Where does the time go?

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:


The lovely Andrea looking a bit nervous to enter the crawl space of the Carey house.


The chanterelles and blueberries Terra and I found on our first day of bonding.


“Folklore Friends” having fun measuring buildings in the sun.


Brian Ricks and Joey Yard greet the sun-lit ocean below. Can you find any architectural clues?

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Jerry sneaking up into the attic.

Today was a breath of fresh air from slaving away in the convent all day.

Today was a breath of fresh air from slaving away in the convent all day.  In spite of the forecasted tail end of a hurricane we made the pilgrimage to Gallow’s Cove (once a community unto itself) to meet with the lovely Bonnie Johnstone.  The morning consisted of coffee, chatting, tea, treats, art and sheep.  We expected Bonnie’s home to be lovely-a perfect match with her character-but we didn’t realize we would fall in love with the house, the land it sits on and the wildlife that resides alongside her.


Tea and cookies on the water with Bonnie.

First Bonnie packed a mid-morning picnic basket filled with coffee, tea and sugar cookies then led us along a winding path past the beehives and blueberry bushes to her gazebo perched on the shoreline.  We chatted on the deck about the beauty of the land before heading inside for Bonnie’s interview.  We structured the interview in two parts-the first half on felting, her relationship with the craft and the different techniques she uses.  Fortunately the gazebo where we held the interview housed not only many finished felted pieces but also various materials that she uses in her work.  She explained the four main methods of felting along with an overview of the process of each.  Since Bonnie does not like using harsh chemicals to dye her felt all of her coloured wool are sourced in other parts of the world.  She even had wool from a rare breed of sheep saved by Beatrix Potter.  Our favourite piece was a massive felted whale which Bonnie hangs amongst the trees behind her gazebo; she loves having guests and waiting for them to spot the whale in the woods.  We were astounded by not only the many ways to felt but the variety found in Bonnie’s work.


Terra and Bonnie holding up the whale in the woods.


Bonnie and her felt artwork.


Wool accessories: A scarf, winter boot, and necklace made by Bonnie.

….to be continued see terrambarrett’s post

Folklore Faith

This morning Andrea, Daisy and I went with Jerry, Ed and John back to Barry Norris’ house to finish our building plan. The three of us were fairly stressed about the state of our drawing (we had missed a day’s worth of work after not being able to access the house yesterday, so our plan was to get through our work as efficiently as possible). Though, as I’ve learned the past two weeks in Witless Bay, every day is filled with surprises when you’re a folklorist, and plans don’t always end up being what you expect. While this can be nerve-racking when trying to schedule interviews or finish site plans, this constant flux in agenda also quite often leads to unexpected, serendipitous adventures and discoveries.

Instead of heading inside when we arrived to the Norris house our first pit stop was Barry’s stable, the out-building that Daisy will be documenting in the coming days. There we found an eclectic mix of odds and ends, as is usually the case with old barns and sheds in Witless Bay (at least the ones we have been fortunate enough to see thus far). There were old wooden boat parts, a giant wooden sleigh, rusty tin tobacco cases and even a miniature plastic snoopy head stuck behind a stud in the wall.


Tobacco boxes from the stable.

We then went inside the house, but not to draw. We realized that it would be an opportune moment to discuss the history of the house with Barry since we had him there with us. He magically seemed to know this because before we even got the chance to begin asking him our questions he started giving us a background of his family’s house.

Part of our conversation about this history involved sorting through a collection of old family photos and certificates, postcards and maps. The six of us sat on the living room floor with hundreds of images spread out across the rug, while Ed searched about the premises, looking for hidden architectural clues. There were photos of Barry’s grandparents and great grand-parents, aunts and uncles, posters of Witless Bay from years past, and post cards sent from France during World War II. At one point Jerry and I found photographs of Barry’s family in Brooklyn, New York, where many of his relatives lived decades ago. Looking through all of these artifacts and asking questions about them helped us learn so much about Barry’s family and consequently the stories behind his home.


An early 20th century photograph of Witless Bay.


Original hand made nails from the Norris house.


Browsing through Barry’s collection this morning.

Even though we were initially anxiety-ridden about completing our building plan as soon as possible, we put our worries aside and let the day take us wherever it may, which ended up being the best thing we could have done. One of the greatest lessons I have learned thus far during our field school is that while some things may not work out as planned, they do work out the way they were meant to, eventually.


Daisy hard at work completing the last detail of our Norris house floor plan.

Adventures in Architecture


Andrea climbing into the attic of a mid-19th century house.

Today marked both the beginning of our second week here in Witless Bay and the much anticipated arrival of Ed Chappell, Director of Architectural and Archaeological Research in Colonial Williamsburg. He started out the day with a presentation on various houses throughout the historical Virginia site, introducing us to architectural terms that will help us along as we begin our vernacular architecture week. We looked at images of these houses, keeping an eye out for any scars, moldings, or parts that had been added or removed as a way to distinguish the original parts of the house from later additions. We also looked at architectural structures and what their design may tell us about the people who lived in them. We didn’t know it at the time, but these practices would help us later in the day when we accompanied Ed Chappell to a Witless Bay house to construct a floor plan.

