Well, our time in Witless Bay has come to an end. Convent life is over, and we’ve all gone back to our houses and apartments in St. John’s. I moved to St. John’s only six days before leaving for field school, so for me, Witless Bay feels more like home than my new apartment does. More than just being a matter of mathematics, though, Witless Bay really did get to feel like home. Whether it was Ralph Carey coming to check in on us at the convent every morning, Dena Wiseman gifting us delicious food from her garden (and generally being a great help all round) , Marilyn O’Dea opening up the O’Connor fifty plus club to a slightly younger than usual group of people, or any of the people who let us into their homes to make floor plans and conduct interviews, we were made to feel so extraordinarily welcome.
Last night, we said goodbye to everyone who came out to see our presentation about the work we did over the past three weeks. For those who weren’t able to come, we’ll be putting the video presentation we made up on the blog quite soon, so please keep an eye out for that. I know we all want to say goodbye and thank you so much to everyone in Witless Bay. I, for one, am already planning a visit.
Well, our time in the convent has come to a close. Personally, I’m not quite ready for the real world. Our field school was a wonderful glimpse into Witless Bay, and I think many of us would have liked to stay longer. I know I lingered unnecessarily while packing my suitcase, in a futile wish to lengthen our time here. In some ways, three weeks just doesn’t seem long enough. At our closing reception last night, fairy and ghost stories were told to us immediately after our presentation concluded. I have the feeling that we’ve only scratched the surface- I think there’s a lot left to be told about Witless Bay!
It was truly an unforgettable experience for all of us, and I feel very lucky to have participated. We’re so grateful for the interviews given to us, and for the warmth and generosity of the community. We’ve waltzed, we’ve bingo dabbed, we’ve been schooled at cards. We’ve delighted in the landscape, too. Witless Bay is such a beautiful place to be.
I’ve come away from this time with much more than I ever expected. Thank you so much.
It has been almost three weeks since we landed in Witless Bay. As time is flying, we are also getting close to our farewell ticket, heading back to St. John’s.
During these last days, all of us are very busy working on our fieldwork. Last night, I was in the chapel, writing my field notes, drowning in my thoughts when all of a sudden Daisy’s calling pulled me back to the world. She said, “Everybody is waiting for you in the kitchen and we want to start the Screeching In ceremony!” Waiting for this moment, I got very excited and ran down the stairs. But when I got to the kitchen, there were just Emma, Sharna and Daisy, no trace of anybody else. Getting suspicious, I remembered I hadn’t seen anyone over the last four hours. Really where were the others at 11 p.m.? We were making guesses, when suddenly, we heard some scary noises from upstairs. We started screaming! These were not ghosts or fairies! Yes, that’s true, there were four mummers coming to the convent!
The ceremony started with dance and music! While making music with pots and spoons, lovely mummers with their funny clothes and scary masks were dancing with us! I cannot say how much fun it was! While dancing with them, I could easily hear my heart, beating with extreme excitement! Our mummers very artistically disguised themselves and it was not easy to guess their identity!
Next was screeching time! We all had the honour to get screeched in with one of the mummers who was trying hard to disguise her voice! Haha, mummer Terra, your eyes revealed you!
Poor Sharna, she was the first sacrificial screecher who kissed the cod!
Next was Emma!
And my turn!
Thanks to our lovely mummers, now we all are proud honorary Newfoundlanders!
Emma, Sharna and I were not only screeched in last night, but also tasted Newfoundland mummering for the first time! It was an unforgettable memory for all of us, that in September 26, 11 pm at the convent in Witless Bay, we experienced two great Newfoundland traditions, mummering and screeching!
During the last couple of weeks in Witless Bay, I have had the opportunity to speak with people about many different aspects of their daily life. What seems to keep popping up in our conversations is the changes in the cod fishery and fishing in general, since the moratorium.
Witless Bay, at one time was a thriving fishing community. The beaches were lined with stages and fish flakes ladened with salt fish. The landscape is very different now. A government wharf and another that has seen the effects of the sea’s bashing waves against its timbers, are all that remain along the coastline of Witless Bay.
