Ours was a mill town nestled in the Exploits valley along the river of the same name and surrounded by trees.  It was a rich town by provincial standards during a time when most towns in Newfoundland were not wealthy.  At least that is how it appeared to me as a child.  We were unaware of poverty within our town limits and we enjoyed running water ,indoor plumbing and electricity.  Most other places that we visited had none of these conveniences and we considered ourselves a bit superior because of it. At least I did. What a little prima donna I imagined myself to be! There was little wonder I felt that way considering the reception I would get every time I visited my mother’s home.

She had grown up on Triton Island in Notre Dame Bay.  To get there one had to drive a dirt road for a couple of hours to Roberts Arm.  And that in itself was quite the excursion.  The road was so narrow that we were obliged to keep the windows up , no matter how hot the day, so that the branches of the trees would not be able to reach in and tear our eyes out. And when our car approached a blind hill or turn in the road, my father would blow the horn to warn any approaching vehicle.  It was presumed that each driver would pull to the left to avoid collision. And how rough the dirt  roads were !  Often we would end up changing flat tires and more often we would have to pull off the road into the bushes to throw up.  Car sickness was rampant in those days.   And the dust was formidable.  We ate it , choked on it , and our h hair stiffened  with it.  At the end of a trip , a comb would simply stick into the grit and if we forced it the thing would crack off . Until our heads met with shampoo and water we had no choice but to endure .

That was  the car trip.  Today it would take just over 45 comfortable minutes to drive the distance.

But, there was an excitement back then.  An anticipation. And I would be counting off the miles as we drove along.  Sometimes I would simply count up to five hundred and then look at the odometer to see how far we had travelled.  Or I wouldn’t look for ten minutes or so and then see how much the odometer had changed.  Or my sister and I would sing or play I spy.  Any game would do if it made time pass more quickly.

Eventually we would arrive in the community of Roberts Arm and head for the government wharf.  There would always be a small boat there which would carry passengers to whatever destination they had in mind.  I loved this part of the trip.

Usually the boat had a cabin .  Not a large one.  It would have benches on each side that would carry about ten people and at the end there was a stove which would keep us warm if it were cold outside.  The stove usually burned wood, I think.  Though it might have been coal .It was a lovely cozy way to travel.  But I preferred warm and sunny days when I could go up on deck and watch the islands pass in and out of view.  My memory is of  a lot of greenery which stretched down to the rocks on the beaches .And the water was clean  and clear.  The colour would vary.  In near the rocks it would be black and sometimes off in the distance it would be seaweed green.  On a dull day there was little colour.  Just grey.  Water is so fascinating.  In school we’d always paint it blue but there are as many times when it is yellow ,red, orange or grey.  Just like the sky.

Eventually we’d arrive on the island.  And this is where I got the idea that I was special and maybe a notch above the people I saw on the wharf.  Everyone would be there to meet the boat, and they would stare and I could feel their admiration .  Their curiosity and their eagerness to find out who this new visitor was.  It is a good thing I didn’t go to some African village when I was young or my head would have been too swollen to fit any normal sized doorway.  But |I loved it.  I can understand how movie stars can be totally ruined by so much ego stroking.

But to balance my childhood out a little, this moment of self importance was not constant nor permanent.  When I visited Gander on Sunday afternoons with my family just to see the planes land, I was on the other side of the equation.  Then I was the one who did the admiring.  I imagined the exotic origins of the people I saw walking with such confidence , and ease through the mezzanine of the airport.  And they dressed so differently from the people in my town. Even at a very young age I recognized “quality”, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at that time. Everyone looked so grand. So busy. So worldly. I never dreamed that one day I too would travel to exotic places.  But by that time it would be common place and I would not be aware of anyone noticing a Newfoundland woman totally out of her element and smiling at the wonder of it all.

10 responses »

  1. I know what you mean, when you went to other places and the people want to know all about you. You get filled up with a sense of your own importance, until you get older and realize no matter what they’re wearing we are all as important as each other. No better, no worse really! The ego can get in the way to be sure! Another enjoyable read, lady!

