Labrador History - 3.3 SUMMER

Mary Taylor3.3 SUMMER
Summer arrives quite suddenly on the Labrador, usually in early June, there being no real Spring season in the traditional sense of nice, soft warm days. It was pleasant, therefore, to wake in the morning to the sound of the chug-chug of the fishing boats as the fishermen set off for their day’s work, and later to see these boats anchored on the “collar” in the bay, a sight which has sadly been missing in recent years. July is often a foggy, rainy month. This makes the vegetation grow and the sight of lush green grass is a relief after the dull browns of the breakup season. Buttercups and blue irises grow wild, scattered over the landscape. In June the days can be quite hot, and it was pleasant to sit out on the steps of the nursing station and take a break when time permitted.
At times like this my thoughts inevitably turned to planting flowers and vegetables. We had a small greenhouse at the station, and in it we set tomato and cucumber plants and some flower seeds for later transplanting. The growing season is quite short but many people plant cabbage, turnip, carrots, beets and potatoes. Turnip tops make a nice vegetable too, and are rich in iron. In later years a large greenhouse was built in Capstan Island and supplied plants, but earlier we ordered cabbage plants from the greenhouse in St. Anthony, which was very capably run by Mr. Jim Tucker, Dorothy’s father. He was the chief gardener. Many people put in their own seed and grow seedlings in cans on window ledges, and put plants in the ground towards the end of June to avoid night frosts.
Growing conditions are hindered by the arrival of the block of northern ice which turns the temperature cooler, especially at night. It is rather like living in a refrigerator! This ice comes from northern Labrador, and passes through the Strait of Belle Isle between northern Newfoundland and the south coast of Labrador, bringing with it many large icebergs, some of which are quite beautiful. Many icebergs are as big as houses, and have a strong affect on life, as they can hinder shipping and fishing. A big ‘berg came into the harbour that first summer I was there, and a fishermen took me out in a boat so I could take a picture of it. At a later time a nurse had her family from Ireland visit her, and had difficulty crossing the straits because of ice. One of the fishermen brought them across in his long-liner, a hazardous undertaking.
Summer on the Labrador, in those days, was fishing season. A most important part of the cycle of life, much revolved around it, and all were affected. Men, and whole families at times, were busy getting ready for the fishing season, painting their boats and preparing nets, spreading them on the grass for mending, if necessary. When fishing men worked very long hours, frequently going out to the nets at 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. and staying until 11.00 p.m. or midnight.
The fishing season was heralded by the arrival of caplin, a small fish used for bait. These came rolling onto the beaches to spawn and were caught with a small net, or even in a pail by children. Eaten fresh or roasted after drying, they are delicious. Cod, the main fish caught on the Labrador, followed caplin, although
salmon, herring, turbot and an occasional halibut were also caught in season. In those early days, fish were salted and stored in large , sheds, or fishing stages, to be dried on wooden racks in the sun.
The dried fish were shipped out in the fall on large schooners to be sold by the merchants
Fishing was a family affair and everyone was involved one way or another As the men brought in the fish from the nets or trawl lines the women went down to the wharf to help head and split them At home the older children helped care for younger ones and the women fitted in their housework where they could (There were no machines then remember Those were the days when women used scrubbing boards and boiled clothes on the stove, or used Lye to whiten them)
Fortunately fishing did not usually interfere with school as the season was late June until the fall The women and the children all helped spread the fish on dry days and, when it rained, everyone rushed out to bring in the fish - rather like one did on wash day with clothes! Every edible part of the fish was used even the tongues which are delicious deep fried and the cods liver was used to make cod liver oil In more recent years the fish are filleted and shipped out on ice aboard large transport trucks. 
That first summer of ‘54 I took a vacation and visited my sister in Ontario, travelling first by coastal steamer to Corner Brook and then by plane to Ontario. So much was happening that I was very excited, especially about seeing my new nephew, who had just recently put in an appearance. Leslie Diack, the nurse I was relieving, was due back in September but would be going to another nursing station while I was to return to Forteau. In the meantime another nurse was to relieve me but, as so often happened, she did not turn up until after I left. This meant I had to leave everything in order, with notes explaining procedures and where everything was kept.
The days prior to my leaving were busy ones. There were routine clinics, of course, and we had two deliveries, both boys, within twenty-four hours of each other. They were big babies, one weighing twelve and a half pounds and the other eleven and three quarter pounds; and they had huge appetites! The only problem during delivery was with the shoulders, but they were both delivered safely. I remember sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, the night before I left, feeding them a bottle each so that their mothers could get some sleep, but nothing seemed to satisfy them. When they finally DID settle, I still had to pack, and the boat was expected early next morning!
