AuthorBruce Ricketts

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Alex Storm, Canada’s Most Prolific Shipwreck Hunter

I was first introduced to Alex Storm through his book, Seaweed and Gold.  It was a great tale of shipwreck hunting in, of all places, Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia.  Alex told the tale of how he searched for, and found, Le Chameau, a French Pay Ship, that have the full payroll of the French garrisons in the new world.  The ship had been lost since 1725.  Putting together clues, Alex and his team of amateur scuba divers began an adventure in 1961, which resulted in the locating of cannon and anchors and… gold!While the story of Le Chameau, the Feverham and other wrecks found by Storm are great stories, the real story is of the man himself.  I met Alex Storm in 2003.  After reading his book I wanted to meet the man.  I called him on the phone and after a brief chat, was invited to drop in to his place in Louisbourg.  I asked for directions and that was when I figured I was going to enjoy meeting him.

The conversation went like this:

Me:  Is there an address for the house?

Alex:  Yes, but it won’t help you cause my number sign is very small.

Me:  So how will I find you?

Alex:  Just come in on the main street and look for the fire station.  I am the next house over.  If you miss the fire station just look for the only three story white house on the street.  And if that fails just look for the two cannon and two anchors on the front lawn!

Me:  OK

I found the house and was welcomed by a tall grey-bearded man who spoke with a familiar accent.  (Both my wife and Alex are of Dutch descent.)  His wife, Emily, served us tea and left us to talk.  And talk we did.

Alex Storm was born in 1937 on the Dutch Island of Java, now part of Indonesia.  He led the carefree life of a boy for the first years but then tragedy struck.  The Japanese took over Java and placed young Alex (aged four years) with his mother and sisters into a internment camp.  His father was placed in a men’s camp and did not see the family until the end of the war.  Life in the camp was harsh and food was scarce.  Alex’s older sister died of starvation before the camp was liberated.  When the family was reunited in 1945, they left Indonesia for the Netherlands, only to return in 1947.  Alex, a free spirit, left the family in 1952 to go back to Holland to learn a trade.

When Alex turned 22, he received a message from a friend who had moved to Canada.  “Come to Canada, Alex, the jobs are plentiful”.  So off he went to Toronto.  He eventually left Toronto for Sydney, Nova Scotia where he worked as a metal man in a ship yard.  In 1961, the federal government had resolved to rebuild the Louisbourg (also spelled Louisburg) Fort nearby Sydney.  Always one for a challenge, Alex joined the construction team and eventually became responsible for all the artifacts at the Fort.

Alex still lives in the house with the cannon and anchors.  Unfortunately his wife of 47 years, Emily, passed away in 2011.  She is remembered by Alex and their five children.

If you are interested in treasure hunting I recommend you pick up Alex’s book (see below).  Pages 165-185 of the book are focused on the search for the Louisbourg Treasure, still not found.  Alex gives you all the clues.  It is up to you to look for the millions in gold and silver!  Better do it before I do.

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The Woman No One Would Hang

Anna Derks

At one time in the history of PEI hanging was a punishment set out for a wide variety of crimes.  In some cases hanging was used to alleviate the costs of incarceration.

For example, in 1815, two men were publicly hanged for stealing a loaf of bread from a woman’s house.

SCALES.GIF (1768 bytes)One bizarre situation arose when in 1778 a woman (name unknown) was sentenced to die on the gallows for thievery.  However, no one wanted the job of being the hangman.

The local Sheriff of the time was a gentleman by the name of Captain Thomas Marshall (why do peoples names so often match their jobs?).  Marshall placed advertisements in local papers offering the hangman’s job – no applications were received.

Since the hanging was originally scheduled for late in the year, Marshall then decided to delay the event until the spring when “people from the continent” (Europeans) would arrive.   Surely one of them needed a job!  No takers.

In frustration Marshall resigned his post and eventually the woman was set free – neck intact.

The Antis of Plate Cove

Newfoundland joined the Canadian confederation in 1949.   The referendum was decided by a one percent margin.  But 1949 was not the first time that Newfoundlanders had discussed – or fought over – confederation.

In 1869, Newfoundlanders voted in a general election to not join Canada.  The two sides in the debate fired insults back and forth and the “No” side, the Anti-Confederates, waged a war of negative publicity that would be the envy of current political parties.  The declared that :Newfoundland children would be drafted into the Canadian Army and die to be left unburied in distant sandy, dry Canadian deserts.”  There was also quite evident an amount of anti-French sentiment.

In 1868, a local song written by Mark Walker summed up all the No arguments.  It was called the Antis of Plate Cove.
Come all ye good people and listen
To what I have come here to say;
It’s concerning a band of vile traitors
That live at the head of our bay.
Their names for some time I’ll not mention,
I’ll apprehend them by and by.
Their leader he was a blind piper,
By the parson’s game-cock lost an eye.
The day that the poll-booth was opened,
The “Antis” and “Cons” they were there.
The flag of cursed Confederation
Was gallantly marched to the rear.
Keough struck Newell, the bearer,
And he trampled the ‘rag’ to the ground;
Mavourneen he struck Neddy Humby
And frightened the Abbots and Brown.

