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  • Writer's pictureJan Redford

Isobel Meets the Famous Wilfred Grenfell- July 24 - July 31, 1915

Saturday, July 24, 1915

No one would guess what I have just been doing – filling my own tooth. I discovered the hole yesterday and decided I would not have it go any further. It was quite a task because I had to use my hand-mirror propped up against the windowsill and heat my instruments by an oil-lamp. At the third effort I was getting discouraged but I thought of King Bruce and the Spider and kept on. And at last I succeeded. I felt quite proud of myself.

I took a dip to-day. The water was great and I felt fine afterwards. Mrs. Linstead thought me crazy, I know. The water is so clear and enticing, though very cold, you just dive off the stage-head into four of ten feet of it according to the tide and find yourself on the clean and sandy bottom. I am going in every fine warm day after this.

I have been writing, writing, writing all day. The return Meigle to-night brought me letters from Stewart, Allie, and Mrs. Wakefield. Mrs. Wakefield is passing through here on her way to St. John’s next week. Won’t that be great?

I read the war news to the men this evening. They all enjoyed it very much. I will do that each Saturday after this.

The moon is full to-night and oh so wonderful! I wish it were not my duty to go to bed, but I must be bright for to-morrow.

Sunday, July 25

This afternoon I held Sunday School on the grass by the school-house. It was warm and there was a strong wind to keep the flies off, so it was very nice. I had my mouth-organ for the hymns and afterwards played a long time for them. The poor little kiddies know so little of Bible History. Not one of them knew a thing about Moses. Surely that is ignorance. I taught them two more hymns and some verses. I wish I could do something for them. Poor kiddies.

I went off to the barrens by myself this morning with my Bible and a bunch of whole-wheat bread and some of Marjorie’s meat paste. I found a lovely place on the slope of a hill with a marshy pond at its foot like a sparkling sapphire, and way below in the distance the wide expanse of the ocean. And I lay there with the wind rushing by overhead till one o’clock. It was great to watch the shadows of the clouds splash the green hills with still deeper green and to see the distant sea curdle into white foam on Battery Point. I think it was almost the nicest picnic I ever had.


I have just come from my cup of cocoa in the kitchen and my nightly talk with the men. It is raining with a soft sweet sound. We certainly can’t complain after these lovely days of sunshine. I was disappointed in the few who came to my evening service. I did so much better than ever I could have in my own power. If only one of them was helped in the least little bit, I should be so thankful. We sang hymns after and I enjoyed it anyway. I am sleepy and tired and longing for bed. Then rain can sing such a sweet low lullaby that I know I shall fall asleep.

Monday Morning

It is clearing up and is really a wonderful sight. The fog is blown in across the headlands as if someone were pulling shreds of cotton batting from the huge fleecy moss outside the bay. But I have to go to school and can’t look at it any longer.

Monday night

I wish, oh how I wish that I could write poetry or at least put into fitting words the beautiful thoughts that God’s handiwork inspire in me. Why haven’t I the tongue of a Shelley or the brush of a Turner to paint the wonder of sea and sky to-night? Yet must I try to depict the golden moon, shining in a clear sky and on a peaceful land, while out beyond the bay its rays illumine the top of a curling, rolling fog-bank, hurrying north before a racing wind. As the moon rises higher and higher and its golden path gets broader and broader, all the little breezes whispering round my window seem to sing in joy of the glory of it all. How fascinating is the hurrying, rolling, fleecy, shadowed mass. How I hate to go to bed. All day we have been getting the most wonderful effects of light and shadow, of sunshine and fog.

To-night I have been reading Dr. Grenfell’s “What Life Means to Me.” I find it most interesting and characteristic.

Tuesday, July 27, 1915

I don’t think Mrs. Barney enjoyed her birthday half as much as I did. A note came over about half-past four inviting me formally, so I dressed up a bit and went over with Marion. But first I found a silver and enamel bluebird broach and pinned it through my card with a little verse about the bluebird and happiness. Mrs. Barney said after admiring it, “Now I must put it away in my trunk and keep it so long as I live and when I die I’ll carry it with me.” We had a very swell supper indeed in the seldom used dining room. There was a nice white cloth on the table and I had a red bordered towel for a napkin. We had canned pine-apple and strawberry syrup and soda biscuits and molasses cake. I was disappointed because I had hoped we would wait and have it with the men when they came in. There would have been no room for them at the table though, and anyway the same degree of grandeur could hardly have been attained for six. Everything was awfully nice and it must have meant some effort. I did enjoy seeing Marion and Mrs. Barney put their knives in their mouths and sip their tea from the saucers etc. etc.

