Monday 30 May 2016

How a ghost bear saved a man's life in Connoire Bay, Newfoundland

As told by Dale Jarvis

In the late 1960s, a gentleman from Burgeo named “James” had an experience with a terrifying invisible spirit. The being kept the man awake for days with horrifying noises, and eventually drove him to abandon his property. Strangely enough, the creature may have had the man’s best interests at heart.

The incident occurred at a cabin located just west of Burgeo in Connoire Bay. The cabin sat out on a point of land in West Barachois. It had changed ownership several times, and when it came up for sale again, James decided to purchase it.

At the time, James was unaware that he had purchased a property with a strange guardian. As his son puts it, “my father eventually bought it, but was not there very long before things started happening.”

One night in the fall of the year James made the trip out to the point to stay at the cabin for a short while. He had just settled in for the night and was about to drift off to sleep when he heard a strange noise. It sounded like an animal scratching at the side of the cabin. The man’s first thought was that a bear was outdoors, trying to break in.

James jumped out of his bed and got his gun ready. The door was shut, and the creature did not attempt to knock it in. James looked out the window to see if he could catch a glimpse of the creature, but he could not see anything in the blackness. An old oil lamp was the only source of light he had, and without a flashlight to shine into the darkness, there was little chance of him sighting the beast.

Outdoors, the thing walked over the bridge, or stoop, by the front door and scratched at the side of the cabin. It kept James awake until daylight, and then as the sun rose over the horizon to the east, the sound of the creature vanished.

Needless to say, the man was very tired from his long vigil, though he managed to get in a few hours sleep during the day. Thinking that the creature might return, he decided to put fresh mud in the path alongside the cabin. James reasoned that should it return, the mud would capture the track of the animal, and in that way he could at least determine what he was dealing with.

As the light started to fade, James returned back to the cabin after an afternoon of hunting. Once more, he settled in for the night, and got into his bed.

No sooner was he in bed than the noise returned, but this time in a much more ferocious manner. The noise came from directly above him. As he listened, it seemed as if the animal was on the roof of the cabin, tearing at the shingles and felt on the roof.

Again, James jumped out of the bed, loaded his gun and waited to see if it tried to come in the door. It did not try to force the door, but it maintained the din all night long from its position on the roof. At daybreak, the noise stopped with the coming of the sun.

Thinking that the creature would have at least left its footprints in the mud, James hurried outside. When he checked the pathway, there were no footprints to be seen whatsoever. Baffled by this, he went about his chores and cutting wood.

Before it got dark, the man made one modification to his cabin. He nailed a few pieces of wood across the door to keep it open just enough to stick his gun out through.

By this time, it was starting to get dark so James got ready for bed. He did not make it to his bunk before the racket returned. On this, the third night, the thing was even more persistent. He could hear it clawing around the opening of the door, and then moving around to the side of the cabin to claw the length of the building.

James sat himself down in front of the crack in the doorway, and fitted his gun into the opening. He waited there all night, and although he could hear the beast thrashing and clawing along the sides of the cabin, he never caught sight of whatever was out there.

Daylight came, and the clamour ceased. James packed up, and left the cabin, heading back towards Burgeo. Whatever the beast had been, it put quite the fright into the man. As James’ son puts it, “Dad doesn’t scare easily. He’s a pretty hearty man.” To frighten him off completely must have meant that the experience had been very intense. Not knowing exactly what it was that had tormented him, he told no one out of fear of being ridiculed. It was years before he even told his own wife.

Frustrated and frightened, the man sold his cabin to another fellow. The new owner of the cabin did not stay there very long either, perhaps experiencing some of the same strange noises. Eventually the new owners took the cabin down and moved it more inland on the same point of land.

Just days after the cabin was moved, a terrible storm struck Connoire Bay. The fury of the storm was intense. The sea hove in across the point of land, bringing with it masses of rocks, some weighing over fifty pounds apiece. When the storm abated, it was revealed that the tip of the point where the cabin had stood was covered with between eight and ten feet of rocks and gravel.