Sure enough, a little after 6:00 a.m. next morning I heard the steamer whistle “blow” and, hastily grabbing a suitcase in each hand, hurried down the path to the waiting boat. Basic transport in those days was by coastal steamers that brought mail, supplies and passengers about every ten days or so. The Springdale and the Northern Ranger were two boats that came round the coast from St. John’s or Lewisporte to Corner Brook, servicing communities as far north as Mary’s Harbour. When a steamer showed up at a settlement there was great excitement, and the local population, including children, would come down to the wharf and clamber on board for a look. Now I was part of the excitement.
Climbing on board as they loaded bags of mail, I prayed that nothing serious would happen before my relief nurse arrived. The coastal steamer took a couple of days to reach Corner Brook, Newfoundlansi, which gave me a chance to relax before starting the next part of the journey. Anticipation of a much needed change and rest was only part of my enthusiasm, however, for I was particularly excited at the thought of seeing my nephew, all the more because he was the first of his generation. I enjoyed seeing my sister again as it had been several years since we had seen each other. In the meantime she had married and had the baby.
Time passed all too quickly and soon I was on my way back to Forteau. On my return, I found that the nurse’s aide, Bertha, who had helped me in so many trying situations, was getting married. I was sorry to lose Bertha, although I was very happy for her. Her replacement was Pearl, another very capable young lady, who was a very happy person.
I was invited to the wedding, my first wedding since arriving in Forteau, so I looked forward to it. In those days weddings on the Labrador involved the whole community. It was often the custom that, after the ceremony and as they emerged from the church, the bride and groom were greeted by a barrage of shot. This was strange to me, and a bit frightening the first time it happened.
Bertha’s big day arrived fine and clear and I went by boat to L’Anse-au-Loup for the wedding. The ceremony took place in the little schoolhouse, after which the young couple went to the bridegroom’s house for the wedding supper. Inviting people to the supper were the wedding attendants, bridesmaids and brides boys, who went from house to house summonsing the whole community to come. Of course, there wasn’t room for everyone at once, so the meal was arranged in shifts, but there was enough for all because the women of the village had been busy for days, cooking and baking. The main course was a big pot of hash, made of salt meat, carrots, turnips, cabbage and potatoes, while pies and cookies were served for dessert. Everyone had a holiday except me.
In the middle of the celebrations, someone came looking for “the nurse” as a young boy had fallen into the brook and was believed to be drowning. Fortunately, he was rescued and a tragedy avoided, the boy being none the worse for his adventure. So tle day ended happily after all. I was often interrupted by such calls and soon learned that, literally, one had no free time - no time that Was one’s own. Being the people’s only medical help meant being n call twenty four-hours a day, seven days a week.
This could be quite frustrating, as I felt I had no time to really relax. In later years I read a book that was a help in this respect. “Have we no right?” by Mabel Williamson, told of the feelings of missionaries and others who were constantly in the public eye, even at mealtimes. Then I thought of the Lord Jesus, when he was here on earth, saying to His disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile:’ for there were many coming and going and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” [Mark 6:311 Again, He sat on the well at Sychar to rest because He was tired and He said, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord.” [Matthew 10:24]
By now I had been in Forteau for a year, a very eventful one, and soon the second winter would be on its way. Did I want to stay in Forteau? Before Leslie left it had been suggested that I should move to Mutton Bay on the Quebec side of Labrador but I did not feel happy about this, having just begun to settle in Forteau. I felt I wanted to stay and had no indication that I was to leave. Furthermore, since Leslie Diack was coming back to the nursing station in Mary’s Harbour, I felt free to stay where I was.
Children were getting ready for school, men were putting away fishing gear for the winter and, on fine days, women were out on the hills and barrens picking partridge berries for the winter. At midday the women would light a fire and boil up the kettle for a “mug up”; sometimes they would take a pot of stew or fish and brewis, and have that too. Brewis was local fare made of hard bread, soaked over night and boiled, then mixed with the fish. Pieces of salt pork (“scrunchens”) are fried out and the fat poured over the mixture. Usually, they had a good time and arrived home at night tired but happy. The berries were cleaned, stowed away in barrels, and either sold or stored for the winter to make jam and pies.
It was a simple, but happy life and people made their own entertainment. Women sat through the long winter evenings making things to sell; they would knit socks and mitts, and hook rugs from scraps of material and old stockings. They made some beautiful quilts too. Men would play card games like Flinch or “Rookie” and talk over their fishing days and hunting trips. Was I sorry that
I had come to serve these simple fisherfolk and my Lord? No, I was glad, in spite of the inconveniences and occasional loneliness, for being in the centre of the will of God is the best place to be. I was beginning to love these people and their simple lifestyle. At the time I did not realize how many years I would be with them, or how much a part of my life they would become. No! I was not sorry I had answered the call of the Master, “Follow Me, and Twill make you fishers of men.” [Matthew 4:19]