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Category: A Look Back in Time

A chance to look at events from our past.

Crossing the Gut in Placentia, NL

Crossing the Gut in Placentia, NL

Anyone travelling along the main road going through Dunville will pass Seven Island Lookout and spot it in the distance. The lift bridge spanning what is known as the gut is simply majestic as it rises from the water’s surface, both imposing and immovable. Built in 2016, it has a long history, one assuring its place in the hearts of residents and visitors alike.

Image of bridge from Seven Island Lookout (Source: Lee Everts).

In the Early Years

For the longest time, the idea of crossing the gut in Placentia was not of any real concern. In the sixteenth century, when the Basque arrived in what, to them, was Plazençia, short of walking, travel by boat was the primary means of getting around.

In the 17th through to the 19th century, similarly, residents would’ve had boats for all their transportation requirements. As seen in the map below, French residents living on the Placentia beach lived on the Orcan River, the channel that led inland from the gut. This was when France controlled the region, known to them as Plaisance, from 1662 to 1714 Most settlers possessed a small wharf for their boat.

Image: A plan of the settlement and fishing room belonging to the French inhabitants of the beach at Placentia completed in 1714 (Source: Library and Archives Canada).

It was only when more people began to settle on Placentia beach, Jerseyside, Freshwater, and Dunville that crossing the gut was of greater concern. People were just getting around on foot and so, the gut posed more of a challenge. Initially, cars were of little concern.

While, at present, the gut and surrounding waters no longer develop a covering of ice, in the past, some winter ice did form. As a result, it could provide a natural bridge, allowing people to walk across the gut.

Crossing the gut was no small challenge. In and of itself, the span of the gut at 73m and the tide, at about 4 knots, changing every eight and a half hours, posed a challenge. The spring tide rises 2.1m and neap tide rises 1.5m. So, there’s little question that if anyone wanted to get across, either a bridge or a boat would’ve been necessary.

Crossing By Boat

By the latter part of the 19th century, a Patrick Kemp ran a ferry known as the Black Punt across the gut. However, it wasn’t running as smoothly as hoped. And as the years progressed, residents complained about the poor service crossing the gut.

Image of people being ferried across the gut (Source: Anonymous).

Even a new and improved ferry was deemed not much better. In 1901, an editorial complained how people crossing were sometimes “drenched with water.” Later, in 1910, a letter to the editor remarked how “it was really laughable … to see a rope stretched across the gut and people pulling themselves … across to the town side on the broken down ferry.” Already during the early part of the twentieth century, a bridge had been promised by the government. Even a petition had even been signed by residents to bridge the gut.

As the years progressed, the government sought to undertake improvements. But it wasn’t enough. In 1917, a writer in a local editorial explained how the old black punt had been converted into a motor boat. Although, in their words “it should be burnt.” In 1920, a telegram was sent to the then Prime Minister with complaints of the “rotten broken down motor boats” being used. So, there was a clear need to cross the gut, once and for all.

First Attempts to Bridge the Gut

Everything changed in 1941 when the United States built a base in Argentia. The presence of the base and its service men and women meant it was imperative to have easy access to the Placentia beach. As a consequence, by September 1941, the government, with the assistance of the military, had decided to build a pontoon bridge.

The result was welcomed by residents with numerous people now freely crossing the gut. However, it wasn’t to last. The currents and tides relentlessly assailed the bridge and within a few months of being installed, the pontoon bridge broke free from its moorings leaving the Placentia area, yet again, with no way across the gut.

Image and pontoon bridge (Source: Anonymous).

All was not lost, for a year later, the United States army re-installed the bridge. However, due to the weather, the pontoon bridge had to be removed prior to the winter. Plus, the pontoon bridge was actually an impediment for fish harvesters who sometimes needed quick access to the harbour should the weather turn.

Besides, in the meantime, the United States base had developed a road that gave them access to the Placentia beach without having to cross the gut. Hence, the pontoon bridge was no longer necessary. Now, crossing the gut was again left an array of individuals who privately offered their services. They sometimes even managed to get cars across the gut.

Image of car being ferried across the gut (Source: Anonymous).

Back to the Ferry

With the arrival of 1954, initiatives to find a solution to crossing the gut were again undertaken by the government. The Newfoundland Transportation Company began providing service across the gut on the MV Ambrose Shea. Able to transport several cars and passengers, it was a definite improvement to what the Placentia area had become accustomed. Finally, crossing the gut was being taken seriously. Still, was it enough?

