A one time resident of Gower Street’s east end in St. John’s, Phyllis Oxley Grant, moved away from Newfoundland after the end of the second world war, but all her life felt very much a Newfoundlander at heart. Her family lived across the street from mine, and she was a good friend of my sister, Helen (Carter), going to the same school, Mercy Convent. I remember her as a vivacious red head, always smiling and friendly to everyone in the neighbourhood.
She told of her love of St. John’s life in a letter published in the June 2000 issue of the Downhomer magazine under the heading “Hail, hail, the gang’s all here (the Gower Street Gang of course.)” I am quoting extracts from that letter, with the kind permission of the magazine. Phyllis was then living with her husband Ray and three children in Oshawa, ON, while her brother Harold lived in Don Mills. They had moved to St. John’s from Halifax when their father, Harold Sr., became manager of Dunn and Bradstreet.
“Around 1935,” she explained, “he started a private pavilion in Topsail…known as the Newfoundland Swimming, Boating and Tennis Club. It certainly would have gone over big but for a bad fire in 1936 or 1937 that totally destroyed it.” Oxley’s Pavilion, built on the site of the present Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club, is described in a club history as “a grand facility built by Harold Oxley, which had a swimming pool, dance floor, a large outside deck, a roof garden, wharf, dining room and a room for members of the Avalon Yacht Club.”
I remember the Pavilion being very popular with my sisters and their friends summering in Kelligrews, when they hiked or bused there once in a while.
The Oxley family’s first home in St. John’s was on Leslie Street but they came to live on Gower Street with their grandmother, Mrs. Barron a few years after the Pavilion fire, she recalled:
“Harold and myself made a good many friends while living there. We called ourselves the Gower Street Gang. Just good clean fun doing silly things with very little money – but lots of fun and no hanky-panky! We all enjoyed each other`s company. … There were 10 or 12 of us who were part of the fun. … We used to go to dances at St. Bon’s, Mercy and the Colony Club, the Regatta every August, St. Bon’s Sports Day and the odd good movie – oh, what great memories.” The Oxleys left St. John’s in the mid 1940s to join their father in London, Ontario, where he got a job as manager of a weekly newspaper.
Phyllis Grant went back home in Come Home Year 1966 and had a wonderful time meeting old friends. “I am the type of person,” she wrote, “who would never forget her roots. I am still a Newfoundlander at heart. God bless the Rock.” This statement was further borne out when her Toronto Star obituary, on her passing at Oshawa in 2005 in her 81st year, ended with this familiar phrase: “Stays where you’re to, till I comes where you’re at.”
Her brother Harold, who passed away in Toronto in 2014 at the age of 91, clearly retained his prankster practices throughout his life. As his obituary noted: “Harold (the big H) was also known as Bozo to his family, friends and co-workers, appearing as a clown at many family, friends and fund raising events throughout the years.”