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Blanche Biles vividly remembers her life in St. Anthony and the Bight

Blanche Biles, 93, spent her life living in the town of St. Anthony and the Bight. The specifics of names, dates and events are never far from her recollection. The photo she is holding is of her and her late husband Luke.
Blanche Biles, 93, spent her life living in the town of St. Anthony and the Bight. The specifics of names, dates and events are never far from her recollection. The photo she is holding is of her and her late husband Luke.

ST. ANTHONY, NL – As she rocks in her window-side chair, with photographs of old friends and old memories placed along the walls and shelves, 93-year-old Blanche Biles retains a vivid memory of all her years living in the St. Anthony area.    

The specifics of names, dates and events are never far from her recollection.


Beginnings


Biles was born in the small fishing village of St. Anthony Bight, and lived there till she was 18. While the school in St. Anthony Bight has been without use for many years, Biles recalls when her tenth-grade class there had 37 other students and only one teacher.


As a teenager, Biles spent two summers working at a salmon plant in the Bight. It was in the pre-Confederation days of 1938, when labour did not often come with high pay.


“I was 14 when I went to work there,” said Biles. “I got eight cents an hour my first summer and the next summer I got 12 cents an hour.”


At 18 she moved to the town of St. Anthony where she worked at the old Co-op store from November 1942 to December 1945. Biles says when she started she made $25 a month, and when she left she was making $50 a month.


Biles’ siblings and parents also moved to St. Anthony in the early 50s.


After dating for four years, she married her husband Luke on New Year’s Day, 1945. They had known one another since childhood.


“It was a new life on a new year,” Biles reminisced.


The referendum


Biles remembers the referendum to bring Newfoundland into Confederation as a particularly rough time for St. Anthony and the island as a whole.


“There was a lot of poor people then, Newfoundland wasn’t in a very good shape,” she said.  “For fish, there was no price and for labour you couldn’t get much.”


Biles’ father was a fisherman and the profits then were scarce. She says the merchants on Water Street were often a plague on outport communities like St. Anthony.


“They didn’t get no money, just turned over the fish to the merchants,” Biles said. “Dad would have 100 boxes of frozen salmon one year, and he only got two and a half cents a pound for it.


“That was the problem – the merchants on Water Street were starving the people of Newfoundland to death. They were millionaires and the fishermen had no other choice with nowhere else to sell it.”


Biles says after the referendum changes gradually came around. The baby bonus and changes in old-age pensions brought a revitalized atmosphere to much of Newfoundland.


“Before Confederation, you had to be 70 to get any help from government, and even then, you only got $5 a month,” she said. “After Confederation, old-age pensioners got $35 a month, and that was a big change.”


The nursery


After getting married, Biles looked after Luke’s parents for seven years and then ran a boarding house until 1965. She then engaged in a nurse assistant course and worked in the town hospital for 19 years. Twelve years of those were spent working in the nursery.


It’s a time in her life Biles remembers fondly.


“I think the most we had was 24 babies at one time,” Biles said. “We’d measure the baby, take its temperature, and give the baby its first bath. I really enjoyed it.”


From the time she started at the nursery to her retirement, there were a total 6,000 babies born.


“And that’s straight from the medical records,” said Biles. “There was lots of babies then, no babies now.”


Luke spent much of his life working as a fisherman, but eventually worked as a supervisor at St. Anthony Seafoods Ltd. for 35 years.


Later years


After years struggling with Alzheimer’s, Luke died in 2005. As his sickness grew, he lived in the John M. Grey Centre and Complex for four years and four months.


Biles came to see him everyday.


“I went every day and gave him a meal,” she said. “Every day – I didn’t miss one.


“I still miss him. He was a loving husband, a good man. We had a good life.”


Now years on, Biles resides on her own. She spends much of her time knitting and entertaining friends and relatives, but the thought of Luke is never far from her mind.


“It’s a rough time getting used to it, you never get over it,” she said. “Time heals it to a certain extent, but you never get over it.”


Of her immediate family, Biles is the only one to have reached the age of 80. Her parents and brothers died in their seventies, and her sister died of cancer in her 40s.


Although she has had 13 surgeries from hip replacement to back surgery, Biles says she’s still in one piece.


Now 93, she keeps busy knitting items for friends and relatives, as well as for the United Church and Hospital Auxiliary. While a private home care worker helps her with house cleaning, Biles still cooks for herself.


“I get lots of visitors,” she said. “When you get to 93 you make a lot of friends over the years.”

kyle.greenham@northernpen.ca

Read our previous Seniors in Profile stories: 
http://www.northernpen.ca/community/2017/9/19/councillor-since-town-s-incorporation-now-retiring-after-39-year.html
http://www.northernpen.ca/community/2017/9/14/a-lifetime-volunteer.html
http://www.northernpen.ca/community/2017/9/7/st--lewis-couple-celebrates-10-years-of-marriage.html



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