Interview of Lorna Stuckless
Interviewer: Lorna, why don’t you give a little bit of background information about yourself?
Lorna: I was born in Eastport in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland at home with the help of a midwife, probably my grandmother. I lived in Eastport close to all my relatives until I was about eight years old. From there I moved four miles away to a land settlement – farming settlement – called Sandringham. My dad was the reason why we moved there. He was a sawmill operator and blacksmith – a man of all trades because he could turn his hand to most anything. He was also a church warden and an undertaker. My mother was a midwife and delivered all the children at that place. She was also the nurse who took care of the sick and the dying. People came to her for all kinds of advice.
I was always close to my mother and watched her at what she was doing, except delivering babies of course, which I didn’t know much about in those days. (chuckles) Anyway… I was always around older people, learning from them. My grandmothers had a great influence on my life. Both were wise ladies whom I looked up to a lot.
I came to Twillingate August of 1949 and found employment at the Notre Dame Memorial Hospital for two and a half years. I met and married my very talented husband, Gordan Stuckless, and was blessed with four wonderful children, three daughters and one son. I loved this historic and friendly town from the start and I always tried to do my best to help preserve its culture and heritage.
Interviewer: So what kind of work – paid or volunteering – were you doing in Newfoundland during the 70s or in the 80s?
Lorna: Well, in the 70s when my children were going to school, I was really interested in everything that went on at the PTA, the local drama club, and whatever. I wrote several short plays for our drama club and I did a fair amount of acting. I organized the Women’s Institute here in Twillingate; that was in ’68 and it’s been very active here. We also organized the Twillingate Museum and Craft Association in 1973. I was president of the Museum Association for awhile. Then later on I went to work at the museum as the curator of the museum and manager of the craft shop after working there voluntarily for three years.
Interviewer: So were most of these positions voluntary?
Lorna: Yes and I was also involved with the Development Association and local church organizations, etc.
Interviewer: Including women’s groups within the church?
Lorna: Yes, bible studies and workshops of all sorts. And you know, I spent a lot of time at the school too. I used to volunteer with the opportunity class. I taught the students how to knit, rug hook, and other simple crafts.
Interviewer: Opportunity class – what does that mean? Was it a class for children with disabilities?
Lorna: Yes. Yeah, I know its different now. But anyway, I really enjoyed that work with those kids.
Interviewer: So what issues affecting women were you interested in or concerned about during that time - during the 70s and 80s?
Lorna: All kinds of issues like helping women to be better homemakers. I helped encourage women to get involved in community organizations by sharing and participating in workshops, especially those involving craft work..
Things like that make a difference. It made a huge difference in my life. We helped each other just by listening to each other talk about how we overcome a lot of difficulties in our lives as we worked and shared ideas together.
Interviewer: So what type of issues did you identify?
Lorna: Health issues. We organized the Pap smear clinic here. The Women’s Institutes were responsible for that, and workshops on women and the law.
Interviewer: Oh, can you tell me a little bit about the women and the law workshops?
Lorna: That was at a WI convention in Gander. There was a lawyer there and women asked all sorts of questions, and got answers. It was really, really helpful!
Interviewer: Was it focused on women’s education or was it focused on getting women involved with the law?
Lorna: All sorts of education including how to make out a will, the importance of it, and how to deal with problems within the family. I know it was very helpful at the time to a lot of people. The workshop was helpful for women who came from all over the province.
Interviewer: So some of the issues that were identified were obviously very personal, for yourself and/or other members. What were those issues, if you don’t mind? Can you name some of them? … I know one issue affecting women sometimes in rural areas may be domestic violence. Did you encounter examples of that?
Lorna: Oh yes, for sure – and custody of children was also a big issue.
Interviewer: What kind of situations do you think brought on these custody battles?
Lorna: I guess, you know, differences within the family. I never had to cope with that kind of thing, but some people did.
Interviewer: So how did you get involved with some of these issues? You’ve already mentioned the workshops with the WI. Were you involved in any other organization that focused on them?
Lorna: In church groups sometimes. We had workshops, you know, on concerns women had within their families and within the church, and whatever. The sharing was very helpful. Just finding out that somebody else has gone through similar things can help. It’s great! One of the best things in the world is to share something that hurts with someone and they’ll say, “Oh, my dear, I know all about that. I’ve had the same thing happen to me and this is how I cope with it and I recommend it to you.”
Interviewer: Do you feel that women’s roles have changed since the 70s?
