Showing posts with label material culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label material culture. Show all posts

Monday, November 30, 2020

New Research into the mystery cannon of Harbour Main.

At a recent meeting of the Town of Harbour Main-Chapel’s Cove-Lakeview Heritage Committee, it was decided to investigate a local cannon on top of a hill whose origins, despite being a local landmark, are unclear.
Photo: Catherine Ann Kelly of Harbour Main (left), and
Maryssa Barras from HeritageNL (right) inspect the cannon, 25 November 2020

In order to find the story behind the cannon, we first need to figure out what type of cannon it is and when it dates to. By measuring key parts of the cannon and taking photos of visible features on the cannon we were able to compare our cannon with others to determine its calibre and likely dates of use.

There are a few key features that helped guide us in identifying the cannon. First, the cannon measures approximately 230cm, or 7½ft, long and the bore (the tube for the cannonball) measures 11cm, or 4.3in, in diameter. Based on these dimensions we can determine that this cannon is likely a 9lb gun - with 9lb referring to the caliber of the cannonballs it would have shot. 
Photo: A close-up image of a broken trunnion on the cannon,
as well as the chase astragal, the iron band to the right of the photo.

In terms of shape, the cannon has a tulip-shaped muzzle and a spherical button at its breech (back) end. Spaced across the cannon as well are raised bumps, called reinforce rings. Notably, this cannon has an extra ring in its center called a chase astragal which largely fell out of use after circa 1810. Based on these, and other, details, we believe the Harbour Main cannon is most likely an  Armstrong-Frederick pattern cannon, which was the primary British model produced between 1760/4 and 1792. This means the cannon was likely produced sometime in that time period, and that its arrival in Harbour Main must date to after 1760-1764.

Photo: Diagram of Armstrong Pattern 9 lb gun of 7 1/2 feet,
courtesy of Dr. A.R. Collins.

Heritage NL is following up with these findings with the Town of Harbour Main-Chapel’s Cove-Lakeview Heritage Committee. We'll post more info as the story unfolds. The cannon is an archaeological object as defined under the Historic Resources Act, and so the Province has title to it as per section 11 of the Act. 

UPDATE: 1 December 2020

Our preliminary report on the Harbour Main cannon site is now up online! We've tentatively dated the cannon to the early 1760s. Read more at:


Friday, November 13, 2020

Living Heritage Podcast Ep193 Making Snowshoes with Edwin Bishop

Host Dale Jarvis travels to Heart’s Delight-Islington for a chat with boatbuilder and snowshoe maker Edwin Bishop. Listen in and learn about the process of making traditional wooden snowshoes, steaming and bending the wood by hand, the types of styles and wood Edwin uses, and which snowshoe really is the best kind to wear while checking your rabbit slips. 


Living Heritage is about people who are engaged in the heritage and culture sector, from museum
professionals and archivists, to tradition bearers and craftspeople - all those who keep history alive at the
community level. The show is a partnership between HeritageNL and CHMR Radio.
Theme music is Rythme Gitan by Latché Swing.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Knit, Purl, Listen: exploring connections between sound + textile

FOLK6740 - PUBLIC FOLKLORE is a graduate-level folklore course at Memorial University, which addresses the various ways in which folklorists present their research back to the communities from which the material originated. As part of their course, students interviewed local knitters, compiled the stories into a booklet, and edited some of the sound clips used in an exhibit at the Craft Council of NL Gallery.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Today's Red Ochre adventure: from bucket to board, an experiment!

We've been doing some research here on the traditional use of red ochre (you can read our preliminary research right here) and how people used to mix it with some type of oil (linseed, seal, or cod liver) as a paint for outbuildings in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A while ago, Heather Fifield, the Coordinator of Laboratories and Services at the Department of Biochemistry at Memorial University, emailed me about some seal oil that Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi's lab no longer needed. So today, I picked up a bucket of the stuff and carefully transported it back to our office.

