Recap: Open Doors & Treasures of the Past, #HistoricPlacesDay in Harbour Grace

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We had a great turnout for our #HistoricPlacesDay events in Harbour Grace on Saturday, July 6. The Town of Harbour Grace held two ‘Open Doors’ events at Otterbury Schoolhouse, Municipal Heritage Site, and had their first public viewing of the newly restored Harbour Grace Railway Station (Gordon G. Pike Railway Museum), Registered Heritage Structure. Both buildings were constructed in 1884, and the railway station is considered the oldest left standing in Newfoundland.

At the Museum, we offered free admission all day Saturday and held a community artifact/heirloom display in the hall at St. Paul’s Church (1835), Registered Heritage Structure. We already posted some pictures on our social media, but want to present some personal stories and quotations from exhibitors about their items.


Table No. 1: Anne Gosse

Featured Items: A survey of her immense genealogical research

Anne has researched and digitized numerous gravesites on the popular genealogy resource FindAGrave.com. Anne sees her research as a rewarding way to connect with likeminded people interested in their family histories. Her research on World War I soliders from Harbour Grace and Bristol’s Hope can be viewed online here. Anne’s FindAGrave profile can be found here.

“FindAGrave is such an interesting website. It serves to preserve the memory of those who passed, whether they have a permanent grave marker or not. This is especially important for those who were lost at sea or in military conflicts.

“It’s very rewarding when you receive contact from a family member who is so appreciative of a photo of an ancestor’s headstone. It fills in that missing gap in their family tree. I’m currently working on cemeteries in Harbour Grace, linking family members and completing headstone photos. The fact that FindAGrave is linked into the Ancestry websites is very important also, as it gives searchers that added information. It’s a wonderful pastime and one I thoroughly enjoy.” – Anne Gosse


Table No. 2: Jane (Cron) Lynch

Featured Items: Artifacts from Whitman’s Tailor Shop

Both L.A. Whitman, Jane’s grandfather, and J.A. Whitman, her great-grandfather, once operated a tailor shop in old downtown Harbour Grace, roughly on the same plot as the present-day Town Hall. The building survived the 1944 ‘Great Fire,’ which razed much of the former downtown. The land was later sold to the Bank of Nova Scotia. The display memorably contained accounting documents (namely, a collection of original, handwritten postcards), pictures of the former store, and a nineteenth-century Spanish-language newspaper from revolutionary Bolivia.

“I find the business postcards very interesting, because they show how people got in touch to place their orders. My grandfather and great-grandfather made most of the Salvation Army uniforms east of Clarenville. They also made the uniforms for the historic Harbour Grace Fire Brigade–you can go to the Firemen’s Social Building today and see an example.” – Jane Lynch


Table No. 3

Table No. 3: Steve Payne / Matthew G. McCarthy

Featured Items: Photographic negatives from Harbour Grace

Steve hopes to have these uploaded to MUN’s Digital Archives Initiative soon.  (Steve gave Matt these to display in his absence.)

 

 

 

 


Table No. 4: Ray Hyde

Featured Item: 150-year-old timber and ice saw

This well-worn 150-year-old timber and ice saw was used to harvest ice for the icehouses in Harbour Grace & Mosquito (Bristol’s Hope).  To cut timber with this saw, two men were required, one on top of the log and one on the bottom, hauling and pulling together.

“These was no electricity then for refrigeration, harvesting ice, and cutting wood. Hard work, yup; it was hard work. But that’s all they knew. Sharpen it up and it’d have no trouble cutting now, I’m sure. You’d need two people, though.” – Ray Hyde


Table No. 5: Joy French-Coleman & Heather Coleman

Featured Items: Family heirlooms from Victoria Manor

Joy’s heirlooms came from Victoria Manor, her parent’s old house, a Registered Heritage Structure at the top of Victoria Street, Harbour Grace. Joy displayed antique china, snowshoes and, notably, aged hand-sewn quilts, still holding up years later:

“Just look at the handiwork: hand-sewn. The time it must have taken, and to stay together after all these years–it’s amazing.” – Joy French-Coleman


Table No. 6: Chad Fraize / Masonic Lodge No. 476

Featured Items: Artifacts from Masonic Lodge No. 476

Chad displayed some assorted artifacts from Masonic Lodge No. 476 in Harbour Grace, Municipal Heritage Site and the oldest wooden Masonic Lodge in Canada.


Table No. 7: Patrick J. Collins

Featured Items: Bishop John March’s skis and John Collins’s scythe

Pat displayed Bishop John March’s skis, which he purchased from the recently deceased “Singin’ Cobbler” of Harbour Grace, Bill Luffman, and the scythe used by his grandfather, John Collins, to cut tall fields of grass in Riverhead, when farms were common there.

“[Bishop John March] would ski to various missions…When Bill Luffman had his shoe repair place open on Harvey Street, some 30 years ago I went in and I saw those there, and I said, ‘What are those?’ He said, ‘Well they belonged to Bishop March. I got them from the groundskeeper, his name was John Thomey’…These are skis that Bishop March gave [Thomey] for his good work while there.” – Pat Collins


Table No. 8a: Alan Cass

Featured Items: Research display on the old roads from Harbour Grace to Carbonear

Anyone who took part in the first two ‘Travel the Trail’ hikes in 2017 with Pat and Alan will remember the latter’s presentation on the old military roads linking the communities of Harbour Grace, Mosquito (Bristol’s Hope), and Carbonear. After discovering one of the paths for himself when out “birding” (ie., grouse hunting) years ago, Alan began researching the old maps and infrastructure of eighteenth-century Conception Bay North.