Then out came that chap of the Brennan’s.
A son to the leader in strife;
He took an oak stave in the morning
And he swore he would have “Antis” life.
He was soon perceived by those heroes,
Descendants of old Granu-Aile,
Who tumbled him into a mud pool
And followed clan Brennan’s on trail.

Then next was the great Patagonian,
Both matchless in manner and size;
He first talked in favour of “Antis”,
Then joined the confederate side.
The gang got a full tub of “soldiers”
And pelted him down to his door.
His mother did not recognize him
‘Til she washed him a dozen times o’er!

Oh, boys, if you saw the fair Jenny
I’m sure you would pity her case;
And if she was handy to Ridley
He might sympathize with her grace.
Poor thing, she is half broken-hearted
Since the “Antis” have now gained their day,
Short shoes and long corns may attend her –
Is the wish of all Bonavist’ Bay.

And now to conclude and to finish,
I hope a good lesson we’ve taught;
And the Touters sent here from the city
Have been told that Plate Cove can’t be bought.
Our fathers came here to find freedom,
Their sons will not trade it away;
Then hurrah! for the “Antis” of Plate Cove,
The “Fortress of Bonavist’ Bay”!

Morning Chronical, St. John’s, 29 Sept 1869

The song is rife with terminology that expressed the Anti’s ferocity on the issue.  Take for example the phrase “The flag of cursed Confederation…”.  The use of the term “Touters” in the final stanza refers to persons sent by the government to spy on the Antis and to to try to force them into changing their vote.

And were lots of “moneyed” people involved in the Anti movement.

Charles Fox Bennett, who founded The Bennett Brewing Company, Limited, St. John’s, in 1827, is one of the many colorful figures in the picture at the time.  Born in the West of England, he came to the island colony in his teens he left his mark indelibly on its politics and economics.  His leadership of the Anti-Confederate Party in the election of 1869 was instrumental in keeping Newfoundland outside the Canadian Confederation. He became Premier of Newfoundland at the age of 77 and remained in office until 1873.  He died in 1883, at the age of 91.

Pouch Cove, NL

As you whip north out of St John’s, along the Torbay Road, you pass a number of places with names that make sense. Flat Rock was named because it is made up of flat rocks.  It is so flat that the Pope gave a speech there.  Middle Cove is a cove in the middle of some other coves and Outer Cove is a bit outside of Middle Cove. But who the hell named Pouch Cove!  And if it is written “Pouch” they why do they pronounce it “Pooch”?

Even the origin of Pouch Cove is strange.  It was settled around 1611, about 28 years after Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed the island.  Its main attraction was that its harbor was dangerous sailing.

Let me say that again.  “Pouch Cove’s main attraction was that its harbor was dangerous sailing.”

The statement is not a strange as it might seem.  In the early 17th century there were restrictions placed, by the British, on settlements in Newfoundland.  It was said that Newfoundland was not a much a colony, as it was, because of the abundant fishery, an industry.  Pouch Cove’s dangerous harbor keep the Royal Navy at bay until the attitude changed in the late 1600’s.

There are three pictures of Pouch Cove, the home-town of my daughter-in-law, Kathy Pippy, that I particularly like.  (Kathy’s OK, too.)

And while you are in town, drop by the town hall and meet up with Sarah Patton.  She makes a good soup and she’s also the Mayor.

Unsolved Mystery of George’s Island, Labrador

Everyone loves a good mystery. Was Anastasia Romanov executed with the rest of her family in 1917? Whatever happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste? When and under what circumstances did the steamer Beverley disappear with 23 Newfoundlanders aboard in early 1923? Not as well known as these mysteries, but nevertheless just as puzzling, is the mysterious death of several men on George’s Island in 1876.

I suppose the first question that must be answered is where is George’s Island. Located in the southeastern side of Groswater Bay on the northern coast of Labrador, the large island with its main community also called George’s Island, was once a favored station visited by fishermen of mainland Labrador and Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Off the cove near the entrance to the main settlement, are numerous reefs and underwater rocks; in fact the shoals and ledges near the island were the favorite fishing grounds of several Newfoundland fishermen, including Captain Nathan Norman of Brigus. He was reputedly “the first southerner to locate north of Hamilton Inlet, having settled at Indian Harbor about 1835.” Eventually any livyers on George’s Island re-located, but the island was still in use as a summer settlement at least up to 1981. George’s Island was, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Encyclopedia, “a colorful and much-frequented” location and in the fall of 1876, shipwreck and murder became part of the island mosaic.

