Rencontre East, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
Isolated and Loving It
Memories of Rencontre East
As a young boy in the late 1930's, I spent several happy summers in Rencontre East, which was my birth place, with my Uncle and Aunt. My grandfather and grandmother Hartigan had died, as had Uncle Will Hartigan, but his wife, Aunt Essen, and Uncle Nicky and Aunt Phon Hartigan still lived on the Point. Although it was the era of the great depression and business was not as it had been, there was still a lot of activity on the Hartigan waterfront. I recall once going out to the herring seine with my uncles and observing the hordes of small blue fish swarming in the nets. There was no schooner then, the "Annie" having long since vanished from the scene, but there were two herring boats -the "Sea Gull" and the "Sea Crest" - the latter a large decked-in craft where we liked to go on board to play cards. On the beach lay the rotting hulk of another herring boat which had seen better days • the "Sea Wolf".
by Maurice Burke
Then there was the little flat-bottomed boat (known as the "Little Pal") which we used to row around Little Harbour and to bring water from the Brook. There were no wells on the Point in those days, so it was necessary every day (except Sunday) to row in to the Brook and fill a barrel with the aid of a spudgel (a wooden bucket with a long handle attached). Then the barrel would be hoisted up over the wharf with the aid of a block and tackle and the water carried in buckets up the hill to the houses.
There was always something to occupy the long summer days and catching connors was a favourite pastime. We had one method which was easy and always insured a good catch. We would lower a galvanized hoop into the water with a net attached to which the connors would eagerly swarm to get at the bait inside. Then with a quick jerk we would haul up the net and before they knew it the surprised fish were high and dry out of the water and trapped in the bottom of the net. Often we rowed in the Brook to visit the Giovanninis and the Oakeys. Moored under the shelter of a cliff was an old schooner which belonged to a man from the main harbour. She had seen better days and I never saw her put to sea but the old gentleman would come faithfully to pump her out and I often thought that he just kept her as a hobby and a reminder of the days that were.
The Oakey family lived in a large house erected right over the water where at high tide you could hear the waves lapping under the kitchen floor. Many years ago, before sailing ships were equipped with engines, a schooner overshot the anchorage and drove her bowsprit right through the kitchen window much to the consternation of the young mother who just in the nick of time rescued her baby son from his cradle right under the window as the ship came crashing through! Another Oakey family lived across the brook and access to their home was by a wooden suspension bridge held by wires which went right over the Falls and creaked and swayed as you walked warily across. The Brook - truly a picturesque spot with many memories of its beauty and of the warm-hearted people who lived there!
Of course the senior citizen of Point Pleasant was Uncle Micky - a colorful character with a rich Irish brogue, a twinkle in his eye and a delightful sense of humour. He was in his mid-seventies when I knew him but he was still hale and hearty and able to go with his companion from the Harbour for a bit of cod-jigging or to mend the seines in the loft of the store. His sea-going days were over, apart from jigging, but he was always about the waterfront to see what was going on and see if his nephews were doing the job right! Probably he was also keeping an eye on his grand-nephews, as falling over wharves or getting into mischief was not unknown. I can see him now sitting in the store loft, his sou'wester on his head, as he carefully mended the twine. On a hot summer day he might often doze off at the mending but he was always alert. He and Aunt Phon (he always called her "Fan") loved children although they had none of their own, and one of the happy memories of my summers there is once when Aunt Phon gave me a hot slice of bread, fresh from the oven, topped with melting butter and sugar - truly a feast fit for a king! On one occasion Uncle Nicky took me on a fishing expedition outside the Little Passage. It was my job to "keep up the dory" into the wind while he did the jigging. I guess that it was in his blood to go out to the fishing grounds even at his advanced age.
I recall the summer that my mother's people decided to leave Rencontre East. There was no opportunity for able young men to earn a living, as the depression was at its height. My aunt had gone to Nova Scotia and one of my uncles had already left. My remaining uncle decided to close up the family home on the Point and move to the mainland. For me the long idyllic summer was over and it was time to return to school and to my own family.
I bade a fond farewell to Uncle Nicky and Aunt Phon, the Giovanninis, the Oakeys and the others. In the "Sea Gull" my Uncle Eric and I motored out of the Brook, rounded the Point and were soon heading through the "Bar" and the "Reach" - the waterway which led to St. Jacques and home. The memories of those carefree summers in Rencontre East would long remain and would often be in my thoughts.
I am reminded of these lines from Longfellow's poem "My Lost Youth"
"Often I think of the beautiful town
This article is reprinted from Maurice Burke's book "Memories of Outport Life", with the permission of the author.
That is seated by the sea:
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me .."