“I suspect Griffith Williams had his soldiers cut the path. They were stationed at these old military batteries with nothing to do, without a war to fight; so they probably constructed a road–a road to nowhere in particular–and you can still see the evidence, the shale rock. The road was later a slide path, used for hauling wood in winter.” – Alan Cass, on the military road near Charles Davis Garland’s former property, in Bears Cove, Harbour Grace


Table No. 8b: Matthew G. McCarthy

Featured Items: Portrait of Ernest Sheppard, with accompanying medal (Queen’s South Africa Clasps), military discharge papers, and research

Matt displayed the portrait, medals and military records of Ernest Sheppard, Boer War veteran, local ferryman and cooper. For him, Sheppard represents a bygone era of Harbour Grace, when ferries regularly crossed the harbour, cask barrels were needed for storage, and row houses lined Water Street. Matt also says he gained newfound respect for the cooper’s trade after visiting distilleries in Ireland and reading about the process in Scotland:

“I don’t have any personal connection to Sheppard–well, beyond my research leading me to meet some people I now consider close friends.

“In our discourse, the idea of ‘The Fighting Newfoundlander’ is so wedded to World War I, that era of imperial conquest, and rightly so. However, for me, Sheppard represents an interesting expansion of that definition here in town, what with him being a Boer War vet. People from this area were fighting in imperial wars long before WWI–look at Sir Henry Pynn, for instance. Canadians in Strathcona’s Horse–Sheppard’s regiment–were called ‘Canadian Cowboys’; so I guess we can call Sheppard a ‘Newfoundland Cowboy.’ He’s another man of adventure, to me.

“Beyond the guts and glory, in my opinion he links the lost symbols of old Harbour Grace: he lived in a row house–it’s still there today–which harkens back to the architecture of Water Street, Harbour Grace, pre-1944, pre-fire. For two decades, until 1932, he ran a ferry service across the harbour. So often today we just see the streets, the contemporary infrastructure, and take it for granted; we think it’s always been there, but it wasn’t that way at all. For instance, if you look back at the old pictures of Riverhead–I mean, to circle this harbour, to go from point A (say, Bears Cove) to point B (the top of the south side, for example) in a horse and buggy–geez, it’d have taken you hours. So Sheppard’s motorized vessel, the Muriel, would bring people across in a fraction of the time. It was a different era, a different way of being, a different way of interacting with the place. It’s fascinating to me. 

“Speaking of ‘ways of being’: his cooperage, it was behind his house. And it wasn’t the only one: there were several scattered around town; you can see them on the old insurance surveys. I remember when I first researched Sheppard, back in 2017, I had to look up ‘cooper’ in the dictionary–I didn’t know what the word meant. Then, I thought the trade was somewhat interesting; but when I visited County Antrim in Northern Ireland, when I saw the Bushmills distillery, I gained a new respect for that past craftsmanship. Those barrels are so durable, reused so often. They seem to take on the character of the place and their builders. The whole experience felt strange yet familiar–the best places usually are.

“Casks, barrels–there’s something traditional about them, something tangible yet intangible. You go to Bruichladdich on Islay and they’re throwing around these massive barrels, just launching them out of the trucks, and the casks don’t burst; and the barrels are stored in the most desolate, damp, windswept places, where some distillers don’t even use computers. You need a ferry to get to Islay, too. There’s a certain rugged romance to it. I guess I’m a romantic, haha. 

“But seriously, I can just imagine all these coopers like Sheppard building barrels to store fishing and sealing products–not whisky–in Harbour Grace, in the heyday of the maritime import-export businesses; you know, selling the casks to guys like William Azariah Munn, another fascinating character, who had a massive, state-of-the-art cod liver oil production facility here on Beach Hill. 

“And interestingly, I found out from Chad [Fraize] that Sheppard’s son Frank was a Master at the Masonic Lodge. I said, ‘Hey [Chad], this guy, Ernest, was in the Masonic Lodge. Was he a Master?’ Chad looked it up in their anniversary booklet and said there’s a Frank Sheppard listed. I told him that was Ernest’s son. It’s these discussions, these connections and tidbits, we wanted the event to facilitate. We had a lot of fun with it.” – Matt McCarthy


Table No. 9: Danita Power

Featured Items: 200-year-old mandolin from Ireland; lawn bowling balls; cricket bats; sporting pictures; Harry Hibbs’s accordion

Danita’s display showcased some of Harbour Grace’s storied sports and music history. Notably, she displayed lawn bowling balls once used behind Ridley Hall, when the imposing stone edifice was the epicentre of social and political life in Harbour Grace. The 1920s cricket bat was used here in town, likely at Innott’s Field (Bears Cove) or Shannon Park, on Lady Lake Road. The oldest item was her family’s 200-year-old mandolin, from Ireland.

“Music was always in my household, for as long as I can remember. I guess I started playing when I was ten or eleven, and I’m still playing today of course. I can’t stand silence. I always have some form of music playing in the background…My dad [former stadium manager Dick Power] had a big collection of records. I gave them to a friend–she’s got a new record player–and now she plays them.” – Danita Power


Organizers: Anne Gosse, Brenda Hunt-Stevenson, Jane Lynch, Heather Pumphrey, Danita Power, Patrick Collins, and Matthew McCarthy. Event recap written by Matthew, with contributions from the exhibitors. Thank you to everyone who participated.

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