Thursday, April 17, 2014

Burf Ploughman, the Barrel Bucker

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to visit with a wonderful 83-old-man named Burford Ploughman. Knowing of my penchant for oral history, Burf invited me over to record his reflections on the some of the games and antics he and the boys would get up to in the Bay Roberts area in the 1930s and 40s. Originally from Coley's Point, Burford has a sharp memory, and can recall exactly what it was like to grow up in that area. From the early memories of his father keeping animals, to later times of living on Cable Avenue, Burford provided a detailed description of his youth.  In his stories, he really emphasized the fact that the local boys were real pranksters, and luckily, the community was very tolerant of them. One particular activity that they got up to was, on the days approaching Bonfire Night, they would go out and "buck barrels." Bucking* barrels, I soon found out, is the act of taking (stealing) barrels from different families around town, to be used as wood for the bonfire. Burford explained (with help from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English) that bucking isn't like borrowing, as the object will never be returned to the owner, but it wasn't exactly stealing either. 

*Buck v To purloin; to collect or gather surreptitiously. He bucked a barrel last night for the bonfire on November 5th.  Click here to visit the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

Like often the case during oral history interviews, childhood recollections were just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually we went on to discuss the fact that Burf ended up leading a most interesting adult life too. Without any specific ambition to do so, but because of his love for debating local issues, Burf became a talk-show host for a television show called Analysis. During the five years that he was on this show, Burf had the opportunity to discuss major issues with people such as Joey Smallwood--the most important political figure of that era. These interviews led him towards a deeper understanding of the political themes that were resonating throughout the province. His interest in achieving what he considers the best possible life for the people of Newfoundland continued throughout his career, and continues today. In fact, Burford was recently interviewed for Atlantic Business magazine (Mar/Apr 2014 issue) because of a specific vision he has for creating a transportation tunnel between Labrador and the Island. Like a true debater, he presents his arguments using clarity and logic.

Burf Ploughman in his home, April 2014.
What I enjoyed most about this oral history interview is the sense that Burf still marvels at what a grand life he has had. The wonder and joy could easily be read in his face throughout my stay. Our visit was recorded and will eventually be submitted to the Digital Archives Initiative so that it will be publicly accessible. I plan to visit for a second time, to go into more detail about the games that children would play back then, and see if Burf can recall for me some the rules and different ways of playing. It is guaranteed to be an interesting follow up interview.

Did you ever watch the show Analysis? Did you ever buck barrels from your neighbours? I'd love to hear your memories:


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Folklore Photo: A Short Film about MUN's Folklore and Language Archive

Host Rob Pitt interviews archivist Peter Narvaez and assistant archivist Philip Hiscock of the Folklore Archive of Memorial University of Newfoundland about the archive and its collections. Created in 1983, this short film was created Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador's Education Television Centre.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Abandoned Sacred - Unmaking and remaking sacred places

Guest post by Dr. Barry Stephenson

Places of worship have life histories: they are conceived, grow and develop, pass through transformations, perhaps even die. My work examines sacred sites that have, for one reason or another, been abandoned by their users. Abandonment does not necessarily bring down the curtain on a place’s religious significance or use. There is a rich history of religious buildings being “converted” from use by one tradition for use by another. Alternatively, religious architecture, built for liturgical purposes, may be “converted” into seemingly secular sites; for example, a church becomes a theatre or a condominium complex. The language of conversion applied to sacred architecture uses a metaphor to evoke the sense of heightened emotion, import, and transformation associated with a religious experience and maps this transformative process on to a material site or natural landscape.

The phrase “abandoned sacred” then refers to processes of unmaking and remaking that take place at sacred buildings and locales. And even when this process moves in the direction from sacred to secular, there may be residues of the sacred, or a mixing of cultural domains, or a change in how the sacred is understood. The premise is that studying sacred sites during moments of crisis and change offers valuable insight into the dynamic relationships between religion and culture.


My work, using a combination of ethnographic, visual, and historical methods, examines this dynamic of abandonment-conversion at a number of sacred sites. Typically, research on sacred places has focused on the symbolic meanings of religious architecture; my work, in contrast, emphasizes moments of change in the use and meanings of sacred places. I’m interested in the eventful nature of architecture, the ways in which spaces are used, especially their connection to ritual and performance. My aim is to build relationships with partners and organizations in Newfoundland and elsewhere that have an interest in the question of church closure and transformation, in order to identify case sites for ethnographically informed study and research. As much of my research is in the area of ritual studies, I am particularly interested in the role and functioning of deconsecration rites, which have received very little study.

