The Raffle returns

Published on November 20, 2012
St. John’s Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff rings the bell at the 2011 Raffle. — Submitted photo

I wouldn’t miss the Santa Claus Parade for all the Lambs at the liquor store.

As I mentioned a few columns back, Dad’s office was above the Family Barber Shop, across from the War Memorial on Duckworth Street, so all of us children would watch in anticipation from the second-storey window for the first float to appear. Then we’d beat it down the splintery stairs to watch the procession. I was terrified of a clown named Boob who knew Dad and used to thwock me with his belly knocker. I’d want to race back upstairs and watch the rest of the parade from the safety of the window.

This year on Sunday, not only can we look forward to the Santa Claus Parade but also the official kick-off of the 2012 Old Fashioned Christmas Raffle. If you’re among the thousands of people watching the parade on Water Street, pop in to 336 Water (a few doors west of Bistro Sophia) and your mind will be carried back to another raffle from another time. Like the Mount Cashel Raffle before it, all proceeds from the Old Fashioned Christmas Raffle go to charity — The Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and Opera on the Avalon.

Two years ago when the idea of an Old Fashioned Christmas Raffle was conceived, Elaine Dobbin, patron of the The Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, asked Cheryl Hickman, founder and artistic director of Opera on the Avalon to partner with Autism, as she thought they were a worthy cause and they could add value in terms of organizing and volunteers.

Opera on the Avalon is an annual festival held in June which brings world-renowned teachers in the opera world to mentor young emerging artists who also come from all over. The participants immerse themselves in lessons and master classes and the festival culminates in two fully staged operas complete with sets, costumes and orchestra. The event is a great opportunity for young artists and it has brought opera to our province.

Gerrie Nicholas, event organizer and volunteer, says preparing for and running the raffle has been a moving experience.

“The first year I went to distribute posters at RONA (which used to be Chester Dawe) — if you’ve ever been you know they have long-standing employees who have been there forever — when I mentioned the old Mount Cashel Raffle, this man’s eyes lit up and he started talking about the sawdust on the floor, live turkeys and how the raffle was part of everyone’s Christmas tradition,” says Nicholas.

“Then a group assembled because they too had fond memories to share. It was magical,” says the only non-townie on the Raffle committee. “Having grown up in Carbonear I was not familiar with the raffle. I have come to know it through the eyes and stories of those I’ve come in contact with. One man at RONA told me his mother worked at Mount Cashel as a caregiver to the orphans. Her work there was enriching and when they closed, she continued to nurture the boys.”

Don O’Keefe grew up at Mount Cashel and worked at that raffle from the age of seven until it closed in the 1980s.

“I was there during the Second World War, ringing the bell,” says O’Keefe. “In later years I sold tickets and did the microphone bit. I had to repeat the same thing every 30 seconds.

“Two for five, four for 10, women can do it as well as the men, or Don’t pass by, come in and try.” Try your luck to win a frozen chicken, turkey or ham is what O’Keefe is referring to.

“Later on, when we realized Mom and Dad wanted to win something for the children, we started bringing in teddy bears and stuffed toys,” says O’Keefe, who basically ran the raffle some years. “The Christian Brothers came and went every four years, but I was there all the time. They’d come to me and say, ‘What’s on the go here?’”

Ron Coady who grew up on Newtown Road remembers going to the Raffle as a child. “You’d go inside and it’d be jampacked. There’d be fellas spinning the wheel shouting, ‘two for a nickel, four for a dime’. It was always hot in there with live turkeys and a mess of tickets and sawdust on the floor.”

After Coady married he used to bring his children to the raffle. “I took the two kids down one year and after spending $180, I still had nothing,” says Coady. “Don O’Keefe took me aside and said, ‘I’ll sell you anything for $5.’”

The Raffle meant a lot to O’Keefe. “After I moved out I still knew the boys who were still residents and saw them growing up right up to the ’80s. I was going back home every time I went to the raffle. I felt at home.”