Lorna: Yes, because there are more women now involved in politics and religion. For instance, women are taking on more leadership roles.
Interviewer: What do you think led to those changes?
Lorna: I think women getting together and talking about the issues that concerned them, as well as fighting for their rights, helped lead to change. Also, getting on Open Line! (laughter) I never did that but I heard an awful lot of women on there who had the gall to speak up and talk about what’s on their mind.
Interviewer: Would you say that you stepped outside of the traditional role of a woman in the 70s or 80s in any way? If yes, then what motivated you to do so?
Lorna: Well, my mother always felt liberated (chuckles) to do what she wanted to do, and my father was always supportive. I guess I kind of followed that role and was determined to not let anybody stop me from doing what I wanted to do. Sometimes I have encountered a little opposition, but there’s a way to get around that too! (laughs)
Interviewer: So what women’s issues or community concerns were identified in some of the projects you’ve been involved with?
Lorna: I’m really interested in the heritage of the community. For awhile it was being destroyed… well it still is actually. Take Twillingate harbour for instance; it was just businesses and wharves right around. You could almost walk around from wharf to wharf. Also, there were a lot of beautiful businesses and restaurants, plus a movie theatre, courthouse, customs office, CNT office, and cobbler, sail maker and copper shops.
When I came here, Twillingate was so different than what it is now. You know, it’s unbelievable! You could go to a store and buy anything you needed, from a wedding gown to a button. Now you can’t find a button, and that’s the truth! It’s terrible to think about how the big multi-corporations have taken over our communities, because this was a thriving community when I came here in 1949. Confederation may have brought with it progress in some ways, but it certainly destroyed our wonderful way of life.
Interviewer: So let’s identify some of the projects that you’ve been involved with, and consider them individually. You’ve mentioned the Women’s Institute. What else were you involved in? You were also involved in the Rural Development Association correct?
Lorna: Yes, and I was involved with the church, PTA, Twillingate Museum, Red Cross, Girl Guides and Brownies. I took the first troop of Brownies off this island to a camp near Botwood and had a fantastic time. At the camp, I was a craft instructor and looked after about 25 girls with the help of one guide, which was quite a challenge.
I remember there was one little girl that was crying all the time; nearly every day she would cry herself to sleep because her family was breaking up. I said to her, “My love, I believe your bangs are too long. I think you need a little bit of a hair cut because your hair comes down to the corners of your eyes and makes your eyes water.” And she said, “Do you think so?” and I said, “Yeah, I think. I’m going to get the scissors now and cut off a little bit of your hair.” So that’s what I did and her tears dried up. I never saw her cry anymore while we were at camp. God love her! I’ve actually talked to her since then and she thanked me for that. (chuckles)
During the summer of 1973, I also helped coordinate and host a group of 30 mature Canada World Youth students. They were here from early July until late August living with families and working in the community. Half of them were from Cameroon Africa and they partnered with students from across who had just returned from Africa after living and working with families there. It was quite the challenge keeping them occupied with meaningful work. It was my job to plan entertainment and keep them happy. That was fun because we learned to do some of their traditional dance, music and songs.
Interviewer: Those are wonderful stories. So how did you and other Women’s Institute members promote women’s education or economic status in Twillingate?
Lorna: Through workshops women learned to be better homemakers and craft workers and/or instructors. We did macramé, leather work, and all sorts of quilting and sewing. The women made all sorts of beautiful handcrafts, and they wanted an outlet to sell their craft work in order to make some money for themselves. So several WI members, including myself, saw the opportunity and created a craft shop when the museum came on stream. Being a member of the museum association right away, I saw what could be done there. I worked hard at it too, let me tell you. But anyway, we developed this little craft shop and it grew and grew, and it is still very vibrant today. It’s a well visited tourist attraction in the area.
Interviewer: What type of work was involved in getting that craft shop started? What was that process like?
Lorna: Well, in every group there are two or three with the ambition and the foresight of seeing what can be the result of their labour. So I was one. (chuckles) My children were grown up by that point – and very helpful and supportive I might add – so I had more spare time. There were a lot of younger women who couldn’t do the things that I was doing. I could stay up until 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning at the museum by myself getting things ready for a bus tour coming in the next day, for example. I always tried to make everything look as good as possible for visitors.
Interviewer: Do you think that you were a role model for other women, for instance; setting an example on how to get involved in the community to improve the lives of others?
Lorna: I don’t know. Do you think I was?
Interviewer: Well, if you said no, I was going to ask how many people might disagree with you!
