Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Adventures in Canada

Made this short stop-motion video over US Thanksgiving break using the content of the interview in the posts below.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gower Bursey, Part 2

Calgary in the 1970s; photo courtesy of Temporal Tears

(I got to Calgary) at night, and I remember distinctly it was my birthday, March the 6th.  And, so I guess I had my brother’s address, ‘cause I arrived at my brother’s house somehow.  I was getting washed up and my brother and his brother-in-law Clarence-- they were out boozin’, I guess-- came in.  They called Clarence “June.”  I guess we were sort of friends…he was a little older than me.  He was a bit of a nutcase, but anyways, I guess we got along.  

So, they were up to no good.  I don’t think they held a job or whatever…y’know…they used to get odd jobs from time to time to keep going, and…I didn’t stay all that long, I was there for about a month.  We were all staying at my brother’s house, at that time he was married to Clarence’s sister-- and she had a temper, this one-- and back then, we got into a bit of trouble.  We got a bit rowdy and, uh…we ended up in the lock-up for a few nights, me and my brother.  Uh…Clarence came to pick me up from, it was a place called Spy Hill…that was where a people would lock people up short term for crazy stuff.  So you know, I remember driving back to my brother's place...June picked me up in a ’66 Pontiac, it was a sort of a greenish colour...great car, nice shape.  So anyway, we were getting close to my brother’s house and we were coming up over a hill and…(laughs)…I can see my bag out on the stoop, and Clarence’s bags were up there, too.  I guess that was our signal (chuckles)…we weren’t too welcome at my brother's house anymore.  So we threw the luggage in his car and we head, allright, here we go, westbound…west coast, headed for Vancouver.  

So we drove for about two hours, and we’re just getting in to the foothills of the Rockies, where the terrain starts to get into the mountains and stuff.  And we were talking back and forth and, I don’t know, but we decided to turn the car around and head to Toronto.  So I always wanted to go to Vancouver, but I never made it…so we turned the car and headed east towards Toronto. We were on the road for a long time.  Now keep in mind, it was still the wintertime.  We used to shovel snow, and make a few dollars here and there to find gas money to put in the car.  We were staying in hostels, sleeping in the car.  And in a place called Thunder Bay, up by Lake Superior, we got into an accident.  Somebody bolted out in front of the car and…oh…(laughs) and another humorous thing was June didn’t have a Driver’s License.  (Laughs) I don’t know if he ever had a Driver’s License, but I had a Newfoundland Driver’s License, and he only had a Learner’s Permit.  And we got stopped a couple of times by the cops but they let us go because I was the instructor.  No kidding!  I just thought of that…

Thunder Bay

But anyways, we had an accident in Thunder Bay, and we stayed at the Sally Ann and waited for the car because the car was out of commission...it was smashed up and everything else.  They had to get parts in because it was the weekend or they didn’t have the parts or something.  So they got us back on the road again, and we ended up in Downtown Toronto again.  I guess probably by this time it was early April…still the winter months, still cool.  And we ended up in a place, we had no money and we had a room, so we ended up at a place…at that time there were these big houses and they’d rent rooms or flats…people would supplement their income by renting a room out.  So we ended up at a house at 100 Seton Street…I don’t think the house is there now, it’s probably torn down.  So we had no money, but Junior had an electric razor.  So thinking back then, the room probably cost six bucks a week...so the guy (renting us the room) took the razor towards a week’s rent or something.  Back then, to get help from the government or social assistance -- I guess now welfare is what they call it-- you need an address, so by using Clarence’s razor to obtain the address that freed us up to qualify for welfare.  So I guess we stayed on there for a while, in this room.

Sherbourne Street and Howard Street; photo courtesy of Blog TO

100 Seaton Street today.  Photo: D. Bursey

Things get a little foggy at this time, ‘cause I left that house, and I think I probably moved to Scarborough.  I got out of the downtown core…it was crazy back then anyway.  I guess I probably got a job later on and…uh…I was driving a truck back then.  I guess that brought me to Scarborough.  June and I parted company so to speak, because I think he stayed on at Seton Street, and I lived in Scarborough, because I was working.  I had a small apartment over here. But I guess my brother ended up coming down from Alberta…after Clarence and I left Alberta, he brought his family down to Toronto.  June must have stayed on down at Seaton Street because my brother ended up looking after that rooming house later on.  I had a little place, and I was still boozin’ but being able to hold down I job…I spent all the money I made, but I muddled through.

My brother left the downtown core and moved to Scarborough.  Probably June stayed on down there for a little while longer because he ended up meeting my future sister-in-law through him visiting my brother on Birchmount Road after he moved from downtown.  And then I met my future wife.

It (was) one hell of a journey to get me to that point.  For the most part, I always had a job.  I moved to the point where I sort of kept down a job and I always seemed to have a few bucks in my pocket.