As an experiment Michael Philpott in our office treated one side of a piece of wood with the pure oil, and then we mixed the oil with some powdered red ochre I had been given by Pete Porter of Change Islands. Michael coated the other side of the board with the red ochre/seal oil mix, and now we'll see how long it takes to dry. Even just a small amount of oil and ochre gave us a beautiful first coat stain, and we're looking forward to seeing how it looks after another coat.

We've been floating around the idea of doing a bigger project, mixing up a larger amount of red ochre paint and testing its effectiveness on an outdoor project like a stage or store. Stay tuned!

If you've got a memory of red ochre (or have some in your shed) send me an email at

Friday, May 17, 2019

Check out this amazing carved wooden butter stamp! #FoodwaysFriday

We continue our #FoodwaysFriday theme of wooden kitchen implements with this fantastic piece from Robin Dooley of Frederickton, NL. Robin writes,
This is a butter stamp that my grandmother, Olive Sanger 1929-2017 of Lewisporte, gave to me when I went out on my own. Although we didn’t make much butter (only as a science experiment), we did use it to stamp the homemade play dough or shortbread cookies nan would often make for us. And I let my own daughter do the same now. 
My nan was born Olive Boone Of Burnt Head, Cupid’s. Her parents were Arthur Roland (Rolly) Wilson Boone and Diana Carolyn Bishop. She grew up in the last house on the right before you go up around the loop, there is a shed at the end of the driveway that once was her families shoppe. The house was bought by Mrs Ingeborg Marshall in the '60-'70s and then bought again in the 2000s and restored by a Miss Mackey and her husband. 
Apologies for not knowing her married name. I wish my nan was still here as I am not 100 sure where exactly this came from. She used to say her own great grandmother used it and it was probably around even longer than her! The house was full of treasures when it was sold, I often wish we had more of them to remember her with.

Robin also included the photo below, of her nan in the early 1930s in front of her family store. She writes, "The store sign was a porcelain Sunlight Soap sign and used to say A R Boone and they were in the process of mounting it when this photo was taken."

If any of you have stories or photos to share of Burnt Head or Cupid’s and the Bishop/ Dawe/Boone families, Robin would love to hear or see them. And, as always, if you've got a beloved hand-made kitchen implement, send us a pic and story we'll share it here. Email me at

Friday, May 10, 2019

Now a #FoodwaysFriday tradition, another rolling pin! The Fahey pin, Chapel’s Cove

Another Friday, another hand-made rolling pin! This one comes to us from Linda Lewis, who writes:

This rolling pin has been at the Fahey Farm (est 1789) for many generations. It was either made by my husband’s grandfather Edward Fahey (1869-1925)or his father also named Edward Fahey (1826-1884) from wood from the farm. The Fahey Farm is a Century Farm in Chapel’s Cove, Conception Bay.

Got a handmade rolling pin or other hand-crafted kitchen gadget in your cupboard? I want to see it! Send me a pic and your story, and we'll keep sharing them on Fridays.

You can read a bit more about the history of the Fahey Century Farm here.

Looking for helpful household advice on what to do with your old rolling pin? Do you have lumpy salt? Have no fear, the St. John's Daily Star of 1917-01-04 has your back in the "Mrs. Newlywed And Her Woes" column:

Friday, May 3, 2019

Another handmade rolling pin for #FoodwaysFriday, this one from Labrador

We are on a roll with these photos of hand-made rolling pins! So far, we've seen ones from St. Phillip's and Sibley's Cove.

Today's is from Labrador, with a possible Harbour Grace connection. Cindy Gibbons (a former Heritage NL board member) sent me the above picture, and writes,
My mom, Linda (Yetman) Gibbons inherited this from my great grandmother Eliza (Ryan) Gibbons. Great grandmother was born at L’Anse au Claire and married great grandfather Walter Gibbons in Red Bay in 1908. Mom says she remembers grandmother saying it was already in the house when she moved in, meaning that it was used at least by my great great grandmother Janet (LeGrow) Gibbons. She was from Harbour Grace and married James Gibbons at Red Bay in 1879. She died in 1898.

