My husband, Chub, spent a bleak, windy winter in Canada’s easternmost
province, Newfoundland. He was a motor machinist’s mate, first class, in the
U.S. Coast Guard and helped build a Loran station there. In April, the job was
done, but a big old bulldozer couldn’t be shipped until new bearings and
castings arrived from the states. Chub and a driver were ordered to stay
behind, repair the bulldozer and get it to the dock. Chub was able to
improvise with leather so the driver could inch the thing along and the men
could return with the other fellows. We heard the story often.
In 1959, we were planning a camping trip so Nancy and Walt could explore the
new St. Lawrence Seaway. As we traced the route on the world globe someone
said, “It’s only an inch across to where Daddy was during the war!” Chub was
eager to show us Newfoundland, so we booked passage on the auto ferry from
Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques. There were only two towns on that island
province that had more than 10,000 inhabitants. However, Canada’s Highway One
had campgrounds across to the capital city, St. John’s, on the east
We drove off the ferry into Port aux Basques and saw no trees, no stores, no
sidewalks. The sun highlighted brightly colored houses shaped like tall boxes.
A dog was asleep in the street, and children played there. We stopped to visit
with some men who were working on their fishing boats. One fellow clenched a
pipe stem in his teeth as he spoke rapidly with an unfamiliar accent. All of
the men wanted to know why we came to Newfoundland, and we were beginning to
wonder that, too!
The talkative one took us to his fishing shed. We were fascinated by stacks of
fish nets, by flat cod fish hanging, like so many diapers, on the clotheslines
to dry. He referred to the cod simply as “fish” as if there were no other
kinds. He told us about the nets and tackle, and I asked what bait he used.
“No bait!” he said with a twinkling eye.
The end of the oiled fishing line held a 7-inch lead “fish” upside-down with
hooks extending in two directions from its mouth. “Bump the weight on the
bottom and retrieve it a fawthom,” six feet, “or a fawthom and an olf,” he
said. “Fish nose it, curiously and you jerk and snag ’em.” I learned to do
that on a return trip.
We watched huge rafts of logs floating toward Bowater’s operating sawmill.
They were elevated to stockpiles, and other logs fed into noisy saws in the
process of making paper. (I buy Bowater’s computer paper here in Columbia!)
A man at Corner Brook’s tackle store directed us to Albert Humber’s home on
Benoit’s Cove; Humber agreed to take us out, and he let us camp nearby so we’d
be on the water early the next morning. Humber and his helper dragged and
retrieved the cage many times, bringing up scallops and other fascinating
things such as shells, water weeds and sea urchins. The green urchin looked
like a big, round cocklebur, but it was not a plant; it propelled itself along
the boat floor!
We kept enough scallops for our campfire breakfast. The men showed us how to
cut out the edible part, the strong muscle that clamped the two shells
together over the living creature. We often recall that breakfast of pancakes
with Vermont maple syrup and our own fresh scallops. And we’ll never forget
gentle Albert Humber, the new friend we found in this New Found Land. We’ve
made two return trips.