the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, the denomination of St. Luke’s changed to Anglican.
Image of the Treaty of Utrecht
When Domingo de Luca died, Plazençia was merely a location valued for its resources. However, in 1662, Plazençia or Plaisance as it became known to the French, had drawn the attention of the French state for its function in their economy. In so doing, it played a role in expanding the control of the state, thus helping to establish what would become North America.
And it’s in this context, the will of Domingo de Luca must be regarded. It established that the Basque were indeed the first Europeans to lay claim to the vast resources of cod in Placentia Bay.
Barkham, Michael M. 2014 “The Oldest Original Civil Document Written in Canada:
The Last Will of Basque Sailor Domingo de Luça, Placentia (Newfoundland), 1563” Unpublished paper.
Placentia’s Tipstaff: Ceremonial Role in Law Enforcement
Image of the Tipstaff that was gifted to Placentia (Source: Christopher Newhook).
One of the numerous artefacts visitors to Placentia can see when visiting the O’Reilly House Museum in Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador is a Tipstaff. It’s staff-like in appearance and was given to Placentia in 1772 by none other than King George III who was the ruler of Britain at the time. It was an honourable gift, given to recognise the prestige of Placentia in the eyes of the monarchy. But what exactly is a Tipstaff?
What Exactly is a Tipstaff?
A Tipstaff is a feature of the judicial practices of a nation. In modern times, a Tipstaff is an officer of the court. It is also the symbolic rod which is used to represent these officials. No one is certain when it came into being.
Sometimes referred to as tipstave or tipstaff, it derives from various related languages. In Danish, the noun would be stav while in Old English, stæf refers to a “walking stick, strong pole used for carrying, rod uses as a weapon, pastoral staff.”
The idea is for the officer to carry the Tipstaff. Then, he would unscrew the crown and within is a warrant appointing the holder of the Tipstaff to their position of authority.
Steeped in History
The Tipstaff played a role in law enforcement in Britain centuries ago. It still does today. There are two Tipstaffs in England and Wales, one an officer of the Royal Borough of Kingston and the other of the High Court of England and Wales.
Image of Tipstaves, a short club, after which the office was named (Source: Wikipedia).
What likely happened is a Tipstaff most likely began much as its name suggests. It was a stong pole used as a weapon for law enforcement. Then, over time, the person who would customarily carry the Tipstaff came to be known in this manner. While merely supposition, it may very likely have been the progression from an item to a position of authority.
A Gift to Placentia
In the eighteenth century, Placentia had originally been chosen as the central military centre for Britain. This was in 1714, at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. It was largely to settle the balance of power in Europe.
Image of the Treaty of Utrecht that brought the War of the Spanish Succession to a close.
With the Treaty of Utrecht, a peace treaty following the end of the war, Britain was handed Newfoundland. Placentia, formerly known as Plaisance, when in the hands of the French, was also passed over to Britain as a part of this treaty. And it was there, Britain decided to place its primary military defences.
However, throughout the century, Placentia began to be overshadowed by St. John’s. Increasingly, Britain was focussing its attention on fortifying St. John’s in lieu of Placentia (see page 99 of The Placentia Area — A Cultural Mosaic).
So, when Britain gifted the Tipstaff to Placentia in 1772, it was largely a symbolic gift. By that time, St. John’s was being granted more and more official duties. And it would be St. John’s that would become the seat of government, the main British garrison and a growing commercial centre.
Nonetheless, the Tipstaff stands as proof of the esteemed role Placentia played when Britain first laid claim to Newfoundland.
Hunger is a feeling no one would ever welcome. Incorporated within a societal malaise, it now goes by a term less couched in the rawness of hunger and closer to the parlance of offficialdom—food insecurity. Although, whether it’s called hunger or food insecurity, it’s a dilemma that’s been with us for a very long time. In the past, food insecurity played a key role in the challenges to one’s health. In sometimes unexpected ways, it still does.
Insecurity in the Past
Food insecurity in the seventeenth century very much existed in Newfoundland and Labrador. At the time, it would’ve likely been referred to as malnutrition. Families were strung out along the coast with little access to medical assistance.1 Insufficient access to nutritious food is a quality to which the Placentia Bay area, as a part of Newfoundland and Labrador, has been able to lay claim for centuries.
With no refrigerators and certainly no grocery stores, they were reliant on restricted sources of food. They could take advantage of food they could provide for themselves from their gardens, household farms and fish. All was stored or preserved in myriad ways. As well, there was food such as flour or tea that was ordered prior to the winter. The inveterate hope was they would be able to make it to spring. But too often, they didn’t.
The Effect on Health
Many times they would run out of food before the birth of a new season. The lack of food led to health conditions tied to vitamin deficiencies. Beriberi was due to a vitamin B deficiency. Rickets was tied to a deficiency in vitamin D and finally scurvy, was a vitamin C deficiency. The diseases were a common complaint.
In the more distant past, there were no measures taken to confront the problems of food insecurity. Centuries ago, many families would run out of food in March. Anything stored in the autumn, such as root vegetables, salt cod or meat from the household farm was largely depleted or gone. Families had yet to begin fishing. So, it was considered “the long, hungry month of March.”
Hunger is a problem regardless of the age. These are sculptures were made by Jens Galschiøts “The Hunger March” in Copenhagen (Source: Wikipedia).
Even into the twentieth century, the continued lack of refrigeration, electricity and freezers ensured a diminished health for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. There may have been an established network for the exchange of foods. However, distance always compounded the accessibility to food. There was no way to get the food to people before it spoiled.
However, as time progressed into the twentieth century, there was an increased knowledge of how to circumvent these conditions. Healthcare was becoming more accessible. Technological improvements were able to collectively address the problem of the deficiencies that were once synonymous with the winter. Over the years, refrigeration and freezers developed.
Nowadays, most know their food is often just a short walk or drive away at the grocery store. One would think we should be set, the challenges known centuries ago a thing of the past. They’re not.
Current Food Insecurity
As of 2021, a study on the Household Insecurity in Canada 2021 estimated 17.9% in Newfoundland and Labrador were food insecure. That’s in a population Statistics Canada considers for 2023 to be 531,948. Of that amount, 4.5% were regarded as severely insecure. This means some simply missed a meal or reduced the amount of food they were eating.
There were 8.6% who were moderately food insecure, meaning they were willing to compromise in the quality of food given a lack of food and money. Finally, 4.9% of people are regarded as marginally insecure. They would take measures to limit their food intake or simply worry about running out of food. Food insecurity has changed its tactics. But it’s not going anywhere.
Current Effect on Health
Centuries ago, the deficiencies in food led to certain illnesses such as rickets and beriberi. Nowadays, the problems tied to food insecurity are different, yet equally devastating. As time progressed, by the latter part of the twentieth century, the lifestyles of many has contributed to a new set of health conditions. Now, more often than not, people are suffering from problems tied to obesity or diabetes. Both are tied to lifestyle. Both are also tied to food insecurity. And somewhere in there, money is playing a role.
A researcher firmly stated that the link between health and food insecurity is unquestionable. Obesity or diabetes are health conditions that may not be directly caused by food insecurity. Although, they are considerably exacerbated by it. However, one study, based on data from Ontario found the development of diabetes to be tied to food insecurity.
Sugar and needles of insulin, the double threat of diabetes. (Image by Barbara from Pixabay.)
Obesity is another condition that is associated with type 2 diabetes. Obesity is considered a major reason for developing Type 2 diabetes. Although obesity on its own is considered to be a potential result of food insecurity. It’s considered a paradox for obvious reasons. How could you run the risk of gaining weight due to a lack of food? It’s a conundrum being studied.
Yet some have put forth some explanations. For instance, some have blamed it on the low dietary quality and energy-dense food that is being consumed. To explain the tendency for women to exhibit obesity more than men, some have suggested this is because women are more likely to sacrifice good quality food to allow their children to benefit.
As in the past, food insecurity can have a grave effect on health. In modern times, type 2 diabetes is linked to food insecurity. However somehow related, the pathway to conditions such as obesity is still unclear to researchers. Nonetheless, we know that food insecurity involves specific challenges to one’s health. It’s changed over time, but remains a tenacious problem to those for whom the ready access to food is sometimes a challenge.
In a future essay, we’ll take a closer look at what most know is one of the main culprits behind food insecurity—poverty.
1. Medical assistance was sometimes available from British military hospitals. Although, their primary concern was their soldiers.
Image of the excavation at Fort Louis (New Fort NE Bastion excavation 2007) (Source: Steve Mills).
Many times archaeologists can only greet some artefacts with a furrowed brow. Their response can only be maybe a slightly more articulate version of ‘huh?’ Now, sometimes there’s an iota of context that can provide a modicum of identity for the artefact.
They may have the location within a known site and they’ve maybe got some idea of the time. So, they’ve definitely got a bit of the ‘where,’ as well as the ‘when.’ As for the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why,’ they’re stymied. The only thing we know or certain is the creator was invested in sharing a message. That’s all.
An Inscribed Rock
In Placentia Bay, members of the public encountered a rock bearing a curious inscription. Located in Haystack, Long Island, it’s anyone’s guess what the inscription means. Urve Linnamae had conducted archaeological surveys on some of the Placentia Bay islands.
She had identified sites potentially of Maritime Archaic and Dorset Pre-Inuit origin. However, as noted by later archaeologists, the inscriptions were likely made using a metal tool. This would’ve removed Maritime Archaic or Dorset as a possiblity as neither possessed metal tools.
Image of inscription in Haystack, Long Island, Placentia Bay (Screenshot from “Graffiti”)
It’s anyone’s guess what the inscription was intended to mean. John Robinson who published Olde Founde Land in 1997 pointed to it being a reference to the voyage of St. Brendan, occurring in the mid-500s AD and recorded in 950 AD. Maybe.
John Robinson’s explanation was possibly a form of postdiction, wherein our minds fill in the unknowns in an effort to complete the story. So, we take what we do know and try to make some sort of sense of it. He had little else to go on.
Locals in the area referred to it as ‘the Frenchman’s letter,’ knowing the region was initially settled by the French. However, they were simply basing it on the presence of French and an ignorance of the French alphabet. It’s largely much like the English alphabet, but as expected, the locals didn’t realise. Again, it’s anyone’s guess. Thus, at the moment, the only person or people who know the origin of the writing are those who originally inscribed the symbols.
Doodling or Something More
Hopping over to Jerseyside, in the Town of Placentia on the eastern shore of Placentia Bay, we find another mystery. Located in the Fort Louis excavations that took place in 2011, the archaeologist, Matthew Simmonds, revealed three pieces of slate (page 161). They were presumably roof tiles.
