Ghastly sounds made by dishes being smashed, pots and pans propelled across the kitchen after the midnight hour were all too familiar events in the life of young Rita Mary Stamp. However, when morning arrived nothing was ever out of place. Unusual sightings, the presence of ghosts in the family home, myths, fables and belief in fairies, as well as superstitions and premonitions were all a part of growing up poor and Irish in the small outport village of St. Vincent’s in St. Mary’s Bay. Throughout much of her adult life, she has remained haunted by those memories.
Rita grew up in fear: angst related to her father’s harsh approaches to discipline, as well as threat-based schooling deeply rooted in rote learning and religious rites. Add her father’s unyielding and virtually unattainable expectations, as well as those of the Roman Catholic Church, combined with unrelenting hardship and cyclical poverty of mid-century rural Newfoundland, and one has the context and content for this remarkable tale. St. Vincent’s and the surrounding outports were also dominated by a priest who reigned with a steel will and an iron fist, invoking the fear of God as well as the Leather Strap on all young souls who would dare risk transgressing his “sacred” and immutable rules.
Rita left Newfoundland in 1969, one of many tens of thousands before and after her, to begin a new life in Toronto where she married and raised a daughter and a son. For generations it was the lot of many Newfoundlanders to depart- to head down the road- for economic reasons, but Rita’s motivation for leaving ran much deeper. Forty years later she sees that choice- and Newfoundland- in a very different light. With the imminent turn in the economic prosperity of the island, in the future that road could become well traveled in both directions.
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