Book ReMarks: Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse


Published on March 10, 2017

Book ReMarks: Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse

In September of 1952, twenty-five year old Rosalie Lombard left her New Hampshire home up in the States and headed for St. Anthony, Newfoundland — pretty much down on the Labrador, me b’ys.

She went to St. Anthony to serve as a nurse with the Grenfell Mission, fully aware — thanks to an application brochure — that “the weather was (is) bracing with some warm days.”

She sailed from Massachusetts to Port aux Basque where she boarded the legendary Newfie Bullet for the train ride north. The Bullet went off the rails before making it to Flat Bay. Unruffled, Rosalie filmed the aftermath with the movie camera she’d packed to record interesting events in Newfoundland.

Good for Rosalie.

Eventually, along with the other passengers and crew, she walked across a steep embankment, boarded the “new” train on the north side of the wreck and — chuff-chuff, choo-choo — continued to St. Anthony.

Now, over sixty years later, Rosalie has written a book about her time in Newfoundland — Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse [Flanker Press].

Now then, time for a bite to eat, eh b’ys?

Onboard the MV Maraval, a travelling clinic, Rosalie was fed the good, solid grub of the day, the food that the same brochure that had encouraged her regarding Newfoundland’s bracing weather, told her was “adequate, though not varied.”

So, supper on the Maraval?

“It consisted of corned beef, cabbage, hardtack, and an atrocious mixture of lemon and water to drink.”

B’ys, I’m wondering about that lemon and water mix. Do you suppose it was made using the bitter lemon crystals we youngsters reared up immediately after Confederation pupped were familiar with?

Maybe.

I’m a little bit surprised that the “grumpy cook” who served the corned beef and cabbage didn’t have a platter of potted-meat sandwiches on his menu.

Rosalie enjoyed her couple of years nursing at St. Anthony, despite working conditions that often were less than ideal. Even when the work itself wasn’t unreasonably taxing, the hours were long: “Each nurse could take two half days a week off duty and one full day a month.”

Imagine.

Although I’ve never been to St. Anthony, I do have a tenuous thread connecting me to the town. For one thing, when my Pappy was a boy, a pack of starving sled dogs chased him through the community, snapping at the laps of his arse all the way.

So, thinking I might familiarize myself with some of the places Rosalie Lombard has written about I enabled Mr. Google’s maps and hie-dee-hoed off to the Northern Peninsula.

Follow me, zooming in on St. Anthony.

You know how when you’re zooming with Mr. Google, place and/or business names begin to appear as you come nearer and nearer the earth’s surface, eh b’ys?

Have a guess at the first thing that popped into view as I approached the ground aboard Mr. Google’s flying map.

TIM HORTONS!

Oh my, what do you think of that, Rosalie, my love?

As you might imagine, some of the medical equipment the doctors and nurses at St. Anthony used in the 1950s would appear medieval to our sophisticated [!] 21st Century eyes, even though they may have been state-of-the-art at the time.

For instance, one advanced [!] tool — now get this! — was a dental drill operated by foot pedals.

Truly.

Thinking about it gave me the willy-whams.

It reminded me of Granny’s sewing machine with the foot treadle, for frig sake.

The bulk of this book is an account of Rosalie’s voyage on the Northern Messenger from St. Anthony to — eventually — Cape Breton. It was not an uneventful trip: the engine constantly broke down; sails ripped; storms shook the ship until the stove — with fire in its belly — tumbled from its place and rolled around the floor…

…and plenty of other bad stuff.

If anybody cares, when Rosalie and her shipmates made this memorable voyage, I was a wee bay-boy just months away from becoming an “O”-scribing scholar in one of the Confederation schools King Joey built for his subjects’ spawn.

Speaking of me … and Rosalie en route to Flower’s Cove by dogsled …

Nightfall required Rosalie and the dogs’ master to spend a night in a tilt along the way, not an uncommon occurrence when travelling long distances.

But take a look at the picture of that tilt on page 44.

It’s exactly like the one we used for a hen house the winter we lived in the woods — a winter I might have mentioned before.

Subtract the dogs from the picture and the person in the picture could be me.

Truly.

Thank you for reading.

— Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville. He thinks it’s cool to live in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. He does not think it cool to live in a province that taxes books. Reach him at ghwalters663@gmail.com