Twice in December, I showed up for work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery only to discover when I looked in the mirror on my arrival, that I had put on two different kinds of earrings at home.
My colleagues who are all much younger than I am reassured me that wearing two different earrings was very cool and fashionable. But I had my doubts. Were they just trying to make me feel better about my absentmindedness?
Then a week or so ago a Christmas parcel arrived from my dear friend Wendy who recently moved to Newfoundland. One of the gifts inside was a lovely pair of earrings that reminded me of the colourful houses I had photographed on our trip to St. John’s in 2016.
And…………the earrings were each different!
I absolutely LOVED them and realized my art gallery colleagues had been right. It was ‘cool’ to wear two different kinds of earrings!!
The Mummers Song written by Bud Davidge and illustrated by Ian Wallace
I learned about mummering from this children’s book which I shared with my class every year when I was an elementary school teacher. It told the story of Newfoundland folks dressing up in disguise during the Christmas holidays and going to the homes of friends and family.
Illustration by Ian Wallace from The Mummers’ Song
Once the identity of the costumed guests had been ascertained they were invited to stay a while to sing and dance and eat and visit. The mummers disguised themselves with what was on hand at home, often stuffing their pants with pillows, wearing big hats and putting lace curtains or table cloths over their faces.
Lone Mummer with Cat by David Blackwood 1987
A new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery featuring Newfoundland artist David Blackwood includes several beautiful prints of mummers. Mummering is thought to be an ancient tradition from England or Ireland. In the late 1800s it was actually banned and made illegal in Newfoundland because of the drunkenness and violence that was often associated with the custom.
In the 1980s mummering started making a comeback when two Newfoundland singers Bud Davidge and Sim Savory recorded a song about mummering that became popular. Perhaps David Blackwoods’ etchings of mummers created in the 1980s also helped to revive the custom. In 2009 the city of St. John’s began an annual December Mummers Parade that still draws hundreds of costumed Newfoundlanders into the streets for a celebration.
Beautiful Young Mummer in Margaret Feltham’s House by David Blackwood 1985
In an article called At Home and Away Dr. Diane Tye a professor in the Department of Folklore at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland remarks on the haunting quality in David Blackwood’s mummer prints. His mummers look a bit like ghosts behind lace veils.
The Great Mummer by David Blackwood 1989
In a 2003 interview David Blackwood recalls going mummering himself when he was only five and at that age the disguised faces of the people around him did seem eerie and mysterious, particularly in the moonlight. He says that mummers sometimes apologized for wrongs they had done when they visited or they might even deliver a marriage proposal.
Pound Cove Mummers Crossing Coal Harbour Pond by David Blackwood 1985
Dr. Tye says you can feel the cold of the Newfoundland winter nights in Blackwood’s prints. In many the mummers are solitary figures and if they are with others there appears to be no communication between them. Blackwood’s mummers are dark and mysterious.
Mummering has become synonymous with Newfoundland as a fun folksy custom that attracts tourists and sells related souvenirs. David Blackwood’s prints offer us a slightly different view. Check his mummers out for yourself at the Winnipeg Art Gallery this holiday season.
“We are all running the same race. We are all going to the same place.”
On Tuesday night courtesy of my cousin and her husband we attended a concert at the West End Cultural Centre featuring the talented musical trio The Once. The Newfoundland band members have a wonderful on stage chemistry and blend their voices in rich and interesting harmonies. I enjoyed many of their songs but the one whose lyrics stuck with me was called We Are All Running.
The line in the song that is repeated over and over is………
“We are all running the same race. We are all going to the same place.“
I did some reflecting on the meaning of that line.
We are all running the same race.
The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell
Whether we are Caucasian or African or Indigenous or Asian we are all participating in the race of life hoping to find happiness, security and peace of mind.
Whether we are rich or poor or middle class we all running the race of life to achieve the very best outcomes for our families and those we love.
Whether we are Conservatives or Liberals or New Democrats or Green Party members we all involved in the race of life with the goal of making our communities, our country and our world a safer, more prosperous and more peaceful place to live now and in the future.
Whether we are Buddhists or Muslims or Christians or Hindus we are all pondering the race of life in order to find meaning, hope and spiritual blessing.
Whether we are men or women or transgender, straight or gay or bisexual we are all journeying together on the race of life desiring to discover who we are and how we can connect to others in meaningful ways.
We are all running the same race and in the end we are all hoping to arrive at the same place- we all basically desire the same outcomes for ourselves and our families and our communities.
