11 Distinguishing Traits of Newfoundland Outport Culture.
1. Respect is part of life.
People have been accepted and respected for who they are. If they are a bit “strange” or “touched in the head,” people in the community make allowance for that. Older people in the community are frequently called “Aunt” or “Uncle” out of respect, even if they are not related. (In Pigeon Inlet, “Aunt Sophie,” “Uncle Mose,” Grandpa and Grandma” Walcott, and the hangashore “Jethro Noddy” represent this tradition.)
2. Two Degrees of Separation exists in outports.
If you hear a person’s last name, you have a good idea what part of the province he or she is from and within a few minutes talking you can find someone who knows someone that you both know. (Just 2 degrees of separation) There is a bond of kinship. In David French’s plays, the story of the Mercer family, a name associated with Bay Roberts, is followed trough three generations. When the Couger Helicopter went down off shore, almost to person, everyone in Newfoundland outports knew someone who knew a friend or relative of the people from Newfoundland outports who tragically died.
3. Music – instrumental, singing, and dance have always had a large role in people’s lives.
There are songs that have been passed down through several generations that most people know and can sing along with, including “The Squid Jigging Ground,” “She’s Like the Swallow,” “Lukey’s Boat,” and “I’se the By.” Traditional “Times” featured singing and dance.
4. Story telling grew out of isolation.
Stories of events in the community (sometimes written in verse), ghost stories and fairy stories have been passed from generation to generation. In the days before modern telecommunications, media and transportation, people were isolated in the winter months and entertained each other with stories and recitations. Each community had several well know story tellers. Ted Russell enshrines that tradition in his “Smoke Room on the Kyle.”
5. Traditional food is served.
Fish and brewis, fish cakes, duffs, flipper pie, bakeapple jam – and other recipes are known by most people. Certain foods are cooked in special ways for Christmas Eve or Good Friday, or other holidays and celebrations. At Newfoundland times and weddings, traditional foods are served. In many homes, even today, there is a traditional menu of meals for each day of the week – for example, fish was served on Friday.
6. Heroes and characters are well known through generations.
“Characters” were eccentric people. In a gathering, each person tried to tell one better about things that community “characters” had done. “Heroes” are people of the community, sometimes sea captains, sometimes people who had miraculous escapes from disaster, who had achieved amazing feats, and whose stories are told and retold.
7. Language and dialect differs from outport to outport.
Each community has a slightly different accent (often based on the part of England or Ireland from which their ancestors came). Use of phrases and names of places are unique to that community. Often the names of places have a story that relates to the name. The Klondyke Causeway in Bay Roberts was built at around the time of the Klondyke Gold Rush. It was a time when the fishery had failed and the economy was in a state of decline. People that were hired to work on building the causeway felt it was the town’s version of the “Klondyke.”
8. Nicknames are very common in outport communities.
Because a number of people in some communities have the same family name and first name, each branch of a family has a nickname which is well known in the community. In Bay Roberts and surrounding communities the name Graham Mercer is very common, so each family has its own nickname. The names were sometimes named after the occupation – “Painter” and “Baker.” Sometimes named after a long forgotten incident – “Fox” another Mercer nickname is perhaps named after an incident with a fox. The Mercers through generations are called Joey “Fox,” or Fred “Painter” and everyone in the community knows which from Mercer family that person originated.
9. Various demoninations of the Church have played an enormous role in outports.
Activities in the community are determined by the church calendar – advent, Christmas, lent, and Easter; and church organizations such as the CLB, UCW, play roles in community life. They were even more important in the past, sometimes having a negative impact, but more often helping people through hard times and tragedies.
10. The sea was the reason for existence for most outports, so it dominated life.
The seasons associated with the fishery give a cadence to community life. Stories are told of well-known Captains, voyages, and dangers. Building boats and parts for ships, preparing and mending nets and pots, preparing fish for market, were a major part of life.
11. Survival skills have been honed by a harsh environment.
Many outport dwellers had an ability to do many things well. Men knew all about fishing, but many were carpenters, wood workers, painters, boat builders, loggers, and farmers. Women were homemakers, but they were also skilled gardeners, seamstresses, needleworkers, and community organizers. Most families cut their own wood for building and for fuel, grew and preserved vegetables for winter, remade old clothes for younger children in the family, coloured old flour bags and hooked them into mats, and raveled old sweaters, using the yarn to make new ones. Although the term was never used, recycling was common. Little was wasted. “This Bear Got Heart” (http://www.thisbeargotheart.com/) is an example of this tradition. Betty uses old clothing to make teddy bears and decorate them with traditional needle crafts.