From building materials to one incredible builder

Paul Sparkes
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You could buy your full requirement of Johns-Manville “World Famous building materials” here 63 years ago at Chester Dawe Ltd. on Shaw’s Lane in St. John’s.

Workmen and boys pause for a photo at the Newfoundland Dry Dock in St. John’s. The year is not known, but would appear to be circa 1905. The original photograph is large and is backed with a presentation, or framing card. It was brought in to us by Kay Baird of Mount Pearl who was interested in learning something about it. The dock, just under 600 feet in length and built of pine, was completed at the end of 1884. It was one of the largest dry docks in the world, and while that suggests a large team of workers, we do not know if these are all dry dock employees. The steps down into the dock appear to be concrete and, indeed, the dry dock was rebuilt in concrete in 1926, but the photo is certainly before that date. Many of the men are still smoking their pipes while others have removed their pipes from their mouths long enough for the photographer to do his work.  — Submitted photo

There was utility insulating board at 7.5 cents per foot; fireproof shingles in white, grey, green or buff; and assorted roofing and floor tiles.

Said Dawe’s advertisement in making reference to the name Johns-Manville — “Any reliable building contractor will advise you of its superior quality and economy. The labor costs are just as high on ordinary building materials as on Johns-Manville.”

By the way, the business advertised two phone lines.

Also from 1950, an advertisement for Schick, courtesy of McMurdo’s Drug Store on Water Street: “Schick comes to Newfoundland. Here’s the finest shaver in the world! It does away with the old hocus-pocus of learning to shave with an electric shaver; two models, the ‘Colonel’ having a single head and the ‘Super’ having a double head. Ask about the Schick the next time you visit your favourite store. No nick — no burns — no tricks to learn.”

In 1935, A. Harvey & Co. Ltd.

was advising us to burn Famous Reading Anthracite: “Honest value — full weight — careful delivery — that’s the way we keep our old customers and make new ones constantly!” The advertisement suggested readers “Phone today”

but did not provide a phone number.


This week, it’s one of those columns where the notes and scraps of doing “single theme” columns are swept together to make a new column. These are items which I have come across while looking for other things and, to ensure that my hunting is never in vain, I flag pieces which have some merit even if they are not relevant to the immediate quarry.

In the estimates of the Newfoundland Government for the financial year July 1, 1935, to June 30, 1936 and in the Department of Customs: “Expenses of shipwrecked crews — $3,000. Cost of purchase and operation of proposed new Patrol Boat — $ 17,500.”

Banquet in honour of Provincial Grand Lodge Session, held at Bonavista, Wednesday, July 16, 1952 at 7:30 p.m., in the Orange Hall — Menu: juices, cold turkey, dressing, salads, olives, celery, lettuce, tea, rolls, cookies, ice cream, sponge cake.

(Cannot imagine celery at a Grand Lodge session.)

Exhibition hockey: Buchans vs. St. Bon’s. Feb. 14, 1955. St. Bon’s team: M. Greene, J. Gamberg, H. Fardy, N. Hutton, L. Coughlan, W. Organ, C. Greene, E. Gillies, J. Reardigan, N. Sparrow, N. Vinicombe, C. Power, W. Corbett, E. Manning, J. Ryan, J. McNamara. Coach, Jack Vinicombe; Manager, Jim Vinicombe.

Reporting of fatalities: Two excerpts from the British newspaper, The Sunday Chronicle, Aug. 21, 1892. Over 120 years, our way of reporting the news has changed dramatically, as you might expect. In the first article here, the unnecessary detail is horrendous. Readers (and the deceased) would be spared this today.

In the second item, the condition of the hunt takes precedence over a man’s death:

“About a quarter past four yesterday morning the body of Alfred Peel, aged 35, of Manchester, goods guard on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway was found on the line just to the south of Preston. His left arm was cut off and his head was practically severed from his body He had been engaged in shunting operations for some time, and on being missed, search was made and he was found dead.”

“The black game shooting season opened in Scotland yesterday in splendid weather. Birds are plentiful and in good condition. A young coachman named Brooker, a native of Sheffield, met his death yesterday while out with a shooting party near Ayr. One of the party placed a loaded gun against a fence and when he raised the weapon again it unexpectedly exploded and the charge lodged in Brooker’s body.”

(Black game is the black grouse, native to Scotland).


“At South West Brook will be found the new road which has been built to reach Burgeo at the coast. It is about 90 miles — it is unpaved and it is through wilderness country. There are no service stations or other facilities along this route, and one must be prepared to meet little traffic and be totally self-dependent. It is, however, for the adventurous, a beautiful part of the untouched country and wildlife is often seen in this area.”

— From the St. George’s section of Vacation Guide 1984 to The Happy Province.


A better cod liver oil: part of an advertisement on the back cover of a tiny volume of Wordsworth’s poems. The Penny Poets, published around 1900, were soft-covered books, with selections from the stalwarts of English literature and yet with plenty of room left to pack in some paying ads.

“Allen & Hanbury’s Perfected Cod-Liver Oil. This product is made exclusively from fresh and selected livers by Allen & Hanbury’s own workmen at their factories in Norway. By the special and distinct processes employed, the elimination of all unpleasant qualities is effected, without impairing in the smallest degree any of the invaluable medicinal and nutritive properties; easy of assimilation and can be borne and digested when other cod-liver oils are refused. Sold throughout the World.”

In the ad, The Lancet is quoted as saying this particular brand is “as nearly tasteless as cod-liver oil can be.” Wouldn’t you expect The Lancet to be more concerned with value as opposed to taste?

Speaking of Wordsworth, he wrote a poem about four dogs chasing a hare on a frosty morning when the nearby river was only “caught over” (as we would describe it). Prince, Swallow, Dart and Music went madly after the hare which (apparently more confident of its weight-to-ice-strength ratio) fled across thin ice — successfully. Prince and Swallow were lucky too, but the greyhound, Dart, went in over his head. In a split second, “little Music” abandoned the chase and tried to rescue Dart. Wordsworth describes her breaking the ice away with no thought for her own safety; she cries, moans and stretches out her paws. And “doth her best, her struggling friend to save.” But the greyhound sank “and reappeared no more.” The poem is called “Incident, Characteristic of a Favourite dog.”


Is it possible for one man to build 83 fishing craft in his lifetime? Joseph R. Smallwood (long before the Confederation campaign) recorded the story of Martin Sparkes of Wesleyville: “For 56 years, Mr. Sparkes was a fisherman, but between fishing seasons he turned his hand to many occupations. He packed lobsters, he was a sail-maker and he was a blacksmith. But his chief occupation, apart from the fishery, was that of carpenter and boat builder.”

Smallwood listed the boats that Sparkes built; 75 fishing boats, six decked boats and two schooners.  Even if those 75 fishing boats were only dories, that is still incredible production.

But on top on all that, Sparkes is said also to have built 40 houses and other buildings.

Smallwood ends with, “In construction of all these boats and houses he used over 30,000 pounds of nails.”

Now, how Martin Sparkes managed to do all that building (boats and houses) and keep a running tally on nail poundage is beyond me. But then, the man’s surname, I have no doubt, is synonymous with remarkable productivity.

Organizations: Drug Store, A. Harvey Co., Department of Customs Yorkshire Railway

Geographic location: Water Street, Newfoundland, Scotland Bonavista Manchester Preston Sheffield Ayr South West Brook Burgeo Norway

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