If this point could talk

Ian Murdoch
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Chronicles of Plum Point author Elva Spence recalls the early days of the town

Elva Spence says she has a rare familial gene that has caused heart troubles for most of her family, however listening to her colourful stories and reading them in her sold-out book, "Chronicles of Plum Point," one would realize that she is a spry and healthy 75 year old that hasn't missed a beat.

Elva Spence holds up her book,

Elva Spence says she has a rare familial gene that has caused heart troubles for most of her family, however listening to her colourful stories and reading them in her book, "Chronicles of Plum Point," one would realize that she is a spry and healthy 75 year old that hasn't missed a beat.

Another thing that she hasn't missed over her years growing up in Plum Point is a good story, particularly one about the rich characters who originally settled in the town then known as Old Ferolle in 1898.

Mrs. Spence wrote her book over the winter months of 1993, as she dug into the annals of the town, met with long-time residents and recalled a lot of her own childhood, and has since sold all 300 copies.

"You see I had been doing some writing, just piddling around a bit," she said, recalling her time as a gardening columnist for the Northern Pen in the 1980s.

"When I was 20 I took a few correspondence courses in newspaper writing but I couldn't finish them because I had no way of earning money."

She was originally encouraged to write the history of Plum Point when a researcher from Memorial University Extension Services realized the wealth of knowledge she had of the town, despite the little amount of documentation available.

Throughout her book, Mrs. Spence recounts the harsh but simple way of life in Newfoundland in the early 20th century and how different things were compared to today's modern age.

 There was the brazen Henry Coombs, the town's original patriarch who drove away the only other family on the point during settlement; the mysterious disappearance of Samuel Strangemore after the collapse of the fishing co-operative; and Mrs Spence's grandfather, Ken Spence, who was the first manager of the co-operative store.

The book evokes the town's highlights over its years, such as the first teacher in 1921,who happened to be a nurse enlisted by Dr. Grenfell ,and the establishment of the International Pulp & Paper Company headquarters on the point.

However, Mrs. Spence also recalls the darker points in the town's history during the 1930s, otherwise known as the "nineteen hundred and no fish" years ,and the great Hurricane Edna in September 1951 that damaged much of the harbour and houses.

"This is a different world." Elva Spence

A lot has changed since then, said Mrs. Spence.

"Until about 25 years ago, wherever you'd go there were children. Whenever you went up to Bird Cove the place would be lined with children.

"When the work in the woods and pulping finished, people had to go away to work. Most of the Bird Cove people went to Ontario and then from around here a good many went to Alberta."

Mrs. Spence said that there was also a "complete change in transportation, complete change in communication and complete change in education," since the first half of the 20th century.

Transportation was chiefly by boat in the summer and dog sled in the winter, which also carried the mail. The town only had one phone during its early years, which was stationed in the manager's house.

The small one room school room is no longer around but Mrs. Spence will go down in the town's history as its first ever graduate of grade 11.

One particularly entertaining story she writes in her book describes a school teacher who came in to straighten out the unruly children by using his broom stick handle on the children to ensure results. Mrs. Spence said he turned the school around and it didn't fall back into poor standing until after he left.

Unfortunately, a copy of the manuscript for print could not be found by the Northern Pen, after printing operations moved to Corner Brook years ago.

When she isn't keeping up her house, splitting wood, and keeping the wood stove stoked, Mrs. Spence takes a few minutes to remember the days when life was straightforward and simple.

"This is a different world."

ian.murdoch@tc.tc

 

 

Organizations: Memorial University Extension Services, International Pulp Paper Company

Geographic location: Plum Point, Newfoundland, Ontario Alberta Corner Brook

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