Mermaids, oh my!

Just for some fun… check out the lyrics and then the article.


“The Mermaid”

When I was a lad in a fishing town
Me old man said to me:
“You can spend your life, your jolly life
Just sailing on the sea.
You can search the world for pretty girls
Til your eyes are weak and dim,
But don’t go searching for a mermaid, son
If you don’t know how to swim”
‘Cause her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Her face it was a work of art,
I loved that girl with all my heart
But I only liked the upper part
I did not like the tailI signed onto a sailing ship
My very first day at sea
I seen the Mermaid in the waves,
Reaching out to me
“Come live with me in the sea said she,
Down on the ocean floor
And I’ll show you a million wonderous things
You’ve never seen before
So over I jumped and she pulled me down,
Down to her seaweed bed
On a pillow made of a tortoise-shell
She placed beneath my head
She fed me shrimp and caviar
Upon a silver dish
From her head to her waist it was just my taste
But the rest of her was a fish
‘Cause …But then one day, she swam away
So I sang to the clams and the whales
“Oh, how I miss her seaweed hair
And the silver shine of her scales
But then her sister, she swam by
And set my heart awhirl
Cause her upper part was an ugly fish
But her bottom part was a girl
Yes her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Her legs they are a work of art,
I loved that girl with all my heart
And I don’t give a damn about the upper part
Cause that’s how I get my tail.
By Great Big Sea

Mermaid-bashing a common theme


Dale Jarvis
Published on March 10, 2014

Last week, I got an email from a young woman named Erin, who is a Grade 4 student at All Hallows Elementary in North River.

Erin is one of the participants in the Heritage Fair program, a great project which encourages students to explore their heritage in a hands-on manner. Students make storyboards to tell stories about local heroes, legends, traditions and places, and then present their work at a public exhibit at their school. Select students then go on to represent their schools in regional fairs across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Erin decided to do research on the folklore of mermaids in Newfoundland, and asked me for some advice on mermaid stories.

While we have a long maritime history in the province, we do not have a lot of mermaid stories. Erin already knew about the most famous, the story of Capt. Richard Whitbourne, who described meeting a mermaid in his book “Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland.”

Early one July morning in 1610, Whitbourne spotted a strange creature which he called “a marmayde” swimming in St. John’s Harbour. As Whitbourne tells it, the mermaid swam swiftly towards him, looking carefully at his face.

The water maiden had a beautiful and well-proportioned face, and she had blue streaks on her skin instead of hair. The creature was about 15 feet in length, and her tail was proportioned “like a broad hooked arrow.”

The mermaid tried to climb into a boat owned by William Hawkridge. Hawkridge was not impressed with the creature’s attentions, so he hit her on the head with an oar, and she swam off.

While the mermaid has not been spotted recently, her legend has achieved a certain amount of immortality, and for many years she was depicted on a mural by Helen Gregory on the north side of Harbour Drive. What also persisted for many years, apparently, was Hawkridge’s method of dealing with merfolk.

Horace Beck’s “Folklore of the Sea” was originally published in 1973 by the Mystic Seaport Museum. It contains a few references to Newfoundland mermen, including one encountered by a fisherman who was hand-lining by himself in a dory just off the Newfoundland shore.

“At noon, he stopped fishing and started to eat his lunch, when much to his surprise and annoyance he discovered a merman about to climb into the boat,” writes Beck. “He tried to shoo it away with no success, so he grabbed the fish gaff and bashed it on the fingers, after which it acquired a lively interest in other things.”

Another of Beck’s Newfoundland tales involves a second merman, seen in the same area around the same time. When two men were out hunting, they saw a strange creature in the water and shot at it.

“Whatever it was sank,” describes Beck, “but a short time later a dead merman with a black beard and hair washed ashore nearby.”

Not all of Beck’s Newfoundland merfolk stories end badly. In one, a mermaid actually helped a Newfoundlander caught in a storm.

“On still another occasion a man was caught in a small boat in a heavy gale. When the situation became most critical a mermaid appeared, climbed onto the gunnel and conned the boat safely through the breakers to shore.”

One other mermaid story from Labrador has a happy ending. In an Inuit legend, an orphaned boy rescued a mermaid who had become grounded on the rocks. The grateful mermaid gave the boy a hat with a fancy broach as a reward. Visiting sailors recognized the broach as belonging to the King of England, who in turn gave the boy a hefty sum of money for its return.