(Why did I leave Newfoundland?)  There were no jobs in Newfoundland.  I just wanted to do something.  I was young and restless.  So of course being here before with my parents in the 60s, I was sort of familiar with the place, so that’s why I came back to Toronto.

At first living, trying to put down stakes and to try to get started in life…meeting my future wife gave me a reason to do better, try harder.  Over time, yeah there was still an attraction to Newfoundland, but I guess my setting my own life up here in Toronto…my attraction to my old home diminished.  It was less and less a factor as time (went on).  (Of course this took time) because my life was fucked up.  I was in turmoil.  I was young and stupid, and a certain amount of rejection from my family didn’t help either, so anything I had to do to get on the path was a lot harder because actually I got next to no help, if not none.  Actually, probably no help from anyone.  I dunno…as time went by, I realized no rich relative was going to will me a billion dollars. I came to the conclusion if I’m ever going to have anything in my life…family, stuff…I was going to have to make it myself.  So I…worked a little harder.  Did a lot of working.  Ended up working for an outfit-- a sign and display company-- working there for ten years.  I learned a trade.

My home is Toronto.  There’s lots of things I like about this place-- lots of things I don’t like. Now I’m getting up to a point were retirement is sort of on the horizon.  Newfoundland has slowly, slowly slipped away.  I have fond memories of my childhood, but I’ve spent a total of 40 odd years in Toronto, and I’ve come to like the place.

Gower and Don Verge reunite in Newfoundland, late 2000s

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gower Bursey, Part 1

Gower and a friend, early 1970s

I guess it was probably sometime in 1972, me and a buddy of mine, we left a little town called Clarenville, in Newfoundland.  I can still remember the day-- it was probably late summer-- when my dad brought us up to the highway.  He was getting up in years at that time, his health wasn't all that good.  We sort of had that little touchy scene goodbye.  He wasn't a touchy-feely kinda guy, so we actually shook hands and I sort of remember him saying "well son, you may not see me alive anymore,” so he says "take care of your self" and I remember he had this saying "you make a bad bed, you'll have to lie in it"…I guess it’s basically self-explanatory…I guess it meant if you get in trouble, get in shit your going to have to get out of it the best way you can. So anyway, he drove away, and my buddy and I stuck out our thumbs and hoped for the best, headed Westbound on the Trans Canada Highway, headed for the big smoke, T.O.

Port-Aux-Basque, Newfoundland

Well, you know, several rides along the way, we stopped in a town about 150 miles west called Bishops Falls, um, nothing really significant, (it’s) just that I lived there in the mid 60's I guess and I know some people there, but we carried on.  One little funny story…basically, my friend there, Don, he had a watch, (and) he was washing up prior to getting on the boat-- because Newfoundland is an island of course-- at Port-Aux-Basque.  Ohh…(a) rough old miserable place, it's always raining, lots of rock, nothing will grow there…it looks like Mars, really.  So anyway, over on the other side, this guy approached us and asked us if we want to buy a watch, so Don said "maybe, let me see the thing." So sure enough was Don's watch.  He said, "under that leather strap, the initials are scratched DV for Don Verge.”  So the guy gave Don the watch.  I think (Don) gave him a couple of dollars, just to help him out anyway.  It was probably Don's fault because he had left the watch in the washroom anyways, so the guy picked it up.  That was something that sort of stuck in my mind.

Uh, on the way up y’know…sleeping in ditches, sleeping in abandoned cars and uh, parks, picnic tables…trailer parks were a good spot because there was generally somewhere to sleep and a washroom, somewhere to grab a shower, you could wash up.  We were eight days on the road, actually.  We arrived in Toronto about nine o'clock at night at my brother’s place, (in the) east end of Toronto, (in) Scarborough.  He and his wife were just recently married, I don't think they had any kids.  I remember he gave us some food, it was a can of stew, and he opened it up-- a can of Cordon Bleu stew-- and I think we had some toast and a glass of juice or something.  But, um, yeah, at that point I can sort of see him and his wife sort of nudging elbows back and forth and always looking at each other back and forth so (I said) "what's going on?"   He said: "You know where you guys should go right now?"  I said  "'Oh? I don't know, where's that?"  He said: "The Salvation Army has a hostel downtown.”  He said: "I'll bring you down.”

That was quite memorable.  I never forgot that, because that was a quite a point in my life.  I guess that sort of molded me in a way.

Yonge Street, Toronto, 1972.  Photo courtesy of Spacing Magazine

So Don and I went down there and we were sort of hanging out on the street with the rest of the bums, some old people, some young people, a lot of people were traveling around back then, you know, a lot of runaways I guess…just people coming to Toronto, looking for work.  You know…hanging around and drinking, and dope and every other damn thing.

