Showing posts sorted by relevance for query wells. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query wells. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2013

Reaching The Bottom of the Wells and Springs Project

Now that the winter is rearing it's head, the wells and springs project I have been working on over the past five months is finally being wrapped up. Over this time I have met a lot of great people, done some really interesting interviews, seen and measured dozens and dozens of wells, and learned a lot about traditional water sources here in Newfoundland and Labrador. And now that everything is coming to an end, I want to share with the blog what it is I have accomplished, and what's coming next!

At the most basic, water is crucial for daily life and survival, and so the majority of the traditions and folklore that I came across fell into three basic categories. The first is daily life, which includes securing, collecting, and cleaning your water sources. The second is community, which covers elements of protection, safety, and tragedy, and support between families. The final category is spirituality, which appears in a few different ways. These different categories mean that there are lots of different stories, traditions and folklore surrounding wells and springs in the province.

My favourite tradition around daily life is the trout in the well. All summer I hoped and actively looked for a trout in a well, and while I heard lots of stories and memories about their being trout down in wells (and one great story about a trout being fished up and fried) it took my until late in the summer to finally see one, out in Carbonear. The owners, the Fitzgeralds, have had trout in their wells for as long as they can remember, and the current one had been own there for almost 10 years!

One of the last traditions I heard about communities was one from Shea Heights, where families would gather on a communal well in front of the general store to take photos, or kids would meet there after school to plan the afternoons activities. Wells represent not only a water source, but can also mean a gathering place in the community, a location accessible and recognized by all. This is my favourite community folklore memory around wells and springs - the imagery of men, women and children gathered around a public well to gossip, take photos or play is a great one, and reminiscent of a time when life wasn't as busy or distracting.

The most endearing memory I hard around the final category, spirituality, had more to do with personal attachment than religion, and that was the stories of loved ones on death beds requesting water from a particular source. The best story was one which said that when their mother asked for water from a well far out of the way, they tried to skip a long trip to an old spring by bringing a grandmother water from somewhere else, but she could tell the difference, and sent them on their heels for the real thing.

Of course throughout the last few months I updated on my progress through the blog, which you can find in the archived blog posts by searching the keyword "wells" or "springs". I also wrote articles for the July, August/September and the October/November ICH Newsletters, available to read on the DAI website.

One of the first end goals we decided upon with this project was to create an infographic which neatly displayed all the interesting factoids and stats about wells and springs in one poster. Graham Blair did an amazing job taking my stats, measurements, quotes and imagery and turning them into a really grand looking display of everything I had done!

Finally, I've had the opportunity to share my work in a unique presentation style at a presentation through the Harris Centre at the end of last month, call a Words in Edgewise 20/20 presentation. This is essentially a set of 20 slides that cycle every 20 seconds out of your control, so while you're presenting you have to keep up! I will be presenting this work again at the ICH mini forum next month, which is open to the public through RSVP with me or on Event Brite. Information for both of these can be found here.

The biggest lesson I learned through meeting everyone and seeing all I did this summer is how important water really is. As someone who has always had the luxury of turning on a tap any time I was thirsty, I never really thought about how important it was to protect and care for your water. I met several people who had experienced dry wells, or were going through it when I visited, and had to deal with the issue of wondering where your water was going to come from. I have a much greater understanding and respect for water that I didn't have before.

It's been a great 5 months, and I'm happy to share that I'm able to stay on at the Heritage Foundation for another contract, with a few new projects to facilitate and help out with! If you have any stories about wells or springs you'd still like to share, or any other interesting folklore memories you want to chat about, feel free to email me at or call me at 739-1892 ext. 5

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Water Wells on Cable Ave.

Cable Avenue in Bay Roberts was always known for having certain services before other parts of town. The Western Union Telegraph company ensured that their company houses had electricity, sewage, running water, and an attractive streetscape, all of which were maintained by hired caretakers. Originally there were two main wells that serviced both the cable station and the avenue, but each of the staff duplexes were eventually given individual wells that were located in their basements. Some of these wells can still be seen in the buildings, and one of the main service wells is still present in the backyard of Randy Collins. Mr. Collins is a long-time resident of Cable Ave who lives in the former Superintendent’s house. He has covered this large well with a gazebo, but it is connected to a faucet that supplies Mr. Collins with water for his garden. He took the time to show me two different wells:

“This here, this is built over a well. It’s 18 feet deep, 15 foot wide. You could put a boat into it. That was the well that supplied all the avenue at one time. And everyone of them got wells--see, there’s a well in each one of those houses. I’ll show you. This one here, I built that over it but in the middle of July in the hottest weather, you can get icy cold water out of that.”

“I’ve got a submersible pump down in mine that keeps the water down below three feet from the top. There it is, there’s the well there. I left the cover off. Each one supplied two households, see. And those wells would be perfectly good you know, if you wanted to pump them out through a line, get some water, you’d have no trouble.”

I wonder how many communities have old water wells that are still in use? If you know of any, please contact us, we’d love to hear about it.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Wells and Springs Occasional Paper, and a Farewell

After finishing all the research, interviews, photographing, analyzing and writing, I have finally completed all the different projects I wanted to with the Wells and Springs project. It was a great summer of work, and I got to meet and chat with a lot of wonderful, interesting people. I also was able to create a bunch of resources for anyone to access about well stories, traditions, cleaning techniques, and more!

