Around the 24th of May, 65 years ago

Published on May 20, 2014
May 24, 1972: the Trouters’ Special stops at “2nd Mile” to entrain passengers. This yearly train on the May 24th holiday would travel from St. John’s to Argentia, return, and drop off and pick up anglers and other passengers at any point they so desired.
— Photo courtesy of Earl Roberts and Ken Pieroway, author of “Rails Across the Rock,” the sequel to which, “Rails Around the Rock,” will be launched in September. The new book will highlight the Newfoundland Railway’s branch lines.

The weather was poor for the annual trouting holiday 65 years ago. It sounded like a typical spring day in eastern Newfoundland. If we get any spring at all, it is likely to arrive just before the month of June.

Rolling out onto the streets of St. John’s on the afternoon of Monday, May 23, 1949, The Evening Telegram carried an editorial which was, in fact, its annual salute to Empire Day. Full of high-flown phrases and virtual flag-waving, I doubt if many read it. But if it did nothing else, the editorial served to herald one of the most popular holidays in our year.


 “The Twenty-fourth of May is the Queen’s birth-day … if we don’t get a holiday we’ll all run away!”


No need to run away or even threaten it. You could bank on it. You could even pop in to Neyle Soper’s and invest in a new piper if you needed one.

Tuesday, May 24, 65 years ago, the city was shut tight. As The Telegram reported when it reappeared on Wednesday, the 25th, “the city had a threadbare look yesterday as far as people were concerned.”

People referred to the day (as they did other major holidays in the year as “a whole holiday.” This was to distinguish it from the concession given on Wednesdays which were usually “a half holiday.” You were off at lunchtime (or, as it was said then, “off at dinner”). We never had lunch here until many years into Confederation.


Senior year

This year, “Confederation” became a senior. It was 65 years ago on March 30-April 1 that Newfoundland, with Labrador, its wealthy but unrealized dependent by the hand, married-up with Canada. To a mix of jubilation and chagrin, we set aside our status as a Dominion within Britain’s Empire, and completed the ocean-to-ocean chain which was now Canada.

So, upstaging all other news, including any hot scoop on the upcoming trouting day, the Liberal convention had been held here Saturday evening, May 21. At this milestone event, F. Gordon Bradley KC was “unanimously selected” to be the Newfoundland Liberal party’s head “in the federal field” and Joseph R. Smallwood (as I would say by now even the toll-taker at the Khyber Pass knows) was also “unanimously selected” as provincial leader.

Heading the party’s slate of officers was Eric Cook, KC. A Telegram cameraman named Courtney took a photograph of Bradley and Smallwood and it ran atop the news page with the heading, “Two Liberal Leaders Congratulate Each Other.”

As the province of Newfoundland was a mere seven weeks old, there were all sorts of federal cabinet ministers dropping in, including Paul Martin (Sr.). Gentlemen of other political stripes also visited that particular May, including the Englishman M.J. Coldwell, who headed the C.C.F. in Canada (the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation).

The C.C.F. was disbanded in 1961 and from it, there sprang the NDP. Given that kind of labour-oriented background (at a time when Sen. Joseph McCarthy was finding Commies under every bed south of the border), you can understand The Telegram’s headline over a report the day after Coldwell’s visit covering an address he gave:

“C.C.F. Leader Denies his Party in Red — Tells newsmen his party is all out for social betterment.”

Back to the subject on every reader’s mind at the time: the 24th of May.

In part (and a small part at that), The Telegram’s 1949 editorial for May 24th said:

“The celebration of Empire Day as it has long been known in Newfoundland, and observed in the Dominion as Victoria Day, has on this occasion a special significance. It marks an even closer consolidation than ever before. This Empire Day sees Newfoundland as contributing its part towards a further consolidation. In federation with Canada comes the opportunity to play an even greater part in the furtherance of the welfare of the commonwealth and in enabling it to use its influence to promote fellowship among the nations as a whole” …

Hmmm. Well, yes. Of course.

A lengthy (very lengthy) article in this same issue was all about “Canada’s National Day” — not, of course, Empire Day (a.k.a. Victoria Day), but July 1.

You feel that new as Confederation was at the time, we had espoused Canada in no uncertain terms.

We were already proud of our new country’s dignified heritage; as a subheading reminded readers of this article, “the Canadian nation was not born of revolution.” So, just in time for the upcoming Empire Day holiday, the paper offered plenty to read. This was very much a reading day and age.

 If your preference was to lighter reading material, you would likely follow the adventures of your favourite comic strip character. In 1949, serious matters were pursued and solved by Dick Tracy, Brick Bradford and Rip Kirby. Lighter matters concerned Cap Stubbs and you could indulge in the heritage of your new country by following King of the Royal Mounted.

The day immediately following May 24 was a workday. Likely for many in St. John’s it was hangover day.


Pomp and splendour yet!

All told, it sounds as though it was another successful Victoria Day:

“Despite threats of rain and fog the annual migration of the trouting fraternity was conducted on Monday night and continued yesterday with pomp and splendour of former years. Beginning with the Trouters’ Special train, the exodus of trouters to the ponds, rivers and gullies ran into the many thousands … a cold, wet countryside was waiting for the anglers when they unlimbered their gear at favourite fishing haunts, but it’s a recognized fact that the weatherman never worries a trouter, especially on the 24th!

Many non-trouters who would have enjoyed a boil-up were turned back by the weather. ”

Overall, it’s the kind of report that could have been written weeks prior (even to the weather references). But here is what readers were really waiting for:


In Bowring’s windows on the 25th:

“The big Ones that didn’t get away”

‰    Biggest single, Dick Gosse, 1 lb. 13.5 oz.

‰    Quarter dozen, I.J. Bursey, 1 lb. 15.5 oz.

‰    Half dozen, Ron Noftall, 8 ln. 2.5 oz.


At The Sports Shop:

‰    Biggest single, C. Kennedy, 2 lb. 4 oz.

‰    Quarter dozen, Max Lester, 3 lb. 5 oz.

‰    Half dozen, M. Mercer, 6 lb. 4 oz.


A.E. Hickman Co. Ltd. window showed:

‰    Biggest single, Gus Cochrane, 2 lb. 2.5 oz.

‰    Quarter dozen, E. Nugent, 2 lb.

‰    Half dozen, Tom Fitzgerald, 7 lb. 12.5 oz.


Simple enough pleasures, you may agree. The above, in all its joy and innocence, compares with today, where more than likely we will have news of one man bashing another, house-breaking, drug deals, drug busts, gunshots in a neighbourhood — anything but trouting. It would be refreshing to read of someone being fined for taking more than his limit of trout.


Elsewhere in the world

Meanwhile, as Newfoundlanders welcomed Liberals and celebrated trout 65 years ago, way over there in Stalin’s Russia, three giant mammoths were about to be disinterred from their ancient tombs.

According to the same issue of The Telegram, “expert paleontologists were on hand to oversee the delicate work” and the remains were to be shipped either to Leningrad or Moscow. The creatures, it was further reported, “were believed to have lived millions of years ago and are now in three different parts of Russia … two were found beyond the Arctic Circle, one in the bleak Taimyr Peninsula far to the north of China; the other in the far east in Yakutia. The third was discovered by workmen at Dniepropetrovsk in Russia’s extreme south. The two found above the Arctic circle are in an excellent state of preservation with most of the hair, muscles and flesh intact.”

Actually, the report was not correct in terms of how long ago the mammoths had lived.