All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway Workers

A Day in the Life of a Steward

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Expecting the Unexpected

The unpredictability of the weather was another factor that could change carefully established schedules and task lists. The weather could wreak havoc with the Steward's schedule by marooning a ship at a port of call much longer than anticipated. In those cases it would be a challenge to maintain the standard of care and service for the passengers. But the weather also made some of the ports even more difficult than they already were. Some of the ports were known as "anchor jobs."

There was no dock in these small places for the coastal boat to moor to, so the anchor would be dropped. A dory would then come out to the ship and people would board or leave off the end of the gangway into a small boat. Larry recalls: "You had to be really careful. Those dories tipped easily if they got caught on the end of the gangway, or when the water was a little rough." There were moments of high drama on more than one occasion. Larry can recall stories of the bravery of the crew. One such incident occurred when a young girl fell off a gangway between the ship and the dock. One crew member, Gerry Dunne, who had just come back from shore leave, immediately jumped into the water to save her. The story has a happy ending as the little girl was resuscitated on shore!

Ready to Serve

Being a steward onboard one of the coastal boats was never boring. It was an opportunity to travel to various places around Newfoundland and Labrador and meet many people. From 1959 on, it was a job that required staying onboard for two week shifts with twelve hour days before the two week onshore period began. Crew rotation did not always work like that though. Crew members worked for three months straight and then they would get two weeks off.

The Chief Steward had to look after and supervise staff of the Steward Department, three to thirteen staff depending on size of ship. The S.S. Baccalieu, for example, had one chief steward, one second steward, one chief cook, one second cook, one mess boy for general help, and up to eight assistant stewards.

While looking after the passengers, the staff in the Steward Department were expected to be dressed in their respective outfits. These had to be kept immaculate. Dress code required the assistant steward wear black shoes and socks, blue serge pants, white jacket with CN stitched in red in the lapels, while the chief steward wore a blue serge uniform with brass buttons and two zigzag gold stripes on both arms of the uniform jacket.

Each job had a job description. One of the Chief Steward's main responsibilities was to oversee that all staff were doing their jobs properly, to ensure that there was a full contingent of staff people able to maintain safety and comfort of all passengers. Staff change occurred in the ports St. John's, Lewisporte, Argentia and Port aux Basques.

Stewardess display at the museum, 2008.
Stewardesses were first hired in the late 1920s and early 1930s when passenger and tourist traffic increased significantly. Railway Coastal Museum.
The S.S. Bar Haven dining saloon with passengers and staff, South Coast, c. 1949.
In the dining Saloon of the S.S. Bar Haven, South Coast, c. 1949. Provincial Archives, The Rooms.
Dining saloon stewards posing, 1959.
The dining saloon stewards of the S.S. Springdale are ready for service, 1959. Provincial Archives, The Rooms.
Cook and Chief Steward inside a ship's galley.
Galley on the S.S. Kyle, 1948. Cook Hickey consults with Chief Steward Mike Fowler regarding the day's menu. Cook Horwood is back to the camera. Atlantic Guardian Photo.