LEWISPORTE, NL – Soon after graduating nursing school in Saskatchewan, a young and adventurous Elizabeth Chaffey had the choice to practice in various hospitals in Canada.
But none of the places appealed to her – not until she heard the name “Twillingate.”
“It sounded different from the rest, and I supposed I could go for a year,” said Elizabeth. “What is one year of your life?
“That was in 1959 and here I am today.”
Her journey to Newfoundland would be the start of more than her nursing career. It was here she met Fred, her husband of 57 years.
Travel from the prairies took almost seven days by train, according to Elizabeth.
“We needed to go across Canada, across the Gulf, then to Notre Dame Junction.”
Having trained in a large teaching hospital in Regina, her arrival at the Notre Dame Bay Hospital took her by surprise.
“It was an eye-opener – there was no money in the smaller hospitals,” Elizabeth said.
Lack of services did not dampen the spirits of the other doctors and nurses in the area who worked to provide the best care for patients. And she was not the only who found Twillingate appealing.
“There were doctors there from all the over the world, from Scotland, England, the Philippines and Australia” said Elizabeth.
The hospital was busy in the warmer months. The primary mode of transportation to the hospital was by boat, but “when (the water) froze, you could not go back and forth.”
To provide medical care to outport communities, nurses lived in these locations during the winter.
The head nurse offered her a choice between Herring Neck and Change Islands.
She was intrigued by the sound of Change Islands and set her mind on it. She was the first nurse to arrive at Change Islands and worked with two midwives, one serving the north part of the island, the other the south.
The first ferry captain in Change Islands.
When Fred Chaffey was 18, local Change Islands businessman WH Earle asked him to drive his passenger boat and take him and his guests to Fogo Island to see the Governor General.
Excited for the opportunity, Fred went back home to tell his father who said, “I sure hope you won’t disappoint him.”
Earle wasn’t disappointed – he was impressed with Fred’s navigation skills and that led to more opportunities, kick-starting his career to ultimately become a ferry captain.
Fred had a natural instinct for navigating boats and was taught at a young age by his father. There were no navigational charts in the early days, but Fred always found his way.
“From about 14, Dad had a small boat to go to the steam to get freight because Dad had a store,” said Fred. “I had a pretty good idea. I listened to the old fellas telling you stuff, which was not always right.”
Fred ferried people on his route between Change Islands, Fogo Island and Lewisporte. As he was the only transport between the islands and the hospital, he was called at all hours to ferry pregnant women to the nearest hospital for delivery.
The ferry ride to the hospital was always tense for Fred. Not equipped with medical resources or trained to deliver a baby, he was always more than relieved when the pregnant passenger arrived safely.
“When we got there and there was someone to meet them? I am some glad, ‘by. When she got off the boat, there was no happier person in the world than I was then.”
Although Fred recalled ferrying many pregnant women, none of them delivered on the boat.
“They were close, but never had one. I was sure we were going to get caught someday, but no. We did some laughing at that, I tell you.”
Tying the knot over a deck of cards
To keep entertained on the island, people either “play cards or go for dinner,” said Elizabeth.
She came to know Fred by playing cards with his family.
“His mother was a great card player – loved cards,” said Elizabeth, and she would regularly be the fourth member at the card table, taking Fred’s place when he was away for work during winter.
“But I did meet him (Fred) just before I left that spring,” said Elizabeth.
After that, they spent as much time together as their schedules allowed.
Elizabeth recalled watching television on the boat when Fred spent overnight at Change Islands.
They got to know each other well and made the decision to get married after a year of courting.
As they celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary, Elizabeth beamed and said, “we’ve had a wonderful marriage.”
Asked about some of the things they do together every day to make a marriage last, Elizabeth bursts out laughing.
“The dishes,” she said. “I said, I’ll cook, and you’ll do the dishes.
“And I always said we have two televisions and thanks God because he is a hockey man and I am not.”
And how would she describe Fred using the analogy of a deck of cards?
“Well, I’d better say he would be the king, wouldn’t I?” she laughed.
Video of story can be found at: https://youtu.be/7F_CfaGSek4