Image of MV Ambrose Shea ferry arriving (Source: Anonymous).

It became apparent that, no, a ferry crossing could not provide adequate service for the growing populations in the Placentia area. On the 22nd July, 1959, a local news paper, The Evening Telegram ran a story stating how the Gut was to finally be bridged.

A Bridge At Long Last

The McNamara Construction Company began operations building the bridge on 29th August, 1959. After a range of details regarding land and materials needed in the construction were ironed out, on 28th October, 1961, a crowd of residents and officials celebrated the opening of the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge. The centre would lift to allow boat traffic to traverse the Gut while vehicles could freely travel overtop.

Image of original Sir Ambrose She Lift Bridge (1961-2016) (Source: Lee Everts).

The Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge serviced the region for decades, the obstacles of crossing the gut fading into distant memory. Although, all good things come to an end. For the lift bridge, it was in 2010, when the provincial government began making plans to replace this bridge with one of similar design located alongside the site of the old bridge.

Everything Good Comes to an End

Unfortunately, these plans didn’t move fast enough and on Sunday, 3rd August, 2014, the bridge suffered a major collapse. It inconvenienced residents who regularly travelled over the bridge for work and to do their banking or shopping. Also troubled by the bridge being unable to lift were the fish harvesters. This followed ongoing repairs required to allow the bridge to function.

Although the bridge reopened on the 12th October, it would have to undergo continued repairs and maintenance for the next six weeks. Anyone needing to reach Placentia beach would have to drive a secondary route using a gravel road going through Southeast Placentia.

Time to Change

Despite the difficulties, the new bridge was finally completed and on the 23rd September, 2016, it opened for traffic. Eventually, the price ended up being $8 million more than that contracted. Blamed on additional costs required for external consultants, many were simply happy the new bridge had been completed.

And in all respects, it was an engineering feat. Consisting of a three-span structure, the centre movable span, connected on each side by two simple fixed beam support spans.

Image of new Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge which opened in 2016 (Source: Lee Everts).

The goal was to accomplish the need of the bridge to lift, but to do so in an aesthetically pleasing manner, one accordant with the heritage of the area. The resulting bridge was wider than the first Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge. The machinery required to raise the middle section was located at the top of the towers of the two spans on either side.

The designers were well aware of the harsh environment in which the bridge would be located, trying to take this into account.

Nothing’s Perfect

But nothing’s perfect. So even the new bridge succumbed to various problems, having to be closed at times to both road and marine traffic. Customarily ingenious, some fish harvesters dealt with the inability of the lift bridge to rise by cutting the heights of their vessels. Some would alter their equipment so the masts could simply be bent in order to get under the bridge and raised once into the harbour.

For the most part, the bridge operates unimpeded. Still, every now and then, a problem will arise. However, the problem is eventually addressed and traffic resumes.

An Iconic Presence

It’s now 2024 and in two years, we’ll mark the tenth anniversary of the new Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge. Without question, there’ve been several periods that may have left residents and others wondering, was this really worth the cost? Still, for the hundreds regularly crossing the bridge, the answer would definitely be, yes, it was worth it. And without question, the bridge has become an iconic feature of the Town of Placentia.

Sources:

Canadian Consulting Engineer 2013 “Lift bridge in Placentia has to be durable” https://www.canadianconsultingengineer.com/transportation/lift-bridge-in-placentia-has-to-be-durable/1002340407/

CBC News 2014 “Placentia’s lift bridge out of commission for time being” https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/placentia-s-lift-bridge-out-of-commission-for-time-being-1.2726865

CBC News 2018 “Fishermen frustrated and fuming as Placentia lift bridge leaves boats stuck in harbour” https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/placentia-lift-bridge-upset-1.4655557

Everts, Lee 2016 Placentia Area — A Changing Mosaic https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Placentia_Area_A_Changing_Mosaic.html?id=YUTBCwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y

Library and Archives Canada 2014 “A plan of the settlement and fishing room belonging to the French inhabitants of the beach at Placentia” [cartographic material] Local class no. H3/140/Placentia/[1714] 140 – Metro areas, Newfoundland cartographic material, architectural drawing

“Placentia Ferry” Evening Telegram Editorial Notes (St. John’s, N.L.) 1901-04-30

Roberts, Terry 2016 “Cost of Placentia bridge nearly 20 per cent higher than contracted” https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/placentia-lift-bridge-cost-1.3585545

“Telegram to R.A. Squires” GN 8, File # 157, Folder 1, [District of] Placentia-St. Mary’s The Rooms, Provincial Archive of Newfoundland and Labrador

“The Old Black Punt Again to the Rescue” Evening Telegram (St. John’s, N.L.), 1910-09-16

“The Placentia Ferry” Evening Telegram (St. John’s, N.L.) 1917-12-14

Remembering Roger F. Sweetman

Remembering Roger F. Sweetman

When a loved one dies, many go to great lengths to ensure their memory and identity—what made them special—is preserved. It’s a profoundly personal period of our lives. Even if a loved one would prefer not to be remembered with a headstone or anything serving as permanence, it still matters. “Just think of me when the crocuses you planted bloom,” they may say.

