Thursday, June 28, 2012

Archival Adventures

Despite being tired from travel, I was up bright and early this morning. After breakfast, I headed out to record the 8am whistle. This time I went to the building formerly known as Regina High School. I was wishing that I could have gone inside and sat in my level two physics classroom. I remember well the day we were sitting there during the last period and the whistle blew outside of its normal schedule signalling a fire at the mill. My teacher appeared quite confused. He asked, "What is that?" "Mill whistle," a few of us replied without looking up from our work. "Yeah," he said, "but why is it sounding now?" Again, a few of us replied in monotone, "Fire in the mill," as if it was the most normal thing in the world. And, of course, to us it was. The exchange marked him as an outsider. On several occasions I've had similar conversations. None of us really remember learning how to interpret these sounds, we just absorbed it over time.

After the whistle sounded, I returned home to quickly prepare for my morning in the archive. The Corner Brook Museum & Archives will soon be reopening, so it really wasn't an ideal time to be looking for materials. Indeed, one of the items that will be of value to my project is packed away somewhere with an exhibit on early communication and media in Corner Brook. I was assured that when it is unpacked, a scan will come my way.

The materials that I looked at were very interesting. I was thrilled to finally see a copy of the souvenir book published in honour of the mill's 75th anniversary. There were a few news clippings of value and there was a stack of Bowater's magazine which was published 3-4 times each year in the 1960s. Of everything I looked at, I enjoyed reading a book of ballads written while townsite was being built. They described the muddy roads of Corner Brook and the challenges of power outages. Sadly, there were no mill whistle references (though, there were a few references to the train's whistle. And then I stumbled upon a true treasure: a file on the Home Guard. Apparently, between 1942 and 1945 during WWII, volunteers (including veterans from WWI) established a sort of militia that would patrol Corner Brook and the harbour and defend it should there be threat of enemy action. They ran drills and paraded through town regularly. I had no idea that this group existed and in front of me was a typed list of orders. How would the troops be summoned in the event of a threat? A series of short bursts of the mill whistle separated by 5 seconds each.

Thrilled with this gem to follow up on and thinking of various ways to work this into a museum exhibit, I left the Museum & Archives and, after gathering my recording equipment again, headed to Crow Hill. Much to my surprise, the area had been upgraded with pavement, new railings, and a new welcome sign. To get a good (read: unobstructed) view of the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Mill, I shimmied past the railing and walked out onto the rocky ledge. I sat overlooking Corner Brook and listened to birds singing while I waited.

Tomorrow is another day. I believe I'll be Broadway bound.