So far we have produced a wells and springs infographic, a guide on cleaning wells, months of newsletter articles and blog posts, and a couple presentations - one for the Harris Research centre and one for the ICH mini forum! The latest resource produced, and the one I am the most proud of, is an Occasional ICH Paper, entitled "The Folklore of Wells in Newfoundland", Occasional Paper of Newfoundland and Labrador 005.

The occasional paper is available online at the MUN ICH resources page. This is the most academically focused resource developed out of the wells and springs project, and something I hope can be used in the future for educational purposes!

With the completion of the occasional paper and the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Forum report, I am now finished my contract at the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador ICH office.

Thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to chat with me, show me their wells, and tell me their stories over the wells and springs project. A special thanks to the Harris Centre and the RBC Blue Water Project for the support in allowing the project to go forward, and to everyone in the ICH office and the HFNL for being amazing coworkers over the nine months I was lucky enough to work here.

It has been an amazing experience, and I am now off to a new project with the Carbonear Heritage Society! I look forward to using the new skills I've learned, and applying my passion for heritage, history and its preservation to this next endeavour.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Water Sources Closer to Home

When the wells and springs project first began, I was getting contacted from all over the province, and planning amazing day trips to different communities to be shown sometimes upwards of 10 wells in a day, and chatting with multiple people. Over the last several weeks, I have started reaching out to contacts that are a little more local. Although I live in St. John’s, it has been a little more difficult to find wells, springs, and people to meet that remember a time when you didn’t just turn on a tap. But I’ve made some new friends, with some great stories to share from a little closer to home.

A few weeks ago I made a trek out to the MUN Botanical Gardens, and met with Christine, who showed me around their property. This area of the city has gone through multiple changes over the years, and has hidden within it several wells and springs. The wishing well, closest to the main building, used to service a house owned by Wilt Butler. It was used for water until the pipes were crushed and it became unusable, and after serving as a wishing well for a while it was eventually was covered over due to vandalism. Christine also showed me an open spring along a 200 year-old section of Oxen Pond road originally used for carts that has been integrated into the Botanical Gardens pathways. This spring was across the road from Albert Clarke’s cottage, and he and his wife accessed this spring with a bucket. There are two more wells belonging to cottages now gone on the property that are slightly more hidden from view, and so I plan on going back to the gardens soon to find them.

Last week, I made a short trip out to Portugal Cove St. Philips. I first met up with Michael Murray, who owns and operates Murray’s Gardening Centre on family land. He told me an amazing story about his ancestors, who were some of the first people to settle in the area, and showed me a spring that they found in a hillside and dug out to create a wellhouse. Michael told me he believes the well is from the early 1800’s, and was discovered by his family – and with the few landmarks in the vicinity named after the Murray family, it isn’t hard to believe. It has since been sealed up for safety reasons, and is no longer in use.

I also went to meet up with Edna and Edgar Spurrell in St. Philip’s. The house they live in is close to a century old, and has always been a part of Edgar’s family – he has lived there since he was born in the late 1930s. Edgar dug the well 40 years ago on his own, about 240 feet away from the house up the hill, and the well itself is about 6 feet deep, which feeds into the house via gravity. Up until last year they have never had a problem with the water, and both Edna and Edgar describe it as being both cold and clear. Unfortunately, some nearby construction seems to have affected the water table that feeds their well, and they have been relying on rainwater and water supplies from Edna’s sister since May. Hopefully the city can provide them with some help, and Edna has promised to keep me updated as to what is going on with them.

Just this past Wednesday I went up to Shea Heights to meet with a wonderfully cheery woman named Shirley Holden. Shirley had a great well tradition to share with me that I had not heard about yet – taking special occasion photos around their well. She even shared a great family photo from 1961 with me, and even though I used it a few days ago for the Tuesday Folklore Photo, I have to share it again. Shirley told me how the well outside of Vicker’s general store was a popular place for Christmas ad Easter picture taking, because they would decorate the front window to fit the holiday, and it made the perfect backdrop for the pictures. You can read a little more about our meeting here.

Having more opportunities to do interviews and talk to people has been a great learning and growing experience. For me, it’s a way to understand research and history from a different perspective than I’m used to as an archaeologist; for the project, it’s a way to give meaning and life to the wells and springs we’ve visited; and for the men and women I’ve had the privilege to be able to speak with, it’s a way to make sure their memories and traditions are preserved for future generations to enjoy, remember, and continue.

If you have any stories to share about sharing wells, drinking from springs, or taking photos with wells as the centrepiece, please let us at the Heritage Foundation know! You can email me at, or call 739-1892 ext 7.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Archaeology and Wells

Archaeologists thrive on finding the refuse of the past. By uncovering the remnants of meals, household items, clothing and daily life, we can try and better understand the culture we are studying, which is done through document research, surveying, excavation, and analysis. For an archaeologist, the less disturbed a site is when we arrive to do an analysis, the better the information we can collect. Excavation is all about relationships: how the different artifacts relate to the site, and how they relate to each other. 

Water has always been an important resource, and any archaeological excavation will either find a place where water was found and collected nearby, or where a well was dug or a spring was used. As a historical archaeologist, I know several 16th and 17th century sites in Newfoundland had wells, or have documentation associated with them that comments on how clean and pure the local water was. Wells hold the opportunity to not only hide within them a rich collection of archaeological artifacts, but the majority also have these artifacts still layered in the order they were deposited, allowing the archaeologist to understand changes through time much more clearly.

Ferryland, Newfoundland has at least two wells associated with the site: one that dates to the late 17th century, and one that was uncovered a few field seasons ago. While only preliminary reports are available on the newest find, Dr. Barry Gaulton from the MUN Archaeology department, the lead archaeologist at Ferryland, was able to share details about the Ferryland well.

“It was stone lined, 25 feet deep, built upon a wooden curb (found at the base of the well), and dates to the late 17th century. An elderly man from the community (Wilfred Costello, now deceased) who told Jim [Tuck] in 1994 about the location of the well … Wilfred’s grandfather told him about the well when Wilfred was only a young boy. Even at this time (about 80 years ago) the well was no longer visible, and there was certainly no trace of it on the landscape in the 1990’s”.

Photo from the Colony of Avalon Foundation (website
Wilfred came to Jim Tuck, the then lead archaeologist on the site, with a story that he had been told by his grandfather of an abandoned well on the Downs; “how a young boy had accidentally [fallen] into this old abandoned well and drowned. The residents of Ferryland at the time (probably late 1800’s) retrieved the boy and filled in the well with large rocks so no one else would be hurt. The archaeological evidence certainly corroborates this story. The well was [rapidly] filled from top to bottom with rocks and some 19th century debris”.

The Ford’s well in Cupids, Newfoundland, was once a simple spring coming out of the rocks, but now is surrounded with a cement base and has a recycled stop sign fashioned as a cover. William Gilbert, the head archaeologist on the Cupids plantation, believed that the brewhouse of John Guy was in close proximity to it, and although past survey work did not reveal its location, it could still be hidden closer to the shore for future excavations to uncover. Future excavations could be dictated based on interpreting this spring as an important element of the early site layout.

There is also a wellhouse in behind the current Cupids archaeological dig, where the plantation house sits. It has been sealed for safety reasons, and has not been excavated yet, though Bill does hope he can get to it in the future. An untouched well is a great situation for refuse. For one, once a well has served its purpose and is no longer used, it is likely that a community will use it to get rid of garbage, and so many wells have layers of preserved refuse from past residents. Secondly, the layers are less disturbed than those on the surface, as the natural processes and human activity that affect surface artifacts do not affect the artifacts preserved in a well. Unfortunately, Bill has yet to find the time or the funding to schedule the well excavation, and so it remains untouched for the future.

Stories like how the location of the Ferryland well was found, or how interest was sparked in the Ford’s well in Cupids that lead archaeologists to a potential feature no longer visible on the ground surface really demonstrate how important and valuable oral histories can be as a contribution to archaeology. These passed on stories and legends show how both folklore and archaeology can work hand in hand to understand and preserve the past. It’s something that I love about archaeology; combining the past and the present together to gain a better understanding of the landscape, and incorporating the community and the local tradition into my analysis to find something not readily visible from the surface. Wells especially are a great resource, and one that can easily become hidden from the ground; sometimes these types of stories are the only way they can be found!

If you have any wells, springs or water memories that you would like to share, please reach out! You can email me at, or call me at 739-1892 ext. 7

Friday, February 7, 2014

Well, Well, Well, a Google Map

Last summer when I was doing wells and springs work, I not only measured wells and photographed them, but I also recorded their GPS coordinates. I though it would be neat to look back after the fact at the distribution of some of the wells I'd seen. I was able to record the location of 35 wells over my summer of fieldwork, and have finally had the time to do something interesting with the information.
Google maps works really great for this, because you can create your own personalized maps, and store them either privately or publicly. Creating a map is incredibly simple - you can type either the address or the GPS coordinates to the points you want into the search bar, and then add a pin to mark that space on your map. Pins are customizable, so you can pin multiple types of spots onto a map, and then hide or show layers, depending on what you want to see.

If you want to take a look at the interactive Wells, Springs, and Folklore Google map you can find it here! Some of the points have links to videos or other information - and of course, all the wells and springs photos and information can be found on the DAI.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Job Posting: Traditional Water Sources Survey Fieldworker

Traditional Water Sources Survey Fieldworker

Memorial’s Department of Folklore and the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador are hiring a researcher to work on their “Traditional Knowledge of Springs and Wells in the St. John's Area” project. The project is designed to map locational information and to collect oral histories about wells, springs and natural water sources within the St. John's Area. It will research the location and associated knowledge of springs, wells, water diviners, spouts, wishing wells, rag wells, traditional knowledge about water purity and cleanliness, techniques to prevent fouling of water sources, and traditional values around drinking water. This research will focus on three main concepts related to water sources and traditional management of those resources: geospatial knowledge about the resource; knowledge about use and management of the resources; and local values about those resources.

