Off the eastern coast of Canada is the seagirt island of Newfoundland. The sixteenth-largest island in the world, it is less than half the size of the United Kingdom, and has a population of 530,000 inhabitants. Newfoundland is magnificent with its primitive, rugged beauty and tortuous six-thousand-mile coastline of lofty crags, storm-scarred cliffs and dangerous breakers. The population—mainly fishermen, loggers and trappers in its earlier days—are hardy descendants of English, Scottish and Irish stock. To wrest a living from the sea and the rocky soil was a real test of endurance. Dominated for so long by clergymen of Christendom’s various sects, Newfoundlanders, for the most part, nevertheless have a fiercely independent spirit coupled with a respect for God and his written Word—surely suitable soil for planting the message of truth by Jehovah’s modern-day witnesses!
One of Jehovah’s faithful servants, Edith Mason, a gentle forty-year-old woman, was busy spreading the Kingdom message in Canada’s mainland province of Nova Scotia in the year 1914. Only ninety miles separated her from Newfoundland, and she often found herself wondering about its people. ‘They need the message, too! How happy it would make them!’ She talked to the local brothers about taking the marvelous Photo-Drama of Creation over there. She was sure that this slide, motion picture and sound production outlining God’s purpose from creation through the thousand-year reign of Christ would benefit the Newfoundlanders. Though the time did not seem to be ripe for that step, she kept thinking on the matter.
Then, in quiet prayer one night, she resolved that she would go to pioneer there alone. That resolution was to have far-reaching results. Jehovah would use this courageous woman to satisfy many a truth-hungry person in Newfoundland. At first she could find no one who appreciated what she had to say. But, time and again, when she had a few pennies to spend, she found herself attracted to Skipper Gibbon’s place on Carter’s Hill. Here is how she tells the story:
“This old schooner captain ran a boarding house and loved to ‘yarn’ with the men of the north when they were in port. Many of the captains and merchant traders who came to the capital from the ‘outports’ boarded at this home. I soon discovered that if I would go to Skipper Gibbon’s for dinner on Sundays, many of these men . . . would be gathered at his hearth. Usually . . . a pious atmosphere prevailed, so I would start talking to them about the Kingdom.” Two of those men, young fishermen from Cat Harbour or Lumsden, a small village on the desolate northeast coast, were Eli Parsons and Wesley Howell. They were impressed by what they heard, accepted copies of Studies in the Scriptures and took them back to their distant homes.
It so happened that Wesley Howell was lay reader for the Methodist church on the north side of the settlement, and Edgar Gibbons, another of the group who obtained literature from Sister Mason, was lay reader of the church on the south side. They both decided that they now really had something to preach about. But one day the clergyman made a special visit to Wesley’s business office and bitterly remarked: ‘You are welcome to return to the pulpit, but leave your new religion out of it!’ Wesley flatly refused. The infuriated preacher retorted, ‘Your family will curse you for this,’ and stumped out.
About this same time the president of the Anglican Ladies Aid group happened to hear the concluding part of a talk given by Brother A. H. Macmillan, from the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters at Brooklyn, New York, on a subject that she should have known all about, namely, the Lord’s Prayer. A few days before she died in December 1970, at the grand old age of ninety-one, she was reminiscing about that night long ago: “The Orange Hall was packed out, but Wesley Howell managed to find us seats. Brother Macmillan was explaining the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, and although I had been brought up in a strict Church of England home, I never knew its meaning. It was as if I had been in a dark dungeon all my lifetime and in those few moments Brother Macmillan had turned the light on. I had recognized the truth from just part of the last talk.” That former president of the Anglican Ladies Aid became Sister Mary Goodyear.
GAINING A FOOTHOLD
It was at that time that Brother Macmillan organized the first congregation of Jehovah’s people in Cat Harbour (Lumsden), in the year 1916. The Bible study group grew in number to over a dozen, some of the participants hiking many miles over sandy beach and around rugged shore, even in stormy weather.
Sister Mason, alone there in the capital, St. John’s, was still planning and praying that the Photo-Drama might yet be brought to Newfoundland, where many persons were still loyal to the Bible. By means of funds provided by friends where she had formerly been a colporteur, and with the help of a donation made by the Watch Tower Society’s president, Charles T. Russell, out of his own pocket, she finally arranged for Brother Black of Nova Scotia to bring the Society’s slides and projection equipment. So on May 5, 1916, the Photo-Drama started a three-week run in St. John’s. So many local citizens and visiting fishermen and traders from the outports and from Labrador came to see it that there was never enough room for the crowds. All together, 10,825 persons got to attend one or another of the fourteen evening and fifteen afternoon showings.
After the brothers had returned to their own assignments in Canada or elsewhere, Sister Mason decided to visit the little group at Lumsden. She used the opportunity to build some strong foundations for that remote little congregation. Quite a few who later were active publishers first gained an appreciation of God’s purposes at that time.