One day, I was wandering around in Mount Carmel cemetery on Placentia beach, a part of the Town of Placentia. As with many other cemeteries around the world, it identifies with the heart and spirit of the community. Sitting nobly on Dixon’s Hill in a spot overlooking Placentia beach, it’s surrounded by hills as well as the waters of Placentia Bay. And it’s here where I discovered the coffin of Roger F. Sweetman.

Image of Mount Carmel (Source: Lee Everts).

Someone had covered his coffin entirely in silver paint. It was obviously a best intentioned effort to preserve it, albeit not the best approach. The only reason I knew it was his coffin was because I could just make out the date of death which I knew. Otherwise, no one would ever know. Still, it put me in mind of the efforts we take to enshrine the memories of our loved ones in a cemetery.

Image of Roger F. Sweetman’s coffin (Source: Lee Everts).

Roger F. Sweetman, R.I.P.

Roger F. Sweetman was a notable individual in these parts. He was born in Ireland to a prominent family who owned a transatlantic fishing business, shipping their wares across the globe. Operating in the 19th century, it was one of several prosperous fishing firms in Newfoundland, as this former country was known at the time.

The Sweetmans played a big role in Placentia. Roger F. Sweetman’s grandfather was Richard Welsh, also from Ireland, who began the fishing business in the 18th century. While the business may have started as a humble effort, in no time, it became wildly successful. Its presence was powerfully felt throughout the southwestern part of the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland, as well as across the world. In the end, it would survive for four generations.

Image of Avalon Peninsula (Source: Wikipedia).

I learned about him through a bit of research. He was actually Harry Verran’s father-in-law. Ironically, Harry Verran was a another person I would’ve loved to have met. Roger F. Sweetman was clearly an astute businessman. But, for me, what stands out about him, was his willingness to lend a helping hand, to step up and serve his community.

Much of it is circumstantial, but I remember reading how Roger F. Sweetman was defined as a “kind-hearted man” (M.F. 1930, 105). He was regarded as both generous and giving. He left Newfoundland, returning to his homeland of Ireland, in the 1840s.

It seems he was in Ireland during the potato blight which resulted in a mismanaged debacle leading to an horrific famine. In 1845, Roger F. Sweetman also served as President of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce. While in Ireland, he also served as treasurer for the local relief committee.

When I discovered his coffin, I could just make out the date of his death, the 27th November, 1862, which I knew. Believing him to have been an upstanding citizen, kind-hearted to those around him, my first thoughts were that an injustice had been committed. It seemed wrong any proof of his presence amongst us decades ago had been so diminished on his coffin.

The Function of Burial Marker

Whether a headstone, tombstone, or coffin, each are used to mark someone’s grave. They are often embellished with symbols of meaning reflecting the nature of the person who is buried in that spot. At other times, a grave marker is just that, simply stating where someone is buried, their name being then humbly engraved on the stone.

Certainly, there are beliefs that what is buried with those who have passed away will assist them in their afterlife. Notable examples would be the Vikings or the Amesbury Archer in Britain who had one of the richest Bronze Age graves ever discovered thus far. Still, nowadays, most of us mark our passing with a headstone, embellishing it with various symbols that define our understanding of death.

Image of the Amesbury Archer, an early Bronze age figure found near Stonehenge during excavation for a housing development, now called Archer’s Gate. This image is of the display in the redeveloped Wiltshire Archaeology Gallery at Salisbury Museum (Source: Wikipedia).

Stone is customarily used nowadays, as it’s permanence and durability reflect how we choose to see our loved one—going on forever. And we’re right, who they are in our lives will go on. When headstone, coffin or other burial structures are made, our eyes are often firmly fixed on the future.

In the past, wood was the choice. After all, it was likely more ready at hand. Regardless, whether wood or stone, it is inscribed with the name of the deceased, a brief description of their lives, how they died, and perhaps a poignant quote or poem. The goal is for these expressions to ease our way through the loss of a family member or a friend.

