Monthly Archives: December 2011

A modest proposal for easing traffic congestion in downtown urban areas

Although I believe that my thoughts on traffic congestion in the downtown areas of major urban centres are modest, I fear the ideas will produce howls of outrage from drivers. I am a licensed driver, and appreciate the pleasures of driving my car when I journey long distances. However, for inner-city trips, I have adjusted to travelling on public transportation or simply walking. The era of driving automobiles within crowded cities is drawing to a close.  The problem will be particularly acute for those who must drive from distant suburban locations (a necessity for many) to their places of employment within the city.

I foresee the day when it will be against the law for drivers to intrude into the space employed by streetcars or buses. No barriers need be constructed, it will simply be a fact of life that all streetcars and busses must have their own right-of-way, unobstructed by automobiles. This means that there will be only one lane in either direction for cars. This necessitates that all parking be banned on avenues with public transportation.  This will horrify merchants who have businesses on these streets. However, with the ever-increasing construction of high rise condos, population densities will increase greatly within the central areas of cities, thus creating an increased need for public transportation. The loss of business from drivers will be replaced by increased sales from pedestrians.

At some point in the future, I believe that on inner city streets, private automobiles will be banned. The only vehicles allowed will be public transportation, taxis, and emergency vehicles. Cars will  continue to be driven only in the suburbs or in areas with low population densities. This will entail a major change in our lifestyles and the transition will not be easy. As the demographics of the suburbs change, they too will become areas with no private vehicles on streets with public transportation.

Judging by the distain expressed toward road tolls, I fear that the change in thinking toward private automobiles will be accompanied by enormous upheaval. Heaven help the politicians that will have to implement the changes.

Doug Taylor

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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Toronto


My Recent visit to Toronto’s Christmas Market at the Distillery District

The Distillery District on Mill Street, east of of Parliament, has been magically transformed into a lively Christmas market, modelled after the German markets such as the one held each year in Dresden, which began in 1434. I was surprised at the scope and variety of the Toronto market, contained within the brick-lined laneways and 45 historic building of the 19th century Distillery District. This was at one time the home of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, founded in 1832. The venue is ideal, as the area has the atmosphere of old Europe.

The day I visited, it was quite cold. However, because of the numerous outdoor fires, and the fact that when I felt the chill I was able to stroll inside one of the numerous buildings, I was impervious to the weather. If I had to sum up the market in a single word, it would be “food” –  veal schnitzel, Octoberfest sausage, meatballs, Belgium waffles, fries, fudge, sugar pies, maple syrup, chocolate cover apples, popcorn balls, freshly-baked breads. There were rides for the children, and many shops and art galleries for the adults. Everyone seemed either to be enjoying the many delicious treats or sipping gratefully on a hot drink. It is indeed a place to be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

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Toronto’s Distillery District, decked out for the German-style Christmas Market

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   The laneways of the Distillery District, with kiosk displaying crafts and foods.

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  Families enjoying the warmth of the outdoor fires and sipping on hot drinks.


                               The 40-foot Christmas tree at the Distillery District

For those who enjoy reading about Toronto’s past :

The non-fiction book, “The Villages Within,” nominated for the Toronto Heritage Awards, provides a cheeky version of the history of Toronto, and explores the history and architecture of the Kensington Market, The Kings-Spadina area, and the glorious tacky Queen Street West. The story of Toronto’s past will not improve anyone’s knowledge of history, but its fabrications and exaggerations may provide an amusing insight into the lives of those who built the town of York. It is an expose of historical untruths, a book that no school should ever permit its students to read.

A link to “The Villages Within,”

“There Never Was a Better Time” – a story of two mischievous immigrants who arrive in Toronto in 1921 from their small village on the rocky shoreline of Newfoundland. This was the days prior to confederation, and they were pleased to have successfully passed through immigration in North Sydney, and arrive in Toronto’s old Union Station, erected in 1884. The book chronicles their adventures as they explore the sinful haunts of the city, including the burlesque houses and movie theatres, during the decadent “Roaring Twenties.” The book contains vivid scenes of their “chasing the girls” at glorious “Sunnyside” beside the lake, and at the wondrous CNE, in the days when Torontonians considered it the most popular late-summer entertainment venues of all time.

A Link to this book:

“Arse Over Teakettle – Book One of the Toronto Trilogy,” is an amusing tale of a young by and his friends coming of age in Toronto during the wartime years of the 1940s. It is a heart-warming and humorous book about the lads’ adventures as they become sexually aware and yearn to exp[lore the world of the “big boys.” The book provides a detailed tongue-in-cheek account of life in the elementary schools of Toronto during this decade. The many archival photographs in the book add to the realism of the tale.

A link to this book :

“The Reluctant Virgin – Book Two of the Toronto Trilogy,” is a murder/mystery that occurs in 1950s Toronto. This chilling story of a serial killer that haunts the streets and laneways of old Toronto is a classic whodunit. As well as exploring the decade of the 1950s, the reader has an opportunity to try to identify the killer ahead of the police. This book also contains many archival photos. The characters in the story are the same as those introduced in the first book of the trilogy.

A link to this book :

A link to the author’s Home Page:

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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in Toronto


Christmas at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto’s Yesteryear

The information below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, Jack and Ernie Taylor, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to Confederation. Their first employment was at McNamara’s market gardens, located in the open fields below the Davenport Road hill, on the west side of Bathurst Street. The McNamara brothers sold the produce from their fields at the St. Lawrence Market on Saturday mornings. Jack and Ernie were two of the employees who assisted in the retail sales.

This passage from the book describes the market and tells of the Taylor brothers departing the St. Lawrence Market on Christmas Eve in 1921.

Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market During the 1920s.


Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market of today commenced on 5 November of 1803 in the tiny town of York. It was named after the patron saint of Canada. The governor at the time of its inception, Peter Hunter, stipulated that it would occupy approximately five and a half acres at King and Front Streets. Its exact size and location, as well as the various buildings, had changed throughout the years, but since its inauguration, there had always been a market on the site.

On Saturday mornings during the autumn of 1921, the McNamara brothers rented tables in the north building of the St. Lawrence Market at Front and Jarvis Streets. The old redbrick market building on the south side of Front Street, had been serving the citizens of Toronto for many decades. It was a favourite gathering place for shoppers eager for fresh produce, as well as an assortment of preserves and jams from the farmers’ kitchens. People strolled and mingled as they vied for the freshest items at the cheapest prices. Hawkers shouted their wares and winked at the women to entice them to their stalls. It was a world of strong-smelling cheeses, opaque-eyed fish, fine cuts of meat, heaping mounds of colourful vegetables, and farm-fresh eggs. Bushels were filled with ripened fruit. Lifeless turkeys, chickens, and ducks hung from long poles above the tables or in the backs of trucks, the birds’ heads having been chopped off earlier in the day.