Lorna: (laughs) Well, I guess to a certain extent I was. I’ve tried to be a role model and just help out wherever possible.
Interviewer: How do you think you might have been a role model? Can you explain how the type of work you did made a difference there?
Lorna: Today when I was housecleaning, I came across all these beautiful letters from people about how their lives were affected by things I said and done.
I did help find work for some women. There’s a woman employed now with the fish, fun and folk festival, doing all the work I had done on a volunteer basis. She’s getting paid for that now as a coordinator, which is good. I’m glad. And then there are three women who work part time and full time at the museum right now.
I did a lot to get that craft shop started, you know, although I can’t say I did it myself. There were many nights where I sat up and ironed brown paper bags (chuckles) and made raisin buns to sell to visitors. Along with that, I used to press flowers and make my own greeting cards. I thought to myself, “Oh, someone might like to buy some of these,” so I started to produce them to sell at the craft shop. After all, I had to help in order to make enough money to pay our salaries. So I worked tooth and nail, let me tell you. One winter I made one thousand pressed flower cards and one thousand bookmarks beside duffle mitts and slippers. It’s little wonder my old heart needs a pace maker now-a-days! (chuckles)
Interviewer: So that work ethic is definitely something that people could look up to and try to strive for. What about your work for children with disabilities; do you feel like you’ve been a role model for them?
Lorna: Yes I suppose. Well, there’s one little girl in particular that I taught how to knit. She knit sweaters afterwards and sold them at the craft shop – bless her heart! Then a couple of years ago she knit a sweater and a cap, and gave it to my little granddaughter for a present. I thought that was so wonderful.
Interviewer: As a result of your community involvement, what other types of organizing or developments came into being?
Lorna: I also organized the first tourism association here in this area in the early seventies. Several groups have invited me in to talk about tourism growth and development in this area. I really worked hard at that because for years I could see the downsizing of the fishery. I felt that we needed to have something that could possibly help outport communities survive if this should happen.
Tourism has certainly helped the economy of this community because I’ve witnessed it over the years. I’ve helped organize tourism information workshops for the students who are working in tourist chalets and things of that sort, as well as people working at the museum.
Interviewer: In a workshop sponsored by the Women’s Institute, a Widows Resource Booklet was put together. Can you describe how that was organized?
Lorna: People from the Provincial Women’s Institute would sometimes come to the different branches with information on presenters and ask if we would like a workshop with them. For instance one woman, Jane Robinson, was interested in helping widows in our community so we organized a workshop. Jane came to Twillingate and talked to women. Several widows in our organization were taught how to get together themselves and help each other. She developed a wonderful information book for these women, which was very helpful I’m sure. So if we needed a resource person to teach or inform us about something like that, you could ask the WI provincial board and they would find someone to come out and give a workshop on any subject to enhance the quality of life for rural women and their families.
The WI provincial board was very closely connected with each government department as well as the Newfoundland and Labrador Handicraft division. A current list with names of field workers and instructors was sent to the provincial office annually. When a minimum of 8-10 members in a rural branch were interested to get an instructor to teach rug hooking for example, a request would be sent to the provincial office. Every effort would be made to obtain a suitable instructor or resource person for whatever help was needed, with no cost to the branch members except for craft supplies, etc. Many women throughout the province took advantage of this golden opportunity to help themselves and often help subsidize the family income. I’ve been asked myself to do workshops on duffle embroidery and pressed flower crafts. I’ve conducted several over the years and enjoyed it to the full – always learning from others in the process.
Interviewer: So you were very responsive to community requests in that way?
Interviewer: So what role did you and the Women’s Institute have in preserving rural Newfoundland’s heritage, specifically in relation to the Twillingate Museum?
Lorna: Well, the Twillingate Museum was the old Anglican Church rectory. In 1968, I believe, the first museum was in an old house with hardly any parking space. It was close to the water and the foundation was really poor. So committee members were on the lookout for a more suitable location to house the many precious artifacts donated by local residents.
When a new priest came to the Anglican Parish, he was a young man, just married. After he was here for a little while, I said to Reverend John Spencer, “wouldn’t this old house make a good museum” because the floor was all rickety. It was too big so the place was expensive to run. We talked about it and John called a meeting together. He was dynamic. (chuckles)
Some people were opposed to the idea but a lot were in favour. We organized a committee and eventually the old rectory became the museum, which was absolutely wonderful. Reverend Spensor was the first committee chairman. The Museum Association then applied for a grant to get the floors renovated and to get some display cases, and whatever. So in 1973 we moved into the old Anglican Rectory for the first time.
