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DAVID CLARKE: Ernest G. Clarke, a man to be admired

A stack of newspapers
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“Hello my lovelies!”

So said the late, great author-journalist, Ron Pumphrey.

For decades, Ron was a larger-than-life presence on the Newfoundland and Labrador cultural scene, revered by young and old. His recent passing has led me to thinking about some of the other individuals I’ve admired over the years.

A number of these of these – Isaac Brock, Winston Churchill, etc. – relate to my love of history, while others, like Charles Dickens and Jules Verne, are drawn from the literary world. And we can never forget those, like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, whose lives changed the world for the better.

Still, those whom I first admired were found much closer to home, including my late parents, John and Margaret (Burton) Clarke, and my grandparents, whose example shaped the person I am today. There are many friends whom I greatly admire as well, including my long-time neighbour, the outstanding Newfoundland artist, Ted Stuckless, and his sister-in-law, Queen’s Jubilee Medal recipient, Lorna (Bradley) Stuckless, a founder of both the Twillingate Women’s Institute chapter and the Twillingate Museum.

For many years Mrs. Stuckless lived alongside another person whom I’ve admired all my life, though he passed away some years before I was born. While not as well known in the province as Ron Pumphrey, Ernest George Clarke was certainly a hero within our family circle, and like Pumphrey, made a mark on the world of Newfoundland journalism.

Ern made his first mark on the world when, at the age of 18, he assisted in rescuing a young lady named Gwen Cook from drowning in the waters of Twillingate Harbour. For his part in the rescue Clarke was awarded the Boy Scout Medal.

Ernest – “Ern” to his family and friends – was born at Twillingate in June, 1917, the son of sailmaker, Lewis Clarke, and his wife, Lydia (Combden). The third of five children, Ern was a younger sibling of my grandfather, Leonard Clarke, and his twin brother, Jack.

Ern made his first mark on the world when, at the age of 18, he assisted in rescuing a young lady named Gwen Cook from drowning in the waters of Twillingate Harbour. For his part in the rescue Clarke was awarded the Boy Scout Medal.

In the 1930s, as the Great Depression dragged on, the ambitious young Ernest decided to forego an uncertain life in the fishery, submitting an application to the newly-created Newfoundland Ranger Force. On the surface the Ranger Force was a police organization, meant to supplement the Newfoundland Constabulary in isolated areas of the Dominion. In practice, the new force was responsible for a wide range of duties, such as distributing poor relief, enforcing game laws, assisting with public works, and collecting customs fees. In that era, the local ranger was often the only government official with whom outport residents had any direct contact.

Ern’s application was successful. He joined the Rangers shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, assigned Regimental Number 57. Posted at Grand Bank, and Labrador, Ranger Clarke was one of the few enlisted men to attain officer status, with the rank of (Acting) Inspector.

Though he was later encouraged to pen a memoir, this never came to pass, and most of Ern’s exploits with the Ranger Force weren’t recorded outside of official documents. We do know that during his time in Labrador, Ern married Ada Minty, the partner with whom he’d raise a son, Peter.

Founded by Jabez Thompson, the paper had been central Newfoundland’s main source of news for nearly 70 years when Ern Clarke took the reins in 1947.

As the 1940s drew to a close, Ern decided on a new challenge, leaving the Rangers and returning to his hometown. Here he assumed the editorship of the Twillingate Sun newspaper, following the death of its previous owner/editor, Stewart Roberts.

Founded by Jabez Thompson, the paper had been central Newfoundland’s main source of news for nearly 70 years when Ern Clarke took the reins in 1947. He ran the paper for the next five years, with local businessman, John Loveridge, praising Clarke’s editorials, “...for their forthrightness...” and noting that, “...the unbiased opinions expressed [by him] have been quoted over the radio and in the press.”

At the beginning of 1953 Ern reluctantly wound down the paper, believing the costs of badly needed equipment upgrades couldn’t be justified. While no longer producing the Sun, Ern did job printing for more than a decade, an operation which Ada continued for some years after his death. An astute businessman, Ern also operated a movie house at Twillingate. He was a true community leader as well, being a charter member of the local Lion’s Club, serving on the board of the Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital, and was active in municipal politics.

With such an accomplished life, it’s all the more sad that Ern passed away only a few days past his 50th birthday.

To bring our story full circle, it’s worth noting that one of the prime movers behind the festival was none other than Ern’s onetime neighbour, Lorna Stuckless, with the new Twillingate Sun appearing, in part, due to the efforts of Ron Pumphrey and his wife, Marilyn. Admirable people, indeed.

Still, over the course of a relatively short life he left quite a legacy and is remembered fondly by many Twillingate residents to this day. While by then he was long gone, Ern Clarke’s old paper got a new lease on life in the 1990s, when it was revived as part of the annual, Twillingate/New World Island Fish, Fun and Folk Festival.

To bring our story full circle, it’s worth noting that one of the prime movers behind the festival was none other than Ern’s onetime neighbour, Lorna Stuckless, with the new Twillingate Sun appearing, in part, due to the efforts of Ron Pumphrey and his wife, Marilyn. Admirable people, indeed.

David J. Clarke is a graduate of Memorial University's Doctoral program in history, and he is the author of eight books focusing on central Newfoundland. He can be reached at baymandave16@gmail.com.

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