Live birds, crowded into wooden crates, were crammed haphazardly among the stalls and wagons. The heads of the doomed occupants noisily protruded through the bars of the cages. Occasionally, a rooster crowed, perhaps sensing that its final dawn had already passed.

Outside the market, on the east side of the building, people parked their carts and trucks. Horses munched from leather bags of oats, while their owners loaded into the backs of the wagons the sacks of potatoes and onions that they had just purchased. English sparrows noisily chirped and fluttered under the horses’ feedbags, competing for any oats that spilled to the ground. Several times throughout the day, the horses were led to the black cast-iron troughs to quench their thirst. Birds perched on the rim of the troughs, noisily scolding the intruding horses. Some farmers had brought bales of hay in their carts to feed their horses. It was a scene that seemed to belong to long-ago painters’ canvases or an engraving of a market during York’s colonial times.

The city maintained horse-watering troughs throughout the main streets of Toronto. Despite the many automobiles, most farmers still transported their fruits and vegetables by horse and wagon. By 1921, however, because the city was expanding rapidly, more and more produce was required. Market gardens within the city, such as McNamara’s, and others that were close to the city were unable to meet the demand. Farmers from as far away as fifteen or twenty miles now travelled to Toronto on a Saturday morning. Growers were gradually replacing their horse-drawn wagons with trucks. They parked many of these vehicles inside the market buildings, employing the back of the trucks as stalls, selling the vegetables and meats directly from them. The spaces between the trucks created aisles, where the shoppers strolled to examine the goods.

Finally, the honey-sunshine days of autumn drew to a close, and the yuletide season swiftly approached. On the final day before Christmas, Saturday 24 December, Jack and Ernie worked at the St. Lawrence Market to sell the last of McNamara’s carrots, onions, and potatoes, as well as the fresh flowers from the greenhouses. Throughout the market, yuletide decorations were present in abundance. Sprays of mistletoe glistened among the displays of imported oranges and lemons. Evergreen branches hung on the racks amid the sausages. The few remaining Christmas trees were now going for only thirty-five cents. Large, red paper bells and green garlands hung from the booths, trucks, and long tables.

Jack and Ernie thought about the mellow days of autumn, when the tables at the market had been heaping with the fruits of the harvest and the shoppers had crowded around to purchase the fresh produce from the McNamara gardens. They remembered how they had smiled at the pretty girls while helping them to choose vegetables.

In those earlier months, their employment had seemed secure. However, they now knew that with the close of the market at the end of the day, their jobs were terminated. Though the events of the autumn of the year were only a few weeks in the past, they now seemed like “the good old days.” They thought about their mother’s garden in Burin and the family gathering around the kitchen table at the homestead on Gun Point. This was to be their first Christmas away from home. The market and other wonders of Toronto were unable to overcome their homesickness.

By 5 pm on Christmas Eve, the stands were mostly empty of goods, and most of the shoppers had departed for the warmth of their homes. Geese had been the favourite fowl of the season, and not one remained for sale in the market—nor anywhere else in the city, for that matter. There were no turkeys, either—they had been in short supply and had disappeared in the early afternoon. The man dressed in the Santa Claus outfit, who had strolled all day among the tables and carts, was beginning to droop. The final hour, for both worker and shopper, had finally arrived.

Jack and Ernie cleared the McNamara tables and loaded the few remaining sacks of potatoes and carrots into the wagon. John McNamara shook their hands and handed them each an envelope containing a small bonus. Imparting a weary sigh, he smiled and said, “A very merry Christmas.”

As the Taylor brothers left the market, powdery snow settled on the streets and the rooftops. The curtain had closed on the final public scene of the yuletide pageant. In this year of 1921, Christmas Day, with all its love, mystery, and nostalgia, had quietly taken centre stage.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

The author’s Home Page ;

   Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market today, at the Christmas season.

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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Toronto


A Traditional Christmas Soup Supper in Old Newfoundland

The story below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together.

The passage below tells about members of the Taylor family participating in a “soup supper,” held as a fund raiser at the church they attended in the small community of Burin Bay.

A Traditional Christmas Soup Supper in Old Newfoundland 


Another greatly anticipated event of the Christmas season of 1921 was the annual “soup supper,” which usually included a “pie auction.” This was a major fundraiser in aid of the church and its school. Mary Taylor’s sons, Onslow and Bill, attended The Salvation Army school in Burin Bay, and as a result, she was a great supporter of the affair and always worked diligently toward its success.

Early in the morning, pots of water were set to boil in every kitchen, and various vegetables and meats simmered throughout the day. Breads, pies, and tarts were baked. In the early afternoon, the men went to the church to position the long, wooden tabletops on the sawhorses. When this task had been completed, the women decorated the tables and hung bunting and ribbons around the room.

Shortly after sunset, families trudged along the snowy paths to deliver the soups to the church. They suspended the handles of the pots from sturdy poles to facilitate their delivery, one person grasping either end of each pole. Bill and Les performed the task for their mother. They walked along the road carrying Mary’s contribution, being careful not to spill the precious contents.

When they arrived, there were too many soups for them all to be placed atop the stove inside, so the men had built a fire outside, and several pots were already hanging above the flames on an iron rod. The men gathered around the fire to socialize, while the women remained inside to fuss over last-minute preparations for the meal. Bill and Les joined the men, but much to the chagrin of the young girls who had arrived, they were hustled inside.

The variety of soups was impressive. The chicken soup contained an assortment of vegetables. There was also cabbage soup, beef broth with barley, and mutton soup with onions. To the fish stock had been added carrots and turnips. The ever-popular pea soup had been flavoured with salt pork. Peas and bread puddings in cloth bags suspended on strings had been immersed in some of the soups, which allowed them to cook inside the pots.

Everyone in Burin Bay recognized Mary Taylor’s soup, as she always placed thin strips of cabbage on the surface of the steaming broth. This personal touch made her soup attractive and easily identifiable. Because the diners knew which soup was hers, they rarely failed to offer compliments. It pleased her when people requested extra helpings.

Any man who could not consume at least one bowl of each soup and devour a large share of the bread was considered sickly. Even the children were encouraged to eat beyond their normal capacity, and they did not disappoint their prompters. Every year, the people declared that the soups were the finest ever made, and, judging by the amount that had disappeared, it might well have been true.

When it was time to auction the pies, Herb became tense. Herb was the oldest of Mary’s sons that remained at home in Burin, and she was aware that he was sweet on a girl from Epworth named Jenny. If he were successful in outbidding his rivals and succeeded in purchasing her pie, he would win the right to escort her home at the end of the evening. If people knew that a lad favoured a girl who had a pie up for auction, they would offer competing bids to drive up the price, as the money would go to a worthy cause.

