Finishing Touches – Floor Plans and Interviews

Joey's shed.

Joey’s shed.

As has previously been written on the blog this last week is hectic.  More hectic than the last and the one before that.  At times it seems like we won’t finish all our projects and work on time but right now there is a quiet determination throughout the convent.  This quiet an interesting change as the convent is usually bustling with conversation and cooking.  With eight “sisters” living in the space there always seems to be something going on.

Inside Joey Yard's Shed.

Inside Joey Yard’s Shed.

It is also a bittersweet week as it is our last in Witless Bay.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the convent life although at times we’ve questions whether we enjoy it too much (is listening to Gregorian chants during meal time taking it too far?).  The communal way of living – cooking, cleaning and living together has been a great experience and I know I’ll miss my sisters when we return to St. John’s (although we’ll see each other four days a week in our two remaining classes when we return).  I’m looking forward to presenting our work to the community on Saturday at 5:00 at the Recreation Centre.  It’ll be great to be able to show what we’ve learned and who we’ve talked to.

Jacquey  climbing around the shed.

Jacquey climbing around the shed.

This week I’ve learned a number of things from different people.  I’ve had four interviews – including Bonnie’s which I posted about on Monday.  Tuesday I had an interview with Vicki Walsh of Burnt Cove who members of the Fifty Plus club recommended I interview.  It was a great interview and we discussed everything from her family in Witless Bay and her great-grandfather’s house close to Lower Pond to rug hooking and Newfoundland Ponies.  Vicki was even kind enough to join Dena Wiseman and do an impromptu rug hooking workshop last night.  I picked Dena’s brain on heritage while everyone practiced the techniques.  I think we may have a few new rug hookers on our hands.  The people here have really been wonderful – inviting us in to their homes, sheds, stables, root cellars, asking us to join them for bingo, craft nights and cards and dropping by the convent with gifts of fresh vegetables or bottled preserves.  I really wish we had more time in the community to enjoy the warmth of the people.  My last interview was this afternoon with the Mayor of Witless Bay Sebastien Despres.  We discussed heritage in Witless Bay while his daughter Amelie explored the chapel in the convent.

Claire hanging out and measuring the shed.

Claire hanging out and measuring the shed.

Other than interviews my week has also been filled with finishing up a floor plan of Joey Yard’s shed.  This shed has two parts – the rear part which was built by his father Henry in the 1930s or 1940s and the front part which was built by Joey in the mid 2000s.  Joey said the shed once housed hay which had been cut in the nearby meadows to feed the Newfoundland Pony their family owned.  The rear part of the shed now contains disused fishing gear such as caplin traps, a squid roller, handmade swivels, gill nets, and piles of rope.  The front of the shed is used more frequently and has barrels of diesel for Joey’s boat, tubs for fish, and containers for lobsters.  It was interesting drawing the inside building with all its studs but even more interesting watching Claire and Jacquey climb around the shed.

Caplin trap.

Caplin trap.

To clue up my last blog post and write what I’m sure we’ll all say on Saturday – thanks to the community of Witless Bay!  It has been an incredible and packed three weeks.  I’m thankful to everyone who made this experience as amazing as it was and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

Joey Yard

Joey Yard

The Carey Root Cellar

All of us students have been making individual floor plans of several “out buildings” (sheds, fish stages and root cellars) in Witless Bay. It hasn’t been easy- we’ve had to stand on top of bogs, disintegrate countless spider webs, and crawl into many dusty corners. But there’s something very interesting about spending a significant amount of time with a particular building. I gradually became quite fascinated by my out building, the Carey root cellar.

The Carey root cellar was built by John Carey in the late 50’s, and is currently cared for by Carey’s son, Eddie Ryan. Above ground, one can find a wonderful array of objects, both practical and aesthetic.


Romantic string art.


Intricate glass window and rolls of unused wallpaper.


My Little Pony lunchbox.

The root cellar’s appearance hasn’t changed much since John Carey’s death in 2003. However, Eddie Ryan has made some recent alterations. He’s attached two moose antlers he found in the woods to the exterior of the cellar, on either side of the front door.


Moose antlers atop Carey root cellar.


Squares of carpet laid to enhance insulation of vegetables.