I still remember the day John Crosbie announced the closure. Although I myself was not reliant on the fishery, I had felt as if a God given right had been stripped away. I remember feeling numb about this decision. It didn’t seem fair. How were people going to get by?
It’s been 22 years since that fateful day. Still, Witless Bay and many other communities are managing. The resilience of the residents plays an important role in recognizing how the community has adapted to this change. Fishing still goes on, mostly a food fishery that takes place over several weeks in the summer and fall. People like Joey Yard, one of the last inshore fishermen in Witless Bay, have managed to keep fishing despite altered market demands and allotted quotas that don’t add up to an amount the larger markets require. Basically an inshore fisherman has just enough quota to feed his family and if he’s lucky, a little extra to sell from time to time.
I was fortunate to meet Thomas Yard, Joey’s brother and he showed me pictures he had of their old stage and another one, once perched on the North Coast of Witless Bay. Neither stand anymore but they are evidence that fishing was once an industry here.
Thomas and Joey’s father and grandfather are also in two pictures posted below. Henry and Tom Yard, in one picture are cleaning fish in a large pan. In the second photo they are carrying the fish from the flakes in a handle-barrow.
What is evident in all these pictures is how fishing evolved through father and son through the generations. We see in these pictures Joey Yard’s father and grand-father making fish on the same land Joey and his son James use.
No doubt many coastal communities relied on the fishery for their livelihood. Will it ever come back? Nobody knows for sure, although they tell me there’s lots of fish out there. In Joey Yard’s words,”Only time will tell”.
It is hard to believe that three weeks have almost gone by since our arrival in Witless Bay. During the first half of our stay it felt like we had all the time in the world to soak up Witless Bay culture and knowledge. Now that the third week has arrived and flown by, and we are embarking on our last two days here, all of us are already feeling nostalgic.
Last night, once we had finished up our work for the day, Terra and I spent an hour looking through photos from the first two weeks of our Witless Bay field school, reminiscing and laughing about all of the fun times we had not so long ago. While we are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to acquire so much knowledge in so little time, it is important to remember to stop every once in a while and recognize all of the beauty and richness right in front of you. This past week I have tried to remember to do this, in-between hours of finalizing metadata and perfecting floor plans.
This last week has also made me reflect on the gratitude I have for Witless Bay and the graciousness the community has shown us since we have arrived. My classmates and I have been welcomed and taken in with open arms, and there are no words that could properly express my appreciation for this. Being a part of this field school is something we will all look back on fondly and will miss very much.
Here are a few photos that Terra and I rediscovered last night:
As we wind down (or rev up) for our final day and a half in Witless Bay, there’s a lot to be done. Schoolwork to finish, a presentation to finish (I believe Sharna and Emma are the brave souls who are doing the video editing for the presentation). In short, none of us have any entertaining anecdotes to share about our adventures (or misadventures) in Witless Bay.
I would therefore like to take the opportunity of my final blog post here to extend a special thank you to certain members of the Witless Bay community. We’ve been very blessed to have met many amazing people here, but I would like to extend personal thank-yous to a few of them:
Sheila Ryan, who welcomed a group of strangers in to photograph every inch of her house and outbuildings, and gave us some of her garden produce afterwards.
Barry Norris, who let my team photograph, measure and record both his house and his stable, and let me come back to ask him questions. He even pulled up some of the floorboards in his stable to let us get a close look at the stone foundation.
The Sobols, for their hospitality (including delicious zucchini bread), for showing Terra and I around their home, and for letting us record a very interesting discussion.
The Tobins, for also giving me delicious food, and for letting me record their life experience with gardening. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and instructive morning, followed by a tour of Tommy Tobin’s garden.
And Bonnie Johnstone for showing me her art, her sheep, and her home, and for introducing me to the Tobins.
I think we all have very mixed feelings about leaving–glad to be going home, but a bit sad to be leaving the people (and the convent) behind.
For the residents of Witless Bay, we hope to see you tomorrow evening at the new rec center. I hope our blog has kept you entertained.