Teaching in St Jones Without and Ferry’s Cove, 1935-1936

by Signe (Mills) Green
Submitted by her daughter, Daphne (Green) Choquette

St Jones Without 1935

Signe Mills and her students in St. Jones Without, 1935. (click on picture to enlarge)

I expect that it was always at the back of my mind that someday I would become a teacher.  Then, there were not so many things that one could be.  A girl, if she wished to pursue a career, could either be a teacher or a nurse. At one time, I thought I would like to be a nurse, but I had misgivings about making a career of that as there were so many aspects of the profession that I absolutely loathed, noble as the cause may be. To begin with, I can’t stand the sight of blood, (even in meat.) I also don’t like to change diapers, clean up vomit, or give people baths or backrubs! I even find it repulsive to cut another’s toe nails, feel lumps, look at sores, or inspect throats. I realize that these are things that have to be done from time to time and thank goodness for the many wonderful, compassionate people who do this every day. I just don’t think that I would have liked being a nurse. I have been told that it was a matter of getting used to it, somehow, I have my doubts.

Three weeks after my father passed away on May 9th-1934, I was stricken with, (what the doctor later termed) a bout of rheumatic fever. It took me the whole summer to recover. However, near the end of August, I felt that, should a vacancy occur, I was well enough to take a school.

Our new minister, the Rev. H.M. Dawe, found an opening for me at one of the church schools on the Random South West Arm charge, a little outport called St. Jones Without. On his recommendation I was accepted to begin teaching around Sept. 1.

It was exciting, preparing to go to my first school. One has mixed feelings about “leaving the nest,” but at nineteen, I had all the confidence in the world that I would make a go of it. I had been one year out of high school as it had taken me two years to do Junior Matriculation. I had no teaching training, except what I had observed from Uncle Silas’s methods. I was really in a “raw state”.

Signe Mills in motor boat

Signe Mills

My mother had made arrangements for Uncle Ches to take me up the coast to this little isolated community, well in towards the bottom of Trinity Bay. In a small motor boat, we travelled out through the tickle between Thoroughfare and Ireland’s Eye and up past the point where our father used to set his salmon net; up past Deer Harbour Head, where we so often got seasick and were sprayed with salt water in a choppy sea, on our way to a Sunday evening service; past the Motion Head where the lighthouse was, and where lived the Cooper family. We crossed the mouth of Random North West Arm and were soon crossing the mouth of South West Arm, past Southport and Gooseberry Cove, and then on up the stretch of shoreline to St. Jones Without.

Talk about isolated! Uncle Ches landed me and saw me established in my boarding house. When he left to go back I felt my first pang of loneliness. I was cut off from everyone whom I had ever known and had to get used to a whole new community of strangers. As we landed and climbed up over the wharf, there was no “red carpet” treatment. I remember a group of children standing under a flake nearby, and four or five men hovering in the background. I know now that there were many, observing from behind their curtains. A strange boat was “an event.”

Someone must have directed us to my boarding house. I do recall wending my way between fish flakes and small sheds and up a steep ladder affair. The houses were clustered all about and appeared to be clinging to the sides of the hill. Nothing was very tidy looking.

Although the houses were set close together, they were surrounded by outhouses, stores and flakes. All overlooked the harbour, so that, at a glance, a family could see what was going on.

There was no mistaking the school as it was a large white building that stood apart from the rest. It was supported at the front by long stilts and had multi-paned windows. The back door was on a level with a small footpath that wound its way up from the village and around the side of the hill.

Farther along this main road, and standing all by itself, was the church. Years later, this church was dismantled and rebuilt at North West Brook at the bottom of the South West Arm.

The young are flexible and recover fast and it wasn’t long before I got used to all the “strange” faces. I plunged into this, my first year, and soon became involved with whatever was going on. St. Jones Without has a lovely harbour-an inlet about three miles in length, with high hills on either side, something like a miniature fiord. The community itself was built near the mouth of the inlet, probably for its convenience to the bay. It was, maybe, a half mile across the water to the north side, a tiny place called Ferry’s Cove. The greater number of residents lived on the south side, within the shelter of the headland. They had both an Anglican and United Church.

Ferry’s Cove could only be reached by boat or by walking across the ice in winter. There were only a few families here but they boasted a small school and a post office, and had some form of communication such as telephone or telegraphy. I began to teach on the south side and then, at the end of January, took my bag and baggage and went to the north side for five months. A new boarding house was provided, but the school was really small.