Mrs George Barney

After Mr. Barney had finished his supper he was called in to see me, for as Mrs. Barney said he had only before glimpsed me as “Paddy saw the moon.” I was curious to know what that was so Mrs. Barney told me the tale of a Kerryman from Cork who came out to this country and seeing the moon so brightly shining asked what it was. “What is that big round thing up there?” “Why don’t you know?” “No, an’ I don’t” “Haven’t you ever seen the moon before?” “No. Only at a distance.” And ever since when you see a thing at a distance, you see it “as Paddy saw the moon.”

“If you put your slipper upside down on the floor and get into bed back foremost with nary a word to anyone, you will see your true-love, just so true as life.” This she told me too, also how you find out your true love with a salt herring and how on “soft Tuesday” you may find out who is to marry first with a ring in the pancake dough. On Christmas here they dress up as we do on Halloween and go round for “charity.”

Mrs. Barney gave me shells of fish Son had caught with the trawl and some coral he had pulled up.

Mrs. Barney is really a dear. She wants me to come down next summer and stay with her. I would like it for she is very interesting and very amusing. I loved the birthday-party.

It is very oppressive to-night – leaden and calm. The foghorn is sounding at Point Amour. I think we shall have some rain. I, at least will be glad to have the high winds of the last few days cease. My eyes are very sore and strained from the sand that the wind blows about. You can’t escape it. Certainly the strong winds, the gritting of the sand and the glare of the sun on the water is very hard to bear.

Violet can’t have her lesson to-night because her mother has to go to the stage and she has to watch the milk and the babies. So I shall go to bed early.

I had my first glass of milk at dinner-time. Mrs. Linstead scalds the milk, in that way procuring more cream from which to get butter. I don’t like the scalded milk, but still am glad that I can take it.

Winnie said to-day the nicest thing any of them have as yet. “My little baby teacher.” “Teacher is a woman,” said Bridgie. “She’s just so sweet as a little baby, that’s what she is.” I think that is a lovely, lovely compliment.

Wednesday, July 28, 1915

If ever I had a lovely, lovely time it was to-day. Just as school was getting out Dr. Grenfell steamed round the Battery and I was filled with all sorts of fears and hopes. Later on as I was playing Jacks with the girls Miss Gifford and Dr. Wallace came in bearing an invitation from Dr. Grenfell to have tea on the Strathcona. You can hardly imagine my state of excitement. I need not have been the least afraid, for Dr. Grenfell is a dear, he talked for ever so long with me. Then we had tea in the cabin and I met Mr. Davis, a young American theologue, the other member of the staff. We had a lovely time at supper – the Dr is loads of fun – afterwards I saw all over the Strathcona and then while Dr. Grenfell, who is a magistrate also, was trying George Cabot and Jack Mamor (Normore) , we chatted – Dr. Wallace, a just graduated dentist, extremely good-looking and nice; Mr. Davis, the nurse and I. How good it seemed to talk again to some-one of your own kind and how very nice they all were. Mr. Davis rowed me in about ten o’clock, the water shimmered away in vivid green phosphorescent as the oars broke its surface. It is a perfect night.

Dr. Grenfell drew our attention to the moon rising above the horizon like a great red ball, only to be hidden behind a bank of fog. Dr. Grenfell had a very serious talk with me on the immorality of this coast. He was feeling rather cut up over Jack Namour (Normore) and George Cabot. Knowing him, even to such a little extent, has only increased my admiration for him. I think he is great. The doctor and Mr. Davis go in every morning. They are coming in for me at seven o’clock and we are going to dive off the Strathcona. It will be a never-to-be-forgotten experience. They all told me to be sure and come to St. Anthony on my way home – a crowd of them will be returning around that time, and we would have loads of fun.

