Early morning, April 21st 1983, St. John’s. Atlantic Place offices were just starting to wake up. Thirty-one Mi’kmaq men and women from Conne River went upstairs to the RAND offices. The Rural and Northern Development Department of the Newfoundland Government. They occupied the office.
For over a year, RAND had withheld funds from the Conne River Band Council in a dispute over its administration. Discussion and negotiation had not ended the deadlock. So it was time for direct action.
Conne River (now Miawpukek) was one of the “designated native communities” in the province. Thereby it received federal funding through a federal-provincial agreement. The others, Innu and Inuit communities in Labrador, had continued to receive their funds.
At the RAND offices, police arrived and arrested 23 of the protestors. They later got out on bail. And, the next day, the second phase of the protest began.
The hunger strike
Nine men went on a hunger strike. They and about a hundred others from Conne River camped out in a church community centre, along with St. John’s supporters of their cause.
The hunger strikers were determined to win, and winning meant getting the funding released. There was no Plan B.
After nine days, they won. The federal and provincial governments reached an agreement with the band council. RAND released the funds in full.
It was an intense week, and a good week. According to this photo, I was involved in the weighing-in of the hunger strikers. But the main thing I remember was chopping vegetables. We made huge pots of soup and stew every day.
I also remember Michael (Misel) Joe. He had not been chief long at that time. I had spent a bit of time with the previous chief, the late Billy Joe. So I knew Michael had big boots to fill. And he did, especially during those nine days.
The hunger strikers were: Misel Joe, Billy Joe, Andy Joe, Ches Joe, George Drew, Wilfred Drew, Rick Jeddore, Aubrey Joe, and Michael G. Benoit. Thanks for what you did.
Thanks too, Facebook friends, for sharing these photos posted on the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi page.
The Colombe brothers of Shallop Cove, Fred and Frank, died exactly two years apart. On October 9, 1915, Fred died of wounds received at Gallipoli. On October 9, 1917, Frank was killed in action “in France or Belgium”.
They were among the elder of Frank Sr. and Susan (Benoit) Colombe’s large family. Fred’s attestation papers say he was 21 when he enlisted in January 1915. In March 1916, five months after Fred’s death, Frank enlisted. His attestation papers say he was 20. According to their mother, Fred was 20 when he died and Frank was 19.
On June 9, 1921, Francis Colombe Sr. died. Soon after, Mrs. Colombe sought financial help from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Her application for Separation Allowance is in the RNR archives.
Here it is. Below each page, I’ve typed out some of the questions and answers. The ones that tell an astounding, and profoundly sad, story. It’s her words but not her handwriting. On the final page, look closely at the signature. You’ll see an X and “her mark”. That makes her words even more haunting somehow.
Click each image to enlarge it or go to The Rooms’ RNR Database to see PDFs of the entire files. (They are in list as Columbus.) This application is in Fred’s file.
To The Paymaster,
Separation Allowance Branch, St. John’s, Nfld.
(1) Name of soldier, Rank, Reg’t or Unit, Reg’t No.
Fred Colomb, Pte,, 1st R Nfld, 912
Frank Colomb, Pte., 1st R Nfld, 2296
(2) Age of soldier. Married or single
20, 19 – single
(5) If your husband is not supporting you give the reason.
(9) Names of your other children. Address, Age, Occupation, Married or single
David Colomb (E Forester)[?], Shallop Cove, 23, Invalid, Single
Joseph “, Shallop Cove, 30, Invalid, Married
Louis “, Citadel Hill, Halifax, 19, Soldier, Single
Peter “, Shallop Cove, 25, Fisherman, Married
Mrs. Jos. White [Mary], Shallop Cove, 26, Housekeeper, Married
Mrs. Levi Young [Nancy], Shallop Cove, 22, ” ”
Delia Colomb, [?] St., Sydney, 16, Servant, Single
Mercy “, Shallop Cove, 14, Schoolgirl, Single
Statia “, Shallop Cove, 12, ” ”
Genevieve “, Shallop Cove, 10, ” ”
Cecelia “, Shallop Cove, 9 ” ”
Bell “, Shallop Cove, 7 ” ”
(10) State amount earned by (a) yourself (b) your husband.
Hard for me to say how much I earn as I [illegible]
(12) State value of real property belonging to you and your husband.
(13) State value of personal property belonging to you and your husband.
(15) Actual amount contributed by soldier during the year prior to enlistment.
Whatever they earned they gave to me and my husband. They were young & worked with their father. They did not give any stated sum.
(18) State your son’s trade or occupation prior to enlistment.
They helped their father fishing and farming on a small scale.
(21) State amount of monthly support from son since enlistment.
Fred gave $12.00 per month. Frank gave 50¢ per day = $15 per month. Frank while in R. Navy (1 year) gave $9.00 per month.
(23) State from what date did you receive allotment?
Fred – June 1915. Frank – as RNR Jany. 1915, soldier – June? 1916
(26) If not receiving support from other children, state cause.