Curiously, each had an image inscribed on its surface. One was a sundial, the slate etched with Roman numerals I to XI, minus the IV. Another possessed a two-masted sailing vessel with the rigging and portholes visible. One also had a drawing of a two-masted sailing vessel, its two masted sails, yard arms, rigging and hull planking. A final one possessed what appeared to be a woven basket.
It’s difficult to see, but these are the slate rocks possessing images found during the Fort Louis dig (Source: Matthew Simmonds).
Were these drawings made for a particular person? Or were they just the casual doodles of an individual with a passing flavour of artistry? We haven’t a clue. Still, there’s beauty in the intention of communication with someone.
Any writing is simply a form of communication, one with ourselves or someone else. If it’s simply a set of characters that’s been written, ones we can identify as letters or numerals, we may understand. However, much like in these instances, we not have a clue of the message being shared. All we do know is that some form of communication was occurring.
In the end, whether it’s the characters on the rock, the odd designs on the pieces of slate or any number of mysterious finds archaeologists uncover, there’s one thing they hold in common. They are each a desire to share an idea over time and space. And we may never have any notion of that idea. But it’s much like encountering the pathway, knowing it once led to some unknown destination.
We have no idea of what, in particular, the creator was seeking to share. It offers a glimpse of the connections that held people together then as it does now. And we’re certainly not averse to putting together the known quantities in various ways and then simply guessing. Much like John Robinson, we take some known knowledge and then somehow incorporate it into our mystery.
Moreover, there’s an element of poetry in not knowing. Everyone’s imagination can forever fly to the stars with their best guess. That’s the allure of a mystery. We’d love to finally discover the hidden meanings behind these mysterious finds. Still, we remain in awe of the quiet and hidden intentions they embody.
Ensuring the Rich Healthcare in the Placentia Area
Birdseye View of the Placentia Health Centre (Source: Lee Everts).
The Placentia Health Centre is a relatively recent addition to the landscape of the Placentia area. It emerges from a long history of healthcare. Undoubtedly, it reflects an ongoing investment in healthcare.
Placentia stands as part of a strong healthcare network. Recent changes, however, are adding tension to the healthcare system. The goal will be to hold onto a system buoyed by a rich heritage of healthcare.
As early as 1698, health was already a concern for residents. At this time, there was apparently a hospital located in Placentia near a lime kiln used for the construction of forts and fortifications such as Fort Louis.1
A first edition of the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, in Spanish (left), and a copy printed in 1714 in Latin and English (right). ( Source: Wikipedia).
As the years progressed and following the War of the Spanish Succession, Placentia was ceded to Britain from France in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. Placentia became the military headquarters and continued to provide medical services. However, as more people settled in the Placentia area and on the islands of Placentia Bay, health became a personal or community responsibility.
Thus, care and maintenance of health was approached using a mixture of beliefs, home remedies and knowledge derived from past experience. This art and skill of healing was often equal to what the medical profession would offer years and decades later in hospitals. Certain people within the community would have been regularly called upon to provide medical assistance for injuries—births, deaths and so on.
Health in the Twentieth Century
Nevertheless, more needed to be done. Hence, it was the Commission of Government2 who, having taken office from 1934 to 1949, recognised the need for a greater investment in healthcare. Charged with reviving the ailing the economy of the Dominion of Newfoundland, one of the initiatives of the Commission of Government was intended to rectify health inequities across the island.
The Commission of Government borrowed a scheme used in Scotland—cottage hospitals. They were ideal as they could be used to service a population that was widely dispersed. One of the first cottage hospitals was situated in Argentia. However, when an agreement was made with the United States to permit their use of the land for a military base in Argentia, the community and everything else, including the hospital, needed to be moved and resettled.
Photograph of the Placentia Cottage Hospital (Source: Anonymous).
The hospital was then moved to Placentia. Hence, by 1949, thirteen of the eighteen hospitals were built. These included hospitals in Old Perlican, Markland, Burgeo, Harbour Breton, Come By Chance, Stephenville Crossing, Bonavista, Norris Point, Grand Bank, Placentia, Brookfield, Gander and Botwood.
Under the Commission of Government, nursing stations were also dotted around Newfoundland and Labrador. Along with the cottage hospitals, hospital ships provided floating clinics. For instance, the MV Lady Anderson serviced close to 75 settlements along the southwest coast of Newfoundland. Afterwards, it plied the waters of Placentia Bay where it was also used to transport patients to and fro the Placentia Cottage Hospital.
Entering the Modern Era
Since the early 1940s, the Placentia cottage hospital remained as a sentinel for the provision of health for the Placentia area. However, change was on the horizon. In April of 1986, the Lions Manor Nursing Home opened its doors. Ten years afterwards, the heritage of health in the Placentia area continued to evolve when the Placentia Health Centre was built.
Then, two years later in October of 1998, the bricks and mortar of the old Cottage Hospital were taken down. Nonetheless, its memory as a place where residents could seek health care has remained safely housed in the touching stories of residents.
Current Health System
Despite its rich background, the current healthcare system for the Placentia Bay area, as a part of Newfoundland and Labrador, is beset with challenges. Top of the list are wait times for various surgeries. In a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), at 60%, Canada topped the list along with Norway in terms of wait-times for medical care.