As the years passed, many different brothers visited Lumsden to nurture and strengthen the growing group. Everyone recalls the time when Brother Clifford Roberts visited from the “mainland.” An elderly man of the settlement, suffering from heart trouble, could not endure the long walk to the Orange Hall to hear the visitor’s public lecture. Much to everyone’s surprise, this old gentleman made arrangements to use the local church building; and there Brother Roberts spoke to an audience of several hundred. As the talk progressed, he was momentarily interrupted by a man who appeared at the rear of the church, shouting: “This group has taken over my church!” At the conclusion, the elderly man mentioned that he had hoped he would live long enough to hear the truth preached in church; that day his hopes were realized.
Sister Josephene Parsons of that area recalls the visit in 1927 of Brother John Cutforth, one of the “pilgrims,” as traveling representatives of the Society then were known. She chuckles as she relates this amusing incident: “We often wonder how John felt when he asked the man at the boarding house for a bed, and the reply was: ‘I don’t think I have one long enough for you.’ You see, Brother Cutforth was over six feet tall.”
Do you remember that clergyman’s prediction that Wesley Howell’s family would curse him for having turned away from Christendom’s teachings? A blessing resulted instead. Today a number of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those early believers in Bible truth are to be found in the ranks of the pioneers in Newfoundland.
In 1945 about a dozen active Witnesses were organized into a congregation in Lumsden South. The same year the Lumsden North congregation converted the second floor of the “Cooper Shop” into a Kingdom Hall. Then, in 1947, the first Kingdom Hall in Lumsden South was built. Farther along the Straight Shore (so called because of its lack of harborage) are the congregations of Musgrave Harbour and Aspen Cove. These are made up of natural offspring, and many spiritual offspring too, of the original Witnesses in Cat Harbour or Lumsden.
PREACHING IN EARLY TIMES
The preaching activity of those earlier days bespeaks the love, courage and tenacity of the preachers of the good news. There were no roads and only a few narrow trails. During the 1930’s and the 1940’s many a journey had to be made by boat in rough seas and stormy weather. Seasickness often plagued the Witnesses. One of Wesley Howell’s daughters relates this experience: “After a fifteen-mile boat trip to Wesleyville, we would walk the five miles to Templeman. This wasn’t easy, as we scrambled over rocky paths, struggled through wet, springy bogs, loaded down with a suitcase [of literature] in one hand and a phonograph in the other. Many times we would place our phonographs down as steppingstones, then struggle with our suitcases to pull our tired bodies over the bog. . . . In many localities groups of jeering young boys used to follow us around as we went to different homes to play the lectures. One of those former scoffing lads became an overseer in Lumsden. His elderly parents, along with his wife and family, are Jehovah’s witnesses. Two of his children are in the full-time service.”
What had Sister Edith Mason and her companion Sister Whitmore been doing since we last heard from them? In 1918 Christendom’s clergy were taking advantage of the war fever to rid themselves once and forever, as they thought, of the pestiferous Bible Students. We gain some idea of the ludicrous lengths to which they would go from what these harmless lady missionaries report of their experiences: “Newfoundland was the last point of the North American continent and from here the Marconi Trans-Atlantic Station served the allied nations in the Atlantic and across the sea. Then someone tried to shoot the Marconi operator. For several months we had been called spies. Sister Whitmore and I were often charged with being German undercover agents, and we were [accused of] carrying weapons under our dresses. The people were suspicious and full of fear. Then on September 1, 1918, they deported us as suspects in the Marconi case.” Of course, the sisters were completely innocent.
During the years 1919 to 1923 the congregations kept growing slowly: one small group at Port Union, five persons at St. John’s and the Lumsden group. In the latter area it had reached the point where the clergy no longer visited; their flocks had been spoiled. In 1924 the persevering Sister Mason arrived back at St. John’s, this time determined to work the whole island on the railway, called the “Newfie Bullet,” or on the boats stopping at the island’s outports.
Here is how she tells about it: “In the summer of 1924 and on into 1925 I traveled much of the country. Sometimes I would sail on the government mail boats, the Susa, Prospect, Clyde or Portia. Every time I got awfully seasick. Other times I would catch a schooner from harbor to harbor. They would land me at all hours of the night on some dismal wharf, while a lonely foghorn kept me company. I carried my books in flour and sugar barrels, so I would often spend the night repacking and sorting them so I could cover the cove and move on to the next. . . . Ofttimes I would have to be up by four in the morning to hitchhike a boatride.”
Together with another partner, this time Sister Ann Dowden of Halifax, Sister Mason toiled through the summer and winter of 1926, sailing the coast of Newfoundland, preaching the Kingdom at every opportunity. Then, in 1926, she left the island for the last time. Many years later, her kindly eyes blinded by cataracts, she reminisced: “People have asked me why I loved it there. I hardly know myself. I guess I saw the joys of people getting their spiritual eyes opened to the truth. . . . I always felt Jehovah’s hand on my work, and I feel so happy to have had a share in the vindication of his dear name.” Many of the “seeds” she had sown grew into healthy “plants” displaying Jehovah’s glory!
