Showing posts with label birch brooms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birch brooms. Show all posts

Friday, June 2, 2023

Living Heritage Podcast Ep231 Mentor-Apprentice Program: Birch Broom Making with Richard and Michelle Park

Michelle and Richard holding two birch brooms at the Gilliams History Society Museum in Gilliams, NL. Photo courtesy of Heritage NL.

In this episode we talk with mentor Richard Park, and apprentice Michelle Park who are two participants of Heritage NL’s Mentor-Apprentice Program.

Richard Park is a retired teacher who was first exposed to the birch broom in 1957 while teaching in the community of Fox Roost-Margaree. Later in 1979 in Francois, he learned the skills to make birch brooms from a fisherman in the community. He has been making birch brooms since, and has made several brooms including many as gifts.

Richard demonstrating how to "run" a birch broom.
Photo courtesy of Richard Park and Michelle Park.

Michelle is a history teacher with an interest in local history and folklore. Since the age of 10 she has watched her father make birch brooms as gifts for family and friends, as well as for the family’s own use. Michelle’s experience was admittedly limited; she helped make brooms in the past and was looking to refine the skill.

The pair offered a Build Your Own Birch Broom (BYOBB) program at the Gillams Historical Society Museum on Wednesdays in August of 2022.

Richard Park holding a spruce root basket, Eileen Murphy holding a birch broom.
Eileen was a mentor in spruce root basketry and she stopped by Richard and Michelle's BYOBB program this summer. 
Photo courtesy of Richard Park and Michelle Park.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spencer Birch Brooms - The next generation! #nlheritage

I posted yesterday about the birch brooms of Samuel R. Spencer, Cul de Sac West. In a great example of how the internet can be a good thing at times, I got an email today from Mike Spencer, the grandson of Samuel Spencer. Mike is the first cousin of Janet Edmonds, who showed me her grandfather's broom.

Mike wrote, "he taught me how to make the birch brooms when I was a teenager and I have made a few over the years. I interviewed my grandmother about them when I was doing my degree at Grenfell, they used the brooms as a tool for processing salt fish."

I had mentioned in the blog post about his grandfather's broom that it was tied off with wire, instead of the cord used by broom maker Joshua Young. Mike noted that, "Pop didn't always use wire on his brooms, I think it was more about what he had on on hand," which fits with Janet's description of him as a bit of a tinkerer.

Mike also sent me a couple photos (shown here) of a broom he made in 2016. 

Stay tuned, I'm sure there will be more broom posts sweeping your way soon! In the meantime, if you have a birch broom or a story about one, email me at

- Dale Jarvis

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The birch brooms of Samuel R. Spencer, Cul de Sac West.

One of my current folklore obsessions is the traditional Newfoundland birch broom. I've written about birch brooms on this blog before, and you can read about what a birch broom is (and see a video of Mr. Joshua Young making one) here, and more photos of the process here. If you are so inclined, you can also read an article I wrote called "Street Arabs, Drain Sweepers, and Birch Brooms."

The birch broom picture above belongs to Janet Edmonds of St. John's, and was made by her maternal grandfather, Samuel Robert "Young Sam" Spencer (1920-2001), originally of Cul de Sac West, a now-resettled community just east of Cape la Hune on Newfoundland's south coast. 

Photo of Samuel R. Spencer, courtesy Janet Edmonds.

"Young Sam" shows up on the 1921 Census for Burgeo & LaPoile District - Cul de Sac West, the son of "Old Sam" Spencer (born 1879). He show up again in the 1935 Census for the same district. He later moved to Channel-Port aux Basques, and is buried in the St. James' Anglican Church Cemetery, Barachois Hill, Port aux Basques. 

A few years before his death, he made a batch of birch brooms for family members and grandchildren, including one for Janet and one for her sister. Janet tells me that he was a bit of a craftsman, and liked to putter around making things, including a long-handled "pooper-scooper" so he wouldn't have to bend over while walking the dog. 

Mr. Spencer's birch brooms are very similar in style to those made by Joshua Young, who grew up in Grey River, only a short boat ride (20km or so) from Cul de Sac. The major difference between the two makers is that Spencer's brooms are tied off with wire, rather than the cord used by Young. 

Do you have a birch broom with a story? I want to hear it! I'd also love to track down some living birch broom makers. If you have ideas or memories, comment below, or email me at

- Dale Jarvis

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday's Folklore Photo: Birch Brooms In Our Midst

Today’s Tuesday Folklore photos are of Mr. Joshua Young demonstrating how to “run” a birch broom. Last Thursday afternoon after a successful first interview for the radio show/podcast Living Heritage with Christine Legrow, Dale and I took a trip to Mount Pearl to talk with a gentleman who grew up in Grey River on the South-West Coast of Newfoundland near Burgeo. Mr. Young learned how to make birch brooms from his family members and continues to teach his grandchildren how to make the brooms today.
Mr. Young explained the different between white and red birch trees and how to find the right piece of wood to carve into a broom. While explaining and discussing broom making Mr. Young made a small birch broom in under an hour as a simple example of how to make a birch broom. He sent us back to the office with the sample he made as well as one of his larger brooms which he wasn’t completely satisfied with due to the crook in the handle. The broom now hangs on the wall in our office and is the first thing you see when you step inside.
Mr. Young also makes model wooden boats and explained his process of crafting and painting these as well. It was an excellent afternoon and I hope I am able to join Dale when he goes back in August for a more hands on demonstration of broom making.