Interviewer: So it all eventually came together but what type of opposition did you encounter regarding the museum’s new location, and how did you deal with that?
Lorna: Our argument was that since we had a ferry coming to the island, visiting clergy and the bishop didn’t need to stay overnight like they used to. Plus they didn’t need all the space that was in that house since people weren’t having as many children as they used to either. So we sorted it all out and came to the realization that it was an added expense to the parish to keep it warm and keep it up. So that’s how we overcame opposition. You will always get these people who are against lots of things, but you just need to talk to them the right way. (chuckles) And Reverend John was good at that too.
I also talked to the Women’s Institute and the Museum Association about older buildings being destroyed, and wrote to the town council with our concerns but we got very little response.
Interviewer: So what came out of that process? Did you help change people’s minds about some of the decisions they were making?
Lorna: Well, some I did. Our Women’s Institute took over the old customs building, which is one of the oldest buildings in Twillingate. The Women’s Institute and myself, I was president at the time, wanted to see that old buildings were preserved. That building is still very well taken care of by them now. And, of course, the Women’s Institute had a lot to do with the organization of the museum too.
Interviewer: Well, how important do you think the creation of the Twillingate Museum was to preserving women’s history?
Lorna: You’ve heard of Miss Edith Manuel, haven’t you?
Lorna: Yeah. Well, we’ve got a room sort of dedicated to her. She was born a cripple with dislocated hips - a very wonderful woman and educator. She made it through all kinds of difficulties, and she was the founder of Girl Guides in Newfoundland. She did a lot for this province in many ways.
Interviewer: I heard that she wrote books for the schools.
Lorna: The Newfoundland and World geographies book was studied in high school, and she also wrote the history of St. Peter’s Church.
Interviewer: Do you know what she was involved in during the 70’s and the 80’s?
Lorna: Yeah, she was involved with the Vera Perlin School. She was certainly involved with children who had disabilities. In the room we’ve dedicated to her, there are a lot of gifts given her from the Vera Perlin School as well as certificates of appreciation and things like that. She was a wonderful woman. She was in the process of writing the history of Twillingate when she died.
I always thought the high school should have been named after her but unfortunately, it was named after Dr. Olds instead. The library at the hospital was already dedicated to him and I thought that was sufficient. He was not an educator or didn’t have as big a part in education as she did. She was a very dedicated person and she was born in Twillingate.
Interviewer: So how was that decision made?
Lorna: Well, I think there were two or three names suggested for the students to vote on. They probably knew little about other options they could vote for given that all the students at least recognized who Dr. Olds was. He lived in Twillingate then, whereas Miss Edith was living in St. John’s. The students knew very little about her.
Interviewer: So how did you make your voice heard in terms of bringing attention to that issue?
Lorna: Well even after the high school was named after Dr. Olds, I thought about the elementary school. I talked to the principal and at PTA meetings about it, but nothing ever came of it. I thought to myself, “well, she will get recognized because I’ll do something at the museum,” and I did.
Interviewer: So how important is it, do you think, to obtain and maintain women’s history, particularly in rural areas that may be neglected?
Lorna: I think children need to learn about their past, about the people who helped form their community and who had important roles there. I mean, how can you go into your future without any knowledge of where you came from? It’s a shame there isn’t more of our own local history taught in our schools to let children know who their ancestors were; such as what they did or how they grew up and made life into what it is today.
When I first came to this community it had its own courthouse, theatre, hospital, and many thriving businesses. To see it all go, as it is now, is enough to break your heart; especially with all our young people having to go away. A few are fortunate to obtain summer jobs.
Interviewer: Have you ever thought of ways of changing that or ways of providing jobs? How do you think young people may be able to change that?
Lorna: I’m sure they could if enough people got together, because there’s enough brains in Newfoundland to come up with some more work for young people than what’s available now. I’m sure we could come up with more options for young women of our province, in particular.
Interviewer: So what other potential did you see in founding and developing the Twillingate Museum, other than what has already been mentioned? Can you think of anything else?
Lorna: The last project I saw completed before I retired was the preservation of all of Georgina Sterling’s memorabilia, such as her opera jacket, hats and jewelry. It all needed to be properly preserved. Thanks to the advice and assistance of the Newfoundland and Labrador Museum Association for providing conservators and planners who helped make the project the success that it turned out to be.
