Tag Archives: Bay St. George

Nathaniel White

Looking through old papers, I found a research assistant’s summary of a 1980 interview she conducted with Nathaniel White of Shallop Cove in Bay St. George. Mr. White, born in 1896, died in 1987.

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.nathaniel white bay st george photo dorothy stewart

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.

Flat Bay, Newfoundland

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.

flat bay tluos cover photo
Flat Bay, photo from TLUOS cover page

[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]

google map flat bay
Google map of Flat Bay (click to enlarge)

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.

Mary Francis Webb

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.

midwife mary webb obit
Page 31, newspaper unknown. Click to enlarge.

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. mary webb in kitchen, from her grandson FrankInformally-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.