Changing Times in Witless Bay

It’s day three, and we’re still very much entrenched in lessons about the various technical components of doing folklore fieldwork.  It’s been a steep learning curve for most of us, and I, for one, am looking forward to getting out of the classroom, and applying some of these new, barely-learned skills as we actually get to know the people of Witless Bay.

It was this desire to get out of the classroom that led me to wander over to the beach after class yesterday, and get a bit of fresh air while I phoned home.  Home, for me, is Toronto, where we have access to a lake, but certainly not the Atlantic Ocean.  To me, the ocean signifies holidays, and the sight of fishing and lobster boats puts me in mind of special foods I only get to eat fresh once a year.  With this in mind, the first thought I had when I saw a fishing boat heading out into the bay was, Oh, how lovely! Of course, what I was actually watching were people doing their daily work, and when I brought this up in class today, the consensus was that the ocean has to be considered first and foremost a workspace, and only secondarily a great vista.  Now, of course, that is changing.  Fewer and fewer people are fishing, and more and more houses are being built with views of the sea (something which our professor, Dr. Jerry Pocius, pointed out would, until very recently, have been a little like building a house with a view of a factory).

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An excellent place to make a call

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Having not yet learned the basic fieldworkers’ rule of always having a camera on hand, I didn’t get a photo of the fishing boat as it set out from the pier on the right

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No question that work still happens here


Even our lodgings here in Witless Bay have had something of this principle applied to them.  We’re living in a convent, built in the mid-nineteenth century, and the nuns who lived here were not allowed to leave the grounds.  By all accounts, it was a difficult life.  For us, (academic difficulties aside) life in the convent is very pleasant, and we’re all delighting in the chance to have classes in the old chapel.

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The chapel, repurposed as a classroom. Never has a chapel been so comfortable!

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Our worktable, lit by a stained-glass window made in Beauvais, France.

This area seems to be full of change right now.  Whether it’s the ocean turning from a sometimes-dangerous, sometimes-bountiful workspace for generations of Newfoundlanders into a stunning vista to be enjoyed from the big windows of new houses, or if it’s a former house of cloistered prayer being used as a residence for students who admire it for its aesthetic, rather than religious, value, there is an unmistakeable transition taking place in the Witless Bay way of life.  I’m looking forward to getting to know the very people who are experiencing it.

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Gone are the days when spots overlooking the sea were reserved for the dead

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