Interviewer: How did the Twillingate Museum project create opportunities for women in the community?
Lorna: Well, it created jobs for craft producers. There are people that work all winter long to supply the craft shop with all sorts of things from quilts, rugs, and knitted goods. They look forward to the money they make on sales at the shop. Also, there’s a new manager and curator there now, the position I held for 26 years. Also many students find summer work there.
Interviewer: How were you involved with the Rural Development Board? What role or position did you hold in comparison to the other members?
Lorna: I was on the executive and was vice-president back in the late 60s and 70s. I was the only woman, mind you – the only woman on the executive.
Interviewer: What was that experience like?
Lorna: Well, it was a challenge but I enjoyed it. Week after week at meetings with only men, I had a tussle. (chuckles) But I must say they were very good. When I started the festival, they thought I was a loony; but they soon found out that it was very beneficial to this place, and it still is.
Interviewer: So do you remember the type of issues identified during those meetings and how you addressed them, especially if ideas faced opposition from others? Do you remember how you dealt with those issues?
Lorna: I can get along with most anybody, and sometimes I can twist their arms too. (laughs) I remember when I first started talking about the festival. I needed help with planning entertainment, choosing space, and making display booths. I knew exactly what I wanted. It was difficult getting the idea across because other people had other ideas in mind. I remember going by myself from business to business and talking to store managers saying, “This is what I have in mind. I want to show off this community to the people who come by serving them traditional meals, by having our own entertainment and by showing them what we can do here in terms of making things – handicrafts, music and drama. So I need space and a lot of display booths with room to actually have people doing the work and showing off what they can do.”
So that’s what I wanted and that’s what I got. Everybody cooperated. It was wonderful but it took a lot of talking. (chuckles) I wanted some money from the businesses to help get this thing off the ground.
Interviewer: What sort of challenges did that pose?
Lorna: Well, believe it or not, the first one I went to was the business that I deal with all the time, and that was Manuel’s, then known as Arthur Manuel Ltd. I talked to Mr. Manuel about it and he said, “My dear that sounds like a good idea – anything to bring a few dollars in this place. I’ll start you off by giving you this cheque,” and he gave me a cheque for $100. I nearly died. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “Oh boy, you got that much confidence in what I’m trying to do” (chuckles) He was right enthusiastic about it from the start. That was my biggest donation, but everybody seemed to help one way or another.
Through rural development I applied for a grant from the government. It was an incentive grant then for advertising purposes only from the Department of Tourism. The government was trying to encourage summer festivals or some other kind of entertainment out in rural Newfoundland communities, to promote tourism. But I had to come up with money to rent the stadium, build booths, buy decorations, and all sorts of other things.
The Women’s Institute was also fantastic in helping to pull it all together. I wrote to the provincial board and told them the ideas I had in mind. They were so excited that they wrote letters to all the branches, providing free advertising right around the province. You wouldn’t believe how many members of the Women’s Institute appeared for the first festival! I was amazed and truly overwhelmed, you know. It was wonderful.
Interviewer: Do you remember the type of challenges you had in getting the money and getting this all started because you kind of started off doing all of this work by yourself, correct?
Lorna: Yes, it was my idea at first but I then thought, “You can’t do this by yourself,
you got to have a committee and get someone to take care of entertainment, venues and meals.” We had a tussle trying to get the Recreation Commission on our side. A Fish, Fun, and Folk Festival committee was organized in the spring of 1980. We needed the stadium because if you expected people to go in their booths and bring their handicrafts, all the stuff needed to be under cover in case of bad weather. I knew I could get the stadium but when we went in the night before to decorate, the men were playing ball hockey and I was told that we couldn’t do it until the next morning.
Boy, what a task we had on our hands the next day with the festival starting at 2 o’clock that afternoon. I will never forget it as long as I live. That day we had our parade all organized. People built all these wonderful floats. So everyone seemed to be excited and getting involved.
The parade started on the Anglican church parking lot and I, of course, was over at the stadium making sure everything was alright. There were a few flutters in my heart because I knew, as the chairperson, I had to get out on the stage and welcome everyone. So I was just making sure that I had the chairs all fixed and the stage all ready for when the band – the Sea Cadet Band – arrived. When they opened the doors at the end of the stadium, I was by the stage. I’ll never forget the feeling of that for as long as I live.