Before the storm, there had been a tree out on the point, which had stood close to the cabin. The tree had been about ten feet in height, but after the storm, only the tip remained protruding from the new pile of rocks.

Was the terrifying noise of the invisible creature some sort of an omen foretelling the coming storm, or a warning for the cabin’s inhabitants to get out of the way and abandon the point of land? If it was, it seems that it worked. If the ghostly bear’s purpose had been to drive people away from the point, it may very well have saved James’ life.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike is online at and you can like us on Facebook!

Illustration: A bear (Ursus species). Etching by S Angl(?) after R. Savery

Thursday 5 May 2016

An anonymous, insider's view on the heartbreaking NL library closures. #nlpoli

I've been vocal on what library closures mean to me, and what libraries mean to communities. Since I started sharing my thoughts, librarians across the province, worried about their positions, have been writing to me private. This is just one of their stories. The librarian who sent it to me said I could edit it as I saw fit. I haven't changed a single word. Please read, and then share. - Dale Jarvis

We've all heard some version of "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life". Call me Pollyanna, but I wholeheartedly believed that; that is, until I started working in one of our province's public libraries. Don't get me wrong, I grew up thinking of libraries as a magical place filled with tickets to places I could only get to in my dreams. Because of my library I was a little pioneer girl living in the big woods with Ma and Pa, a red-headed orphan on a farm in in P.E.I, a lost boy in Neverland, one of the March sisters ensconced at home with Marmee waiting for news of a father away at war, Encyclopedia Brown on the case, and the main character in any number of choose-my-own-adventures. Lessons I learned from literature shaped who I am, and how I choose to live my life. As it was for countless others, my local library was a repository of imagination, and a safe place to read, explore, learn about the world and find myself. The thought that I could somehow make that experience possible for children and adults as a career was irresistible to me. 

I realize now that my childhood was a lucky one; my parents felt the same way that I had and instilled that belief in me. They, of course, grew up without a public library in their town. Both were voracious readers who had parents who believed reading and education were the single and most important gifts they could offer. In fact, they sacrificed to ensure they provided that gift to their own children. My parents believed that the public library was the crowning glory of our community and they made sure we didn't take it for granted.

When I was finally offered a job in one of our public libraries I had an idea of what my role would be. I had substituted for a while and understood that everyone who walked in the door wasn't looking for the magical experience I had been looking for, though many of them were. But it took working in my library for a few years before I really understood the role libraries play in this province. It's not always about Knitting Groups, Seniors' Days, Adult Colouring and Storytimes. It's not about checking TV Series and movies out to people who can't afford cable, or watching people come in day after day to check Facebook and job listings. It's not the ones who print off resumes and fax them to prospective employers. It's not the people who come in desperate to read the latest James Patterson, or Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler book or the kids looking for Butterfly Fairies or super hero books.

I am devastated for the children in this province, the ones like me who will read every children's book we have and then start on the adult collection. They still exist, and they need to be nurtured, because some of those children who are turned on to art, literature and imaginary worlds will be the ones who are just imaginative enough to run this province in the future, or maybe they'll be part of our vibrant and resilient arts community. Perhaps they'll be entrepreneurs who create jobs for hundreds in this province, or the teachers who inspire future generations. What they probably won't be, are librarians, and that makes me ache.

Still, they're not the ones my heart aches for the most. In my years in the public library, I've had the privilege of serving patrons from all walks of life. Indeed, the ones I see the most of are the marginalized; people who are ignored, looked over and treated by many as though they don't exist. These people need our libraries, and they need the kind treatment they receive in them. Some people visit my library, and I know for certain that I'm the only person they speak to on a regular basis. This means something to me, and I know it means something to my colleagues all across this province. I've had seniors spend nearly every hour we're open at our library, and after getting to know them I discover it's not because the library is a place filled with books and imagination, it's simply because they get a little conversation, they can read the newspaper, maybe a book and surf the Internet in a room that is warm. The truth is, they can't afford to heat their homes, so they turn their own heat back and head to the library for the day, every day they can, to save money.