Here’s hoping young Erin does well on her heritage fair project, and good luck to all the other heritage fair students across the province.

Storyteller and author Dale Jarvis can be reached at

Words of wisdom from Alan Doyle and Russell Crowe.

One of the joys about traveling around Newfoundland while working on Arn? Narn. was learning about their culture, more specifically their music. One of my favorite groups then and now is Great Big Sea. I defy anyone to sit still while listening to their music and if you get the opportunity to attend their concerts, be prepared to have the time of your life.

Alan Doyle, the lead singer, addressed a hospitality group in Newfoundland and shared these thoughts. They’re applicable to all of us.

Great Big Sea frontman promotes province’s uniqueness

NOT ORDINARY – The message musician/actor Alan Doyle had for the delegates at Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual Conference and Trade Show in Gander last Thursday was simple — Newfoundland and Labrador is unique, and it’s this that makes it attractive to tourists. The lead singer for Great Big Sea also passed along some steps of success the band has followed during the past 21 years.

Alan Doyle has travelled around the world and rubbed shoulders with men and women from all walks of life — that’s just an ordinary day for the lead singer of Great Big Sea.However, his love and pride for his home province is not so ordinary, and he expressed his sentiments very clearly Thursday to delegates attending Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual Conference and Trade Show in Gander last week.Doyle, who was born and raised in Petty Harbour, said the best thing about Newfoundland and Labrador is its uniqueness — a uniqueness that makes it stand out globally.“The more I talk to people (about Newfoundland and Labrador through my travels) the thing I get most often if I ask ‘Why are you going? Why are you here? What’d you think of it?’ They say it’s different…they love it because it’s different,” he said. “That’s so amazing. We have something that’s different than anywhere else. We have something that’s like nowhere else in this day and age, when everything is like everything else.“I’m blown away with what we (Newfoundland and Labrador) have. The experiences we can offer people in music, geography, weird places to stay, weird meals to eat that they never had before, stories, acting, drama, bars, streets, hikes…the product, the material, the heart of what we sell to people we don’t need to make up, and I think almost everyone (else) needs to do that.”He said those involved in the hospitality and tourism industries in the province are so lucky to be from a place where the heart of what they sell is readymade.

“It’s key for us (in the tourism business) to be ourselves…people love that and it’s why they come,” he said.

To illustrate the point Doyle recounted a conversation he had with his good friend, Russell Crowe, during one of the actor’s visits to this province.

Crowe is a world-renowned actor, producer and musician, having starred in such films as Gladiator and Robin Hood.

“I wrote a song with Russell, after I asked him why he comes here, and he said he feels like he comes to a different place…he said, ‘I’ve been in Canada (Toronto and Hamilton) and now I’m in a different place…I don’t feel like I’ve been in the same place…I don’t feel that I’ve been anywhere like this place before…That doesn’t happen to me very often’,” said Doyle. “The song (Where We Belong) speaks to the heart of the unique place we’re from.”

Working advice

Doyle’s address was not just filled with anecdotes, but sprinkled with suggestions.

He offered advice on how people in the hospitality industry can keep visitors coming.

“Make a plan, be organized, and work with people —not have people work for you or you work for people,” he said, referring to some advice that was handed to him, Sean McCann and Bob Hallett from Sean’s father, Ed McCann, when they first formed Great Big Sea.

Doyle compared the entertainment business to the hospitality industry in the fact that every day a hospitality operation is open for business is showtime — just like in the music or movie industries.

“They both have a showtime, and there’s nothing more important than to be ready for showtime,” he said, noting this is something he has been more aware of since becoming friends with Crowe.

“You need to be ready. Getting ready is something you can do nine times out of 10. The most successful people are ready for what they have to do. You can’t fake being ready.”

Doyle told the audience of a recent experience he had requiring a level of readiness from a hospitality operator that proved just what he was saying about readiness brings success.

Just a few weeks ago he was stranded at the Inn when the ferry didn’t run.

However, he said, the operators of the Inn are ready for such incidents, and he was flown to St. John’s so he could meet his other obligations, while an Inn staff member drove his vehicle back to St. John’s.

“They’re ready, and I can’t stress it enough that you need to be ready.”