  2. Very interesting and enjoyable, Judy. I was just thinking about how easy it was for car doors to come open, back then.from all the bumping in the potholes, and many a person I am sure, have been known to fall out, on such road trips. Sometimes the cars were so stuffed with people, it is wonder that the doors would stay on the cars. I remember the second year I was in university, I use to hang around with a cousin of mine, Maxine. Her sister Shirley was home from Toronto with her husband and two sons, so they, along with her parents, and younger sister, drove to St. John’s to visit another of their sisters, and Maxine On the way back out Maxine and I decided we would go out with them for the weekend. That many I can remember, but there may have been others as well.

    • I can’t imagine that, Keith. I know the cars were larger then . There was no gear shift between the passenger and the driver and it was common to have three people in the front. Funny how we hardly notice changes like that. But you must have had people in the trunk!!!!!
      Your post reminded me of one time when I was travelling with my parents along the Halls Bay Line. I was in the back seat with a relative . She had fallen asleep. There were no restraints then like seatbelts or baby seats. And I was very young probably three years old. I remember very little of the evening but I have heard my parents talk of it over the years. Anyway I opened the door . It was a noisy trip travelling on the dirt roads and for whatever reason my parents didn’t hear that door open.
      So they drove along unaware that I had fallen out of the car. Perhaps there was some sound or change in the air pressure in the car that made my mother turn around and look in the backseat. But when she did , I was no longer there. As she discribes it she shouted; “Judy! Judy!” waking up the woman who was sleeping. And at that my father let out a groan his thought being that I had fallen under the wheels of the car. He stopped the car, jumped out, and in the dark searched along and on the sides of the road.
      Then out of the darkness came a cry, Moooooommmmmmie! My mother said it was the sweetest sound she ever heard. So they scooped me up and sped to the cottage hospital in Grand Falls.
      I have no memory of the incident up to that point. But I remember the brilliance of a very white sterile looking room and a doctor looking in my ears saying , ” oh look, water going into the ears and out through the eyes!” . So I gather that my ears were being cleaned out and I was crying.
      It seems I had fallen out of the car and into a shallow ditch . And I had climbed back up on to the road. Its a wonder I hadn’t rolled under the car.The likelihood of another car running over me was slim because back then you could travel for an hour and meet only one or two cars. Imagine that happening today on our busy highways.
      Anyway there is another memory ressurected by your post. By the way do you have any memories of the old ferry that crossed the Exploits River?

      • Remember now, we didn’t own a car when I was growing up, until of course, my mother at the age of 70, or 71, won a Crysler New Yorker,in a Telephone Company a 10 car give away across Canada, and at which time, my father learned to drive and got his driver’s license. By that time I was well grown up, physically, if not mentally, so as a child, I didn’t get far and when I did, my mother’s family being railway people, it was by train. So I never did get to cross the Exploits River on the ferry. I was probably 13 years old by the time I even passed through Grand Falls, on my way to Deer Lake, in 1965 I think it was. My brother had moved there to live, and my sweet aunt Rose was visiting us from Deer lake along with a friend of hers, Clem Burns, I think it was. Otherwise, I probably would have had to wait until I got a car of my own, before getting there. Can you imagine how many times I asked, “are we there yet?” Things started to pick up by then, if you want to call it ‘picking up’, At least we moved a little further away from home and more often. It seems that every summer thereafter, I got to go to Deer Lake. We even started to go to Grand Falls occasionally to shop. That was a areal thrill for sure. When I was real small, we shopped at Campbellton, in one of the general stores. I was always fascinated even then, with pots, and it always caught my attention how pots, would hang from the ceiling to make space for other items on shelves. The stores were similar to Stewarts in Windsor, and these make modern shopping seem cheap, and uninteresting. Shelves were stocked with biscuits, sweet biscuits, dried fruit, all brought in, in wooden crates, and sold by the pound, big round cheeses, bologna in boxes covered with salt, boxes of different colors of thread, parts for stoves, parts for tools, handles for axes, hammers,metal oil cans, enamel pans, jugs, pots, pails, etc., and all quality items. As old fashioned as it seemed, as our ways changed and newer things became the more we regressed. Then, we started getting to Lewisporte more to shop. Taxis had evolved and spread out so that even Campbellton had a couple of taxis. Now we could shop in larger stores, with more variety in Lewisporte. We could have real ham just as it came off the pig almost, by buying it at Campbellton, or shop for food at Woolfrey’s in Lewisporte and have ham like at Campbellon, or, pieces stuck together with glue and squat in a round tubular plastic sleeve so it could be sliced easily and where it would look nice on a plate. Then we could shop for clothes from the may stores in Lewisporte, which included Woolfrey’s lower store, their upper store, the supermarket, Manuels, Ferricks, Riffs, Pelly’s and maybe more. Then we even advanced further when people started to go to Grand Falls, and to Windsor to shop. They had Cohens. What a trill that was, especially around Christmas time. The Hustle and Bustle of Christmas shopping in Grand Falls and in Windsor was something else. The place was so alive, with people going and coming in every direction, with cars driving by, car horns honking, cars stopping and letting people out, while others stopped to pick people up, and Christmas lights everywhere. It seemed nothing but a behive of activity, whether you were on Main Street in Windsor or High Street in Grand Falls. I have often wondered, if it just seemed that way, or if the place died, but I think it died. Then, at 17, I came to St. John’s, when Water Street was still very alive. Oh for it to be the way it was. To us who came from Campbellton, to go to Lewisporte was good, but to go to Grand Falls was perhaps similar to going now, to New York. However, just like Grand Falls was the the highlight of some people’s childhood and adolescent years, in comparison, it was just a little place to some people, inland on some far away island in the North Atlantic. Campbellton was the same for us, just as Triton was home for your mother, and for whatever reason, we all seemed to be as advanced then as we are now, and perhaps are not a lot different than if we grew up in London or Paris. Makes me want to go downtown to the ‘London New Your and Paris’, just for old time sake.

