Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Mystery of Pte. William C. Norman’s memorial, Clarke's Beach



In the United Church Cemetery in Clarke’s Beach, there is an intriguing memorial to a First World War soldier, Private William C. Norman. It is a double inscription stone, with the left side etched in memory of his father, the right side bearing the inscription:

Pte. William C. Norman
Beloved son of
Robert J. & Emma J. Norman
Killed in the Great War
Greater love hath no man that this that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The Biblical quotation from John 15:13 (King James Version) is fairly standard for a military memorial, but what what caught my eye was the decorative motif at the top of the marker.

The open book and downward pointing finger motif is common enough, as is the inscription on the left open page: “Asleep in Jesus.” What is unusual is a rather rougher-carved version of the Newfoundland Regiment caribou insignia. Many of the Newfoundland Regiment markers you will see in NL graveyards, or in war cemeteries in Europe, follow a fairly standard style. The carving on Norman’s marker is different, and I was curious to find out why.

William Charles Norman of Clarke’s Beach did not show up in any of my first searches of the Regimental Records. An internet search revealed the reason why: William C. Norman had never been in the Newfoundland Regiment.

Instead, Norman, a carpenter, had been living in Toronto at the time of his enlistment.  He was 5' 6 1/2" tall with a fair complextion and blue eyes. According to his attestation papers, he had served in the Queen’s Own Rifles for 20 months previously, and was assigned to the 83rd Battalion (Queen's Own Rifles of Canada) as part of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, regimental number 669305.

He signed up January 25, 1916 and was sent overseas in May. He served in the trenches for only three weeks, when he was killed on January 6, 1917 as the result of a grenade training accident (premature burst). He is remembered on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and page 88 of the Newfoundland Book of Remembrance.




Norman was buried in the north-east section of the Bajus Churchyard, Pas de Calais, France, and is listed as serving with the 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry (1st Central Ontario Regiment).

As far as I can tell, his is the ONLY Commonwealth War Grave in the Bajus churchyard:



His marker in Clarke’s Beach, designed by Chislett’s Marble Works of St. John’s, was probably arranged by his mother, Emma Jane Norman, upon the death of her husband Robert James in 1927. Emma survived husband and son by a number of years, passing away February 11, 1941.



The Newfoundland Regiment carving remains a bit of a mystery. Was it inscribed by Chislett's, unaware that Private Norman had served in the Canadian Forces? Or was it added later by someone locally, perhaps by someone unfamiliar with the specific meaning of the insignia? If you know anything about this story, email me at dale@dalejarvis.ca.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Tomb of John and Isabella Fergus, Mercer's Cove, Bay Roberts.




I blogged recently about a Jack ‘o Lantern which was said to haunt Big Island in Bay Roberts, and I suggested that Big Island was the same spot as Fergus Island. Local historian Mike Flynn backed me up on this, and today I found this reference to back it up:
“By 1560, Bay Roberts was used by Jersey fishermen, and Spaniards were there, too, perhaps from as early as 1588. Reports that the original name was Bay of Robbers because of the many pirates in the 1500s and 1600s have not been substantiated. Jersey fishermen referred to the area as Roberts Bay and used places later known as Beachy Cove and Big or Fergus Island.”
“History: Bay Roberts.” Decks Awash, vol. 20, no. 01 (January-February 1991) p 3-13.
The name Fergus Island comes from one John Fergus, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, who opened a mercantile establishment at Bay Roberts in 1812. John Fergus, along with his daughter, Isabella, are buried nearby, at the old Wareham’s Lane Cemetery, Mercer’s Cove, Bay Roberts.

Unlike any other grave in Bay Roberts, John and his daughter Isabella share an above-ground tomb, a reminder of their relative wealth in the community in the early 19th century. A tomb is generally a burial receptacle or container where a body or bodies are stored above ground. The Fergus tomb is a pretty good example of what is known variously as a box tomb, slab tomb, box grave, or chest tomb.

You can read all about the different types of possible tombs here:
The inscribed text on the Fergus tomb is very faint, and hard to read, but the stonepics.com project gives this as the text:

"Sacred to the memory of Isabella Fergus, native of Glasgow, Wife of William Donnelly, Merchant, who died 19th June 1843, aged 36 Years."

and:

"Sacred to the memory of John Fergus, Merchant, native of Glasgow, who died 15th July 1835, Aged 53 years."

Friday, 5 May 2017

Is the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre haunted?



