Horse on a hill

Terry Roberts
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Late premier's granddaughter dispels myths, shares memories of iconic weathervane on Roaches Line

Many know it as Joey's Horse. Some have written that the late premier, Joey Smallwood, purposely placed the horse replica with its rear end facing the highway as a crude gesture to the travelling public.

Dale Russell FitzPatrick, Smallwood's granddaughter and caretaker for the iconic weathervane on Roaches Line, has heard it all over the years.

Dale Russell FitzPatrick stands next to the full-sized replica of a horse that is erected each year on a high point of land on her farm on Roaches Line. Russell FitzPatrick is the granddaughter of Newfoundland's first premier, Joey Smallwood. - Photo by T

Many know it as Joey's Horse. Some have written that the late premier, Joey Smallwood, purposely placed the horse replica with its rear end facing the highway as a crude gesture to the travelling public.

Dale Russell FitzPatrick, Smallwood's granddaughter and caretaker for the iconic weathervane on Roaches Line, has heard it all over the years.

Now, nearly a half-century after her late father, Edward J. Russell, first placed a replica horse atop a high point of land on his farm, Russell FitzPatrick welcomed an opportunity to dispel some of myths and share some of her fondest memories of this unique landmark.

During an hour-long interview recently at her ranch-style house, Russell FitzPatrick laughed, cried and sighed heavily as she reflected on the spring ritual of securing the weathervane to its concrete perch.

Father would be pleased

"It's been part of my life for all of my memory," she said. "Dad would be very pleased that we still put it up every spring."

The Look-Out, as it's known locally, is located at roughly the mid-way point of Roaches Line (Route 70), which connects the Conception Bay Highway (Route 60) at South River with the Trans-Canada Highway and Veterans' Memorial Highway.

Many years ago, a young Ed Russell and his new bride, Clara (Joey and Clara Smallwood's only daughter), surveyed the surrounding landscape from the Look-Out and decided they would establish a farm.

Russell FitzPatrick said her father was a true romantic and wanted to mark the spot.

He arranged to acquire a full-sized replica of a horse from a saddlery shop on Water Street in St. John's, and had it mounted on the hill.

Russell FitzPatrick was a young girl at the time, but recalls not being too happy about the way her father closed the deal - he bartered away her Shetland pony, Rob Roy.

Several generations have now grown up looking forward each spring to seeing the lone sentinel atop the hill as they drive along. It has become one of the province's most recognizable landmarks.

While traffic along Roaches Line has tailed off since the completion of Veterans' Memorial Highway, it's still common to see vehicles parked on the side of the road and people taking photos.

Sudden death

The original horse, although not intended to be displayed outside, withstood the relentless winds for more than a decade.

Ed Russell ordered a replacement in 1972, but he died before it could be delivered.

Other family members took over and a new fibreglass horse, complete with a special mounting system that allows it to turn in the wind, was erected in 1974.

Russell FitzPatrick remembers shadowing her father as he put the horse in place each year, much like her own children did when they were growing up.

"It's exciting to maybe ride in the back of a trailer or wagon.

"We always looked forward to seeing it go up."

People have offered to buy the horse, but like the MasterCard commercial, Russell FitzPatrick said it's priceless.

She plans to continue the tradition for as long as she can.

"If it's not vandalized or succumb to the weather, that horse will live on for many years and decades," she said.

Dangerous place

Russell FitzPatrick's biggest concern is trespassers.

Two lovebirds recently carved their initials on the horse, and other vandalism has occurred over the years.

And since the horse is located on the edge of a steep cliff, Russell FitzPatrick worries that someone might get injured, or worse.

She acknowledged that most of her encounters with people wanting to get a closer look have been confrontational, and some attitudes have deep-seated roots in the province's colourful political history, and the controversy surrounding her grandfather's acquisition of the land.

"It's got to be gone out of the psyche of Newfoundlanders. 'Oh, that's Joey Smallwood's farm. All that was put there with government money, so I can do what a want with it.' We've lived with that attitude for a long time," said Russell FitzPatrick.

Worked hard to develop land

She replies that her father worked very hard to develop the land with the same government assistance that was available to any farmer.

As for the notion that it's Joey's horse, Russell FitzPatrick said that stems from the fact that her grandfather is the more famous resident of the area.

And if the horse's rear end seems to be facing the highway most of the time, that's because the prevailing winds are usually westerly, and, like a real horse, the weathervane stands with its tail to the wind.

"That's so foolish it almost doesn't deserve any comment," she said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway, MasterCard

Geographic location: South River, Water Street, St. John's

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Recent comments

  • David Drover
    February 16, 2014 - 15:54

    Ahhh Dale sooooo many childhood memories of this horse as well as the original......so much a part of our childhood . I can remember as a young kid going horseback riding with you so many happy times! thanks so much for a walk down memory lane

  • David Drover
    February 16, 2014 - 15:53

    Ahhh Dale sooooo many childhood memories of this horse as well as the original......so much a part of our childhood . I can remember as a young kid going horseback riding with you so many happy times! thanks so much for a walk down memory lane

  • trevor
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Thanks Dale;
    The horse could also be a symbol of NL culture and hard working people. Our horses were our everything for work . They hauled our wood, they were our ambulances, they ploughed our fields, hauled up our boats etc. etc. etc.and they were every where in the Island.

  • Jason
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    A great story! It brings back fond memories.

  • Maria
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Thanks for a great story. The horse was a signal that we were 'almost there' when we travelled from St. John's to Cupids as children to visit my grandparents. Now my own children look for the same landmark as they visit their own grandparents. I hope to see the weathervane for a long time to come.

