Newfoundland and Labrador summer reflections

Published on August 11, 2014
“Drong” (drang, drung): a narrow lane or passage between homes and gardens. This one is at Twillingate.
— Photo by Paul Sparkes/The Telegram

July 1947. There were forest fires everywhere across the island and in Labrador. Lightning made frequent appearances. Firefighting crews were hard-pressed. There were swimming fatalities. The Government House garden party was favoured by a beautiful day.

It was a dry, warm month. In fact, you might call it one of our highlight months, weather-wise. Temperatures were at a mean maximum of near 24 C.

On July 2 that year, a forest fire that had broken out earlier on the south side of the Terra Nova River again threatened Traytown, Bonavista Bay. At the same time there was a fire in the southwest arm of Valleyfield (this one burning fiercely and “gaining headway towards heavy timber”); there were fires between Bay du Nord and Rencontre East, two in the Gander Lake country (at the height of one of these, a USAF plane reported smoke had risen 18,000 feet); in Notre Dame Bay, the community of Roberts Arm was reported facing destruction; there were fires near Windsor in central Newfoundland and near Goose Bay in Labrador. On Saturday, July 19, The Telegram reported “Worst electrical storm witnessed in 30 years breaks over the city”.

Clearly, many of us had reason to dread the stretch of dry, hot weather that month. Others had reason to welcome it: on Thursday, July 24, it was reported that with weather conditions ideal and with trees and flowers in the grounds at their best, the annual “At Home” held at Government House on Wednesday by His Excellency the Governor and Lady Macdonald proved highly successful and was much enjoyed by the large numbers of visitors: “teas were served and a program of music was rendered by bands.”

The nice weather was especially welcomed at Government House as there was a contingent of ship’s officers from HMS Sheffield in attendance. Two days later, the warship ended her visit here and as the 558-foot beauty steamed out through the Narrows, Ern Maunder positioned himself on Southside Hills, above Fort Amherst, and captured a splendid photo.

— The foregoing is a “snapshot” of our summer, 67 years ago. It’s my way of

introducing a selection of summer

observations (no parched woods, no fires, no drownings) celebrating our shortest season. The following pieces were gleaned from some of my favourite (old) books and “go to” authors. And my thanks to Amanda Mercer, summer student at Environment Canada, Gander, for research which helped shaped this week’s introduction.

A camper and salmon angler

“The weather is, during the summer, fine as a rule and very seldom is it too hot, except perhaps occasionally during the noon hours when the sun makes a person lazy and disinclined sometimes even to fish. It always cools off later in the day and the nights are never too warm. In fact they are always cool.

“Unless one has the misfortune to strike a prolonged spell of rain, summer camping is delightful, and as autumn draws in, the brisk, cool days and chilly evenings make one appreciate the open log fire; the nights are so keen that sleeping is an actual pleasure and one wakes to the freshness of the morning air, fit as a king and ready to do anything.”

— From “Salmon Rivers of

Newfoundland,” C.H. Palmer, 1928.

At Bay of Islands with camera, 115 years ago

“Before entering this traveller’s rest we linger upon the spacious verandah to enjoy the beautiful prospect which surrounds it; Mount Moriah to the left, behind which is the declining sun; further away in the distance lofty Blow-me-Down still basking in a brighter sunlight … just opposite is the pretty village of Summerside, and then Crow’s Head; while a little to our right are the deep-wooded hillsides and vales at Hugh’s Brook. Far up the mountainside is the new Roman Catholic chapel — grand in proportions. All is delightful in the mellow light of the setting sun upon this ripe summer’s day.

“We are up early on the second day of our stay at Bay of Islands and eager to gain a chance to use our kodak, for the clouds are at times shutting out the light which we require.”

— American travel writer John Rupert Elliott writing from Newfoundland’s west coast in 1900.

Photographing wildflowers

“Occasionally Kodachrome 64 and Ektachrome 100 were used either because that was the type of film in the camara (sic) at the time, (You never know when or where a new flower will rear its head!) or it was the only type available in a remote rural location.

In general, the 200 speed film was found to be most adaptable to the variety of light conditions encountered — from fog to bright sun and from exposed locations to deep shade. All of these extremes sometimes being encountered during the same morning or afternoon. We have derived a great deal of pleasure from our wildflower explorations.”

— Bill and June Titford in the

introduction to their 1995 “A Travellers’ Guide to Wild Flowers of Newfoundland.”  

Children of the forest

“In the spring and the summer they went to the coast to fish and to gather mussels, birds’ eggs and even to catch the birds themselves. Their boats or canoes were well built of birch bark sewn together and caulked with resin from the trees. Their boats were very light in weight because they had to be carried long distances overland. They lived in wigwams or mamateeks … there was very little furniture in their wigwams … they slept in hollows in the earth lined with branches of trees and arranged in a circle around the fire.”

— Edith M. Manuel in the section

“How the Beothucks made use of their country,” from her 1954 textbook

“Newfoundland Our Province”

Cheeks with rosy hues

“While the coasts are shrouded in vapour, the sun is shining brightly inland and the atmosphere is dry and balmy. It not unfrequently happens that at St. John’s a dark wall of fog is visible a few miles out at sea while sunshine and genial weather prevail on shore … taken as a whole the climate of the island is more temperate and more favourable to health than that of the neighbouring continent … the Gulf Stream which creates the fogs, if it darkens the skies it paints the cheeks of the people with the rosy hues of health. The salubrity of the climate is evidenced by the robust, healthy appearance of the people.”

— Joseph Hatton and Rev. M. Harvey

in their 1883 history, “Newfoundland.”

Egg-shaped stones

“The outward vista from Bell Island is magnificent. The bay is wide and fair and around the shores are pretty places, made so much of in summer by the well-to-do of St. John’s. Scenically it will compare with the best the wide world has to offer. The railroad skirts it for a distance, and the towns are easily accessible. Fine beaches are covered with stones rubbed together by the sea until they are egg-shaped and smooth. These are of many colors and make a mosaic pleasing to the eye. The tones are soft.”

— American journalist Don C. Seitz

writing in his 1926 travel book

“The Great Island.”

The poet’s love

“It is clear in these poems that Mr. Parsons loves every rock, every grove of trees, every drung and lane, every pond and gully, every tilt and shack, every splash of a beaver and V-shaped wash of a muskrat in a quiet pond at dusk, every cry of a high-flying snipe.”

— Joseph R. Smallwood writing in

his introduction to the 1960 book

“The Village Politicians and Other Poems” by Richard Augustus Parsons, QC.

Lost in the beauty

“We had long evenings of daylight in June with sunlight lasting until nearly 11:00 o’clock … I lay awhile in the tent and then I went outside. It was just beginning to get light. It was about 1:00 o’clock now. I went for a long walk. The sky was so beautiful and clear and the water was so calm I just got lost in the beauty of everything around me. The land was rugged and bare, but it was beautiful.”

— Elizabeth Goudie, in her 1973 book, “Woman of Labrador”

“The sun is still too high

For lobstering, so to his stage we go

And in its luxury lie.”

— Harold Paddock, from his 1981 collection “Tung Tyde”

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail: