Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"That was hard on us" - Remembrances from 20th-century Grand Falls-Windsor

I came across a little gem today while reading oral interview transcripts about growing up in Grand Falls-Windsor in the 20th century. In this excerpt, Obadiah Gill describes the trouble with getting to see a dentist in the town, and recalls one man who went to the blacksmith to have his tooth pulled:

“You know, he’d put the needle in and it would deaden it a little bit you know. But then you had the pain in your tooth...I heard of a fellow up in the lumber woods one time, got the blacksmith to take his pliers and tickle his tooth, horse pliers.” (Obadiah was interviewed on April 6, 1999)

Some of the excerpts from these interviews are just great - funny, interesting, old-timey stuff that is charming and affirming in its simplicity - but these moments are at times juxtaposed against stories of heartbreak. Most of the senior interviewees have something to say about life in GFW during the second world war. Beatrice Healey describes what it was like to live in town with soldiers everywhere:

“I was living in Windsor then. It was pretty bad. You had to put down your dark green blinds nighttime, we had blackouts. Soldiers everywhere. I was stopped on the street several times when I was bringing water from...the next door neighbour had a well and he said, “I’ll take your buckets!” and I said, “No, you won’t.” Ah...anyway a couple soldiers took the buckets from me cause I just lived down the road on Main Street. It was very tough for a while.”

“A fellow by the name of Mr. Gill, he went away to the war. He came in the house that morning he was leaving and he said to my husband, Phil. “Phil I’m leaving this evening, I wants ya to have a drink with me.” He sat down and had a drink. He went...he went away and he was killed. He was gone about three months, I guess when we got word that he was killed, he was only about 26 years old, he wasn’t very old. That was hard on us.” (Beatrice was interviewed on July 22nd, 1999)

A glimmer of light in a dark remembrance is Beatrice Healey’s stubborn insistence on carrying the buckets herself. She knew she could be stopped at any time, but she wasn’t going to let that keep her off the streets. She was going to haul that water.

Though there is a great disparity in the gravity of these remembrances - a trip to the blacksmith to have a tooth out and the reality of war - both speak to the strength of the people of Grand Falls-Windsor. The oral history transcripts and tapes will be added to the community collection on Memorial University’s Digital Archive Initiative, as part of our ongoing Collective Memories Project.

The Collective Memories Project is an initiative which will invite seniors to record their stories and memories for archiving and sharing. It is a project of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Office of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador (HFNL), the Provincial Advisory Council on Aging and Seniors, the Interdepartmental Working Group on Aging and Seniors, and is funded through the Department of Seniors Wellness and Social Development. Collective Memories is looking for community partners to help make existing oral history collections more accessible to the general public, and can help communities start up new oral history projects to interview local seniors. For more information on how you or your community organization can get involved, email terra@heritagefoundation.ca or call (709) 739-1892, ext. 5.

Link to GFW oral history collection:


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