Wednesday 27 March 2013

The fairy folk at the Arts and Culture Centre, March 28

This Thursday, Kittiwake Dance Theatre is inviting audiences to explore the world of traditional Newfoundland fairylore with their production "Reflections: Fairie Fey." The show how starts at 8pm and runs 70 mins, with no intermission, on the Arts and Culture Centre mainstage. It is inspired by local fairy folklore and features narration by the late, great Margaret Hitchens.

Here is what the company promises for the night:
Kittiwake Dance Theatre’s "Reflections: Fairie Fey" continues the exploration of the folklore surrounding fairies in nature, song and dance. The magic of the forest comes alive with the haunting voices of the trees, the movement of the fairies and the unexpected human element creating the mystery and the folktales. The lure of Fairie Fey is so enticing that the audience will be totally captivated as the story unfolds. Your presence is necessary to ensure that the magic manifests at its greatest. This show fuses dance of various forms (contemporary/modern, ballet, hip-hop, and aerial circus work), with storytelling and song. 
Featuring the talents of: choreographers Martin Vallee and Erika Wilansky; storyteller Margaret Hitchens; musical director Justin Goulding; and, the Kittiwake dancers.

I'll see you there! Put some bread in your pockets, just in case.

Thursday March 28th
Arts and Culture Centre
St. John's

Monday 25 March 2013

Strange holes, UFOs, and water-sucking aliens

A while back, a number of reports circulated of strange holes which had appeared in the ice in a pair of Central Newfoundland ponds.

The first was the hole in Dawe's Pond, located off a woods road just off the Trans-Canada Highway 15 minutes west of Badger. Locals had reported hearing a loud noise, and a cabin owner found a large, partially iced-over hole. It was surmised the hole had been created sometime around March 7th or 8th. Jim Gillard of the Twillingate Observatory investigated the mysterious crater, and suggested a meteor or piece of space junk had fallen through the ice.

Amateur astronomer Gary Dymond studied photographs of the Dawe's Lake site and spoke to nearby residents. Rather than blaming the crater on something crashing into it, he suggested that the hole could have been created by a buildup of methane gas which exploded, rupturing the ice from below.

"It would be interesting to solve the mystery," Dymond told local media. "But I think it will stay as a mystery."

A few days later a cabin owner on Powderhorn Lake, about six kilometers away, noticed a strange hole in centre of the icy pond. That circular crater measured about 30 metres across, with ripples in the ice along the edge of the hole.

The whole business reminded me of another strange story involving a well-known Newfoundland body of water, Windsor Lake, just outside of St. John’s.

About ten years ago, I got a note from a Mr. J.D. Terry, of Fort Mojave, Arizona. In his initial email, Terry hinted of an untold story about an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) dating back to the 1950s, a sighting of a strange craft which had never been reported to the media.

Terry's sighting took place one morning in the spring of 1955 when he was with the United States Air Force. Terry spent four years serving as an NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) at a communications outpost codenamed "Snelgrove" near Twenty Mile Pond, the historical name for Windsor Lake.

On the morning in question, Terry noticed a strange craft hovering over one end of the pond in the early dawn light. As he watched, it seemed as if the UFO was absorbing water or moisture from the body of water. The craft stayed airborne without moving for two to three minutes, poised between 10 and 15 feet above the water. Suddenly, it rose several hundred feet and shot off in a south-southwest direction. Within seconds, it had vanished.

Terry had received training as a control tower operator and radio operator, and was therefore familiar with all types of aircraft. What he saw that day was unlike any aircraft he had ever seen.

He was the only one awake when this occurred, and therefore the only eyewitness. Without any corroborating evidence, he could not make an official report of the sighting.

What is intriguing about the Twenty Mile Pond sighting is Terry's claim that the UFO seemed to be drawing up water from the pond. While this may be unusual, it is not unheard of in the weird world of ufology, and the Newfoundland example is but one of several on the Atlantic coast.

Between 1955 and 1999, Mosquito Lagoon, Florida, was host to 42 known sightings of aerial phenomena. The lagoon is a large body of saline water, part of the Kennedy Space Centre. In two cases, witnesses reported he UFOs with hoses lowered into the water, as if they were sucking up water.

Maybe something like this happened in Central Newfoundland this month. Perhaps those little green men, not satisfied with stealing water this time around, came back for some ice for their drinks.

I, for one, will have to agree with Dymond. I think it will all stay as a mystery.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

World Storytelling Day in St. John's, Newfoundland #WSD2013

World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. It is celebrated every year on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn equinox in the southern. On World Storytelling Day, as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible, during the same day and night. Participants tell each other about their events in order to share stories and inspiration, to learn from each other and create international contacts.