Some married, some not able to work, the rest too young. Louis has to support himself.
(27) With whom are you residing at present?
The single children are staying with me.
(28) Have you made a previous claim for Separation Allowance. If not, why?
No. My husband said while he was able to work that he would not make a claim, nor allow me to make one.
(29) Are you already in receipt of any payment from any Patriotic Fund?
(30) Are you already in receipt of Separation Allowance from any source?
(31) Was the soldier at the time of his enlistment an employee of the Nfld. Government?
(33) Is he in receipt of a salary as such while serving in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment?
Response to Mrs. Colombe
Dear Madam:- With reference to your application for Separation Allowance… that same cannot be granted to you… during the period of service of your son, Fred, your husband was not incapacitated, and consequently you were not at that time, totally dependent on your said son. Yours truly…
I googled the names that Natty White mentioned of Shallop Cove men who died in WWI. These files drew me right into their story.
A 1980 interview with Nathaniel Adolph White, 1896-1987, of Shallop Cove, St. George’s. It was part of a genealogy and community history research project. I have only a tape transcript written by interviewer Joyce Blanchard. I have edited it slightly for length and clarity. Thanks to Arlene White for the photos of Mr. Natty White. (Click images for larger view.)
The first man at Flat Bay Brook, the east side, was Charlie Perrier. Charlie Perrier was the son of Benjamin Perrier, the first settler there, Muddy Hole. Charlie Perrier had three – two brothers. One was Manuel Perrier, Flat Bay. The other was John Perrier, known as Jean Perrier. He was the beginning of all the Perriers in St. George’s, Steel Mountain Road.
Charlie Perrier had one son and three daughters. One of them was Fred Blanchard’s wife Gertie. The son was Wilfred Perrier, who’s dead. All the Perriers at the Brook is all his [Wilfred’s] sons. That’s all he [Charlie] had, one son. He [Wilfred] was married with Harriet Benoit, daughter of Tom Benoit, Muddy Hole.
LeJeune, Longuepee and Whites
The next one, that’s on this side of the Brook, was François LeJeune. That’s in the turn – the farm that Muskem had, that was François LeJeune’s farm but somehow I don’t think he was ever married. I haven’t heard of it anyhow, and he didn’t stay too long here. He took off for some other place.
Then there was another feller named Longuepee – that would be Long Shore in English. He had a camp by Longuepee Pond – just alongside the highway before you comes in to the gypsum mine. He’s another one that disappeared and I don’t know where he went. But that was the first settlers.
The next one was… This Joe White, as far as I know, he shifted down to where Francis White lived and there was two brothers. Jim White was another brother of Joe White. They established there by Jack Young’s on the shore side now where all the Colombes is living on that side. The road opposite Jack Young’s, that was all Jim White and Joe White’s property. Jim was east, the other fella was west. As far as I know, they were the only two of their class. There was a lot of other Whites but they weren’t related.
Now the next one that came was my grandfather. He had three sons: William, John, Kenneth, and he had two daughters. To my knowledge, one was married to Adolph Garnier – Elizabeth. The other [Adelaide] was married with my uncle William [Delaney], St. George’s. And he had a sister that married old Jim Blanchard at St. George’s. To my knowledge that’s all the family they had.
Next came the Colombes
Frederick Colombe was the next man that came. [Sons] poor Dave Colombe and old Narcisse was on that piece of land now where Budge is to.
The Colombes – there was Old Narcisse. He was never married. Frank and Narcisse – can’t remember the next one.
Q – What about Joe, was that their brother too? Oh, Joe Colombe, Joe Colombe was the son of Frank Young. Frank. That was the second family and old Narcisse had a sister too … As far as I know, Adeline, and that’s all the Colombes there was. And then the second family, and the third family was poor Frank.
He [Frank] had 21 children … and Mary. Poor Fred and Frankie were killed overseas. And then there was Peter Colombe and two or three that died young and Dave and Louis. That was all Frank Colombe’s crowd and half a dozen daughters. There was 21 altogether. That’s what you calls an old time family and it’s too bad that they didn’t get the baby bonus because they would have been a millionaire before they died. [See Colombe Brothers post for more.]
from Margaree and Chéticamp
After that, that was all people from Margaree and Chéticamp. Old Pat White, he was a brother of Joe. And then old Nora [Honore?] Benoit, he was from Flat Bay. He established there where John Benoit…
The next one that established here, that’s in Shallop Cove, was Reuben Young, up by where you lives. He was from Fishell’s. Q – Was that Wallace Young’s grandfather? No, Wallace Young was the son of Reuben Young’s sister. They were Youngs too, Youngs from the Cape.
And next to that was Ned Brake. He was on the piece of land by the shore next to the Legion[?] Brook.
That was all the old people down to Pieroways. Old Bill Pieroway was another fellow who established here and I think – I’m not sure – he lived on Sandy Point.
Blanchards and Whites
Next to that was the Blanchards. Your father’s grandfather, no, your father’s great grandfather. William Blanchard was your father’s grandfather. That was the Blanchards there on this side of Blanchard’s Brook.
There was another bunch of Blanchards on the other side of the brook. Old Meda [Amadeus] Blanchard, that’s Hubert’s father. And old Peter Blanchard, that’s Meda Blanchard’s father. May Gabriel’s mother is the daughter of [Peter]. I think that’s the only two children they had.
Now the next one was old Sylvain Blanchard, Hubert Blanchard’s grandfather. And the next one was Uncle Joe, Joe White again, and Jim White, and next there where Percy Falle is to. No, that was Camille White, my Uncle Camille. And that was the older people in Shallop Cove.
Next came their family and their family and their family. You’re not interested in the younger ones. Yes? Because I can tell you George White’s family. There was Joe, Ralph and Arthur. Arthur was killed overseas in the First World War. Ralph and Joe died at home. Ralph died in St. John’s. There was three daughters. There was May and Jane and that’s all I remember of the girls.
William White and Elizabeth Delaney
In my family, my father had 14 children – 13 boys and one girl. 15 altogether. I’ll begin with Willy, was the oldest one. He died young. Then the next one was Willy again. He died in Stephenville – he was 75. He was married to Mary Ann Benoit, daughter of Luke Benoit, Stephenville.
Then there was Tom. He died in St. John’s. He was a veteran of World War I. He died at 91 and never married – he couldn’t find a woman.
Then there was Camille. He was married – that’s Willis White’s father.
And after that was Larry. He lived at St. George’s, married to Mary Benoit, daughter of Peter Benoit – Muddy Hole, Flat Bay.
Then there was Samuel. He was the one that was killed in the explosion of the ferry boat at St. George’s in 1908.
And after Samuel, there are 4 or 5 dead, that died young and some died as babies.
And after that there was Alfred and Hubert. They’re both dead. Alfred died at 75. He was a veteran of World War I. No, he never married. He was a sailor. He sailed for 59 years all over the world.
After Alfred and Hubert, I came. I was married to Stella Benoit, daughter of Frederick Benoit, Flat Bay. And we had 11 children. We were 13 years married and I won’t give you my history from there on because I couldn’t stand it.
And after that was [Clarence?]. He was the youngest one of the family. He was married to a girl from the Highlands. That’s about all the younger crowd.
The uncles and Old Pat White’s crowd
Uncle Camille was married to a girl from the Crossing, Artemis Benoit, and he had 7 children. Some of them was Alma, Martin, Mary, Lorraine, Patricia. Most of them – all the girls – are in the States. Most of them are dead except Mary who is in St. John’s.
And Uncle John only had two daughters. You remember Dide – that was one of his daughters. She was married to Frankie Bennett, Flat Bay – that man who lived down there, to that Clifford Bennett’s father, Frankie Bennett. I’ll tell you, all his relations are in Flat Bay, and that’s where he was reared up. He had two children – a Clifford and the one who’s married to Ambrose Boyles.
And Old Pat White’s crowd. There was Louis and Frankie, and you must of knew Frankie. Louis White, he owned the store. They had three, four, five – five daughters for sure. Mrs. John Delaney was one of them.
Ah, who was Pat White married to – Pat White was married to Mary Louise Garnier, daughter of Constant Garnier on the Point. Adolph was her brother and there was Arness [Ernest?] and there was Albert and there was Frank. That was all brothers from old Constant Garnier. He was a merchant on Sandy Point. And he used to have the liquor store too.
Sandy Point merchants
All the merchants on Sandy Point used to keep the liquor store as well as the other stuff. At that time there was no restrictions, no laws about having liquor and the liquor wasn’t $9 a bottle either. I just got a bottle of brandy today – $8.85 a bottle of brandy I used to get for $4. At that time you could get a bottle of rum for a dollar and that was rum 60 overproof. You could make two bottles out of it and it would be stronger than what you get now. You could send $5 to St. John’s and they would send you a jar, a five gallon jar, and that was rum. You had to put as much water in the glass as rum.
Looking through old papers, I found a summary of a 1980 interview research assistant Joyce Blanchard conducted with Nathaniel White of Shallop Cove in Bay St. George. Mr. White, born in 1896, died in 1987. (See also Shallop Cove post.)
Mr. Nathaniel White
Today, I spoke with Mr. Nathaniel White at Shallop Cove. Mr. White is 84 years old and spent most of his life in Shallop Cove.
Mr. White told me that his great-grandfather was Marin LeBlanc from Lyon, France. He left France in 1823 aboard a French vessel. Mr. LeBlanc was 17 years old at the time. His vessel made rank at Magdalen Island and he was taken in by a family from the island. This family which took him in had four daughters and Mr. LeBlanc fell in love with the youngest daughter. He father found they were getting too close so he married them. There were no priests at the time.
Mr. LeBlanc and his wife had a son a year after they were married. This son, William Anthony White born in 1824, was Mr. Natty White’s grandfather.