The highest attendance was twelve which made for no discipline problem whatsoever. While I taught there, an Anglican teacher “held forth” on the side that I had just left, so that the south side had continuing education. It was possible though, that they could have a new teacher every half year.

I was fortunate to be placed with a wonderful family in my first year away from home, a Mr and Mrs. Martin Pitcher and their three daughters, Caroline, 22, Ellen, 19, (my age,) and Olive, 16. We became like sisters. They also had an adopted son around eight.

Mary Ann Seward Green

Mary Ann (Seward) Green (1869-1942) of Gooseberry Cove. She was the daughter of Richard and Mary Ann Seward. She married Jehu Green, son of Levi and Rachael (Adey) Green.

The Pitchers had a nice comfortable home and kept a good table. They ran a small shop which Caroline attended. In that rocky little village, they grew the largest and sweetest vegetables that I have ever tasted. Carrots were as big around as one’s wrist! The soil that had been enriched with fish offal was most productive. Aunt Mary Jane Green owned the only cow and I’m sure that that cow couldn’t provide enough manure for all. I don’t expect that anyone bought commercial fertilizer.

I have often thought, over the years, what hard work had to go into the making of a garden in that little settlement. In Thoroughfare, there had been lots of rocks to contend with but we had a fair area in which to work, as the houses were not all crowded together. Here, however, it was a mystery where they found the soil.

We lived well that first winter. They butchered two golden nugget pigs, each weighing three hundred pounds. Undoubtedly, much of the meat was pickled to last through the long spring and summer. Mr Pitcher also harvested twenty-one seals and lots of sea birds.

These were the days when I could enjoy a meal of baked seal or turr but I have no great liking for it now. Their waterfront store was stocked with barrels of herring and turbot and there was a good supply of salt cod.

There was great feasting at the Pitcher’s home that winter and all for only nine dollars a month board.  My monthly salary was nineteen dollars so I had ten dollars for myself.  There was of course, the Quarterly Augmentation which came from the department of Educations at St. John’s, which amounted to thirty dollars.  To me, it was a small fortune.  Where could one spend their money though? ( I did buy the occasional big chocolate bar for 5 cents!)

The first fall sped by quickly.  With the permission of the local school board members, we all “took off” around the middle of September for a few days berry picking.  I never knew that partridgeberries could be so plentiful!  We went by boat up to the bottom of the “blight” and then we scattered over the barrens.  Several families came home with a barrel of berries (in sacks); it astounded me that they could pick so many berries in one day.  I suppose they still grow there every year, only now no one picks them.

Apart from my school duties, I played the organ at church and organized a C.G.I.T. group.  There were Rally Day and Christmas programs and an anniversary service in the spring.  This anniversary service was typical of many such programs carried out by the Sunday school, that I’m sure that they didn’t commemorate any special date.

The girls of the Pitcher family taught me how to crochet and how to improve on my knitting.  What with visiting and all, life was busy and interesting!

I don’t think that anyone ever felt isolated in that compact little outport.  It could only be reached by boat or by walking overland a distance of six to ten miles “o’er moor and fen” to ‘Little Heart’s Ease.’ I did that walk once during my two years stay there and I also crossed Trinity Bay once, by schooner to ‘Heart’s Content.’

When Christmas came that first year, I decided that I would stay put, rather than risk a stormy trip to and from Thoroughfare.  Christmas then, was very much like those spent at Thoroughfare.  There were one or two exceptions. For instance, one was in their choice of a Christmas tree.  Each family set up a small dead spruce in the corner of the kitchen (which was used as their living room.)  This tree was fully decorated with home made cards or some other bric-a-brac.  I thought this tree to be most odd looking and in my second year, I persuaded Olive Pitcher to go with me in search of a green tree.  We found a scrubby sort of affair, but, my word!  It smelled and looked Christmassy!  I suppose that year at the Pitcher home, we had the “oddest” tree in the whole place.

The week following Christmas day of my second year there, someone, on a nice day, came and fetched me back to Thoroughfare, as my Uncle Ches was getting married.  I returned by a round-a-bout way, going by boat from Thoroughfare to Britannia, from there to Hickman’s Harbour, by horse and sleigh where I stayed with the minister and his family, the Pitts, until someone came from ‘St. Jones Without’ to get me.  It was bitterly cold in an open boat at the time of year.

