Hikers and campers will soon be headed into the great outdoors in droves for some much needed wilderness therapy after a long, snowy winter. Of course, there's nothing like a wildlife sighting or two – perhaps a moose ambling along the trail or a hungry gray jay sneaking off with some picnic lunch - to feel at one with nature.
But what if you come across a bear?
According to Todd Hollett, a provincial government wildlife technician, if a bear approaches you, "Stay calm and give it space, ensuring that it has an escape route. Back away slowly, while speaking calmly and firmly. Never run or climb a tree, as this may evoke a predatory response. Avoid eye contact so as not to challenge the bear. Always be extremely careful around a bear with cubs. If a bear attacks, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Fight back, making lots of noise as you do. If you have bear spray, use it."
For more of Todd's bear safety tips, plus all the facts you need to know about the two bear species that roam our province, see "Where The Bears Are" in the May 2014 issue of Downhome.
If you see a bear in or around your community, or become aware of a habituated bear, call your nearest Conservation Officer at your local Department of Natural Resources Office.
March 31, 2014 marks a sombre anniversary in Newfoundland and Labrador. On that day 100 years ago, the sealing vessel SS Southern Cross disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. The disaster took more lives in a single sealing accident than any other in the history of the province – yet no evidence of what happened on that fateful March night ever surfaced.
The ship, bought and sold several times since it was built in 1886, was a Norwegian whaler and an Antarctic explorer before it saw its first Newfoundland seal hunt as one of the Baine Johnson fleet in the spring of 1901.
On March 12, 1914, Captain George Clarke of Brigus and his crew of 173 young sealers from Conception Bay left St. John's for the Southern Cross's fourteenth hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On their way home, with a full load of pelts, they were seen by the crew of the SS Portia about five miles off Cape Pine at 11:00 a.m. on March 31. At the time, a snowstorm reduced visibility almost to nil. The captain of the Portia hailed the Southern Cross, which had no wireless communication onboard, with the ship's horn. Captain Clarke returned the gesture, indicating all was well. But sometime after the Portia sailed away, the Southern Cross and all 174 men onboard vanished without a trace.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be stressful and sometimes dangerous for pets. Canada's veterinarians would like to remind pet owners that it's important to keep a close eye on their animals during this busy time of year.
"Encounters with strangers, bright Christmas lights, potentially toxic chocolate treats and fatty table scraps are just a few holiday dangers a pet may encounter," says Dr. Julie de Moissac, President-Elect of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). "Many common Christmas plants are also hazardous to pets. It's important to be prepared. Know which items are harmful and keep your pets away."
The CVMA offers the following tips for pet owners and their animals to enjoy a safe and happy holiday season:
Holiday Food & Drink
• Many pets are adept at finding food on counter tops and tables, so keep your dinner out of reach. Ask guests not to feed the pet table scraps. Avoid feeding sharp poultry bones to cats and dogs. A turkey bone can splinter and become lodged in the throat or farther down the digestive system. Ingestion of Xylitol, a low-calorie artificial sweetener found in commercially baked goods, can lead to liver injury or even liver failure. Chocolate can also be toxic to animals. All foods containing chocolate should be safely stored in areas inaccessible to pets.
• Alcohol is a dangerous substance for pets. Dogs in particular may be attracted to alcoholic beverages, so keep drinks and bottles out of reach at all times. Signs of alcohol intoxication in pets may include vomiting, wobbly gait, depression, disorientation and/or hypothermia. If alcohol ingestion is suspected, bring your pet to see a veterinarian immediately.
• Christmas trees, with their prickly pine needles, wire hooks, shiny ribbons, and small ingestible ornaments are particularly hazardous. Christmas tree water can also be harmful to pets. Chewing on Christmas light cords could shock, burn or electrocute a pet. Tinsel, which is sparkly and especially attractive to pets, can cause blockages in their intestines, leading to an emergency trip to the veterinarian's office.
• Holly: This ornamental plant is a common Christmas fixture and ingestion is most commonly associated with signs of digestive upset and nervous system depression. They have some of the same toxic components as chocolate (caffeine, theobromine).
