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Reflections on life in rural Newfoundland


'We grew up fast in these days'

GRAND BANK, NL – Senior citizens have many interesting stories to tell, and Elizabeth Caines, 88, is no exception.

Caines, who lives at the Blue Crest Cottages in Grand Bank, spent some time recently with the Southern Gazette reminiscing about her life in three Newfoundland rural communities – two of which no longer exist.

Elizabeth spent her first 16 years with 10 brothers and sisters in Goblin, a small town located at the mouth of Bay d’Espoir.

This tiny fishing community peaked with seven families and a population of 40 people in the early 1900s.

Between 1951 and 1956 it ceased to exist.

Life in Goblin was hard, with not much to do but work.

“The men and the boys were either fishing in the summer or in the woods in the winter,” she said. “We were left in the harbor and all we did was work. There was no entertainment; no life; there was nothing.”

The only entertainment Caines can remember was sliding and skating in the winter.

“I used my brother’s old Woodstock skates,” she said.

Getting an education was out of the question.

“We had a school teacher for three months a year, every second year. I never went to school at all after I was 12 years old. What kind of education was that? Nothing, nothing at all.”

There was no church in the community, but the minister from nearby Pushthrough came two or three times a year for services in the school.

“My brother Gordon had enough education to have an evening service on occasion,” noted Elizabeth.

With such a large family, Elizabeth said she grew up in a hurry.

“When I was 12, mom said to me, ‘you will have to go live with Aunt Suz,’” she said.

She left her family home and for four years, lived and worked as housekeeper with her aunt, whose husband had just died.

“I looked out to Aunt Suz and her sons – the Hiscock brothers. They lived in the Blue Crest in Grand Bank for many years, after they moved from Gaultois.”

“I don’t know how we survived,” she said. “I did it all – bringing water from the well, sawing up wood, tending the garden and spreading the fish. Then I had to do most of the housework.”

At the ripe age of 16, Elizabeth moved from Goblin to the nearby community of Pushthrough and worked as a housekeeper for Sandy and Mary Ann Camp, who owned a small general store in the community.

“They came up to Goblin in their boat to get me. I lived with them for a while,” she said.

She wasn’t in Pushthrough long before she met the “love of her life,” Norman Caines.

“I met Norman when I was housekeeper for his sister on Dawson’s Point,” she said. “We were married in 1948 and lived with Norman’s parents in a new house they had just built.”

Life was good in Pushthrough, she said.

“Everybody was your friend; there was always somebody dropping in.”

There was also more to do in the community besides work.

“There were lots of dances and ‘times’ in the Society of United Fishermen (SUF) lodge,” she said. “We had lots of concerts with songs and skits. At Easter time, we would put of a three-act play. We’d practice all night long; it was a lot of fun.”

The community had a three-room school and a church. Caines joined the ACW there and has been a member for 73 years.

Norman and his father had their own schooner and worked in the coastal trade around the island, sailing to St. Pierre and Miquelon and as far away as Nova Scotia.

“When the sawmills closed in the Bay d’Espoir area, there wasn’t much left in coasting, so shortly after that Norman and his father built their own boat and went fishing. They sold their fish to the fresh fish plant in Gaultois,” she said.

The Caines’ had one daughter, Georgina, but an unfortunate occurrence in the community would soon expand their family.

“A man and his wife died within 18 months of each other, leaving their son with nowhere to live. We were not related to the family in any way but my daughter and I felt we had to do something,” said Caines.

“I spoke to our minister, Rev. Ron Lee about it and shortly after that Tom Simms became a member of our family. He stayed with us until he was 16 when he moved to Gaultois to work in the fish plant.”

She said Tom would come to Pushthrough every Christmas for a visit.

“He still calls me mother,” she said with pride.

The 1960s were not good for Pushthrough. With a declining fishery, lack of job opportunities in the surrounding area and a government-sponsored resettlement program, the community eventually closed down in the late 60s.

Time for change

There were opportunities for work in fish plants in nearby areas and many families moved to Gaultois, Fortune, Grand Bank, Ramea and Burgeo.

“With so many people moving, we knew we would soon have to make a decision. We really had no choice,” said Caines. “There were few families left with children so the school could not continue much longer. We had to leave whether we wanted to or not.

“How could we stay in Pushthrough? There was no way. There was nothing there.”

Norman moved to Fortune a few months before his family when a friend of his, George White, got him a job in the fish plant. Elizabeth, her daughter, and father-in-law Alexander Caines moved to Fortune in October 1968.

She didn’t have any regrets about moving.

“We didn’t hesitate; we knew we had to move and that was it.”

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“It was a big change for us. We didn’t know where we were when we got off the boat in Fortune,” said Caines. “Rev. Reuben Hatcher dropped in to see how we were making out. I really appreciated that.”

The Caines family received $3,000 under the resettlement plan to relocate.

“We all know about the resettlement program. Like Joey said, ‘pull up your boats and burn them.’ The plan didn’t offer much money, though, for a family to start a new life.”

The family lived in a rented apartment for a while before building their own home.

“Norman’s father took down his house in Pushthrough, piece by piece, and brought it to Fortune to build our house. A mast from one of the boats is in that house,” she said.

“He was a tough man, and could that man ever work! He brought over his boat and fished out of Fortune for a while. He was quite the man.”

Even though the Caines family did not know many people in Fortune, they soon fit in.

“There were many families that moved like we did; several families from Pushthrough. We also knew people who had moved in from Rencontre West. We sort of became a community unto ourselves.”

Life was good in Fortune.

Caines was president of the Recycled Teenagers club for 15 years, served on the Anglican Church Altar Guild for 65 years and was a member of the ACW for 73 years, including her time in Pushthrough.

Caines said she and Norman moved to the Blue Crest Cottages in Grand Bank in 2006 because of his health issues.

After he died seven years ago, she stayed on at the cottages.

Her friends describe her as a vibrant person with a zest for life.

Even though she hasn’t attended for a while, she was a member of the Grand Bank/Fortune dancers doing the square dance and the lancers.

Group member Ernest Taylor said she is so full of life her personality will stay with you forever.

“That same personality went with her on the dance floor. Her dancing was something she did effortlessly. She gently glided across the floor always charming everyone with that perpetual smile. Everyone on the floor loved her and respected her.”

Caines said she hopes to get back to square dancing soon.

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