The third bit of advice he passed along was that in the world of business you need to do whatever it takes to be successful.

“You need to do whatever the days asks of you, not what you would hope the day would ask of, not what you thought it would ask of you, or not what is convenient, ” he said. “People need to do the good and the bad stuff…it’s the small stuff, if they go wrong, that results in big problems. You need to do whatever it takes.”

These have been three of the strategies followed by Great Big Sea, and himself, have followed to earn success.

“I wish you luck with it all,” he said in closing.

I’m a real nowhere man…

Let me say it right up front – I like being “nowhere.” No, not just sitting around doing nothing, but being somewhere that doesn’t look or feel like anything else and has no particular name. In other words, nowhere.

In Newfoundland, there is plenty of nowhere and that’s a really good thing. There is so much good stuff there that if it were named or claimed, it wouldn’t be nowhere. That said, what does it mean?

Simply stated, there is so much land between formal towns and/or outports that is not settled or built upon, that is virtually untouched and untrod. It is glorious in it’s natural state. No malls, no convenient stores, nothing. As I said, glorious. And glorious in its isolation.

And where I’m going on this second trip to Newfoundland, I’ll be traveling through a lot of nowhere before I get somewhere and I couldn’t be happier. As a photographer, it’s very rare that we get to visit land unsullied by power lines, billboards, and visitor centers. This is land one doesn’t so much visit as experience. Nothing can prepare you for it. It is not postcard pretty in the traditional sense. Rather, it has a raw, vital beauty. Not the beauty say of a New England fall, but the unyielding beauty of a land defying commerce and compromise.

In the west, there are mountains, lakes, fjords, and caribou. Everywhere, there are bogs, moose, streams, and birches. And everything, every thing is informed by the sea. Oh, the sea. It is the lifeblood of the island even though its bounty has long been gone. It is in the DNA of the people and the culture. It is that that has helped me to decide where to go.

In a song by the Newfoundland group Great Big Sea, they sing: “There is no place quite like this place…”. They got that right.

Newfoundland is an island, about the same size as the state of Tennessee. But where I’ll be going to photograph this time are two islands off the coasts of Newfoundland – Fogo Island and Ramea: two very different islands sharing a similar story but ultimately with dissimilar outcomes: almost nowhere on the map, but home for a few hopeful and determined people.

“If the devil will take her…”

Living Planet, St. Johns, NFLD  It’s all about the music – the only “weapons” in this picture are musical instruments.

Imagine driving around for several thousand miles in silence. You could sing to yourself – that’s an option but one that runs out of novelty real fast. You could also play license plates by yourself -either you’ll always win or always lose; it’s your choice. Or you could go get some CD’s of local music. In Newfoundland, there is a wealth of musical ability. Newfoundlanders love to make music even if it’s just for themselves.

Newfoundland music is perhaps some of the best I’ve found for driving (and partying). Take your choice of upbeat, funny, rousing, sad, tender, raucous, historical, whatever. Largely based on a folk idiom with a strong Celtic influence, it’s almost impossible to sit still while listening. That said, it can sometimes make you drive a little faster, OK a lot faster, than you or the RCMP* would like.

But like any movie, a trip must, absolutely must, have it’s own soundtrack. And whether or not you sing along, and I admit I did, it has to reflect the trip. So much so that when you later hear a particular piece of music, it transports you right back there to that very time and spot.

There is no shortage of very talented groups recording in Newfoundland. The most popular and famous group is Great Big Sea who tours frequently in the US and Europe. But that’s only scratching the surface. Musicians like Amelia Curran and Ron Hynes speak with their own unique voice. Groups like Shanneyganock, The Navigators, The Once, The Dardanelles, The Fables, and Eventide helped make the miles go by so much easier and are a wonderful backdrop to the land and the road.

Being folk music, everything is fair game for a song. From “Cod Liver Oil” to “The Fellow from Fortune” to “The Scolding Wife” and so much more, it’s all there. To quote “The Scolding Wife” a favorite of mine and the ringtone on my phone for my wife (much to her dismay):

“And if the devil will take her, I’ll thank him for his pain, I swear to God I’ll hang meself, if I get married again.” Love you sweetie! I think I’m going to have to buy some flowers for this one!

* – RCMP – Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Mounties.