Finding gold in Western Bay

Susan Flanagan
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Tall tale or chasing a dream?

Twenty-two years ago, a journalism school classmate from Ontario spent a month at my parents’ house while completing a work term at VOCM.     Peter is a person who embraces each day fully and he immediately fell into the rhythm of St. John’s life. He bonded with my parents and got away with things their own offspring would never even dream of. There’s a famous story in my family about the day Peter took Dad’s Evening Telegram before he had a chance to read it. Dad’s newspaper was sacred, you see. None of his eight children or their acquaintances would lay a finger on it before he read cover to cover, folded it and proclaimed he had finished.

Peter was the first person in history to handle the paper before Dad. And not only did Peter touch it before Dad had a chance to read it, Peter did the unthinkable. He used Dad’s paper to catch his toenail clippings. No one remembers Dad’s exact words and we all wonder how Peter didn’t get himself tossed out on his rear end, but somehow Peter was that type of person whose transgressions are quickly forgiven.

Maybe it was because Peter strummed his guitar at the breakfast table, serenading my parents with folk songs as they ate their toast. Or maybe it was because Peter had an interesting connection to my family.

When he was growing up in Burlington, Ont., Peter’s parents hired a nanny. Elizabeth Seager had come from Western Bay, the same community where my mother was raised in Conception Bay North. Mom and Dad took Peter around the bay one day to show him the site of Mrs. Seager’s family home and also a local pond called Jump and Go Down Pond, where Mrs. Seager had played as a child.

That was back in 1990, and we haven’t seen Peter in over two decades, although we have received an occasional intriguing note — like when Dad died, Peter emailed to say Dad had taught him one of life’s most important lessons, a piece of advice that has saved his hide more than once: to always back in your vehicle.

So on Aug. 4, when I saw an email from Peter waiting in my inbox, I wondered what was on his radar. Here’s the message I got.

“Hi Susan and Chris,

“I have a favour to ask. Well, actually, I have a short story and a favour to ask.

“My brother Neil is on a ferry bound for Newfoundland today. He’s probably pulling into Port aux Basques about now. … You might remember that my family had a connection to Newfoundland — an honorary grandmother from Western Bay. Her name was Elizabeth Seager.

“My brother Neil is the baby of our family. In addition to being the best-looking, most charming, and most talented Ross, he was also definitely Mrs. Seager’s favourite. And so she shared a secret with him that she didn’t share with the rest of us: the location of a secret gold mine in Western Bay.

“Mrs. Seager is long gone, so brother Neil is the only one alive who knows the whereabouts of this secret gold mine. I told Neil that (your mother) knows her way around those parts, and might be prepared to act as his guide. I was wondering if I might introduce Neil to Theresa.

“If all goes according to plan, Neil may need some help staking a mining claim, and so there might be some work in this for 48Degrees …

“xoxo Peter.”

By the time Neil called to say he had arrived in St. John’s, I was partway out the TCH en route to Salmonier. So, I did what came naturally — I pulled over safely to the side of the road and gave him directions to my mother’s.

Neil arrived at the homestead within minutes of my sister, whose plane had just touched down from Calgary where she has lived for 20 years. Lunch apparently proved a little hectic, but like I said, I was pleasantly strolling through Salmonier Nature Park for the second time this summer while the insanity unfolded.

My mother had just been introduced to my sister’s Calgary neighbour who would be staying with her for two weeks when in strolled a reddish-browned-haired man on a quest to find gold. All this combined with various combinations of sisters and brothers, cousins and nieces who came by to greet our expat sister.

Mom took the pandemonium in stride. Did I mention that years ago, when I sent Peter to live with her and Dad for a month, that an Italian named Fabrizio — who my sister and I had met in Rome — also came to stay for a few weeks? Anyway, I missed Neil’s entrance but suffice to say it was action-packed. He wrote me the following email before he set out to find the gold.

“I had a very nice visit with your mom and was invited to lunch with her and several of your sisters, so I guess I made a good impression. … Your mother gave me a 1920s photo of a younger Mrs. Seager and her sisters. That will be gold enough, should I fail to find her treasure.”

Neil set out for Western Bay the next day arriving tired and hungry expecting to pull up at a restaurant or hotel and have a meal and rest before meeting the locals. He quickly realized that Western Bay, although stunningly beautiful, is more or less a one-horse town these days. He changed his plans and quickly met some locals who showed him the sights and pointed him in the direction of Jump and Go Down Pond so he could find his fortune.

Alas, the next day I was once again headed out the highway when one of my children checked my messages.

“I had a very successful visit to Western Bay,” Neil’s email read. “Found everything but the gold.”

By the time I got to our cabin, Neil was sitting at the homemade kitchen table with my husband, eating spaghetti and drinking a Quidi Vidi beer. My husband didn’t get the message to expect Neil, but when he walked in, he immediately recognized him as our old classmate’s brother even though he had no idea our classmate even had any brothers.

We spent a lazy day with Neil on the beach at the cabin before he rode off into the sunset, no doubt to strike out on another adventure.

Some may think him crazy, but we think he’s living life how it should be lived. He didn’t find the gold but he made the journey.

Note: Carter, my recycling man, just came by as I was about to submit this column. Here is what he had to say: “I’m out today going around talking to people. You’d be amazed most people stay inside their houses waiting for something to happen.”

He then shook his head as if this were completely unthinkable to him, arranged his bags in his cart and, like Neil, set out to seize the day.

Susan Flanagan is a freelance writer who has wanted to spend a night treasure hunting

on Kelly’s Island for years. If anyone can drop her there in a sailboat,

please email

Voice of an angel feedback

Anita Best writes: “Thanks for that piece about Edward Ferguson-O’Brien. He is indeed an angelic singer. We often sing together when we have the chance to meet. You have been blessed to hear him.”

Sara Sexton writes: “Thank you for sharing ‘Voice of an angel’ with us. Many of us over the years have been captivated by the angelic voices of our young boys. … You have opened the door to Edward’s gift. This can be his moment for sharing gently and carefully, this wonderful God-given talent with us, and give our people an opportunity to be transported, like you and your husband, to angelic heights, for that is what happens to the senses.

“Excuse me for a personal note. I still cherish memories of Tommy, our son, singing in ‘Oliver.’ May Edward be blessed as he shares his joy with his parents and the folks of Caplin Cove, Trinity Bay, and eventually with all of us. Thank you.”

Nessie writes: “When will it be possible to see Edward at an Arts and Culture Centre near each and every one of us? By the way, what is Edward’s last name? With a voice like you described, he needs to have recognition immediately.

“Susan, I am looking forward to having the experience you have encountered with Edward. I know there is incredible talent in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and when it is discovered it, indeed, needs to be identified immediately just like you have done here. Thanks, Susan.”

Billy writes: “Susan, I just read your article. Thank you for making my day (and for making me cry). God bless you.”

Geographic location: Western Bay, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador Burlington Conception Bay North Calgary Port aux Basques Salmonier Nature Park Rome Iceland Caplin Cove Trinity Bay

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