By Benson Hewitt
I am writing this piece on Feb. 2, Candlemas Day, as it would have been known by everyone a generation or so ago. True, our pronunciation may have corrupted ‘Candlemas’ to a two-syllable word, but it was never known as Groundhog Day.
I doubt if many of us had any idea what a groundhog was at that time. In fact, I can recall that as a kid we had a similar myth about the bear. It was also believed that if the bear, like the groundhog now, emerged from hibernation and coming out of his burrow on Feb. 2, found that the weather was not good, would choose to stay in his burrow for 40 more days. (Incidentally, Feb. 2 is exactly 40 days after Christmas Day, ‘40’ being a mystical number.) Meanwhile, we all knew the rhyme, “If Candlemas Day be rough and grumb the worse of the winter is yet to come.” And, as far as I can remember it was always ‘grumb’.
There were other rhymes and some were somewhat contradictory. (Just incidentally again, did you know that the word ‘grumb’ is not found in most dictionaries today, being replaced, I suspect, by ‘grumpy’. Remember when we would say that a certain person was ‘grumb’ looking?)
Meanwhile, because it was a special church day, “The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple”, and we were aware of that, the Society of United Fishermen, an organization under the aegis of the Anglican Church, always held their annual parade and time, good weather or bad. It was one of the most looked-forward-to social events of the year.
There was a time when there were three branches of this organization on Fogo Island – Barr’d Islands/Joe Batt’s Arm, Fogo, and Seldom-Come-By. Men from Island Harbour and Deep Bay were members of the Fogo Branch. I did a little research for the year 1894, for no special reason, and came up with this bit of information. It was reported in the press that as in former years, St. Andrew’s Lodge, S.U.F. of Fogo had their anniversary on Candlemas Day. First, it was reported, they left their hall high on a hill over-looking Fogo, and proceeded to St. Andrew’s Church, singing as they entered the church, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
The sermon was preached by the rector of Fogo at the time, Reverend Charles White, who would a few years later be elected the first native-born Bishop for the Diocese of Newfoundland. He chose as the text for his sermon, “And Simon answering said unto him, Master we have toiled all night and taken nothing. Nevertheless, at Thy word, I will let down the net.”