The Hudson Bay Company schooner Walrus left Rigolet, Labrador, on October 15, 1876, sailing for Grady to load more fish; from there it would sail to Montreal with a cargo of salmon, trout, fish oil and other fish products. There was a strong head wind and a heavy sea, so the captain decided to anchor for the night off George’s Island.  By the next day the wind increased to gale force and it looked as if Walrus would be driven on one of many reefs off the island.  The captain and his crew launched the small boat over the side and attempted to land on George’s Island.

Alas, the age-old story of wreck and ruin prevailed. The boat upset in the surf and all, with the exception of one man, drowned. In the mishap, the bottom of the boat struck a rock that put a hole in the craft. Walrus, unaffected by the gale, stayed firmly anchored at its original spot where the crew left it.

The solitary survivor (who remains un-named) stayed in the general vicinity for five days, and then decided he would have to go back aboard the schooner. He plugged the holes in the boat with his jacket, rowed out to the Walrus and climbed up over the side. As soon as he slipped or unfastened the anchor cables, he was not able to handle the vessel and Walrus ran aground at Black Island, Groswater Bay, a total wreck.  Perhaps the story should end here, for that was the tale of the loss of Walrus as told by the survivor to fishermen of the Labrador coast. If the saga had ended well for him, perhaps he was rescued and given transportation to his home.

But, as it turned out, the fishermen of George’s Island saw things differently. Instead of being drowned in the unfortunate circumstances of leaving a ship, the captain and his crew were cruelly murdered. That same fall a crew of “green fish” catchers (those who split and salted codfish, then shipped it salt bulk or undried) went to George’s Island looking for bait. They had some reason to land on the island and, to their horror, found lying on the strand, the bodies of three dead men. Each was decapitated, but there was no sign of their skulls. Their clothes and limbs were all intact. The fishermen could see at a glance that the sea had not caused the condition of the men. Furthermore, the bodies were well beyond the high water mark. Searching around, they found, about sixty yards further west, another body. On this one, the head was still attached, but had been cleft, as with an ax, in four pieces.

Suspicions aroused, the fishermen made a wider search and found two large canvas tents, probably made from a ship’s sail. Judging from the size of the tents and the trampled ground around them, they figured more than one man had erected the tents.

There was nothing else to be seen or learned and the men covered the bodies with sand. They walked over to the opposite side of the George’s Island and located a Mr. Williams who lived on the island. The fishermen related all that they had just discovered.  At once Williams went to the murder site (it is not clear if the “green” fishermen went with him) and found that the story told him was correct in every horrible detail. Taking the canvas of the tents with him, Williams went to Fish Cove, a small fishing station on the mainland located on southern entrance to Groswater Bay.

At Fish Cove there resided one Mr. Pottle who, it seems, had several men hired as fishermen who also prepared the fish for market. After Williams related the particulars of this mysterious affair Pottle, with some of his crew, visited George’s Island. He too found the bodies in the position and condition has had been described to him.

Pottle also discovered in a small crevice in the rock near the spot where one of the tents had been erected, several interesting and equally mysterious items – a number of half-decayed books and papers, as well as a woman’s photograph. Who it was, they had no idea.

To Pottle and his men, this seemed to prove rather conclusively that Walrus’ small boat had not upset in the surf and drowned nearly all occupants – as alleged by the survivor.  They could only reason the captain and three men had been murdered. At no time did anyone discover the missing heads of three.

After they re-interred the bodies in the sand well above the high water mark, they walled the makeshift grave with stone. Mr. Pottle and his men left George’s Island with its ghastly occupants and returned to their homes at Fish Cove.

Eventually the migratory fishermen who fished the Labrador coast each summer and fall carried the gruesome account to Conception Bay.

Although an account of the crime was published in the papers of the day, there was no follow-up investigation. In the nineteenth century the law as we know it today did not exist on the remote shores and on the offshore islands of Labrador. To this day it is not known what motivated someone to kill four crew of the schooner Walrus, and to remove the heads of three. Why did the murderer act so heinously? And what of the sole survivor? Who was he and did he ever pay for his crime?

Colorful deeds, to be sure, and unanswered questions, too, all on George’s Island, Labrador, many years ago.

The Mysterious, Fabled Springheel Jack

A man once showed up in Fleur De Lys claiming he could out jump anyone around. It was a challenge not to be taken lightly. Someone would have to defeat this strange boaster. The event could have been a high jump, but in this case he challenged anyone in the town to a broad jump – distance over the ground either from a running or a standing start. The stranger is only known today by his nickname – Springheel (or Spring Hill) Jack.The legends of Springheel Jack appear occasionally in Newfoundland tales. Author and songwriter Otto Kelland, who composed the well-known folk song “Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary’s”, knew about him and wrote a story of Springheel’s exploits in his book “Newfoundland Stories: Strange and Curious.” Springheel put in a surprise athletic appearance in St. John’s and was seen jumping from rooftop to rooftop on Merrymeeting Road. Horror writer Steven King of Maine mentions the fabled Springheel in his short story “Strawberry Spring.” No one seemed to know who this mysterious character was, where he came from or why he could leap so springingly.

