These recollections come to us from Sam King Jr.
Safe Harbor, its name speaks volumes. This tiny community, on the north side of Bonavista bay, not accessible by road and separated from near by communities by water, became my first home. Its narrow entrance and deep water made it a natural haven for a sea faring people. Tucked away and protected from storms, it provided safe anchorage for many a vessel in its hour of need.. In the late 1800’s families started moving to Safe harbor. Ocean front property for fishing stages in the surrounding communities was hard to find. Soon it boasted a population of about 300.
My father and mother lived and raised a family of six children in this community. I am the youngest of my siblings but I do remember three families in Safe Harbor: The Gillinghams, the Attwoods and the Wakeleys. Maurice Gillingham was my age, he became my first friend. We lived in the same garden and we sailed boats together in the rock hole in that garden. We lived by the ocean and our parents worrying we might run off, devised a plan to keep us from the water. Down over the hill by our fishing stage was a small beach, my father had dressed in black rubber clothing and was covering himself with kelp, when our mothers alerted us to the Sea Monster down by the land wash. Aunt Fanny kept pointing to this black mound on the beach that kept moving around. It must have worked. We never forgot the monster and we never went down by the water alone.
Another memory is of Uncle Daniel Wakeley. Everyone called him uncle. One day, after hauling his lobster traps, he was placing the lobsters he had caught in a huge vat that was anchored by his wharf. I remember him asking me “would you like a couple lobsters to take home to your mother”? I don’t remember saying anything. I was about four or five years old. Anyway, two lobsters were thrown upon the wharf deck and uncle Dan went about his work. I had never seen a lobster before. It was a strange looking fish, if it even was a fish. Unlike a sculpin or a flat fish which I would see under our wharf. I had to touch it, to study it some more. Unaware of the strength in those big claws I toyed with them for a while. Suddenly! They had me in their grasp and had no intentions of letting go. The screeches were heard all around the harbor! Uncle Dan’s wife, Aunt Bella, came running. Seeing the problem, she quickly put a stick in the free claw and the lobster let go. I breathed a sigh of relief and was lavished with hugs and gentle kisses for a long time after the pain subsided. Uncle Danny, on the other hand, knew he had his medicine coming and like a man now he would have to face the scorn of an angry woman. Aunt Bella was a war bride. She married Uncle Danny during his stay in Scotland during WW 2. In her broken half English, half Scottish dialect there was no trouble to know who was winning the battle. Uncle Danny was a defeated foe.
My other memory is of Caleb Attwood and is goat. Caleb resided on Attwood’s island. He ran a small grocery store and went fishing in season. Caleb had a measure of wisdom and humor. During one poor fishing season, to allow for his poor catch, Caleb was heard to say, “man is getting smarter, I can’t see any reason why fish is not getting smarter to”. Getting back to Caleb’s goat, the goat didn’t like its name. It was a teasing name used by the kids of the community. The poor goat must have been tormented to the breaking point by the older teenagers and whenever it was called it would aggressively attack. If you have ever been chased by a goat you will know what I am talking about. When a goat attacks it’s a very menacing sight. The goat stands on its hind legs towering above its victim, and then leaps towards you on those hind legs, lowering the head at the right moment so as the body weight and momentum lands one forceful blow.
I was about five years old at the time. My father, mother, sister Betty and I had gone to Caleb’s to get groceries. Betty and I had wondered off playing around the garden. After a while I found myself at the top of some very steep cliffs on the side facing Caleb’s store. Suddenly, not knowing the consequences, I spoke that awful name, “nana- nana- buck-a-boo” and out of nowhere came one angry goat! All I can remember is running! I ran right over the edge of this steep high cliff. Tumbling through the air, I could see the grey boulders coming at me! Then a strange thing happened, I landed so softly on my feet in the grass, near the boulders! It felt like someone had caught me in their arms and laid me gently down! [Psalm 91:11-12….For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone…] I looked up and saw a bewildered goat, standing on the edge of that cliff, staring down at me. It was as if it was saying, “how in the world, did you get down there, I can’t”?
