Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Good Signing

Very pleased with the turnout at Coles in Billings Bridge Saturday for my book signing session. Charmingly supported by Madeline and daughter Dianne, I was kept busy signing for a gratifying mix of friends and co-workers from a variety of backgrounds.

MalIMG_3681PnamesAVWThere were onetime colleagues at Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and Transport Canada. Even a lady I probably hadn’t seen since we worked together at 240 Sparkes St. in the 1980s. Fellow photographers from the RA Photo Club. A keen writer and blogger friend from the Ottawa Independent Writers. Old friends from Newfoundland news reporting days. One lady from skating circles at the Walkley Arena. A friend of our son, and of the family, since boyhood days. Plus various passers-by attracted on learning that Gower Street was in Newfoundland. Even one young person who asked if the book was “easy to read.”

Warm thanks to Coles manager Rhona for setting up the event. A number of signed copies remain at the store for anyone who couldn’t make it there on Saturday.

Gower in Town

Dropped into neighbourhood Chapters store in South Keys today and confirmed that copies of my new book Gower Street are now in stock. Just a handful so far, but they are there to be found, if you know where you’re looking. They’re under the big TRAVEL section sign, snug on the bottom shelf in a Canadian regional niche reserved for “provinces.” Copies were also ordered, and are presumably also now in stock, at Chapters stores at Rideau Centre and Pinecrest Shopping Centre. All are unsigned.

Poster - Gower Street 8W

Monday morning’s Nov 23 edition of Rogers Daytime Ottawa 11 am to noon TV show finds me being interviewed by host Derick Fage. Not sure I should noise this about in advance – live TV interviews are scary enough as I recall from doing some eons ago on CJON-TV in Newfoundland. Wish me luck!

Thursday next, Nov 28, I will be at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Ottawa Affinity Dinner at the Ritz Carleton Chateau Laurier Hotel. Allan Hawco of Republic of Doyle fame is guest speaker. Door prizes include two signed copies of Gower Street.

And on Saturday next, Nov. 28, from 1 to 3 p.m., I will be at Coles in Billings Bridge for Ottawa’s first Gower Street book signing. Look forward to seeing friends, acquaintances and other shoppers interested in tales from times when Newfoundland weathered a world war fought on its seaboard and argued about joining Canada.

March Hare Remembered

Following post was carried on my Facebook Author page on March 7, 2015, achieving a total reach of nearly 700 people, far more than any other of my FB postings in the past year. Unlike many of such offerings, it was not posted on my website, so I want to remedy that deficiency at this late date. If it achieves nothing else, perhaps it may remind organizers of the delightful March Hare programs to broaden their geographic reach by staging one of their annual shows in Ottawa. Not all mainland-based fans of Newfoundland cultural treasures reside in that melting pot metropolis, Toronto.

Chasing the March Hare

I fulfilled a long time ambition when my wife and I drove all the way from Ottawa to attend a tremendously enjoyable March Hare event in Toronto. A showcase of Newfoundland musical, literary, story-telling and cultural talent, this wryly christened event rotates among some 17 venues over two weeks in the hungriest month of the year. Initiated primarily to promote poetry, March Hare has evolved into a festival of words and music staged not only in eastern Canada but on occasion also in Ireland.

anitawAnita Best, unquestionably Newfoundland’s best a cappella singer and story teller, was the ultimate drawing card for this Toronto event. Saw her perform several times before, notably when she teamed up with Figgy Duff’s phenomenal songstress Pamela Morgan. Anita’s voice has if anything improved with age – not a pin dared drop when she thrilled the Gladstone Hotel’s packed ballroom audience with traditional ballads unique to the Newfoundland culture. Her enchanting stories drawn from her Merasheen, Placentia Bay upbringing epitomized the wit and humour characteristic of the big island’s joie de vivre.

Sara Tilley pW copyIf ever a book reading could be called fascinating, the term aptly applies to Sara Tilley’s theatrically performed recitation from her new novel Duke, loosely based on recollections of her grandfather. Her total aplomb in rendering seemingly endless lines of complex dialogue involving numerous diverse characters was just amazing. Small wonder as she was demonstrating superior skills learned both in writing and in theatre as actor and playwright.