Sporting events get lots of publicity today – the Olympics of summer and winter, World Cups, Stanley, Davis, Grey Cups, bonspiels, matches and scores of other international challenges. Games and contests are closely followed all over the world. But what of Newfoundland about one hundred years ago? Did our hardy pioneers have the time and the skill and would anyone in Fleur De Lys take up Springheel’s challenge?

The well protected harbour of Fleur De Lys, the most northerly community on Newfoundland’s Baie Verte Peninsula, was first established as a French fishing station near the prolific grounds called Petite Nord. In the harbour there’s a striking rock formation over eight hundred feet high which has three hummocks or hills resembling a fleur de lis or lys, a three-leafed plant and the national symbol of France. Fleur De Lys, as one of forty French fishing stations along Newfoundland’s French shore, rose in prominence. In 1706 the station had been the site of a clash between French and English interests. The Falkland, the Nonsuch and the Medway, all British warships, had been dispatched to the Petit Nord to protect British interests on petition of the “inhabitants of St. John’s.” Off Fleur De Lys harbour they exchanged fire with Le Duc d’Orleans, a ship of 30 guns and 110 men from St. Malo. Between 1800 and 1850, a growing need to protect the interests of the French fishery year round was met in the hiring of gardiens for Fleur de Lys. The French presence at Fleur de Lys continued on mostly friendly terms, until the 1880s when English settlers predominated. Today some of the well-established family names in the town of 300 people are Walsh, Shea, Shelley, Traverse, Lewis and Barrett.

And what does all of this have to do with a jumping contest? On one old French map of Fleur De Lys there’s a spot marked in French which roughly translates into English – The Jumping Place. According to local lore, this field or area (located today near Gordon Lewis’ land on Harbour View Road) is where young people gathered to pass leisure time, specifically in feats of athletic ability. It was there Springheel Jack’s jumping contest would take place.

The local gentleman who rose to the occasion was none other than Edward “Ned” Barrett of Fleur De Lys. Ned was one of the best. Perhaps that’s why Springheel Jack showed up; maybe he heard just how good Ned Barrett was and wanted to take him on in a jump or two. It was known in the area that Ned, as a teenager and then as a young man, would rather leap over a fence than go through the gate. He was also known to line up a dozen fish barrels and with both feet together, hop in and out of each barrel in the line.

Another time while berry picking on Pigeon Island near Fleur De Lys, Ned’s boat became untied and drifted to the mainland side of the tickle. Not wanting to get wet that day he leaped from a standing position, as there was no room to run, and landed on the cuddy of his boat on the other side – a distance of about eighteen feet.

On the day of the contest Ned Barrett, not knowing the ability of Springheel Jack, jumped first in a broad jump. The mysterious challenger beat him. The second jump would be the final one and a conclusive statement of who was the best.

To everyone’s surprise – and no doubt most of Fleur De Lys’ folk were there to watch – Ned asked, “Mr. Springheel, how much do you weigh?”

When he learned Springheel was ten pound heavier, Ned said, “I’ll carry two rocks, one in each pocket, to make our weigh even. But this time you go first.” Springheel’s broad jump from a running or standing start was good, but on that day Ned Barrett cleared the former’s mark by a wide margin, won the challenge and celebrated with the good people of Fleur De Lys.

The mysterious Springheel Jack slunk away with his tail between his legs; perhaps he took on no more human challenges after that and went to St. John’s leaping roof to roof. Maybe he went back home, perhaps to Springhill, Nova Scotia, to jump never no more.

But the fate of Ned Barrett, sadly, is well known. According the story passed on by the late John T. Barrett to his son Kevin, Ned was lost at sea in the area of the Flemish Cap while a sailor on the schooner Evelyn. He rose before eight, washed, shaved and prepared to take his turn at the wheel. There were no wheelhouses in those days, so Ned lashed himself to the wheel as was the custom during storms on the high seas.

A short time later a rogue wave swept the deck. Another man working up in the rigging clung on, but the force of hundreds of pounds of water took the wheel from its iron fastenings and carried it and Ned overboard. As reported by the captain and crew who rushed on deck when the alarm sounded, Ned Barrett freed himself from the ropes and the heavy wheel which was dragging him under.

Being a superb athlete, the young man was a strong swimmer and he was visible for a long time from the Evelyn. His shipmates did everything possible to save Ned – throwing ropes with barrels attached hoping he could reach and cling on, but it was not to be. The schooner was running out of control with no steerage and it would be impossible to launch a lifeboat in the high winds and seas.