• Mistletoe: The American mistletoe produces quite severe irritation of the digestive tract, as well as whole body symptoms including low heart rate and temperature, difficulty breathing, unsteadiness, excess thirst and sometimes seizures, coma and even death.
• Poinsettia: These are members of the spurge family. The ingestion of the leaves generally results in mild to moderate digestive upsets. Signs include excess saliva, vomiting and diarrhea.
Don't Delay a Trip to the Vet
If you suspect your pet has chewed or eaten something unusual, call your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait until the end of a weekend, or overnight, for regular office hours. Some toxins can damage internal organs and may cause significant (and perhaps irreversible) injury in a short time frame.
One day in early summer, while motorcycling west on Route 2 into Conception Bay South, Newfoundland, the air blowing by my face startled me with a message from my childhood.
The trigger was the smell of freshly broken ground, and I soon caught sight of its source sliding by on my right: reddish soil ploughed into rows of furrows ready for planting.
The chapter of my past that had rushed to the present was created some 45 years ago. My father was the youngest of a large Protestant family that grew vegetables and kept animals on Spruce Hill Road in Topsail (now part of CBS).
Every spring during my childhood, Dad and his two brothers and a sister (all the siblings who still lived in the Topsail area) would help their parents plant potatoes in the "lower garden," a section of land that today lies beneath the lawns and basements of a housing development. Throughout the year the Barnes "kids" would hoard a couple of vacation days from work so they could trade in their white shirts, business suits and skirts for coveralls and a chance to work "at the ground." The third generation, late baby boomers like myself, came along to help out where we could in sowing the field.
The lower garden, perhaps half an acre accessible by an understood right of way through property owned by several branches of the Barnes family, was bordered on one side by narrow, dusty Spruce Hill Road. The plot was fenced with weathered wood and the perimeter lined with mottled stones of all sizes, which had been dumped there after they had been painstakingly dug from the earth by earlier generations of planters. These man-made barriers of brittle stone held the sun's heat even on cool spring days and somehow supported the growth of birch and dogberry trees that sported just as much exposed root as trunk and limbs. Today, all around Conception Bay, you can see many abandoned gardens delineated by stone borders, some sprouting young trees instead of the vegetables they once produced.
On planting day, the division of labour was clear. Aunt Elsie and grandmother prepared a huge meal for all, and they would assist with planting after "dinner" was cleared away. The midday meal was not lunch, but a full dinner with gravy, meat and vegetables (including, of course, potatoes). I read somewhere that a diet rich in potatoes prevented appendicitis. I don't know if there is any truth to that, but there is no appendicitis in our family. In fact, many of my relatives aged well into their 90s without ever seeing the inside of a hospital.
It was Uncle Max's job to cut the seed potatoes. Like everything, there is a skill to cutting seed. I never understood the process, but it has to do with cutting between the "eyes" of the seed potatoes, and Max was considered the expert.
The cut seeds quickly filled a five-gallon bucket, and then were transferred to smaller buckets the younger ones could carry into the field. From the small buckets the seeds would be set in place, one at a time, equally spaced in the troughs of the newly ploughed furrows.
As they worked, the adults talked of sabagos, gems and blues. The conversation recalled all kinds of potato plagues, such as canker, late blight, root maggot, and rot that came to a field for no good reason.
When the field was nearly seeded, my father's cousin, Harrison, would appear with a horse tackled into a plough. As she was fitted with blinkers that blocked her side vision, her ears kept pivoting in the direction of the men's conversation. She was completely at ease with the playful pushing, shouting and arguing of the Barnes clan, and even ignored the cigarette smoke that occasionally drifted past her nostrils.
When Harrison took his place at the plough handles, she lowered her head, and pulled the plough through the earth, covering the pieces of potato seed. She knew just how far to go beyond the edge of the field so the plough, trailing some distance behind, would reach the end of the furrows. If no command came encouraging her into the turn, she would wait there, half-turned, the vapour of her exhaled breath made visible by her exertion, even on a hot day. Her strange, powerful animal smell blended with the smell of the damp fecund soil.