Unfortunately for Herb, people knew of his interest in Jenny—they had seen him chatting with her at the Christmas concert. Each time he shouted a bid, someone topped it. The audience knowingly smiled, and a few chuckled aloud. As a result, Herb’s pocket was empty by the time he won the right to walk Jenny across the ice to her home in Epworth.

The distance from The Salvation Army Hall to Epworth was approximately one mile, but it required crossing ice that, in the middle of the harbour, was not always safe. For Herb and Jenny, because of their intimate conversation, a desire to extend the moment, and the care needed to walk over the uncertain ice, the journey to Epworth took considerably longer than usual. On reaching the far shore, they lingered and talked, Herb using any excuse that entered his mind to delay the inevitable parting. It was almost eleven o’clock by the time they reached Jenny’s house.

The front door opened just as Herb was about to kiss Jenny on the cheek. Standing in the doorway was Jenny’s irate father. “Herb Taylor!” he thundered. “What’s the meanin’ of ye bringing me daughter home at dis late hour? Where’s me shotgun? I’ll teach ye a lesson ye’ll ne’er forget!”

Herb did not require any encouragement to leap away like a jackrabbit and hop down the hill to the edge of the ice. The cannon-like blast of the shotgun echoed in the night air as he scampered over the ice. In his haste, he gave scant thought to the unsafe conditions confronting him. He had decided that there was little rhyme or reason in worrying about breaking through brittle ice when there was the more immediate danger of a shotgun blast puncturing holes in his backside.

When Herb arrived back at the Taylor house that night, he was exhausted, but was a wiser young man, having learned first-hand one of the basic rules of courting: always be wary of a girl’s father.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto


A story about “Mumming” (Mummering) in old Newfoundland

The information below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together.

For a history of the tradition of Mumming, follow the link:

The passage below tells about members of the Taylor family participating in “mummering.”

  A Story About Mumming (Mummering) in Old Newfoundland


On the Monday evening following Christmas Day in 1921, the pantry of the Taylor home buzzed like a hive. Mary Taylor was in the kitchen, and, because her family had closed the pantry door, she was unable to observe their preparations. Her father-in-law Job, her husband John, and sons Herb, and Les, were dressing to go mumming. They laughed and made humorous comments as they donned their disguises. For several months, they had secreted away, in an empty barrel, old clothing, netting, paper bags, burlap, and animal skins. They now brought them out.

Old Job began by placing an old curtain and a well-worn fishing net over his head to hide his white hair and beard. Disguising his features further, he attached to his face with twine a large, ugly cardboard nose so that it protruded prominently beneath the netting. On his head was a floppy paper hat, and his on hands he wore dirty fishing gloves. He wore old, ragged trousers and a shirt he had borrowed from a man in Pat’s Cove. Under the shirt, on his left shoulder, he inserted a small mound of hay, creating the illusion of a deformed hunchback. Wrapped around him was a brown blanket full of patches and holes. On his feet he wore borrowed boots that were several sizes too large, stuffed with wads of folded paper to fill the empty space. The thick boot-heels gave him extra height, disguising his short stature. All traces of dignified Uncle Jobby of Burin Bay had been successfully disguised, and in his stead was a hideous old creature, hunched and bent as if from many years of unsavoury deeds.

John Taylor, father of the boys, pulled a tattered one-piece suit of underwear over his clothes and stuffed rags inside to change his body shape. He rubbed the underwear with soot from the stove, making it appear as if he had just escaped from the earthy depths of the grave. Then, he enlarged the holes in the discarded suit and stuffed them with clumps of red paper, simulating dried blood. John whitened his face to appear like a ghost and covered his head with a floppy straw hat, painted white. A long, flowing trail of white muslin protruded from under the headgear to enhance the effect of an evil spirit of the night. As an added touch, he had whitewashed his borrowed oversized boots. If seen on the road at night, John would indeed be a sight to instill fear.

Herb, the oldest of the sons remaining in Burin, chuckled as he observed his father and grandfather, but he felt that his own costume was their equal. He had secured old clothes from a family he knew in Epworth, and wore them inside out. Stove-polish blackened his face and hands, and on his head was a hideous, dishevelled mess of torn rabbit skins. Herb had cut off the toes of an enormous pair of discarded boots, and he inserted his feet in the opposite direction, creating the illusion that he was walking backward.

Les, the next oldest, laughed as he admired his brother’s efforts, but was determined not to be outdone. He applied cocoa powder to his face to turn it brown, glued dyed wool to his face with spruce gum, attached a charred cork to the end of his nose, and fitted paper ears over his own to create the appearance of a scruffy mongrel. Brown burlap covered his body, and hanging behind him was a long tail of woven rags. He had decided that the only sounds he would emit during the evening would be those of a barking, whining dog. A dog he resembled, and a dog he would be.

From the kitchen, Mary heard the laughter in the pantry as the Taylor males prepared for the evening’s activities. Little did she realize that she was to be their first victim. They had hidden their costume materials from her, and she had no idea what they had decided to wear. The revellers left unseen through the back door and hid inside the small barn where the Taylors kept their sheep. They waited about ten minutes, during which time they were joined by two of the Frampton boys, who were also attired in strange clothes and wore false faces. Their numbers increased to six, they took two lanterns from the barn and, without lighting them, proceeded down the road away from the Taylor homestead. When they had gone a respectable distance, they lit the lanterns and walked back toward the house.

The group knew that the youngest of the Taylor sons, Bill and Onslow, would be watching from the kitchen window facing the road and would think that a group of mummers had arrived from the other side of the cove. They hoped that Mary would never guess that four of them were members of her own family. Herb and Les imagined the squeals of delight from their younger brothers when they informed their mother that there were mummers on the road approaching the house. Onslow’s worst fear was that the costumed revellers might pass by and visit another family, thus depriving him of the thrill of experiencing evil spirits, ghosts, and wicked creatures.

A heavy knock thudded against the door of the front porch, and a shrill voice cried, “Will ye let any mummers in this night?” In other parts of Newfoundland, a traditional poem allowed entrance, but in Burin, they asked a simple question. Mary opened the door cautiously. Bill and Onslow, their eyes wide with anticipation, hovered behind their mother, waiting impatiently for the fun to commence.

There was much laughter as the costumed guests entered, and when they got to the kitchen, it increased in volume. One of the Frampton lads jumped onto a chair, the group having selected him to be the first to perform. In a high-pitched voice, he squeaked, “I’m a ghost from the North Pole, and I knows each person here, along with their horrible deeds and secrets!” When he informed Mary that she had slept poorly the previous night and had carefully washed all the teacups that afternoon, her mouth opened in amazement. Job had supplied the Frampton boy with this information, as well as several facts that were more personal. As Mary’s puzzlement increased, Onslow and Bill howled with pleasure.