What Really Matters

For Roger F. Sweetman, it was impossible to see whether anything had been written on his coffin. Most likely there had been something, given his place in the community. Not choosing wood, the hope was for it to last. Regardless, it failed against the rigours of time. Again, upon first encountering his coffin, it seemed wrong, nothing seemed to remain of him.

Still, in the end, I thought, does it matter? Whether or not his name emotes some feeling in the decades or centuries following his death, has little bearing on the kind of person he apparently was while alive. And that’s when it matters.

To him, what was of value were the decisions he made to help create a better place for people while he was alive. It’s at times like these when we’re reminded how all those burial markers and their myriad meaningful symbols, we leave are primarily for us, those who have been left behind. Without question, all these adornments are welcomed by family and friends who visit a grave.

Although, for people such as Roger F. Sweetman, perhaps we can be assured he’d already made a substantial difference in the lives of people around him. So, an unadorned coffin will have to do for the rest of eternity.

Sources

Cuff, Robert H. 2014 “19th century Newfoundland outport merchants” https://heritagenl.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/29-19th-Century-Outport-Merchants.pdf

Editorial Team 2022 “5 Reasons Why People Put Headstones On Graves” https://www.emuarticles.com/5-reasons-why-people-put-headstones-on-graves/

Huang, Eric 2024 “Graveyard symbols: architectural markers of life and death” https://www.europeana.eu/en/blog/graveyard-symbols-architectural-markers-of-life-and-death

Johnson, Daniel 2021 “The True Story of the Potato Famine” https://www.grunge.com/324540/the-true-story-of-the-potato-famine/

M.F. 1930 “Women’s Section – Christmas Hospitality in an Outport” The Veteran 9(2)

Mannion, J. 1986, “Irish Merchants Abroad: The Newfoundland Experience, 1750-1850”
Newfoundland Studies 2(2), 127−90

Memorials.com 2022 “Headstone Symbols and Meanings: A Guide to Cemetery Symbols”

Viking Style 2024 “Did Vikings Bury Their Dead?” https://viking.style/did-vikings-bury-their-dead/

Wikipedia 2024 “Headstone” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headstone

Last Will and Testament of Domingo de Luca

Last Will and Testament of Domingo de Luca

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

discovers North America (Source: Wikipedia )

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 Rasmussen Source: 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.

As a result, it’s certainly no surprise the Basque were in Newfoundland by the sixteenth century.

Leaving a Will

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.

Sources:

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

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.

Sources:

Timms Solicitors 2023 “Who or What is a Tipstaff?” https://www.timms-law.com/family-care-divorce-who-or-what-is-a-tipstaff/

Wikipedia 2023 “Tipstaff” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipstaff

Online Etymology Dictionary 2023 “Tipstaff” https://www.etymonline.com/word/tipstaff

Food Insecurity and Health

Food Insecurity and Health

Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay (people …)

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Endnotes:

1. Medical assistance was sometimes available from British military hospitals. Although, their primary concern was their soldiers.

Sources:

Carvajal-Aldaz, Diana, Gabriela Cucalon and Carlos Ordonez 2022 “Food insecurity as a risk factor for obesity: A review” Frontiers in Nutrition https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.1012734/full

Brown, Alison G M et al 2019 “Food insecurity and obesity: research gaps, opportunities, and challenges” Translational Behavioural Medicine 9(5): 980–987 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6937550/

Gundersen, Craig and James P Ziliak 2015 “ Food Insecurity And Health Outcomes” Health Aff (Millwood). 2015 Nov;34(11):1830-9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26526240/

Tait, Christopher A. et al. 2018 “The association between food insecurity and incident type 2 diabetes in Canada: A population-based cohort study” PLOS ONE https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195962#pone.0195962.ref014

Tait, Christopher A. et al. 2018 “Food Insecurity and Type 2 Diabetes Risk” Population Health Analytics Laboratory https://pophealthanalytics.com/food-insecurity-and-type-2-diabetes-risk/

Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household

food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce

food insecurity (PROOF) https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2021-PROOF.pdf

Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador 1996 Book 5: Health and Hard Times

Newfoundland and Labrador Adult Basic Education Social History Series http://en.copian.ca/library/learning/social/book5/book5.pdf

Mysterious Archaeological Finds

Mysterious Archaeological Finds

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.

Sharing

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

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.