Got a handmade rolling pin, or another handmade kitchen object? Drop me a note and photo at We'll continue to share these for #FoodwaysFriday!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Deborah Strong Squires's Rolling Pin, Sibley's Cove. #FoodwaysFriday

Last week, we posted a photo of a handmade rolling pin from Portugal Cove, and asked if anyone had one similar.  Florence Button of Carbonear responded with the photo above of a rolling pin that had belonged to her Great-Grandmother, Deborah Strong Squires.  Deborah was born 1833 at Old Perlican, and she and husband Charles later moved to Sibley's Cove.

Deborah Strong Squires passed away in 1920, but Florence didn't know of the rolling pin until she received it a year ago. Today, it is one of her most precious possessions, even if she cannot use it because of the split along the side.

Florence also sent along this fantastic photo of her GreatGranny Deborah, with two of Florence's late Aunties, taken a year or so before Deborah passed.  Pearl Squires is on her lap; Annie is standing.

Do you have an heirloom kitchen tool that you still use? Send us a pic and a story, and we'll share it in an upcoming #FoodwaysFriday post!


Friday, April 19, 2019

A handmade wooden rolling pin from St. Philips. Do you own something similar? #FoodwaysFriday

Today's #FoodwaysFriday photo comes to us courtesy of Kim Ploughman. This hand-made wooden rolling pin once belonged to Edna Picco of Witchhazel Road in St. Philips, who passed away in 1995. The maker is unknown, but we'd love to know if you have something similar. Do you have an heirloom wooden kitchen tool that you still use? Send us a pic or story, and we'll share it!


Friday, August 31, 2018

Notes on the history of Sou'Westers and Oilskins

A Canadian-manufactured Sou'Wester in the collection of the Wooden Boat Museum of NL,
Winterton, photo by Jeremy Harnum.

Last week, I wrote on the origin of the Newfoundland word “linkum” - a variant of the word “Lincoln” denoting a specific type of Sou’ Wester oilskin hat often worn by fishermen.

The word “Sou’Wester” itself has a somewhat complicated history, and today it can mean either a long oilskin coat worn especially at sea during stormy weather, or, in the usage related to linkums, a waterproof hat with wide slanting brim longer in back than in front.

One possible etymology (given by Wikipedia) is that the name has to do with the Sou'wester wind which is the prevailing wind in the seas around the UK. Interestingly, the word has similarities in other languages: in Dutch it is zuidwester; in German, südwester; and in Swedish, sydväst. The use of “South Wester” to describe both the cap and the coat date back to the early 1830s.

Below: Sou'Wester owned by Patrick Kinsella in the collection of the Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Museum, photos by Katie Crane. The label reads: Miner Weatherseal Black Diamond Made in Canada.

The use of linseed oil (a colourless to yellowish oil obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant) to make oilcloth probably dates to the 18th century, when it was primarily used as an inexpensive floor and roof covering.

The journal Scientific American included this description of oilcloth in August 1869:

Manufacture of Oil Cloth 
The manner of making oilcloth, or, as the vulgar sometimes term it, oilskin, was at one period a mystery The process is now well understood, and is equally simple and useful.
Dissolve some good resin or gumlac over the fire in drying linseed oil, till the resin is dissolved, and the oil brought to the thickness of a balsam. If this be spread upon canvas, or any other linen cloth, so as fully to drench and entirely to glaze it over, the cloth, if then suffered to dry thoroughly, will be quite impenetrable to wet of every description.
This varnish may either be worked by itself or with some color added to it: as verdigris for a green; umber for a hair color; white lead and lampblack for a gray; indigo and white for a light blue, etc. To give the color, you have only to grind it with the last coat of varnish you lay on. You must be as careful as possible to lay on the varnish equally in all parts.
A better method, however, of preparing oilcloth is first to cover the cloth or canvas with a liquid paste, made with drying oil in the following manner: Take Spanish white or tobacco pipe clay which has been completely cleaned, by washing and sifting it from all impurities, and mix it up with boiled oil, to which a drying quality has been given by adding a dose of litharge one fourth the weight of the oil. This mixture, being brought to the consistency of thin paste, is spread over the cloth or canvas by means of an iron spatula equal in length to the breadth of the cloth. When the first coating is dry, a second is applied. The unevennesses occasioned by the coarseness of the cloth or the unequal application of the paste, are smoothed down with pumice stone reduced to powder, and rubbed over the cloth with a bit of soft serge or cork dipped in water. When the last coating is dry, the cloth must be well washed in water to clean it; and, after it is dried, a varnish composed of gumlac dissolved in linseed oil boiled with turpentine, is applied to it, and the process is complete. The color of the varnished cloth thus produced is yellow; but different tints can be given to it in the manner already pointed out.
An improved description of this article, intended for figured and printed varnished cloths, is obtained by using a finer paste, and cloth of a more delicate texture.
Source: “INVENTION.” Scientific American, vol. 21, no. 8, 1869, pp. 123–123. JSTOR, JSTOR,