The applicant must have excellent oral and written communication skills; be curious, outgoing and willing to talk to property owners and local informants; have experience in conducting folklore or oral history interviews; and have training (preferably at the graduate level) in Folklore, Archaeology, Cultural Geography, History or another related field. Valid driver’s licence and use of automobile, and previous experience with a heritage organization is an asset. Someone willing to get wet and dirty is a bonus!

Work will be based out of the offices of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s, and will begin as soon as possible after the closing date for applications, running approximately through July to October 2013.

Please send cv and cover letter to:

Philip Hiscock, Department of Folklore
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St John’s NL A1B 3X8

or by email to

Applications should be submitted before Friday 21 June 2013.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wells and Springs along the Southern Shore

On Wednesday I spent the day with Andrea along the Southern shore, meeting some interesting people and visiting and recording some excellent wells and springs. We had a really busy day planned, and started out meeting with Jim Foley, a local man who took me down to the shore and showed me a natural spring he had been using for years to drink from. The spring comes right out of the rocks, and is used predominantly in the summer and fall, as during the winter it gets covered with rocks and ice. He said occasionally some sea water will get into the spring, but there is such a consistent water flow that it never effects the taste or clarity of the water. He said that fishermen used to stop and use it years ago to drink from.

The cement enclosure around the spring was an addition added in recent years by Al Roche, who Jim was kind enough to introduce us to. Al told us that he tried to make it safer to get down there by adding rock steps as well, however the last couple years has seen some deterioration along the shore, and the steps have since let go. There used to be a “spring” sign to show visitors where they could get a cool drink, but has been taken down for safety reasons.

We then met up with Tony Dunn, who had a lot to both tell and show us. He first took us to his own well, which shares space with several other large wellhouses. He told us that at one time there were over 13 houses being served by these wells, which equaled up to 50 people! His well was one of the shallower ones we've seen so far, and he said that he's never seen it run low. There was over three feet of water on Wednesday, and it was also incredibly cold and fresh. He then took us to his brothers well, which was rock lined and protected by heavy plastic siding. Tony also has a hidden talent - he can find underground water with wire! He showed us how it worked, and let us try it ourselves. We both had success, and below you can see Andrea finding some water with wires!

Finally we went and spoke to Andrea's family, Andrew and Dot O'Brien. Over tea and banana bread they shared some great water and well memories with me, including carrying water to the house with hoops, a barrel well in their front yard, cleaning wells, and communal tin mugs left at a community water source for everyone to enjoy. Andrew then took me up to his well, which was by far the biggest one yet, and is shared between several homes in the neighbourhood. It was a great day out in the field!

We are still looking to hear any memories people have about wells, springs, water dowsing, and I would love to hear from you! You can contact me at 1 (709) 739-1892 ext 7, or email 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wells and Springs in Eastern Newfoundland

Lion's Head Spout from The Battery, 1975

Last month’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Update for Newfoundland and Labrador mentioned that the job search for a new project on traditional wells, springs and water sources had begun. Well, the hunt is over, and I will be the researcher for this very interesting project over the next few months!

My name is Sarah Ingram, and I am an archaeologist by trade, just finishing up my graduate degree in Historical Archaeology at Memorial University. Although I have focused my career on archaeology I have always had a passion for folklore, local traditions, and how the past influences and effects the present. Traditional water sources are one of these things that can carry into the present, and are surrounded with lots of stories of where they were, which ones were better for making tea, and how throwing trout down into the well would help to keep them clean. In fact, old stories of a well in Ferryland, Newfoundland, where I did my graduate research, helped the archaeologists’ years ago find the lost well on the site!

This project has a couple of goals. The first is to gain a better knowledge base of the water resources that we have around here, some of which may not have been in use for years, and many of which are not publically known about. The second is to learn about the use and management of these local water sources, how they both were used and still are used, and how people in the community care for, clean, and maintain their water. The third, and the most easily lost aspect of knowledge we want to uncover surrounding water resources, are what people value about the wells and springs they remember and used, and what the community feels their significance was and is. We hope that this information can help to inform governmental projects, folkloric research, and community use of these traditional places!

I’ve been in the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador offices for a week now, beginning some preliminary reading, Internet scouting, and making myself as familiar as possible with any stories, traditions, or uses for wells and springs that I can find. Already I have come across some really great stories and images initially collected by Dale Jarvis from the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and Philip Hiscock from Memorial University.

Soon I will be contacting some people who have already expressed interest in sharing their stories with Dale and Philip, and hopefully learn much more than what is already recorded. Once I have gathered enough preliminary information, have spoken to some people about what they remember, and have some places in mind, I can get out in the field, look at these water sources, and hopefully get my hands dirty while recording them!

If you have any memories about using wells and springs, or know where there are some out in the community, I would love to have a chat with you! You can contact me at or give me a call at 739-1892 ext 7.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Clean Your Well

Last summer I did a lot of work on wells and springs here in Newfoundland, and one question that I asking myself in the beginning was how people managed to clean their wells over the years. It's something that I had no previous knowledge about prior to beginning the project, and something that I found zero information about online. It seemed weird to me, because I thought I would find tons of resources and methods for cleaning wells, considering so many people use them*.