A few years ago, I got an email from a woman by the name of Jaimie, asking me if I knew any ghostly tales about the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre building in St. John's, specifically concerning the basement.

“I’ve spent the last couple of weeks cloistered down there on the library side, working on a project and if you haven’t already got something, I have a story to share,” she wrote.

It sounded like too good a story to pass up. I got in touch with Jaimie, and asked her about her experiences.

At the time, Jaimie had been working in the archives on a project which involved a lot of trips back and forth through the collection.

“I’ve always found the basement to be a little creepy,” she describes. “I can hear voices and whispering and little snatches of song and such sometimes, but always assumed that it was just activity carrying through the ductwork from the children’s library, which is directly over my head, or the theatre.”

Jaimie figured it was just her imagination. Then one day she heard the noises again, on a day when the theatre was empty and the children’s library had closed.

“I was moving a truck of books from one area towards another area,” she says, “and I ended up passing by a whole bunch of shelving units (those neat rolling ones), when passing by one of the aisles between the units, I saw someone standing there.”

Jaimie turned her head, expecting to find a lost library patron; “as we occasionally do,” she explains. Instead of another person, she found herself looking at nothing but an empty aisle and a pale grey concrete wall.

“The person that I’d seen was wearing dark colours,” she describes. “I had the impression of something resembling a nun’s habit.”

“Well, needless to say, I finished off that truck, got back in the elevator and went upstairs, where I commiserated with a co-worker about the general creepiness of the basement,” Jaimie adds.

The co-worker informed Jaimie that the site apparently once housed a boy’s orphanage, hinting that this might explain some of the ghostly goings on.

The co-worker did indeed have some facts correct. The site of the current Arts and Culture Centre was formerly the site of the Shannon Munn Memorial Orphanage. In 1918, Sir Edgar Rennie Bowering and Mrs Mary Munn presented the property, to be known as the Shannon Munn Memorial, to the Church of England Orphanage.

The current theatre and library building was opened on May 22, 1967 as the province’s principal Centennial Year project. The building was designed by the Montreal architects of Ameck, Desbarets, Lebensold and Sise and the St. John’s firm of Campbell and Cummings.

Is the basement of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre home to a singing ghost? You’ll have to make the trip there and be the judge of that yourself. But as Jaimie puts it, “I’m definitely not the only one who finds it creepy down there!”

Photo: "Dance School - ballet" credit Karen King Parsons,

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Jack 'o Lantern of Big Island (Fergus Island) #FolkloreThursday



I've been doing some research on stone cairns, markers, and navigational aids in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, which are sometimes called "American Men." I came across this intriguing story about a Will o' the Wisp, locally called a Jack 'o Lantern or Jacky Lantern, which made his home on one particular cairn of rock.
When father was a boy his mother used to warn him of Jack o’ Lantern. Jack o’ Lantern was supposed to live on top of the American Man (the name given to the cairn on top of Big Island in Bay Roberts). The island was not visible from the house as the view was blocked by Big Head…. Jack o’ Lantern was of course marsh gas and was really visible. I have seen him. Father was scared and believed in the tale attached to what he saw. However he did not always obey when threatened. Grandmother would say, “There’s a light on Big Head; it’s after you.” Jack o’ Lantern just appeared on Big Head. He then progressed down the harbour, being very noticeable over the bogs at Running Brook. He then went to the bogs in French’s Cove and from there crossed to his home on top of the American Man on Big Island. (Bay Roberts) Q67-774
Quoted in: J.D.A. Widdowson,'Aspects of Traditional Verbal Control: Threats and Threatening Figures in Newfoundland Folklore' (St John's: Memorial University Ph.D. Thesis, 1973), page 233-234
From the geographical clues in this, I'm assuming Big Island is what is now called Fergus Island, located near the Bay Roberts Shoreline Heritage Walk. Mike Flynn, local historian, tells me many people from the east end of Bay Roberts refer to Fergus Island as Big Island, and that he also remembers reading about a cairn on the isle.

Does anyone have a memory of a cairn or marker on the top of Fergus Island? Or better yet, know of a historical photo that would show it? Drop me a line at dale@dalejarvis.ca


Photo: Diving at Fergus Island on the Shoreline Heritage Walk. Source: Wikipedia


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Looking for info on stone cairns and "American Men" in Conception Bay. #amwriting



I've blogged a little bit before about "American Men" - stone cairns or markers like the ones at Spectacle Head, Cupids, and at Spider Pond, Spaniard's Bay.  Today, I was up to the top of the ridge on the southside of Harbour Grace, to look at a more recent stone cairn, erected by the appropriately named Stone family.

