Katherine Miller, interviewed by Marissa Farahbod
Although she was born in Toronto and travelled to different parts of Canada after she got married, Katherine Miller grew up in Portugal Cove. She explains that her father, her grandfather and her great-grandfather were all born and raised in Portugal Cove. She knows the place well and remembers many stories her parents and grandparents have told her about the Cove.
Katherine, who is known as Kathy to local people, is now doing a genealogy of people in Portugal Cove, and has therefore a wealth of knowledge about the names and markers in the area. Her stories about the life of residents in the past in Portugal Cove are fascinating, and the personal story she shared with me, tragic.
Kathy tells several interesting stories about her father’s childhood in the Cove. As a child, her father, Archibald Miller Jr., had witnessed the sinking of two German U-boats and had seen the Hindenburg pass over during the Second World War:
My dad actually saw missiles go through the water and strike the boats. He was a small boy. He lived down on what was known as North Point and he was actually either on his way to the wharf or down on the wharf when he saw the torpedoes, I guess however he saw them, maybe he was just leaving his home to go down because it’s a little further up, but he actually saw the explosions and saw the boats go down. Another story that he told me was that he was, I guess, fortunate enough to be outside the day that the Hindenburg went overhead. So he was a small boy again, ‘cause in the night time they used to keep their windows closed afraid of the light, afraid of the, you know, ships and what not, seeing them and would strike, that he actually did see the Hindenburg go over Portugal Cove.Kathy also knows the story behind the names of some places and markers in the Cove. She relays the story that her father told her about Cross Pond, as follows:
He also told me of a story about ponds known as Blast Hole Ponds. One of them he had thought was renamed Cross Pond because of the drowning death of a man who had gone up there to cut wood. I don’t know if he had a horse and sleigh or a dog and sleigh to pull his wood out. He got down to get a drink of water from the little brook or trickle of water that was coming out of the pond and the dog or the horse moved and the sleigh pinned him underneath and was like a, according to my dad they said that the water was only an inch and a half, two inches deep, but because of the position of sleigh he couldn’t get up and drowned in this small trickle of water. And to my knowledge, he is the first person to be buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, up on Cemetery Road. He would be the oldest grave up there. And that’s how. But like I say, he always thought one of the ponds had been referred to then, from then on as Cross Pond. To mark the death of him they had put a cross or something up there, I guess over the years now it has decayed because it was only a wooden cross.According to Kathy, her grandfather, Archibald Miller Snr., is the reason why there are rainbow trout in Blast Hole Ponds:
My grandfather walked from North Point, where he lived, into Murray’s Pond with two buckets and he took two buckets of rainbow trout and deposited them in Blast Hole Ponds. So, anybody today who catches a trout, a rainbow trout, out of Blast Hole Ponds is because my grandfather was responsible for putting them in those ponds.Remembering her childhood in Portugal Cove, Kathy describes going to school in St. Lawrence and being a quiet individual. She recalls being a member of GA (Girls’ Auxiliary) and JA (Junior Auxiliary) and taking part in community or religious activities such as making palm crosses for parish members on Palm Sundays.
Kathy remembers having a quiet and “uneventful” life up until 9th August, 1985. On this tragic day remembered by community members at the Cove, Kathy’s children, who were in her car, drove off the cliff. She describes the heart-breaking events of this day in detail: Her shock, the one ambulance, the rushing paramedics, the complications and so on. She explains how her life changed after that day because of her daughter’s condition, and how she later lost her in 1998. Kathy finds it difficult to talk about the day, nevertheless she does not want the day to be forgotten as she believes it is a part of the history of Portugal Cove.
Kathy is interested in gathering the stories in Portugal Cove and working on its genealogy. She wants to find more relations and roots. She wants to discover and put to the test some myths and legends about the Cove. For instance, she wants to discover if rumours about the existence of bats in Portugal Cove are true. She also wants to know the origin of local legends about a plane crash, which were in existence before the plane crash that occurred in 1978.
There was supposed to have been a plane that crashed up there but not the one… apparently there was the one that crashed in 1978. Not that one. This one would have been older. But they could never find it, because the trees never really, they were so dense down there that they could never find this plane went down. So it might be interesting once, now that the track has been made, the trail from the Geys down to Bauline. If people start going off into the woods and search on whatever, maybe the rumour or the myth of this plane will be always there. It may come to, you know, an end. I don’t know. I have to do a little research.Kathy does not live in Portugal Cove anymore. But she is eager to reconnect to a place she grew up in and is attached to. She describes how happy she is that her other family members, like her nephew, are becoming more and more interested in the stories of the Cove. She believes that by gathering and sharing these stories, Portugal Cove’s fascinating rich community history can be better preserved.
This interview was conducted as part of a Collective Memories Mug Up project conducted by Memorial University students enrolled in FOLK 6740: Public Folklore, Winter 2017. If you would like to listen to the full interview click here.