However, once I started asking people in my interviews how wells were cleaned, I heard the same method, or variations of it, time and time again. It seemed to me that although I couldn't find it online, it was a practice that had been long done across the province in a very similar fashion, and a tradition that was passed by word of mouth, through transmission, or through generations of learned behaviour.

I wanted to take what I learned and make it easily accessible to the public, so that in the future anyone needing to clean an old forgotten well would have a place to start, with an easy to follow step by step guide!

I first recommend getting the water tested, both before and after the cleaning. Water test kits can be picked up and dropped off at the Public Health Laboratory at the Dr. L.A. Miller Centre in St. John's, or the Service NL Centre in your area if you are outside the city. Specimens can't be older than 30 hours, so make sure you get these samples in ASAP. Once submitted, you will get both a phone call and mailed results, with a detailed explanation of what that means.

In order to clean your well you first need to drain it. Depending on the depth of your well and how quickly it fills, this can either be done by hand or with a pump. Once the water has been drained, you can begin cleaning. In the past, lime was used to scrub the sides, but a switch to Javex is more contemporary, and what is currently used today. Scrub the sides with a Javex and water solution thoroughly with a scrub or loofah, and then let the well fill back up with water.

Once the first scrub has been done and the well has filled, you need to drain and fill the well once or twice more. Many people suggested pouring a bottle of Javex into one of these refills - if you do decide to do that, then make sure you drain and fill the well at least once more to make sure that the bleach has worked its way out. Some well owners recommended running taps for a few hours afterwards as well, in order to both clear out the Javex as well as clean the pipes that lead into the house. Some also recommended dumping some Javex into the well at the end and leaving it in - but this is really up to you.

A second test is an important step, to make sure that the water is indeed cleaned and ready to drink, especially if the first test was questionable, or the well hasn't been cleaned or used in a while. Make sure to wait 48 hours after cleaning before you test, though!

It's a pretty straightforward process:

1. Test
2. Drain
3. Scrub
4. Rinse (and repeat as needed)
5. Test again!

If you use this guide to clean your well, or have a different method you would love to share, please feel free to contact me at, or by calling 1 (709) 739-1892 ext 5.

*After publishing this article, I was contacted by a couple people telling me that this process is called 'shock chlorination' or 'shocking a well' - a term that never came up in my interviews! However, once I knew the term I found some info on the internet, including a great guide found here. Thanks for the tips Andrea and Jane!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tuesday's #FolklorePhoto: Hooking Away

Dale Wells assembles her mat hooking frame, St. Anthony. Photo by Lisa Wilson. 2010
Today's Folklore Photos come from St. Anthony collection on Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative. St. Anthony is located on the northeastern tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. This site was first given the name of 'St. Anthony Haven' in 1532, for the way in which the area operated as a safe landing point for fishing fleets. The region was initially settled based on the fact that there were rich cod fishing grounds in the vicinity, a move that helped to establish a productive fishery that would last for several centuries. Despite the eventual collapse of the cod fishery, St. Anthony has had many development successes, making it a vital service center for residents of the broader GNP region.

Another important feature of St. Anthony is the community's historic affiliation with the legacy of Dr. Grenfell. Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940) - a British doctor-arrived in St. Anthony in 1892 as a medical missionary, sent by The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. Within a year of his arrival, Dr. Grenfell commenced building a medical system that eventually grew to serve the regions of Northern Newfoundland and Labrador. As his medical mission grew, his mandate expanded to include the development of schools, cooperatives, industrial work projects, an orphanage, and other social programs. One such program involved utilizing local textile-based craft skills to help sustain the region's economy. Grenfell style embroidered coats and hooked rugs with Grenfell inspired designs are being produced by residents of the Great Northern Peninsula to this day. These objects are now referred to as being a part of the 'Grenfell tradition' and can be seen and purchased at Grenfell Handicrafts, located in St. Anthony.

The St. Anthony inventory is part of a founding collection for the Great Northern Peninsula Textiles Archive and Learning Center. This project, based in Conche, NL, is an on-going initiative to document and preserve the textile-based crafts that are being created on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula. The items in this collection were gathered between May and July of 2010 and include photographs of textile craft objects such as patchwork quilts, knitted items, and Grenfell-style hooked rugs. This inventory also includes audio clips of craftspeople discussing their particular textile-based skills and practices.

If you want to learn more about this collection click here and if you want to listen to an interview with Dale Wells about quilting and knitting click here.

A nautical themed quilt made by Dale Wells, St. Anthony. Photo by Lisa Wilson. 2010
A tie dyed quilted wall hanging made by Dale Wells, St. Anthony. Photo by Lisa Wilson. 2010

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A day of water in Cupids, Newfoundland

Last week Dale, Claire, Nicole and myself travelled out to Cupids, Newfoundland to meet up with some friends and talk about water sources. We left Nicole for the morning at the Cupids Legacy Centre to teach her Pillow Top Workshop, and the rest of us met up with Peter Laracy, the General Manager of the Legacy Centre. He showed us around Cupids for the majority of the day, and we started our tour with his own well. His property has had a well on it since 1918, and the well went through several facelifts, first in 1965 and then in 1978. It is now expertly housed, and includes insulation and a pump for a year round water guarantee! Peter even invited me back at the end of the summer to help him clean his well - I can't wait!