Unidentified men. Could possibly be Mr. Davis and Dr. Wallace

Grenfell with unidentified man. My grandmother met Grenfell on many occasions so these photos might be from another time.

I gave Mr. Davis my start atlas as he was so interested. He is an awfully interesting boy. I wish they were staying longer. But what a lovely break in my summer.

Thursday, July 29, 1915

The Strathcona is just steaming off, and it's glad I am that I’m not aboard for she is rolling and pitching so that it more than justifies her fame in that respect. You see, she is all cabin space below and her decks are loaded with the billets which she burns instead of coal. At any rate, her numerous deck cabins would alone render her top-heavy. It seems rather hard to settle down to school this afternoon and the ordinary humdrum of monotony here. I mustn’t say that, because it isn’t monotonous and it is nice. There goes the last of her around the Battery.

I did not get to sleep, and then it was troubled, till almost one last night and I woke up for good at five o’clock. So I was down at the stage-head sharp on time. Dr. Grenfell and Mr. Davis rowed in for me. Dr. Grenfell had been up since five and did not feel like a dip so he stood by in the boat while Mr. Davis and I took the dive from the edge of the Strathcona and swam into shore. Some swim. Mr. Davis said he wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for me, but I was bound I wouldn’t give in. When we reached the shore our feet and hands were quite numb. But oh the splendid tingling when the circulation was restored! All the natives were watching us. Dr. Grenfell thought it was fine. While I dressed the Doctor talked to Mrs. Linstead then invited me out for breakfast. I was ravenously hungry after my cold plunge. We had trout and porridge and coffee and lots of fun. Then Miss Gifford and Dr. Wallace (a cousin of the Mr. Wallace of Woodlands and the wholesale dairy as I found out) came ashore with me. I showed them my rooms, the school-house, and took them for a walk to the spring-brook where they could get a real cold cup of water. They enjoyed it. When we returned on board I took several snaps-shots and then said good-bye to them all and came on shore with Will.

Dr. Grenfell wants me to start the skin-boot industry here – the skins are coming by this Meigle. He showed me several pictures of his wife and two little boys. His wife is really beautiful and the children are adorable. It must be hard to leave them.

The visit was certainly an epoch in my life. I made several new friends, I saw the Strathcona, I conversed with Dr. Grenfell, I got several new ideas for my work here and received fresh encouragement. I shall always, always remember it. Dr. Grenfell invited me to stay at St. Anthony. How I hope I can.

The people are settling down. While “Dr. Grenfiel” is here no work is done. The men go on board with furs and billets of wood to trade for clothing and to see the doctor both medically and judicially. The decks present a busy appearance. Everybody pitches in and helps at anything. ‘Tis a great life. And Dr. Grenfell is at the centre of it. He is very absent-minded and does all sorts of queer things. Forgetting the blessing is a favourite foible. He has a great streak of fun. When tired he gets very sarcastic they say but everyone loves “the chief” and all agree that the more you know him the more you like him. He told me that when he first came down here he used to follow the people’s ideas, but he does not think it pays so now he does and says just what he likes.

Miss Gifford said that one old man asked if he would take him to L’Anse au Claire from Forteau. The doctor said, “yes, but it will cost you ten dollars.” The poor old man took him in earnest and trudged all the way by the rocky and sandy shore and they met him worn out when they had thought him all the time safe on board. The Doctor speaks to them too, just as he would to us, does not pick and choose his words to suit their grasp of the English language. I wonder at that. He is very tender-hearted, they can cheat him every time. He will say very firmly what he intends to do – and never follow it out, though he knows he should not be so soft-hearted.

The doctor likes me because I can swim and because I wear a sailor suit. Nice old, dirty old, darned old sailor-suit. I am glad he approved of you.

Night time

The moon is rising to-night, sullen and red, no kindly rays and no reflection in the water. The old man’s feature’s are very well marked but he has a wicked lop-sided leer and looks far from prepossessing.

I am a weary woman to-night and I’ll be glad of my bed.

