The adventures of the Averys

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

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Doreen and Nicky Avery

Nicholas and Doreen Avery are the kind of people who get the most out of life. Nicky, as everybody calls him, was born in Hillview, where he has lived all his life, except for his service with the Royal Navy during the war. It was then that he met Doreen in England at Christmastime in 1944. They were married the following year and returned to Newfoundland in 1946.

Before the war Nicky was a lumberjack.

“There were four schooners still going to the Labrador, but the rest of the men went into the lumberwoods,” he explains. “Nearly all of my generation spent time in the woods. Fishermen went in the woods in the fall when they came off the Labrador. I know of six family sawmills that were right here in Hillview. Lumbering almost died out when people went to work in construction, carpentry and transmission lines. Some are still working as carpenters in St. John’s, mostly on a seasonal basis.

“I cooked for A.N.D. Company and later was a chef at the Holiday Inn in Clarenville for a while. My mother was sick when I was young and she showed me how to prepare meals for the family. When I was in the lumberwoods I was second cook to Jim Critch and then took over myself. All we had was salt beef, potatoes, and cabbage for dinner, and homecooked beans, bologna and sausages for breakfast—no eggs or bacon in those days.”

How did he manage any variety of meals with so little to work with?

“Monday was Soup Day, Tuesday was Duff Day when we had corned beef and cabbage, Wednesday was Fish Day, Thursday was Duff Day, Friday was Fish Day, and Saturday was Soup Day again. Sunday we had fresh beef and gravy, and we might have a bit of steak for breakfast. When I started, we went in the woods for at least two or three months, but this was gradually cut down to a scale of 15 days and out for a weekend. There were 50 men in a camp, or 75 in the larger ones. The foreman and second hand did all the roads. Once winter came the cutting stopped and fewer men were kept on for hauling wood to the rivers.”

The women would cut the hay because the men were fishing or in the woods. Not too many could handle a scythe, but Doreen could.

“It was difficult because I was left-handed,” she recalls. “I learnt how to cut but I couldn’t sharpen the blade. I tried my hand at everything. I went ‘across the country’ with the horse. Nicky would draw me a map and I would follow it. Everything was referred to as ‘country’ then-Benson’s country, Stoyles’ country, whoever lived on the land. I was born in Stockton-on-Tees, not that big a town by English standards, about 120,000. Some people here thought a girl from the city couldn’t work, but I proved I could work as hard as anyone. I even sawed lumber in the mill and went out jigging fish the first winter. I caught enough to give our children, Terry and Lynette.”

Doreen was an assistant librarian in England and worked in the Hillview post office for 25 years. She can remember a lot of the old communities, like Ganny or Gandy Cove near the post office in Great Hearts Ease, Southern Bight just above Queens Cove, and Lower Cove, which later became Loreburn. St. Jones Without was abandoned soon after she arrived, with families moved to Little Hearts Ease, Sunnyside and Deep Bight.  

Doreen can also remember the schooners 40 years ago, but she remembers the views most vividly.  

“St. Jones Within has beautiful views, and coming down the hill from Hodge’s Cove is a wonderful sight,” she says with enthusiasm. “All the area is scenic. Coming up from the hill to Hillview and across from Northwest Brook are gorgeous views. Whenever my sister visits she asks to see her favorite view of the hills around Hillview.”  

What was it like arriving in Newfoundland? 

“I had the greatest difficulty with names,” Doreen admits. “For instance, the Gregorys were very good friends of Nicky’s father, but they were always called Grieg and it was years before I found out their name was Gregory. The Marshes were always called Mish, so that’s how I spelled the name. I was very wary of saying people’s names. People use nicknames a lot in Newfoundland.”  

Hearing Doreen recall her adventures is a reminder of experiences encountered by many people arriving in a country for the first time. Doreen’s sense of humor has helped her to adjust, but she almost made a tragic error of judgment the first day out.  

A reminder of the days before the Trans-Canada Highway

“I arrived at Northern Bight station on the train and I’ll never forget that day,” she smiles. “Nicky lost his wallet. It was at night and he told me we were at the station so I should get off the train while he went to look for his wallet. I was ahead of his mother and stepped off into mid-air. Nicky’s brother saw a woman heading for a fall and ran to catch me in his arms before I went over the embankment. It was just as well because there was nothing to stop me falling all the way down the hill to Dark Hole. Nicky stayed on the train and found the wallet with $300 in it between the seats. He nearly lost his walletand his wife into the bargain the same night!” 

This and other incidents are much funnier than they were at the time.  

“Another night in April we were walking up the hill to visit Nicky’s cousin,” Doreen recalls. “All of a sudden I tripped and fell flat on my face in a mud puddle. I got up and asked Nicky why they laid such big rocks in the road. He couldn’t stop laughing but managed to exclaim, ‘Your rock’s walking away—it was a cow that had taken a nap in the middle of the road!  

“Cows were a problem for me coming from a town in England where they had Market Day on Wednesdays—the cows knew they were on the way to the slaughterhouse and they would stampede, so I was terrified of them. Nicky’s cousin was a minister and I had to go to his root cellar for potatoes. It meant going by the cow and Nicky’s mother had told me not to let the cow eat round potatoes because it might choke. I had an old enamel pan and I filled it up and came down the hill. Suddenly I heard this pounding as the cow came after me. The faster I ran, the faster the cow went and the louder the pounding. When we got to the bottom there was a rock wall, so I took the pan of potatoes, threw it over my head and said, ‘Take this, you darn thing, and I hope you choke!’ I was crying and shivering when I collapsed in the house and there was Nicky’s cousin Clarence rolling on the floor laughing, and him a minister supposed to be looking after people!”  

Doreen and Nicky’s escapades were not confined to the Hillview area. On a visit to Doreen’s English grandmother in 1949 they took an unexpected trip.  

“We were to take the train to Whitby, Yorkshire,” Nicky relates. “The time was marked up on the board so we crossed the tracks and a train came in right on time. We got on, the train got underway, and we tried to buy tickets to Whitby, but the train was going to a small village, stopping for the ticket inspector to have dinner, and then turning round. So we visited the shopping centre — it was full of little stores.  

“A general store had the last bottle of Canadian Club whisky on the top shelf and sticks of barley sugar and licorice roots,” Doreen adds. “I bought so many, I likely still have some in my pockets. We also bought up all the cream cakes at the baker’s next door. And there was a tiny butcher’s shop. We’d never have known about the place if we’d got the right train to Whitby—we never did get there!”  

We’d hazard a guess that Doreen and Nicky always enjoy the side trips that life offers. They may take longer to reach their destination, but they’ll always have fun getting there.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, January 2019

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