        • Wow! I loved your description Keith. Why not start a blog of your own about growing up in Campbellton. I would think there would be plenty to write about. One topic I had in mind but just don’t have enough information about is ” colourful characters ” in my town. I remember Steve Caravan. I wonder if he is still alive.
          Do you remember the story your dad used to tell about a forest fire near the “mill” and how all the furniture from the manager’s house was moved to the beach? Was that a saw mill, by the way?

          Once again thank you for taking so much time to give that very interesting view of what life was like WAY WAY back . lol
          Don’t worry I know I am even older that you.

  3. Campbellotn started in the late 1800’s, and primarily, because of the logging industry, good timber and a good river system for getting the wood to the ocean. There was a pulp mill built there, which didn’t last long, and for years, Horwood Lumber Company operated a sawmill there. Yes Judy, I do remember my father telling about the fire, and my grandmother, but unfortunately, most of the older people who passed on so much interesting information, did so, when we, were to busy to capture or care about most of it. By the time we slowed down enough to value their wealth of information, they had gone gone to the great beyond. I am not sure which manager’s house he was talking about, whether i twas the manager of Horwood Lumber Company, or manger of the pulp mill, but I think it was manager of Horwood Lumber Co.. The forest fire took place in 1907, and swept through Campbellton, burning every house except one, which still exists, but has had major modifications. I think it was this house that belonged to the manager. Anyway, apparently, they took the furniture and contents out of the house and brought it down near the beach, hoping to save it, since the fire was taking houses, sheds, and everything in it’s path. For whatever the reason, the house did not burn, but the furniture that had been removed and placed on the beach to save it, did burn.

  4. And I do realize, your blog is not about Campbellton.

    • No problem, Keith. I restrict myself to Grand Falls because that is what I know most about. I could start a separate title on Campbellton if I got enough hits. The story of the furniture on the beach is the one I was thinking about. And also your father spoke of a bench he built somewhere up in the woods near Millertown? and a root of some plant that he said was delicious. Are you familiar with that root?

  5. Not familiar with the bench near Millertown, but I recall hearing him talking several times, about a bench he made, maybe for Father Hawco, but it was for the Catholic Cemetery in Buchans. I don’t know if it is the same plant, but one of his uncles, Uncle Dave Clarke, once showed me a root that grows on the bottom of ferns, which is suppose to be edible and has a nutty flavour. Not sure in the meantime, if it is on the base of a fern or some other plant, so don’t start eating the roots of ferns, in case it is something else.

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