Another Christmas custom that was followed at ‘St. Jones Without,’ the same as at Thoroughfare, was “Mummering.” There, it was called “Janneying” but we still wore the same outlandish costumes.  As a rule, men dressed as women and vice-versa. We were still treated to sweet cake, hot peppermint ginger wine or syrup.  On the last night of the holiday season, the old twelfth night, January 6th, we ended up at some designated house in the village around 12 PM to share in the celebration by eating a large cake called “Bang Belly” and drinking a thin, unpalatable, boiled concoction of partridgeberries, sugar and water, called Berry Ocky.”

During spring and fall, I loved to roam over the hills in my spare time.  There may have been blueberries in the fall.  It’s possible that they were nipped by the frost early in September. I recall one spring, standing on a very high bank, looking down into the sea at a pod of seals that had followed a school of herring into the cove.

When I went to teach at ‘Ferry’s Cove” at the end of January, life was a little different.  It was during the ‘Depression,’ and I had my first taste of what it meant to see people really “hard up.” At Thoroughfare, there had always been one welfare family, but we knew that they didn’t know how to “manage” very well.  It was, more or less, a permanent state with them.  They would still be in that condition in a few months, even if they had been given a million dollars, at least, this is what we heard the adults say as we grew up!

St Jones Without School

School house at St. Jones Without, 1935.

Aunt Lizzie must have often been puzzled when the children of said family came to her with one egg in exchange for a bit of butter!  By and large though, people of Thoroughfare “got along.”  They grew their own vegetables, raised or caught their meat or fish, and kept a few dollars on hand for emergencies.

However, on the north side of ‘St. Jones Without,’ there were several welfare cases.  I don’t think that my mother ever knew that the people, with whom I boarded, were “on the dole.” My nine dollars a month was probably the only money they had for anything extra.  For some reason, maybe health, they did not have a bountiful garden and were unable to garner from the sea or the woods.  It was “slim pickings.’ They did have hens, so it wasn’t all a lost cause, but that first spring, I cam down with the ugliest and most painful boils that one could ever have.  They eventually left after many applications of a local remedy fro drawing out infection called “Dragon’s Blood.”  One particularly obvious boil, was on the tip of my nose, the others were not as conspicuous, but none the less, painful, and I still have the scars.

In May of my first year there, my cousin Jim died at Thoroughfare, and my mother sent me a telegram.  I was anxious to go home for the funeral, so a boat came for me.  Although I had thought of Thoroughfare many times, this was my first time back.

When I left to go to ‘St. Jones without’ in September, Jim had left to go teaching at ‘Deer Harbour.’ He had to give up early in the new year of 1935.  I just knew he was sick, and I felt that with rest and medication, that he would get better.  I was shocked that he died of cancer of the throat at this young age.  We had gone though school together, always in the same grade.  He had often helped me over the tough spots of understanding. I stayed for a week then, and came back to finish the term.  I was on the north side then and I can only presume that I stayed a week longer to make up for the time that I had lost.

These past years, we have become very diet conscious.  We can scarcely pick up a paper without being reminded of the kinds of food we should eat.  Therefore it never occurred to me, when I was at ‘St. Jones Without,’ that I may have gained weight that first fall.  I just know that Mrs. Pitcher was a marvellous cook and seemed happy when I cleaned my plate (a sure sign of appreciation.) I felt well.  One day, when fishermen were weighing in their catches of dry salt fish, we girls decided that we would get on the scales just for laughs.  I though nothing of it, when I tipped the scales at one hundred and sixty two pounds! (I have not weighed that much before or since!) I wasn’t out of shape, just nicely padded, and the work “diet” or “calorie” was not part of my vocabulary. These extra pounds were taken care of, anyway, as soon as I got home and began to help with the gardening and hay-making.  In that era, the ‘pencil thin’ figures caused no stir.  Nor, for that matter, did the “fatty!”

In spite of the isolation at ‘St. Jones Without,’ some of the girls, who came to teach, married local lads and stayed.  No doubt, they enriched the life of the community.


Special thanks to Daphne (Green) Choquette for sharing her Mother’s stories with the Southwest Arm Historical Society.