Friday, January 13, 2017

What is a birch broom, and who makes them?

A birch broom was once a common sight in Newfoundland. They were cheap to make, and were used for a variety of purposes.  Here is what the Encyclopedia of NL said about this traditional craft in 1981:
BROOMS, BIRCH. Birch brooms are hand-made brooms which were the major sweeping utensil in many homes in Newfoundland during the time leading up to the introduction of mass produced straw and plastic brooms. They remain in use in many areas. There are two major types of birch broom. One is made from a single piece of black birch which has been debarked. One end of the piece of birch wood is stranded and peeled back to form the brush part. This is a tedious, time consuming project. The broom is soaked in water or brine to keep it supple. Two or three days is often needed to create one of these brooms which then can be used for cleaning sofas and fireplaces and even for brushing horses. 
The second type of birch broom can be made in about half an hour. Young birch twigs about .6 m (2 ft) long are cut and tied together in a bunch. The thicker end is laced tightly with cord and drawn together. A stick about 1.5 m (5 ft) long, usually spruce, is cut and trimmed and sharpened on one end. It is then driven into the middle of the tied twigs with a hammer which tightens the broom even more. The broom is then ready to use in such chores as cleaning out barns, back porches, and steps, and sweeping snow. A broom can last with normal use from three to six months and is often soaked in water to prolong life. Jacob Winsor (interview, Feb. 1981), The Rounder (Mar. 1978). 
Source: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

Mr. Joshua Young is a birch broom maker who we interviewed in 2015. You can read one of our old blog posts here or watch his broom-making skills in action in this YouTube video.

The man in the photo at the top of this article is identified as "Hebert Heffern" but I don't have more information than that. Do you know this man or have more information about him?

I'd love to track down more living broom makers, especially those who might be up for a chat! Do you know a broom maker in your community or family? Drop me a line at or call 1-888-739-1892 x2

- Dale Jarvis

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Big Black Bull of Hollow Tree - a Newfoundland Folktale. #FolkloreThursday

In July of 2010, we recorded traditional storyteller Alice Lannon sharing her story, "The Big Black Bull of Hollow Tree" at the 18th Annual Conference of Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada, in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Alice Lannon was well-known and highly respected on the island as a teller of traditional and community tales. She told stories at festivals, workshops and special heritage events, and credited her gift as a storyteller to her grandmother Mary (Strang) McCarthy. Her grandmother retold the stories she had been told by an elderly aunt, who was born in Lawn around 1820. These stories were passed on orally in the family for about 175 years. In 1991 some of these stories were preserved in a book which Alice co-wrote with her brother Michael McCarthy “Fables, Fairies & Folklore of Nfld.” Alice went on to co-author two more books with Mike "Ghost Stories from Newfoundland Folklore" and "Yuletide Yarns."

Alice passed away March 28th, 2013, but you can listen to her fabulous telling of The Big Black Bull of Hollow Tree on Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NEW: One day oral history workshop with Dale Jarvis in Carbonear

Collecting Oral Histories around Anniversaries and Milestone Events

Date: Wednesday, January 25th, 2016. 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Location: CARBONEAR, NL. College of the North Atlantic (Room 145), 4 Pike's Lane.

Collecting the oral history of an artifact is an important part of collections management. When people assemble at anniversaries and millstone event exhibitions opportunities to collect information on collections are created, and museums should be prepared to use these interactions with the public to collect and enhance collections records. The stories of veterans and people associated with artifacts should be properly recorded.

This workshop will provide information on the proper recording methods for oral history in museum settings. These histories will enable participants to enhance artifact records by recording stories on digital media. Participants will learn proper methods for digitizing audio and video recordings including the use of electronic devices, recording best practices and proper methods of digital storage. These recordings may be used to enhance the display of artifacts.

Instructor: Dale Jarvis, Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
Enrolment Limits: Maximum of 10
Registration fees: $85 for MANL members, $110 for non-members

This workshop is an elective course for the Museum Studies Certificate Program. For more information about this program, please contact Sarah Wade, Professional Development Coordinator via email at or at (709) 722 9034.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Collective Memories Monday - Colin Pike: railway man, woodsman, and lineman

Photograph of Colin Pike (right) and his son, Wayne Pike

In August 2016, we had a visit in the Heritage Foundation office with Colin Pike, and his son Wayne Pike. We sat down for a chat, and Colin told us about growing up and the different jobs he had, including working on the railway, as a logger, and with Newfoundland Power as a lineman. He also talked about his father, including his service during the First World War, and his life as a trapper. Do you know what a railway torpedo is? Colin can tell you all about it!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Collective Memories Monday - Clifford Reid and the history of Reidville

Dale Jarvis (l) talks to Cliff Reid (r) about the land settlement patterns in Reidville

In August 2016, we conducted an oral history interview with Clifford Reid about the history of Reidville, near Deer Lake in the Humber Valley region.