A NATIVE SON RETURNS
It was August 29, 1929. The place? A small fishing village at the extreme easterly tip of the Avalon Peninsula facing on the stormy Atlantic. One of the native sons of Bay de Verde, Jack Keats, had just arrived back in his hometown after spending some time on the “mainland.” To the amazement of his family and friends, he began to preach to them—beliefs that sounded strange indeed to the ears of the conservative inhabitants.
Happily Jack Keats’ family listened to what he had to say and appreciated it. Then he started witnessing to his cousin William, better known as “Billy Jim” Keats, a staunch church member, active in the Orange Lodge, member of the choir and a highly respected family man. Billy Jim listened attentively, but did not accept everything at once. He wanted proof, and that was what he got. The ‘fiery hell’ tradition of his church was one of the vital topics of discussion. It was not that he really wanted to believe in a place of endless torment. But if it was wrong, what of his church? Where did it stand? The discussions led to the truth of the matter. During the busy fishing season of 1930 Billy Jim did not get to church regularly. He would take the opportunity to rest. Ah, but the real reason was that his mind was being transformed. The seed of truth had been sown on fine soil. (Mark 4:8, 20) Shortly thereafter, Billy Jim broke all ties with Babylon the Great.
Meantime Jack Keats’ brother Isaac, who had readily accepted the Kingdom teachings, began to fail in health. Before his death he made it clear that he would have no clergyman preside at his funeral and he did not want to be buried in the Anglican cemetery. The family determined upon a small strip of land above the village. That decision drew the ire of the clergy and their henchmen. Why, it was not even “consecrated ground”! Moreover, the parson flatly refused to issue a death certificate. In spite of it all, the funeral service was conducted by Brother Earle from St. John’s and the remains were interred in the ‘unconsecrated’ plot of land.
The clergyman complained to the Department of Health about the burial in the open field, under pretext of being concerned about the welfare of the local community. A policeman and a local magistrate turned up to investigate the matter, but they were given a witness and left satisfied that everything was in order. Earlier the clergyman had moved to have the children of all Witness parents and of those who had helped with the funeral in ‘unconsecrated’ ground barred from the schools, most of which were denominational. Only those children whose parents apologized to him would be permitted to return and attend classes. The brothers took the case to the Board of Education in St. John’s and the clergyman was ordered to permit the return of all children, and that without apology. The Witness children were ignored and scorned by their schoolmates, and the teacher paid as little attention to them as the law would allow, but the parson had suffered a great fall from his position as unquestioned boss of the community.
Jack Keats soon ranged farther afield to preach the good news in many other parts of Newfoundland, traveling at times by pony and cart, or by train or fishing boat. In order to keep on ‘fishing for men’ he would from time to time return to fishing for fish. (Matt. 4:19) In 1939 he became quite ill and had to spend practically two years in a sanatorium in St. John’s, thereafter returning to Deer Lake, where he made his home.
Jack’s cousin Billy Jim later took up where Jack had left off in the Bay de Verde area. Accompanied by his wife, he traveled around by horse and buggy, playing Bible-sermon records on his phonograph for anyone who would listen, and most people did listen in those days. There were no hotels and restaurants. But folks were hospitable, and, when mealtime came around, the publishers would accept the generous invitation to share what the householders had on their tables. At the close of a long day in the field service, when darkness turned the sea into inky blackness, and oil lamps began to flicker in the windows of these humble homes, they would accept the kind offer: “Put your horse in the barn and stop for a spell.” Then, while the animal was bedded down for the night, Billy Jim and his wife would talk to their hosts into the wee hours of the morning and then snatch some rest before the start of another day.
Others besides Billy Jim and his wife were growing spiritually. How do we know? Because one summer day in 1939 when a brother from St. John’s arrived to conduct a baptism, there were six excited people offering themselves as candidates. They all walked the three miles over the rugged hills to a pond, and there they gave outward evidence of the dedication of their lives to God. Then followed many years of endurance in the Kingdom work in the face of indifference and apathy on the part of the population of Bay de Verde. In 1965 two special pioneers were assigned to help the congregation, and as a result, publishers were trained and the meetings were placed on a firm basis, with programs that aided one and all to improve their field service. In 1971 the congregation completed the building of a fine Kingdom Hall.
PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS BY BOAT
Still the available territory in Newfoundland had barely been scratched. Its 42,000 square miles had only five communities with a population exceeding 5,000. Even the capital, St. John’s, had no more than 55,000 inhabitants at the close of World War II. That meant that the major part of the population lived in hundreds of small hamlets and settlements scattered along the 6,000 miles of wild shoreline. The Witnesses came to realize that the sea was the most accessible way of contacting the people.