Photograph of William H. Newhook Health Centre (Source: Eastern Health).
Other rural areas across the country, Manitoba and British Columbia are reeling from the same closures. So, this is definitely not a problem restricted to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Unquestionably, there is a lot of room for improvement for health care in Newfoundland and Labrador. The situation at William H. Newhook Health Care centre merely serves as a representation of what can happen in any of the communities, such as Placentia.Hilda Whelan, the mayor of Whitbourne says they’ve just been exceptionally lucky no deaths have resulted from the closure of the Health Care Centre.
The health care in the Placentia area surroundings has been in existence officially since 1698. Undoubtedly, the heritage of health in the Placentia area is deep and interesting, one firmly etched into its identity. In the 17th century, the investment in health was a top priority. The goal is for it to remain an integral part of the landscape in the years to come.
1. The source for this information is unknown. Although it is reasonable to assume that forts would contain hospitals to address the needs of their soldiers.
2. The Commission of Government was appointed by the British government which took control of Newfoundland in 1933. Economically, Newfoundland was in dire straits. The general feeling was that Newfoundland needed to take a rest from responsible government for the moment.
in St. Luke’s Cultural Centre (Source: Christopher Newhook).
“Honi soit qui mal y pense” are the words emblazoned on the coat of arms located in St. Luke’s Cultural Centre. The words are in Norman French and translated to English, they mean “shamed be whoever thinks ill of it.” Below the images on the coat of arms are the words “DIEU ET MON DROIT” meaning “God and my right.”
All of these words and images may appear meaningless
to modern eyes. Although, at the time, their intention was crystal clear. Like many afterwards, the Coat of Arms reflected the intentions of a growing empire to demonstrate and pursue power and glory. Before discussing these words and images and exploring their meaning, a bit of background is in order.
Brief History of St. Luke’s Cultural Centre
Photograph of St. Luke’s Cultural Centre (Source: Lee Everts).
St. Luke’s Cultural Centre was formerly St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Placentia, Newfoundland & Labrador. Established in the sixteenth century as a place of Roman Catholic worship, through the tussles between the British and French, it became Protestent in 1713. It was in 1786 when Prince William Henry visited Placentia on a tour of British lands. From 1830 to 1837, he would reign in Britain as King William IV. While in Placentia, he presented the church1 with several gifts. One was a silver communion service and the other was in fact this coat of arms.
Coat of Arms
The idea for a coat of arms originated with the military, a distinct snd decisive expression of strength and power. Beginning in the twelfth century, knights would seek to ally themselves with various nobles. It began in northern Europe and, over time, it’s spread throughout the world. Every modern day country possess a coat of arms, as well as an array of national emblems appearing on items such as their flags.
Originally it was the knights who sought to ally themselves with some power. They would do so using some form of imagery and text worn on their surcoat, the tunic worn over the armour. In some circumstances, it could be displayed on their shield or rest atop their helmet.
The imagery was intended to convey the power wielded by the owner of the coat of arms. Below the imagery would be some sort of motto. This was serious business. The coat of arms were used during actual warfare, as well as in tournaments, a glamorous representation of warfare.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Coat of Arms Wikipedia).
Nowadays, we do much the same, for instance, the coat of arms of the RCMP displays their intention to “Maintiens le Droit” or “Maintain the Right.” It shows a bison, owing to a segment of the RCMP2 originating in Northwest Canada.
Although, the use of a coat of arms has shifted from strictly warfare or military. Various guilds, churches, schools, universities or other organisations also possess their own coat of arms. However, in all of these institutions, much like our monarchies of old, a clear statement of authority and strength is still being made through the use of the coat of arms.
Coat of Arms in St. Luke’s Cultural Centre
The coat of arms given to St. Luke’s was that of Great Britain. The imagery has changed over time, a reflection of the changing powers in the monarchy. The coat of arms was given during the reign on Queen Anne. She took the crown following the union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England on 1 May, 1707.
Coat of Arms of Britain as given by Prince William Henry in 1786 to St. Luke’s in Placentia (Source: Christopher Newhook).
The Coat of Arms is divided into quarters, the first in the upper left, the second in the upper right, the third quarter in the lower left and finally, the fourth quarter in the lower right.
As to be expected, the images chosen are obvious displays of power. For Queen Anne, she elected to have the image representing the Arms of England and Scotland sharing the first and fourth quarter. That of England consisted of three lions over top one another.
The choice of a lion to signify England is unsurprising. The lion is a symbol for qualities such as courage, pride, and strength. These are all attributes to which any country would aspire. Coincidentally, the lion now functions as the national animal in England. Originally, there were only two lions on the British Coat of Arms. However, a third was added by King Richard I, often referred to as Richard the Lionheart.
The Arms of Scotland was a rampant Scottish unicorn. It was used simply because the eminent unicorn, considered untamable, is not only Scotland’s national animal. It is also considered to be undefeatable, a noteworthy quality given its placement alongside Britain’s lion.