In the interview, we talk about his family history; his grandparents William Thomas Reid and MaryAnn Major, the first settlers of Reidville; how Reidville and Junction Brook began; the development and locations of lots of land in the area,and about his memories of Reidville as a child in the 1950’s and 60’s. 

The interview contains a lot of great information about logging, sawmills, woods work, and the tramway railway constructed by the loggers and the Newfoundland Pulp and Paper company, as well as a great story about Cliff's aunt going into labour and giving birth in a canoe!

The recording is archived on Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative. Listen to it here!

Friday, December 30, 2016

8mm Films of Grand Falls-Windsor Families, C.L.B, and Community

The following four films are the final batch of reels I have digitized for the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society. They show various aspects of life in the area, with a mix of spliced together clips alternating colour film with black and white. The children and families shown in the reels are likely relatives of the photographer, Albert Hillier who had 4 siblings, and 19 nieces and nephews. I also wonder if his wife Enid is in the footage. Hopefully those who knew Albert will be able to identify some of these people in his life.

This first film starts by showing one of the Church Lads Brigade camps. Like one of our previous C.L.B reels, it shows some sort of silly parade with the adult C.L.B. members marching while wearing paper hats and carrying a flag made from a pair of white pants. Again, I am wonder if this was a tradition C.L.B. camps in general, or was it specific to this camp. The reel then changes to black and white (the scenes have been spliced together) and we see two women, a baby, and a young boy on a beach, and then in the back seat of a car. The next scene shows the young boy, and another older boy eating bread while sitting on the rocky beach, they are joined by a man who poses with the boy in front of the camera.

The next reel is a similar mix of colour film and black and white, what looks to be from different years. It starts showing a group of shirtless men outside drinking from a jug. Do you recognize the house in the background? We then see one of these men holding a puppy. The reel cuts to a game of football in front of the same house, likely with the same group of men. Then there is a scene showing a C.L.B event near a church. This clip is not very clear but you can see some of the buildings in the area. The reel then changes to colour, and appears to be much later footage. A young girl with brunette braids is on a boat and sticks her tongue out to the camera. Is she one of Hillier's nieces? The film cuts again to a man outside carrying a sack and a truck carries lumber in the background. A baby in a yellow beret sits in a pram looking at the camera. The last scene is black and white, very briefly showing a man standing next to a tripod setup, and what looks like a large pot over a fire.

Next is a short 30 second reel that shows men in a grassy area surrounded by trees, playing football and tackling each other. The same house that was in the background of the last film, can be seen in this one.

The final film of this collection, begins with a child in a red coat playing in the snow. In the background there is writing in the snow, most of which I cannot read but I do see the date 1945. The same child is then seen being walked in a stroller along a paved road. The reel cuts to a dark scene indoors, possibly with the same child, along with some adults. The child looks like they maybe playing with a camera. The reel then shows men outside in the winter, and various scenes of the Grand Falls-Windsor Mill and the dam.

Whether or not you have connections with the area, I hope you have enjoyed viewing these films. If you recognize any of the locations or people in these films, please email

Monday, December 26, 2016

The King of The Birds: Happy St. Stephen's Day!

(l-r) Dale Jarvis, Bev Kane, Dennis Flynn.

"King of All Birds": a public forum about NL wren traditions

“Up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wren”

The wren is just one of several Christmastime house-visiting traditions that continues in Newfoundland and Labrador today. Typically, children or adults will visit homes within their community carrying around an effigy of a small bird—the wren. Upon visiting a home, they usually recite a poem declaring the wren the “King of All Birds” and may offer some kind of performance, be it song, joke, or recitation. Often the host will offer up food, drink, or money for the visit. Unlike other house-visiting traditions, there are no disguises involved.

On December 14th, 2016, the final night of the 2016 Mummers Festival, festival coordinator Ryan Davis hosted a public forum on wren traditions at The Rooms. The forum starts with introductory remarks by Davis, and then folklorist and storyteller Dale Jarvis shares the legend of the wren and moderates a discussion with Bev Kane of Renews and Dennis Flynn of Colliers, two people keep the wren alive in Newfoundland.  Listen in, and learn about the history of the wren tradition and how it’s happening today.

In the interview, Bev Kane notes a variant version of the wren legend, posed as a battle between two legendary cities: Half a Loaf, and Windy Gap. Her written version is posted below, with a transcript after.

Here is the story, transcribed:

The King of the Birds

Years ago there were two cities named Half a Loaf and Windy Gap. Half a Loaf had the eagle and the people were always saying that they had the best bird to fly, but Windy Gap kept saying that they had the smartest bird to fly and it was the wren. The two groups decided to hold a contest to prove who was right, but first the citizens of Windy Gap had to go in the forest and catch a wren. This didn’t take long for them to catch a wren, so the two cities decided that on the day after Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day, they would let the two birds fly up in the air as far as they could. The people knew that which ever bird went the highest they would know when the birds came back: If a bird only went a short distance its wings would be dry, if it went higher its wings would be wet and if it went much higher there would be frost on its wings.

