My granny arrives at Forteau!
Though Isobel Millen spent most of her first summer in L’Anse au Loup, she visited Sister Bailey regularly, and the following winter, when she returned to Labrador, she lived with Sister Bailey in Forteau. But in her journal excerpt here, she is meeting Sister Bailey for the first time.
A bit of background: Sister Bailey was the first nurse to work for the Grenfell Mission and also, the first nurse to be stationed at the Denison Cottage in Forteau. She arrived in 1907 when she was only eighteen years old and stayed for eighteen years. When my grandmother first met her in 1915, Sister Bailey’s district extended 70 miles along the coast, a full 100 miles from the closest hospital, and she was responsible for 1000 people, with no assistant, and with very rare visits from any doctor. She eventually returned to England due to poor health, and died in 1952.
By most accounts I’ve come across, Sister Bailey was deeply loved by the Labrador people, but a thesis written by Jill Samfya Perry and submitted to Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1997, paints a different picture of the women who worked for the Grenfell Mission. Perry writes of the distinct class differences between locals and those from ‘away’, who could be maternalistic, moralizing, elitist, severe and condescending, and generally showed a lack of respect for the culture and traditions of the Labrador people they had come to help. (paraphrased)
I’ve noticed this attitude at times in my grandmother’s journal, including in the following excerpt, but I’m hoping her snobbishness and feelings of superiority (which she retained for the rest of her life, and passed along to my mother!) were overshadowed by her deep love of the people of Labrador, her openness and genuine desire to learn as much from them as they learned from her.
You can check out the whole thesis here:
Isobel’s 1915 Journal (Continued)
Saturday night. June 19, 1915
I never in all my life saw anything so deeply gloriously blue as Forteau Bay. Blue that was made all the bluer by glistening white ice-bergs in the offing. And the cliffs at sunset when their battlemented sides faintly green from the covering moss, were tinged a rosy red. Why nothing could be more wonderful. I love the sound of the waves braking on the beach and dashing hollowly against the “growlers”. Everything is getting nicer all the time. I think I shall fairly love my summer.
We left the “Meigle” about eleven to-day and had lunch shortly after. The lunch was served daintily and in a fresh airy room. How good it tasted. We have been all through the Mission house and it is most nice. There are no patients at present so we have three beds in a big airy room. They are soft too, for we had a sleep after lunch.
Dennison Cottage Hospital
Sister Bailey is a dear. We are to live in closer with her a week, visiting the surrounding settlements and getting acquainted with the ways of the people. We certainly have heard a lot of life here to-day. Sister tells hundreds of stories, pathetic and humorous. She has a great streak of fun. It is a good thing, otherwise I don’t think she could stand the solitary life. I’ll just confine myself to one story of stupidity. I guess I shall have heaps of my own to relate soon. This was too funny though. She had called down for a hot water bottle, giving instructions that it shouldn’t be too warm, and when it failed to appear, asked what was the matter. “The water got too warm, Sister, and we are waiting for it to cool.” This, with heaps of cold water right beside them!
Sister Bailey has flowers – lovely ones. One perfect rose-bud, faintly dawn-tinted and wonderful in its folded crispness, I could wonder at all day long she has an outside garden too, with all sorts of vegetables and flowers just beginning to grow. She is a most marvelous person. It will be the biggest of treats to visit her this summer. Some of the industrial work the women and children have been doing the winter is remarkably good – especially the artificial flowers. They are wonderfully dyed. Sister attends to that herself. She obtained the materials from France and learned the art there. I was so glad to find her a cultured English woman. Point Amour Lighthouse, whose keepers are going to be nice friends for me, is winking across the bay, the young moon is up and everything is quiet but the sound of the breaking waves. I want to wake quickly to another glorious day, so I’m off to bed.
Sunday, June 20, 1915
To-day was a grey day but nice all the same. It passed in reading and writing. To-night we went to church – the Methodist one. Henry, a funny looking but dear and Christian old man takes the service except when there is a travelling preacher. He reads a sermon utterly beyond the comprehension of himself and his listeners in such a quick voice and with such peculiar pronunciation that no one can make him out. But he makes short dissertations on the readings and the prayers and hymns that are really worth listening to. The prayers are funny, said in a rapid, breathless, monotonous up and down voice accompanied by a moaning chorus of quavering “amens.” One man shouted so that our ears were deafened, every now and then his voice would crack. It was all we could do to control our mirth. But they were very earnest and Sister Bailey says that they were really good, those who took the leading part. (Mrs. Wakefield is playing hymns on the quavery old organ and singing) After the service to-night we had an open air song-service on the verandah. It reminded me of Woodlands. The Sunday-go-to meeting garb of the people is very funny. I saw all sorts of hats, hilarious hockey caps, little boys’ sailors, white straw, all perched in the fashion of years ago on the top of the head. Some of the little kiddies are very attractive but it struck me how quickly the girls age. Not one scarcely of the older girls was pretty. I should just love to do their hair for them and fix them up. Perhaps I can do it a bit at L’Anse au Loup.
Monday, June 21, 1915
There is something fascinating about the sound of a fog horn. It is dreadfully foggy and raining heavily. We could not go to L’Anse au Claire but we spent the morning – Mrs. Wakefield and I – pulling teeth. I pulled five and filled one temporarily. We worked in the summer kitchen with a big table for our instruments and two rocking chairs for our patients. Allie did our sterilizing, held the patients hands and other little jobs of a like character. She was really splendid. We each took turns in examining the patients in the dispensary. It was very slow work because our instruments weren’t so beautifully at hand as they are in a dentist’s office. The first two teeth I had were rather hard and I felt a wee bit faint after I had got the tooth out. But I think I am over that now. I am glad to have this practice with Mrs. Wakefield before I start in on my own, though it really makes no difference. I have already two patients for to-morrow. One little boy for whom I pulled three teeth – Grenfell Cribb – is coming. I have some filling to do for him and some more pulling. He is a brave little beggar. We had one man who was an awful coward – the rest were quite plucky.
We had puffins for dinner. They resemble duck and taste very good.
Tuesday, June 22, 1915
Another foggy day, but nice all the same. Mrs. Wakefield and I were busy dentists to-day, earning about three dollars as Forteau pay goes. One thing I know, it is much more pleasant to pull teeth than to fill them, especially when they belong to an Art Hancocky sort of a man. Grenfell was as much of a brick as ever, but Maud Salter was a great baby.
This afternoon I helped sister pack flowers. I loved handing the beautiful, realistic things. All the perfumes of Araby seemed wafted about the room borne by the wings of beautiful colours and the wonderful creature – Imagination. Sister is an artist, as the delicate colouring and natural form of those flowers prove.
We have just been singing rounds and swapping funny stories. (I did not have any, so only listened). So uproarious was our mirth that we had to stop. The others are now engaged in the serious task of renovating an old magic lantern and then we are going to have some pictures.
Next blog: Isobel arrives in L’Anse au Loup and meets her billets, the Linstead family