When I saw that band come in, behind it were all the Cadets, Girl Guides, Brownies, and community organizations. The line of floats outside was incredible. I even choke when I think about it now. So here I was up on the stage and I started to cry when I saw all of this happening. Then I thought to myself, “I’d better smarten up (chuckles) because I got to get out there and welcome this crowd now.” The stadium was actually filled full of people – people from everywhere. I’ll never forget it. It’s the best thing I ever witnessed in my life. (chuckles) The experience of taking an idea you have in mind, being able to get it across, and then actually seeing it all come together is amazing! I welcomed the invited guests, participants and visitors, and thanked God for such a beautiful day and for everyone’s help and encouragement.
A number of wonderful crafts people, even the older men in the community and people from New World Island, came and filled their booth space. We had one fellow making a lobster pot and another fellow knitting twine. The senior citizens were all involved as well. They had a beautiful booth, and were all dressed up in their hats and everything. I kind of suggested to them what to do; but anyway, they had brought homemade bread with them and were cooking a pot of jam on a hot plate, giving visitors a taste of partridgeberry jam on a piece of bread. That went over so well.
There were a lot of other things going on including one person knitting, another carding wool, and someone with a spinning wheel spinning the wool. Strangers would ask all about what they were doing, and it was absolutely fantastic to see it all. In addition, we had fish splitting contest and a fish market. Overall it seemed everybody in the community got involved; the lions club, boy scouts… there were children everywhere! It was wonderful, and it’s still going on, though it is not quite the same anymore for me.
After awhile, people from all over the province saw how successful it was and wanted to come sell their crafts. They came from Corner Brook and Bell Island, and everywhere with their wares. We felt, at least, we couldn’t turn them away because they would probably bring others with them.
So it’s a bit different now but it’s still wonderful. There are an awful lot of festivals around the province now that came into being after that. I received phone calls from everywhere asking things like; “How did you get started?” or “Where did you get the idea?” and all that kind of stuff. Well, I tell them; “you have to think about what you have to offer in your particular community, come up with a plan, and get to work on it.”
Interviewer: When you had to develop and write project proposals– what sorts of processes were involved? Can you give one example?
Lorna: Well, after we got the craft shop going, we soon ran out of space. So I put a proposal together saying, “listen, this is what we’ve done to this point, this is what we would like to see done, and this is what we know will happen if we had the space.” I pointed it all out to the Twillingate/New World Island Development Association, including figures of what we were already doing. I went to the Development Association with my proposal and it got passed through our local association. There were no problems whatsoever getting our proposal approved by the provincial department of rural development.
Interviewer: So your work has definitely focused on economic development in the area of Twillingate, correct?
Lorna: I must have been doing something right because in 1985 I was awarded the Doug Wheeler Award for my contribution to Newfoundland tourism by the Department of Development and Tourism. Then again at the 20th anniversary of the Fish, Fun, and Folk Festival I was presented with a plaque in recognition of my role as founder of the festival in celebrating the heritage, the culture, the people, and the Town of Twillingate by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The 20th anniversary of the Fish, Fun, and Folk Festival was dedicated to me, which was a great honour indeed. On that occasion I was also recognized by our Town Council and members of the festival committee, for which I was very grateful.
Interviewer: Overall, do you think that by creating paid work for women and valuing the work that they do that you have helped bring women together to provide them with opportunities to talk about other issues affecting their lives?
Lorna: Yes! I’m sure.
Interviewer: How do you think that what you were doing was improving the lives of women and their work?
Lorna: As women, we often don’t think that our work is good enough to sell, but I reassured women that it was. If a piece of work was not up to our standards at the craft shop, I’d just talk to them and say, “Look, my love, if you would tie in the ends of your piece of work and try to do it this way the next time, you can make it more presentable.” If said in a kind and positive way, they certainly didn’t take offence to it.
Interviewer: So you helped to improve their skills and also build their confidence at the same time. What other challenges existed for improving women’s paid work in this area?
Lorna: Oh yeah, there was a 12% tax levied on crafts. That was when Premier Peckford was in power. Anyway, I noticed that people weren’t buying like they use to. So I explained to the government that women were already paying tax on their wool and other materials. I didn’t think that was right that they were taxing the women’s time too, which meant that they had to pay double tax on a lot of their handicrafts.
So I wrote a letter and sent a copy to the provincial board of the Women’s Institute. They supported what I had written and also wrote a letter to the Premier. Then all the branches from all over the province wrote letters of support. Shortly after I received a letter saying the 12% tax would be taken off all local handicrafts.
Interviewer: How long did that take?
