Traditions and Stories Strengthen our Community
[slideshow]In the latest Clyde River lecture, David Weale told us when communities cease to take part in their own traditions, they start living someone else’s story, and the only way to counter this trend is to revive or take up our own traditions and, in the process, create our own stories.
David said that when he was driving out to Clyde River for his lecture, he heard a radio interview with the father of one of the five young lost fisherman in Wood’s Harbour, Nova Scotia. The statement that resonated with him was the father saying that if he needed 50 boats to go out there to search for the boys from his community and neighbouring communities, there would be 50 boats that would go out tomorrow if he put out the plea. That is what a community does. They share the good times, the bad times and come together in force to deal with tragic times. They know each other stories, generations of stories, so when something happens to one, they all feel it.
David says we all represent a story, a story about ourselves, the lives we have lived and continue to live. We share that story with our family, friends, neighbours and all those we come in contact with in our lives. And within those stories are traditions, many of which are long gone, others existing in some form and ones that are new.
“A community does not exist just because they live in proximity to one another. They have to engage and do things with one another.”
Communities need their own stories, and traditions and stories go hand in hand. They demonstrate what we find important, what we value. It is dangerous when we lose control of them. Mass media presents us with many stories about what we should buy into, who we ought to be and what we need to consume. At the local level, we need to engage in our stories.
David made reference to the Clyde River community resolutions series and our latest one about “starting or re-starting a tradition.” In preparation for his lecture, he wrote down all the community traditions that he could think of from Island history and went through them with us one by one.
- The Pound Party – A community event where people would take a pound of something to help a family in need.
- The Basket Social – Ladies would prepare baskets and auction them off to the highest bidders and then the buyers would have the delight of enjoying the basket lunch with those ladies.
- The Frolic – We may know it more as a “working bee” where people would come together to combine work and leisure. They would labour all day in order to earn the opportunity to have a social of food and music afterwards. It satisfied the need to be industrious and the need to get together and have a good time.
- The Mayflower Expedition – When mayflowers would appear in early Spring in PEI, people would go out to the country on the train and pick baskets of mayflowers to take back home.
- Ground Spruce Christmas Excursion – In St. Georges, PEI, the whole community would go to the woods and gather ground spruce which was later used to decorate the church for Christmas and offer an opportunity for a social.
- The Summer Tea Party – It was often the biggest social event of the year where community members decorated booths or set up a horse ring (a carousel that was driven by a horse and offered a ride for kids). The tea was called a Sunday School Picnic in some communities.
- Christmas Concert – Children from the school would put on a concert.
- Dress-up Skating Carnival – People would dress up and get together for a skate.
- The Wake – When people passed, the deceased would be waked within the community. David says nowadays, so many residents who have lived their entire lives in one community are more often taken elsewhere to be waked.
- Parties – House dances, crokinole parties, card parties, concerts
- The Chiverie – When the neighbours in the community would dress up and show up to chiverie newlyweds which involved banging pots and pans, shooting guns, placing spruce needles in their bed or animals in the house.
- Ice Racing – Neighbours would get together to race their horses on the frozen river and others would gather to watch.
- Bridal and community showers – An event to celebrate an upcoming or recent marriage where the community would offer gifts.
- Decorating an Easter bonnet – Decorate a hat in celebration of Easter. The Clyde River Women’s Institute still celebrates this tradition.
In Clyde River, some of the traditions that we still take part in would include our annual Strawberry Social, Christmas Party, crokinole parties, Canada Day Celebrations, Art in the Park and the Sunday School picnic, and we capture stories on our Clyde River website.
In closing, David read from his first issue of RED Magazine that tells Island stories. He had interviewed Ethel MacPhail, and the story pointed to the traditions or Island codes of behaviour that are rules, not law, but yet were never to be broken.
David was told that Ethel was a great resource of history, so he called her up to ask if he could visit. Sitting at her kitchen table, David asked Ethel if she minded if he tape-recorded their interview. She said yes, but he could see that she was not at all comfortable with being recorded. They chatted for a while, but she just couldn’t get into a conversation. Even though they went through her old photographs which David thought would take her mind away, she still could not overcome her fear of the tape recorder. David succumbed and wrapped up the interview, thinking she would be glad to see the tail end of him. The next morning, he received a call from Ethel and she sounded terribly upset. David was nervous that he had contributed to her distress. Ethel said to David, “Do you realize that you are probably the first person in three generations to come into this house for a visit and leave without being offered a cup of tea.” She had broken the ancient tradition and she could not be consoled.
David’s lecture entertained us but also gives us a good deal to thing about. I told someone after that his talk was halfway between a lecture and a sermon. He personalized the meaning and importance of community. He challenged us to take the chance of being ourselves which is our opportunity as a community. Respect and engagement in tradition is the legacy that our ancestors took to heart, the same legacy that can be ours and the legacy that we can share with younger generations.