I don't remember noticing the potato field any more until fall, when the potato stalks were dry and crispy, perhaps burned by an early frost. I didn't think about it until later, but someone must have weeded and watered and "trenched" the rows of potatoes and coaxed them along through the growing season until I discovered the spent stalks in the fall. My dad or one of my uncles would stab a prong into the ground and wiggle the stalk free from the earth, revealing a mass of potatoes. The younger ones, like myself, would shake the potatoes free of the stalks and leave them to dry on the ground.
Later, we picked them up, filling to the brim those same buckets that had carried the seeds to the furrows in the spring. We dumped buckets of new potatoes into sacks that the men would tie at the top and carry on their shoulders to a Chevy pick-up for the trip to the huge family cellar.
The dry stalks were raked into piles. After dark, they were burned in smoky fires and we danced around the flames like fairies.
I can't remember when that extended family potato harvest ended, but the field, the cellar, Harrison and his horse, the uncles and grandparents are all gone. Our family ritual wasn't about saving a few dollars on a bag of potatoes. For those tough old Protestants, neglecting to sow and reap was sinful and an insult to the fickle forces that governed survival. The sight of a fallow field was obscene.
On September 3, 1939, the Second World War began. A mere 24 hours later, the British liner SS Athenia was sunk by a German submarine U-30 off Ireland, with the loss of 112 lives, including 19 crewmembers. This was the start of the longest battle of WWII, the Battle of the Atlantic, which didn’t end until Germany surrendered in 1945.
The most dangerous job during the war was that of merchant sailors delivering crucial supplies to Britain. Statistics show that 12.3 per cent of merchant mariners lost their lives, while the closest, most dangerous job was that of airmen. The RCAF suffered a loss of 5.81 per cent of its members. The Canadian Army lost 2.42 per cent, while the Royal Canadian Navy lost 1.4 per cent of its force.
At the age of 16, with the Battle of the Atlantic raging, my uncle Victor Froud, not knowing or caring about statistics, joined the merchant ship North Brook in Argentia, Newfoundland. His older brother Ned was chief cook on the North Brook at the time. Unlike regular Navy men, Merchant Navy men could sign up on any ship, going to any destination. Vic Froud signed up on many.
“We were wild and carefree when we were in port, and we had a reputation of being drunken sailors,” Uncle Vic told me once. “We spent all our money because when we left port we all knew there was a good chance we’d never be in another port again.”
If they were going to the bottom, the merchant seamen were determined not to take any fat wallets with them.
Torpedoed off South Africa
On July 8, 1945, Vic signed up on the 10,000-ton Point Pleasant Park in St. John, New Brunswick. He was headed for Cape Town and other African ports, with stops at New York and Trinidad along the way.
On the trip down to the Caribbean, the ship was part of an escorted convoy. But on February 11, the Point Pleasant Park left the convoy and travelled unescorted to the Cape of Good Hope, Africa, 3,400 miles away.
On February 23, when the ship was about 510 miles from South Africa, a torpedo struck the crew’s quarters aft, on the starboard side, killing eight men and trapping others. Luckily for Vic his bunk was amidship; he was awakened by the explosion but uninjured. The chief officer and the third officer chopped away a wire mesh escape hatch to free the trapped men, one of whom had a broken back. But all the survivors were still in serious trouble.
The ship’s screw (propeller) had been blown off and the stern stove in, and there was obviously a German U-boat lurking nearby. (It turned out that there were two U-boats, but no one knew that at the time.) The radio operator managed to make the “SSSS” U-boat alarm message on the transmitter, but heard no acknowledgement. The pumps worked for a while until incoming water killed the dynamo. The ship was doomed.
Twenty minutes after the torpedo struck, the captain gave the order “Abandon ship!” Uncle Vic scrambled to the nearest lifeboat. The ship’s four lifeboats were lowered, but one immediately sank.