We probably stayed a few months, uh, (at) the Sally Ann and the downtown core area, probably several months.  Thinking back on it, my buddy Don ended up going to a town 150 miles west called London, Ontario.  He had an older brother out there so I think he went to London and then I sort of hung around a little bit by myself.

I met up with a guy-- I think he was from Quebec-- and one day we decided to go out west.  Sort of the big spot out there was Vancouver…everything was happening out in Vancouver.  As a matter of fact, at that time, I had another brother living in Calgary, Alberta, uh, which is the province just before B.C, so I said well, here's an opportunity, I can stop and see my brother Lloyd.  We were of a similar age, he was 3 or 4 years older than me, so we left and headed out west.  I had all my belongings all in this army duffle bag, (a) green one, regulation army surplus.  Everything I owned-- everything.  So we hitched rides to Sudbury, I think we stayed there a few nights, probably the Sally Ann, I think it was, or some youth hostel.  Then we went west, carried on further west to a place called…ah I'm not sure.  But anyways, just to move the story along a little bit, we jumped the train and it brought us along to a place called-- uh, it's up around the lake head.  (Basically) we were on the train and one of the diesels-- it was a 3 diesel engine train-- I remember I threw my duffle bag at the engine, it got caught there so the other guy was on, I can't even remember this guys name actually.  We both got on the train, cheering, and then my duffle bag rolled off.  Keep in mind this is everything I own on the face of this earth is in that bag.  I said well, I got to make my mind up real quick-- stay on, or get off.  I chose to get off so, he went on, I never seen him after, don't know what the hell happened to him.

I got off at a town, it was called Hornpayne, Ontario, and you couldn't get there by car so I guess that was the second train we were on to get to this point.  I remember being in this little train station, snow on the ground, uh…this was probably in March, I would say, (of) 1972.  So anyway, at that time, I was by myself ‘cause the other guy carried on.  I was in the train station and this guy, this Aboriginal guy, came and said “you still here?”  I said “yeah.”  And he said “well, come to my place.”  He said, “we’re having a party tonight.  There’s nothing coming by here until about 4-o-clock in the morning.”  I remember him saying that basically he worked for the train company or something…there was two trains-- there was the Algoma Central, and there was the CNR train that went by there.  He said “if you get the right train, it will take you right in to Winnipeg, so you’ll be on your way then.”  So, I was drinking with these guys…this family, they had this party, there was lots of food, and a lot of firewater floatin’ around…  But anyway, I remember walking up to the engine…it was about four-o-clock in the morning, and I was half pissed but still had enough wherewithall, but I remember the air was so cold-- we were so far north, and I remember the sound of the frozen snow beneath my boots-- so I got on the train, I got on the diesel there…it was steamin’ up and getting ready to go, so I carefully tried to not have anyone see me, because it’s against the law to ride on the rails, y’know.  I opened the door and went up the stairs, and there was two guys in there.  They said “where the hell are you going?”  “Well, I’m hoping to make my way to see my brother out in Alberta.”  So, he said “well, you can’t ride on this train, but you can get a little warm up,” he said, “sit down there if you want.”  So between tired and half drunk, (at some point) I must have dozed off to sleep…so maybe the guys took pity on me or whatever, but they didn’t kick me off.  So I just carried on, on the train.

Once I got up to the main highway…don’t forget, there’s no roads up there where I was…the only way you can get there is by helicopter or by train.  So I went as far as a town called Armstrong, Ontario, and I remember some train inspector or something kicked me off the train.  I guess I probably asked around to see what train was going to Winnipeg, but I remember being in the bus stop in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Now that place is cold in the wintertime…real, real cold.  But, anyway, just to move the story along…(with) a combination of riding the rails and hitchhiking, I made it to Alberta.  It was at night, and I remember distinctly it was my birthday, March the 6th.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


My name is Tara Bursey.  I am a visual artist and folklore student from Toronto studying abroad in Baltimore, Maryland.  I am conducting field research for a project exploring the tradition of storytelling among Newfoundlanders, and how it has been carried on by members of the Newfoundland “diaspora”-- people who have moved away for a variety of reasons over the past half-century.  The main component of my research is collecting Newfoundland “stories of leaving.” Please take the time to share yours!

Please email your responses to the following questions to cleanteen@hotmail.com.  There is no deadline for responses.

1) Name:
2) Year and age you were when you left Newfoundland:
3) Current city/province/country of residence:

4) What is your story of leaving Newfoundland?  Please go into as much or as little detail as you would like regarding how and why you left, any difficulties you had adjusting to life in a different province/country, the social/political/economic context of Newfoundland at the time of your departure, etc.

All responses will be collected and posted on this blog for others to read and respond to.  Please spread the word!

Thank you.