What surprised me the most while discussing colonial architecture in our morning lecture was that Ed Chappell brought up a historical site from the town I grew up in, Marblehead Massachusetts. Marblehead was founded in the early 1600’s as a small fishing port, and many of the original houses built there still stand, including the house I was raised in. While I was aware of the history of my little home town, I never imaged that I would find myself in a vernacular architecture class in the chapel of the Nagle House Convent in Witless Bay and hear our academic guest for the week mention the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, a preserved historical home that is right up the street from my childhood home. Something Jerry pointed out later in the day about Newfoundland architecture versus New England architecture struck me and made me think about my relationship to my home town as well as to Newfoundland, the place I now call home. Jerry told us that these historical houses in Colonial Williamsburg and New England, unlike so many houses in Newfoundland, were built to last as long as possible and were by no means considered temporary homes. Even though Newfoundland has a history older than that of colonial America, many homes were built as more temporary spaces. This is something I hadn’t realized before moving to Newfoundland this past month. I knew about the province’s rich history, but I didn’t know that many houses built before the 1850’s no longer stand. It is strange to think of the history of a place without physical representations of it such as original structures of houses. When one visits a town like Marblehead there is such a wealth of information that can be acquired through merely walking downtown and immersing oneself in the colonial architecture. I realized today that in the past I have taken this quality for granted. Just because a place has a longstanding history does not mean that it has a full physical representation of its past. We have to look for clues (as we did today with Ed Chappell) to enhance our understanding of Newfoundland’s history.

An interior shot of the attic.


Looking for architectural clues with Ed Chappell.

New Skills at Work

The past week has been filled with invaluable lessons from Jerry and Guha on the foundation of skills necessary to delve into the world of the folklorist. On everything from various ways to compose ethnographic field notes to properly labeling our contributions to the Digital Archives Initiative, it feels as though we have covered the equivalent of months of work. We are, after all, doing what Jerry often refers to as folklore boot camp. For anyone entering a new field of study, so much information in such a small amount of time can be overwhelming. There is no doubt in my mind that at some point this past week we have all asked ourselves exactly what we are getting ourselves into by choosing the career path of a folklorist. Of course, the stresses that consumed us for the first part of the week quickly faded away once we had the chance to venture out of the convent and experiment with some field work of our own.

Our first real hands-on project of the week came yesterday when we got to work with Brian Ricks, a professional photographer who’s enthusiasm towards the medium is contagious. We had three hours to photograph Sheila Ryan’s house and shed, as well as Joey Yard’s fishing sheds and stores, each interior distinctive in personality and charm. While crossing over the threshold from automatic digital photography to manual settings was new and intimidating territory for us all, Brian spent the afternoon explaining (often more than once) things like using exposure compensation and IOS, or how to balance our aperture settings with our shutter speed. The day concluded with a critique of our photos by Brian, and it was pretty amazing to us all just how far we had come within a few hours of taking our camera off automatic.


Jerry and Joey Yard in Joey’s fishing shed.

Friday morning was spent in preparation for Sister Lois Green’s arrival, a Sister from the Presentation order of the Catholic Church who came to Witless Bay in 1963 to live and teach at Nagle House, the very convent we are living in now. Jerry and Guha staged an hour long interview with her for us to observe, and a few members from the Witless Bay community came to watch alongside us, which was a great surprise. Seeing an interview with such a vibrant woman as Sister Lois Green made me eager to start our own projects here in Witless Bay. What I found most interesting about the interview with her was her stress on education being the original purpose of Nagle House, rather than religion. Education was the deciding factor in her choice to join the Presentation order, and being part of the convent for her meant that she would be able to educate and help others in need, which continues to be her life passion. She also told us she was pleased that our field school is happening at Nagle House, as we are living out the original purpose of the space.


Sister Lois Green during her interview with Guha and Jerry.

What I realize now is that it was being out in the field, seeing the interiors of Witless Bay houses, meeting their inhabitants, speaking with Sister Lois Green and being a part of a fascinating interview that made the information packed week feel completely worth it. These skills are necessary for going out into the field and working as a folklorist. As hectic as the week may have been, it allowed us to use these last two days to practice and reflect on how far we have come already. Because now that we have a strong basis of information on which to work, we are ready to embark on the next stage of becoming a folklorist.


The Last Supper and a dart board in Joey Yard’s fishing shed.

Warm Welcomes in Witless Bay

I didn’t know quite what to expect upon arriving to Witless Bay yesterday evening. Our class had been told about a reception that was being held in anticipation of our arrival – a way to introduce ourselves and our goals for the next three weeks to the community. I had many questions that I was eager to have answered. I asked myself Will the town welcome us to their community? Are they looking forward to having us here? Will they understand and support our choice to live here for three weeks, eager to learn about their local traditions and culture? And most importantly for me, someone who grew up mainly in the United States and has had no prior experience of Newfoundland culture, Will I be openly welcomed to Witless Bay?

My questions were soon answered after we got to the town recreation center, where I was astounded by the hospitality and openness the locals showed towards sharing their way of life with us. One woman next to me explained what was in the lemon square that I chose to eat for dessert. Another suggested I stand up to watch the footwork of the dancers on the dance floor to better understand the steps. When I got up to watch the dancing Peter Sobol, a friendly local artist, rushed up to me to tell me about the ghostly nun that haunts our convent, knowing that one of my interests here lies in ghost stories. These people’s enthusiasm towards sharing their traditions with me immediately made me feel at ease and so welcomed in the community. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that the people who reside here are looking forward to these next three weeks as much as we are.


John Mannion exploring a small fishing store while out on our afternoon walk.


A mini outdoor fishing gear museum we discovered along the way.