Mr. LeBlanc later moved his family to Margaree. William Anthony White married Mary Ryan. (President Kennedy’s grandmother had the same name but they do not know if there was any relation.)
William Anthony White came across the Gulf and found there was lots of wildlife and fish so he decided to move over to Newfoundland. During the winter William Anthony White built a sloop and landed at Shallop Cove. He brought various seeds, etc. with him. He then built a house on the bank above the water at Shallop Cove.
Mr. Natty White’s father married here and raised his family. Mr. Natty White’s father, William White, married Elizabeth Delaney from St. George’s. Elizabeth Delaney’s father was of Irish descent.
Making a living in Shallop Cove
Mr. White told me how the people made a living. He said that they fished and farmed. They would fish cod and herring until October. Then they would ship some of their catch to Halifax in exchange for supplies such as salt, flour, molasses, beef, pork, beans, tea, etc. Each family had about 15-20 sheep each. This provided them with mutton and wool. From the wool they made underwear as well as other things. Both men and women wore knitted underwear. Mr. White told me that they made coffee by burning bread. He said that it was really good.
Before Christmas they would kill 4 or 5 sheep and one of the older cows. They also had hens which provided them with eggs. In January two or three men would go in the country and bring back a load of caribou. There was no moose back then. There would always be a leader in these groups. The leader was somebody who knew the country. They would go for a week at a time. The meat they brought home they would bury in the snow. In March they would go back to the country and get more caribou which they sometimes sold for 5 cents a pound. This meat would be buried until the snow melted and then it would be salted.
In the winter they would also cut cooper stuff which is wood for making barrels. In March they would make the hoops and then in April the barrels were made. The entire barrel was made out of hand carved wood. These barrels were used for the herring and fish.
Beans for breakfast
Mr. White also told me that every morning they would have beans for breakfast. Every evening the pot of beans would be put on for the next day. On Sunday they would have fish and brewis for breakfast. For dinner and supper they would have either herring and potatoes or fresh meat. If this was not enough, they would finish up with bread and molasses.
In later years Mr. White’s old house (his father’s house) was turned into a school. He said he was 9 years old when he went to school. Later Mr. White’s father wanted the house as a work shed so Narcisse Colombe had the school in one part of his house and lived in the other end. Later the school in Shallop Cove was built, but he said that if anyone wanted a good education they would have to go to St. George’s school.
“What fair and equitable basis may exist for federal union of Newfoundland and Canada?” Seventy years ago, Newfoundland decided to ask Ottawa that question.
Two years later, they’d sorted it out to their satisfaction. The Terms of Union stipulated what would change and what would remain the same for Newfoundland industry, resources and people.
Spelled out in the Terms of Union was the continuation of Newfoundland’s denominational school system and the right to sell margarine. The status of the Mi’kmaq of the island and the Innu and Inuit of Labrador? Not a mention.
The Constitution Act (1867) in Section 91(24) says that the federal government has jurisdiction over “Indians, and lands reserved for the Indians”. In this instance, “Indians” includes Inuit. So you’d think that the Canadian government would assume responsibility for the indigenous peoples of the new province whether or not there was explicit mention in the Terms of Union. But it didn’t happen, creating a Canadian anomaly. A province without officially recognized indigenous populations.
It isn’t that no one thought about it during negotiations. Here’s what happened, from my Putting It Back Together (1983:116).
“Subsequent to Union”
During the two weeks following September 29, 1947, the section which dealt with the Indian Act was removed, reintroduced, and then pencilled out in three different versions of the National Convention subcommittee report. No decision was made by the time of Confederation, and it was agreed to establish an Interdepartmental Committee on Newfoundland Indians and Eskimos which could “more appropriately” discuss the matter “subsequent to Union.” This committee sought an opinion “as to the precise legal extent of the federal government’s responsibility insofar as Indians and Eskimos residing in Newfoundland and Labrador are concerned” from the federal Department of Justice. In the reply of April 14, 1951, the Justice Department said, “It is the responsibility of the federal government to formulate and carry out all policies that are directed at dealing with Indian or Indian problems [sic].”
[Public Archives of Canada: Claxton Papers, Min. of Justice, Min. of Mines and Resources, 1949-1951]
So why didn’t Ottawa assume its responsibility? Joseph Smallwood said in a 1982 radio interview that he intended the Indian Act to apply. But he did not want people to lose the vote and other rights of citizenship that went with that. However, the federal government reformed the Indian Act soon after, giving status Indians most of the rights of other citizens.
The Canadian government was actively pursuing assimilation of indigenous peoples in policies and practices. So perhaps it served the purposes of both nations. Newfoundland did not lose control over people and lands to Canada. And Canada did not have to add to its responsibility toward indigenous peoples. It didn’t exactly work out as planned, as the next 70 years showed.
Here are some books that are valuable for anyone wanting to know more about First Nations and the history and process of colonization within a land. That land might be Newfoundland, Labrador, Canada as well as others around the world.
