This blog follows the field excursions of Annie and Lisa as they wander around documenting vernacular architecture and collecting oral histories in the Outer Battery neighbourhood of St.
When Chris first moved to the Battery, he worked in town and remembers coming home one day to find two trap skiffs gunning their engines in the harbour in what he believed to be a vain attempt to dislodge a growler that had been stuck just off Jack’s wharf for weeks. The Battery is a place where people are forced, by geography, by environment, by birds and snow and water, to be creative.
Today I interviewed Carl about the avalanche that flatted his family home on February 15, 1959, killing his parents and grandmother and sparing himself, his brother Charlie, and his sister Gloria. After telling me the story in Charlie’s twine store, Carl took me to the place where his childhood home used to be.
On another, more cheering note, Carl told me of his young courtship with a Hazel Garland who lived across the harbour, near Fort Amherst.
One thing about the residents of the Outer Battery that has struck me in nearly every interview so far has been the creativity required to make use of the resources available. Joanne cherishes the memories and knowledge she gained during her summers spent playing and then fishing in the Outer Battery.
While I took their photo Wes joked that next time they should pose with a the two-pronged pitchfork they once used to unload fish from the boats in a Newfoundland Gothic style.
The Critches shed (as we call it) is located behind the stage of the same name, on the other side of Outer Battery Rd. As seen in the photo, this structure has its front portion up on stilts, with the back resting on the cliffs and rocks of Outer Battery Rd.
It is likely that this building was used as a store rather than a stage due to the fact that there is no direct water access.
The floor we were able to access is 8 ft 8 in high at its apex, going down to 7 ft at the sides.
It should be noted that for all the buildings that we provide floor plans of, there are windows that are not shown in the plan. Keith entertained us in his wry, pedagogical way with tales of sneaking pieces of drying salt fish from the flakes as a kid, and playing soccer-baseball using a steep hill as the outfield. One thing that struck me during Keith’s interview was the creativity used by those who only have so much space. To give us an idea of how little fishermen made compared to how hard they worked, Charlie and Carl showed us this invoice from 1952. Chris saw this as a great way to waste gas but it turned out to be a well-executed solution. This creativity materializes in the remarkable architectural eccentricities that are enjoyed by so many passersby each day. Carl pointed to a brown two-storey house, and told me how he would row over in the rodney in the evenings to see her, coming back to the Battery when it was dark. The hills were also used by fishermen who would spread their cotton nets to dry before stowing them away for the winter.
He wasn’t allowed to salt or split the fish as these jobs were done by skilled workers.
While space was always finite and restricted compared with the hundreds of acres single families live on in Western Canada, a great deal of flotsam and debris washed into shore after storms could be obtained at the doorsteps of the Outer Battery. A new house will be built where the old decrepit one now stands and Joanne intends to move in there one day. Joanne is certainly not a likeness of Grant Wood’s spinster daughter, but Wes does the somber farmer quite well!
We did not have interior access to this shed, so the measurements we took were from the outside. Building were made like this in order to make use of the land despite its lack of uniformity. We were able to measure the side where the door is located (at the road), as well as one side (where the telephone pole is), and the height of the building at its side. The Garlands, the owners of this building, also own a once-operational fishing stage that can be seen in a previous post. Overall the structure is approx 23 ft wide (back wall)  X 21 ft 5 in long (door side). This building was made by Jack and his family to be used as a place to store, make, and repair fishing nets.

