ISLE AUX MORTS, N.L.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
Even though she is 98, Sadie Organ still possesses a girlish charm when she laughs, which is quite often.
She is the mother of 11, who currently range in age from 82 to 57, and now lives with one of her sons next door to the house where she raised her children.
The move to the smaller bungalow was necessitated when her husband was unable to manage the stairs in their home anymore.
“My husband’s been gone now for 15 years,” says Sadie, who up until last year was still pretty much independent.
She’s seen plenty of changes since she was born in 1920. She had nine siblings of her own.
“Imagine,” she says with a sharp peal of laughter. Sadie isn’t really a fan of modern technology.
“I think it’s too big a thing.”
The town of Isle aux Morts, where she was born and raised, has seen a few changes too. A little store close by is long gone, and there are a few new roads and more tourists. Those kinds of changes were inevitable.
“Not to say they’re so different, but it’s different. Years has passed, from 1920 to now. Ninety-eight years is a lot of years.”
When she was a teenager Sadie worked in the fishery, drying fish on the flakes. That would start in March.
“In July it was all finished and dried,” says Sadie. “The three-masted schooners would come into the wharf and we had to go down and carry it aboard.”
“I was 14 the first year,” recalls Sadie. “I got married at 16. I had an infant baby to take care of and a husband. And I’ve been good ever since!”
She laughs again, but admits that 16 was perhaps a bit young for marriage, even back then.
“How things happen is funny, isn’t it?”
Sadie only attended school until she was 14.
“They had no outhouses built. I don’t know why, but I suppose you didn’t take notice,” says Sadie, who lived up on a hill, some distance from the school. One morning she had to avail of the family outhouse before heading to school and that made her late. “She (the teacher) gave me a strap because I got late.”
That was in winter, and Sadie’s hands were already hurting from the bitter cold even prior to the strapping.
“I got mad,” she recalls.
That was her last day as a student.
“I got my schoolbag and I got my books and I went home. I never went back to school no more.”
She estimates the strap marks took a good two years to fade entirely. Her mother never remarked on it or forced Sadie to return to school.
Her husband, George, was 24 when they married. He also worked in the fish plant when he was younger, or sometimes as a fisherman, and eventually found work as a river warden for about a decade before retiring.
The young couple were obliged to live with his family when they first started out, but it’s Sadie’s family that tends to get remembered more these days. Her maiden name is Harvey, and she is related to the famous Ann, around whom the town hosts an annual festival.
“That’s my people, as they say, the greatest of the greatest,” she says with another contagious laugh. “I don’t know much about them, I didn’t hear much about them, because I didn’t have time to hear my father talking about them in them days because I was growing up myself.”
Back then folks worked for goods, not cash.
“No money circulating them days,” recalls Sadie. That first year she was paid via I.O.U. which she took to the store to buy clothes and groceries.
That second summer she was supposed to get married, and was working towards her wedding dress. George was obliged to look for work a bit further afield in Corner Brook or Deer Lake to saw trees for the paper mills to afford his wedding clothes.
“Didn’t have much growing up,” says Sadie, but “You never went hungry. Never had what you have today though.”
Some of her siblings were lost to disease such as meningitis or treatable conditions like appendicitis. She recalls one brother’s battle with typhoid fever.
“With that there’s an awful bad sickness. You’re in bed, you can’t eat. Nothing,” recalls Sadie.
One day while her brother was laying feverish, Sadie heard him cry out. As the oldest child in the house, she went to tend to him.
“He was singing out the room was full of dogs. I said, ‘I’m not going in the room if the room is full of dogs’.”
There were no dogs. Her brother’s fever had gotten dangerously high and he had begun to hallucinate. Eventually his fever broke.
“He got up and cooked his own pancakes for his breakfast,” she recalls.
But one of Sadie’s own children would also battle the fever.
Heckman was only two years old at the time, and George came up with a creative impromptu medical treatment involving a pudding bag and some river ice to save his son.
“His mother said, ‘I don’t think you should do that George because that could give him a chill and kill him.’ He said, ‘Mother, he’s going to die anyway’,” Sadie recalls.
George’s tactic worked and Heckman, who the family refers to affectionately as Heck, is still around to tell the tale. Sadie did lose one child who died at the age of 5, and a year ago she lost a son to cancer.
“All the rest is still hanging on yet.”
As the roads came through so did the cars; once the hospital was built in Port aux Basques women didn’t use midwives as much anymore. Medical care which had eluded the smaller southwest coast population was suddenly much more accessible.
“We got the roads through and then the electricity came through, and then the phones,” says Sadie.
Nowadays Sadie says she is doing pretty good. She has some arthritis and uses a brace and a walker, but her mind is still sharp and she considers herself lucky because of it.
She’s seen too many elderly patients who aren’t as fortunate in that regard.
Sadie hopes the younger generation appreciates just how good they have it compared to the hardships she faced throughout her childhood.
“Today’s good times, my darling. It’s good times but they don’t know how to take care of it.”
Who was Ann Harvey?
The story of teenage heroine Ann Harvey and her trusty Newfoundland dog, Hairy Man, is well known throughout the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
After the brig “Despatch” foundered on the rocks near Isle aux Morts, it was the Harvey family, led by father George, who rescued 163 people.
Ann was 17 years old, and Hairy Man repeatedly swam a rope out to the passengers clinging precariously to a rock while being pounded by the surf.
Ten years later in 1838, the family made another daring rescue of 25 people from a Glasgow ship, the “Rankin.”
By then 27 year old Ann had become a mother, and would eventually have eight children with her husband, Charles Gillam.
Ann was subsequently named the “Grace Darling of Newfoundland”, an honour bestowed by the British Empire upon a heroine in each of their colonies.
She died in 1860 at age 49.
Today her heroic legend lives on in her hometown’s annual celebration that bears her name – Ann Harvey Days. A coast guard ship has been named for her, and the Isle aux Morts Theatre Festival has featured plays about her life and the tragedy of the Despatch.