Over the years the Watch Tower Society provided for the purchase of four different boats to be used in this work. The first of these, the “Morton,” was a coastal vessel, sixty-six feet long, sleek and beautiful as viewed from the wharf. F. J. Franske, placed in charge of the boat by the Society, tells of the experience he shared with another brother:
“At the beginning of May in 1929, Jimmy James and I were sent to Newfoundland from Canada to take over the operation of the Society’s coastal vessel ‘Morton.’ . . . We found the Newfoundlanders a warm and friendly people whose hospitality is an outstanding quality. And even when they disagreed with us they would still hear us out and treat us courteously. One thing that puzzled us at first was their habit of not answering the door when we knocked. Sometimes they would sit by the window and watch us stand on their doorstep but would not come to the door. . . . It appears that due to isolation, the people became so intermarried that no one was considered a stranger and they simply walked in and out of one another’s homes as if they were of the same family. . . . Every family, it seemed, had its tragic story of loved ones who had gone to the sea and did not return. We called on many of these bereaved ones and comforted them with the clear truth of God’s Holy Word, the Bible.”
The economic depression had hit Newfoundland hard. Many were destitute. The old-age pension was but $50 a year. Ninety percent of the population were engaged in fishing—hard work with very small returns. A quintal (112 pounds) of fish sold for $5.50 or less. Hardships were as certain as death and taxes. People offered in return for Bible literature homespun garments, mittens, socks, sweaters, sealskin leather goods, furs, trinkets made of whalebone and ivory, and dried fish. And, of course, the appearance of the “Morton” in many a cove was unwelcome to some, particularly the clergy. They would decry the Witnesses, call them false prophets, forbid their parishioners to read Watch Tower literature or even to receive the Witnesses in their homes. We can relive those experiences as we read from Brother Franske’s diary:
“We tried to work Presque, Bonah, St. Kyrans and Paradise without success. All had been warned by the ‘Father,’ who did not want to have his nest ruffled. The visit to Flat Islands compensated for all of this. The entrance to the harbor is very rocky, and a fisherman in a dory came out to meet our boat and pilot us into the harbor. Both men and women came aboard the ‘Morton’ in crowds. . . . We never had such a reception before. We gave them some music and a talk and they remained until midnight. These people were hungry for the truth. The next day they showered us with flowers. . . . Although they were poor, we placed many books, and we answered many Bible questions.”
The following season, 1930, the “Morton” again sailed forth, this time with a new partner for Brother Franske—Philip Parsons, a fisherman from Rose Blanche who was well acquainted with boats and sailing under difficulties. It was well that this was so, for it had been decided to journey northward and work all the islands and the coastline in the Notre Dame and White Bay areas. In June such a trip can be exciting. The ice floe is on in full force. “Growlers” (the name sailors give to the mammoth structural monuments from the Arctic) glisten like huge castles in the sun. They may resemble anything from square floating blocks to cathedrallike apparitions with tall spires. Then, too, there are the seemingly endless fields of broken drift ice that can make sailing hazardous. To avoid being crushed, the crew of the “Morton” had to keep their pike poles busy, fending off the larger chunks of ice. The hazards of the journey were amply rewarded by the delight of preaching the message to people who had never heard it before. Thousands of pieces of literature were placed.
The group in the city of St. John’s was growing numerically and had the benefit of many visits by traveling representatives of the Society. For example, M. A. Howlett came over in 1927. Later Brother Cutforth was there. The Society’s radio programs were heard regularly through a Nova Scotia station. However, there was little real boldness for the proclamation of the Kingdom message. It seemed that there was an element in the congregation that hindered the flow of Jehovah’s spirit. With the acceptance of the name “Jehovah’s witnesses,” in 1931, it became clear that there was a division. Some preferred the soft term “Bible Students.” They managed to influence the major part of the congregation, only a few standing firm and loyal in support of the Watch Tower Society’s worldwide work. The August 15 and September 1, 1932, issues of The Watchtower with their articles on “Jehovah’s Organization” shook out any remaining weak ones. Some of the congregation’s former “elective elders” and their hangers-on thereafter became prominent in local society, and even moved into the good graces of the clergy. The few faithful ones now had the advantage that they had been cleansed from all the influence of the fearful and halfhearted ones.
Attention now turns to the second-largest community in Newfoundland, Corner Brook, on the west coast. Sister Mason had been there in 1923, but no real effort had been made to search for sheeplike ones thereafter. Then in 1933 Earl Senior, a dedicated Newfoundland brother, was working with the Department of Highways, and business took him to Corner Brook. While there he started distributing the booklet Where Are the Dead? He found ready ears in a small woodworking shop where Alfred Johnson and Reuben Barnes worked together. That booklet was all that was needed to open their eyes.
Soon a new study group had been formed and later, when Lloyd Stewart was sent there by the Society’s Canadian branch, he organized a small congregation with the Barnes and Johnson families as its nucleus. Little Reta Johnson and young Gus Barnes shared in those early meetings. Both were later to become Gilead School missionaries and have a goodly share in the development of the Kingdom activity in Newfoundland.
Jack Keats later joined the Barnes and Johnson families at Corner Brook and a vigorous campaign of preaching the good news of the Kingdom got under way. No opportunity to preach was overlooked. At lumber camps, fishing communities, among river log drivers, on midnight railway trains—everywhere the phonograph sermons were played and Bible truth was discussed. The clergy-dominated town of Corner Brook was in a real uproar!