The peoples of such internal colonization is what George Manuel defined as “the Fourth World”. I’ve been thinking about that since hearing that Arthur Manuel died last week. He was a chief and political activist in British Columbia. He was also the son of George Manuel, author of The Fourth World.
I read The Fourth World at university. Wow, I thought then, and still do whenever I reread parts of it. I still have my original copy. It’s moved with me many times over four decades.
Going through my bookshelves for it, I saw other books that I consider indispensable for thinking about First Nations and Canada. Make a list then, I thought. So this is its beginning. I will add to it as I think of more. I have put in links for purchase when I could. Otherwise, libraries and used book stores are your best bet.
Prison of Grass: Canada from the native point of view, Howard Adams, General Publishing 1975 & 1989
"With the publication of this eloquent, passionate and scholarly work, no Canadian can ever again boast that this is a country free from the cancer of racism." - from cover blurb by Pierre Berton. (Click image for Amazon link)
Surviving as Indians: The challenge of self-government, Menno Boldt, U of Toronto 1993
Government-First Nations history and how self-government might work, written at a time when band self-government agreements were sought by the federal government. (Click image for Amazon link)
Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn, Evan S. Connell, North Point Press 1984.
A novel, and a history of a big moment in Euro-American and First Nation "contact" - the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn. Facts and interpretation, in lyrical writing that carries you along in the action. (Click image for Amazon link)
Son of the Morning Star (DVD)
The 1991 movie based on Evan Connell's book stars Gary Cole and Rosanna Arquette. I didn't think a movie could do justice to the book, but this does. (Click image for eBay listings)
First Nations in the Twenty-First Century, James S. Frideres, Oxford U. Press 2011.
"...legacy of residential schools;
intergenerational trauma; Aboriginal languages and culture; health and well-being on reserves; self-government and federal responsibility...(Click image for Amazon link)
Grassy Narrows, George Hutchison and Dick Wallace, Van Nostrand Reinhold 1977
Hutchison and Wallace covered the Grassy Narrows, Ontario mercury poisoning story for the London Free Press. My mother bought me this book. The story and images were horrifying then, and they still are 40 years later. (Click image for Amazon link.)
The Inconvenient Indian: A curious account of native people in North America, Thomas King, Anchor Canada 2013
Anything written by Thomas King is worth reading, but this look at 'being Indian' - historically and in modern Canadian society - is especially valuable. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Unsettling Canada: A national wake-up call, Arthur Manuel, Between the Lines 2015
"...chronicles the modern struggle for Indigenous rights covering fifty years of struggle..."(Click image for Amazon link.)
The Fourth World, George Manuel and Michael Posluns, Don Mills: Collier Macmillan Canada 1974
Colonization within lands and the connections between "Fourth World" peoples. Available in libraries and, if you're lucky, somewhere for sale. (I couldn't find it online at a reasonable price.)
Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A history of Indian-White relations in Canada, J. R. Miller, U of Toronto Press 2000 3rd ed.
I asked Dr. Gordon Inglis, of the Anthropology Dept. at Memorial University, what would be good texts for an introductory class on indigenous issues. This was one he recommended. He was right. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Big Chief Elizabeth: How England's adventurers gambled and won the New World, Giles Milton, Hodder and Stoughton 2000
Queen Elizabeth I's 16th century adventurers in North America. The early colonies, and also Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his "discovery" of an already fairly crowded St. John's harbour. (Click image for Amazon link)
We Were Not The Savages: Collision between European and Native American civilizations, Daniel N. Paul, Halifax: Fernwood 2006
A history of European-First Nations relations, from before contact to the late 20th century. The focus is on Atlantic Canada from the point of view of the Mi'kmaq. (Click image for Amazon link)
People of Terra Nullius, Boyce Richardson, Douglas & McIntyre 1993
"Terra Nullius, a land that is empty of people. This is a legal concept used by Europeans when they first arrived in North America." (Click image for Amazon link)
Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, ethnicity, and Indian identity in the Southern United States, Gerald Sider, Cambridge U. P. 1993
A fascinating look at definitions of identity. The Lumbee of North Carolina fought for many, many years for recognition as an indigenous people. Dr. Sider also has spent a lot of time in Newfoundland. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Nitassinan: The Innu struggle to reclaim their homeland, Marie Wadden, Douglas & McIntyre 1991
The story of the Labrador Innu, internally colonized perhaps doubly. First by the Dominion of Newfoundland, then by Canada. (Click image for Amazon link)
Where The Pavement Ends: Canada's aboriginal recovery movement and the urgent need for reconciliation, Marie Wadden, Douglas & McIntyre 2009.