Mural of Canada’s children on Broadway in Saskatoon
The beauty of the writing in Lisa Moore’s novel February leaves one breathless. She describes events and people in such intriguing and detailed ways they literally spring to life off the page. The title of the book relates to the sinking of the oil rig Ocean Ranger in February of 1982. Helen the protagonist of the novel loses her husband Cal that day to the icy waters just off the coast of Newfoundland. She is a young mother about to give birth to her fourth child. The novel is set in 2008 as Helen reflects back on her life. She has never really gotten over her husband’s tragic death.
Although I throughly enjoyed the vivid writing in Lisa Moore’s book I have to say that it did go off on tangents. I am in the process of editing a novel and am ruthlessly cutting scenes from the first chapters that provide too much detail about characters and events that aren’t absolutely crucial to the story’s plot line.
Lisa Moore has not done that kind of cutting in her novel February. At one point, for example,Moore is describing a woman named Sophie who is a former girlfriend of Helen’s son John. The description goes on for nearly three pages and has marvelous phrases like……..”she set the table with tarnished candelabra, a hand-woven Mexican tablecloth with a stripe of outrageous pink down the middle. She went in for novelty drinks and the sort of gamey meat that was full of tiny bones and covered in pastry.” Sophie is not a main character. We never meet her again in the novel and yet we get three pages of this kind of detailed description.
February won the 2013 Canada Reads contest. It defeated Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Indian Horse in my opinion had writing that was just as evocative and strong as Moore’s if not more so, a much more defined storyline AND did not go off on so many interesting but unecessary tangents.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked the book February. I wish I had read it before I visited Newfoundland but………..
I want to thank my many, many readers who took the time to vote for their favorite pictures of Newfoundland. I asked last week which photos I should print up to display in our home. I couldn’t believe how many people responded on Facebook, by e-mail or on my blog. Since you voted for such a variety of choices I decided to make a whole wall of photos. Here it is! And thanks ever so much for reading my blog and voting.
I know I’ve written lots of blog posts about our trip to Newfoundland. Here is how I summed up our visit in my newspaper column for The Carillon. Publishing it here on my blog also gives me a chance to post a few photos I hadn’t fit into any other posts.
I’ve been on The Rock for the last two weeks. The Rock is Newfoundland’s nickname. It’s fast becoming one of Canada’s most popular travel destinations. Many of our bed and breakfast hosts reported being fully booked before the tourist season even began. When I told people in Manitoba we were going to Newfoundland I was inundated with suggestions about what to see and do by previous Newfoundland travelers eager to share their enthusiasm for the province. So why is everyone going to Newfoundland? There are economic reasons like more affordable airfares and the low Canadian dollar, but I think other things are drawing folks to a place that’s often been portrayed as bleak and inaccessible by historians and novelists.
There’s the varied landscape. We hiked the Skerwink Trail along the Bonavista Peninsula. The ocean views were spectacular. We photographed eagles, saw the village of Trinity Bight where the movie The Shipping News was filmed, marveled at huge rock formations, stood on cliff edges looking out to sea and traipsed through pine and birch forests. We hiked repeatedly in Newfoundland’s gorgeous Gros Morne National Park exploring deep fjords, tablelands of stunning ultramafic rock, traditional lighthouses, tiny fishing villages, teeming tide pools and rocky shorelines.
Then there’s the fascinating history of Newfoundland. Reading the book The Colony of Unrequited Dreams on our trip I learned about the Beothuk, the first indigenous people of Newfoundland. We stopped at a statue of John Cabot. He landed in Bonavista in 1497. We visited the cable station in Heart’s Content where the first permanent telegraphic communication across the Atlantic was established in 1866. We spent time in Joey Smallwood’s birthplace. We learned how he brought Newfoundland into Canadian confederation in 1949 and how he forcibly resettled thousands of people whose families had lived in remote fishing villages for centuries. The Rooms Museum in St. John’s was an architectural delight. Its name alludes to the summer fishing stations called ‘the rooms’ which Newfoundland families used to establish on the shoreline. The museum explains how the history of fishing is essentially the history of Newfoundland.
Having supper in the two hundred year old building that houses the Stone Jug restaurant in Carbonear
Then there’s the food. We ate moose burgers, cod dinners and seafood chowder. At the Bonavista Social Club we dined looking out over the ocean and strolled through the gardens, greenhouse and grounds to see how every single thing we ate was grown or raised on site. Even our dishes were made in the adjacent woodworking shop. We visited the wine vaults where Newfoundland’s famous Newman’s port was aged. On Thanksgiving Day we had a traditional jiggs dinner at the Rocky Harbor community hall.