For more information, contact:

Dr. Barry Stephenson
Dept. of Religious Studies
Memorial University
Ph: 709-864-8113

Photos: top - Hebron from the cupola of the Moravian Church; 
middle - stone foundations of one of the Moravian buildings, OKaK; 
bottom - the former Double Island Church, Uviluktok, Labrador. 
All photos summer 1995, by Dale Gilbert Jarvis.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Folklore Photo - Engine Rock, Petty Harbour, Newfoundland

This week's folklore photo is of Engine Rock (or Indian Rock, depending upon who you ask), overlooking the town of Petty Harbour.  I've written about this rock before, and I'm still interested in knowing more about any stories associated with it, and I'm especially curious about where the name comes from.

I was in Petty Harbour last week, with some colleagues from the Wooden Boat Museum of NL. We're looking into a possible intangible cultural heritage project there later this year, so stay tuned to this blog for more details!

- Dale

Friday, April 4, 2014

Folk Belief & Legends of Bay Roberts and Area

As of this week, our much anticipated booklet Folk Belief & Legends of Bay Roberts and Area is all done and ready to be released to the community. This printed booklet is the result of a collaboration between the HFNL and the Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation and involved several weeks of research in that region. Starting last October, I began visiting the Bay Roberts area to find community elders and ask about the legends, tales, and/or beliefs that they encountered growing up. To start the project, we even went into Ascension Collegiate and asked the students to question their parents and grandparents. What the students gathered from their families is a large part of what made this project a success, and our combined oral history digging has been compiled here. In the end, what we've got is a collection of superstitions, cures, remedies, and stories, that helps to celebrate the unique culture and history of this part of the island.  Haunted rocks, visits from the old hag, cures for warts, ghost dogs, sneaky fairies--there's a little bit of everything in this book.

Over the next few weeks I will be planning a booklet launch so that the people who contributed their stories and memories will be able to meet up, tell a ghostly tale or two, and pick up a copy of the book. More details about this event will be posted soon!


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday Folklore Photo: Stormy Old St. John's

I feel like this happens every year - we think we are out of the woods with winter and that spring is on our doorstep, when suddenly another big storm hits! I've been fooled a couple times this year already. This trend, unfortunately, is nothing new, and something that St. John's has been dealing with for decades. Newfoundlanders have become very adept at dealing with the harsh weather, and sometimes need to rely on back up plans for transportation when your regular vehicle just couldn't cut it.

This weeks folklore photo is of New Gower Street from 1925 - and as you can see, even this young man riding on his trusty Tauntaun is having a tough time with the winter weather! Tauntauns were used as pack animals, and also served as patrol mounts when the Rebel Alliance's vehicles couldn't deal with the cold weather. I could have certainly used one this past winter!

(Just kidding - only a little April Fool's fun! This photo actually comes from the Tumblr Old Timey St. John's - you should check it out - it's incredible!)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Scoff ‘n’ Scuff Dinner, Dance & Silent Auction

In support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society
Friday April 11th, Benevolent Irish Society 30 Harvey Road
7pm – Tickets $25 at O’Brien’s Music

The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society invites you to a dinner, dance & silent auction. Traditional dance caller, Ford Elms, will lead the way, with musicians Rick West, Danny Mills, Tony O’Brien, Allan Ricketts & Fergus Brown-O’Byrne providing the tunes. Enjoy hot beef stew and rolls, and bid on some fabulous silent auction items. Spring may not be here yet, but you can put some spring in your step to coax it along!


Now in its 37th year, the Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival takes place in St. John’s on the weekend following the Royal St. John’s Regatta. It is the second oldest continuously running folk festival in Canada. Each year, the NL Folk Festival brings thousands of people together to celebrate the best in traditional and contemporary folk music and dance. The Folk Arts Society promotes folk arts in Newfoundland & Labrador and throughout Canada.


The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society (NLFAS) is a charitable organization located in St. John’s, NL whose mandate is the promotion of the traditional folk arts of the province. Active Since 1966, the organization works towards its goals by presenting educational and cultural events that provide artists with the opportunity to showcase their work and that engage our youth and the general public in the transmission of our intangible cultural heritage. The NLFAS produces the weekly Folk Night at the Ship Pub and several annual events including Young Folk At The Hall, the Holiday Wassail and the popular Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival. The 2010 Folk Festival received the City of St. John’s Event of the Year Tourism Award, and was voted Best Volunteer Opportunity by readers of the Scope.

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.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's Folklore Photo: and now for something completely different

Okay, so I might be cheating a bit with today's folklore photo, as the real focus of the post is actually a reel-to-reel film. We often have the most random items dropped off to us at the Intangible Cultural Heritage Office, which we're more than happy to receive. As cultural and heritage mediators and facilitators, we often become the custodians of items in order to preserve and make them accessible to the public.

We recently came into possession of a 12 inch reel-to reel film entitled Architecture of Newfoundland and were tasked with figuring out how to digitize it. To our delight, it has already been digitized and made available to the public via Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative. This film was produced by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and is a fantastic snapshot of architecture in the province in 1975. The film has been made available to view in its entirety by Memorial University of Newfoundland Distance Education, Learning and Teaching Support (DELTS). 

Click here to watch Architecture of Newfoundland!