Saturday, 29 October 2011

Portugal Cove and St. John's

It is a pleasant drive from St John' northward past Quidi Vidi (a good-sized pond in a park where the local fair is staged each year) up past the St John's Airport and then down to the shore of Conception Bay.

Where the highway begins its descent into the Cove there is another road running off to the east. It is up there where the Provincial Agricultural Farm is located. That bemused me as the nickname for Newfoundland is "The Rock" - there is little arable land unlike there is in the other provinces of Canada. The manager of the farm was Mr. Cunningham and his family were nominal members of the Portugal Cove congregation. They were originally from Quebec and it amused me to hear Mr. Cunningham's mother speaking in English but with a mixture of French-Canadian patois and a Scottish brogue!

I was invited for a visit one New Years Day and was given the chance to go out with my host on a skidoo. That was great - until I failed to make the proper turn to come back through the gate in the rail fence. Instead I hit the gatepost, stalled the machine - and went flying off to land on my chin. There was a crust on the snow so I received a scrape and shed a little blood. Well - at least I gained a memento.

The man who acted as 'Sexton' for the church lived a few hundred yards down from the building (which was built on top of a small promontory just above the harbor). He came to the church early to light the furnace and then to ring the bell - which merely tolled.

His married son and daughter-in-law lived with him and his wife and they had a sweet little girl who was about 4 years old. She would come to church with her Granddad and sit beside him. When one is little it is almost impossible to sit still for an hour. I was annoyed by the way he admonished her to sit still and to not move a muscle but I was helpless to say anything.

I firmly believe that, if going to church can be an enjoyable experience, it is likely that the person would carry on attending through life but - if it is NOT enjoyable, they will drop away. I felt that the Granddad had it all wrong - instead of finding something to amuse the little girl, he would threaten her when she became restless.

There was a road that wound its way all around Conception Bay and one could drive to other 'out port communities'. Along that road was the Roman Catholic Church as well as some houses. One of those houses was where the CBC Hockey Night in Canada Color Man lived. He was Howie Meeker who was Don Cherry's predecessor on the Saturday night telecasts. I saw him once - he and I were seated on the same aircraft.

The villages lining the bays were only a few miles apart from each other. A year after I arrived in the Bell Island/Portugal Cove Pastoral Charge another younger minister arrived in one of those villages. We met each other at a Presbytery meeting and became friends. He was involved in the Charismatic Movement that was very popular in the early 1970s and he had quite a strong influence on my life. He was the Reverend Mervyn Skey.

I went into St. John's at least once a week and, usually, more often than that. As I mentioned in the 'Bell Island' blog, it was really the sole place to shop for items beyond the daily basic necessities. Also, I attended the annual Quidi Vidi Regatta each year enjoying the festival.

I did go to Memorial University but, as I was obligated to return to Bell Island on most evenings, I could not remain there long enough to be of any use to the Chaplain. I really regret that as I liked him and would have loved to have assisted him in the programs at the Memorial University residence.

In another blog I mentioned that smaller Quebec City and St. John's are the only two cities in Canada where I have become lost while driving along the streets.

When I lived in Sydney, Australia I had heard the legend that when British settlers first arrived and let the cattle - that came with them - off the ship, where ever a cow wandered that was where the settlers built a street. The same appeared to be true for St John's. There were no streets nor avenues that cut clear across the city - instead one has to memorize routes between point A and point B.

One day I was on my way to the St John's Hospital to visit with a Bell Islander who was a patient there. As I was on an official visit I was wearing my dog collar. A policeman pulled me over for making an illegal left turn. He was an Irish Catholic boy and was embarrassed and apologized, "Father, I am sorry to have to give you this ticket but it is Safe Driving Week and you did make an illegal turn!" As it so happened, the eldest daughter of one of the parishioners in Portugal Cove worked in the Traffic Court so she had the ticket voided. I still feel guilty about that - after all, I was in the wrong.

I don't remember if films were screened on Bell Island or not but, when an interesting movie was released, I went to the movie theater in a shopping center in St John's to see it. One of those films was "Cabaret". For reasons that I cannot remember now, I failed to allow enough time to see the entire film before having to leave to catch the ferry. It was years before I finally saw and heard the closing scene.

There were live theater productions too and one of those was a pirated version of "Jesus Christ Superstar". I took the Youth Group from Portugal Cove to see it and enjoyed the production very much.

Bell Island and Portugal Cove are a long way from the West Coast and Newfoundlanders have created a strikingly different culture which was difficult to get used to. Still, I enjoyed the experience and often think back to 1971-73. I feel blessed to having been able to meet and share with those good folk.

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