Friday after supper

In a few minutes I shall be starting off for Mrs. Rylands. I visited her this afternoon and got her to come for a walk. I was trying to find out just what Confirmation meant to her. she said, just doing what everyone else in the Church did – nothing more. She knows not the least thing of Bible history, never prays, and neither she, her husband, nor her four children can read. I tried to give her some idea of what state we should be in before joining the church, but my words were so very feeble. I do wish I had experience and could speak those words which would comfort and help. I am going to keep on trying though, and every evening we are going to have a reading lesson and some stories from the Bible. If only by the end of next month she could read by herself- I would send her a Bible and then she would not long be in the dark. I think it is sinful for Parson Richards to accept such people. He only wants to make a good showing for the Bishop – none with whom I have talked have any idea of the sacred meaning of it all.


It was working under difficulties to teach Mrs. Ryland her abc’s. Their house is in front of a hill which shuts off the land breezes and the flies were therefore buzzing around in swarms. The stuffy, evil-smelling kitchen, partly papered with old newspapers but mostly bare, was the meanest I have ever seen. No cooking utensils but a wash-basin, a dish-pan, a huge frying-pan and a cracked tea-pot. Imagine what a variety of things you might cook in those. The state of filth was dreadful, yet Mrs. Ryland apologized for not inviting me into the other room by saying she had not yet cleaned it. Her husband makes as much as any of the other men, indeed his is a good fisher-man, Mrs. Linstead says, but they are shiftless and hopelessly so. It is pitiful – such ignorance and want.

I wonder if a woman – not too intelligent – can learn to read in a month. She will if I can make her.

I won’t be able to go to the Confirmation, I think. I should feel like standing up and saying what I know of each candidate – their ignorance, their immorality, or their vice. It will be a farce – nothing more and nothing less.

It is folly outside and I suppose the Meigle is harbouring somewhere for the night. I might as well go to bed.

Saturday morning

It is funny to watch the fog drifting all around and blowing in at the window while every minute its opponent the sun gets stronger and stronger. Soon the feeble cohorts of the fog will be dispensed altogether. Let us hope so for I want my mail. The throat of the horn at Point Amour must be quite sore, indeed to my mind it sounds hoarse. I suppose July is such a month for fog because then the waters meeting the Arctic current are at their warmest. Ah – there is the distant blast of Greenlay Island born by the wind, and Flower’s Cove across the Straits is also sounding. This fog is a wide spread one. Hurry up, General Sun, gather your army of beams together and rise to the attack!

---------- At last here is the Meigle. It looks so funny to see the top of her mast and the black smoke above the fog, but nothing else. She is just crawling along. Ah, there is her whistle. I must off for my mail.

Saturday night

I have just come back from mailing my letters. I had a long talk with Will Cabot about prayer. He was feeling very badly about the loss of his trawl and very pessimistic about the summer’s fishing. And I tried to make him see how prayer would help. He knew from his own experience at one time how it would help and he believed in it but he was just too discouraged to try. I argued for a long time but I am not right sure that he is really going to try. He said he liked talking about it and knowing that some-one else believed in the efficacy of prayer because no one in L’Anse au Loup did. They all laughed at the idea of prayer being a real help.

He told me that Dr. Grenfell gives a poor man much more satisfaction in talking than he used to years ago, and he thinks him just perfect. His mother says the same thing too. That is very eloquent testimony to Dr. Grenfell, for he had a share by arresting the other son in bringing sorrow and shame on the family. All the people believe implicitly in the Doctor’s fairness and honour. Mrs. Cabot begged me to come along after – for “he was proud to talk to me.” These people love to talk. I like Will Cabot awfully, even though I know he has a bad past. At least he is honest and deep-thinking.

The rest of my day I spent in reading and answering my mail. Seventeen letters and all of them fat, nice and from dearly-loved people, that is nearly all. Also I received the tennis shoes and the two cakes of Peter’s I had ordered from St. John’s. How awfully good that Peter’s tasted. I had gobbled up nearly a whole cake before I stopped to think how greedy I was. I shall take the rest square by square after meals. Good training for self-control.

Now for my reading hour in the kitchen. I am anxious myself to get the war news.

My wisdom tooth, a third one, is cutting. I must really be imbibing something. Mrs. Linstead says I must call it my Labrador tooth.

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