The man who never was

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

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Eldred Goobie

Eldred Goobie has lived an interesting life, but he’s done it almost without an identity. It all started the day he was born in Queen’s Cove.

“My mother told me I had the measles when I was born and they didn’t expect me to live. I was baptized but never christened in church, and for a religious family that’s almost unbelievable,” Eldred admits. “It’s even more surprising because my father was lay reader for the United Church for 40 years and the superintendent of the Sunday School. It’s just that the minister might visit the community only once a month, and in a family of 10 I got missed.”

At that time church records were the main record of birth in Newfoundland, but the lack of a baptismal record didn’t matter until Eldred travelled to England to join the Royal Air Force and then work for the British Motor Corporation in Castle Bromwich near Birmingham.

“I wrote over to my mother to get my birth certificate and the church had no record of me. According to their records, I never existed,” Eldred chuckles. “When I needed a certificate for insurance and retirement purposes, my mother tried again. She went over to see the minister and there was no record in the community, nor in St. John’s, nor Somerset House in England where birth records were kept.  I went more than 12 years in England with no birth certificate. She managed to find two of the older residents who could verify my birth. Finally, a birth certificate was issued.”

That wasn’t the end of Eldred’s problems with bureaucracy.

“Not by a long shot,” he laughs. “After I was demobbed at Gander my records went to Ottawa, but because I returned to England to work they were transferred back to England but no record was kept of where they went. When I came over on a visit in 1967 to see my family and visit Expo in Montreal, I went to the Department of Veterans Affairs to get my records so that I could look for work at Come by Chance to build up some capital for retirement. They couldn’t find any trace of me — I was missing in action again. It was only after running up a tremendous travel bill that one of the staff finally located my records in Gloucester, England. I must be the only man who has been lost three times without ever having gone missing.”

For someone who did not exist, Eldred has crammed a lot into his 70 years, and he’s not slowingdown simply because he’s retired.  

“It wasn’t long before I was involved in just about everything going on here. In a small community you get tangled up on so many committees,” he says. “The hardest thing in rural districts is to get people actively involved rather than just be members of something. Still, this is a very independent community with nobody on social assistance and no government money needed until 1978.  

“We’re also the only community on the peninsula with a town water supply. The reservoir is just outside the community and the water pressure is so great that we’ve had to put in a pressure-reducing valve at the chlorine plant. And we were the first community to get pavement. It’s that kind of community initiative that made me the first person to join the Southwest Arm Regional Development Association when it started in 1980.”  

Queen’s Cove has always been a centre for the peninsula—a commuter community for the Southport area in the days before the Trans-Canada Highway.  

“I’m almost as big a stranger as you are, because I was away so long, but I can remember back tothe early days, especially since my father was a son of one of the earliest settlers,” Eldred comments. “People came here on horses in the winter and boats in the summer to get their supplies. This was a busy place back then. There were coastal boats until the 1950s and the railway was a big employer. We’ve still got people working with CN and a local CN superintendent with over 40 years’ service.  

“There used to be fishing here and people made their living from the Labrador fishery. My mother spent seven years from the age of 14 cooking up there on my grandfather’s schooner. Several schooners went to Labrador until the early 1930s, but the community was mostly making its living from lumber by then. Two big fires burnt all the timber in Queens Cove itself in the early 1900s but there were several mills owned by Queen’s Cove families in Goobies where I worked when I was a youngster. Most people earned their living in timber until quite recently. Now there are all kinds of tradesmen, mostly working away.”

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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.