The captain of the Evelyn spoke highly of Ned Barrett saying Newfoundland could not produce a more able seaman and it was a great loss. The exact date of his death is not clear, except it was before 1913, the year schooner Evelyn was wrecked at Ferryland. But the memory of Ned lives on, especially of the day he defeated Springheel Jack at the Jumping Place at Fleur De Lys.

The Great Tsunami of 1929

Tsunamis are such uncommon events on the East Coast that the term itself is rarely used. Yet on November 18, 1929, the unthinkable occurred. A large­scale earthquake rocked the eastern coast of North America at 5:00 p.m. In St. John’s, Newfoundland, although no serious damage was sustained, the quake shook buildings, broke dishes, and upset furniture. Most people did not know what and earthquake was and thought it was an explosion.

There ensued a debate about the location of the epicentre of the earthquake. Numerous broken underwater cables eventually led researchers to believe the epicentre was located 560 kilometres south of St. John’s, in the Atlantic Ocean.

At this time, the communication network in Newfoundland was sparse. Radio was in its infancy, there were few telephones, and because of the earthquake, many of the telegraph cables were down. Therefore, while the rest of the East Coast residents had settled back into their daily routines, they were unaware of the tragedy that had struck Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula.

The fact that a tsunami had struck the area was not known by the outside world until three days after the quake when the steamship Portia arrived in Burin on a regularly scheduled call. A radio message from the ship alerted the world to what had happened.

The story emerged that the Peninsula had been struck by an enormous wave hours after the earthquake. The wave had drowned 27 people. Scores of homes, businesses, wharves, and fishing boats were smashed or swept away, along with the fish harvest, food, and fuel oil supplies.

As elsewhere along the coast, the earthquake was felt at 5:00 p.m. and damage was minimal. With nothing unusual occurring after the quake most residents returned to their activities.

Sometime after the quake, many people noticed the water draining out of the coves and harbours. In St. Lawrence, the harbour bottom, which on average is 10 metres deep, was visible in places. Not understanding what was happening, many residents moved to higher ground, probably saving many lives.

Two and one­half hours after the earthquake, the wave arrived. It was unclear from witnesses whether there were two or three waves involved, but all agreed that the first wave was the most destructive. The wave height was reported to have been between 15 and 30 metres. The shape and width of the wave depended on the configuration of the coastline and the sea floor. The greatest impact of the wave was felt where the water was forced into a confined area, such as the coves and harbours.

The herculean wave either carried buildings inland and deposited them, or swept them into the harbours or out to sea when it receded. In St. Lawrence, 31 buildings were carried away. The wave entered and circled around the harbour, carrying buildings from one side to the other. Burin, a collection of a dozen or so communities, was also seriously affected, with many lives lost.

Several stories emerged about that night. Many people thought the towns were sinking as the water levels quickly rose.

While the wave smashed and destroyed many buildings, it simply lifted others off their foundations and floated them away. One store, 9 X 17 metres, was moved 60 metres inland and deposited in a meadow, with all its stock left intact.

People took to the remaining boats in search of people hanging to debris or trapped in floating homes. A kerosene lamp burning in the second floor window of one floating house led rescuers to a sleeping baby, whose family had been drowned on the first floor. A man, swept to sea, swam to another floating house only to find it was his own. The house was later towed back to shore and replaced on its foundation.

During the night a gale blew up, dropping temperatures and adding sleet and snow to the survivors’ misery.

The ferocity of the wave was not restricted to the land; it also tore up the seabed. This destruction of the seabed was believed by many to be the dominant factor in poor fish catches during much of the Great  Depression.

Most of the energy of the wave was spent on the southern coast of the Burin Peninsula. The nearby communities of Fortune and Grand Bank, in the shelter of Fortune Bay, only experienced minor disruption. In Nova Scotia, the wave also struck Cape Breton, where one person was reported to have drowned.

With help from the files of Environment Canada.

The Titanic Connection to Newfoundland Canada

Since the phenomenon of the 1997 hit movie “Titanic” the world, or the western hemisphere at least, has been enthralled with Titanic trivia and still thirsts, seemingly at an ever-increasing rate, for facts about the great ship operated by the renown White Star Line.

Newfoundland has its small claim to Titanic fame. Cape Race received messages from the liner as celebrities aboard the ship clamoured to be the first to send word to the United States via Newfoundland. Icebergs of the size and type that sank the great liner can still be seen near Newfoundland’s coasts.

On the night of April 14-15, 1912, the British liner, commanded by Captain Edward Smith, sank after striking an iceberg 500 kilometres (300 miles) southeast of Newfoundland. The disaster, which occurred on the ship’s maiden voyage, claimed the lives of more than 1500 of the 2200 lives aboard.

