Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Beacon

During my archival research and interviewing for the Mill Whistle Project, it became clear that the Corner Brook mill whistle had often been used as a beacon in the community, “an intentionally conspicuous device designed to attract attention to a specific location” (Wikipedia, 2015). I read and heard about instances where the whistle sounded repeatedly when boys were lost in the woods. For example, the July 4 entry in the City of Corner Brook 50th anniversary calendar reads: “1939 – Two lost boys found. The mill whistle was blown so the boys  could follow the sound and find their way home.” I read several newspaper accounts of similar instances, not just in Corner Brook.

I was recently home for a too-short visit — so short that I didn’t get to do any further research on the Corner Brook mill whistle, despite having many more archival documents to track down and recordings to make. Nevertheless, another story of the mill whistle found its way to me thanks to the work of Gary Kean at The Western Star. My parents had picked up the Saturday, August 22, 2015 issue of the paper and there on page three was “The day the boys went away.” It related the tragic story of two teenage boys who fell to their deaths in Corner Brook Stream gorge in 1965.

Kean writes, “The doleful whistle resonated all evening and into the night of Aug. 25, 1965. [. . .] Like a long sigh, the mournful din sounded all morning and afternoon of the 26th. The whistle stopped at around 5 p.m.”

The whistle had been sounding, as was common practice, in the hope that the boys believed lost might find their way home by orienting themselves to it. Sadly, this would not be the case. Fifty years later, a plaque has been placed at the Corner Brook Stream gorge lookout, as a memorial to the boys and a reminder of the potential danger when walking in that area.

I've been away from the Mill Whistle Project for a while now due to unavoidable circumstances, but this well-timed find has refocused my attention on the project. I hope to share more posts in the near future and to continue tracking down archival sources that are still on my hit list. If you’d like to volunteer for a microfilm mission in Corner Brook, let me know!

Until next time…