On St. Stephen’s day the two birds took to flight, no doubt the Eagle went much faster, the small wren took its time but kept the Eagle in sight. After a while the Eagle got tired and started to slow down. The wren started to gain on it but the Eagle kept on going, and he was not looking out for the Wren. The wren was so smart and so small and so light in weight that it pitched on the Eagle’s back and the Eagle did not know it.

When the Eagle got really tired he had to turn back. Now the wren was feeling good after a free ride, he left the Eagle and flew much higher.

When they got back to earth the people got some surprise when they saw the Eagle had wet wings but the smart little wren had the frost on his wings so from that day to this, the wren was called “The King of the birds”.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Grand Falls-Windsor House Parties - 8mm Film Reels

When I started to work on digitizing the 8mm reels from the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society, I expected to see formal community events and home videos with families and children. Among the mix of Church Lads Brigade reels and other footage from the Grand Falls-Windsor area, were four films that showed house parties were people were drinking alcohol, laughing, and playing pranks. These four films show a wonderful side of the personalities of these people and a relaxed party atmosphere that you usually do not see.

When I first set up the projector, the first reel that I played was black and white footage from the late 1940's showing a house full of people sitting around drinking and joking with the camera. After watching all the reels, this is still my favorite. Two men performed some sort of ritual alternating between bowing to a crate of liquor bottles and taking sips from their drinking glasses. A man in a hat and an Anglican clerical collar reads from a book. He is later seen asleep with his arms crossed and a sign reading "not dead but interred" laid on his chest. Another man wearing round glasses, a hat, and a fake beard, sticks out his stomach to portray a character. The photographer, Albert Hillier, was a member of the Northcliffe Drama Club for 52 years, and while they are not performing in the footage, you can clearly see that his group of friends had a theatrical persuasion. I am curious to know if the man dressed as an Anglican priest, was an actual priest or was he in costume.

This reel also contained scenes apart from the house party. We see young boys playing outside with a toy car and a set of wheels. There is a woman in an apron looking out a window and making gestures to the camera. Two men are outside with a car and truck with a logo on the drivers side door. Another woman joins the men and they dance before the reel ends. Do you recognize the houses in this area?

The next film is very dark, but there is a lot of laughter in there. The footage starts upside down, which may be a hint that this was filmed towards the end of a party. While it is dark and out of focus in parts, there are some good shots of peoples faces, so some may be recognizable.

In the last set of reels I shared, there was one film that showed title cards relating to the footage he shot, some of which we have. The next film has eight title cards, though some words are out of frame. One title, that we don't have the relating film, reads "Guilty: Sergt. LeMoine Sews Lieut. Lane's Coat Sleeve." Another, which may help identify one of the individuals says "A Corner Brook Photographer." These title cards are followed by a short clip showing a small gathering. The party takes place in the same house as some of the other reels, and a man pours the guests drinks from a jug.

The final reel in this set once again shows a house party with people sitting around talking and drinking, while a man is playing guitar. We then see a sleeping guest with a doll laid next to him, and another man stands over him reading from a book. I would love to hear what he is reading, maybe funeral or marriage rites? We then see three men in standing in front of the camera. The man in the center holds a funnel to his mouth while the other two pour in liquid. The guests pass around a balance toy and joke with each other. The camera returns to the sleeping man, who now has the balance toy stood up on his chest. The camera pans down to his feet and he is now wearing women's shoes. Next the camera shows a women setting down plates on a table full of food and desserts. The camera pans around the room to show the guests standing around eating, drinking, and having a good time. Although the footage is dark, in this film and the previous, there appears to be a projector set up on one of the tables, which makes me think that this may be Albert Hillier's home. 

I hope you enjoyed this look at house parties in the late 1940's. Do you recognize any of the individuals or locations in these films? Contact me by email

- Kelly

Thursday, December 22, 2016

On the Trail of the Wild Men, with Emily Hope. #FolkloreThursday

Emily Hope is an artist, researcher, and founder of the Wild Man Appreciation Society, a civil society and personal museum dedicated to the promotion and preservation of tales of the Wild Man. Emily was born and raised in Aurora, Ontario, and college-educated at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, where she earned a BFA in 2012. Emily lives in Kamloops with her husband, Cory, and their daughter, Molly. During the week you can find her at the Kamloops Art Gallery where she works as the Education and Public Programs Director.

We chat about about the origins of the Wild Man Appreciation Society, Emily’s work as an artist and collector, the origins of the Wild Man archetype and pre-Lenten masking traditions, Black Peter, Santa, the interplay between pagan faiths and Christianity, her research on traditions in Romania and wild man parade and house-visiting traditions there, gender roles and cross-dressing in masking customs, photography and curating exhibits on Wild Men, and her visit to Newfoundland to better understand mummering traditions, and similarities between the festivities in Romania and Newfoundland traditions.