Again the question of consecrated ground for burial became the issue. Once more the local townsfolk and the clergy were shocked when the brothers went ahead and buried their dead in their own ‘unconsecrated’ plot. The full import of these incidents may not be fully appreciated today when religious leaders and their practices are suspect; but in those days the clergyman’s word was law and any defiance of the church-established traditions was sacrilege.
MOVING IN ON THE CAPITAL
While Corner Brook was the scene of these happenings, the Society’s branch in Canada sent a very devoted couple to St. John’s to care for the interests of the Kingdom in Newfoundland. They were Ray and Betty Gillespie. A depot for literature was built and a sound car began to be used throughout the area, broadcasting to large crowds everywhere the powerful voice of J. F. Rutherford, at that time president of the Watch Tower Society. An interesting incident is told about those stirring times when the distraught clergy were instigating violence against the Witnesses:
‘Once while Brother Gillespie was playing a transcription record from the sound car on Bell Island, a crowd began to throw rocks at him. One young boy was goaded into throwing some of the rocks. It was his rock that hit the machine and stopped it. That night the boy went home sad, sick at heart. Through the years the matter plagued him often. One day, years later, a pioneer called on that boy, now a grown man, and started a study with him. After the study he wanted to unburden himself by a confession of what had weighed on his heart for so long. He told of his guilt and sorrow and asked for forgiveness. That man later became a Witness.’
The 1930’s were a difficult period for Jehovah’s people in Newfoundland, and particularly so in St. John’s, where tempers often flared, where shouting matches, throwing of stones and challenges to fight were common. Into this atmosphere came Brother and Sister Ernest Ellis, who had experienced mob violence in the United States. They faced many challenges. For example, one morning when Brother Ellis was working in the east end of the city some women with their families, instigated by the priests, attacked him and tore up his Bibles and books. Ernest stood his ground and would not budge until he could get the police. He pushed the matter to court, where a fair-minded judge severely chastised the attackers, to the great surprise of the citizenry. Fearlessly Brother Ellis went back into that same area again and again with the message of peace and comfort.
While in St. John’s, Ernest had a neighbor who was a contact for men arriving in St. John’s from an outport called Princeton. After visiting with Ernest, those men went home to Princeton as Jehovah’s witnesses. The interest aroused in that part of Newfoundland was strong. Later that area produced several missionaries as graduates from Gilead School.
Brother Ellis also initiated efforts to obtain a local charter, forming the International Bible Students Association of Newfoundland Limited. This was early in 1940.
By now the local authorities had had enough of Ernest Ellis. Steps were taken to deport him as a foreigner preaching a foreign religion. But Ernest aroused the brothers, and suddenly the authorities were faced with a strong delegation of native Newfoundlanders who held their ground successfully, so that Ernest stayed on. An amazing number of signatures to a petition in his behalf was a powerful factor in this result. Even some “enemies” signed the petition because they admired the fighting spirit of this little man. Later, when World War II was threatening and it seemed that another attempt to deport him would succeed, the Watch Tower Society recalled him to the United States, and the opposers never got the satisfaction of kicking him out of the country, as they had planned.
World War II came in 1939. The arrival of The Watchtower through the mails became almost impossible due to the tight censorship that was instituted. However, an American soldier stationed at Fort Pepperrell on the outskirts of St. John’s became interested and subscribed for the magazine. His mail got through without difficulty, so eventually the brothers could count on his copy. They purchased a mimeograph machine, and in this way were able to supply the one hundred subscribers throughout Newfoundland. But difficulties were multiplying. Those zealous fighters for righteousness who were not native to Newfoundland were being pressured into leaving, if not deported outright. What was to happen next?
Back in Corner Brook young Gus Barnes had grown up. His father, Reuben, was always kindly, firm for truth and devoted to the spread of the good news. Often he would speak to Gus about the great issues involved and the need to tie close together all the interests in Newfoundland and establish the organization on a country-wide basis. “I wish I were young and could do that work,” he would say.
So, it was a happy day for old Reuben when his boy came and told him that he had decided to spend the rest of his life in the pioneer service. Gus saved sufficient money that winter to buy his train ticket to St. John’s and to get together a few items of equipment. He told his plans to another young man in Pasadena, Newfoundland, and he decided to accompany him. So, in the spring of 1940, Gus Barnes and Herbert Dawe arrived in the capital, Gus with but $5.27 in his pocket. And during the next ten years, despite problems and difficulties, he was never any poorer financially.
IN TROUBLESOME TIMES
At the literature depot Brothers Barnes and Dawe met Dougal McCrae, a Canadian pioneer who was about to be deported. He told them that the government was about to impose a ban on all Society literature, and that the supply of recordings and books in the depot was therefore in danger of confiscation.
The brothers hit upon a plan. They loaded most of the literature and records into Brother Howell’s schooner for shipment to Lumsden. More was sent to Princeton and other smaller places. When the authorities did crack down on the depot, it was too late—the shelves were practically bare.
Meantime, Brothers Barnes and Dawe could see that during the war it would be best to confine their Kingdom activities to the distant outports along the wild coast. ‘I was no sailor,’ Gus Barnes admitted, ‘for I knew nothing about the tides and the storms, the charts and the compass, the breakers and the dangers of the ever-turbulent sea.’
