Baltimore's Mansion: A Memoir
Wayne Johnston, Alice van Straalen
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In this loving memoir Wayne Johnston returns to Newfoundland-the people, the place, the politics-and illuminates his family's story with all the power and drama he brought to his magnificent novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams.
Descendents of the Irish who settled in Ferryland, Lord Baltimore's Catholic colony in Newfoundland, the Johnstons "went from being sea-fearing farmers to sea-faring fishermen." Each generation resolves to escape the hardships of life at sea, but their connection to this fantastically beautiful but harsh land is as eternal as the rugged shoreline, and the separations that result between generations may be as inevitable as the winters they endure. Unfulfilled dreams haunt this family history and make Baltimore's Mansion a thrilling and captivating book.
Then we sang “The Ode to Newfoundland,” which most Catholics, in spite of their affection for “Fling Out the Flag,” were quite fond of, for the only mention in it of religion was a non-denominational God. “We’ll have ‘The Ode’ now, Harold, if you please,” my father said. Harold sat at the piano, and while he played, we sang. “‘As loved our fathers, so we love/Where once they stood we stand. ’” Next came a toast to Charlie and Nan, proposed by Harold. “To Charlie and Nan,” they said. My father raised his glass but did not drink.
They are still trying to puzzle out its shape and dimensions. The Downs have been marked out on a grid with string, and students and professors from the college in St. John’s are sifting through the excavation square by square. In each hole, a person crouches, brushing dust from shards of china, piecing together cups and plates, unearthing cutlery that they hope can be restored. They have yet to find the salt works mentioned in the letter sent to Lord Baltimore from Ferryland by Edward Wynne in 1622.
There is a storm a hundred miles to the west, which, if they turn around, the skipper says, “might or might not” catch them before they make St. John’s. Instead of deciding what to do, the skipper lets them put it to a vote. In the long run, turning back will just mean an extra three days away from home. They all vote to go on. He voted first, and the others followed his example while the skipper sat back watching and said nothing. They are in rough water now. They are not in trouble, but Young Hunt has been asking him for hours what he thinks their chances are, if he has ever seen a sea as bad as this one.
The sheer number and size of the tall ships in the harbour strikes him dumb. He gawks at the steamers with their towering smokestacks, the barges piled high with wood and coal, the houses joined together in rows like trains without even token breaks between the cars. Their mode of dress makes every other man look like a merchant or a minister of some kind. They wear bowler hats, long coats and vests and gleaming boots but pick their way through puddles as if their feet are bare. Women, for no reason he can think of since the sky is clear, walk about beneath umbrellas.
An ever-growing flotilla of fishing boats escorted it along the southern shore as it passed Petty Harbour, Bay Bulls, Tors Cove, Ferryland, where my father’s grandparents and his father, Charlie, who was twelve, saw it from a rise of land known as the Gaze. At first the islands blocked their view and all they could see was the profile of the Virgin. But when it cleared Bois Island, they saw the iceberg whole. It resembled Mary in everything but colour. Mary’s colours were blue and white, but the Virgin Berg was uniformly white, a startling white in the sunlight against the blue-green backdrop of the sea.