Early History

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 challenges also stress the system. Nowadays, Emergency Rooms (ER) are closing in rural centres in Newfoundland and Labrador. It places a strain on the health system. The William H. Newhook Health Centre closed in Whitbourne, forcing residents to either go to Carbonear, St. John’s or Placentia. First and foremost, it’s an additional burden for these residents who are distraught at the loss of their Health Centre, as well as for the receiving ER.

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.

Not so for others apparently. When the Canadian Institute for Health Information on “Avoidable Deaths From Treatable Causes” for Newfoundland and Labrador, the province did not fare well. While Canada as a whole rated 65. Newfoundland and Labrador scored an 87, well below average performance.

On a Final Note

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.

Sources:

Antle, Sarah 2022 “Patience running out in Whitbourne, as emergency room remains closed for 7th straight week” CBC NL https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/whitbourne-emergency-room-closed-1.6550006

Canadian Institute For Health Information 2023 “Avoidable Deaths From Treatable Causes details for Newfoundland and Labrador” https://yourhealthsystem.cihi.ca/hsp/indepth?lang=en#/indicator/038/2/C10151/

Kulkarni, Akshay 2022 “Emergency rooms in rural B.C. were closed for equivalent of around 4 months in 2022, data shows” CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-er-closures-2022-1.6689970

Modjeski, Morgan 2022 “Emergency room closures in rural Manitoba a growing concern after patient dies being turned away” City News Everywhere https://winnipeg.citynews.ca/2022/05/08/emergency-room-closures-rural-manitoba/

Savoury, George 1975 The Cottage Hospital System in Newfoundland (St. John’s : Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Simmonds, Matthew 20122 “The 2012 Field Season at Fort Louis, Jerseyside, Placentia” Provincial Archaeology Office, 2010 Archaeology Review, March 2011 Volume 9 https://www.gov.nl.ca/tcar/files/Vol9-2010.pdf

Wilhelm. Henrike 2023 “Frustrated Whitbourne residents protest ongoing ER closure — and promise more rallies to come” https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/whitbourne-er-closure-protest-1.6753369

Engdnotes

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.

St. Luke’s Cultural Centre Coat of Arms

St. Luke’s Cultural Centre Coat of Arms

Image of British Coat of Arms of 1786 located

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.

Canterbury Cathedral houses the cathedra or episcopal chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the cathedral of the Diocese of Canterbury and the mother church of the Church of England as well as a focus for the Anglican Communion (Source: Rafa Esteve – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia)

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Endnotes

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).

3This was not long after the Normans had invaded Ireland.

Argentia and its Spirit of Place

Argentia and its Spirit of Place

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.

Sources:

Cherry, Kendra 2021 “What Is the Sense of Belonging?” https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-need-to-belong-2795393

Relph, Edward 2007 “Spirit of Place and Sense of Place in Virtual Realities” Technè 10 (3), 17-25

1This derives from the Latin argentum which is also the origin of the chemical symbol for silver—Ag.

No Need to Stay On The Wrong Side of the Bed

No Need to Stay On The Wrong Side of the Bed

Image by Public Co from Pixabay.

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.”

Everything Going Wrong

But I sometimes do overthink things a little. As well, I’m fairly sure I allow the troubles from my past to edge a little too much into my present. And I’m certain my focus on the now slips every now and then, careering uncontrollably down with my already descending morale. It’ll always be a work in progress.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay.

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.

Tunneling is nothing new. Groups ranging from the Persians and Romans in 256 to the Vietcong in 1966 against the United States were adept at tunnel warfare.

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.”

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.

Bearing His Words in Mind

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.

Endnotes

1Things didn’t seem to go according to plan, as the order for the explosion was given ten minutes before the infantry attack, thus providing the Germans with a heads up that attack was imminent.

Sources:

BBC News 2014 “WW1 soldiers’ writing unearthed in Somme tunnels” https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cumbria-25748393

Herman, Arthur 2014 “Notes From the Underground: The Long History of Tunnel Warfare” https://www.hudson.org/national-security-defense/notes-from-the-underground-the-long-history-of-tunnel-warfare

Mirror 2011 “Inside the lost First World War tunnels of the Somme”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/inside-the-lost-first-world-war-89665

Morin, Amy 2022 “ How to Stop Overthinking” https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-know-when-youre-overthinking-5077069

Science News 2018 “Link between hunger and mood explained” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180925115218.htm

Wikipedia 2022 “Tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunnelling_companies_of_the_Royal_Engineers

Wikipedia 2022 “Tunnel warfare” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunnel_warfare#cite_ref-hst2128_1-0