The Arms of France were reflected in the third quarter, consisting of three fleur-de-lis, a symbol believed to have begun with King Louis VII. The Arms of Ireland, placed on the third quarter, are represented by a harp. The harp has been the national emblem for Ireland since apparently 1185. It was at this time when then King John toured Ireland. Touring for about a year, he expressed appreciation for the role of music in the culture of Ireland.3
“Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”
Surrounding the Arms of the various countries is the motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” meaning, as noted earlier, “shamed be whoever thinks ill of it.” The words were chosen by King Edward III using Norman French, the language used since William the Conqueror of Normandy, France had taken control of England in 1066. It was also the language used at the time by the ruling classes in Britain.
These words were also tied to the Most Noble Order of the Garter. The Order was established by King Edward III in 1348 and dedicated to the image and arms of St. George. The Garter, the symbol of the Order has always been worn on the left leg below the knee and is emblazoned with the motto.
Badge of the Order of the Garter: The attributed arms of Saint George circumscribed by the Garter (Source: Sodacan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia)
About the Garter
There are several different explanations for the motto. A somewhat fanciful one holds that King Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. As the story goes, her garter slipped down around her ankle, causiing no end of mirth by those who witnessed the happening.
King Edward III, apparently, to salvage her honour, placed the garter around his own leg, stating the following words “Honi soit qui mal y pense.” It makes sense, be it a little too perfect. Another explanation states that King Edward III, in preparation for the Battle of Crécy during the Hundred Years’ War, gave “forth his own garter as the signal.”
A further possibility holds that the motto is actually tied more to King Edward III’s claim to the French throne. And the Order of the Garter was created in order to pursue this claim. The Garter, a representation of the straps used to tighten armour, was used to signify the “band” or “bond” held by the knightly supporters for the claim to the French throne.
This explanation seems the most sensible, albeit somewhat embroidered. Still, given the age old tension between the English and French thrones, this explanation appears most worthy of the words appearing on the Coat of Arms.
In this sense, the coat of arms is essentially a statement of the power, maintaining that Britain seeks to make its claim for the French throne and shame on anyone who thinks ill of it. It’s possible. But the jury is still out.
For what it’s worth, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” is widely used. Although, in each case, the same sentiment of pride guides their use. Essentially, there is an action that has been taken and shame on anyone for thinking ill of it.
“Dieu et Mon Droit”
Meaning “God and my right,” it makes sense, as the King or Queen is the “titular head” of the Church of England. Thus, the Coat of Arms is merely officially stating the position of the monarchy as the conduit of the people with their God.
Gifting a Coat of Arms
A Coat of Arms is a national symbol, perhaps the preeminent one. And so, to gift such an item to Newfoundland, which was not a formal colony, is noteworthy. Placentia may not have been a colony. Although it was regarded quite highly by Britain.
Placentia’s importance was waning in Newfoundland throughout the 18th century, increasingly, the focus was being placed on St. John’s. Nevertheless, Placentia had been chosen by Britain as the military centre at the end of the War of the Spanish Success on 1713. So, that status likely carried some weight.
In terms of gifting the coat of arms, Britain and its monarchy sat at the head of the Church of England. Hence, it was in their best interests to assert their supremacy in the gift of a Coat of Arms. Moreover, gifting a coat of arms would also be seen by the people as a sign of trust and belonging.
Britain was still a growing power at the time. Thus, it was vital for the governing power to assure their people of their importance. After all, it is the people who are the true strength of any country.
When walking into St. Luke’s Cultural Centre, the coat of arms sits discreetly on the wall facing the door. Some will remark on it while it will go unnoticed for others. Regardless, it signifies the place Placentia held as one of the dominions of Britain. And ultimately, it stands as reminder of the vast strength and power Britain held during the eighteenth century.
1There have been two churches built on the site preceding the current one.
2One of the armed forces that developed into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was the North-West Mounted Police. Charged with enforcing justice in the Canadian Northwest Territories (initially this included Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territory and part of Nunavut).
Travelling to Argentia, you’ll find a heavy industrial park established on the rocky shores of Placentia Bay. Well-travelled roads criss-cross over beaten down gravel and paved areas. Warehouses are interspersed over the region or situated along the shore. The pulsing heartbeat of fast-paced business is a reflection of its life-giving energy. Looking around, you’d think nothing remains of the community that had existed there for hundreds of years. But you’d be wrong.
Taking A Step Into the Past
Demasduit was a Beothuk woman. This image was crreated in 1819 (Source: Wikipedia)
Over the centuries, many have passed over the Argentia peninsula. There’s no doubt the touch of the Beothuk could be found on the undulations of the landscape. The first Europeans to arrive in the Placentia area were Basques by the 16th century. Although, there’s little to indicate they traversed the Argentia peninsula. Much like the Beothuk, only our imaginations can conjure their presence now.
When the Europeans settled in Argentia, it became known as Little Placentia. It developed into a thriving herring and salmon-fishing port. Originally from places such as Ireland, Scotland as well as Britain, the people of the region made a living fishing and tending their gardens.
Silver was discovered there in the late nineteenth century. While nothing much arose from the discovery, it will hold lasting memory. In 1904, in honour of its silver lode, Little Placentia’s name was changed to Argentia. 1
Life no doubt went on over the next years, much as it had in the past. By the census year of 1921, Argentia’s population had risen to 477 from 392.
U.S. ships and aircraft in Little Placentia Sound, Argentia, 1942. (Source: Wikipedia).
It was with the arrival of the Second World War when Argentia radically changed. The coming of the Argentia Naval station utterly transformed the community which would soon disappear below a military base. Heavily engineered roads and airfields soon transformed the region. By 1941, gone were the meadows interspersed with clapboard houses surrounded by gardens. It was warehouses, barracks and office buildings that came to define the landscape.