If you have memories of someone making oilskins, or know of a traditional recipe from your community, call Dale at 709-739-1892 x2 or email

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Newfoundland word of the day: Linkum (and where it comes from) #heritageNL

This fabulous shot of a gentleman identified as Uncle Abe Mercer is from the International Grenfell Association photograph collection of lantern slides in the holdings of The Rooms (Item IGA 13-58). The original photograph was taken in 1931 by Fred Coleman Sears, and shows a man wearing rain gear, with sou'wester hat, or what in Newfoundland English one might call a "lincoln" or "linkum."

Here is what the Dictionary of Newfoundland English says about the word:

lincoln n also linkum. A fisherman's oilskin hat with elongated flap at the back; CAPE ANN, SOU'WESTER.

1936 DEVINE 115 He sold. . .oil clothing, which was a specialty and included south-westers, Cape Anns and 'Lincolns.' 1937 ibid 31 Linkum. An oiled hat (sou'-wester) worn by fishermen. 1970 Wooden Boats 20 Those three shipwrecked men clung to the rock from Saturday to Tuesday, without food and the only water they had to drink was rain water they caught in a lincoln. 1971 NOSEWORTHY 217 Linkum. A large water-proof hat worn by fishermen with a strap under the chin, a small rim in front, and a flap on the back to keep the neck dry. 1978 Evening Telegram 9 Sep. p. 14 A linkum is an oil hat with a long back on it to protect your shoulders.

Waterproofed cloth garments were used in the North Atlantic from the late 1700s, and what we think of today as the oilskins worn by sailors and fishermen were originally made from sailcloth coated with tar. Traditional black or "tarred" Sou'Wester hats were developed in the 1800s, but replaced the tar with linseed oil and lampblack. 

Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh patented a method in 1823 for binding two pieces of material together with rubber dissolved in naphtha, and the Mackintosh was born (the K was added later, apparently). But the rubber Mackintosh didn’t breathe, which made it unsuitable for certain types of work, and it stiffened when cold.

Gabardine was invented in 1879 by Englishman Thomas Burberry (founder of the Burberry fashion house) The original fabric was waterproofed using lanolin (and Burberry coats were worn by polar explorers such as Amundsen and Shackleton). It was a New Zealander, Edward Le Roy, however, who is said to have developed a more commercially-available (and yellow) material circa 1898, using worn-out sailcloth painted with a mixture of linseed oil and wax. This produced a waterproof, yet still breathable garment able to be worn in foul-weather conditions. 

Scientific American (Vol. 79, No. 11, September 10, 1898, p. 172) notes:
When a sailor's oilskins crack or get worn so that they are not waterproof, he oils them. They may need oiling two or three times a year. There are prepared oil dressings made for this use and pnt up in little tin cans. Some sailors use oils of one sort and another,and some sailors make a mixture of their own for a dressing. The sailor is likely to have a preference for some one brand of clothing and to stick to it. And he has his own ideas as to the best dressing for it, but he carries always with him a dressing of some sort. It is put on with a brush, the garments being hung up and painted with it.
But what of our linkums? Where did that particular word come from?