Then there are the friendly people. Our bed and breakfast hosts were kind and helpful. Our restaurant waiters called us ‘loves’ and ‘dears’ and smiled as they served us. The guides on hiking trails, in museums and lighthouses, and at tourist information centers were informative and happy we’d come to Newfoundland. We met an old friend who lived in Steinbach for a time. We hadn’t seen her in years but she took time off from her busy schedule to have dinner with us and answer our endless questions about her home province.
Although we visited Newfoundland in October when whales, puffins and icebergs were no longer on view and when many tours, historical sites and boating trips were shut down for the season, we still had a wonderful time. The autumn foliage was stunning and we lucked into almost perfect weather with plenty of sunny days ideal for exploring. The Rock was the only province in Canada we hadn’t visited, but now that we have, I’m sure we’ll go back.
Her son was probably wearing a pair of socks she had knitted when he died. At The Rooms museum in St. John’s Newfoundland I was intrigued by Maggie Osmond’s story. Maggie was just one of thousands of Canadians who knit socks for the soldiers overseas during World War I. Conditions in the trenches were terrible. It was cold and wet and muddy and a lack of soap meant a fungal infection called trench foot could develop that sometimes led to gangrene. The only way to prevent this from happening was for soldiers to have extra socks with them. So civilians at home knit socks for the troops. Women, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and school children learned to knit socks from patterns provided by the Red Cross. These knitters sometimes tucked a message into the finished socks for the soldier who would receive it. A typical note might read: “Into this sock I weave a prayer, That God keep you in His love and care.”
Maggie Osmond of Moreton’s Harbour Newfoundland was one of the faithful knitters on the homefront. She had a personal stake in her knitting since her son Douglas had enlisted in the Newfoundland regiment in 1914 and was serving in France. In 1915 socks Maggie had knitted were given to a Canadian soldier in France. She had put her name on a paper in the toe of the socks. That soldier happened to meet up with the Newfoundland regiment and asked if anyone knew the Maggie Osmond from Newfoundland who had knit his socks. Her son Douglas introduced himself and the two soldiers traded socks so Douglas was wearing the ones knit by his mom.
Newfoundland Regiment in 1915
Unfortunately Douglas died at the Battle of the Somme where almost the entire Newfoundland regiment was killed or wounded.
Maggie’s story was a moving reminder of the tragic cost of World War I and how it impacted so many Canadian families in ways big and small.
Dave waves from behind a statue of John Cabot in Bonavista Newfoundland where the Italian explorer is said to have landed in 1497 and claimed North America for the British King Henry VII who had given Cabot money to seek out new lands for England.
The plaque at the statue gave us some more information about John Cabot. He was born in Genoa in 1450 and named Giovanni Caboto by his father who was a spice merchant. John grew up in Venice, married a woman named Mattea and had three sons. One of them Sebastian followed in his explorer father’s footsteps. John thought he was on his way to Asia when he landed in Newfoundland with his crew of 18 men on a fast and able 50 ton ship named The Matthew. (There is some discussion about whether the ship was actually named The Mattea after John Cabot’s wife.)
Dave looks out over the spot where Cabot is thought to have landed.
Some historians say Cabot may have explored the eastern Canadian coast, and that a priest accompanying Cabot might have established a settlement in Newfoundland. John Cabot claimed North America for England, setting the course for England’s rise to power in the 1500s and 1600s.
When Cabot returned to England the king gave him a reward and support for another voyage. To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Cabot’s voyage in 1997 a replica was built of his ship and sailed from Bristol England to Bonavista, Newfoundland.
Last night the CBC program Ideas began a series called Generation Mars about the possibility of exploring and colonizing the red planet. Last Tuesday President Obama said we will be sending people to Mars by 2030. On our trip to Newfoundland we went for a hike in a place that is helping scientists figure out just how people might survive on Mars. We hiked the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park. The rocks which make up this desolate place originated in the earth’s mantle. They were forced up during a plate collision several hundred million years ago. There is methane in these rocks from deep in the earth and since methane is also produced on Mars, there’s the possibility that deep down in the crust of Mars, there could also be life. That makes the Tablelands a great place to test technology and equipment that will be needed for space missions to Mars. Scientists have discovered that the water flowing through The Tableland rocks while low in oxygen and high in pH is actually teeming with life. That gives them hope that there may also be life on Mars. I think its pretty cool that the Tablelands of Newfoundland are helping us discover how we might explore and even live on Mars in the future.