JEWELS OF THE ARCTIC: The snow bunting weighs rather less than an ounce and much of that is feathers. It is truly wonderful that such high organization, such a supreme expression of the forces of life could be fashioned into so small a thing — I almost said, “crowded into so small a space,” but that would be a misstatement, for nothing in the snow bunting is crowded. Its tiny form is completely adequate for its manifold and high complex functions.
— from “Outside Information,” a column by Harold Horwood, The Evening Telegram,
Dec. 11, 1963
“See amid the winter’s snow.” — Metro Creative
“Whence comes this rush of wings?
Birds from the woods …
in wondrous flight …”
In last week’s column, I brought forward from a half-century ago some of the less-than-wonderful things that imposed themselves upon the Christmas season here.
In the midst of the exciting buildup to the most magical day of the year, more than the usual run of tragedy rudely elbowed in. I then took advantage of all the resurrected unpleasantness to consider that old complaint readers make to newspapers, “the only thing you ever print is bad news.”
So, while harmony and discord are usually close neighbours, I have separated them, the bad news last week, the good news this week. Hopefully you can get a feel for the approach to the season and the swirl of mixed events. You will likely agree, if I may borrow a line from Dickens, whose words have so coloured our Christmas, that it was (as so often it is) the best of times and the worst of times.
• • •
The fares on Canadian National would be enough to make anyone smile who was planning on travelling over Christmas 1963. Of course, from this distance in time, these costs look incredible. I’ll do a monetary “translation” in a minute.
“CN’s Red Bargain Fares! (Meals and Sleeping Accommodations make them equally attractive) — St. John’s to Gander, $4.30; to Corner Brook, $9.50; to Port aux Basques, $11.00; to Halifax, $ 19.00; to Winnipeg, $50.”
This notice does not mention whether boat charges across Cabot Strait are included. However, $4.30 in 1963 would be the equivalent today of $31.82. Still a bargain, right?
• • •
Dec. 2, 1963:
“Lieutenant Governor Fabian O’Dea has been made a life member of the Canadian Legion because of his outstanding service to the Newfoundland Command. O’Dea accepted his membership certificate from James Fagan, president of the Newfoundland Command. O’Dea was Honorary Solicitor of the Legion from Confederation in 1949.”
News headline: Oil companies flock to the Canadian Arctic wastelands — seek oil reserve estimated at 100 million barrels.
When you got past all the news (good and bad) in a day’s issue, you could still rely upon the comics for a bit of fun and entertainment. In 1963, the strips included L’il Abner, Joe Palooka, Rip Kirby, The Lone Ranger and Cap Stubbs.
• • •
“Letters to Santa” commenced in The Evening Telegram for the 1963 season on Dec. 3. This was the headline at the top of the page: “It was lovely what you brung me last year.” Among the letters that day were those from Anne Marie Stephen, Anderson Avenue, St. John’s; Lynn Proudfoot, Bell Island; Debbie Somerton, Cook’s Hill, St. John’s and Sandra Brown, Merrymeeting Road, St. John’s.
Hard day Christmas shopping? You could relax in the evening in front of the TV. The telecasting day commenced at 4 p.m. The program lineup for one particular evening on CJON, Channel 6, included “The World of Sport” with Howie Meeker; “News Cavalcade,” “Tombstone Territory,” “The Patty Duke Show,” “Ben Casey” and “Front Page Challenge.” The day’s telecast ended with “Pastor’s Study.”
If you were concerned about keeping the furnace running and the house warm, Steve Manning was advertising himself regularly in the classified as “Golden Eagle Oil Distributor.”
Eat, drink, relax
Food news from Christmas, 50 years ago:
Bowring’s Grocery offered turkey at 42 cents per pound (and, if my math is right, that is no bargain in today’s money because I have discovered that 42 cents in 1963 equates to about $3.10 in 2012 money); “fresh local killed rib roast” was 85 cents per pound, Brazil nuts were 45 cents a pack and Smyrna figs — all Christmas fare — were 20 cents/pack.
As a way to celebrate the season, The Candlelight Restaurant offered fresh rabbit pie; the Skyline Motel on Kenmount Road offered dining, dancing and cocktails and featured music by the Beachcombers. Bidgood’s had the grand opening of their Food Centre in The Goulds on Dec. 19. Jerry Stephens opened his dine-with-entertainment spot on Water Street just a few days before Christmas. “El Tico” had Spanish décor and its chef was George Phillips.
• • •
In a little survey among school students, The Telegram posed the question, “Christmas: is it still meaningful?” Here are three of the responses:
Linda Baggs, Grade 10, Prince of Wales Collegiate: “Yes, I think Christmas means as much to teenagers today as it did when our parents were young. It has the same meaning and everybody still seems to enjoy it.”
Donnie Walsh, Grand 11, Brother Rice: “I think Christmas is dying out as far as family connections are concerned. Few teenagers stay home very much at Christmas as their grandparents and parents did. Rather, nowadays, we, speaking of teens in general, seem to be going to more parties and dances.”
Jim Cousens, Grade 10, Booth Memorial: “No indeed, I don’t. It is more or less a racket now. Christmas is more a money-making process than anything else.”
• • •
“H.J. Miller Real Estate, 769 Water Street, (opposite Leslie) has for sale on Empire Avenue West, a six-room bungalow, overlooking the TCH, together with two acres of freehold land - $3,800. Full Price.” (The price in today’s money would be $28,118).
How times change
Fifty years ago, columnist Sylvia Wigh said this in one of her columns near Christmas:
“There is a way that lonely homes can be made bright this season and that is by adopting a child for the day, or days, as you desire. Our hospitals and orphanages are filled with children simply longing for some extra affection at this time of year — some, of course, could stand an extra dose of this medicine all year round. Many are away from their homes and families for long periods and have no visitors to cheer them up. Many orphans are invited out to private homes for the special days and that is welcomed by those in charge of the institution; unfortunately there are always a few left in the home for whom no invitations are forthcoming.”
Interesting to note that in this same issue, Telegram photographer Bill Croke did a photo feature of children at the St. John’s sanatorium.
The sports department at The Evening Telegram sent greetings to all their readers. The team included Bob Badcock, Pee Wee Crane, Rollie Martin and Ron Rossiter.
On Dec. 23, 1963, the editorial in The Evening Telegram was cognizant of the turmoil we create around the Christmas season, and was both forgiving and confident:
“Despite commercialization of Christmas the core remains undamaged and the good that is done at this season far outweighs whatever insincerity and superficiality become a temporary part of it through the very understandable weakness of human nature.”
That particular issue of the paper ballooned well beyond its usual size to present 72 pages of news, opinion and yuletide articles — all generously supported by paid advertising.
Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist with an interest in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.