Them Was the Days

by Grace Layman

My first year of teaching took me to Flowers Cove, by way of the Northern Ranger, en route to Green Island Cove which meant a walk of 10 miles to that community. It was on September 3rd, 1939, the year of the outbreak of the Second World War. Prior to this I had spent two years at the Parade Street Memorial College, residing at Spencer Lodge. I was not particularly enthused with this experience, so I was interested in a change.

After walking seven miles along a gravel road, I reached Paynes Cove, pronounced “Pines Cove” locally, which was to be my teaching position from September to December. The building did not have the appearance of a school since it was a rough wooden structure, except for a small oil cask wood stove in which a fire burned only when a northeast wind blew through a 2inch space between the door and the floor of the building.

I was somewhat dismayed to see no desks. However, I quickly discovered that 10-inch boards hanging along the wall and hinged with pieces of ski sealskin were, in fact, the desks. Benches for seating had been stored in neighboring houses until the beginning of the school term.

I then proceeded on my journey covering the remaining 3 miles to Green Island Cove and my boarding house. I would pay $10 a month from my $19 a month paycheck for lodging. Tuberculosis was everywhere at that time and my boarding house was no exception. The kindness extended to me in very limited accommodations was comforting. A ladder type of stairway led me to a clean bed separated from drying sealskins by what appeared to be a piece of sail. The school term began on schedule with a three mile walk to “Pines Cove” in my sealskin boots and hooded parka.

The interest and help, shown by both parents and students was quite remarkable and greatly appreciated. The first girl to register was named Sarah Pearl. There were also others with the name of Pearl. I was surprised at this but became absolutely astounded when boys also called themselves Pearl. I soon realized that Pearl was, in fact, the surname “Parrell”.

Boys did not attend school in September since they were involved in the hauling and making of fish which was the means of livelihood for the community. Despite the poverty there was no shortage of enthusiasm.

The January 1940 school term started in Green Island Cove in now familiar surroundings. We had all become friends and were quite happily living together. I had lost 25 pounds from the daily six mile walk and lack of adequate nourishment. I was advised by the Grenfell nurse in Flowers Cove to move to less sparse although no more hospitable surroundings.

There were now 45 students, some of whom came from Pines Cove. There was a well-built school Chapel housing grades one to nine. A 10 mile walk to Flowers Cove every Friday after 4:00 PM to spend the weekend with Parson and Mrs. Richards was a welcomed change. I returned on Sunday to Green Island Cove for the 2:00 o'clock Sunday school. I was sometimes fortunate to get a dog team ride with Parson Richards. The school term went extremely well. There was great student and parent interest in non-academic areas such as physical education and Girl Guides.

Much of the conditions described above were not uncommon in Newfoundland outports in those days and I have no regrets about having had those experiences. I had grown up on Fogo island, so some of the conditions relating to isolation were familiar to me.

My intention to return to Green Island Cove changed when I was approached by Superintendent Andrews to accept a post at the Grenfell boarding school in Cartwright, Labrador. I would live at the orphanage and enjoy free board in return for chore-type responsibilities which would require almost 24-hour duty period. Electricity and running water were a novelty there.

(Reprinted with permission from the RTANL)