  • Melissa
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    I can remember as a little girl looking for the horsey as my family made its way from the Goulds to Northern Bay Sands several times each summer. I was always told that the horse was a memorial to the wild horses that once roamed the hillsides. Either way, it is a beautiful piece of history which I hope to show my child in future trips back home .

  • alma
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    I too loved the story. Many times visiting my relatives in Heart's Content and returning to St. John's to continue my trip back to New York, I've come upon the horse. Just loved it sitting so high on the cliff. Fond memories with this article.

  • LeRoy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    My mother used to claim we were related to Joey through an adoption on her side of the family named Nance Soper, now deceased. The real story does not matter much to me. I do remember when Joey was on radio he visted our home and that is my only real contact with him. However, Joey always makes me feel proud to be a Newfie.

  • Dale
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Thanks to The Telegram & Terry Roberts for convincing me this story was worth being retold! It's been really great to see all the nice comments and glad to know that seeing the Horse forms pleasant memories for so many more than our family. Without my husband, Tom, the Horse would not get up annually, nor be safely 'stabled' for the winter! We miss having our children, Jamie & Ashley (both in the military), with us when he goes up in Spring or comes down in Fall, but the family tradition will continue with them, of that we're certain!

  • Marsha
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    This was a pleasurable story. It's nice to hear the truth of it all and I feel it's better than anything anyone has made up on their own. I personally love seeing the horse when I travel to the area. I hope nothing ill happens to it in the future. I love the last quote!!!

  • Andy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Awesome Dale!!! So glad you cleared it all up. May the Horse live on forever as a provincial landmark. It really shouild be a national historic site.
    Andy Russell

  • Violet
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Hi Dale,

    I'm sure that you remember who I am...my daughter, Pat, was a good friend of yours in high school.

    I enjoyed reading this article....it should clarify any misunderstanding!!

  • Margie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    To finally hear the true story of the 'Horse on the Hill' is very rewarding. As a child I used to look forward to seeing the landmark on every trip 'round the bay. Thank you Dale for continuing with a tradition.

  • Karen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Thanks so much for this story, Dale! I recently tried to research the horse but couldn't find much online. The horse is an important marker of my childhood (my grandfather Alex lived on Roaches Line) and my obsession with horses was anchored by your Dad's stable and this lookout horse. I went back to Newfoundland last year for the first time in 18 years and it was heartwarming to turn the bend on Roaches Line and see the horse still watching over the farm. Thank you.

  • trevor
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Thanks Dale;
    The horse could also be a symbol of NL culture and hard working people. Our horses were our everything for work . They hauled our wood, they were our ambulances, they ploughed our fields, hauled up our boats etc. etc. etc.and they were every where in the Island.

  • Jason
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    A great story! It brings back fond memories.

  • Maria
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    Thanks for a great story. The horse was a signal that we were 'almost there' when we travelled from St. John's to Cupids as children to visit my grandparents. Now my own children look for the same landmark as they visit their own grandparents. I hope to see the weathervane for a long time to come.

  • Melissa
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    I can remember as a little girl looking for the horsey as my family made its way from the Goulds to Northern Bay Sands several times each summer. I was always told that the horse was a memorial to the wild horses that once roamed the hillsides. Either way, it is a beautiful piece of history which I hope to show my child in future trips back home .

  • alma
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    I too loved the story. Many times visiting my relatives in Heart's Content and returning to St. John's to continue my trip back to New York, I've come upon the horse. Just loved it sitting so high on the cliff. Fond memories with this article.

  • LeRoy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    My mother used to claim we were related to Joey through an adoption on her side of the family named Nance Soper, now deceased. The real story does not matter much to me. I do remember when Joey was on radio he visted our home and that is my only real contact with him. However, Joey always makes me feel proud to be a Newfie.

  • Dale
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Thanks to The Telegram & Terry Roberts for convincing me this story was worth being retold! It's been really great to see all the nice comments and glad to know that seeing the Horse forms pleasant memories for so many more than our family. Without my husband, Tom, the Horse would not get up annually, nor be safely 'stabled' for the winter! We miss having our children, Jamie & Ashley (both in the military), with us when he goes up in Spring or comes down in Fall, but the family tradition will continue with them, of that we're certain!

  • Marsha
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    This was a pleasurable story. It's nice to hear the truth of it all and I feel it's better than anything anyone has made up on their own. I personally love seeing the horse when I travel to the area. I hope nothing ill happens to it in the future. I love the last quote!!!

  • Andy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Awesome Dale!!! So glad you cleared it all up. May the Horse live on forever as a provincial landmark. It really shouild be a national historic site.
    Andy Russell

  • Violet
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Hi Dale,

    I'm sure that you remember who I am...my daughter, Pat, was a good friend of yours in high school.

    I enjoyed reading this article....it should clarify any misunderstanding!!

  • Margie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    To finally hear the true story of the 'Horse on the Hill' is very rewarding. As a child I used to look forward to seeing the landmark on every trip 'round the bay. Thank you Dale for continuing with a tradition.

  • Karen
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Thanks so much for this story, Dale! I recently tried to research the horse but couldn't find much online. The horse is an important marker of my childhood (my grandfather Alex lived on Roaches Line) and my obsession with horses was anchored by your Dad's stable and this lookout horse. I went back to Newfoundland last year for the first time in 18 years and it was heartwarming to turn the bend on Roaches Line and see the horse still watching over the farm. Thank you.