Like The Dispossessed, a journalist travels around First Nations communities. The stories told are both sad and hopeful, personal and political. (Click image for Amazon link)
Stolen Continents: Conquest and resistance in the Americas, Ronald Wright, Penguin Canada 1992
First subtitled 'The "New World" through Indian eyes since 1492', it is the story of contact and its aftermath in North, Central and South America told from the perspective of the indigenous peoples. (Click image for Amazon link)
The Dispossessed: Life and death in native Canada, Geoffrey York, Vintage UK 1989
This was the other book that Dr. Gordon Inglis suggested as a Native Issues course text. Some students said it was depressing. Yep, it is. And what's more depressing is that, all these years later, it still reads like current news. (Click image for Amazon link)
People of the Pines: The Warriors and the legacy of Oka, Geoffrey York and Loreen Pindera, Little, Brown & Co. 1991
The standoff in the summer of 1990 at Oka and Kahnawake told by two reporters who covered it. (Click image for Amazon link)
“The King’s Government call for lumber men and all skilled workmen not eligible for the Regiment or the Royal Naval Reserve for service in the forests of the United Kingdom.”
In World Wars I and II, Britain needed foresters. Lots of timber available, especially in Scotland, and both military and civilian need for lumber. But not enough people left in the UK with the necessary skills and strength to cut and mill it. That’s where Newfoundland, Canada and other British dominions came in: to provide the skilled labour.
The Newfoundland Forestry Corps sent about 500 men overseas in 1917 to cut and mill wood. From 1939 to the end of WWII, the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit sent about 3,680 men. They worked in Scotland, England and France.
According to Neary and Baker (2010:9), “the largest single group of Newfoundlanders to go overseas during the Second World War did not go in uniform, but as members of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit.” In both wars, the forestry units were civilian.
The same rules for recruitment applied in the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) but it was part of the Canadian Armed Forces. The CFC was created in 1916 and disbanded in 1920. It resumed service in 1939 to 1945.
Forestry Soldiers and Civilians
The difference in civilian or military categorization didn’t matter at the time, but it did afterwards. In Newfoundland, men of the forestry units were not eligible for veterans’ benefits. The same was true for veterans of the Merchant Marine, a civilian unit responsible for keeping shipping channels safe for military and commercial vessels. Finally in 1962, the forestry units and Merchant Marine were recognized under the Civilian War Allowance Act. In 2000, their veterans received the same benefits as those of military branches.
In both wars, many men left the forestry corps to sign up for combat units. Either they reached legal enlistment age or got the required education level. As war dragged on, and more and more fighting men were needed, the physical requirements changed. Those men rejected earlier due to maybe not meeting the height or eyesight standards became eligible.
Lumbering was still needed, however, so men continued to be recruited to replace those who had left. And there were injuries and deaths. It may not have been combat, but woodswork is dangerous. While working, 335 NOFU men were injured severely enough to be sent back home and 34 were killed. That’s one tenth. In WWI, 14 names are on the honour roll for the NFC.
The Mi’kmaq community of Flat Bay in Bay St. George is on YouTube. Below is a 16 minute documentary about the west coast Newfoundland village (Feb. 2017).
You can also download the accompanying report on Traditional Land Use and Occupancy. In 86 pages, the authors give a good overview of Flat Bay’s history, traditions and kinship networks.
Flat Bay is an important historical and political centre of the Newfoundland MI’kmaq. Its people have been central in the fight for official recognition as a First Nation. But if you’re driving across Newfoundland, you’re likely to miss it. It’s well off the TransCanada Highway at the end of a road that goes nowhere else. This has been good for Flat Bay’s preservation of identity. From the conclusion of the report, here’s a bit of the reason why.
[The Mi’kmaq] settled in Flat Bay, due to its abundance of eel, access to the interior by the “river highways,” and provided isolation while allowing closeness to trading partners on Sandy Point.
…Originally a patchwork community was knit together due to their natural river boundaries. Hundreds of people bound together, through various means, surviving off the bounty of land and water, slowing closing the distance between them through the relationships that established the bloodlines we document in this study. For a time, the communities, Flat Bay West, East, and St. Teresa’s, were divided by the dialogue of outsiders. Divisions [were] drawn along… place name, family name, income and occupation, education, dialect…
As the community began to shrink for these reasons and others, the residents undertook policy, whether they did it consciously is still up for debate, of their community’s regeneration… Flat Bay was not unlike a thousand other small communities… of Newfoundland; the difference was someone else was writing our story. [pp 57-58]
Flat Bay History and Families
Flat Bay has been writing its own story, in terms of maintaining a strong Mi’kmaq community, for a long time. They literally write their own story in this study, in its authorship and use of interviews with residents. It begins with a concise history of the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq and of Flat Bay. The authors then trace the history of industrial and subsistence economic activities, social and trade contact with nearby communities, and the effect of game laws. Education, language and the role of women are discussed in terms of tradition and change. The final section is an easy to follow history of the major Mi’kmaq families in the town: Benoit, King, Webb and Young.
It is an excellent study. Thanks to authors Calvin White, Hailey Burroughs, Mary Elsa (Dale) Young and Ivan White.
Below is a list of the Newfoundland Regiment soldiers killed at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916. There are many more; those killed in the lead-up to the battle, those who died of their wounds, casualties in other regiments that also went over the top. A list that included all those would be massive. Far shorter would be the list of those who survived.
