Tilting, Newfoundland and Quieter Times

Tilting by Robert Mellin

As I was going through my bookshelf last week in preparation for our family’s annual potlatch exchange, I came across Robert Mellin’s Tilting:  House Launching, Slide Hauling, Potato Trenching, and Other Tales from a Newfoundland Fishing Village, which I obtained several years ago following one of my visits to Newfoundland but which I had only skimmed through at the time.  There is so much to like in this neat little book about the sparsely populated and very scenic fishing village of Tilting, which is located on Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and is now mostly inhabited by descendants of Irish settlers from the early 1700s.  (See here and here for earlier O’Canada Blog comments about Fogo Island.)  It’s difficult to classify this work by genre — its subject matter ranges across fishing village architecture, local history, oral stories, traditional farming and fishing techniques, and cultural studies.

Mellin, an architecture professor at McGill University, complements his studious observations with an impressive array of photographs (most his own), line drawings and maps, as well as commentary from longtime Tilting residents.  I particularly liked the following amusing remarks by resident Jim Greene on local visiting customs and the frowned upon city-style practice of asking people to remove their shoes upon entering the house:

“They don’t bother to knock — because everybody around here knows one another and they knows what’s in there and they knows what kind of a person they’re going to meet and — there’s no need of them knocking — I think that’s the reason.  .  .  . Nobody don’t want to take off their boots — We had several people comin’ in stopped out in the porch tryin’ to get off their boots — come on in, boy!

“You know Mark Foley?  He was away into St. John’s and I met him one day — I said, “Mark, you were gone.”  He said, “Yes, boy, I was into St. John’s and I had a spell takin’ off me boots. ” Why, that’s bullshit!  They’re imitating that crowd in St. John’s and that’s the reason — we’re going to be just like the crowd that’s in St. John’s and you got to do the same thing in their houses as they does in St. John’s — full of bull.  I had a pair of boots one time I couldn’t get off — what’ll I do then?  You know the kind of boots they are — they calls them “flits” and they calls them “unemployment boots” — them rubbers with a couple of laces at the top.  I bought a pair one time and I put them on — didn’t have much trouble to get them on — but in the evening when I went to get them off I couldn’t get them off.  I lay down on the floor and I hauled on them and everything and I couldn’t get them off — after a while I got them off, and I never put them on no more.  Another fellow down there, Billy Broaders, he’s dead now, he put a pair on one time he had to cut his off!  Well, if you’re going to their house with them boots on you have to turn around and come back — you couldn’t get in, could you?”

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