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Memories of Petites

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Many times I have sat down and tried to write my memories of Petites—my home on paper – but I seem to get my emotions all jumbled. 

Can you imagine how surprised I was last week when my sister, Dianne, sent me the story your reporter wrote on Petites, and then I received the same story from a friend in St. John’s?

Since I am deaf-blind and have a braille display connected to my computer, the Gulf News isn’t always easy to get into. Believe it or not, but the house in the picture that has the hole in the roof and has blown over was my home.

There was lots more to Petites though when I lived there than can ever really be written about! I knew Roy Vautier growing up although he was much older than me. I ran around all of these hills and I could run from one end of Petites to the other in half an hour.

Yes, it is sad what’s happened to Petites and although I’ll never go back again, Petites will always be home to me! I have many fond memories of my home. I now live in Toronto and I moved here in 1985.

Growing up in Petites wasn’t as bad as people in the city might think. I believe that when I was growing up in Petites most people there were happy with their life because few people had ever been further away from home than Port aux Basques, and they knew no other life than the life they had in Petites.

It was especially hard to travel because boat was the only transportation and we had to watch the weather constantly. It could be beautiful one day and the water could be smooth as a pond but the next morning you get up and a very thick fog could blanket everything and the sea could be roaring and crashing up against Billard’s Island and the rocks out in the (gut).

In the winter from maybe February to end of March we’d have to watch for drifting ice. Often Petites would be packed with drifting ice. The ice might stay in a day or it could be there a week and no boats would be able to get out on in the harbour—except for Les Tufts, who used to take Petites’ mail across the bay to Harbour le Cou and bring the (incoming mail) back to Petites. If Les Tufts couldn’t get out with the mail, the weather would sure be bad!

I guess most families living in Petites were poor compared to today’s standards but we didn’t know we were poor, because most everybody was in the same situation. Most men went fishing except for the few people who worked for Mr. Newman, who was the businessman and owned the store. And then there was the person who kept the post office, the only person who had a (government job) plus the teacher.

I remember that most of my friends when they went to the shop (store) for groceries, they’d use this little book with a black cover, but I never went to get anything from the shop with such a book and I used to cry because of this! So, Mom or Dad got me the little black book and I was happy for a time. Then one day, I found out what this little black book was really for and no money on earth would ever get me to go to shop with this little black book again! It was a charge account book.

Growing up we didn’t have phones in our homes until sometime in the 1980s. There was a phone in somebody’s home and when a call came in that person would go to the person’s home who had a call and go to where the call came in to get their messages or have a conversation—it was a party line.

Back in time few homes in Petites had sewage and toilets. We had slop buckets and it was the job of the woman of the house to go to the cove each day to (empty) the slop bucket into the sea. I remember when I was maybe six years old my friend Danny and I wanted to go fishing. We dug worms from under rocks, found some old fishing line, found some hooks and went down to my Dad’s wharf to try our hand at fishing. I had the first try and when I flicked the line, I also threw myself overboard. It was low tide and a woman had just finished dumping her slop bucket right when I fell into the water! This was my one and only try at fishing! We had a great childhood in Petites.

I remember the first day I began school. I stood on that large flat rock by the school and watched for the teacher. The teacher’s name was Austin Tylor. There were around 40 or so students in Petites school when I first began school. Then Ray Mager decided his children would go to Port aux Basques to school and he got money from the government to do this. So, after this, everybody decided if Ray could get money to send his children to school, so could they. This is when Petites really began to dwindle because after a child finished school, and maybe went on to other education, they weren’t coming home any more to live. Older people had to pass away.

There was one main store in Petites, Mr. Newman’s, but we had a couple other smaller stores too. And there was even one man who had a store and used to brew homemade beer!

Catherine Dominie
Toronto, Ontario

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