We then went to meet Vernon 'Bucky' Whelan, and he had quite a few stories to share. Bucky first showed us an old spring that had been cemented in near his property. This spring has been around for as long as anyone in the community can remember, and in fact was once thought to have been a source of water for John Guy and a brewhouse in the seventeenth century. Bucky also showed us where a barrel well used to be on his property, and told us about a spring that filled near the back of his property and used to be used for horses. He also had some great memories to share, about how important water is, the cold and pure taste of springs, and carrying water with hoops in turns. It was a treat!

We next went to meet Christine Fowler, a relative of Peter, who had an amazing traditional, almost kitschy looking well house with some delicious well water hidden underneath. We've seen quite a few of these around Newfoundland as lawn art pieces, but this is the first well I've seen actually housed underneath one. I love the traditional, simple design to these wellhouses - these are what I think of when I think wells! We also went and saw her brother's well next door, which was one of the deepest I've seen so far (242 inches!) and more modern, with PVC lining and a metal pitched roof. Before leaving we got to pet his pony in the backyard - adorable.

We then went on a bit of a hike out into Greenland, where Peter knew of a long forgotten spring. Peter told us that there were once houses out in this area, but in the 1940's the last few households moved into where the modern town now is. This round well looks to be like a closed in spring, shallow and completely lined with rocks. It was great to see such a secluded spot for a well, and really made me think about how many more were hiding out in the Greenland woodlands.

On our way back to the Legacy Centre, Peter ran into his friend Ross Dawe, who had a great old car and three different water sources on his property, including two wells and one spring that he used in dry times. We also stopped and chatted with Lloyd Kane, who had an old well nestled behind a gorgeous honeysuckle tree that hadn't been used in decades. While the well was nothing spectacular, the tree hanging over it, nestled in a green backyard, really seemed almost magical.

Once back at the Legacy Centre, we said goodbye to Peter, grabbed Nicole, and went to the Cupids archaeological site to have a chat with William Gilbert, the lead archaeologist. He told us about an attempt at an archaeological dig near the spring we had been shown  earlier by Bucky, and that even though nothing was found, Bill still believes that the brewhouse that John Guy had in his colony was over there. He also showed us a well in the back of the Cupids plantation house that has yet to be excavated. There are busy up there on the dig in Cupids, so we were very thankful for the tour!

After a delicious lunch we headed out to see one final spring, out along the Bay Roberts heritage trail. This spring has been closed in with rocks, and is right off the trail path. While I probably wouldn't recommend drinking from it, it's a great spot for Fido to get a sip while out on the trails. As you can tell, it was a great spot with an incredible view.

We got to see a lot of wells, and talk to a lot of people - it really put a spring in my step!

I am still looking to hear from people about their wells, springs, and water memories: what does water mean to you, how have you sued it, and what do you remember about it? I would love to have a chat with you!

You can reach me at, or call 1 (709) 739-1892 ext. 7

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Old well on Mount Scio Road

This morning, Philip Hiscock with the Department of Folklore (left) and I met up with Sister Mary Tee (right), the Coordinator of the Mercy Centre for Ecology and Justice on Mount Scio Road. The centre is on land that once belonged to the Macdonald family. The property is home to an old well that they are interested in possibly restoring and using as part of their garden projects.

Over the next few months, Philip and I will be doing research around wells and springs in the St. John's area, and I would be particularly interested in tracking down people with knowledge about how wells were maintained, cleaned, restored, and used in the past. If you know anyone who has familiarity with wells, drop me an email at or call me at 1-888-739-1892 ext 2.

- Dale

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Folklore Photo - Ocean Pond Well

This week's folklore photo is courtesy of Jessica Cahill, who gave us a tour of her property in Ocean Pond last Friday. Jess contacted us via Facebook when she heard we were working on a wells and springs project, and had a great example of a hand dug well to show us. Jess had a lot of stories surrounding the property and the well that came from the previous owners, and was informed that it was dug by the grandfather of the last owner in the 1930's. When she first bought the property, there was a wellhouse covering it, but was too deteriorated to be left standing. The well is circular, hand dug and rock lined, and is incredibly well preserved despite its age. The well itself is just over 13 feet deep, and the water is clear enough to see all the way to the bottom.

Jess has a cover over the well right now in case nighttime explorers come across it without realizing it's there, but would like to eventually see if it could be used again. Jess said she would like to incorporate it into the cabin water lines when construction begins, as long as the well would still be intact. "We want to use it if we can, but if it would damage it then we'd rather just preserve it, because it's so fantastic" she told us. Until then, it's a gorgeous example of old hand dug wells from one of the original properties in Ocean Pond.

We here at the Heritage Foundation's Intangible Cultural Heritage office will be drilling the community for water stories all summer, so if you have any memories, photos, stories or know of any old wells and springs, we would love to hear from you! Please contact me at the heritage office here.

