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DNA quirk could reveal mysteries of Newfoundland’s first settlers

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A Newfoundland genealogist has stumbled onto a rare and mysterious DNA quirk that he says could tell the untold story of the island’s first European settlers.

David Pike, a mathematics professor and genealogist, said the rare mitochondrial DNA profile caught his attention over a decade ago when it began popping up frequently in test results for a Newfoundland and Labrador genealogy project.

The profile — called H5a5, plus another unnamed mutation — is likely European in origin.

It has appeared in about 10 per cent of the 264 people across the province who have supplied mitochondrial DNA for the online project.

Compared to thousands of results from other countries, however, it’s extremely rare.

Only a handful of people from Europe — fewer than 10 — have been found to test positive for the specific profile, and almost all those have roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Pike said the results point to a possible “founder effect,” where a biological trait becomes commonplace when passed down from a small group of colonizing ancestors.

Genealogy is often pursued as a way to trace one’s own family roots, but Pike said this particular mystery could speak to the heritage of much of the province.

Even if individuals don’t carry the profile themselves, they could still descend from it.

“You talk to individual people, they have their individual genealogical mysteries,” Pike said. “This is one that’s broader, it’s at the level of population genetics.”

Canada’s youngest province was home to some of North America’s earliest European exploration, but it took a long time for Europeans to settle permanently on what was then a very isolated island.

The Norse established a temporary settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows in the late 10th century, and John Cabot arrived in 1497, followed by Portuguese and French explorers.

The first British colonies were founded in the early 1600s, followed by the French, but Newfoundland had no sizable permanent settler population until after 1760, with an influx of English and Irish migrants whose descendants make up a large majority of the population today.

The island’s original inhabitants, the Beothuk, are widely believed to have become extinct in 1829, but the island has a continuing Mi’kmaq presence.

Pike says the mitochondrial DNA that has caught his attention is matrilineal, and he suspects it came from a woman who travelled to Newfoundland around the early 1600s and had daughters, who then passed the mitochondrial DNA down to their daughters, and so on.

The first woman’s identity and country of origin could reveal a previously unknown settler population, or at the very least shed light on the story of an unwittingly influential ancestor, Pike said.

“I think if we could pinpoint the arrival, the time in Newfoundland and Labrador and maybe the place and time of departure, I think it would give us brand new insight into the peopling of Newfoundland,” he said.

Tracing any one person through centuries is a difficult task, but it becomes even more challenging when that ancestor is a woman.

Genealogists often study church records and other such documents to get a sense of who lived where and when, but Pike said many of these in Newfoundland and Labrador don’t date back much earlier than the 1800s.

Records of early settlements are scant, and documents that do mention a woman often refer to her only by her husband’s name.

Surnames make the hunt for a source of a mitochondrial DNA profile even trickier, given historically, European and early immigrant women to Newfoundland took their husband’s names.

Pike said the mystery could be solved with time, luck and a wider pool of curious participants.

If someone matching the profile could trace their roots back to an older region outside of Newfoundland, that could lead to more research into their family history, possibly pointing to the missing puzzle piece.

“Maybe there will be a parish record entry from … 1610 or something saying Jane Doe, whoever she was, left this parish for Newfoundland,” Pike said.

“It’s going to take luck for that entry even to exist. Finding it, if it exists, is another piece of luck.”

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Loss of Brother to Addiction and Mental Illness Inspires Sister to Raise Money by Selling Face Masks.

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Starting June 10th, until midnight Sunday, June 13th customers across Canada can help raise funds for Mental Health Organizations in their own provinces by purchasing much needed luxury cotton face masks.

Jodee Prouse, from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, co-owner of Service Mask Supply (SMS) is the provider of one of Canada’s best-selling luxury 3-layer Cotton Face Masks. She announced today that they will be donating $1.00 from every mask purchase on June 10, 11, 12 and 13th to Mental Illness Programs and Organizations in communities across Canada. “We all look forward to when we no longer need to wear face masks,” says Jodee, “and we are getting really close. I am proud that we can provide a much-needed product and at the same time allow others the opportunity to come together to raise money for Mental Health in their own communities.”