I've had two women come in to hide from abusive situations, and gave them information about shelters and hotlines, and prayed I'd see them again in a better situation. I've welcomed new Canadians and assisted where I can with information about our services, offering books and DVDs to help them with their English and conversation.

I've done storytimes to rooms full of kids, and I can always pick the ones out who aren't read to at home, they carry themselves differently, they're shockingly easy to pick out. They only showed up at the library that day because mom or dad needed the computer to print off forms for a Home Heating Rebate, or fill out their EI or look for work. The real magic happens when I help those kids find some books to take home, and mom or dad look around the place and see everything we might have for them as well and everyone leaves with bags filled with library materials for free; parents and children in awe of what we have to offer.

"I've had people come to me looking for information about addiction, mental illness, grief, bankruptcy, cancer, divorce and custody issues, and I know they're experiencing the worst times of their lives. Perhaps the information I help them find will them will give them clarity, perhaps it won't, but I've spoken to the ones who want to talk and cried with more."

I've had people come to me looking for information about addiction, mental illness, grief, bankruptcy, cancer, divorce and custody issues, and I know they're experiencing the worst times of their lives. Perhaps the information I help them find will them will give them clarity, perhaps it won't, but I've spoken to the ones who want to talk and cried with more. Hopefully, if nothing else they remember the kindness, because I'll never forget the trust they offered to me by sharing their stories. I'll never forget the way they've touched my own life. We all have our struggles, no one is immune, and when troubles come for me I hope I can have somewhere like the library to go for information, and a little kindness. I am not alone, librarians talk, we all do these things and share the same heartbreaking stories over and over again.

In truth, I was Pollyanna. I'm not ashamed to admit it; I wore those rose-coloured glasses proudly. And some days I have to force myself to put them on to go to work, because it's not always about the magic and the imagination of books, some days it's about lessening someone's burden and remembering just how lucky I have been, and how lucky I am now. More than anything, our patrons touch our lives, they become a part of our families and create a magic for me I could not believe existed at the library until I worked at one.

I read MHA Scott Reid's comments about his library's closure, and it gave me pause. After really examining what his library offered to his constituents, he had a change of heart. People of privilege often cannot grasp what we do everyday, because they may not need us the same way, or understand the small, but important difference we make. I don't blame them for that, in fact I'm happy for them, I'd love for everyone to have that experience. Sadly, right now that's not the case, and it's only going to get worse before it gets better in this province. I understand the hole we're in, I understand it may take drastic measures for the province to recover and I'm personally prepared for that. I don't place blame on the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries Board for the decision to close 54 of our libraries; their already impossible budget was decimated last month and I know they had difficult decisions to make. I don't envy their position. The only comfort is that it appears the public outcry is being directed at the Provincial Government and not our board who fully believes in what the libraries offer to the people in this province, and share a commitment to keep that service going the best way we are able. We may be reduced, but we will continue to do all we can to bring the best service possible.

I'd love to encourage all MHAs in the province to spend some time with local library boards, or better yet, to spend a good chunk of a day browsing the stacks, and reading a book just to see exactly what we do each day, and who we see. The people we try to help, and the community we serve. That's the real magic of the library. A magic I didn't understand as a life-long, card-carrying habitual library patron. The Public Library System is so much more than I could have ever imagined, and whatever happens, I'll carry that with me and be proud that I was a part of it. Doing what I love doesn't put a lot of money in my bank account at the end of the day; at times it seems like the work is too hard to bear and I cry on my drive home more often than I'd like to admit. But there's nothing else I'd ever want to do. My job is more than just my paycheque, it's fulfilling on a much larger scale.

It's not important if my library is one of the 54 to be closed, or one of the lucky 41. The truth is that my library isn't special, or remarkable in any way. The truth is that this is just what happens in every library in this province. And knowing that 54 towns will lose this, permanently, is too much to bear.


Want to assist? The Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association could use your help. 