By 1912, radio was in use on ships and the Titanic sent out distress signals (which were received by Cape Race). Another ship, the Californian, was equipped to receive the signal and was close enough that night to speed to the rescue, but it had only one radio operator and a man has to sleep sometime. There was no one on duty when the signal came in.

Because of the drama of the sinking, the number of lives lost, and the social position of many of the dead, the disaster revolutionized the rules governing sea travel. After 1912, all passenger ships were required to carry lifeboats with enough seats for everyone on board, lifeboat drills were to take place on every passage, radio receivers were operating twenty-four hours a day, In addition, in 1914 an International Ice Patrol was established and has been maintained ever since, to keep watch over the ice giants of the deep and especially so near the great drilling platforms (like Newfoundland’s Hibernia) of the northwestern Atlantic.

Eighteen years earlier to the loss of Titanic, the White Star ocean liner Majestic rammed and sank a Newfoundland ship. Local tradition has it Captain Edward Smith, who lost his life on Titanic, commanded Majestic at the time.

In July 1894, Majestic sped across the Atlantic delivering passengers from England to New York. On the night of July 30 while off southern Newfoundland, she met thick fog and slowed to half speed. In the inky darkness of three-thirty am, she sliced into a Burin schooner Antelope, drowning Gabriel Mitchell and fatally injuring William Woundy. Antelope, of thirty-four ton, was owned and operated by five Bugden brothers — Captain John, Thomas, Henry, Philip, and Reuben. In a quirk of fate, all five Bugden brothers were plucked from their schooner’s wreckage and taken aboard Majestic. Mitchell’s body was never found; Woundy died in the liner’s hospital room that night.

Majestic’s passenger list shows boxer James J. Corbett who, in 1894, was heavyweight champion of the world. Corbett, who was the first world champ under the Marquis of Queensbury rules (using gloves), was called to a room to view Woundy’s body. According to a story related by Antelope’s crew when they returned to Burin, the boxer was amazed at the arm and upper body size and muscular definition of the tall fisherman. It is well known that Newfoundland dory fishermen developed barrel chests and powerful arms from their many hours of rowing. Upon seeing Woundy’s body, Corbett remarked, “He must have been a powerful man. I’m glad I didn’t face him in the ring.”

Was Captain Edward Smith captain of Majestic in 1894? Gary Cooper’s book, The Man Who Sank Titanic: The Life and Times of Captain Edward Smith says Smith commanded White Star’s S.S. Britannic from July 1893 to January 1895 and in July of 1895 (one year after the Antelope incident) he was captain of S.S. Majestic staying with her until 1902. Such was his dedication and knowledge he later captained the ill-fated Titanic. One newspaper account states Captain Parcell guided Majestic in 1894.

The Bugden brothers were carried to New York, transferred to Halifax, and thence to Burin. When they arrived home on August 15, they were heartily welcomed by residents. Although they displayed straw hats emblazoned with a White Star banner and wore White Star body sashes, they soon told the sad tale of the loss of Antelope and the death of two crewmates.

But not to be confused with Californian (which unfortunately did not help rescue Titanic’s survivors) is the transatlantic steamer California. The latter, of the Anchor line, cut down the Burin banker Beatrice Vivian on July 12, 1936. The schooner was lying too about twenty-five miles off Cape Race when California hit sending the wooden craft to the bottom in minutes. Captain James Gosling and his twenty-five man crew were all from Burin and area. Unlike the wreck of Antelope, this time there was no loss of life.

The Vikings in North America

Ah, the Vikings.  Those ruthless men and women who plundered far and wide. Returning home to Norway only after their holds were filled with ill-gotten booty and damsels in distress.Is this the way you understand the Vikings?  Would it surprise you to know that the Vikings were some of the best and most prolific explorers of their day?

Our story begins not in Norway but rather in Iceland in 982 AD.  A Norwegian-born settler (yes the Vikings were also farmers!), Eirik the Red, is involved in a feud with some neighbors and ends up killing two of the neighbors’ sons.    In 986 (4 years, so much for quick justice) he is banished from Iceland and sails off  to find new land.

Eventually he lands at a place, now called Eiriksfiord, in Greenland.  It is here that Eirik and his band of merry Vikings establish their community base.  With Eirik are his four children.  Of his brood, Leif, soon to be named Leif the Lucky, was bitten by the exploration bug.

At the same time as Eirik leaves Iceland, a young Viking named Bjarni Hejolfson sets sail, also from Iceland, to visit his father who already lives in Greenland.  Unfortunately, Bjarni is caught in a bad storm while at sea.  When the sky clears it is obvious to him that he isn’t in Greenland (psychologists now call this the “Dorothy-not-in-Kansas” revelation).

Rather than the great fiords and distant mountains and glaciers he was expecting, he sees a low-lying coast line covered with trees.  As any good son who is already late for Father’s Day would do, he left the area immediately (without exploring or even landing on the shore)  sailing north for two days past more coastline and trees.   He continued on for three more days ultimately running into mountains and glaciers, but no fiords.  Figuring that he must have overshot Greenland during  the storm, Bjarni sailed northeast for four more days and landed just in time for dinner with good old Dad.