SMS is excited to announce that for 4 days this week, $1.00 from every mask will be donated to different Mental Health Organizations across Canada. Customers can place their order online, each mask is $5.00, and will ship directly to their homes or businesses. Jodee is proud of her team and orders quickly ship the next business day, leaving from their warehouse in Alberta. All monies collected will go back into each province to where the order was shipped. As an example, Alberta portion will go back to Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta Division, Manitoba to Rainbow Resource Centre and so on. This allows every Canadian the opportunity to make a difference and take part.

From the beginning, SMS had an amazingly simple business model, originally supplying schools and oilfield companies: provide comfortable and affordable masks (each is only $5.00) with patterns that make people smile. Smile. It is what Jodee and her business partner son Ryan believes we need more of right now during these unprecedented times. “My son and I, at different times in our lives, have both struggled with anxiety and depression. We lost a much-loved member of our family when our brother/uncle lost his battle with mental illness and alcoholism when he took his own life in March of 2012. He was only 39. This helped solidify our commitment to helping to eliminate the shame and stigma surrounding mental health.”

Now more than ever we want to bring communities together. And remind people they are not alone.

SMS is proud to be celebrating over 17,000 customers across Canada this week. They know that much of their success has been driven by their passionate customers, repeat business and recommendations to family, friends, and co-workers. “It fills my heart to receive not only Facebook messages and emails daily on how much they love our masks,” says Jodee, “but also the heartfelt words where strangers feel comfortable and safe enough to share some of their own mental health or addiction challenges.”

SMS has over 150 unique colors and patterns with such unique designs as sunflowers, flamingo’s, tie dye, dog lover, pretty kitties, fishing lures, butterflies, hearts, breast cancer, yoga, fine wine, pride, cupcakes and many more. Great for work, play, indoors and outdoors too with sizes for the whole family.

Learn more visit: www.servicemasksupply.ca

For more information you can email [email protected]

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History

Gerry Feehan Receives the Legendary Invitation, A World Famous Newfoundland Tradition

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11By Gerry Feehan

This is the third of four parts in the Newfoundland series. Scroll down to find Part 1, Gros Morne, and part 2 North America’s Oldest European Settlement

If Newfoundlanders weren’t so damn friendly we’d have been on time for our Jiggs dinner.

Terra Nova National Park is situated in eastern Newfoundland, 399 sq km of rugged rock, trees and wetland, wrapped around idyllic fingers of Bonavista Bay. The Trans-Canada highway bisects the park, then continues southeast toward Come by Chance and eventually the capital, St. John’s, on the Avalon Peninsula. It was early October. Terra Nova was still open for business, but quiet, so we had our choice of primo campsites. As we checked in I grabbed a bag of firewood. It was going to be a cold night, with frost expected. The ranger stopped me, “No sense you paying for wood. The folks in site 17 just bought a big load. Just go over and join them when the fire starts.”

And so we did. And that’s how we met Burkey and Bev. Even before we reached their roaring fire, Burkey spotted us timidly approaching from the shadows, and without a word, pulled out spare chairs and began pouring drinks. It was Thursday before Thanksgiving. The Burkes were setting up camp, preparing for the arrival of friends and family, and prepping for the big occasion: Sunday’s Jiggs dinner. After a fun evening of chatter (interspersed with a few tunes from my ever-present ukulele) we rose to bid adieu. “You’ll come for dinner Sunday?” asked Barb. I did some quick calculating. We had a week left on The Rock but had yet to visit St. John’s. Plus there was the Irish Loop and Bonavista Peninsula to explore. And we had a long drive back west to Port Aux Basque, almost 1000km, in order to catch the ferry on Tuesday.

“Sure,” I said.