The catalogue and price list for Joseph H. Rowe & Company, manufacturers of genuine Cape Ann oiled clothing, horse and wagon covers, sou'westers and oiled hats, out of Gloucester, Massachusetts (circa 1892) note that their Lincoln Sou’ Wester retailed for $8 a dozen, though the catalogue advised that one could write in for discounts. The image below is taken from the catalogue:

It seems likely that the Newfoundland word “lincoln” and its derivative “linkum” comes from the Lincoln Sou’ Wester, though why that particular style of Sou’ Wester was called a Lincoln is yet (by me at least) undetermined. The catalogue also offered for sale "Rowe's Prepared Oil" (at $3.50/doz) to keep your lincoln in tip-top shape, which was warranted to dry, soft and pliable, and free from tact. It came in pint cans with a patent screw top, for your convenience.

If you have an old linkum in your collections, we'd love to see it, and if there are people who remember the process of making oilskin, please get in touch! You can call me at 1-888-739-1892 x2, or email

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Always a Use for a Flour Bag: Quilts, Shrouds and Sails

On August 3rd, I interviewed Sarah Griffiths Ennis (born October 20, 1946) of Placentia. When we met, I asked if she wished to talk about anything in particular. Without missing a beat, she said, “Recycling. You know, how we recycled, because we didn’t waste anything then.”

For the most part, we talked about flour bags, which, as Sarah noted, were “a big thing.” At the time, everyone had a 50 pound sack of flour at home. Sarah explained, “You didn’t buy small amounts, because everybody had to bake their own bread and make their own cookies.” As a child, Sarah would venture into the family’s pantry to play with the sack of flour, discovering that “if you hit both sides of the bag, you’d get a little puff of flour, because these were cotton sacks. … I thought it was spitting at me.” She could also mold the sack into “a real good snowman”:

            Andrea: So was that while the flour was in the bag?
Sarah: Yes, but if it was real full you couldn’t make a snowman, because it was too dense. So you had to wait until the flour bag was about a quarter gone, or two thirds gone, or whatever. And then you could push up the flour so you could mold it. And you could make a little waist around the middle. [laughter]

Once the flour (and the snowman) had been used up, the flour bag was always repurposed for something else. The cotton of the bag had a dense weave—it had to be, to contain the flour—and was thus a highly valuable commodity. As Sarah explained:

Sarah: So anyway, when the flour bags were empty, they were used for everything. There was fabric—it was well needed, the fabric was. So it was great. You got the flour, and you got the cotton. And most women at the time would use them, embroider them, or make clothes out of them. They were probably used for shrouds, too. But they were used for school bags, shopping bags, quilts, blankets—you name it and they used the flour bags for it. Bandages. Slings. And when we were younger, houses weren’t heated, and we used to wear a lot of vests inside our clothes. So the vests were often made with flour bags. So then they would get fancier, and get embroidered. They’d make beautiful things, and the cotton didn’t wear out, it was good heavy cotton. … And my dad was a sign painter. So if he was doing signs that were banners, you know, big banners going across—the flour bags would be used for that. So there was another use for them, right. Always a use for a flour bag.

As Sarah and her six siblings grew up and left home, the family’s flour bag supply began to decline. With less people in the house, less bread was baked and, as a result, fewer flour bags were free for the taking. Unfortunately, this scarcity also coincided with her mother and father’s upsurge in “time for creativity.” As Sarah put it, “a silent war” then began to be waged over the the flour bags. While her mother had visions of flour bag needlework, her father wanted flour bag sails for his boat. On one occasion, Sarah was summoned by her father from St. John’s, and asked to sew six flour bags (which “was a big thing, right, six flour bags”) into sails. Ordinarily, Sarah’s mother would have undertaken this task, but the two seemed to have reached an uneasy kind of stalemate. Though her father had won the flour bags, her mother wasn’t about to help him. A few months later, Sarah and her father set sail in the flour bag sailboat, and had a close call out to sea. They made it back to shore in the end, but as Sarah remarked, “I always said, ‘That’s the flour bags getting even.’”

