It snowed today in St. John’s, Newfoundland (my deck here in Hammond River is hot enough to burn my bare feet!) – this makes me glad I don’t live there any more…
I left my parents’ home in Prince Edward County, Southern Ontario, for St. John’s in November, 1983. I was going to join my boyfriend, who had gotten his first full-time radio job at the new station, CKIX-FM, or “Kix Country” as it was known. I think I flew to Halifax, where I traded the comfortable jet I’d been travelling on for a noisy turboprop abomination known as the Hawker-Siddley. After a very rough flight, we landed at the St. John’s Airport, where I was met by my happy boyfriend (we hadn’t seen each other for a few weeks!). The weather was cold and grey, which I would discover was a pretty much constant condition in St. John’s. As we drove to a very nice bed & breakfast near Bannerman Park, I looked at the scenery – multicoloured frame houses (every colour – usually pastels) jammed close together lined the narrow, hilly streets of St. John’s. Brick houses are not often seen on the Rock.
While my boyfriend was at work, I spent my days looking for an apartment…I finally found one on Casey St., near the downtown area. Our new home was two rooms (a kitchen and living room/bedroom) and a bathroom at the top of a long staircase in a four-plex in a working-class neighbourhood. The back yard was tiny and treeless, and the house was so close to the sidewalk that we didn’t even have a front yard. For these “luxury” accommodations, our rent was $300/month, plus heat (oil) and hydro (when I got my first apartment in Saint John, New Brunswick fourteen years later, I was paying $400/month for a 3-bedroom flat with a dining room and a double back yard!). Our landlord’s first name was “Emerson” – I’d never met a man named that before. We went to the local thrift shop, and bought a used bed and a small TV- it was our only furniture for quite a while. My boyfriend worked evenings until midnight – we used to watch TV until 2 or 2:30 in the morning, and then go to bed (Newfoundland has its own time zone which is an hour-and-a-half later then Eastern time – all the TV shows come on really late). We also acquired a cute striped kitten that someone was giving away…we named her Mandy.
Our downstairs neighbours were a young married couple with a new baby boy – Brian was doing pre-med at Memorial University. We became good friends – I spent a lot of time talking to Ruth (I never did find a job!) and playing with the baby. Brian and Ruth were from the country, and had their own special dialect, which took us quite a while to understand completely Instead of “Where is Bob?”, Newfies say: “Where’s Bob to?”. Instead of “Sally is doing her laundry”, the Newfie version is “Sally’s after doin’ the wash” (pronounced “warsh”). We were lucky the laundromat was just down the street, because we didn’t have a car!
It was at Brian and Ruth’s that I first tasted moose meat, which Ruth had “bottled” (Newfie for “canned” – I wish I had a tape of Ruth saying “bottled” – it has a completely different pronunciation over there). I have loved moose meat ever since. They also introduced us to “boiled dinner,” which is a mix of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and turnips. Another night we went down for supper, Brian made Chicken Cordon Bleu (which is not a traditional Newfoundland dish – I think he was just showing off – it was good, though!). Brian and Ruth used canned milk a lot – fresh milk is so expensive (as are fresh fruits and vegetables!). One Newfoundland “delicacy” I refused to try was cod tongues – I liked fish, but not enough to eat that part of the body! I never had “fish and brewis” (pronounced “bruise”) either – it just looked gross!
We made some good friends at the radio station…my boyfriend’s boss and his wife invited us to their New Year’s Eve party. A lot of people are familiar with the potent drink that Newfies like known as “screech,” which is dark Jamaican rum. That night, we were introduced to another Newfie tradition called “swish.” An online dictionary of “Canadianisms” defines swish as: “A kind of liquor made from putting water into barrels that have previously held some sort of alcohol (whisky, brandy, whatever) and letting the alcohol leach out of the wood. Drunk by university students who like to go blind.” Also in attendance at the party was the guy who did the night shift at the radio station (midnight to six a.m.): Snuffy was a cowboy/musician from Texas (I have no idea what possessed him to move to Newfoundland, but I think he’s back home now). He had imbibed quite a bit of swish before leaving for his on-air shift – his boss ended up coming in for him to finish up after Snuffy passed out!
On our strict budget, eating out in St. John’s consisted of walking down the street to the Mary Brown’s Famous Chicken (picture Colonel Sanders in a skirt) and bringing home some chicken legs and fries. Once, we ate at a sitdown restaurant on Duckworth Street, but I can’t remember its name – I don’t think it’s there any more.
Other entertainment consisted of going with my boyfriend to shows the radio station was sponsoring at local bars – I do like Newfie music! We also saw the movie “Footloose” with Brian and Ruth – we went out dancing at a bar on George St. afterwards. I still love Kevin Bacon!
Without a car, we depended on our feet or the bus to get us where we needed to go…we rarely took a cab in St. John’s, because the transit system is excellent – there’s a bus every ten minutes on the main routes. Snow removal, however, was a different story: I have a vivid memory of walking down LeMarchant Street to Dominion get groceries in February: the snow was thigh-deep, and as I trudged miserably along, ice pellets were bouncing painfully off my cheeks. My only thought was: “What the hell am I doing here?”
One time in the summer, Brian and Ruth borrowed a car and took us to visit their friends near Torbay – it was a beautiful drive – I remember lots of rocks, trees and cliffs – it was the only time I ever saw the Newfoundland countryside. We enjoyed Brian and Ruth’s friends too…they were a delightful old hippie couple (I say “old” but I was in my early 20’s at the time – they were probably in their late 50’s!). The man was one of Brian’s professors at MUN. We had a picnic in their yard.
It was in Newfoundland that I decided to get my ears pierced – I’d never had it done as a kid. I convinced my boyfriend to get one of his done too – I thought it would look sexy! Off we went to the beauty salon – I opted to get his “extra” earring put in my ear (two holes in my right ear), since we were paying for it anyway. The actual piercing didn’t hurt much, but boy, it was painful turning the earrings for the six weeks afterward (my boyfriend ended up letting his grow over because he kept getting cysts). My first pair of earrings were little black telephone receivers I bought at the cheap department store downtown (kind of like Woolworth’s, only grubbier).
Soon afterwards, my boyfriend got a job offer at a radio station in Moncton, New Brunswick, and the longest ten months of my life came to an end! The people in Newfoundland are great, but the weather and the cost of living there suck!