801 men of the Newfoundland Regiment went into the battle. Figures vary, but about 255 were killed in action, 386 were wounded and 91 were missing. Only 68 were able to answer roll call the next day. About an 80% casualty rate.
The Allied assault on Beaumont Hamel was supposed to start June 29th. Weather and other factors delayed it to July 1st. An artillery barrage at 6:25 AM, and infantry assaults starting an hour later. The Newfoundland Regiment was the third wave, starting at 9:15. It was all over in half an hour.
It was the start of the Battle of the Somme: The Big Push, The July Drive, “the heaviest single-day combat losses in the history of the British Army” (Legion Magazine Sept 2011). The Battle of the Somme lasted four and a half months, advanced the Allies’ front line 10 kms. There were over 620,000 Allied casualties and 465,000 German.
When I looked for the names of those killed that day, I couldn’t find a list. So I began piecing one together from online sources listing all World War I casualties. The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance, RNR WWI Nominal Roll and WWI graves listings.
I did find specific Beaumont Hamel lists eventually – of the dead, wounded and survivors. Once I started googling individual names, I found more lists and profiles of soldiers. So I didn’t need to make my own. But I had noticed things that gave me pause, made these young men, their families and neighbours real to me. Addresses on the same street, next of kin names turning up more than once. I checked my genealogy database and online ones. And I added the scraps of information to my list.
Here’s what I have. And forget-me-nots that a Facebook friend happened to post just after I’d been reminded that it is the flower of remembrance for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. It is the lapel flower worn to remember Beaumont Hamel since the first anniversary 99 years ago.
Killed In Action at Beaumont Hamel
Pte. ABBOTT, George 1242 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: Henry and Emily Abbott. Address: Battery Road, St. John’s
Pte. ABBOTT, Stanley 283 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Henry and Emily Abbott Address: Battery Road, St. John’s
George and Stanley were brothers. A neighbour or maybe cousin, Pte. Fred Abbott #3483, was killed in action Aug. 16, 1917 near Steenbeek. He too lived on Battery Road, son of Walter and Jane Abbott.
Pte. ANDERSON, Israel 1069 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of Joseph and Jessie [MacNeil] Anderson, Mouse Island. Buried Y Ravine Cemetery, Somme
Pte. ANDREWS, Joseph 1119 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 27
Next of kin: Mrs. Catherine Andrews. Address: St. John’s
Pte. ANTLE, Gilbert 1899 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Thomas and Mary Antle. Address: Botwood, Twillingate
Pte. ATWILL, James 1914 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Son of Samuel and Charlotte Atwill. Resting place: Ancre (Sp. Mem. 37)
Cpt. AYRE, Bernard Pitts, Norfolk Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, d July 1st 1916
When the war began, Bernard was attending Cambridge University in England. He decided to join up there. Son of Robert Chesley Ayre and Lydia Gertrude Pitts of St. John’s. They had only one other child, Eric. See below for his name. (Brothers in Arms)
L/Cpl. AYRE, Edward Alphonsus 1009 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 19
Son of Edward and Selina Ayre of Isle Aux Morte. Buried Y Ravine
Known as Ted. Family name also spelled Hare. Edward Sr. was son of Samuel Hare and Juia Gillam. His mother was born Selina Wells. The family moved to Sydney, Cape Breton soon after the war.
RMS Megantic postcard to Maud McNiven, girlfriend and sister of fellow soldier Will McNiven: “Dearest, Just a few cards of the ship we are leaving by. We left Aldershot nine o’clock last night. I am going to try and get someone from the shore to post these for me, we are not allowed ashore. I did not get a letter from you before leaving. Believe me to be yours. xxxxxx Faithfully, Ted”
Cpt. AYRE, Eric S. RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 27
Brother of Capt. Bernard P. Ayre, above. They were grandsons of Charles Robert Ayre, founder of Ayre & Sons Ltd.
2nd Lt. AYRE, Gerald W. RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Next of kin: Frederick William and Mary Julia [Pitts] Ayre. Address: St. John’s. Resting place: Memorial Park
1st cousin of Wilfred and brothers Bernard and Eric. His brother Charles was also in the war and survived.
2nd Lt. AYRE, Wilfrid D. 164 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Son of Charles P. and Diana [Stevenson] Ayre, St. John’s. Resting place: Knightsbridge
1st cousin of Gerald, Eric and Bernard. HIs brother Ronald was also in the war and survived.
L/Cpl. BARBOUR, Horatio 1419 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Son of William and Amy H. Barbour of Port Rexton. Resting place: Beaumont Hamel 1
Pte. BARNES, Maxwell 1576 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: Mrs. Sarah Ann Barnes. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BARRETT, Leonard Josiah 372 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Mrs. Maud Barrett. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BARTLETT, Joseph Patrick 629 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: John Bartlett. Address: Maryvale, Brigus
Pte. BARTON, John 1485 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 29
Next of kin: William and Annie Barton. Address: The Goulds, Bay Bulls Road, St. John’s West
Pte. BENNETT, William 1229 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 31
Next of kin: William and Agnes Bennett. Address: St. John’s
Pte. BISHOP, Wilson 1597 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Son of John and Annie [Feaver] Bishop of 10 Second Avenue, Grand Falls. Resting place: Ancre
Full name Henry Wilson Bishop. His father’s parents were Edward Bishop and Elizabeth Piercey. His mother’s parents were Enos Feaver and Catherine Foote.