It took a lot of ingenuity and determination to re-outfit the Society’s thirty-one-foot motorboat, which, with high hopes for the future, they called “Kingdom Boat No. 1.” The brothers at Princeton were a fine source of encouragement. There Bob Moss joined the crew, helping to build up their confidence for the job they were now undertaking. Says Brother Barnes: ‘The very first day of our seagoing ministry was a wild one, our little boat digging into the waves in a frightening sort of way. Our first port of call, Salvage, was populated by staunch supporters of the Church of England. The result: we soon were being stoned and driven from the harbor as German spies. In fact, someone in the village sent word to the police to the effect that we were playing a phonograph record entitled “Hitler Can’t Lose.” We retired gracefully and got to work in another quieter cove, though all day long we kept hearing that the police were coming for us. When we went ashore Bob and I separated, he going in one direction while I went in the other, with the idea that we should meet with each other later in the day.
‘At last, long hours beyond the expected time, I did meet up with him. As I rounded a point in a lonely part of the road, there I saw Bob playing a record for the benefit of a tall policeman who towered above him. The recording had reached the point where Brother Rutherford was lining up all those on the Devil’s side at Armageddon. “On the Devil’s side,” boomed out the powerful voice, “at Armageddon will be the armies and the navies of all the nations, the police power, the police power, the police power . . .”—the record kept repeating at that one spot! Bob was red as a beet, and, fearing the worst, I was wondering if I should run, when suddenly, seeing the humor of the situation, the officer laughed out loud. In fact, he became one of our good friends thereafter.’
Continuing his story, Gus Barnes went on to say: ‘It was a day of big swells when a nervous, sea-frightened crew neared the dangerous coast at Cat Harbour (now Lumsden) at the mouth of Dead Man’s Bay. No stranger could ever make entry into that tricky cove, so as we hovered out there among the rocks, what a relief to see a big fisherman’s boat bearing down on us! The hearty, handsome fisherman who welcomed us was Elmore Howell, who was to become like a father to us in our endeavors of the years to come. Here in Lumsden the friends fed us, encouraged us, replaced some of our worn equipment, provisioned our boat and sent us on our way to some of the bays to the north. They spoke of Sister Mason, of Brother Macmillan, as well as Brothers Howell and Parsons who had pursued the truth from back in 1915.’
When winter came, it was impractical to continue with the boat; so the alternative was to take to the trails with a sled loaded with phonograph, Bibles and literature. Gus Barnes tells of times when he placed as many as 500 books in a month. On the other hand, there was the accusation that they were “spies.” On one occasion at least, that meant sleeping outside, curled up on a sled, watching the northern lights. That one night that Gus spent outside “turned the tables,” so to speak, for the people of the community became intensely interested in him and were sure he was no “German spy.”
The authorities at that time had begun to raid various homes of the Witnesses where they expected to seize ‘outlawed’ literature. But the stores of literature were safely hidden away where only a few had access to them, and so it was possible, from time to time, for congregations and pioneers to replace their stock and carry on with the Kingdom work, using the Bible alone in their initial approach to the homes.
In the early spring of 1941 Gus Barnes and Bob Moss were back in Princeton to spend some weeks readying the boat for another summer’s voyage. That gave opportunity to help the group there to get well organized for Watchtower studies and for a weekly book study in the book Salvation. “While there that spring,” Gus reports, “I often talked with Ford and Bill Prince, two young boys who were extremely interested in what we were doing. I didn’t realize then that both of those boys would move on from those early talks we had to become pioneers and later go through Gilead School and be sent out as missionaries.”
The second summer voyage of the good boat “Kingdom No. 1” was exciting, to say the least. At Lumsden, Brothers Moss and Barnes were baptized, though they had now been preaching for several years. Then they headed for Lewisporte. Gus Barnes tells what happened: ‘The boat was leaking, so we put into a small cove several miles from Lewisporte. We decided to fix the leak here, so early that morning we carried our literature and provisions back into the woods and covered them with a tarpaulin to guard against rain. But news of our presence got around quickly—“a strange boat with speaker horns on the roof, perhaps German spies!” Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by a group of Canadian Army soldiers. They towed us under guard to Lewisporte, where the whole town turned out to see these desperate prisoners. . . . I demanded to see the officer in charge. When this was denied, I told the captain that in view of the agreement between the Canadian military and the independent state of Newfoundland his men were interfering with civilians and encroaching upon the authority of the local police. Then I demanded to be taken to the Newfoundland police. Soon the police were satisfied and we were on our way. We stopped only long enough to pick up our cache of literature, and then we made for the far northern peninsula. Thereafter police and customs officers were often our visitors, but many of them did not even have a copy of the ban, so they left us alone. By fall we were back in Corner Brook after an exciting summer in which we had placed thousands of pieces of literature.’
