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


vagabond said...

I think Mr. Heffern is from Salvage. I remembering meeting him when I was in high school in the seventies.

Anonymous said...

Hi dale. The man is top is my grandfather Heber heffern. You can contact us at 7807137549 or Ryan

Brewnoser said...

This mainlander was in Salvage the summer of 1979 testing the new well drilled after the road construction messed up the old one. It was close to where this gentleman lived (I am pretty sure this is the guy). He came down and talked at me for an hour or so, while pulling back strands on a spruce stick, making a broom. Gradually I came to be able to understand what he was saying as his accent was thick. I spent 3 days there. He even fed me a couple times. Seven years later I was in the Canada pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, and it was Newfoundland week. There was an older gentleman there making a spruce broom. As I approached he looked up, and without missing a beat said, "the well is still working fine". It was as if he'd come to the mainland, and expected I'd drop by.