- Sarah

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Ice Cutting and Salmon Fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador

In the twentieth century, the salmon fishing industry was intertwined with many other industries. It was common practice for fishermen to cut blocks of ice from frozen ponds in the winter using various types of saws (Figure 1) and store them in sawdust to later use in transporting their freshly caught salmon to merchants when the fishing season opened. Sawdust was an abundant byproduct from sawmills and acted as an insulating layer for ice which prolonged the use of ice well beyond the cold winter months. This made ice cut from ponds in the winter accessible in May and June when the salmon fishery opened.

Figure 1: Image reads: a "double bit" axe is referred to an axe with two blades, the handle was usually short. My father had one in his household when he was a boy. Often people would have one side sharp for cutting wood, and a dull side for cutting ice in the winter when they would take a load of wood from the woods and carry it home over. Image courtesy of Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative.

Once the ponds froze over, ice would be cut into large 18-20 inch square blocks using a pit saw and hauled by horse and sleigh to ice houses and sawmills to be unloaded into piles of sawdust (Figure 2, Figure 3). In Harbour Breton, ice from Beaver Pond was being cut out at nearly 20 dory loads per ice house. These ice houses were filled with sawdust and protected from sun exposure to ensure the preservation of ice for several months.

Figure 2: Ice cutting in Cape Broyle on Beaver Pond circa 1950s. Image courtesy of Andrea O’Brien taken from Mr. Ronald O’Brien’s collection.

Figure 3: Ice cutting in Gaultois, Newfoundland circa 1887 (Wells 2014).

In Whiteway, a community in Trinity Bay, several families such as the Burgess’, George’s, Legge’s, and Jackson’s, were operating sawmills while also salmon fishing in the summer and ice cutting in the winter.

Albert Legge has many memories of his family’s sawmill and their salmon fishing. Albert recalls an ice house located in New Harbour operated by a fish merchant named Ernest Woodman. Woodman, likely with the help of his sons, would also cut ice in the winter time and store it at his ice house until local fishermen had fish to sell which was then packed in ice and sent to markets. Likewise, Clifford George remembers an ice house in New Harbour that was built of boards into a large square area filled with sawdust where ice blocks were buried.

Legge remembers that in the 1950s there was an ice house owned by his family located on a pile of sawdust from their mill. The Legge’s did not cut ice themselves, instead they filled their ice house with ice from Woodman’s ice house in New Harbour. The ice from Woodman was delivered to their ice house by truck rather than horse. The ice was stored in the house in piles of sawdust (Figure 4) until May when the salmon fishery opened. Albert remembers that salmon were caught on a berth along the shore at a point called Salmon Point, which was the perfect spot to place a salmon trap. After catching their salmon, the fish would be cleaned and packed into wooden boxes filled with broken ice blocks before being shipped to New Harbour where it was then sent off to market.

Figure 4: Image reads: … they cut it and _ in _ in square blocks about two feet by two feet. They had ice-grips and they would stick the grips into the ice and _ and bring it through the ice house an' put sawdust on it. … They would have a rope over their shoulders an' they would haul it over the ice to the ice house which was near the pond.Ice house was made of wood; it was usually....just thick wood, an' sometimes not - just clapboard, not _ not even thick woods. .... Oh it was probably about forty feet long and about thirty feet wide an' as high as _ 'bout thirty feet high. .... It was in the open _ an open place right at the foot of the pond. Image courtesy of Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative.

Members of the Burgess family also have many memories of the family sawmill constructed in 1916, and their involvement with the salmon fishery. Robert Burgess recalls that his family would cut ice from Jimmy Rowe’s pond and then bury it in piles of sawdust at their sawmill. The Burgess’ sawmill is still intact on the property and the saws used to cut ice remain there. Robert recalled that:

Once the ponds froze over, the horse and sled would be driven across the pond in the morning, logs would be hauled out before lunch time, lunch was eaten and our uncles would change out the sweat-filled clothes, then head back across the pond to bring out more wood. This continued until the pond ice broke up in the spring.

When salmon was caught in the bay months later, the ice blocks would be dug up and used to transport salmon to keep it fresh. The family also manufactured the boxes that they were shipping the iced salmon in. There are many memories of the family catching and selling salmon. In 1912, a letter from Great Aunt Nellie to Henry Burgess, Bob’s great-grandfather, sent in advance of her travels back home to Whiteway from the United States: “I hope you will get a salmon after I get home. I suppose you got all the potatoes in the ground by this time. I am so glad that Rich is going to stay at home this summer” (Figure 5). The Burgess family also used the ice they cut and preserved in sawdust to transport freshly caught salmon to merchant families such as the Harnum’s in Hearts Delight, Cramm’s in Green’s Harbour and the Moores in Carbonear, and many others (Figure 6,7).

Figure 5: Part of Great Aunt Nellie’s handwritten letter to Henry Burgess in June 1912. June was the prime month to catch salmon. Image courtesy of Robert Burgess.

Figure 6,7: Receipts of salmon transactions between Richard Burgess, Robert’s grandfather, and Hedley Harnum, a merchant in Hearts Delight have been saved, recording that in June 1933, Harnum had purchased salmon from Burgess. Image courtesy of Robert Burgess.