Michael-CrummeyWMichael Crummey delivered a selection of his delightfully pithy poems along with poignant excerpts from his newest novel, Sweetland, based on a familiar theme, a remote community’s desire for resettlement frustrated by one man’s resistance to leaving his home.

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Kelly Russell, Newfoundland’s leading traditional fiddler, entertained with tunes learned from celebrated masters of the genre, Rufus Guinchard and Émile Benoit, and tall tales spun by his famed story teller father, Ted Russell. An unexpected but well appreciated contributor was Toronto story teller Dan Yashinsky whose humorous tales blended nicely with those of his Newfoundland stage mates.

Rex-BrownwEmcee Ren Brown, prime organizer of March Hare programming since its inception 29 years ago, welcomed the full house attendance in its new venue. He also signed and sold copies of his first book, Out From the Harbour, describing his home town, the Placentia Bay island community of Tack’s Beach, before it was resettled.

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A particular pleasure for me was spotting, in the program for a March Hare event in Corner Brook, this participant: David “Smoky” Elliott poet Jemma King. Smoky Elliott, the man her award honours, was a great friend of mine at Memorial University in the 1950s. He inspired everyone who met him for his prodigious knowledge of literature and indeed all things cultural. He was one of the pioneer participants in March Hare. Ken Brown recalled that occasion because Smoky’s book of poems, The Edge of Beulah, was due to be delivered that very day, and only made it at the last moment.

Current March Hare events entertain fans in assorted venues between St. John’s and Parry Sound, but never has the schedule found time for Ottawa. So hear us please, March Harers: make room for us next time!

Gower Street Landmarks Updated

P1060261PcWI lived across from it for nearly 30 years and never heard what it was called in architectural circles. Now I know it was Musgrave Terrace. “It” is a set of four houses on the south side of Gower Street numbered 25 to 31 which were built immediately after the disastrous 1892 fire that razed much of St. John’s. As were thousands of other row housing units in the older parts of the city.

A Gift of Heritage: Historic Architecture of St. John’s, published by Newfoundland Historic Trust, presented a fine sketch and description of Musgrave Terrace, noting: “The simple porticos and rounded windows suggest an interest in classical building styles and are unusual in post-1892 St. John’s.”

A city directory for 1932, available from Memorial University’s digital archives, identified only two of the families residing in the Musgrave Terrace houses – Charles McK. Harvey at #29 and Ernest Watson at #31, while #27 was shown as vacant, and there was no listing for #25. My earliest memories, aided by those of best friend and neighbour Tom Howley, are of the Black family living in that home. Their son Bill joined the British Army at the outbreak of the war and made it a lifetime career, rising to the rank of General. His mother and sister Gloria moved to England about the time when he went overseas. After the Blacks moved out, the Cowan family moved in and started a boarding house for construction workers. City Councillor John P. Kelly and family were long time residents of #27, while the Harveys were succeeded in #29 by the Henneburys. Ernest Watson, occupant of #31, was a founding partner of the accounting firm of Read, Son, Watson and Leith. The Watsons were followed by the Giannou family, who for many years operated thee popular Sweets Shop on Water Street. 

A notable housing foursome on Gower Street’s north side is known as Bonne Esperance, named by its founders, the Whiteley family, after a Labrador island. Featured in Historic Homes of Newfoundland, these homes, numbers 16 to 22 Gower Street, are of identical design in Victorian style with bay windows on the first and second storeys and peaked dormer window on the third floor. Occupants of the Bonne Esperance homes in the 1930s-40s period were the O’Dea, Curtis, McGrath and Lewis families.

P1060410PcWOther Gower Street family names listed on the north side included Branscombe, Parsons, Wills, Cullen, Simms, Adams, Howley, Munn, Porter, Tooton, Wadden and Warren. Those on the south side, between Ordnance and Cochrane Streets, included Lundrigan, Rumsey, Soper, Diamond, Marshall, Ehlers, Caldwell, Peters, Bearns, Dunphy and Emberley.

Renovation and so-called gentrification may have brightened up our old neighbourhood, but it looks much like it always did – a peaceful, comfortable, and friendly place to raise families and enjoy life in the 21st century as well as it did in the 1900s.

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