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Drifting into Doom: Book

link to DRC Pub for Drifting into Doom by Earl B. Pilgrim
Click to see on DRC Publishing

It was a dark and stormy night when I began reading Earl Pilgrim’s Drifting into Doom: Tragedy at Sea. Winter rain blew at the windows and tree branches hit the house. Reading about two men drifting in a dory during a January 1883 storm on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, I got chilled and thought “I knows how you feel!” Then I recollected myself, realized I was in a warm house, on a couch, with the wind and rain outside. No, I had no inkling of how Howard Blackburn and Tommy Welsh felt.

The story of the Banker schooner Grace L. Fears and the loss of one of her dories is itself a harrowing one. Trawling cod from tiny two-man boats set off the side of a schooner was a hard way to fish, especially for the dorymen. Many lives were lost on the Grand Bank fishery. This is the story of the loss of Tommy Welsh, a 16 year old 1890 painting, G. F. Gregory, Storm King at seafrom Grand Bank on the south coast of Newfoundland. It is also the story of the saving of the life of his dory mate, Howard Blackburn, an experienced fisherman originally from Nova Scotia who worked out of Glouchester, Mass.

Blackburn got the dory to shore near the tiny settlement of Little River (later called Grey River) on Newfoundland’s south coast. His frozen fingers and toes could not be saved but his hands and feet were by the skill of a local woman called Aunt Jenny Lushman. She was helped by a Mi’kmaq woman named Susie Bushney. Experienced healers and midwives that they were, neither woman had ever dealt with frostbite so severe. But Mrs. Bushney’s advice and Mrs. Lushman’s steely nerves kept Blackburn alive.

Howard Blackburn in later life sailingBlackburn went on to become a well-known businessman in Glouchester and a world adventurer. His dorymate Tommy Welsh was buried in Little River. The story of these men was not lost on the Grand Banks. Accounts were published at the time and Pilgrim uses these to tell a tale that lets you get to know them, the Blackburn family, the fishing company personnel and the people of Little River and Burgeo. As the cover blurb says, it keeps you “spellbound”.

The Lushman Family

Another story came from this one. Aunt Jenny Lushman lives on her own with her grown children. However, there is no Mr. Lushman.  That’s the other story. As a photo of Grey River by Holloway 1933result of publicity over Blackburn’s rescue, the story of what happened to Mr. Lushman came to light. It is also one of unbelievable happenstance and hardship. Probably it too is not an isolated case of people lost and believed gone, but it is one that became known and loose ends could be tied up. It is as epic as is the story of Howard Blackburn.

Jenny Lushman’s husband and one son left Little River for the United States in search of work. I found the story of what happened to them in a December 1912 Newfoundland Quarterly article by Sir Edward Morris.* You’ll want to be tucked up in your Snuggly while reading it too. Thank you, dear reader Jim F., for this book. And Newfoundland filmmakers? Movie here!

*See my transcription of Morris’ NQ article at A Tale of the Sea and  my post A Tale of the Sea, etc. for more. The entire Dec. 1912 NQ can be seen at the MUN digital archives (link in previous paragraph). For books on Amazon by Earl B. Pilgrim, click his name.

The Public Library

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the library.  It was in an old house on Main old-Belmont-Public Library-from-Elgin-ArchivesStreet in Belmont, right near our house.  I read pretty much every book that was in there.  Then they closed it.  A bookmobile came to town instead.  It was part of the Elgin County Public Library system.  I liked it too – wasn’t as good as being able to go to the library any day you felt like it, but it was kind of exciting, knowing the bookmobile was coming the next day.

Several years later, after I’d left Belmont, they built a nice new library there.  There are professional librarians staffing it, and all the paper and online resources you need.  It’s a new public library Belmont 2002lovely library.  We can see the people going in and out from my parents’ house, and it’s well used, as a library and a community centre for meetings, special events and family get-togethers in the hall you can rent.  My mother took my dad’s stuff over every November for the Remembrance Day display.  A lot of people from the whole area came to see it.  My parents had their 50th anniversary party in the hall.

I was talking with my brother a few years ago about reading.  I’ve read my whole life but he didn’t, to my knowledge.  But he was telling me about books he’d been reading.  I said something about going to the library and he said he just buys the books he wants, new or used.  He said he’d stopped going to the library when they closed the old Belmont library down.  He’s older than me by several years so we didn’t share a childhood.  I had no idea Elgin Co bookmobile 1963he’d ever been in the library in Belmont.

He said he’d read every book in there at least twice.  But he stopped reading when the bookmobile took over.  He didn’t want to have to be at a certain place at a certain time in order to get a book.  He was a teenager, old enough to have a life, but not old enough to drive to another town’s library.  So he got out of the habit of reading for pleasure.  When the bookmobile became our only library, I was young enough to not have anything else to do, and going to a place at a certain time was still a thrill for me.  So I kept reading, although I missed the old building with its creaky floors and dark rooms with unexpected treasures found hiding on high-up shelves.

Glanworth Public Library

Glanworth-Library-from-FacebookSo now the village of Glanworth, just west of Belmont, is losing its local library.  The London Library board says it can’t afford the expense of a separate library for so few people.  The people of Glanworth want their library, as a place of books and resources and of community.  I hope, one way or another, they can keep it.  You can have a community hall, sure, but there’s something about having it also house books and other worlds of knowledge that enriches the community as a whole and the kids and adults that comprise that community.

protest lawn sign don't close the book on GlanworthI’m glad nothing ever happened to cause me to lose my love of reading. And I’m glad my brother found his way back to reading for fun.  I hate to think there will be kids in Glanworth now in the situation we were in all those years ago.  They’ll either stop reading or have to go to much more trouble to get books than just walking down the street to their local public library.  The town’s battle cry is, “Don’t close the book on Glanworth.”  I hope you win.

Belmont Library and Bookmobile photos are from the Elgin Co. Library site and those of the Glanworth Library are from the Save the Glanworth Community Library Facebook public page.