Northwest Brook – then and now

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

(Click on photo to enlarge)

William Smith beside his picture of when he was in the Royal Navy.

William Smith is 95 years young with a face people may recognize as having for many years been featured on CBC-TV’s Land and Sea. His grandfather came from England and was one of the early settlers in Island Cove. William can remember the early days of Northwest Brook from the time his father moved from Island Cove. Half the children, including William, were born in Island Cove and half in Northwest Brook.

As a young boy, William joined the Royal Navy in 1910 and trained aboard the HMS Calypso which operated from St. John’s as a training ship for Newfoundland recruits. After the war, he returned to Island Cove and about 45 years ago moved to Northwest Brook.

“There were only nine families and up to 120 people in the 1940s,” William recalls. “Now there are 220—quite a lot of people have moved in from all over the place. There’s no fish here now, but it used to be all fishermen. I’m the oldest person in Northwest Brook.

“I worked at all trades—in construction at Corner Brook and the airport at Gander, and I spent a considerable time in Labrador fishing. The last schooner left this area just after the Second World War. There were just two ships still going from Hillview, the W. J. Ellison with Albert Stoyles as captain and the Dave E. Guy under David Stoyles. My brothers went with different skippers from other communities. I also spent about 25 years in the lumberwoods.”

William remembers visiting London during his four years in England during the war.  

“I had an aunt over there who married a soldier from Toronto and settled in Stratford upon Avon—as nice a place as ever I’ve been,” he comments. “I missed her house along a row of cottages and asked the milkman where number 26 was. I rapped on the door and out came my aunt. She looked at me and said she knew me. I was 22 years old and she recognized me although she hadn’t seen me since I was a baby. Her husband had a job on the railway and he took me through London on his three days off. I’d like to go back over there, but London was crowded even then. There’s a schoolmaster here from England whose wife is Canadian. I expect him around for a cup of tea anytime now.”  

The only problem William has now is some difficulty in hearing, perhaps not surprising at 95 years of age, but annoying nonetheless.  “This deafness is the worst thing in the world and there’s no remedy for it,” he admits. “I don’t know when it happened, but it could have started in wartime. I’d really like to get a pair of those hearing-aid implants. You go to church and don’t hear the preacher, so you might as well stay home. Apart from that, I feel fine and still do a lot of walking. I miss the days when there were only footpaths here—people just don’t seem to walk anymore.”

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, February 2019

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