Reclaiming pieces of the past

·6 min read

SOUTHWEST COAST – After many years, Port Aux Basques resident Paul Graham has reclaimed some important pieces of his family's history; antique furniture that came from his great-grandparents home.

“My great-grandfather, he was from Rose Blanche, and he was born in the house he later lived in, but my great-grandmother was from Burnt Islands. His name was Charles Hannam and my great-grandmother, her full name was Mary Elizabeth King, but people called her Lizzy. She married my great-grandfather and moved to Rose Blanche and that’s where she ended her days," said Graham.

His great-grandparents lived right by the road in Rose Blanche in a spot known locally as 'down through the tunnel'.

“It’s the main harbour, old people used to call it, and my grant-grandfather used to call it Linney’s Harbour."

Charles and Lizzy were his grandmother's parents and they had three children – Susan (Hannam) Stroud, Carrie (Hannam) Blagdon (Graham's grandmother), and Marjorie (Hannam) Hatcher.

“The house they lived in originally belonged to my great-great-grandparents, Bill and Caroline Hannam. So my great-grandparents, Charles and Lizzy, they lived up on the hill in the brown house, which used to be a two-storey house at the time, but my great-grandmother didn’t like being up on the hill. She was always scared of the wind, scared the house was going to blow down or the roof was going to blow off or something. So whenever there was a lot of wind, she’d have a bag packed in case they needed to leave in a hurry," said Graham. “When my great-grandfather's parents died, William and Caroline, he moved down into his father’s house so they could get off the hill. Then they sold the house on the hill and the person who bought it, he made it into a one-storey house.”

After his great-grandparents both passed, there was a plan for the town or a committee to turn their house into a museum, so the family did not remove much of the contents from the house.

“The house itself hadn’t had much done with it. In the house there were all the old kerosene lamps, all the reflectors were still on the walls, all the doors were all hand carved, handmade doors, all the furniture was handmade, so it was like stepping back in time," said Graham. “I’m pretty sure they didn’t have money to proceed with the project, and the roof started to leak, and I think the Town, at some point in time, they decided they were going to auction off the furniture. By that time, my mother, grandmother, everybody was deceased, and I was living in St. John’s. I wasn’t around for the auction.”

Graham heard through the grapevine that a lady in Port Aux Basques, Sylvia Payne-Gould, had bought some of the furniture at the auction.

“Years, years, and years later, out of the blue this past winter, I thought, ‘I’m just going to send her an email and see if she has the furniture, number one, and number two, if she ever decides to sell it, will she let me know.’ She said to me, ironically, that she was going to sell her house in Port Aux Basques the summer, and she’ll be going down to sell some of her furniture, so that’s how we connected, sort of by fluke. The timing worked out.”

Payne-Gould hadn't just bought the furniture, she had also restored some of it.

“She had some of it refinished and it was at her home in Port Aux Basques. She also has a home on the Northern Peninsula, so she didn’t spend a lot of time here I don’t think. So because she was going to sell her home here, not maintaining two places anymore, she decided to sell the furniture.”

Graham messaged her back in March while she was at her home on the Northern Peninsula.

“She sent me a couple of pictures of some of the furniture that she had, but she didn’t have pictures of everything. So when she came down several weeks ago, she sent me some more pictures, and when she was ready, I went up, looked at them, and bought what she had,” said Graham. “They are in good condition considering their age. I expect that the furniture actually belonged to my great-great-grandparents. I think when my great-grandparents moved down into his father’s house, I think the furniture that was there is what they kept there.”

Graham is excited to have reclaimed these pieces of his family’s history.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s funny, I got a message on Facebook after I posted that weekend from a guy who is down in the (Codroy) Valley. He’s from Rose Blanche originally. He had another table from that house when he was a student in university,. He took it to St. John’s with him, and the person he rented from – I think he lived in a basement apartment – the person he rented from, whenever she collected rent, she always had an eye on this table, and when he left, he gave her the table and she put it in a train or railway museum in Avondale apparently. So there’s another piece floating around there somewhere,” said Graham. “It’s a real treasure for me. I’m so happy and I feel so fortunate to have been able to get it.”

The items, a child’s rocking chair, three stands to hold a jug and basin, a small table, a table with five legs, a hutch with a mirror, four wooden chairs and two, more elaborately carved chairs, are now on display in Graham's home.

“I’ve got to decide now if I want to get them refinished again or keep them as they are, but they are in my home and I’ll pass them down to my children one of these days,” said Graham. “It feels good because, as a young kid and as a teenager, I’d often go down to my great-grandparents house. We’d go down there for New Year's Day, for dinner. My grandparents and my great-aunt and uncle would be down there playing cards all the time, so I spent some time down there and I can remember the furniture, so it was nice to see it again.”

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News