“Where are ye from?” Mary demanded. “No person around here is from the North Pole.”

“I’m from so far north that ye knows me naught. I travels with the wind of the night on winged feet,” came the reply.

Feeling bold, Onslow shouted, “With those big feet, you could stomp to ‘Tario and back!” The remark brought hoots and hollers from everyone, and the merriment increased when the mummers danced and comically paraded around. Job waved a handkerchief as he pranced, and John energetically threw his large white hat into the air. Les made barking noises, and Herb stomped his feet heavily.

Job grasped Mary’s bread pans from the shelf above the stove and banged them together, while the others clapped their hands. They all behaved more brazenly than any of them would have dared had their identities not been hidden.

Next, they broke into song, disguising their voices by creating an exaggerated discordant rendition, and then added a few nonsense poems. After the recitations ended, Onslow shrieked, “That be grandfather! I knows he!” The jig was now up, in more ways than one. True to the rules of mumming, Job lifted his veil and confirmed his identity. After he had unmasked, the names of the others were guessed within minutes. The laughter continued a while longer, while everyone appreciated the hilarious effect of the mummers having visited their own home.

“Goodness gracious, what a surprise!” Mary declared as she brought out cake and mugs of hot cider. Compliments were generous concerning the costumes and the riotous performances, and everyone agreed that the other families of the cove would have considerably more difficulty discerning their identities.

Onslow glowed in the warmth of praise when Mary told him that his brain was as sharp as his father’s razor. “Sweet hour of prayer,” she said. “I would never have known your grandfather. I was completely at sea!”

Finally, the mummers departed into the darkness to inflict their mirth on other families of Burin Bay. It was difficult to say who had more fun during the course of the evening, the mummers or their victims. The coup de grace occurred when they visited a home where a large dinner party was in progress. The increased size of the audience added boldness to the entertainment.

In one home, Job leaped up onto a chair. His son and grandsons were more surprised than those who were without costumes. He delivered his opening remarks in a voice far different from his normal one. Nobody guessed his identity. Later, they agreed that Job’s performance had surpassed his role as Santa Claus. Though advanced in years, there remained plenty of youthful energy and wit in him. He truly possessed a firm determination to greet the world with enthusiasm. Life could demand no more of anyone. A truly exhausted group indeed returned to the Taylor house late that night.

Though the mumming continued during the following nights, Mary felt that no group created quite as much fun as her own family.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto


The Christmas tradition of “Mumming” (Mummering) in Old Newfoundland

The information below is from the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from the small fishing village of Burin Bay in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together. It includes a description of family members going out “mummering.” This information precedes the story of mummering to allow the reader to appreciate the history of the ancient tradition.

  The Tradition of “Mumming” (Mummering) in Old Newfoundland


“Mumming” was a much-anticipated tradition in Burin, Newfoundland. It commenced after sunset on Christmas Eve. Most people, however, remained at home with their families on Christmas night and began mumming on 26 December. Before it ended on Old Christmas Day—6 January—everyone had experienced a few surprises.

Mumming dated back to medieval times, and had been very popular in the royal court of King Edward III (1327–77). When Sir Humphrey Gilbert visited Newfoundland in 1583, most members of his crew were from the Wessex Counties, and they entertained the other fishermen, who were mostly French or Spanish, by dressing up and performed skits.

England banned the custom during the years of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell (1653–58). It continued in the New World, as it had been well established by the fishermen. In the 1840s, it reached the height of its popularity in Newfoundland, with those who participated calling themselves “mummers.” In England and in the north of Newfoundland, people referred to the tradition as “dressing up” or “masking.” On the south and east coasts of Newfoundland, it was called “mummering” or “janneying.”

The term “mummer” was derived from the fact that those who were mumming remained silent (mum) to prevent those for whom they performed from guessing their identities. The origin of the word “janneying” is uncertain, but some believe it was derived from “jannies,” referring to young boys who disguised themselves to perform mischief during the Christmas season.

In Newfoundland, mummers felt that they possessed an automatic right to enter any home, although people considered it courteous for them to request permission. Folks took advantage and rarely refused them entrance, as they considered it good luck to welcome uninvited visitors during the festive season. To engage in mummering, people donned disguises, wearing old clothes and makeshift costumes in a creative manner.

During the twelve days of Christmas, they travelled after sunset in small groups to visit their neighbours. The women often dressed as men, and vice versa. The idea was to entertain by dancing, playing instruments, or performing a simple drama (which was sometimes rude and irreverent). Their audience tried to guess the names of their visitors. If they identified someone, that person had to unmask. At the conclusion of the lively performance, everyone unmasked, and the hosts provided treats of cake, cookies, and hot drinks. The mummers then proceeded to another house and repeated the ritual once more.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto


A tale of Christmas in old Newfoundland

The following story is contained in the book, “There Never Was A Better Time.” The novel is a tale of two mischievous young men, who in 1921 immigrated to Canada from a small fishing village in Newfoundland, in the days prior to confederation. Their parents, John and Mary Taylor, grandfather Job, and younger brothers remained in the homestead beside the rocky shoreline of Burin Bay. This story tells of the first Christmas that the family in Newfoundland did not celebrate the holidays together.

                 Christmas in Old Newfoundland


Mary Taylor parted the kitchen curtains and gazed thoughtfully across the frozen harbour. Her sons and several other boys were playing ice-ball, with a rock wrapped in old wool socks serving as the “ball.” Glancing at the sky, she saw that snow was beginning to descend from the heavy, storm clouds. The wind blew the billowing flakes wildly with its frigid breath, swirling them in fanciful patterns. As the day faded behind the darkening hills, the distant shore across the harbour at Wandsworth became more obscure. The gale was intensifying, and the smoke from the chimneys slanted horizontally, as if flattened by an invisible hand.

The storms of the preceding weeks had heaped huge drifts of snow against the windward sides of the houses, sheds, and small stores. The rock-strewn fields and fishing wharves appeared overwhelmed by the thick layer of frosty white. However, most Burin residents welcomed snow on Christmas Eve, as it added to the sentiments of the season.

Mary turned away from the window, hoping that the boys would return before dark, as the road was fading from view. Resting in his rocking-chair, Job was enjoying the warmth of the stove. He noticed the worried expression on Mary’s face and guessed her thoughts. He said nothing, however, knowing that the boys would return when they were ready, and not a minute before.

Each year, the outport communities eagerly anticipated Christmas. The holiday was a bolt of lightning hurled into the darkness of the most dismal time of the year. The arduous months of cod-trapping had ended, dories were snug within the stores, fishing nets had been secured for the winter, and skiffs had been hauled up onto the landwash for repairs.

The men were now safely anchored within the community. It was a time for parties, weddings, and other lively social occasions. In previous years, many people had married during the yuletide season, so there were always numerous anniversary celebrations. Church suppers, boisterous family dinners, and spirited evening parties were held in abundance, providing ample opportunities for socializing.

