A must-read for all of us

John Crosbie
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“Spirit of Place: St. John’s, the Avalon and the English Shore Then and Now” is a magnificent pictorial and written history of Newfoundland and the spirit of our province that’s sure to become a classic.

This marvellous book is by John McQuarrie, the principal photographer and designer, who had local contributors assisting him as historians, including Ron Dwyer, John Furlong, Bob Codner, Ron Young, Sean Cadigan, Keith Collier, Robert Cuff, Jenny Higgins, James Hillier, Olaf Janzen, Melanie Martin, Ralph Pastore, Peter Pope, Hans Rollman, Chesley Sanger and James Tuck — all well-known writers from this province. The photographs are from the 19th century to the present time.

I understand the intent is to publish a Volume 2, which we should certainly encourage.

As the title indicates, this is a wondrous photographic and written survey of St. John’s the Avalon Peninsula and the English Shore as it was earlier in our history and is today.

St. John’s Harbour, for example, is photographed as it was in 1902 and at other times, such as 1982 when the harbour was full of ice.

This is a stunning achievement, with a perfect amalgamation of photography and history, including the story of religion and education in the province, and such subjects as the constabulary, the Newfoundland Railway from 1892 to 1997, areas such as Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s from 1500 on, Pouch Cove as it looked in 1900, together with such communities as Flatrock and Torbay.

There are wonderful aerial views of Petty Harbour, and Gull Island off Witless Bay, with tremendous photographs of common murres, puffins and whales, with 22 species of birds featured. All these subjects are dealt with skilfully and knowledgeably, as are other subjects like kayaking on the Irish Loop, and the Ecological Reserve at Mistaken Point on the Southern Shore in Portugal Cove South, which all people in Newfoundland should become familiar with because of its importance in the study of the beginnings of the Earth.

There are marvellous photographs of caplin coming into the Middle Cove Beach.

The photographs of such areas as Cape Race are spectacular, as well, with little-known information given, such as the fact that 128 ships have been lost off the cape in our history.

Many important settlements are covered, including Cupids, Brigus, Trinity, Port Union, Bonavista, Elliston and Cape Spear in photographs that cannot be exceeded in their stark beauty.

Other subjects of interest include sealing, and the fantastic paintings by John McDonald of his grandfather and great-uncle. McDonald discovered that both his grandfather and great-uncle were stranded on the ice with the lost party on the sealer SS Caribou in the disaster year of 1914. His magnificent painting will be featured in the new Sealer’s Museum under construction at Elliston to open in June 2014.

This book has some of the best photographs of St. John’s Harbour and many outports that I have ever seen.

Fogo Island, which I wrote of recently, is also dealt with marvellously, with 35 pages devoted to it in this superb book.

All in all, it’s a stunning achievement and deserves a place in every home in this province.

“Spirit of Place” points out it was about 9,000 years ago that the Maritime Archaic Indians made this place their home, with the oldest discovered burial mound in North America, dating back 7,500 years, at L’Anse Amour on the Labrador Straits in Southern Labrador.

The book notes that all of the people who ever lived in Newfoundland and Labrador came from someplace else originally, and all had difficult struggles to make a living from the only occupations available to them — basically, cod and other fish species, and sealing.

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that title to land could be obtained in the province, since the government of the U.K. had not wanted to encourage settlement in its oldest colony to ensure that the fishery was dominated by fishing fleets coming out of Britain.

It was only early in the 19th century that our population reached 25,000, but by the middle of the 19th century, due to the great increase in the seal fishery, we achieved a population of 110,000 or so. Not until 1900 did our population reach 220,000.

All of the newcomers who arrived, including Europeans, found it as hard as all others in finding their way here and making a life for themselves when they arrived.

I have no doubt that anyone who is interested in our history and the achievements of our ancestors, and our present successes, will find this book a fascinating account in words and photographs of what we have achieved.

I wait with great anticipation for Volume 2 of this epic.


John Crosbie welcomes your feedback by email at telegram@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Volume 2, Newfoundland Railway, Ecological Reserve Port Union

Geographic location: Portugal Cove South, Newfoundland and Labrador, Pouch Cove Petty Harbour Gull Island Witless Bay Cape Race Bonavista Sealer Fogo Island North America Southern Labrador.The U.K.

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