I turned and ran back to the store, my sister was some distance behind me. When Caleb arrived, I said to my mother, while holding her hand, “ it’s ok now, she’s gone with her father”, referring to the goat. This everyone laughed at and always remembered.
The tiny community didn’t last 100 years. It gradually lost its families to resettlement. My parents hung on, until one of the last families. Finally in 1956 we moved to Badger’s Quay. There was no school in safe harbor and I needed an education.
My father and older brothers busied themselves all summer making ready to float our house, which I now live in, from Safe Harbor to Badger’s Quay. It would take a lot of timber to build ramps and would test the skills of any engineer. An elder gentleman from Pools Island, Stanley Dyke, was contacted. He was noted for his ability to do an excellent job with the use of blocks and tackles and a winch he had salvaged from a sunken vessel. A price was negotiated and settled. The story goes, my father asked Stanley to quote him a price. The cost must have been a bit steep and my father said, “Stanley do you think, I’m a millionaire” . Stanley quickly replied, “no but you looks a lot like a mountaineer”.
My father was a very strong, heavy set man, and hairy too. A lumber jack and fisherman by trade, he spent three and one half years, in the forestry, in Scotland during WW2 where he gained a reputation as a boxer. He was good on the inside due to his short arms. His sparring partners on his return from the forestry were his younger brother Walter and older sister Liza. I have been told Liza could hold her ground with the best of them.
The house was to be floated to Badger’s Quay. My mother use to tell us how worried she was at that time. There was a big sea on for days and valuable time was slipping by. Finally the decision to launch couldn’t wait any longer and my father gave the ok. The Cannon Ball, my fathers vessel, and several other motor boats escorted the house out the harbor. My mother’s fears intensified as the house moved from the sheltered harbor out into the bay. The ground swell grew larger and larger as they moved along. Eventually the house would rise on the crest of the swell and then disappear from sight, in the trough. Time and time again this happened, first you see the roof, then the windows, next the door, then the whole house would be in full view for a short time only to start sinking again until it disappeared completely from sight. My parents feared one of the 120 + oil drums, used for floatation, that were secured to the floor would come loose and all would be lost! Time and time again my mother held her breath waiting for the house to reappear on the swell! Their life savings were in this venture! My mother watched until the house shut in with Big Island point. Father told her, “if we make it around Big Island point we’ll be safe”. She took him at his word.
Badger’s Quay was a lot different from Safe Harbor. There were children everywhere, close friendships quickly developed and have lasted to this day. There were so many children the schools were full to capacity and my education would have to wait another year. My sister on the other hand, two and one half years my elder, had started school in Safe Harbor and was moving right along with her education.
The first winter in Badger’s Quay was very difficult. My mother took sick and was hospitalized for a long time. The cold wet house we moved into that fall caused her to catch yellow jaundice. The winter was exceptionally long and cold and sometime during the winter we had a very big snowfall. The snow banks were ten or more feet high and us children had a great time digging a maze of tunnels in the snow. The town had a big yellow tractor they used for clearing snow and after about a week it found its way down to where we lived. It was a very noisy machine that looked more like a monster; pushing huge walls of snow before it. Puffs of black smoke and the deafening sound of the engine been revved up warned us to keep out of the way. This particular day a crowd of us young boys were having a great time running ahead of the tumbling mountains of snow preceding the tractor! Suddenly, I couldn’t move! The loud noise from the tractor told me she was approaching fast! My foot was stuck in the snow and try as I might I couldn’t get it loose! I could feel the snow rushing over me and being pushed backwards! The shouts from the children had taken on a different tone! The urgency in their voices spoke fear and then everything went quite. I don’t know how much time passed I felt nothing only peacefulness and then suddenly I could see people moving around. My head was sticking out from under the tractor blade and people were working feverishly to dig me out. After sounding me all over and making sure I had no broken bones I went home. The poor man driving the tractor went home to, we had experienced enough for one day.