Preparations for the festive season had been in full gear for weeks, and the Taylor home was no exception. For several weeks, the sweet scent of baking had infused Mary’s kitchen, and the pantry now contained many treasured treats.

At the beginning of winter, Burin turned inward, and its people entered fully into the spirit of festive revelry. They ignored the problems of isolation and a hostile climate that locked the inlets and bays with ice. During January and February, a coastal steamer might not stop at Burin at all, so it was important that supplies arrived before the freeze-up. To haul anything ashore after freeze-up, men had to travel out to the open water beyond the edge of the ice. This was as near as any vessel was able to approach and was invariably a considerable distance from shore. Supplies would then have to be dragged back across the frozen expanse.

On Christmas Eve of 1921, the community had completed its preparations, and the necessities for the yuletide season had been gathered. Anything they now lacked, they would simply have to ignore.


Inside the Taylor home, Mary removed the final batch of cookies from the oven and placed them on a platter in the pantry to cool. After she put the plate on the shelf, she counted the jars. There were enough partridgeberries, blueberries, and bakeapples for the family and holiday guests, as well as extra for the winter months ahead. Her eyes scanned the airtight containers that held the muslin-wrapped Christmas cakes. She had baked the dark cake in October, which allowed time for the currants and other fruits to mellow. The light cake she had prepared in November, after acquiring more spices, sugar, butter, and fruits. There were four tins in the pantry crammed with cookies, and there would soon be another.

A barrel of apples, shipped from Prince Edward Island by schooner, occupied the space to the right of the pantry door. A few oranges had also arrived, and Mary had hidden them behind a barrel. The scent of the oranges betrayed their presence, however, and though their sweet fragrance blended with that of the preserved apple slices, they failed to obliterate the odours of the salted cod, salt beef, and kerosene. Satisfied with the results of her labours, Mary returned to the kitchen to wash the baking utensils and mixing bowls.

Glancing out the window again, she noticed that the snow was descending more heavily, and that the shoreline across the harbour to the west had entirely vanished from sight. On the ice near the Taylor home, the game of ice-ball was nearing an end. Old Job, her father-in-law, had been correct. The game was ending because of necessity, rather than a desire to conclude the activity. Now, when the boys hit their “ball,” it often disappeared into the blinding snow and could not be found for many minutes. As it was difficult to continue, they finally decided to seek the warmth of their kitchen stoves. Within minutes, they trudged homeward.

Alongside the pathway, only the tops of the fences protruded above the drifts. As the Taylor boys neared home, the angry wind muffled their laughter and excited voices, but it was unable to diminish their excitement. They had a bubbling enthusiasm for this season of sledding, skating, and sliding. Furthermore, it was Christmas Eve, and, in their eyes, no time of year was more magical.

Inside the Taylor house, their younger brother Bill gazed out the frosty kitchen window. Because of his weak lungs, Mary insisted that he remain inside during inclement weather. To aid his breathing, she frequently fetched a bowl of steaming water, and he held his head above it, using a towel to trap the rising vapours.

Job observed his grandson standing beside the window. The old man rose from his chair, walked over, and gently placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. He realized that Bill desperately wished to be outside with his brothers. Job sympathized, although he spoke not a word. When he heard the outer door of the porch open, he glanced up at his grandsons—Herb, Les, and Onslow. They were stomping their feet noisily on the old wooden floor to remove the snow clinging to their boots. They brushed the snow from their coats before throwing them onto the pegs on the wall, and then, they flung their caps on top of the coats. Onslow, who was the youngest, was unable to reach as high as his brothers. He ignored his hat as it fell to the floor.

Their mother opened the inside door and ushered them in, but not before demanding that Onslow go back and hang up his cap properly. She gently scolded them for staying outside so long, but her manner lacked conviction, as she understood and approved of their love of winter sports. Besides, she was relieved that the three of them were finally inside. Mary’s manner toward her boys was like that of a mother hen—watchful and protective. Even as they grew older, her attitude never changed.

Throughout the evening meal, the wind whistled noisily, rattling the windows and creating ghostly sounds in the chimney. Glancing out the window, Mary noticed that, unlike the wind, the snow had abated slightly. She prayed that the storm would blow itself out, allowing Burin to escape its worst effects.

Within the hour, the family was to attend the Christmas concert at the Burin Citadel of The Salvation Army. Fortunately for her family, it was a short distance to the church, but if the snow continued, it might prevent the attendance of those who lived further away, in the other coves. Reduced attendance was a threat to the success of the endeavour.

As soon as the meal was finished, Job left the dinner table and disappeared upstairs. In the forthcoming concert, he was to play Santa Claus. Waiting in his room, he smiled as he thought of the many years he had performed this role and the difficulty of hiding his identity from his grandsons when they had been younger. By now, all except Onslow, the youngest, knew that he was the concert’s Santa Claus.

Job was to remain secluded in his bedroom until after the family had left for the church. Then he would dress in his costume and make his way over. His long overcoat would hide his outfit, preventing children not belonging to the congregation from glancing out a window and learning his secret as he journeyed along. In his pocket would be the false whiskers to cover his own white beard. He would not place them on his chin until he was inside the church porch. Alone with his thoughts, he sat and waited.

An amusing incident from the previous Christmas entered Job’s thoughts. A thirteen-year-old boy had asked, “Did you and Aunt Jane have sexual relations?” Job’s mouth dropped in surprise. Never had anyone—much less a child—asked such a shocking question. Stroking his chin and ruminating for a moment, he attempted to recover his composure while he carefully considered his answer. The boy was now a teenager, so Job decided that he should answer honestly.

“Yes, me son. We did.”

Next, the lad asked, “Do you think my mom and dad have sexual relations?” Job’s alarm increased, as he feared where the questioning was leading. Following another brief pause, Job assured him that, yes, they, too, had sexual relations.

The boy hesitated, and then asked, “Then why don’t I get gifts from them at Christmas time?” Job smiled with relief and told him that perhaps they had been lost in the mail aboard the coastal steamer.

Despite his years of wisdom, as he was now over eighty years of age, Job had been relieved that the discussion had ended without his having to explain the facts of life. He smiled as he remembered the incident, and his amusement increased when he recalled Mary’s reaction to the tale.


During December, the older brothers often teased Onslow and told him that any misbehaviour on his part was certain to produce a lump of coal instead of a gift in his stocking on Christmas morning. The odd laughter that accompanied this threat suggested to him that something was fishy about old St. Nick. To be on the safe side, Onslow remained silent, although he was determined to observe carefully on Christmas Eve to learn what his older brothers already knew.