While Sarah doesn’t have any of the family’s flour bag creations in her possession, she showed me a flour bag quilt made by another woman in Placentia:

Sarah Griffiths Ennis poses with her flour bag quilt.
It's a little hard to make out, but some labels are still visible on the quilt. The mirror image of this one reads "Goldrim Flour":

"Goldrim Flour," visible from the back of a flour bag quilt.
As Sarah summed it up, “this flour bag thing was so valuable in everybody’s life, everybody in our era.” However, other kinds of recycling were engaged in as well. In the following audio clip, Sarah describes how cans of tinned milk and other can lids were reused during her childhood:

Monday, July 31, 2017

#CollectiveMemories Monday - Tonic Wine, Rescued Kettles and Wooden Skates at W.J. Murphy's Store

On July 12, I interviewed Ed Murphy about the W.J. Murphy store in St. John’s, which operated from 1895-2000 on Rawlin’s Cross (in the space now occupied by Hungry Heart Café). As the third-generation owner and operator of the store, Ed had a wealth of stories to share about the history and legacy of the business. Over the years, W.J. Murphy’s sold many local products, including rabbit, moose, salmon, halibut, fish (cod), partridgeberries, blueberries, bakeapples and locally grown vegetables. The store also imported a few fancy items from England, Scotland and Ireland. In the early days, the store delivered their wares using bicycles and horse and cart, before making the obligatory shift towards car deliveries. Many customers entrusted W.J. Murphy’s with keys to their homes, even in the years leading up to the business’s close. As Ed explained it:

"Like I said, it was family. And we used to go around delivering, and we had keys to their houses, and if the driver went there and they weren’t home, we just opened the doors and went in. If there was ice cream or anything frozen, we’d put that in the fridge, leave the rest of the stuff there and go on. It was just a different atmosphere altogether, you know.”

After our interview, Ed showed me several intriguing artefacts that he’s held onto over the years:

This is a bottle of pre-confederate tonic wine, which Ed estimates as being “80, 90 years old now, it’s got to be.” Before confederation, W.J. Murphy’s was permitted to sell wine, but the Canadians opted to outlaw such practices “because the liquor store took over.” As Ed remembers it, “The liquor store went around to all the stores and collected these bottles of wine and liquor that weren’t already sold, but Dad said to himself, ‘They’re not getting that liquor.’ So we took all the cases.” Ed drinks the tonic wine very sporadically, and has kept many bottles since that time. He opened up a bottle on his 60th birthday, thinking it might taste like vinegar, but instead found that “Harvey’s Bristol Cream has nothing on it. A little shot of it like that, and you can feel the blood in your body starting to curl.”

Here, Ed is holding a pair of wooden skates that his grandmother used to skate across the St. John’s harbour. At first, I registered this fact with some astonishment—could people have truly skated across the Narrows?—but Ed appeared unswervingly confident:

Ed: And I’m going to show you now a pair of wooden skates that my grandmother used to skate on the harbour. And you might say this, “Now, how can you use a pair of wooden skates on the harbour?” It was homemade, they were homemade here in Newfoundland, and she’d hook them onto her boots. Whichever way the wind was going, you’d give her a push and the wind would take her, and she’d go down the harbour. So then she had to come back on her own, but these were used on the harbour.
Andrea: So was that considered a risky thing to do?
Ed: No, no, they walked across the harbour, oh yes—back then at the time, loads of them. Even when I was going to school, I can remember ice in the harbour. And you could, if you wanted to, jump the ice and so on.
Andrea: Could you skate to Fort Amherst?
Ed: Oh yes. Like I said, because back then it froze. Later on we more or less got slab ice, you know, because things warmed up.

Finally, Ed showed me this set of silver kettles, which his family rescued from the Great Fire of 1892, and kept safe in their Bannerman Park makeshift lodgings. According to Ed, many people grabbed ahold of their kettles when the fire first broke out.

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

Monday, February 29, 2016

Create your own Newfoundland Hobby Horse for #makermonday!