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Public libraries, UNESCO, and building a brighter path. #nlpoli

In 1942, the world was in a terrible state, with the globe engulfed in a conflict the likes of which humanity had never seen. Yet in the midst of that chaos, the governments of the European countries met in the United Kingdom for a conference of Allied Ministers of Education. The war was years away from ending, but those countries were already looking for ways to rebuild their systems of education once peace was established. By the end of the war this idea had grown and expanded, and in November 1945, forty-four countries, including Canada, came together to create an organization that would embody a culture of peace. That organization was UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

For the past six years or so, I have been involved with the work of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. I originally got involved through the work of my colleagues Gerald Pocius, Laurier Turgeon, and Richard MacKinnon, and their interest in seeing Canada ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. I currently sit on the Sectoral Commission on Culture, Communication and Information, and as member of the Membership Committee. I sometimes get asked to explain what UNESCO is all about, and it generally ends up being a complicated discussion. But in a sense, the goals of UNESCO are simple:
At a time when the world is looking for new ways to build peace and sustainable development, people must rely on the power of intelligence to innovate, expand their horizons and sustain the hope of a new humanism. UNESCO exists to bring this creative intelligence to life; for it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace and the conditions for sustainable development must be built.
Last week, I was at the annual general meeting for CCUNESCO in Winnipeg. Amongst the regular meetings, there was a visit to the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a trip to the Hudson Bay Company Archives (which is inscribed on the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register), as well as discussions on global citizenship and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

It was, like many of the meetings I have with UNESCO, inspiring and forward-thinking.

And then I flew home to a province determined to tax books and close more than half of its public libraries.

I have already written about how that decision makes me feel, but since then I have been thinking about how the work of public libraries fits into the goals and ambitions of UNESCO.

Only four years after its formation, UNESCO created what is known as their Public Library Manifesto. It was approved by UNESCO in 1949 and then was updated in Paris in 1994. The Manifesto proclaims UNESCO's belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information. It also argues that public libraries are an essential agent for the fostering of peace and welfare.

Over the past week, I have seen arguments made on social media and by our politicians that public libraries are somehow old-fashioned, able to be replaced easily by e-books or the internet, or that they are simply not being used by the general public. I have watched people boast about how many years it has been since they have been in a library, and have seen suggestions that those bemoaning the cuts to libraries do not themselves use them. In most instances, these arguments are false, weak, or misdirective.

And so, in response to this, I want to take a moment to share UNESCO’s Public Library Manifesto and its view of the key missions of our public libraries. Information, literacy, education, and culture are at the core of public library services, and according to the Manifesto, libraries have a role to assist in:
  1. creating and strengthening reading habits in children at an early age;
  2. supporting both individual and self conducted education as well as formal education at all levels;
  3. providing opportunities for personal creative development;
  4. stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people;
  5. promoting awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts,
  6. scientific achievements and innovations;
  7. providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts;
  8. fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity;
  9. supporting the oral tradition;
  10. ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information;
  11. providing adequate information services to local enterprises, associations and interest groups;
  12. facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills;
  13. supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, and initiating such activities if necessary.

We do this. Public libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador actually do all of these things, and they have been doing them admirably in a system which, for decades, has defunded them, reduced their hours, cut away at their services, and which now threatens to eliminate them entirely in some of our rural towns. This is not the way to build the sustainable communities we need, today more than ever, in our beleaguered province.

Today, after more than half a century of existence, UNESCO functions as a laboratory of ideas. This is what we need, now, in this place we call home - a laboratory of ideas. We need more ideas, better ideas, creative ideas, if we are going to save rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Libraries are a key piece, and a vital tool, in making sure that happens. If politicians and ministers of education in the midst of the horrors of World War II could see a brighter, smarter path, surely we can do that today.

     - Dale Jarvis, 3 May 2016
The Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association could use your help.
You can read their open letter to Cathy Bennett here,
or click here to take action to save our public libraries.
Here is the list of the 54 libraries on the chopping block.

Photo credit: Buchans Public Library, slated for closure in 2016-17.