I've also come across something of a mystery.  I found an article in The Trident newsletter, published by the Newfoundland Historic Trust in February 1974. The article features a very rough map that shows an "American Man" somewhere between Spaniard's Bay and Harbour Grace.



Dos anyone know of an American Man somewhere in the Bishops Cove-Upper Island Cove-Bryant's Cove area?

Or is it possibly an error on the part of the map-maker who has placed the Cupids American Man in the wrong place?

Or, even better, do you know of other cairns or markers in that section of Conception Bay that I'm missing? Let me know! Email me at dale@dalejarvis.ca 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Vote for the theme for World Storytelling Day


Calling all storytellers and lovers of a good story: here it is, the list of possible themes for World Storytelling Day!

Now, we need your help to pick the themes for the next two World Storytelling Days! Check out the list, and PICK TWO of your favourite themes. Voting closes on 7 May 2017.

https://goo.gl/forms/61tIwhBHtFhB9pmu2

Please vote, and then share this message/link with your storytelling contacts.

Dale Jarvis
WSD Webmaster

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Submit your theme idea for World Storytelling Day 2018-2019!



To get the ball rolling on possible themes for World Storytelling Day 2018 and 2019, here are some of the suggestions which have been made so far. Please add to this list by commenting below! When we have a good list, we’ll vote on our top two favourites.

All that glisters is not Gold
And so they said...
Balance
Birth
Bliss
Breath
Connections
Courage
Death Shall Die
From out of the shadows
Harmony
Home
Hope
Journey
Joy
Lost and Found
Luck
Once upon a Planet
Pleasure
Sweet, sour, and bitter
Sweet and Sour
Timelessness
Transition Tales
Travel
Wings
Wise Fools
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
List of previous themes:

http://www.freewebs.com/worldstorytellingday/themes.htm

Also, a request from the World Storytelling Day webmaster - I could use some help! If you are comfortable with social media and websites, it would be great to share some of the work of moderating the website and facebook page. Contact Dale Jarvis at dale@dalejarvis.ca if you want to volunteer. Glory awaits you!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Dale’s Folk Tales - Teaching Heritage Skills at the 2017 youth heritage forum!



Dale Jarvis is a storyteller, author, and folklorist, living and working in Newfoundland, Canada.

By day, he works as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer for the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, helping communities to safeguard traditional culture, the first full-time provincially funded folklorist position in Canada.

By night, Dale is the proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour and raconteur of local tales. As a storyteller, he performs ghost stories, stories of the fairies and little people, tales of phantom ships and superstitions, and legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. His repertoire includes long-form folk and fairy tales from the island, with a wide-ranging knowledge of local legends, tall tales and myths. Author of several books on Newfoundland and Labrador ghost stories and folklore, he is a tireless promoter of local culture, and has performed at storytelling festivals across Canada, the US, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway. 

The Heritage Tomorrow NL Forum is taking place on Saturday, March 25th at the Lantern, Barnes Road, St. John's, and Dale will be leading the Storytelling Heritage Skill Training! Want to learn how to tell a traditional tale? Dale will show you how, even if you have never told stories before! The Forum is for people between the ages of 18-35 that are passionate about heritage.

Register at http://www.hfnl.ca before March 22nd to let us know you’re coming!

Registration is only $10, which includes lunch, coffee, and amazing Icelandic pastries from Volcano Bakery! If you have questions, please contact: heritagetomorrownl@gmail.com.

photo: Storyteller Dale Jarvis (right) with musician Delf Hohmann.
Photo by Chris Hibbs.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Candlemas Day Token of Cobbs Arm. #FolkloreThursday


The name of Candlemas Day is derived from the tradition of blessing the annual supply of church candles on that date. According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, Candlemas Day is a day for festivities, with singing, dancing, drinking and a meal. There is also the tradition of the Candlemas Cake, which can be an actual cake, or the name for the party held on that special day.

In local folklore, February 2nd is a day which will foretell the weather for the months ahead. As the old Newfoundland saying goes, "if Candlemas Day be clear and fine, the rest of winter is left behind; if Candlemas Day be rough and grum, there's more of winter left to come."

One Candlemas Day in the community of Cobbs Arm was apparently rough and grum indeed. While the locals of Cobbs Arm were enjoying their Candlemas Cake and all the good fun that came with it, a heavy blizzard came on. All the people present decided to stay in the lodge where it was warm and safe, except one contrary soul who felt like going home.

