Bonfire Night Memories

  • Bonfire Night in Greenspond
  • Bonfire Night in Sally's Cove
  • Bonfire Night in Kelligrews


Joy Barfoot, Greenspond, October 5th, 2010

I grew up in a small community on theNorth East Coast(Greenspond). Bonfire night was a big event in our small community and preparation would begin weeks before November 5th. It was always a competitive event between various groups on the island – to see who could have the largest bonfire. So, in preparation, each day after school, small groups would go off to collect “boughs”. These would be cut and chopped by hand with small axe and saw - tied together and dragged back (with rope) to the perfect hiding spot. This was done on the island – it was a treat if we could get an adult to take us by boat to the mainland to cut boughs. It was very important to find a spot where the boughs would be safe.


This continued until Nov 4th. November 4thwas called “bucking” night. After dark, groups of children (and it seemed all ages), would go out with flashlights to find other groups boughs. The idea was to “buck / take” other people’s boughs without being caught. Often times, this would cause great fights among the groups (these fights were short lived however). We would also go around from house to house and ask folks if they had anything they wanted to get rid off for bonfire night (thinking back on it, it was a great community clean-up time – with the exception of cutting small trees). The most disappointing response would be if the home-owner said “I already gave my stuff to so and so”.


And so the big day came. No one was allowed to take from others on the 5th. I seem to recall that we would be off school early in the afternoon on the 5thand begin the task of piling high our boughs and stuff. This would be done on a rock and close to the ocean. As soon as it became dark (by 6:30), an adult would light the fire and almost one by one, you could see bonfires being lit all around the community. All family members would come out to the bonfire. When the fires would die down (some hours later), it was time to roast marshmallows on long sticks. Before the end of the night, children would gather at some bonfire site, and then the “smutting” would begin. It was like a game in which boys generally rubbed their hands on a blackened branch and then would chase girls to “smut” their face. It was a given that no one was going home without a “smutted” face. Boys had their faces smutted too from time to time.


With no running water in the house, there was sure to be a pot of hot water sitting on top of the woodstove when we got home! There’s something about the memory of soap-scrubbed skin and burning eyes that makes me smile in a peculiar way!


I think of it every bonfire night! Thanks for the invitation to share my story!






Bonnie Lou Hutchings, Sally's Cove, October 6th, 2010

As for bonfires, yes, bonfires were a tradition in Sally's Cove. It was kind of a competition to see which crowd or group had the biggest bonfire. Groups were usually families and friends and there were usually5 or 6 big fires in the community years ago. My sister told me they would be preparing for a month before Bonfire night by going into the woods, cutting boughs and trees. You would have to keep an eye on your wood since people from "up the cove" or who had other fires would take it if you weren't careful. They would also collect any old tires or board that was no good and put them aside for that night. Then the day before Bonfire Night, they would lug all of the trees and boughs out to one spot (designated as their spot) on the hill by the water and take all the tires and board or anything not moving (just kidding) that could be burned there too. They would pile the stuff up high to try to get the biggest flame. When the fire was going well, they would run through the smoke and flankers and have a great time. They would stay there until the fire burned out. Now when I grew up, many, many, many years later (don't tell my sister I said that), our community had gotten very small, we would collect stuff also and there would be a couple fires "down the cove" and one "up the cove"; we would still try to out due the other fires but there were only a few people at each fire and we roasted marshmallows and wieners.We loved that night too. Today, there are no young people in Sally's Cove, so there are no more bonfires unfortunately. In neighbouring communities, they do have community bonfires through the community council.

Jack Morgan, Kelligrews, October 15th, 2010


I grew up in Kelligrews, CBS and eagerly anticipated and prepared for Bonfire Night--November 5th. Rain, snow or wind, the good ole' bonfire would go ahead. I was only 6 or 7 years old when I joined the 'gang' that, without permission', used some of our neighbours garden items to stoke our fires. We started to prepare for the big night shortly after school opened in September.
Brother Rod, along with cousins Dennis, Spencer and sometime friends Warrick, Fred, Rick, Jim and others would would work hard for weeks to ensure we had a ample supply of goods to make this the biggest bonfire on the shore---there were braging rights at stake, you know. Other 'gangs' worked hard to out do our efforts, year in and year out. This was a contest that nobody seemed to ever win, but we tried diligently every year to beat the 'crowd down the road'.
As we got a little older, our inferenos out grew our back yards, so we headed in the road to use Uncle Verners meadow. Now we had lots of room for even bigger fires. As I indicated earlier, our fire supplies did not always come in a honest and neighbourly fashion.
Albert was small time mechanic and stored all his used tires behind his shaky garage, just as if he had been holding them for us. Some of the boys had a real knack of removing this rubber right from under Albert's nose. And by the time he missed them gone, the evidence had been burned in our bonfire. And poor old Uncle Clarence--he would guard his puncheons as if they contained the contents of the Canadian Mint. His first beeline on November 6th was to his barn and check his stock of big wooden barrels. Some of the fellas were just like Houidini, and always managed to relieve Uncle of a puncheon or two. He'd scan the neighbourhood just like a Scotland Yard detective---but met with little success in finding the culprits.

Now, Mr. Andrews had a good supply of lobster pots. He didn't depend on the fishery for a living, but always put out a couple of dozen each year to make a extra few bucks for the family. Them pots were great on the fire, they were light wood and really easy to burn. Hard to get from Mr. Andrews pile though, he watched them like a hawk--guess he got 'burned' a time or two before. They were pretty cumbersome, especially when the boys were in full trot down the railway track. There were no get-away vehicles then.


Dad, god rest his soul, worked with the United Towns Electric Company (Now Newfoundland Power) and always managed to bring home some discared cross arms---these were the planks attached to the top of the pole that held the electricity wires. They were treated with creasote and burned for a long time. We just loved them old cross arms.
Then the big night arrived--we didn't have marshmallows to roast, rather potatoes, and they were some had to cook over an open flame. One side would be somewhat cooked, yet the other was hard and burned. We had the scattered weiner too!! Mom would look after that. The night came and went, and we didn't, until years later hear of Guy Fawkes. It was simply known to us a bonfire night. Tired, but not defeated we headed home with stories to tell our school chums the next day. We couldn't wait until next year.
Now our town holds a community bonfire, and I guess thats safer. Although they are gone now, Albert, Uncle Clarence and Mr. Andrews would probably rest a bit better knowing that bonfires are pretty well banned in back yards now.

The good old times---we'd start all fresh, and free of suspicion again the following year. I was in my 30's before we stopped having bonfires, and I still hold fond memories, and always will.

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