George Vardy’s Memorial Walk held in Southwest Arm

Reprinted from The Packet, March 21, 2018
by Lester Green

Visit to George Vardy’s headstone. (Photo credit Lester Green)

The invitation and planning for this hike was arranged by the Traditional Path Interest Group. We were going on a trek to trace the traditional path locally known as Old Vardy’s road and to honour Random’s first teacher, George Vardy, who began his career in the early 1860s.

Using the road winding up to the tower, we started the early-morning pilgrimage. My mind began to wonder about Mr. Vardy, the school teacher. I spent 30 years teaching in the province and likely complained about getting to school, especially during snow or heavy rain, but what about old Mr. Vardy? He walked the three miles from Clay Pitts to the school/chapel at Heart’s Ease Beach and back home again in the afternoon.

We were about to experience part of his historical daily journey.

You might ask, who is George Vardy? Let me answer by using Reverend R. Holland Taylor’s description found in his document entitled “Two Missionaries at Random, 1879.”

“For twenty years Mr. Vardy acted as schoolmaster, walking day by day to Heart’s Ease over a road which requires to be seen to be appreciated; he has acted, and still acts, in the capacity of lay-reader, conducting Service on Sunday, visiting the sick, burying the dead. He informed me quite seriously that he had buried over 130 persons! He is doctor and lawyer as well as spiritual adviser, though he humbly repudiates any knowledge of medicine, or acquaintance with the intricacies of law but as he naively puts it, they bring the sick to him, or come for advice and medicine, and he prescribes to the best of his judgment. We found him most willing to forward our work in every way.”

I reflected on the several young school-age children that accompanied our group and couldn’t help think: “Did Mr. Vardy’s children walk with him to school each day?” The kids accompanying us certainly had the energy as they flew by us and up over the next cranny and returning with the energy of a new puppy.

We finally came to rest at half-way rock, where many of our ancestors would have taken a break or a “spell.” We stopped to look at the names, symbols and abbreviations carved in the rock by our forefathers as they walked this road and painstakingly etched their names for posterity sake.

It might appear like modern graffiti but to us, it was a record of those from our past. Names like Jacobs, Spurrell and Drodge and various symbols like buildings, crosses and ships could be seen. One member of our group shouted to her daughter, “come back and look at this. See that Solomon Drodge’s name? That makes seven generations carved in that rock that you are descended from.”

History certainly provides one with a sense of pride and moments for reflection.

I thought of the many individuals who would have taken out their clay pipe, broke of a piece of the stem and filled it with their precious tobacco and lit up. I could easily imagine the puffs of smoke as they lay back and relaxed, looking out over Random.

Yarns were surely spun to their buddies about times gone by of schooner adventures, cutting and making hay, harvesting the wood … .

My thoughts were suddenly disrupted by the movement of the group; it was time to go. We continued up over a small hill, then in over a short bog. We were now at the pinnacle of our walk.

It was time to start our descent down over Old Vardy’s Hill and into what once was the meadows of Clay Pitts.

Now, how do I even attempt to describe the “Hill?”

Perhaps the best description I had ever seen comes from Reverend R. Holland Taylor when he wrote:

“It was rather late when we reached his (George Vardy’s) house, so we had to be content with Evensong in his kitchen, for the church at Heart’s Ease was fully three miles off and the road – well, it was what our Yankee friends would call ‘a caution.’

‘Had you seen this fine road before it was made

You’d lift up your hands and bless General Wade:’

Group photo overlooking Southwest Arm. (Photo credit Lester Green)

“But if you were to see this road, how it is made, you would wonder how people got up and down it, especially up it! Our Inspector of Schools has named it Break-heart Staircase; it is so marvelously steep, I suggested Break-neck Staircase as connoting the most prominent characteristic of the road.”

When we reached the bottom and looked back at the descent, I could only remind myself that we had travelled towards Clay Pitts and did not have to climb the hill the way Mr. Vardy did each and every school day.

We made our way to Raymond and Viola’s cabin and feasted on some moose stew. I guess Mr. Vardy seldom had much meat, especially moose, seeing it was introduced on the island long after his death.

We paid a visit to the graveyard and stood by Mr. Vardy’s headstone to pay tribute to an individual that I would describe as one of the most educated, hard-working individuals that occupied Random during its early years settlement.

Traditional Paths Interest Group is dedicated to keeping old paths open and to encourage exercise through community walks and outings. This is the first event for the year and will be followed by several others during the 2018 season.