At about 7.30 pm, Mary opened the porch door, and her three youngest sons burst into the swirling snow, pushing and shoving in their eagerness to plough through the drifts. Herb walked sedately behind his younger brothers, his collar pulled high around his neck to lessen the chill of the bitterly cold winds. With Jack and Ernie in Toronto, Herb was now the eldest of the Taylor boys remaining in Burin. He wished to arrive at the concert in a mature manner—after all, he was seventeen now. He wanted to impress Jenny, a girl he liked very much. She lived in Epworth, a mile across the frozen harbour, and it worried him that the storm might prevent her from reaching Burin Bay to attend the concert. He waited a few minutes, allowing his younger siblings to walk ahead. Mary and John watched their sons with amusement, as they proceeded through the snow.


When the boys entered the church, it was cozy and warm. The women had lit a fire in the stove during the late afternoon. The soft glow from the candles in the windows added enchantment to the scene.

A tall Christmas tree dominated the front of the auditorium, capturing the attention of everyone who entered, especially the children. Job and several other men had travelled into the woods the previous week and cut the enormous spruce, its size necessitating that a horse and catamaran haul it to the Citadel. It had been stored behind the church, and, during the previous afternoon, the men had shaken the snow from its branches, and carried it inside. Its trunk now rested in a tub of wet sand that would help preserve it for the entire twelve days of Christmas.

During the previous week, children had cut and glued decorations for the tree, but it was their mothers who had trimmed it, thus setting the stage for a surprise for the children when they arrived for the concert. In the original Christmas story, there had been sheep on a hillside near Bethlehem. In commemoration of this, some of the tree’s decorations had been made from bits of uncarded sheep’s wool, and others from long strands of coloured wool twine and pieces of dyed wool. Children had assembled coloured patches of cloth and paper into the shapes of bells, sheep, and stars, and the resulting ornaments had been secured among the branches. Paper chains wrapped around the tree in endless circles. At a dizzying height, a shiny yellow star dominated its pinnacle, the star’s uppermost point almost touching the ceiling. Mothers had baked cookies in the shapes of bells, dories, stars, and houses and tied them to the ends of the branches, tantalizingly within reach of the taller children. Beneath the tree was a multitude of gifts wrapped in coloured cloth, wallpaper remnants, and pieces of leftover decorative paper. The tree was a magnificent sight.

Shortly before eight o’clock, the boys’ band assembled on the platform. Among the musicians were Herb, who played a valve-trombone, and Leslie, who performed on the horn. Bill and Onslow sat in the audience with their mother. Bill’s lungs were too weak to blow an instrument, and Onslow was too young.

The band was smaller than it had been the previous year, as Jack and Ernie were absent. Thus, when Mary gazed at the small group, it reminded her that this was her first Christmas without Jack and Ernie. When the first carol sounded forth, it was obvious from the quality of the music that the band sorely missed them as well. “The First Noel” sounded more like the band’s last gasp.

The concert started ten minutes late, which was considered on time. The evening included its share of musical stars, unintentional clowns, stammering elocutionists, and dramatic hams, along with a few children who excelled in every role in which they had been cast. A quartet sang admirably, followed by a soloist who was so off-key that the child’s voice sounded like the scraping of fingernails on a school chalkboard.

Though the nativity play was performed well, the tots dressed as sheep roamed where they should never have grazed, blocking the audience’s view of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. One of the boys dressed as a wise man tripped over his long robe and tumbled to the floor with a noisy thud. If such behaviour had been typical of the original wise men, it might explain why they had arrived late at the stable door.

An overly nervous child in the back row of the heavenly choir was too excited to control his bladder. As they noticed his predicament, the other children edged away, producing a gap in the front row that was a mystery to the audience. This was not the only unsolved puzzle of the evening. Though two of the recitations were excellent, the audience did not understand a single word uttered by the child who recited the third, although the prompter behind the curtain was clearly audible.

Everyone clapped hands for a solo that contained no melody known to humankind and a libretto that was similarly enigmatic. One of the boys in the band lost his mouthpiece, so he placed his mouth on the opening of the tube and fingered the valves furiously as he pretended to play. The other band boys were unconcerned with his plight, as they thought that his performance was actually one of his best—it had contributed no musical damage to the overall sound of the band.

As the concert’s end drew near, despite the mishaps, it was obvious that the evening was a grand success. During the final moments of the concert, Job entered the porch unnoticed and remained hidden as he waited for his grand entrance.

After the band played its final number, the children assembled on the platform to receive their applause. Mothers in the audience would have compared their children’s performances with those of the stars of La Scala in Milan, or perhaps even Toronto’s Massey Hall, had they known about these venues. This was evidence that Christmas brought forth more kindness and goodwill than any other season of the year. Sometimes, this attitude was referred to as “seasonal blindness.”

As the clapping and cheering subsided, there was a loud boom from the big bass drum, followed by a reverberating crash from the rear of the hall. Santa Claus burst forth in all his splendiferous glory. The shrieking of the youthful members of the audience was deafening. Old Job, attired in his yuletide best, pranced up the aisle, his white-gloved hand touching children on their heads or shaking their hands. The band played “Joy to the World” as the fabulous Mr. Claus marched forth, surpassing any participant who had ever strutted in “The Grand March” in Verdi’s Aida or “The March of the Peers” in Iolanthe.

The shy and inhibited Job, through the anonymity of his costume, had transformed himself into a theatrical ham. No child ever guessed that the animated personage was “Uncle Jobby” of Burin Bay, the grandfather of the Taylor boys. They did not notice that Job was not in his usual place beside the drum. Bill, who was eleven years old, was privy to the secret, but kept silent because of his seven-year-old brother Onslow. The adults whispered that the transformation of the dignified Job into the spirited Mr. Claus was one of the miracles of Christmas.

When it was time to distribute the gifts from under the tree, each child scrutinized the small packages with care, anxiously praying that Santa would place one into his or her hopeful hands. Santa stood beside the tree, stroked his long, white beard, and scratched his head beneath his long wool cap. The adults knew that he was delaying the gift giving in order to build anticipation to unimagined heights. They smiled approvingly as they watched the anxiety of the smaller children and the antics of Santa.

Finally, the corps officer (church minister) assisted Santa in the all-important ritual. One at a time, he handed the gifts to old St. Nick, and, because Job was unable to read, whispered the names of the recipients in his ear. When they heard their names, the children raced up the aisle, received their presents, and hurriedly returned to their seats. The packages contained no lumps of coal, implying that every child had been a saint during the preceding year. The presents were usually bibles, small carved toys such as boats, or store-bought puzzles. Each child also received a small bag of candy and removed a cookie from the tree. It was a treasured moment. After the children had received their toys and candies, the band played the opening notes of a well-loved carol. The audience stood and enthusiastically sang:

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumphs of the skies;

With the angelic hosts proclaim,

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Hark, the herald angels sing;

Glory to the new-born King.

