All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway Workers

A Day in the Life of a Steward

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Travelling around the Province

Coastal boats were the lifeline to the outside world for many people in isolated communities. It was a weekly social event to come down to the dock when the ship came in and see who was arriving or leaving, and what goods were being dropped off or picked up.

Larry Hickey had been with the CN Coastal Boat Service and Marine Atlantic for over 30 years. He was a chief steward, among other things, on many coastal vessels including the S.S. Baccalieu. "Not only was the ship like home and the crew like your family," recalls Larry, "but the people that traveled with us and that came out to see us when we docked were like an extended family."

Ships usually sailed only during the day, and docked in a different port every night. Being invited to a private home for dinner was not unusual for the crew. The hospitality, like the dinner was always generous.

Going with the Flow

Each day had a schedule and a list of tasks that depended on the particular coastal routes, the ports of call for a given day and the number of passengers. Many of the tasks were routine, starting with the food and cabin service and ensuring that the passengers were well looked after. However, no matter how well a day was planned, each trip risked, and often encountered, the possibility of the unexpected.

During his many years of service Larry saw his share of unexpected events. "There were only two hospitals along the route. One was in Burgeo and the other in Harbour Breton. The crew dealt with all kinds of cases from women waiting to go into labour, to very sick people needing to be rushed to the nearest hospital. If a call came that someone needed to go to a hospital, it was not unusual for the crew to go to the sick person's home with a stretcher and bring them to the ship. When arriving in the port with the hospital, the crew would often personally carry the patient there."

Expecting the Unexpected

Larry also recalls a number of maternity cases: "Many pregnant women would leave their communities and homes to travel to Burgeo about two weeks before they were due. There they stayed in a boarding house to be near the hospital when their time came. There was always the hope that they would not go into labour on the ship," laughs Larry. "Sometimes the boat would get stormed in for a few days and we would all be a little nervous."

Larry carried a book on every trip just in case one of those women did not quite make it to the hospital. It was a copy of The Canadian Mother and Child. His sister, a nurse, had given it to him with the instructions that if a women should go into labour, pages 46-47 of the book had all the information he needed to know!

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The S.S. Baccalieu docking in Recontre.
The S.S. Baccalieu docking in Recontre on the south coast. The S.S. Baccalieu made the south coast route from the 1920s to the late 1950s. CN Pensioners Collection.
Chief Steward Lahey Purser sitting on a barrel on the S.S. Courage.
The Chief Steward on the S.S. Courage Lahey Purser. Railway Coastal Museum.
Medical personnel and boat crew boarding patient for hospital.
Boarding a patient for hospital. Coastal boat crews and railway men were accustomed to providing for the special needs of the sick. They often went out of their way to transport medical personnel. Harry Cuff Publications.
Three crew members on the M.V. Hopedale, 1961.
Larry Hickey (on right) taking a break on the M.V. Hopedale, 1961. Larry Hickey Collection.