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Mary Yarn of Mose Ambrose



The Evening Telegram - IN FOCUS
By Jean Edwards Stacey, Sept 20, 2000

As a Newfoundlander might say, there are no flies on Mary Yarn. The 88-year-old resident of Mose Ambrose, Fortune Bay, may be stooped and white-haired, but there's nothing meek and mild about her. The retired school teacher is feisty, and still retains a lot of her classroom ways.

For example, shortly after you sit down to chat, she tells you she spent quite a bit of time teaching school on the Northern Peninsula.

Not long afterwards, you ask her where she was born.

"Bareneed," she replies, then quickly adds, "Do you know where that is?"

Taken off guard, you say, "Um, I'm not sure."

That sets her off - "What, you don't know where Bareneed is?" - and what follows is a quick lesson in Newfoundland geography.

Bareneed, you finally learn, and realize you should have known all along, is located in Conception Bay, past Clarke's Beach, and very close to Port de Grave and Hibbs Cove.

"Near where Fisheries Minister John Efford comes from," says Mary.

Although you haven't noticed that Mary sounds anything like Efford, you now begin to get a hint of that distinctive accent. It's very subtle, but it is there.

Mary laughs as she tells you about the time in Grand Falls when someone heard her speaking and asked if she was an English or Scottish war bride.

Born Mary Boone in 1911, her parents were John and Mary Boone. Mary says her father's people were among the earliest settlers in Bareneed.

"When land was granted, all Bareneed was granted to the Boones," she says with pride.

Her mother's family was from Spaniard's Bay. Earlier, they had lived in St. John's, on land near the present War Memorial on Duckworth Street.

Mary grins as she talks about Hibbs Cove formerly being Hibbs Hole, and how a part of the community was known as Pick Eyes. Maybe, she says, that name c ame about because families of Piccos lived there.

Mary had two sisters who died young, and two brothers. One of her brothers died in the States, in New Jersey, in 1978. Within a week of his death, her other brother passed away in Bareneed. The last time Mary was in Bareneed was for his funeral.

After completing school in Bareneed, Mary did a summer of teachers' training at Memorial University College on Parade Street in St. John's.

In 1927, at age 16, she was teaching in McKay's, a small community in St. George's Bay on Newfoundland's west coast.

She says during the Dirty '30s, many schools were closed due to lack of funds. Teachers fortunate enough to get work were often employed for only five months of the year.

In 1934, Mary went teaching in Herring Neck in Notre Dame Bay. She spent two years there and then went to Brig Bay on the Northern Peninsula. Four year later, she was in Shoal Cove West. In 1940, she was still on the Northern Peninsula, in Cow Head.

Mary's teaching career took her to Wing's Point in Gander Bay, to Curling on the west coast, and back again to the Northern Peninsula - to Savage Cove and Daniel's Harbour.

She has special feelings about Daniel's Harbour, where she boarded in a house across the road from Angus and Myra Bennett.

Myra, an English nurse who came to Daniel's Harbour in 1921 and married Angus Bennett not long afterwards, was a legend on the northwest coast. She delivered babies, extracted teeth, set bones and was, for many years, the only medical help along the coast.

Mary knew Myra and Angus. She also knew fiddler Rufus Guinchard, now deceased.

"I knew him before he became well-known," she says.

In Daniel's Harbour, Mary and another teacher, a young woman named Hazel Warren from New Perlican, boarded with the Moss family. Flipping through her photo album, Mary shows pictures of George and Dorcas Moss and their children. She shows you shots of her, as well, at picnics, out skating sledding.

"I liked all that coast," Mary says.

After Daniel's Harbour, her next posting was Mose Ambrose, where she stayed for a year. She then went back to the Northern Peninsula, to Bellburns, and from there to St. John's.

"I taught at the old Springdale school the last year it was opened," she says of her time in St. John's. When it closed, Mary taught in the Church of England orphanage on Strawberry Marsh Road.

During her career, Mary taught mostly in one- and two-room schools. She remembers the pot-bellied stoves that heated the schools. Boys would take turns cutting wood for the stove. Girls were responsible for sweeping up.

"There was no money available for anything. If you wanted chalk, you had to raise the money," she says, adding that card games and bean and soup suppers were two of the ways of raising money for school supplies.

During the time she taught in Mose Ambrose, Mary met a widower by the name of Chesley Yarn. In 1954, at age 43, she came back to Mose Ambrose and she and Chesley were married.

Mose Ambrose is a small Fortune Bay community first settled in the early 1800s by people from West Country England and the Channel Islands. Like many communities on the coast, it was established as fishing rooms by venturers from England. In the early years, residents engaged in the cod and herring fishery. As the bank fishery grew in importance, the population increased, reaching an all-time high of 90 in 1874. Today, there are fewer than 70 people in Mose Ambrose.

Yarn and Bungay are two of the old family names still left in the community. James Yarn started a merchant business in Mose Ambrose in the late 1880s. The business also operated the post office and the telegraph office.

Chesley Yarn continued the business. In 1964, the business premises burnt down and were rebuilt on the same site, but this time nearer the family
residence. Following their marriage, Mary and Chesley worked together in the family shop.

These days, the shop is operated by Chesley's granddaughter, Margaret, and her husband, Carl Shepherd. Mary is still interested in the Yarn family business, but she's not often in the shop. She prefers to spend her time reading. The bookcase in her living room contains an impressive collection of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

Mary used to be fond of doing something called "drawn thread." It's a skill she learned in Reef's Harbour, a community on the Northern Peninsula where she used to visit friends during her teaching career.

You may never have heard of drawn thread, but when Mary brings out her very first piece of work, a bureau cloth she did in 1937, it's hard not to notice how lovely it is.

Drawn thread is done with a needle and thread.

"You do a hem stitch, then you pull it," Mary says in a terse explanation of a craft that produces such good-looking results. She gave up doing drawn thread because it was difficult to get the linen she says is best to use.

Mary has always been an independent woman. She taught school and she had her own car.

She married relatively late in life and has been a widow since 1991 when Chesley died at age 81. She shows you a picture of her with a smiling Chesley.

Does she miss her husband?

"I still miss him, and you don't get over the miss," she says sadly.



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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