Do you want to know how to make a Hobby Horse? Look no further!

It's no secret we love the tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador Hobby Horses here at the Intangible Cultural Heritage office.  So we are delighted to report that our friends at the Mummers Festival, with funding from the Helen Creighton Folklore Society, have recently completed their step-by-step guide for making your own hobby horse.

These aren't the children's toy hobby horses, but a large, fearsome folk puppet, an element of chaos which was part of the Christmas mummering tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

You can check out their new video on YouTube, or watch below!

There is also an earlier video about the Hobby Horse making workshops, filmed by NTV.

You can read a description of the DIY process here and download a pdf of the template here.

If you want some inspiration from across the pond, check out these cool hobbies from The Wantsum Hoodners at The Banbury Hobby Horse Festival 2010, on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Exploring Industrial Chic - an interview with Mike Barneveld of Square Peg Designs

I spent the last two days at the Willowbank School for Restoration Arts, in Queenston, Ontario, teaching the Heritage Conservation Program students about the world of intangible cultural heritage. It was my second year at Willowbank, and it is always a great deal of fun introducing new people to ICH, and demonstrating the link between living traditions and heritage conservation.

For the second year, I was also able to conduct a demonstration interview with one of the artisans associated with the school. This year, it was with Mike Barneveld of Square Peg Designs, an alumnus of the program.

Square Peg Designs is a small, Niagara-based company which creates one-of-a-kind furniture and accessories with an “industrial chic” feel using vintage and reclaimed materials.  I sat down with Mike in front of the students, and we chatted about his work trajectory, the establishment of his business, what he learned from the Willowbank program, his creative aesthetic and process, and the business side of his art.

Listen in below, or click here to download the interview in various audio formats.

- photos courtesy

Friday, December 18, 2015

Can you help identify this mystery artefact? We're stumped! #nlheritage

Do you have any idea what this is? Earlier this week, a public works employee with the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philips found this round silver piece while putting in a stop sign. It was turned over to Julie Pomeroy, the town's heritage officer, to identify, but there are no markings.

Thoughts? Theories? Leave a comment below, or email Julie at

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rare photos of the Forest Road Cemetery Lych Gate and Mortuary Chapel #nlheritage

Followers of the ICH Blog may remember that I have been interested in lych gates, a very specific type of gate that was found at the entrance of Anglican churchyards and cemeteries. You can read more about the history of lych gates in the Occasional Paper #004.

In it, I talk about one of the province's vanished lych gates, the one which once stood in the Forest Road Cemetery.  I knew it had existed, and it is clearly shown on aerial photos and insurance maps, but I had never seen the building before.

Thanks to some detective work by Professor Frederick R. Smith, and the kindness of Mr. Arthur King, we now have this photographic gem - a photo of the gate before its demolition, likely taken sometime circa 1950-1952.

The lych gate is very similar to English examples, and has some similarities to the rebuilt lych gate at Bonavista. It features a sharply gabled roof, with slight bellcurved eaves, Maltese cross motifs, and at least two painted inscriptions, though the photo is just out of focus enough to make it difficult to identify the scripture being quoted (the word "resurrection" seems to be the second word). The woman in the photo is a Mrs. Butt, of the nearby Collier's Lane.

Mr King writes:

Here are some old Forest Road Cemetery photos I scanned from originals supplied by Mrs. Barbara Fry (Heale), a daughter of Victor Heale, caretaker circa 1948-59 . The family lived in the caretaker house on the cemetery. Photos of the entrance gate and old chapel are included. A daughter Elizabeth Heale, shown in the photo, was born in 1942---the photo with her was probably taken between 1950-52. The age of the old chapel photo is uncertain, but probably much before that time---it probably was taken by a commercial photographer such as Holloway as there is an inscription which was his style.

The Church of England Mortuary Chapel photo was said to have come from "The Archives" -- we are uncertain which one. If you have any information on these photos, if you have a theory on the most likely scripture being used on the lych gate, or have any other old photos of the Forest Road Cemetery, please comment below, or contact me at

- Dale Jarvis