Dobbin says many people have fond memories of the Mount Cashel Raffle and love the fact that the raffle has been brought back, even if only for a few days and a different cause. “One couple came in and said their grandparents started taking them to the raffle,” says Dobbin. “But they never had the opportunity to share it with their children, so they were thrilled to now share such happy memories with their grandchildren.”

“I attend a lot of fund raisers,” says Dobbin. “But this one is different because it is unsophisticated. Better still, it’s affordable for everyone and a reminder that fun can be in simple things.”

So here are the goods on this year’s raffle. It’ll only be downtown one day — Sunday, Nov. 25, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then it’ll be at the Avalon Mall next to the fireplace in the food court for two days — Saturday, Dec. 8, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Dec. 9, noon-5 p.m.

The average time between spins is eight minutes, but the bigger the crowd, the faster the spins. There are four events going on:

1. Wheel Spin: tickets are 50 cents — winner gets to pick from assortment of prizes of giftware and toys. Every 15 minutes there is a spin for a turkey or pail of salt meat donated by Terra Nova Foods (works like the Regatta spins).  

2. Daily Hamper Draw: $5 ticket for a chance to win a Christmas food hamper (Christmas dinner and all trimmings)

3. Prize Draw: $5 ticket, with three winners drawn at close on Dec 9. Prizes include Christmas tree and wreath decorated by Eric White including 12 wrapped gifts, a 42” LG LCD flat screen TV donated by Sears and LG and a chest freezer also donated by Sears.

4. Car Draw: $1 ticket for 2013 Hyundai Accent (four-door) drawn Dec. 11.

If you’d like to help out, call the Autism Centre 722-2803. You can help out all the regular volunteers, including the staff of Pipers Stores and Targa Race organizers.

You might even be lucky enough to spot a celebrity. In past years Snook (Pete Soucy), Andy Jones, Mary Walsh and Fergus O’Byrne have all made appearances.


Susan Flanagan

can’t wait to visit the raffle. She can be reached at

Book club

Pat from Gander writes: “I love all your articles actually — but this one in particular. I am a librarian and love to share good reads. Just finished ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce. This would be a great pick for your book club. It reminded me of ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ by Helen Simonson — which is another must read.

“I am reading ‘Love Anthony’ by Lisa Genoa. It’s really good. As is ‘A Walk Across the Sun,’ and ‘The World we Found.’ Also — if your club enjoys Newfoundland and Labrador titles — Trudy Morgan Cole’s books are well worth the read, and where she lives in (St. John’s), she loves to attend book club meetings if invited. So many books … so little time … so little housework being done — ha! Read on! Keep up the good writing, too.”

Alison writes: “I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your book club article. As a librarian, I love seeing people enjoy books. There are some great titles there that I will have to check out — I have meant to read ‘Still Alice’ for a while now. I just had one note for you — Lionel Shriver is a female. She wrote the very chilling ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

Kevin writes: “I enjoyed this article. It may have been an editing issue, but I couldn’t help noticing that you refer to Lionel Shriver as “he.” Remember, she won the Orange Prize for “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

(Susan’s note: Oops.)

Tonya writes: “I always look forward to your informative, upbeat articles in The Telegram. Your last one on your book club made me think of a related theme to suggest to you for a future article. For instance, how does one find a book club to join?

“As you may know, many book clubs operate in St. John’s, each one with different ways of gaining members, selecting books and choosing venues for discussion. …

“For example, I belong to two clubs (for a while I was in three and having to read three books a month!), each of them operating quite differently. One, which you can check out online (see, has grown from a single group in the 1970s reading mostly fiction to a non-fiction group and three sections of the mostly fiction group. The latter meets two afternoons and one evening per month to accommodate members’ schedules, with all sections reading the same book.

“If you recall, a couple of years ago The Globe and Mail, in its weekend Arts section, for a time highlighted a different book club each weekend and it was always interesting to read about how it originated and so on. I’m sure you receive many column suggestions from your readers so you can just add mine to your stack.”