World Storytelling Day has its roots in a national day for storytelling in Sweden, circa 1991-2. It first came to Newfoundland with an event in 2007 at The Rooms, featuring yours truly and Elinor Benjamin, and sponsored by the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and the St. John's Storytelling Circle. You can listen to an audio recording of that event online at

For the past several years, I've been the volunteer webmaster for the World Storytelling Day website. It's been great fun, as I get emails from all over the world from people looking to celebrate the tradition and art of storytelling in their own communities. This year, I was interviewed by Alba Conesa of the Spanish organization "Contes pel món" about World Storytelling Day and the growing interest in oral storytelling globally. You can read it here in English, or here in Spanish.

Each year, many of the individual storytelling events that take place around the globe are linked by a common theme. Each year, the theme is identified by and agreed upon by storytellers from around the world on the worldstorytellingday listserv. This year the theme is "Fortune and Fate" and we are fortunate enough to be back at The Rooms again this year to share stories.

You can join us Wednesday, March 20 7:00 pm at The Rooms Theatre, where I've shamelessly twisted the arm of fellow folklorist Dr. Mariya Lesiv to curate an evening of stories exploring the fortunes, fates and experiences of new Canadians as they make the shift from their old homes in Eastern Europe to life in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The evening is presented in collaboration with Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, and is funded in part by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It is the first event of the Foundation's "Newfiki: A celebration of East-European cultures in Newfoundland," running March 20-23.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

A story of the good fairies. And pancakes!

There is a quote that I have seen attributed to various people and cultures, which states, “When an old man dies, a library burns down."

Storytelling is part of being human. We are all made of stories, and we spend our lifetimes telling and collecting them. And when someone passes away, a lot of those stories are lost forever. For me, as a folklorist and storyteller, it is one of the hardest part of losing a person.

Last Thursday, storyteller and author Alice Lannon passed away at the Palliative Care Unit of the Miller Centre here in St. John's. Her stories will be missed.

In 2010, when Newfoundland hosted the Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada national conference, Alice was one of the gems of storytelling who was showcased. That session was recorded, and today, those stories are part of the permanent collection on Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative.

Lannon was one of the last great tellers of traditional Newfoundland fairytales in the province, who learned many of her stories orally from her grandmother.

“My grandmother claimed that the fairies were fallen angels,” she told the hundred-plus storytellers who had gathered in 2010 to hear her speak. “When Lucifer defied God, and when he was cast into Hell as the Devil, the others were cast in with him, who went with him. There was another bunch who stayed with God, so they were the good angels. Another bunch did nothing. They didn’t go with God or with Lucifer, so he couldn’t have them in heaven, so he threw them out into an underground.”

“Now, they all had the power of good and evil; they were powerful angels,” explained Lannon.

As a result, according to Lannon, the fairies could be either good or evil, and in her stories, she demonstrated how they could do both, as their whims suited them.

In one story of the good fairies, Lannon related how a five-year-old girl named Anne-Marie went berry picking with her family near Placentia on September. The girl went around a hill, and vanished from her parents’ sight.

“As it was getting dark, they had searched and called, with no answer,” described Lannon. “So they went back to Placentia and got their friends to come in with lights and hunted all night, with no sign of Anne-Marie.”

Five or six days later, a local man who had been living in the United States returned to the community. As he drove past the spot where the girl had vanished, his driver told him how the townspeople had been looking for her body, since she had not been seen for days.

“The man was watching,” explained Lannon, “and as they passed the gravel pit, he said, ‘There’s a little girl in there sitting on a stump!’ and so the man went back and sure enough, she said she was Anne-Marie, and she was waiting for her parents. They took her, and they said they would bring her to her parents. So she went with them.”

“When they brought her down to her parents’ home, they were so overjoyed,” said Lannon. “They couldn’t believe they would ever see their little girl again. Her hair was no tangles in it, her socks were as white as snow, her dress was clean.

The girl attributed her good condition to the fact she had been taken care of by the fairies.

“She told them that just before dark, when she was looking for them (her parents), three little strange-looking people came towards her, took her by the hand, and they took her to a big tree, where there was bushes,” said Lannon. “They parted the bushes, where there was a ladder, and they went down in the underground. A cosy spot down there! The older one, she figured she was the grandmother fairy, she rocked her and sang to her, and she cried because she was missing her parents. They were all nice to her, and sang songs, and made pancakes for her, out of special flour for her, and they fed her.”

“That day, the fifth day, the grandmother said to her, you go out to the gravel pit and sit near the road, on the tree stump, and you’ll be found,” said Lannon. “So that’s what she did!”