It was this way for decades. At least a couple of generations of Newfoundlanders made a living care of Uncle Sam. By the late 1960s, Argentia had begun to wind down. Then, with the arrival of 1994, it all came to an end. The United States pulled out, eventually leaving the area for the Port of Argentia.
Although it took some time to gather speed, the Argentia Management Authority, now the Port of Argentia, took control of the area. Ably, they transformed it into a well-oiled business. To this day, the Port of Argentia welcomes businesses to take up some real estate in the industrial park.
The Presence of Argentia
Despite the absence of community of Argentia on the landscape, it exists powerfully and quite poignantly for many of the former inhabitants and descendants. Collectively, they feel a spirit of place, one nestled in their hearts and minds.
In distant Roman times, the landscape was replete with sacred places where people could commune with a particular spirit. Now, in a more secular world, it is the meaning of the place that stirs individuals. A spirit of place is regarded as the unique, distinctive and cherished aspects of a place. In this sense, places such as Argentia have a spirit imbued by the lives that had been lived there for well over a century.
Talk of Argentia evokes feelings that, for some, may cast their minds back to a time only distantly remembered. However, the spirit of the place is nurtured through a collective memory. Together, members of the community quilt together memories of Argentia. And it remains vibrantly alive through story, music, paintings and so on.
These are all expressions that share, strengthen, and invigorate the spirit of place. Elements of place such as memories and meanings flood into the mind. This spirit of place is strong, capable of transporting people to another time. A rock is no longer just a rock, for instance, but the place where children of the community may have met to play ball. At a particular contour of the land was perhaps the former location of a home. Most importantly, thoughts of these places will further fortify the connections to place, even if that place is now confined to collective memory. Moreover, the connections amongst the people will be enhanced.
Connecting is meaningful in all respects, drawing on sentiments such as love, respect, kindness, and compassion. (Source: Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay).
Connections are life-giving. Myriad elements can suture those connections—memories of a laugh, a particular song, a poem, someone’s quirky personality, features in the landscape, maybe even memorable pieces of furniture. All those remembering will nod their heads and smile knowingly. It’s powerful and transporting.
In so doing, those connections are sometimes a subtle and at other times potent sign of belonging. To feel one belongs within a group is something for which many strive. If attained, it quietly affirms things such as acceptance, understanding, comradery and support. They are all sentiments individuals who feel a deep sense of belonging can take for granted. To belong is a deeply moving feeling.
When one goes to Freshwater Community Centre, the walls are covered with pictures of homes and other buildings that were, at one time, a part of Argentia. The buildings had to be destroyed in order to make way for the United States Naval Base. However, those pictures are conduits to a past with which all who feel a sense of belonging will be able to gather meaning. They kindle feelings of affiliation, love, and respect, all contributing to Argentia’s spirit of place.
Image of Garden Gate (Source: Amazon.ca)
In Garden Gate, a recent book by Darrell Duke, he paints a picture of the host of challenges the people of Argentia experienced when the United States arrived. The story evokes the feelings generated by what had occurred—injustice, tragedy, sadness and resolve. Magically, it is able to gently buttress the spirit of place for those who feel a connection and belonging to Argentia.
Even for those not connected, Mr. Duke’s story triggers many of the same feelings it does for those who have a connection to Argentia. These are sentiments with which many can identify. After all, around the world, people have lived through similar circumstances as befell Argentia in 1940. While it may not nurture the same sense of belonging, it will certainly bolster a sprit of place.
Argentia in the Present
While the Argentia to which Darrell Duke refers is long gone, in many ways it isn’t. A community often exists by virtue of its address, the buildings, fences, and roads leaving a tangible footprint. But overall, our communities are truly built from the shared meanings, beliefs, and memories that at one time may have animated the host of walls and clapboard. Even though there is no built presence of Argentia, it will continue to boast a lively presence in both heart and mind.
The spirit of the place is in the hearts and minds of its former inhabitants. In reading a poem regarding Argentia, listening to a story or song, we are touched by its spirit. These are elements defying our five senses and yet there is a spirit that will enliven a place we will always know as Argentia.
Of course, we all get up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes. As far as I can tell, my periodic irritability is not due to any difficulty I’ve had with any one or any thing—certainly nothing that’s obvious to me. I’m in my early fifties and so, it’s likely yet another time to expect an hormonal bonanza. So, who knows , maybe I can lay it at the door of “my time of life.”
At any rate, when I slowly roll out of the wrong side of my bed, I am weighted down with everything I feel is going wrong in my life. It’s a frame of mind, make no mistake. The cup is half empty, damn it. I’ll refuse to hear anything otherwise. That’s the nature of my mood, I’m afraid.
I go about robing myself in an array of perspectives coloured in shades of sorrow and melancholy. It’s important to emphasise, it is only a perspective. At any other time, the same idea or thought would be clothed in a far brighter and spirited manner. But not right now when the sky seems to be falling and nothing is going right in my life.
Is There a Way Out?
So, what to do? And I’m not alone in my dilemmas. Many of us are tripped up by periodic blues. Given the problem, how do we wrest ourselves from the doleful embrace? Sure, time is all that’s sometimes required. All we need to do is maybe have something to eat. I’m sure you’ve heard of this dilemma. Researchers have identified a tie between our blood sugar and our mood.