I hadn’t initially intended on exploring the root cellar itself. I’d assumed that the cellar hadn’t been used for years, and I was afraid of what I might find down there. But when I discovered the functioning lightbulb (owing from the fact that the root cellar is, in fact, in use) I knew I had to venture down.

I found the root cellar to be a very mysterious place. Enormous boulders encroach upon the space, and layers of bare earth are exposed on the cellar floor. Root cellars seem to straddle a boundary between the human and the natural- it’s a human structure, but it’s also the feeling of being below the earth, inhabiting the same space as the insects.


Boulder and ladder, Carey root cellar.


The functionality of the Carey root cellar. Lightbulb and tarp.

Silence in the Convent

We’re halfway through our last week in Witless Bay, and a near-monastic silence has fallen in the convent once more.  Last week, Sister Lois Green told us that from 9 pm to 6 am, nobody was allowed to speak.  We aren’t being restricted by convent rules, but as we all scramble to finish everything we set out to do here, we may as well be nuns, retreating in silence.  Bedroom doors are closed, and the dining room table is host to people staring intently at computer screens and floor plans.

With all this silence, it’s a bit of a relief to go out and conduct interviews.  We’ve all been talking to community members over the past few days about a remarkably wide range of topics.  My own interviews have brought me to Bernadette Maddigan for a great chat about fairies and ghosts, and to the Alderwood Estates retirement home, where I got to meet a whole series of people who either believe in fairies, or who were happy to explain why they didn’t.

Witless Bay 8 036

Bernadette Maddigan

Witless Bay 8 039

Pat Carew

For all the stress we’re feeling at the convent, it really is starting to feel like home, and I know we’ll all be sad to leave.  This week has, once again, shown us how welcoming Witless Bay is.  So many people are willing to open their doors to us, and when an interview falls through, or we need more information about something, we’ve gotten to know people well enough that we know who to ask for help.  I can’t wait for Saturday night’s send-off, when we’ll get to say thanks to everybody one more time.

The tools of the trade (photo by Saeede Niktab)


It’s hard to believe that our three weeks are nearing the end. I remember coming to Witless Bay as a teenager with my friends, and staying in one of my friend’s cabin down by Ragged Beach. We would come here on weekends when her parents weren’t using the place. I have fond memories.

Today I took a drive down Gallows Cove Road and shot a couple of pictures. I realized as I do oftentimes, how beautiful the seashore landscape is. If you look out over the horizon, the curvature of the earth is visible, something I take for granted.

My first photo I thought was a good description of the curves in the shoreline complimenting the horizon line.

Dawn at Ragged Beach Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

Dawn at Ragged Beach
Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

One of our tasks during the Field School experience, was to draw a floor plan of an older building/shed. If these old buildings could talk, the many stories they would tell. How they were constructed, who built them, where did the lumber come from and what went on inside. Were they for work, or leisure? The following are a couple of older buildings that catch my eye every time I drive this road. I also included my floor plan drawing of Joey Yard’s shed.

Small Shed Photo By: Jacquey Ryan

Small Shed Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

Old Sheds of Gallows Cove Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

Old Sheds of Gallows Cove Photo by: Jacquey Ryan


Floor plan for Joey Yard’s Shed Photo b:y Jacquey Ryan

One element I really like about the landscape is texture. It is everywhere. I really enjoy the texture placed there by people. The items constructed out of necessity or for leisure, add another layer to an already rich background. I took a couple of pictures of fences. Fences intrigue me. Witless Bay has a large variety of fencing along its landscape. I counted at least thirty varieties and there are still others I haven’t seen. Fences serve a variety of purposes not always as obvious as it may appear. Some are decorative, some strictly marking boundaries; others might keep animals in or out. Whatever the reason for constructing a fence, texture is evident in the construction. The first picture is an interesting fence made of longers vertically intertwined over horizontal boards. Great texture! The second is a rock wall perhaps constructed for support of the ground behind or as marking for the driveway. Both only assumptions to the many reasons it could have been place there.