Pte. BOONE, Stewart Malcolm 1219 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of William Thomas and Sarah Jane Boone of South River, Clark’s Beach. Resting place: Ancre.
Pte. BOWMAN, Charles 938 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Next of kin: Frigaz Bowman, St. John’s. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BREEN, John Joseph 67 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Son of Mrs. Catherine Breen, Alexander St., St. John’s and the late Jacob Breen. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BRENT, David 1794 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 23
Next of kin: Mr. and Mrs. John Brent. Address Botwood, Twillingate. Resting place: Memorial Park
Sgt. BROWN, Bertram 1382 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Amos and Selina Brown. Address: Grand Falls
Pte. BROWN, Edward John 545 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 28
Next of kin: Eli and Annie Brown. Address: Harbour Grace
Pte. BURGE, Allen 624 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Next of kin: George and Mary Jane Burge. Address: Bonavista
Pte. BURKE, Garrett 1023 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Son of Silvester and Mary Ellen Burke of Tor’s Cove, Ferryland. Resting place: Knightsbridge
Pte. BURKE, Leo Michael 1170 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 18
Son of Martin and Annie Burke of St. John’s West. Resting place: Ancre
Sgt. BURRY, Sidney George 1044 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 31
Next of kin: Job and Matilda Burry. Address: Greenspond, Bonavista. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BUTLER, Edward William 1567 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Son of John and Phoebe Butler of Fogo. Buried: Y Ravine.
Pte. BUTLER, Harry 1897 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of Henry Stephen and Laura May Butler of “Hillcrest” LeMarchant Road, St. John’s. Buried: Y Ravine
Pte. BUTLER, Ignatius Joseph 1442 RNR, d July 1st 1916
Next of kin: Mary C. Butler. Address: St. George’s. Buried: Memorial Park “In June 1918 Iganatius’ mother filled in a form to request continuation of an allotment made her to following Iganatius’ death in 1916. Her husband had drowned at sea in 1900 leaving her to raise her family alone. For some time she was able to run a successful boarding house but by 1918 her health was failing. Two daughters still lived with her and one Bridie was an invalid. By the time the pension was awarded Mrs Butler had died and the pension went to Bridie.” (Lives of the First World War)
Mrs. Mary Webb was a midwife, one of the best known and most respected on Newfoundland’s west coast. She was also a healer using traditional Mi’kmaq medicines. She was a craftswoman. She farmed, raised animals, fished, hunted, trapped, and cut wood. She raised children and grandchildren.
Her first language was Mi’kmaq. In school, she learned English. From her Codroy Valley neighbours, she learned Scots Gaelic. As an adult living in Bay St. George, she learned French. These were the languages of early 20th century west coast Newfoundland. Her fluency meant she could speak with clients in their own language.
A “lay midwife”, Mary Webb had no formal training or accreditation. She started as an assistant and learned by experience. There were other midwives in Bay St. George: Susan Benoit and Emily Ann Paul in Flat Bay; Minnie Blanchard, Philomena Ryan and Philomena Sheppard in St. George’s; Rose Curnew in Stephenville Crossing. Formally trained midwives worked for the Grenfell Mission (see my Tempting Providence). Mrs. Webb was noteworthy for the great distances she travelled in her work. In all seasons at all hours, she went as far south as the Codroy Valley and north to Corner Brook and the Bay of Islands.
Midwife or doctor: social change
Until the mid-20th century, women in outport Newfoundland had their babies at home. The midwife arrived shortly before a woman’s due date and she or her assistant stayed for several days after the baby’s birth. A doctor was called if necessary. Emergencies happen, of course, so the midwife might be called early and she had to deal with complications if a doctor could not get there in time.
In the 1950s and ’60s, cottage hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices opened in rural areas. More vehicles and new roads made travel to larger centres easier. Hospital births became the norm. Health care became professionalized. Informally-taught midwives and healers were longer central to it. Mrs. Webb was among the last generation of lay midwives in Bay St. George.
She passed on her knowledge of traditional medicines to those interested in learning. And she embodied being Mi’kmaw. Her fluency with the language and traditional skills, her pride in her heritage, her self-respect. All these things were noted by those who knew her. For those who were part of the Mi’kmaq cultural and political revitalization in the 1970s, Mrs. Webb was a reminder of who they were and what they were fighting for.
She was born in 1881 in the Codroy Valley, daughter of Ben François and Mary Young. In 1903 she married John Webb of Flat Bay in Bay St. George. He died about 1930. She remained in Flat Bay, with Norman Young as her life companion. She died June 3, 1978.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.