When the concert had ended, families warmly wished each other a merry Christmas, congratulated the children, and, while conversing, edged toward the door. Beyond the cozy auditorium was a world of wildly drifting snow. Despite the deceptive lull earlier in the evening, the blizzard had intensified. Burin was to suffer the full fury of a winter storm.


Mary, John, and their sons trudged homeward, their scarves and coats pulled tightly to defy winter’s frigid grasp. They soon reached the protection of their porch. As usual, they removed the snow from their boots and brushed the layers of white from their coats. After entering the kitchen and warming by the stove, the boys raced down the hallway to the parlour. Mary had opened the parlour doors before departing for the concert, allowing heat to enter the room. The family did not usually use the parlour during the winter months, because it contained no stove, but Christmas Eve was an exception.

The atmosphere in the room was cozy, the coal oil lamp emitting a soft light that cast dancing shadows. After her family were seated, Mary ceremoniously reached for the bible on the end table near the south window. As she passed the book to Herb, a noise from the porch indicated that Job had returned. They heard thumping as he removed the snow from his boots. Unseen by those in the parlour, he placed the coat that had concealed his costume on a peg, and, within moments, the stairs creaked as he ascended. Everyone except Onslow knew that Job was going to his bedroom to remove his Santa outfit. The family patiently waited for him to join them in the parlour.

Onslow thought it strange that his grandfather was late arriving from the concert. Then it crossed his mind that he had not actually seen him during the concert, sitting in his usual position beside the base drum. Onslow decided that he would investigate these mysteries at the first opportunity.

When the family group was complete, Herb opened the Bible and commenced reading. He dared not omit a single phrase. Although his mother was unable to read, she knew the words and verses by heart. The poetry of St. Luke’s gospel, though spoken softly, seemed to fill the small room: “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed …” When the shepherds entered the story, Herb passed the book to Leslie, who sat up proudly, realizing that his participation was evidence that he was maturing. He read: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night …”

Each year, the story concluded at the sixteenth verse. Mary’s voice joined Leslie’s, and they recited final words together: “And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Onslow knew who Mary and Joseph were, but who was this person called “Haste?” It would be another year of reading lessons before he solved the mystery.

After the story, Mary went to the kitchen. Within moments, she returned with a plate of Christmas cake. This was the first sampling of the season. The Taylor sons agreed that it was the finest cake their mother had ever baked. Each boy earnestly hoped that his generous compliment might earn him an extra piece of the delicious treat. Although there were seven people in the room, there was an eighth portion—the extra one reserved for Santa Claus.

By now, it was past ten-thirty, and, to conclude the evening’s rituals, Mary offered a Christmas prayer. Included was a special request for the good health and safety of her sons in Toronto—Wilbert, Jimmy, Jack, and Ernie. She also mentioned George M., her second-oldest by her first marriage, who lived in Pat’s Cove. She had decided that she would visit George’s family sometime during the yuletide season.

As Bill and Onslow climbed the stairs to bed, clutched in Onslow’s hand was the plate with the piece of cake for Santa. Bill carried a glass of milk. They deposited the treats on a small chest at the foot of their bed, in anticipation of Santa’s visit. The boys quickly jumped into bed and were soon snugly within the embrace of the blankets. Then, their mother listened to their prayers:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.


With the prayers completed, Mary kissed them on the forehead, wished them a good night, and left the room, quietly closing the door behind her. Onslow gazed into the darkness and listened to the shrieking of the winter wind. He wished that he had asked the Lord to “lay off” the snow, as too much of the white stuff might prevent Santa Claus from visiting. Onslow asked Bill if he thought Santa would find his way through the snow and darkness. Bill reassured his younger brother that Santa would arrive.

Within the next half-hour, Leslie went to bed, followed by Herb. In the kitchen, Job, Mary, and John sat, sipped tea, and waited for Onslow to fall asleep. They talked quietly of the delights of Christmas Eves past, shared memories, and chuckled over the antics of the boys. Job spoke of the time that Jack had returned from school and said that he had seen a “flat” dog on the path. Mary had asked what he meant. He said that it must have been a flat dog, as another one was on its back, “pumping it up.” Mary winced as Job and John chuckled.

Then Job mentioned the time that he had attempted to explain to the boys that the family was expecting another baby. (This was before Bill was born.) He had begun by telling them that he had seen a stork flying over the house. Jimmy blurted out, “I hope the creature doesn’t frighten mother. She’s pregnant, you know!” They all laughed quietly. Not all the warmth within the room emanated from the stove. The glow of pleasant memories never fades.

Shortly after eleven, when Mary had completed her preparations for the following morning, she retrieved the two Christmas stockings hidden in the pantry. Although Bill was now too old for a stocking, she had decided to maintain the tradition for one more year, to prevent Onslow from asking too many questions. Along with Job and John, she crept upstairs and entered the bedroom where Onslow and Bill were fast asleep. Job ate the cake and drank the milk, allowing Mary to confirm truthfully in the morning that Santa from the concert had indeed consumed the food. She secured the stockings to the foot of the bed and shut the door quietly.

In the hallway, after wishing one another a good night, Job, John, and Mary went to bed, secure in the knowledge that they had accomplished the final chore of the evening. Christmas was soon to weave its magic tapestry across Burin Bay.


Outside the home, in the darkness of the night, the storm raged. In the early hours of the morning, the capricious wind changed direction, blowing now from the east and piling snow against the sides of the houses that had been previously protected. The snow concealed doorways, porches, and lower windows. Sheds disappeared, and root cellars were buried. The wind swirled the drifts into fanciful shapes across the frozen bays and inlets. The meadows and hills were enveloped in white. The roofs of the houses protruded bravely above the heavy mantle. Snow obliterated the windward sides of the houses, immersing them nearly to the second-floor windows.

Shortly before dawn, the storm blew out to sea. When the Taylor boys awoke to greet the happy morn, the wind had abated. The sky was a dazzling blue, and the sun shone brightly. The storm was now far out over the Atlantic, endangering any ships that sailed across its path. In its wake, it had left Burin buried beneath a cloak of white.

When John looked out his bedroom window, he saw that the front door of the house was blocked by snow. He surmised that the rear entrance facing the harbour was also inundated. It would be impossible to open them. In preparation for such a happening, in winter he kept a ladder propped against the north wall of the house, permitting him to exit an upstairs window to shovel the drifts away from the doorways. Before performing this feat, he went downstairs and lit the stove in the kitchen.