By this time, the blizzard was so bad that it was impossible to see a hand placed in front of one's face. But this man's mind was made up in spite of the foul weather, and he would listen to none of the people who tried to dissuade him from his journey. He lit his lantern, stepped out the door, and vanished into the howling whiteness.

The next morning when everyone left the lodge, they found out that the man had not arrived safely home. A search party was pulled together, and the citizens of the community began to hunt for the lost man. Eventually they found his body out on the bog, frozen stiff in the icy grasp of death. The lantern was still clenched between his white fingers. General consensus was that he must have lost his bearings in the storm, and that he froze to death alone in the night.

Ever since, many people claimed to have seen his light, and it is said that his soul is still wandering the bog in early February. One typical sighting was reported in 1963. A young man drove from Summerford over to Pikes Arm to pick up his girlfriend. He was driving in his own car, a 1950s model Volkswagen. The twosome parked on a small road across from a bog. It was a very quiet, deserted little road, and there was not another car to be seen.

As the two sat talking to each other, they noticed a light out on the bog coming towards the car. As the light came closer, they thought that perhaps someone was lost. The light came right up close to the car and shone right through the windows.

The young man jumped out of the old Volkswagen and asked," Do you need help? Are you lost?" When he did this, the light travelled around to the back of the car and suddenly vanished. There was not a soul in sight.

The young man jumped back in the car and madly back to Pikes Arm. When they reached the girl's house, the scared couple related their tale, and both of them swore it to be true. After they had told their story to the young woman's family, her grandfather informed them that they were not the first to see the strange light, and shared the story of the Candlemas Day ghost, much as I have now shared it with you.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Mermaid Sisters of Beachy Cove, Newfoundland. #folklorethursday



Recently, I got a note from ceramic artist and art teacher Wendy Shirran. In collaboration with designer and illustrator Veselina Tomova, she is working with 22 Grade Three students in Paradise NL to create a series of ceramic relief tile murals based on a traditional Newfoundland folk tale, song, or poem.

Wendy was looking for a story about selkies, mythological creatures who live as seals in the sea but discard their skin to become human on land. While the stories are popular in Irish, Scottish, and Faroese folklore, selkies are not a common part of the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador, so I suggested a mermaid story instead.

Mermaids have a long history in this part of the world, though the stories often do not end happily ever after. I took a couple different versions of traditional Newfoundland stories and put them together, hopefully in a format to inspire a new generation of young ceramic artists and designers! My story is below, and you can download a pdf version here.


The Mermaid Sisters of Beachy Cove, Newfoundland


Once upon a time, there were two mermaid sisters. They lived in a place called Beachy Cove, in Conception Bay, not far from St. John’s.

The sisters were very beautiful creatures, half woman and half fish. From the waist up, they looked like human women. But from the waist down, they had long tails like fish. Their faces and arms were lovely, and they had long blue hair hanging down their backs.

The mermaids would rest on the beach at night and comb their hair. With one hand they would comb out their long blue hair, all the while admiring themselves in the mirrors they held in their other hands.

One night, a fisherman went for a walk along the beach. As he walked along, he saw two mermaids sitting on a rock as plainly as he ever saw anything in his life. He tried to get closer to get a better look. But as he did, he kicked a pebble and it clattered along the stones, making a noise.

The sisters heard the noise, and were startled. They turned, and saw the fisherman. Then, with a splash of water and a flick of two great fishy tails, the girls dove down to their crystal caves below the sea, and were lost to sight.

From that day on, the fisherman went back to the beach, hoping to see the mermaids. Eventually, the sisters became curious about this man who came every day. When the fisherman would go past in his boat, they would come up by the side of the boat and talk to him.

These mermaids were the daughters of the sea and would bring him both good luck and bad luck. The older sister was bad and would cast magic spells to play tricks on him. But the younger sister was good, and would work her magic to cancel out the evil of her sister.

One day, the older sister used her magic to sing up a great storm. The fisherman’s little boat was caught in huge waves, and was about to crash into the rocks. But just when it looked like the fisherman would die on the rocks, the good mermaid appeared, climbed over the side of the boat, and steered the boat safely through the waves to the shore.

After that, the fisherman never saw the mermaids again. But he lived to be an old man, and told his grandchildren about the two sisters, and how the good sister had saved his life. And now it is your job to go and tell that story to someone else.

Adapted from several traditional Newfoundland mermaid legends by Dale Jarvis.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.