Wrigglin Fence Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

Wiggle Rod Fence Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

Rock Wall Photo by: jacquey Ryan

Rock Wall Photo by: jacquey Ryan

My last picture I took from the Irish Loop Coffee House veranda – fishermen coming in with their morning catch. I am told there is a lot of fish out in the bay here. We have had several great meals with cod. One of our meals was baked cod and another was cod tacos. They were delicious. Tonight we are planning to cook cod stew and fried cod cheeks.

Coming in with Morning Catch Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

Coming in with Morning Catch Photo by: Jacquey Ryan

The people of Witless Bay, have offered me a rich experience. I have learned so much in such a short time. When you come to a community seeking information and stories you realize the rich culture that is buried beneath the layers of everyday life. This experience and the fond memories will stay with me.

From Mummering to Halloween, From Christmas Tree to Mummers

Traditions are inseparable part of people’s life. They are like holy objects or precious treasures which people keep cautiously in a valuable chest and take them out in some special days in a year to remove the dust of time from them and then put them back till next year. Some of these holy treasures never become valueless even though they change as time elapsed. Mummering is one of this traditions in Newfoundland. Although, nowadays it may not be admired as it was before, its footprint is still traceable in Newfoundlanders’ treasure chest.

A picture of Mummering in the convent, taken by Saeede

A picture of Mummering in the convent, taken by Saeede

Today Claire and I went to Sheila’s house to chat with her about the mummers that I found in her stable while Emma and I were working there to draw the floor plans of the building. Although Sheila could not recall much about Mummering tradition itself, she is still making mummers and put them in her garden as decoration in Christmas time. She told me last year, many people in Witless Bay gather in her garden to celebrate Christmas while sitting with her mummer. She herself has never dressed up as a mummer but she decided to make them as a part of Christmas and Halloween decorations because she found mummers very unique and fascinating to many people in Newfoundland. She also mentioned that she is using miniature mummers on Yule logs.

Sheila Ryan and me in her house, Photo taken by Claire McDougall

Sheila Ryan and me in her house, Photo taken by Claire McDougall

Sheila Ryan and her mummers, taken by Saeede

Sheila Ryan and her mummers, taken by Saeede

Sheila Ryan, photo by Saeede

Sheila Ryan with her mummers, photo by Saeede

Sheila’s Mummers are Mummering’s footprint in her life. She removed dust from her mummers when she opens her chest of traditions and takes them out at Halloween and Christmas.

We’re all a little mad here.

The hills are alive with the sound of music, and the convent is alive with the sound of anguished moans.

Actually, right now the convent is pretty quiet, because most of the students have ventured forth from these hallowed halls, in search of local information to complete assignments.The past couple nights here in the convent have certainly been filled with the sounds of moaning, however, and many a fustrated cry has also split the air. We are all responsible for measuring one outbuilding and one house during our time in Witless Bay, and then completing a scaled down, mostly-accurate drawn floor plan for the same.
Anguished exhalations of “it doesn’t add up!” have rent the air, along with dubious ponderings such as “Is it possible for all the walls to be different sizes?” and “are the windows supposed to line up?” have been a constant refrain. I think we’re all starting to get the drawings under control and approaching completion, however. That is not taking into account the written reports on each building.
The house plans have been completed in groups–if you’ve ever tried to measure a 17 foot wall, you’ll understand why. It often takes at least two people to hold the measuring tape, and another to draw. Group work always has drawbacks, of course. Trying to coordinate three people’s schedules is one of them, internal inconsistency in measuring is another one of them. Trying to interpret other people’s systems of measuring and recording is occasionally difficult.
We all seem to be managing these hurdles fairly splendidly, however, which is wonderful. As time is quickly running out (Tuesday night-Wenesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday- Oh no!) we’re all managing the pressure–so far.

A view of the coastline of Witless Bay. Photo: D. Hurich

A view of the coastline of Witless Bay. Photo: D. Hurich

A (partial) group shot, taken in the old graveyard during our first week in Witless Bay. Our professor Jerry, and our T.A, Claire are in the foreground. Photo: D.Hurich

A (partial) group shot, taken in the old graveyard during our first week in Witless Bay. Our professor Jerry, and our T.A, Claire are in the foreground. Photo: D.Hurich

A statue of Mary in front of St. Patrick's parish, Witless Bay, right next door to the convent.

A statue of Mary in front of St. Patrick’s parish, Witless Bay, right next door to the convent.

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