My father, mother, sister and I boarded the "steamer" at Fortune late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, thinking we would reach our destination late the next day. We were going to spend the holidays with my mother's parents at Pool's Cove and the only way to get there was by coastal boat, or "steamer" as it was popularly known in the outports.
About half an hour after leaving Fortune, we arrived at Grand Bank. Weather conditions were not favourable and were deteriorating. Approaching darkness also meant decreased visibility. The captain decided to remain at Grand Bank overnight - a move that was not too popular with my sister and I.
Nevertheless, there we were. It was Christmas Eve. All our gifts and maybe some stocking stuffers too, were in the securely tied boxes stashed beneath the lower berths in our stateroom. We didn't want to disturb the contents of those boxes until we reached Pool's Cove. We had no stockings to hang, not even a tree to decorate. Some Christmas this was shaping up to be! We wanted to be with Grandma and Grandpa.
Well, people do tend to make the best out of a bad situation. We decorated the walls of
our room with strings of paper dolls, and other things cut from old newspapers. This was our mother's idea - no doubt to keep us occupied so we wouldn't complain as much!
The cook, a man with children at home, sympathized with us. He felt it wasn't right that two little girls should have to spend Christmas like this. He borrowed a pair of nylon stockings from my mother. Then he told us to go to bed and get some sleep.
When we woke up on Christmas morning, the stockings were hanging on the foot of our berths. They were filled with apples, oranges, chunks of fruitcake and raisins. Not the type of things children would normally expect to find in a stocking, but that kind man had done his best to brighten our day a little. And it is the thought that counts, right?
There was another note to cheer us up too - we were moving. The wind had dropped overnight and the steamer had left port around daybreak. We had a traditional turkey dinner on board and reached Pool's Cove just as it was getting dark. Then we had gifts to open and more stockings. It was almost like having two Christmas days.
Winter travel always meant increased chances of encountering stormy weather. One year we were almost close enough to jump ashore at Pool's Cove - but not quite. It was snowing and very windy. There were piles of steel girders on the wharf and the captain would not take a chance on docking. If the ship were driven by a heavy wave, it could hit the girders and sustain some damage. So we anchored off in the bay, close enough to see the lights of the community.
Sometime early in the morning, before daylight, the wind dropped considerably. This time the boat was able to dock safely. Archie Williams was on the wharf and helped to carry our luggage to my grandparents' house.
The house was situated at the end of a long lane and the snow, as we struggled alone, was literally waist deep. Mr. Williams was enjoying it all tremendously.
'This is the most fun I've had all Christmas,' he said, laughing as he plowed through the snow. His positive outlook helped turn it into an adventure for us.
Although the old coastal boats are long gone, they will always remain part of my fond holiday memories. Christmas was not so commercial then and every little event became a part of some warm memory.
Of them all, the 'SS Bar Haven' (pictured above) was my favourite. Apart from the fact that she was launched the same year I was born, she was also known as the smoothest ride.
© F. Herridge
Published in The Newfoundland Herald, December 1998
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