Personality Plus

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


Sylvia Hillyard

After we’ve endured the dusty trip along a gravel road notorious for its destruction of cars, it’s a pleasure to step into Sylvia Hillyard’s store in St. Jones Within. Sylvia’s sense of humor brightens up even a dull day made all the more unpleasant by a journey that has ended up with the car being short one wheelcover and with a hole in the rocker panel. Her warm welcome makes us temporarily forget there’s a return trip to be made before the day is done.

“The road certainly puts people off,” admits Sylvia, who’s had her own share of car troubles recently, “and it’s been worse the last two years. Three years ago we used to have people in the store from all over the place. Now people leave the Trans-Canada Highway, see the state of the road and just turn around. It’s good to see the grader out and have the worst sections relaid, but it would be nice to have pavement. There’re two school buses travelling over
it each weekday, so it has to be kept up. The elementary school is still here with about 17 pupils, but
inevitably it will be phased out. After Grade 5, children go to Clarenville.”

Sylvia, who hails from Maberley on the Bonavista Peninsula, got into the store business at just the right time. The local co-op store was just closing up.

“My husband Ralph’s a construction worker and we moved around quite a bit when Come by Chance closed down,” she explains. “We’ve been here since 1971, but I’ve only been running the store since 1977. We went to New Brunswick for a year and then to Sarnia, Ontario. When we got back I got the urge to work, and to save having to travel back and forth along the gravel road we set up the store.

“I started with a little bit of everything in a general store and expanded into dry goods and gift-ware. Ralph does furnace installations, so we carry some pipes and fittings. People go to the larger centres now—to Clarenville at
least once a week and also to St. John’s.”

View at the end of the gravel road – St. Jones Within

Life in small communities is not too different now from life in urban centres, not like it was years ago.

“People even have satellite dishes so they know everything that’s going on and as the local storekeeper I get to find out, too,” Sylvia comments with a smile.

“Our business is steady throughout the year and we don’t have too many problems getting supplies here except when it’s icy and delivery trucks can’t get beyond Hillview. But that’s only happened a couple of times.”

Besides the store, Ralph and Sylvia bought the lounge in Hillview over a year ago. It took them quite a while to take the step.

“When it came up for sale, we talked about it for a long time,” Sylvia says. “I didn’t want Ralph to get involved in operating it because of the late nights and because he has to travel so much. Finally we agreed to buy it if someone else managed it. It’s open year round and there are dances almost every Saturday night. Club business appears to
be picking up the last couple of months. When Bobby Evans was singing and playing the place was packed—139 people paid at the door and everyone had a ball. I’m just sorry I wasn’t there.”

Sylvia mentions one of the few drawbacks of living in a small place.

“There’s nothing much for children here in St. Jones,” she tells us. “The ballfield only went in two years ago. Before that, the younger children had nothing, not even a beach, but now even my 8-year-old’s into soccer. Several of the
younger children, especially the girls, are into sports and recreation activities in Clarenville—dancing, ballet, and skating. We’re not isolated, but it’s too bad you have to travel over the gravel road. Unless you’re willing to
make the effort, they can’t get involved. The only skating here would be if a pond or the harbor freezes over.

“We had both younger boys and oldtimers softball teams going until about a month ago. Hatchet Cove won the area league. There’s a small pool for younger children to swim, and we’re hoping to build a bigger pool with money raised
through a darts league. Darts was popular last year, but not nearly so much this year. We play in the school, but our lounge has its league, too. And there’s a card club one night a week.”

As customers come in to check out the selection of videotapes, Sylvia offers some colorful personal opinions on their various merits. If the Come by Chance refinery starts up on schedule, there could be quite a run on the movies, but Sylvia wouldn’t mind the extra business at all. And that would mean Hillyard’s Store would become even more of a focal point for local residents.


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, October 2018

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