Lorna: It didn’t take long. We saw that sales were going down because we had to put a further mark-up on crafts along with the high government tax, to make a profit. It meant that things were just getting too expensive for our customers.
Interviewer: So something had to be done.
Lorna: Well, the producers were having second thoughts about making things like they used to. So I helped fix that and sales certainly increased as soon as the tax was dropped.
Interviewer: Given all the projects and things we’ve talked about, are there any other issues or things learned that you would like to share?
Lorna: I think your attitude towards life in general - your own attitude – has a rippling effect on all those you come in contact with. If you have a positive attitude, and if you talk to people in a way that they understand and are satisfied with, then you’ll get results. So far in this life, I haven’t had too much trouble with anybody I’ve been in contact with.
Interviewer: So what other actions have you taken to address issues that you have identified in your community? How did you get involved?
Lorna: I’ve done a lot of voluntary work at the hospital. Also, I was involved in Al-anon, and I found it to be a wonderful, wonderful support group. It was there for me when I needed it. I tried to organize a group here but it’s a difficult program to get going. I talked to a lot of women who I knew had the same or similar problems that I had to deal with. I’ve certainly helped them too. I’ve been called out of my bed many, many times to come to someone’s aid. In this process, you also get help yourself.
Interviewer: You had some challenges getting that program started and, unfortunately, it didn’t come through, but what was that experience like?
Lorna: Well, my first introduction to that program was through a dear friend who was actually our provincial secretary of Women’s Institute, a very wonderful woman. I didn’t show up for several meetings, and she found out the reason why I couldn’t come. She was going through the same sort of difficulties as I was with alcoholism in the family and so she wrote me a letter and sent me a lot of information about Al-anon. We went to an Al-anon meeting together in 1976, and until this very day I’ve heard from her on a regular basis. So anyway, I continued going to several meetings when I’d go to St. John’s for WI board meetings. I served on the provincial board for 12 years.
There’s a loaner program where you can get information from Al-anon all the time in the form of a magazine called The Forum. The whole experience with this program has been and continues to be a real blessing in my life. I’ve helped a few people in my lifetime just by sharing with them that experience during the 70’s and the 80’s. At that time, I was so involved in everything. I feel now that I didn’t put all I should’ve into it. It’s difficult for someone to come out in the open with something like that, which strongly affects their life. It was a long, long time before I did; but thank God I did.
Al-anon, unlike AA or ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, is a program for families affected by alcoholism. There’s a teen program too called Ala-teens, which is also very good. It’s a fantastic program and I’d like to see it organized here. Through Al-anon, friends, and my faith in God, I’ve learned how to deal with this terrible sickness. The home situation has improved a lot since the 70s and 80s for which I am very grateful.
Interviewer: I think you are very brave for sharing your experience. It’s an issue that young people need to hear about because I’m sure they, too, are often faced with it.
My next question relates to changes in the health care unit in Twillingate during the late 80’s. What concerned you about the changes that were happening, and how did you get involved?
Lorna: The first thing that I noticed was that we were losing our doctors. One change affecting this loss came from a decision that there was not going to be any more surgeries performed here in Twillingate. That was indeed a shock just after our new hospital was built. Many women in the community, including myself, were very fond of one doctor in particular, Dr. Chaulker. She was a surgeon, and a good one. When I heard that she was leaving Twillingate, I didn’t know where to turn. So I brought attention to the issue at a Women’s Institute meeting. I asked everyone, “what can we do about it? We got to do something.” So I wrote a letter to the board of directors at the hospital and another to Dr. Chaulker on behalf of Women’s Institute. She did stay for awhile longer, but eventually had to leave.
That’s not the only thing that changed; everything was changing! We had a wonderful obstetric unit over there. Everybody was so excited when the hospital got a new nursery and birthing bed. But that’s all gone. Now we have to go to Gander for it all. I don’t think it’s fair to a community this size.
Interviewer: So how were women, in particular, affected by the changes that occurred?
Lorna: For one thing, young people from here started having to go to Gander to have their babies. Even on the stormiest kind of a night, they have to drive to Gander for the delivery. There aren’t any midwives like my mother years ago. I guess she wouldn’t be allowed to deliver now. It’s terrible. It’s not logical or sensible. We’ve had public meetings here about it, but I guess the ‘powers that be’ had their plans made already.
I don’t think we’ll ever come back to where we were for a second, and it’s too bad. It’s a shame to take away the things that our ancestors worked hard to get. If they couldn’t afford to pay the hospital, for instance, people use to carry a dozen eggs, berries, fish, and stuff like that, if they had it, to keep the hospital running and the patients fed. It was the pride of Notre Dame Bay.