Sometimes we have little comments, ready and waiting, that merely compound the murkiness surrounding us. They’re the words potentially hurtling us towards a constant re-play of everything that’s gone wrong in our lives. We focus on how this always happens and how we’ll never be … fill in the blank. It never ends, until our fixated attention is somehow pried away from that mesmerising bottomless pit.
Following the Words of a Tunneler
For me, my sensibilities are shaken into place by a quote from a soldier. I’d been doing some research on the First World War and encountered this corner of history. When I looked a little more deeply, I realised it was much larger than I’d initially realised.
The soldier was a tunneler. I’d not be surprised if that doesn’t ring a bell, as they weren’t the most well known members of our past. Still, they hold an undeniably honourable place. Often it was miners who were enlisted to build the tunnels below the fighting that occurred on the surface—No Man’s Land. Three simple words that can’t quite capture the horrific reality of the place.
The explosion of the mine under Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt, 1 July 1916 (Photo 1 by Ernest Brooks).
During the First World War, the idea was for their men to tunnel below the enemy and then place explosives in the mines. This was expertly done beneath Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt on the Western Front at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. It was this explosion that was supposed to have started the battle.1 At times enemy tunnelers would encounter one another below the surface and a skirmish would ensue.
The tunnelers had to keep a wary ear out for any mining that was taking place. Both sides of the war employed these tactics. As a result, those on the British side would employ various devices in order to hear. One such method involved forcing a stick into the ground and then holding the other end between their teeth. This permitted one to sense any vibrations resulting from the digging of the opposing side.
Understandably, the entire process was highly stressful. One would expect anyone involved to be of a dark humour. So, I was astonished when I read how the archaeologists had encountered the words scrawled on one of the tunnel’s walls. Given the circumstances, the words would seem out of place. Yet, amidst the maelstrom, William Carr was able to share astoundingly poignant and touching words. He wrote,
“If in this place you are detained, don't look around you all in vain, but cast your net and you will find, that every cloud is silver lined. Still.”
And it’s those words that always give me pause. While we may feel confined or imprisoned in whatever dilemma we’re experiencing, we’re not to worry. For within the darkness, there will always be a light shining through, William Carr assures us. So, hold fast, he says. His thoughts were clearly not on his own troubles. He only sought to ease the path for those who followed.
If this man was able to evoke such beauty and majesty while all hell was erupting overhead, then surely I can endure the tiny, by comparison, challenges with which I find myself contending. This is certainly not to imply that some of things with which we’re contending are of no concern.
What we’re facing may very well be on par with the challenges of William Carr—perhaps more. Still, his words are intended as a gentle push forward. Every now and then, we’re brought down by some one or some thing. At other times, as I’ve suggested, we have no idea why we’re feeling down. It just happens sometimes.
In any case, there may be a period when we’re feeling beleaguered and down. But hopefully, we can remember words such as those of William Carr. They remind us of our strength, courage, and fortitude. We recall how, with a little perseverance, we’ll discover a path out of the holes we, too often, have dug for ourselves. These words and phrases offer us leverage, the firm support we need to free our selves.
So, sure, maybe we’ve just gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. But there’s no need to stay there for long.
Nestled between Sacred Heart church and the former St. Edward’s Elementary is Our Lady of Angels/Presentation Convent. It’s now a well loved building quietly enriching the Placentia area landscape. No doubt all the memories are not fond, for the experience of some at convent school is mixed. Nonetheless, its presence remains a recognition of not only its longevity. There are also merits to its deep reach into the history of the Placentia area.
Much of its former locale has dramatically changed. St. Edward’s School has both come and gone leaving a green space again along the front of the convent. Likewise, it is surrounded now by modern homes that emerged as the decades passed.
Origins of the Convent
It was Nano Nagle who, in 1776, in Cork, Ireland, founded the Congregation of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Four of their members had journeyed to Newfoundland in 1833, the goal being, at the behest of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, to establish schools.
Accordingly, with the encouragement of Reverend Edward Condon, Our Lady of Angels Convent was built in 1864 for the Presentation Sisters, an organisation which was led by Sister Mary de Sales Condren.
It was a two and a half story building which boasted architectural qualities which lent to its uniqueness. Hence, its current contribution to the heritage of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador in addition to the Placentia area was undeniable. Hence, Canada’s Historic Places recognised it as a place of note.
Constructed primarily of locally quarried stone, the designers and builders also added other touches which collectively signify its undeniable value. For instance, a keystone trim helps to accentuate the windows, a feature that works in accordance with the quoining used at the corners of the building.
Alongside being an attribute to the built heritage of the Placentia area, its history also honours the less palpable, yet no less fervent intangible heritage of the town. For instance, the name “Our Lady of Angels” is a nod to the Franciscan friars of Quebec who established the first monastery in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1689.
At this time, the Second Bishop of Québec, Jean St. Vallier helped lay the groundwork for an ecclesiastical presence in Plaisance (Placentia). In so doing, St. Vallier also established the first Newfoundland parish, “Our Lady of Angels.”
Since the initial period of occupation of the Placentia area in the 1500s by the Basque and later, the establishment of the French garrison in 1662, Roman Catholicism has held an important place in the Placentia area. Our Lady of Angels Convent stands as a symbol of this quality.