The Enemy Surfaces
The 43 survivors found themselves in the remaining three lifeboats beside their ship, stern down but still afloat. The airtight compartments would probably have kept her afloat for some time but for the next attack. Suddenly, about 200 feet away from the lifeboats, the water parted and U-532 surfaced. In a sweeping motion the sub fired 40 mm rounds into the ship at waterline to seal her fate. The gun swept around until it was almost aimed at the lifeboats. The survivors expected to be killed any minute.
“One man dove to the bottom of the lifeboat,” said Uncle Vic. “It was a fearful moment, but I remember saying to him ‘there’s no point in trying to duck now.’ The side of the lifeboat was no protection against 40mm bullets.”
But no attempt was made by the sub to sink the lifeboats and it quickly slipped from sight. The lifeboats approached the Point Pleasant Park, but suddenly she heaved up on her bow and her main whistle started to blow as if issuing a warning to her crew to stay away. The flexing in the ship’s hull had caused the lanyard on the whistle to tighten between the bridge and the funnel, causing the whistle to blow. The whistle blew until she slipped beneath the waves, one hour and five minutes after the torpedo struck.
More than 500 miles lay between the survivors and Cape Town, more than 300 miles to the South African coast. Fortunately, all three boats were equipped with sails and one had an engine.
There was very little food or drinking water aboard the lifeboats. Water was rationed to one ounce of water per man. There was pemmican on board, but it was so salty they feared it would make them too thirsty and wasn’t eaten. Malted milk capsules and chocolate cubes were their only diet.
Even though they were in equatorial waters, it got very cold at night and the men huddled together to keep warm after sunset. “The pillow I laid my head on that first night was another man,” Uncle Vic said. “He was the guy with the broken back. He died during the night and was cold in the morning. Without too much ceremony we committed his body to the deep.”
His death brought the casualty count to nine. Forty-two of the ship’s crew were still in need of rescue.
The lifeboats tried to keep together, but on the second night they drifted apart. For nine days Uncle Vic’s lifeboat made its way toward Africa. On March 2, they reached Mercury Island, which was occupied temporarily by fishermen. One of the fishermen took the survivors to Luderitz Bay, the nearest place with a telephone. Within an hour the mine-sweeper-trawler Africana put to sea in search of the other two lifeboats. Those survivors were rescued the next day.
Royal Treatment by Residents
All the survivors were put up in a nice hotel in Luderitz Bay. The following day the merchants of the town took all of them to their stores where they let them pick out whatever clothing they wanted. Food, lodgings and drinks at the bar – all were paid for by the town merchants.
Vic Froude (left) in South Africa, wearing the new clothes given to him by local merchants.
Several days later, the survivors were transported to Cape Town. More new clothing was given to the men there by the Flying Angels Organization. They were put up in a good motel with all food and drinks paid for. Two months later when they finally had a chance to sail for home, the men were reluctant to leave!
By that time the war was over and on the sea voyage home, 20-year-old Vic saw something he’d never seen on a ship before – lights on at night. During the war all ships sailed in blackout conditions at night.
German Sends Wreath
Twenty-five years after the sinking of the Point Pleasant Park, the survivors erected a memorial to their lost comrades in Halifax. A letter was written to Ottawa to find out more information about the sinking. Ottawa, in turn sent letters to Germany. A detailed letter was received from the captain of U-532, where it was learned that the fatal torpedo had not been fired by U-532, but by U-510. U-532 had fired the final rounds of machine gun fire into the doomed ship. The captain of U510, Alfred Eick, wrote to say that his sub had fired the torpedo. He also sent $30 for a wreath to be placed at the base of the monument.
Uncle Vic continued to daunt death. He became a high steel rigger and worked on many high-rise projects in the U.S. and Canada, including the CN Tower in Toronto, before he retired. He died in Scarborough, Ontario on September 20, 2010 at the age of 85.
Ironworkers in the 1970s on the CN Tower in Toronto. Uncle Vic is in the red checked shirt, apart from others on the left of the photo.