Thankfully we still have our Health Centre and long-term care unit. I do think, though, that there are too many prescription drugs used, especially among the older folks. It’s a big issue and it’s not only here – it’s everywhere and it’s frightening.
I’m also concerned about changes affecting young people in the community and how it’s damaging to their health. These darn old games they play. You never see children playing outdoors anymore. They’re in front of the television or fooling with these silly video games. If you try to talk to them, they don’t hear you or there is no response whatsoever. I wonder what effect it’s going to have on their minds and bodies.
Interviewer: So what are your fondest memories that you remember in the 70’s or the 80’s involving your community work?
Lorna: Some of my fondest memories come from my participation in Women’s Institute. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to serve on our provincial board, to attend provincial and national conventions, and to meet and share ideas with women from all over Canada and around the world. And, of course, the festival is one of the best things that ever happened in my life... (chuckles) especially when my friends came year after year – gee what fun we all enjoyed!
Interviewer: What one message or fact would you like young people to know about to encourage them to get involved in changing their communities?
Lorna: Well, one thing that helped me a lot was through talking with older people in my community. When I was growing up, I was always interested in my family’s history and knowing about how my community and the way of life that I was enjoying developed. Also, it’s important to always have a positive attitude. I always think of a glass half full.
Also, I always loved to read autobiographies of important women, especially local ones. There’s a lot of good information out there. I would like to tell young people to take the best of it and use it. There’s always someone that you can call on. Plus, don’t ever try to hide anything. Be honest and upright and you’ll never be afraid to come face to face with anyone.
Interviewer: So do you think you’ve encouraged other women to become activists in their communities and to find their voices?
Lorna: Yes, I think I have, although you don’t always know sometimes who is watching. I remember one day I went to the post office and received a letter from someone in Twillingate. I remember going up on Tickle Point, very upset over some issue in my life, and I opened up this envelope. In it was a beautiful letter from someone I really didn’t know very well. She told me that her Salvation Army Home League had a project requiring members to let somebody know in the community that they were looking up to them or do something nice for someone. She said, “I’ve always looked up to you and thought you were a wonderful person. I’ve noticed you many times; how you’ve always had a positive outlook on everything and how you look to God for an answer. I can see it shining through your eyes.” That’s what she said and I’ll never forget it. She said that others looked up to me too. She had it so beautifully put together. What a lift that gave me that day. If you can make a difference in one persons life, that’s a real blessing.
Interviewer: So how big of a role did your involvement with community activist work or struggles for fairness play in your life? Do you have any work that sort of stands out as being most important to you in that respect?
Lorna: Well, I always think about people I’ve dealt with on a one-to-one basis. People have called me in the middle of the night to ask if they could come and talk to me, or if I could go to where they were. Knowing that I’ve helped someone in a situation has been one of the most wonderful blessings in my life.
Interviewer: So where do you think your motivation and drive as a community activist came from? Can you remember events that sort of sparked that interest?
Lorna: It came from my grandmothers and my mother. My mother was a wonderful, wonderful woman. She was a midwife. She delivered 153 babies in her lifetime and never once lost a baby or a mother. I’ve got a book with all the children’s names and their birthdays. My mother’s name is Irene and I bet there are at least 50 little girls named after her, by either their first or second name.
Both my mother and my grandmothers were such strong women who got such joy out of helping others. People came to mom for everything. She had such a calm way; I’m sure she could hypnotize or something. (chuckles) She was so kind and good. She helped with all the sick and dying in our community.
Interviewer: So what work do you think still needs to be done in your community of Twillingate to make it a more fair, positive, or healthier environment for its members?
Lorna: It needs more cooperation. On this island alone, there are a number of small communities. They need to plan and work together. I think cooperation between people can produce more good for the larger community.
Interviewer: So what sort of things would you like them to address if we could manage to cooperate and work together?
Lorna: I would like them to make an effort to come up with some industries or something to create more work for people so they wouldn’t have to leave home. And I’d like for people to be more satisfied with less.
Interviewer: Less is more in your philosophy?
Lorna: That’s right because, you know, bigger cars, more furniture and bigger houses don’t mean very much. The most important thing in life is keeping family home, being together, and supporting each other.
Interviewer: Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
Lorna: I hope it’s of some use to you, my dear, because I tends to ramble on…and on.