By the end of 1941, Gus Barnes and his companion were back in St. John’s, living in the depot and striving to build up again what had become a very small study group. Materialism and fear had cooled the affections of many. It was even being said, ‘Perhaps the work is finished.’ With some the wish doubtless was father to the thought. Then came news of the death of Brother Rutherford on January 8, 1942. What was ahead?
CONTACTING BROOKLYN HEADQUARTERS
Brother Barnes tells how the publishers got the answer to that vital question: ‘Jehovah knew our needs and almost as if by a miracle the February 1, 1942, Watchtower came into my hands. It proved to be the right thing at the right time. Its article “Final Gathering” showed how Jehovah purposed to have a great “fishing and hunting work” done. The Newfoundland brothers were familiar with literal fishing and hunting, and this fitted them for the work that lay ahead. The brothers knew that there was much work to be done, and they were ready to do it, but they needed help and instructions from the Society. But how, in view of the censorship and other circumstances of the ban?’
Ford Prince volunteered. Soon he was hired on a passenger vessel as a merchant marine. He was undaunted by the fact that German U-boats were sinking many ships. He knew his mission. The brothers in Newfoundland needed help in getting a good, seaworthy boat, literature and other materials for the advancement of the Kingdom work. In Brooklyn he explained the situation to Milton Henschel of the office of the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and was assured that all the problems would be taken care of right away.
Because of duties aboard ship, Ford could not stay for dinner, but he returned the next day. Sure enough, there was a package for him containing literature and phonograph records. This was but the first of many important trips he was to make bearing precious cargo for his brothers at home. Through a letter from Brother Knorr, Gus Barnes learned that funds would be made available for the purchase of a better boat. For only $600, Brother Barnes bought a beautiful forty-two-foot yacht. So, before long, a new Kingdom boat called “Hope” was put to work in spreading the good news.
The plan was to work the south coast from Port-aux-Basques on to Placentia Bay. At Burgeo, a port of entry, the customs men and the Mounted Police boarded the “Hope.” They knew of the ban on the literature, and wanted to act, but they hesitated and decided to await instructions from St. John’s. One of the crew members of the “Hope” relates:
‘That night, as the fog rolled in and the coast was shrouded in blackness we decided to chance it with our small dory and take out all our literature, records and equipment, with the idea of hiding them in some lonely cove. They had posted no watch on us. Then an amazing thing happened! Around midnight we heard the coastal steamer whistle its way to anchor in a fogbound harbor on the outer shores. We quickly got our compass and charts and rowed through the fog until we picked up that steamer’s bearing lights. Climbing the rope ladder and walking along the deck, we managed to contact the purser and told him we had a shipment we wanted to make. He was agreeable to accepting it, and in no time we had our dory empty and all our theocratic equipment was shipped down the coast some seventy miles. In the morning the officers were there, as we had expected, to take everything we had. They found nothing! They were for keeping us in port indefinitely, but we protested to the government and an order was issued for them to release us.
‘Several weeks later we arrived at the port where we had more or less blindly sent our literature. The local merchant, out of curiosity, had opened one of the cartons and was thoroughly enjoying the book Enemies when we arrived. Indeed, he provided us with facilities to wrap up and mail literature back to all the interested persons whose names and addresses we had noted down. When that same coastal vessel headed back up the coast again, it carried hundreds of books and booklets in neat packages addressed to points all the way up as far as Burgeo.’
Then came the fall, with high gales and lashing seas. The “Hope” was on the coast of Burin Peninsula, one of the southerly tips of Newfoundland. On the way to Epworth an incident occurred that did much to remove the stigma of “spies” and “smugglers” that had clung to the “Hope” like barnacles. Here is Gus Barnes’ log entry: ‘We were sailing a stormy sea on a dismal coastline when we heard gunshots from somebody in distress. By maneuvering we finally managed to signal the drifting boat with thirteen people aboard, mostly women and children. They had gone adrift and were in grave danger of being swept out into the terrors of the winter ocean. During many hours they had been crying for help. We were able to revive them, serving hot drinks, and then towed them to their home port of Corbin. Here the whole town is Catholic, but these people were our friends now, and we could speak the Kingdom message to them.’
FREEDOM TO EXPAND
The ban on the importation and distribution of literature published by the Watch Tower Society was lifted in March 1945. That was surely a time for great expansion of the Kingdom interests in Newfoundland. A shipment of 75,000 pieces of literature was ordered from the Brooklyn headquarters. Also, a branch office was established in the former depot, graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead were assigned to serve in the major cities, and circuit and district overseers were appointed to visit the congregations and organize upbuilding semiannual assemblies. Thus, the organization became more firmly knit together.
Soon the branch premises were outgrown and new and larger quarters were secured on June 6, 1946, at 239 Pennywell Road, St. John’s. Charles Clemons, one of the newly arrived missionaries, was appointed branch overseer. Arrangements were made to have the missionaries concentrate on the two largest communities, St. John’s and Corner Brook. The boat “Hope” continued to carry the Kingdom message to isolated coastal villages. But with the passage of the years, roads began to crisscross the island. Other conveniences followed, and preaching by way of the sea diminished in importance. Practically all settlements, with the exception of the south and the Labrador coasts, soon could be reached by road.