Ice cutting also had domestic purposes. In Central Newfoundland, Corduroy Ponds was an excellent location to cut ice in the winter. Leonard Young, a Mi’kmaq man who grew up near the ponds, kept a dog team and horses in the late 1930s and 1940s (Figure 8). Young would cut timber in the area and his horse would haul sleighs full of wood to the sawmill Young operated on his property. In the winter, Young cut ice blocks from the pond and his horse hauled them back to the sawmill where they were stored in sawdust. Ice blocks were stored here until the summer where they were dug out of the sawdust and delivered to customers in Grand Falls Windsor. Young supplied ice blocks to households as some families in town were still using ice chests.

Figure 8: Leonard Young with his horse, unknown date. Image courtesy of Corey Sharpe.

Special thanks to Andrea O’Brien, Robert Burgess, Clifford George, Albert Legge, Corey Sharpe, and Doug Wells for providing us with many memories, details, and photographs about ice cutting and salmon fishing in Newfoundland.


Barras, Maryssa., and Dale Gilbert Jarvis
2021 Burgess Property, Whiteway, NL: Site and Building Survey. Heritage NL Fieldnotes Series, 015, February 2021.

The ICH Blog 
2021 What Did You Do with Sawdust in Whiteway?

Wells, Doug
2014 Putting Up Ice: Beaver Pond: A Municipal Heritage SIte in Harbour Breton. Intangible Cultural Heritage Update, Number 053 August-November 2014.

Friday, January 31, 2014

ICH Mini Forum Video Collection

In the middle of December last year (Friday the 13th to be exact!) we had an Intangible Cultural Heritage mini forum, where people who are in the heritage and ICH world could come together and share what they had been working on over the past year. This was our first mini forum, but hopefully not our last!

There were a range of topics: from policy, to wells, to wart remedies, and more. There is a full list of all the presentations, with links to their respective YouTube videos, below!

Frank Crews and Dale Jarvis - Introduction

Andrea O'Brien - Heritage Places Poster Contest

Chris Mouland - Digital Initiatives Archive Tour

Lisa Wilson - Bay Roberts Folk Belief Project

Claire McDougall - The Emergence of ICH Policy and Programs in Newfoundland and Labrador

Sarah Ingram - Wells, Springs, and Folklore

Ed Millar - Rugelach on the Rock

Nicole Penney - The Baccalieu Trail Oral History Collection

Chris Brookes - Inside Outside Battery

Christina Robarts - Newfiki: The Celebration of East European Culture in Newfoundland and Labrador

Jason Ross Sellars - 2013 Mummers Festival

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An interview with CBC Central!

Yesterday, I was contacted and interviewed by Leigh Anne Power from CBC Central on the wells and springs project I've been working on here at the Heritage Foundation. Have a listen!

Also, if you have any stories, wells and springs, photos, or memories you would like to share with us, please contact me - I would love to hear more from you!

Contact me here: or 1 (709) 739-1892 ext. 7

Monday, February 27, 2017

Pierce’s Fish Store - Saved from Demolition. #NLheritage

Pierce’s Store on the north side of Harbour Breton, 1990s. (Doug Wells photo)
Special report by Doug Wells.

Seeing it is Heritage Week in NL, I visited the Elementary classes (Grade 4,5,6) at St. Joseph’s Elementary in Harbour Breton. We discussed the history of Pierce’s Fish Store and how the building was saved from demolition, relocated and restored. This community landmark is more than 100 years old and has changed hands three times in its history. It was built by a local sea captain, Mr. George Rose who needed a store for curing fish and storing fishing supplies, etc. In 1944 it was sold to another local fishing Captain, Pius Augot who used the store for 20 years. The last owner was the Pierce family of Hr. Breton, a fishing family. It has been known as Pierce’s store since 1964. However, its purpose had diminished after the construction of the new fresh-fishplant in Hr. Breton during the 1960s and time was started to show its effects on the old wooden structure. With limited use and showing signs of deterioration, the Town of Hr. Breton offered to purchase the building and make it a part of the Elliott Premises on the other side of the harbour. The Town wanted to preserve the heritage of this community landmark. Its present location was not suitable for restoration work or accessibility. After the fishplant (FPI) closed down in 2004, displaced workers were employed in the project of relocating it and restoring it. The photos will show the steps in the relocation. All work was done by local workers who had knowledge of tides, boats, and floating platforms, etc. They were very proud of their successful effort as the photo shows. In 30 minutes it was floated, transported across the harbour and put on the new foundation.

No longer is it a fish store but rather a modern facility on the interior and restoration work done to the exterior. It is well equipped and suitable for various group gatherings and performances.


Moving Day – August 16, 2005

On August 16, 2005, after 8 weeks of preparation, floating docks were slid under Pierce’s Store waiting for the tides that would lift it from its foundation.

After many attempts, and while time and tide wait for no one, it was freed from its shores with a resounding crack. Settling back in the water many wondered whether or not it would stay afloat.

A short 30 minutes later the Moving Crew celebrates with the rest of the community for the successful relocation.

With its move came a complete makeover and is now a part of the Elliott Premises in Harbour Breton.

Class photo: Grade 4 and 5 students, St. Joseph’s Elementary, Hr. Breton. It was anti-bulling day.