And no matter how modernised our lives become, it will always be worth our while to take a step back. The lives led in the past are not as different from our own as we may think. Education and religion remain two key lifeways that are still strongly with us today.
The Presentation Convent is merely a symbol of how it was done a little more than a century and a half ago. Looking at buildings such as the convent provides us with an inkling of the values of the day. Do we have anything to learn? What is it they did we’d like to emulate? Perhaps there are elements we’d like to leave in the past. In any case, history will always be a keen navigator for the future.
When the Proclamation was sent out on August 22, 1914, a few weeks after the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany, the request was simple yet intense — “King and Country Need You.” And it was men such as Franz Lüttge, a resident of Placentia, Newfoundland1 who responded unhesitatingly. He had been a member of the Canadian militia and given this experience, he knew he must answer the call. However, Lüttge’s well-intentioned offer to potentially give his life for the Empire would bring him face-to-face with growing fear and uncertainty. It was a sign of the times.
Volunteering for the War
Franz Lüttge, a Canadian of German origin, was from Manitoba. A man of “means and leisure,” he had decided to settle in Placentia near the marine cable station that was situated along what is now known as the Orcan River. It is entirely possible his mother was his connection with Placentia. She was a Smith.
When Lüttge decided to volunteer, recognising how his name might be a problem, he enlisted using the name of his mother. He no doubt also opted to exchange Franz for Francis. It was best to avoid any unnecessary and unwanted scrutiny. After all, the origins of his name were linked to the country whom he would be fighting. Regardless, his loyalty to the British Empire was unquestionable. He was Canadian and like Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, he wanted to support and fight for the “Mother Country.”
Struggling to Stand for Your Country
Lüttge could not have known that just one day after the declaration of war on August 4, the United Kingdom had taken measures to ensure its safety and that of its colonies. The threat of spies was considered to be great. Thus, on August 5, 1914, the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 was passed. This gave British governments legislative power to deal with “enemy aliens.” One of the clauses in this Act prohibited enemy aliens from changing their names. This would prove to be a downfall for Lüttge.
Although he had sought to join the First Newfoundland Contingent, fears and incrimination would ultimately block his attempts. The fact that he had changed his name was the primary concern. While Lüttge was Canadian, his name spoke otherwise and threw open the door to the fears and paranoia that had come to define the period. After discovering his true name, his fellow recruits objected to his presence.
Germanophobia was widespread in British society and it was only normal for this to have spread to colonies such as Newfoundland. Despite his attempts to join the First Newfoundland Contingent, he was asked to resign from the regiment.
The Push for Patriotism
Meanwhile, the leaders in Placentia were strongly urging the young men of the district to fight for their King and Country and ironically, follow the lead of men such as Lüttge. Early in November, a meeting, “packed with a loyal and enthusiastic audience,” took place at the Placentia Courthouse. In attendance were individuals such as the Rt. Reverend Monsignor Reardon, F.J. Morris, Secretary of the Patriotic Nominating Committee of St. John’s and a member of the Recruiting Committee.
As reported on November 5, 1914 in The Evening Telegram, F.J. Morris made a passionately patriotic speech, exclaiming how the time had arrived for Newfoundland to stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain. He was sure that the young men of Placentia-St. Mary’s district would be more than willing to answer the “call to the Motherland.” Morris expressed his faith in the young men of the region. He spoke fervently, stating how “it could never be said of a Newfoundland fisherman that he was afraid to go to sea.” Leading community members responded with a resolution that was unanimously passed.
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, That we the citizens of the Ancient Capital of His Majesty’s Oldest Colony, in this patriotic public meeting convened, hereby individually and collectively pledge ourselves to aid and encourage our young fishermen from all parts of the district to promptly enlist in the Royal Naval Reserve and rally round the old flag.
Men such as Franz Lüttge believed wholeheartedly in this sentiment.
Realities of the Times
So much so that in December 1914, he reapplied to be a part of the Second Contingent. Although, on December 7, 1914, the Right Honourable Lewis Harcourt informed Sir Walter Davidson, the Governor of Newfoundland of Franz Lüttge. He explained how Lüttge had “taken up his residence at Placentia.” Harcourt informed Davidson how Lüttge had been “informally watched since his arrival in Newfoundland.” However, neither the correspondence or the behaviour of Lüttge suggested anything of an “incriminatory nature.”
Nonetheless, the attempt of Lüttge to join the Second Contingent was not to be. The spy fever and distrust would remain an insurmountable barrier—the unfortunate realities of the times. Lüttge was kept under police observation and still on July 22, 1915, he was considered a “suspect at large.” Then, two and a half weeks later, Franz Lüttge was ordered to leave the colony of Newfoundland.
Like thousands of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the men of the Placentia area willingly gave years of their young lives to “King and Country.” Too often, it was life itself they freely gave. There were 34 from Argentia, Dunville, Jerseyside, Placentia, and Southeast Placentia who did so. And no doubt, if given the chance, men such as Franz Lüttge would have done likewise.
“Governor’s Office — Copies of Despatches” GN 1/1/7 The Rooms Provincial Archive
“Recruiting Meeting in Placentia” November 5, 1914 in The Evening Telegram, p.7
At the time, Newfoundland was still a country and Labrador was not officially a part of that country. So, for this piece, I’m only using ‘Newfoundland’ alone.