Back in the 1940’s circuit overseers still experienced difficulties of travel, however. George Stover, for example, tells of one hazardous trip: ‘The return trip was not easy. The country was in the grip of winter, and during the thirty-three-mile walk the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The first night I stayed with some men in a woods camp, and took the opportunity to talk to them. Next day I began the last lap of my journey. I started out across a lake. Before I reached the other side, a storm blew up and closed the trail so that I could not see where I was going. I placed my briefcase down on the snow, sat on it and began praying for direction. With renewed confidence I picked up my case and after a few steps I came upon fresh tracks in the snow coming from another direction on the lake. My only hope was that this trail would take me in the right direction. Darkness was settling. Soon I would be unable to see the trail. Then, as I raised my head and looked straight forward, to my joy I could see the lights of the town. How grateful I was to Jehovah for his care and protection!’
In 1946 Gus Barnes and Ford Prince were invited to the first international class of Gilead missionary training school following the war. Both thereafter returned to Newfoundland, Brother Barnes to continue in circuit service and Brother Prince to supervise the operations of the “Hope.” The vessel still had much to do in behalf of the Kingdom interests before being taken out of service in December 1955. Scores of isolated persons had been contacted during its years of activity, many of them to become themselves active publishers of the Kingdom and associates in the increasing number of congregations.
The 1946-1947 service year proved to be outstanding for the brothers in Newfoundland. Eight pioneers and thirty-eight publishers placed a total of 25,000 pieces of literature. But the crowning joy of 1947 was the summer assembly when Brothers Knorr and Henschel were the specially welcomed visitors. This was the first time that a president of the Watch Tower Society visited the island. “Permanent Governor of All Nations” was the title of the widely advertised lecture on that occasion. Brother Knorr himself had the joy of sharing in the advertising when he went aboard the “Hope” and, with the help of its sound equipment, made announcement all around St. John’s harbor concerning the forthcoming lecture.
Charles and Eva Barney, better known among Newfoundlanders as Barney and Eva, were assigned as missionaries to the Corner Brook area—a widely scattered territory. On their arrival, they found that the original group had moved away, leaving just a couple of interested families. No preaching activity at all was being reported to the branch office. But during the following six years, when the missionaries were tramping up and down the hills of the neighborhood, there was a great transformation. When the Barneys left, there was a thriving congregation praising Jehovah in Corner Brook.
Walter and Grace Kienitz, another missionary couple who came with the first group assigned to Newfoundland in the autumn of 1945, have now spent thirty years on the island. In 1962 they received an assignment to work Argentia and surrounding settlements, where much of their territory involved witnessing to the personnel of the United States Navy stationed there. A goodly number of wives, particularly, accepted the message of the Kingdom, and then, sooner or later, moved back to the United States.
By the year 1952, there were 21 congregations, with 315 publishers, busy in Newfoundland. In that year also, M. F. Latyn was appointed branch overseer.
Year after year new congregations were established and added their efforts to the spread of the Kingdom message. In 1952, a new congregation was formed at Bonavista as the result of the labors of Gilead-trained missionaries Bernard and Elizabeth Mahler. Another congregation was formed at Joe Batt’s Arm in 1953; also congregations at Stephenville, Musgrave Harbour and Mount Pearl in 1955; at Port-aux-Basques and Epworth in 1957, as a result of the activity of Gilead graduates; and one at Norris Point in 1958. And in the succeeding years other congregations were established at Lewisporte, Happy Valley, Bay Roberts and Weybridge. In St. John’s city, too, great things had been taking place; the congregation had become so large that in 1963 several groups were formed.
The moving of families to where the need is greater has had good results in Newfoundland. This is what led to the formation of a new congregation at Labrador City in 1964, to the forming of another congregation at Carbonear in 1967, and still another in Shoal Harbour in 1968. The diligent efforts of special pioneers produced other new congregations at Springdale and Baie Verte in 1969. The story has been one of theocratic progress ever since.
Looking back over the record of Jehovah’s people there in Newfoundland truly causes gratitude to Jehovah to well up in our hearts. From the time the first congregation was organized by Brother Macmillan in 1916 down to the year 1974, the records show that more than 3,600,000 pieces of literature have already been distributed throughout the towns, hamlets and outports, all over Newfoundland. More than three million hours have been spent in this work. To nourish the interest, well over 1,000,000 return visits have been made. With what result? Why, during the past twenty-five years alone, over 1,180 persons have dedicated their lives to God and have symbolized this by water baptism! A peak of 1,131 publishers reported activity during May 1975. Yet, many more are being attracted to God’s organization, for 2,041 attended the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal on March 27, 1975.
Jehovah’s hand may be seen in the way humble isolated persons here have been reached, and they, in turn, have preached to others. (Compare Acts 11:19-21.) The good news has been spread to remote places. It is stimulating to realize that our God is still pleased to use the brothers in Newfoundland in his great work of Kingdom proclamation. And, in turn, they are happy be the recipients of such wonderful favor!