As John climbed out a bedroom window and descended the ladder, he heard squeals of delight from Onslow, who had just discovered the Christmas stocking that Santa had brought. It contained an orange, an apple, peppermint knobs, nuts, candies, and an all-day sucker. Bill was also pleased to have received Santa’s favours and was similarly exuberant, even though he knew the source of the gifts. When Onslow looked out his bedroom window at the snowy world, he marvelled at the ability of old St. Nick to arrive amid such adversity. There were no longer any doubts in his mind. Santa was real and had visited during the night. Further proof was that the cake and milk had disappeared. Whatever had caused his brothers to smirk when mentioning old Santa’s name, Onslow now considered it unimportant.

Mary arrived downstairs at the same time as Herb and Les. Bill and Onslow arrived next and finished dressing by the heat of the stove. Mary busily started making breakfast. She placed the teakettle on the stove, boiled the water for the eggs and salt cod, and cut thick slices of bread for toasting over the stove. By the time all was ready, John had cleared the snow away from the front door and opened it. Next, he shovelled a path to the road to permit the family to attend church.

The family ate breakfast. Although the boys were disappointed that they were not permitted to open their gifts until after the church service, they did not complain. During the service, Herb and Leslie would dutifully play their brass instruments in the band.

At the church, Bill and Onslow sat among the congregation and fidgeted as they listened, growing increasingly restless as the sermon continued. The text for the morning was from the second chapter of Matthew: “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, art not the least among the princes of Judea: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Onslow reflected on this text and decided that if he were a governor, he would order that all Christmas gifts be opened at dawn.

By one o’clock, the family had returned home, and, after a small meal, the eagerly anticipated moment arrived to open their presents. They gathered around the kitchen table, and what a joyous occasion it was! Though the main emphasis of the Christmas season was on socializing rather than gift-giving, the presents were still important, especially to the children. The Taylor boys received tin whistles, harmonicas, pocket-knives, tin soldiers, spinning-tops, and hand-carved ships and dories. To a lesser degree, they appreciated the red- or green-dyed mitts and gifts like handkerchiefs, scarves, and wool caps. Onslow considered his wooden spinning-top his most prized gift, while Bill treasured his pocket-knife best, as he was exceptionally skilled at carving. Mary received two handkerchiefs and an undergarment, as well as a few household items. John received a scarf, a pair of gloves, and a new wood-saw.

Job was the recipient of some socks and underwear, but the gift he appreciated most was the plug of tobacco that his son John had secretly given him. However, he considered the most valuable treasure of all to be able to sit in his rocking-chair by the cozy heat of the stove and enjoy the love of the family surrounding him.

Herb and Leslie had purchased a dainty, lace-edged handkerchief for their mother, and it brought tears to her eyes. Her grateful thanks and kisses brought guilt upon their souls—to purchase the gift, they had pilfered a few lead weights from one of the neighbours’ sheds and exchanged them at the merchant’s shop. At this particular moment, they were not very proud of their deed, even though their motive had been true to the season.

For Herb, there had been another indiscretion that had given him a guilty conscience. Under his mother’s bed was a bottle of gin that she kept for medicinal purposes, for whenever a member of the family suffered from a severe cold or the flu. Out of curiosity, Herb had consumed a small amount and replaced it with an equal portion of water. Though Mary had no knowledge of the deed, Herb would long remember the prank.


The boys usually enjoyed skating and sledding on Christmas-Day afternoons, but Mary would not allow it this year, as the holiday fell on a Sunday. To compound the boredom, the snowdrifts prevented relatives and friends from visiting. In many of the outport communities of Newfoundland, visiting on Christmas Day was not common, as people considered it more important to remain with their own families. In Burin, however, this was not the custom.

The Taylor boy’s Uncle Will and Aunt Susie lived nearby—on Moulton’s Point, immediately beside the Taylor house. They paid a visit, accompanied by their two children, Eudavilla and Bill Moulton. Eudavilla was eleven, and Bill was a teenager. The two youngest Taylors welcomed Eudavilla warmly. At 2:30 pm, she accompanied them to Sunday school. This provided an opportunity to be outside for a few hours. During the short walk to the church, they raced and jumped in a universe of white. Bill ignored his mother’s constant warnings and joined in the fun. It was unusual for Bill to experience such freedom, and he wanted to take advantage.

The children endured the confines of the Sunday school, but, when it was over, they gleefully travelled homeward. Snowdrifts created an unmatched playground. As the afternoon shadows lengthened, Onslow and Bill began anticipating the forthcoming meal. As they plunged into yet another snowbank and kicked it with their boots, thoughts of food increased.

At Gun Point, Eudavilla parted company with the Taylor boys, who went inside. Within minutes, they were chorusing, “How long before dinner?” After what seemed an interminable wait, the family sat around the kitchen table at five o’clock, impatiently waiting for Mary to serve the food. As if by magic, a platter appeared, on which was a large “loo” (loon) cooked to perfection, its golden-brown skin reflecting a glossy sheen.

The boys knew that several days before Christmas, their father had taken his shotgun from the rack high on the kitchen wall and gone hunting. Now, he sat in his chair at the head of the table, preparing to carve the rewards of his venture. As the sharp carving knife sliced into the bird, Mary brought out plates of vegetables—buttered cabbage, roasted potatoes, diced turnip, plump onions, and carrots. After grace was offered, John said, “Dig in!”

A momentary silence descended as they devoured their first bites of the feast. Portions were abundant, and, with Mary’s special seasonings, the food proved superior to anything she had served during the previous months. With such a banquet before them, talking was at a minimum at first, but it was not long before excited chatter flowed as generously as the supply of food. Mary reminded the boys not to talk with their mouths full.

When the plates were bare, Mary removed them from the table and placed them on the sideboard. Next, she lifted the steamed pudding from the pot on the stove, cut it into portions, and poured a warm, sugary sauce over the delicious treat. It was a delightful conclusion to the meal.

After John had finished his dessert, he could eat no more. “Well, I’m ashore,” he said. He left the table, walked over to the gun rack, removed the gun, and went out the back door. Job was immediately behind him, followed by the boys. Without overcoats or caps, they marched to the tip of Gun Point and stood on the windy promontory behind the house, where large rocks jutted into the frozen harbour. Ignoring the cold and the snarling wind, the boys watched their father load his gun, raise it, and fire two thunderous shots into the frigid silence of the night. It was a signal to every family in Burin Bay that the Taylors had completed their Christmas meal. The community knew that the Taylor household was now officially open to visitors.

The firing of the gun was a time-honoured tradition in Burin, and every family competed to be the first. During earlier years, Job had been the one to fire the shots. For Mary, it was a source of pride that she had prepared and served the food ahead of the other women of the cove. The boys thought it wonderful that their father had fired the first shots, and, during the remainder of the yuletide season, they frequently reminded their friends of it.

After the firing of the gun, they returned inside the house and closed the door against the cold of the night. The Christmas season of 1921 passed into the land of memories, gone forever, but never forgotten.

A link to the book, “There Never Was a Better Time,”

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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Toronto