Thursday, March 1, 2018

Fieldwork at the Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital

Participants share a laugh at the wine and cheese. Photo by Katie Harvey.

In late January, Terra and I travelled to Bonne Bay to begin conducting research and oral history interviews on the Cottage Hospital as a part of our Oral History Roadshow Series. We met Joanie Cranston, former chair of the ICH committee, at the hospital where we would be staying for the next few days. She had organized several events in order to gather locals to reminisce on the thriving days of the cottage hospital.

When we arrived, the ladies of the community kitchen program had prepared supper for us and baked a variety of delicious treats. Terra and I ate and familiarized ourselves with our temporary home. The hospital is now used as a physiotherapy clinic, a radio station, a public library, a hostel, a museum and a community center.

That night I had the old hag. Terra and I were sleeping in the upstairs portion of the building, which was where the female staff once lived. I awoke around 3:00 a.m. and was unable to move or speak. I attempted to call out to Terra but I couldn’t make any noise. Finally, my body was freed by the apparition of my mother who was pressing down on my side with her index finger.

The next day I told Joanie about my experience. She was intrigued and explained that a Peruvian healer had stayed in the hostel years ago and he too had had the Old Hag. He proceeded to cleanse the building of spirits, but he claimed that one spirit refused to leave without a visit from a Catholic priest. According to Joanie, that male spirit remains in the building. She said I was the first person to have been hagged since that man had performed the cleansing.

Katie Harvey sits in an old patient bed. Photo by Terra Barrett. 

The next day we hosted a memory mug-up in the daytime where people who worked as LPNs, blue aids, housekeepers, laundry workers, and cooks gathered to discuss their memories of working in the hospital. We ate goodies that were baked by the ladies of the community kitchen program. Terra and I spent the day conducting interviews with participants.

That evening we hosted a wine and cheese and more people came out to share their memories. There were lots of laughs as people discussed memorable patients, practical jokes, ghost stories and close calls. Terra and I conducted several more interviews and turned in after a long day.

Here is an example of one of the stories we heard, as told by Dr. Jim Bowen:

"There was a night I was on call and it was a weekend night. So back then we had a club, The Ferryman’s Lounge. There was usually a dance there on Saturday nights. Not uncommonly, there would be a fight or something would happen. Someone would come in a 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, usually drunk, cut with a beer bottle or knocked out loaded, and you’d be called in. So on this particular occasion I got called in, and a gentleman was there inebriated and cut. So I was getting ready to sew him up. And his buddy was with him and I noticed the buddy suddenly got quiet. I looked over at him and I could see that he was looking faint. I didn’t want him to faint on top of what we were doing or hurt himself so I said, “You better go outside and get some fresh air or sit down.” So a few seconds passed after he left the room and I heard a thump. So I knew that he had fainted. Another minute or so passed - I had sterile gloves on and I was fixing up the other guy’s head so I couldn’t really leave and see what was going on - and then I heard the janitor behind me. The guy had fainted right on the long winter boot mat. So the janitor had just grabbed the ends of the mat and hauled him down the hallway on the mat, unconscious. He just pulled up in front of the door, I turned around and he said, “Where do you want him, Doc?” I said, “Well, put him in room number two.” So he pulled him on down the hall. There was a lot of really funny moments like that."

Terra Barrett interviewing Dr. Terry Delaney. Joanie Cranston sits in on the interview. Photo by Katie Harvey.

The following day Joanie had organized a couple more interviews, so we completed those and packed up to head home. We had conducted over twenty interviews over the course of two days, and we learned so much about the Cottage Hospital. The major theme that arose was how much everyone loved working there, and how close the staff had been. It was great to be able to hear about these positive memories, and see that the building was still remaining useful in a variety of ways.

The information collected from our trip to Bonne Bay is currently being compiled into a booklet. This will be the eighth in our Oral History Roadshow Series, so keep your eyes peeled for the launch of that soon!

-Katie Harvey 

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