He told the settlers of his trip and the new land he sighted.  Guess who listened in on the stories?  None other than – Leif Eirikson – aka: Leif the Lucky.

On or about 1001 AD, Leif, with Bjarni at the helm, set sail from Greenland to find the lands described by Bjarni, by back-tracing Bjarni’s steps.  On the first leg of the journey he found a location with flat stones and glaciers.  He called this Helluland , which meant “Land of Flat Stones”.   Historians now believe that this was the coast of Baffin Island.

He sailed south for three more days and came across a narrow white sandy beach which stretched to the horizon. Behind the beach lay forest-clad slopes.  He called this location Markland or “Land of Woods”.  This is believed to be the forty mile beach at Cape Porcupine on the coast of Labrador.

Following two more days, he sailed into a natural harbor and a land of gassy meadows.   He  found (what he believes to be) wild grapes in the vicinity and called the place Vinland.

Here in Vinland, Leif and his crew set up camp and eventually built a settlement.   Archaeologists and historians are in general agreement that the site of Vinland is now called L’ans aux Meadows in northwestern Newfoundland.

Vinland was inhabited by a series of explorers, including the brothers and sister of Leif, for the next seven or eight years.

The story of the Vikings in Newfoundland is well documented and great reading.   The uncovered ruins of the Vinland community at L’ans aux Meadows can be visited near St Anthony (pronounced “Sane Ant knee” by the locals) at the tip of the Western Peninsula on Newfoundland.

One interesting note to this story is that the Vikings during their stay in Vinland were the first Europeans (don’t forget their roots to Norway) to meet the native peoples of North America.  It is not for sure but some historians believe that these natives were Beothuk Indians who are the subject of another Mystery of Canada.

The Day the Planes Stood Still

Bruce Ricketts

I was thinking the other day that it is more than likely that anyone under the age of ten or twelve years of age (or maybe even older) would not be able to recognize what is taking place in the picture to the left of this article.  The picture is of the Halifax International Airport and there are airplanes lined up along every part of the north-south runway.  What are they doing there?   Are they waiting to depart?   Is there an air show?Nope.  There was a incident in New York that halted air traffic in Canada and for that matter by Canada before they get to the US.  Therefore a huge number of planes landed at various Canadian airports, including Halifax.  Look at the picture to the left.  There are almost 60 planes on the ground.  That stranded over 12,000 passengers on the ground in Halifax.  That is equivalent to 3.5% of the total population of Halifax.  It is not as if anyone had planned for this.Image, you are sitting at home watching the Simpsons when someone calls you up to say that the population of an entire medium sized town is at the airport wanting for a cab to your house.  You don’t have a possibility to say no because they are already there.

Shortly after the no-fly incident, a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15, enroute from Frankfurt, Germany to Atlanta, Georgia, released her recollections of the experience caused by 9-11.  Her plane landed at Gander, Newfoundland (population 49,000) along with 20 or so other planes.


We were about five hours out of Frankfurt flying over the North Atlantic, and I was in my crew rest-seat taking my scheduled rest break. All of a sudden, the curtains parted violently and I was told to go to the cockpit, right now, to see the captain. As soon as I got there, I noticed that the crew had those “all-business” looks on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. I quickly read the message and realized its importance. The message was from Atlanta, addressed to our flight, and simply said, “All airways over the Continental U.S. are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

Now, when a dispatcher tells you to land immediately without suggesting which airport, one can assume that the dispatcher has reluctantly given up control of the flight to the captain. We knew it was a serious situation and that we needed to find terra firma quickly. It was quickly decided that the nearest airport was 400 miles away behind our right shoulder, in Gander on the island of Newfoundland.

A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a right turn, directly to Gander, was approved immediately. We found out later why there was no hesitation by the Canadian controller approving our request. We, the in-flight crew, were told to get the airplane ready for an immediate

at right: Planes on the ground at Gander, Newfoundland.

landing. While this was going on, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. We briefed the in-flight crew about going to Gander and we went about our business “closing down” the airplane for a landing. A few minutes later, I went back to the cockpit to find out that some airplanes had been hijacked and were being flown into buildings all over the U.S. We decided to make an announcement and LIE to the passengers for the time being. We told them that an instrument problem had arisen on the airplane and that we needed to land at Gander, to have it checked. We promised to give them more information after landing in Gander. There were many unhappy passengers, but that is par for the course. We landed in Gander about 40 minutes after the start of this episode.

There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world.After we parked on the ramp, the captain made the following announcement.



“Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have. The reality is that we are here for a good reason.” Then he went on to explain the little bit that we knew about the situation in the U.S. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. Local time in Gander was 12:30 p.m. (11:00 a.m. EST.). Gander control told us to stay put. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircraft. Only a car from the airport police would come around once in a while, look us over and go on to the next airplane. In the next hour or so, all the airways over the North Atlantic were vacated and Gander alone ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were flying U.S. flags. We were told that each and every plane was to be offloaded, one at a time, with the foreign carriers given the priority. We were No.14 in the U.S. category. We were further told that we would be given a tentative time to deplane at 6 p.m.Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and, for the first time, we learned that the airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in D.C.People were trying to use their cell phones but were unable to connect due to a different cell system in Canada. Some did get through, but were only able to get to the Canadian operator who told them that the lines to the U.S. were either blocked or jammed, and to try again. Sometime late in the evening, the news filtered to us that the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. Now the passengers were totally bewildered and emotionally exhausted, but stayed calm as we kept reminding them to look around to see that we were not the only ones in this predicament. There were 52 other planes with people on them in the same situation. We also told them that the Canadian government was in charge and we were at their mercy.

True to their word, at 6 p.m., Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would come at 11 a.m. the next morning. That took the last wind out of the passengers and they simply resigned and accepted this news without much noise, and really started to get into a mode of spending the night on the airplane. Gander had promised us any and all medical attention, and if needed; medicine, water and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word. Fortunately, we had no medical situation during the night. We did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of her. The night passed without any further complications on our airplane, despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

At about 10:30 on the morning of the 12th, we were told to get ready to leave the aircraft. A convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing.”

We, the crew, were taken to the same terminal but were told to go to a different section, where we were processed through immigration and customs and then had to register with the Red Cross. After that, we were isolated from our passengers and taken in a caravan of vans to a very small hotel in the town of Gander. We had no idea where our passengers were going. The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. Red Cross told us that they were going to process about 10,500 passengers from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander. We were told to just relax at the hotel and wait for a call to go back to the airport, but not to expect that call for a while.

at left: Stranded passengers start waking up on Thursday morning Sept. 13, 2001 in Gander, Nfld. in the gymnasium of Gander Academy, an elementary school. The town of 10,500 people was strained to the limit by the unexpected arrival of literally thousands of passengers. Many were still stranded in Gander Thursday night. (CP PHOTO/Scott Cook)

We found out the total scope of the terror back home only after getting to our hotel and turning on the TV, 24 hours after it all started. Mean-while, we enjoyed ourselves going around town discovering things and enjoying the hospitality. The people were so friendly and they just knew that we were the “Plane People.” We all had a great time until we got that call two days later, at 7 a.m. on the 14th. We made it to the airport by 8:30 a.m. and left for Atlanta at 12:30 p.m., arriving in Atlanta at about 4:30 p.m. (Gander is one hour and 30 minutes ahead of EST, yes! One hour and 30 minutes.) But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

What passengers told us was so uplifting and incredible and the timing couldn’t have been better. We found out that Gander and the surrounding small communities, within a 75-km radius, had closed all the high schools, meeting halls, lodges and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up. ALL the high school students HAD to volunteer to take care of the “GUESTS.” Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 km from Gander. There, they were put in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were given no choice and taken to private homes.

Remember that young pregnant lady ­ she was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour urgent care facility. There were doctors on call, and they had both male and female nurses available who stayed with the crowd for the duration. Phone calls and e-mails to U.S. and Europe were available for everyone, once a day. During the days, the passengers were given a choice of “excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbours. Some went to see the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools for those who elected to stay put. Others were driven to the eatery of their choice and fed. They were given tokens to go to the local Laundromat to wash their clothes, since their luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for those unfortunate travellers.

Passengers were crying while telling us these stories. After all that, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single person missing or late. And all because the local Red Cross had the information about the goings-on back in Gander and knew which group needed to leave for the airport at what time. Absolutely incredible. When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everybody knew everybody else by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had had the better time. It was mind-boggling.

Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a party flight. We simply stayed out of their way. The passengers had totally bonded and they were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses. And then a strange thing happened. One of our business-class passengers approached me and asked if he could speak over the PA to his fellow passengers. We never, never allow that. But something told me to get out of his way. I said, “Of course.” The gentleman picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He further stated that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of the town of Lewisporte. He said he was going to set up a trust fund under the name of DELTA 15, our flight number. The purpose of the trust fund is to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte, to help them go to college. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travellers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totalled $14.5K or about $20K Canadian. The gentleman who started all this turned out to be an MD from Virginia. He promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well. Why all of this? Just because some people in faraway places were kind to some strangers, who happened to, literally, drop in among them.


At a time when the world, for many, seemed to be falling apart, many Canadians, in Gander, Halifax and many other places, came together to open their houses, stores and hearts to perfect strangers.  And I dare to predict that neither the Canadians nor the strangers will ever forget the experience.


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