On Sunday we awoke to a gorgeous morning at the Cabot Highway RV Park, a few kilometers from the town of Trinity, on Bonavista Peninsula. (The intervening 3 days and our St John’s/Avalon/Irish Loop drive will be recounted in the fourth and final yarn of this series.) When we reached Trinity I headed straight through town, bound for the local pier, as I am wont to do. Preoccupied by the brightly painted clapboard homes, 19th century church spires and scenic fishing stages (houses hanging over the water used for cleaning cod), I failed to observe that the roadway was becoming dangerously narrow.

We ended up trapped on the town boat ramp, pointed seaward. There was no way to turn the motorhome around. Florence was starting in on my (justly-deserved) beratement when a boat pulled up to the wharf. “What are you after doing down there, b’y?” asked the operator with an amused look. With his guidance I was able to slowly reverse position and get the RV pointed away from the slippery slope and safely back toward land. I offered my thanks. “No trouble,” said he, bobbing in his boat. “I’m taking friends out for a tour of the bay this lovely morning. Would you and your wife like to join us?” I did some more calculating. It was a two-hour drive back to Terra Nova. Jiggs dinner was at 3pm. “We’d need to be back to shore by 1pm,” I said. “No worries,” he replied, “I’ll have you at the dock by noon at the latest.”

It was a fantastic outing. Skipper Bob and his partner Bonnie run www.trinityecotours.com. The tourist season was almost over and the day’s trip was just for fun. Although the usual fare is $90 a person, they refused to take our money. We followed the rugged coastline, where the remains of the ancient Appalachian Mountains slip into the sea. In Trinity Bay, while a whale spouted to starboard, we came alongside a fisherman hauling up net and cleaning cod. He offered us a bag overflowing with fillets and, with the waive of a hand, made it clear he wouldn’t accept payment.

Cod fishermen are a generous bunch

As we motored into a protected, hidden bay, the remains of a long-abandoned village came into view. Bonnie told us, “This place is known as Ireland’s Eye. On the other side of the island is a spot called Black Duck Cove. That’s where my dad lived until he was 11years old.  In the mid 50’s the government began a resettlement program to get people who lived on remote islands to move to the mainland where there would be better access to services like hospitals and schools.”

In some respects it was forced relocation. Many people, rather than abandon their homes, floated their lodgings to the mainland communities. “The old place on Ireland’s Eye was left behind but my grandfather floated a house from Pope’s Harbour to New Bonaventure in August 1965. It was a saltbox style, with the porch and bathroom added later.”

Life was hard on The Rock 50 years ago.

Skipper Bob and the crew

Time flies when you’re playing on the ocean. It was after 2pm when Bob idled the boat back into the marina. We bid a hasty thank-you and adieu and raced for Terra Nova. When we arrived at the campground it was getting dark. All sites were vacant save one. Bev and Burkey were just breaking camp, headed back to Clarenville.

“We are so sorry,” I apologized. “No problem,” said Bev. “You said you were coming for scoff so I knew you’d be here. I did up a couple of plates. They’re still warm.”

A traditional Newfoundland Jiggs dinner consists of turkey, dressing, gravy, bread pudding, carrots, turnip, cabbage, mashed potatoes, pease pudding, figgy duff – and boiled salt beef. For dessert Barb likes to do blueberry crumble and partridgeberry cake topped with hot vanilla sauce. Simple really. And easy to whip up, especially from the cramped confines of your trailer, in a campground, in the cold. Each platter held enough food for three Jiggs dinners. Burkey laughed and told us that a Newfoundlander’s idea of fine dining is a full plate. I offered him two fresh cod fillets and, although it was a little like carrying coals to Newcastle, he graciously accepted.

Florence and I were the only campers in Terra Nova that night. As they drove away Burkey said, “No sense you buying firewood, there’s plenty left.” Bev waived goodbye and they rolled out of our lives.

I looked at the overflowing feast, loosed my belt and dug in.

Jiggs Dinner

Next time: St John’s and the Irish Loop

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence live in Kimberley, BC!

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

 

Gerry Feehan takes us to North America’s Oldest European Settlement

Exploring Gros Morne Newfoundland with Gerry Feehan

Click to read more travel stories.

 

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