Dancing the night away

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 15, Number 6
November – December 1986
Photographs from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Malcolm and Sarah Jane Lambert

It’s Sarah Jane Lambert’s 81st birthday the day we call in to meet her husband Malcolm, so it’s appropriate we talk to him about his love of dancing. His fame has spread far beyond the boundaries of Hatchet Cove and there probably isn’t a dance floor in the area on which Malcolm hasn’t tried out a few dance steps.

“I really love the square dance, not the ‘belly-rubs’ that go for dancing these days,” he admits with a twinkle in his eye. “There was a time I’d give up almost anything in the world for a square dance. There were lots of square dances and you might dance all night and walk back home after daylight. We don’t have many square dances now and I miss them.

“I can remember one over at Long Beach when they were having a 24th of May ‘time’ for the teachers in the school. My cousins and I were over there after caplin and we heard the music as we pulled up to the beach. Out we jumped with our oilskins on and me with long rubber boots half filled with water. Lloyd Stringer was playing the mouth organ and we danced two full sets with our oilskins on. By the time we finished that dance I’d danced more than I had in 12 full months. That was the kind of fun you made for yourselves in those days.”

Along with the fun, Malcolm’s life included a lot of hard work.
“I never went to school in my life,” he tells us, “but that was partly because my father was sick and all of us had to help. I was a very small 13-year-old when I first went into the woods with my uncle Hedman. We went to Black Duck near Badger to work for Billy Evans, but I was too small to cut logs so he had me making trails in the snow for a man from Botwood by the name of Frank Brown. He was a big man weighing about 200 lbs. and he’d sink right through my snow trail.

“That’s when I was switched to being a ‘cookee’. There wasn’t much to do when the men were in the woods except bring in a bowl of water in the morning, clean up the washpan and keep the kerosene lamp in the bunkhouse clean. But it was busy at mealtimes. I worked there for a month until the camp closed and I got my $12 wages on the last morning, which I placed carefully in a half- pound ‘baccy’ tin. My lunch in Badger cost me 50 cents and I paid my way to Northern Bight station for $1.50. I must have counted my money 20 times on the way home—that was the first money I had ever made and I was only 13. I didn’t see it too long, though. My father was at the station on the way to St. John’s to see his doctors, so I handed over the tin full of money.”

Young draft horse taking a lunchtime snack before winter work in the woods.

It was the first of many years in the lumberwoods for Malcolm. 

“The next summer I went down the Labrador and came back to go in the lumberwoods at Terra Nova where Bob Pritchett was the foreman,” he recalls. “There weren’t too many from Hatchet Cove at first, but the numbers soon built up. Each camp had a contract for 3,000-4,000 cords of wood and you got paid by the cord unless you were cutting the roads or horse-teaming and got paid wages. 

“When I started we had the crosscut Simon saw for the long 16-ft. timber, but then we had the wooden frame bucksaw and after that the handframe saw. It might take six months to cut your cords with a bucksaw, but when the power saw came in you could cut the same amount in six weeks. That meant the cutting season was much shorter although the camps were the same size or slightly bigger. I still get my own wood with a power saw, but I can’t cut as much because of my bad leg. A lot of people still cut their own firewood including a man in Clarenville 99 years old.” 

Malcolm doesn’t mind admitting that he’s 78 and he doesn’t think senior citizens should be deprived of services because of the cost. 

“It’s no crime getting a reward for putting in so many years,” he reasons. “When I was a boy growing up we were taught to treat our elders with respect. I can still put in my days helping with the Bayview Senior Citizens Social Club building. You shouldn’t stop just because you’re retired. You have to keep on the go—once you sit down you’re finished. I can’t walk as fast as I could because of my leg, but it wasn’t too long ago the minister and I walked 25 miles to Sunnyside from the other side of Deep Bight just to keep occupied. Apart from the leg I feel no different than I did at 20.” 

We suspect that once the dances start at the Social Club Malcolm’s dancing prowess will again come to the fore—square dance or ‘belly-rub’.


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, January 2019

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.