These windows often face straight out to the harbour (like Jack’s front window, which is 11 ft 3 inches long) as well as out to the Narrows, so that fishermen could watch boats coming in and out of the harbour. We decided to make floor plans of each of the exisiting fishery buildings so that we could see how spaces were made, and speculate how each space was used during the fishery, compared to how they might be used now.
John’s) has no leftover equipment from when it would have been used during the fishery. We sat on her floral print sofa and Florence began telling me stories like she’d done it all her life. The building once belonged to Keith’s family and was one of the many that were demolished during the Second World War to make way for the American Navy.
His grandfather, a man Keith had never met, is somewhat of a mythological figure in the neighbourhood (no one ever certain of his age), and we learned of his skill at growing vegetables to sell to various stores and hay for horses in the area. Unlike a sprawling western town, the Battery residents were forced to work with a finite amount of land. The man is an encyclopedia and carries with him three generations of Outer Battery memories. What he didn’t know that the fishermen knew was that it was the highest tide of the month and if they shifted the iceberg just enough it would go out with the tide. Just as their homes must contort and adapt to the cliffs on which they perch, so must those who build or repair them also adapt to the physical surroundings. He remembered hearing something and standing up in bed to find himself up to his neck in snow. People listening to iPods, walking dogs, and taking pictures, moved past us as Carl pointed to the area and explained where the snow had come from, where the roof had finally come to rest on the road at our feet, his parents and grandmother found beneath it.
To let her know he had safely made it home, he would flick the outside lights of his house. In the spring, after a winter of mending, the nets would be dipped in drums of boiling pine tar and a special kind of bark (Wes couldn’t remember what it was called) to cure the new cotton used in the mending. Wes remembers when the coal ship would come into the harbour to offload coal, always dropping some overboard. There are two platforms that are also intact, and can be seen in the floor plan as the two enclosed rectangular spaces. Having these two building so close together would have been very useful during the days of the fishery.
This is not something that is practiced anymore, but at one time, timber was always pulled from the water to be recycled. It would have once been used for various steps in fish processing, but is now used as a storage space.
It has also been used as a gathering place, and continues to have this role into the present day. There is one open room, and then a partitioned storage space that has a closet area within. This meant that each person received $108.25 for a whole season of work, working six long days a week. When speaking with Chris, it is obvious that he loves the Battery and cares deeply for its future. There was a peace to this daily ritual and Chris saw it as a sign that all was as it should be. I pictured 19-year-old Carl standing in that place up to his neck in snow, running, after not finding his brother, to his neighbour’s house in his bedclothes in the silence of the early morning. Wes remembers the large fires roaring under the drums and the nets going in white and coming out a reddish-brown colour. Joanne also worked in the fishery, starting with her uncle and grandfather when she was ten years old. The shed itself is a simple rectangle, but has a wall bordering the platform closest to the door.
Unlike the others in the area, this stage is not rectangular, and instead has angular features. I believe that this structure would have been used more as a store, rather than a stage where fish processing would have taken place. Back up the hill we climbed and decided to do the interview perched on an old bunker (right word?) at the narrowest part of the narrows.

Trees were planted by Keith’s father and grandfather to retain the scare topsoil - mountain ash and maple. In 1861, the Sparkes house was built, and in 1961, one hundred years later, Keith’s father built a new one around it, leaving the old one in the middle so the family had somewhere to live during construction. Carl showed me where Gloria had miraculously climbed up from below the road near the water with only a few scratches on her and with no knowledge of how she came to be there.
Apparently the Garland girls had all been beautiful and Jack Wells and Charlie had all rowed over to Fort Amherst at one time, avoiding the large boats moving in and out of the narrows as they returned from their amorous rendezvous. She was always drawn to the lifestyle, despite there being few if any women who would go out in the boats with the men.
Wes still remembers the smell of the coal burning in the stove as there would always be barnacles and mussels thrown in as well.
The wall comes out from near the door, and as with the rest of the structure, has had its top portion removed.
It is similar to the other stores in the area with its rectangular shape, but this one is a bit smaller. The height is 8 ft 2 from where we could measure it, and judging by the other structures that we have measured, the height probably increases by 1-2 ft at its center point. This reminded me of a hermit crab growing out of its old shell and abandoning it for a new one. It’s amazing how a place can hold so much and yet look as though nothing of any interest at all had ever happened there. Seen from both above, and from the water, you can see that there is a network of platforms (decks) that give access to the two different floors of the stage. The whole structure feels rather precarious at this point and so I’m glad that we had the chance to get measurements of the interior. Charlie was found, almost unconscious when they dug him out and Gloria appeared relatively unscathed. She was taught how to gut a fish, how to take the tongue out, “but cutting the fillets was a great skill. At the front corner, the height is 8 ft 5 inches, but the structure is shorter at the back (see photo) where it meets the hillside.
The deck network is quite complex with platforms of various heights, that go right to the top where Outer Battery road is. The interior of the store is in great condition, and Jack believes that this is due to how diligent he is with his stove. A dramatic and exciting (for a four-year-old) change took place during the war, when soldiers moved into the Battery.
One of them was found amidst the rubble and snow and was used to dress his father for burial.
Teddy Wells, Jack Wells’ nephew, age 16 or 17 at the time of the avalanche was killed as well, along with Mr. Florence remembered one afternoon when she was particularly dirty from playing with the other children, a soldier knelt down in front of her and asked her if she wanted a stick of gum. Dawe (Carl wasn’t sure of his first name) who was quite old at the time, in his nineties, and died when he was being helped from his house. There had been a movie theatre in one of the buildings used by the military, what became the Pearcey residence after the war, and the Battery children would be allowed to watch cartoons and cowboy shows. This was in the early 50s and Florence didn’t return to live in the Battery until the 70s, after living in the United States. I stepped outside with Florence after the interview to watch the young gulls try their wings. A young brown one, freshly rid of its baby feathers, opened its wings and hopped into the water. She has been watching these birds grow up all spring, often feeding them caplin, just as she’s done every year.

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