Thursday's Storm: The August Gale of 1927
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When the crew of the fishing schooner Annie Healy left their home port of Fox Harbour, Placentia Bay, on Wednesday, August 17, 1927, no one could have imagined what fate held in store for them. Times were hard in Newfoundland that year. On shore, wives of the crew were often worked to exhaustion, even more so while their men were at sea. Most had lost parents, siblings, or children to tuberculosis. Each family had at least one tragic story. But when a hurricane struck Placentia Bay on August 25 of that year, a tragedy unlike any they had lived through would unite these people in ways untold. Now, eighty-six years later, the full story of the ill-fated vessel and her crew is told for the first time. The closeness of the crew and their families, and how they worked together to ensure their little community survived, is relived through the memories of children of the crew, stories passed down from their mothers, and reports from the last men to see the schooner afloat.
Lize was coming out the side door of the church, brushing dirt and sawdust from her apron. “Tell me about it,” Lize muttered. “That bit of wood should keep Fadder Dee from complainin’ ’bout the musty smell next time he comes. I s’pose we’ll be let into heaven for keepin’ him warm. ” She tut-tutted and tossed her head, then rounded the corner of the church and disappeared from sight before Liz could finish her next sentence. “One of these days the fish’ll be so big an’ plentiful we’ll be able to buy sweaters in St.
A gun! ” Charlie says, excited. “A real old cannon. ’Twas down amongst the beach rocks in the ballast. ” “Go on, b’y! I wonder where that come from? ” Jack asks. “I don’t know, b’y, but perhaps our luck’ll change this time ’round, now that ’tis offa the boat,” Charlie says in an attempt to sound optimistic. “Jim Healy said the French likely used it when they were here two or three hundred year ago. ” “Talkin’ ’bout Annie Healy,” Lize butts in, “Mrs. So-and-So said they see her down be the big flakes t’day.
Richd. Haley in a/c with Job Brothers. The first entry in the little log is 40 hhds Salt, and Anne wishes, for her brothers’ sake, it was still only eighteen pounds. And 1 Puncheon Molasses: eighty-four gallons, just eleven pounds and eighteen shillings. Not that anyone here goes by that currency anymore. But Anne remembers it well, as it was used outside St. John’s, in places like Fox Harbour, for years after it was replaced by dollars and cents. She sees the names of men, mostly long gone. Their own sons, now grown men, still carry their fathers’ and grandfathers’ names and debts.
In the little cove below King’s Meadow, a pair of young teenage girls plays, posing for each other on the mainmast of a beached schooner. “Luh, I’m Greta Garbo,” one shouts over the rustling of the trees. The girls love pretending to be famous people. They hear about them from newspaper theatre ads. It makes them feel as though it will help fulfill their dreams of one day getting to St. John’s to see a real moving picture. They’d do anything in the world to get a train ride to the city. “Lots of people from Fox Harbour lives in New York where the stars are, makes the movin’ pictures,” one says, continuing to strike poses for an audience of birds.
He says, ignoring her taunting at the truth. Young men and women alike from all ends of the island have been taking the train to St. John’s and catching passage on steamships traversing the eastern seaboard to Ellis Island and Boston, mainly, in a mad exodus for the past ten years. There, men continue to fish, and for the first time in their lives have the option to seek a berth on more than one or two vessels, and a chance to make money. Others work for the railroad while some climb hundreds of feet into the sky early every morning to put up high-rise buildings, held by nothing more than the pledge of another day’s work tomorrow, and better yet one they don’t have to do on weekends.