A respected surgeon who holds a special place in his heart for this region has made good on a commitment to give something back to the town that gave him so much during his 30-plus year medical career in Conception Bay North.
Dr. Leslie A. Wells, looking spry and energized on what was his 87th birthday, presided over a unique ceremony on the grounds of The Railway Station Museum in Carbonear on July 10.
With the help of his son, Andrew Wells, Mayor Sam Slade and Brian O'Grady, the town's director of operations and public works, Dr. Wells pulled down a tarp to reveal a nearly eight-feet tall armillary sphere sundial, thought to be the first of its kind in this province.
Wells hopes the sundial will serve as a tourist attraction, and also an educational tool for students.
Fabricated from steel and aluminum, the sundial was the culmination of a nine-month project led by Andrew, who has held what he described as a "strange fascination" with these centuries-old devices that determines time by the position of the sun.
And the timing of the unveiling couldn't have been better, with a cloudless sky allowing the sun to shine down with its full force on the rod-like gnomon, which forms the axis of the sphere, and cast the time-telling shadow on the equatorial ring.
Situated next to the sundial, affixed to a four-billion-year-old granite stone, is a stainless steel plaque explaining the workings of the sundial, and includes the following phrase by famed Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns: "Nae man can tether time or tide."
The sundial is roughly four feet in diameter and weighs about 325 pounds.
Among those contributing to this project were M & M Offshore Limited, Memorial University Technical Services, Island Manufacturing and Galvanizing, and the Town of Carbonear.
The sundial, one of perhaps less than a dozen armilliary sphere types in Canada, has been registered with the North American Sundial Society, joining some 800 registered sundials throughout North America.
Unique and innovative
Dr. Wells retired as a general surgeon at the Carbonear General Hospital in 1990, and later relocated to St. John's to be closer to his family.
But the town in which Dr. Wells plied his unique field of work and raised his family - developing a stellar reputation along the way - was never far from his thoughts. He vowed a long time ago to give something "in thanks" to his adopted hometown, where he planted roots and began his surgical career more than a half-century ago following his medical training in Ireland and England.
It was Andrew who planted the idea of a sundial. It's unique and innovative. Much like Dr. Wells, some might say.
"These were found in Rome 2,000 years ago," Dr. Wells explained. "They're very old. It's an historic sort of thing."
During his address, Dr. Wells reflected on his experience in Carbonear, and expressed great appreciation for the treatment he received, and lauded the education system for helping prepare his children for successful careers.
It took only a few months in Carbonear for Dr. Wells and Christina, who grew up in a village of some 300 inhabitants in Scotland, to make the decision to stay.
"I remember sitting down and I said, 'What do you think of it? Are we alright here?' And we made up our minds. We said this will do.
"It was a very wise decision," he noted.
Dr. Wells and his late wife, Christina, had three children: sons Andrew and Robert, and daughter Mary. Mary is a senior surgeon with Eastern Health in St. John's, following in her father's footsteps. Two of Dr. Wells' four grandchildren were on hand for the ceremony, and helped dig the hole in which the sundial was implanted.
Through the years, Dr. Wells honed his surgical skills in a wide range of areas, and earned the respect and admiration of both his colleagues and his patients.
One of those patients was Viola Clarke of Carbonear. Dr. Wells performed a successful surgery on her some 50 years ago. When Clarke heard that Dr. Wells would be visiting Carbonear last week, she felt a strong urge to attend the ceremony, and she wasn't disappointed.
She had a pleasant chat with Dr. Wells, and later spoke adoringly of the man who helped restore her health all those years ago.
"He is a wonderful man. He did so much for Cabonear and we all loved him," said Clarke.
"You just can't say exactly what he did because he did so much.
"And look at him. He's still so healthy, he's smart and witty, and he's seven years older than I am."
Indeed, his legacy in the area remains very deep-rooted. During a recent visit to the Trinity-Conception Mall in Carbonear, he struck up conversations with no less than five people who had their gall bladders removed by Dr. Wells.
"I had a big laugh about it," he said. "These are exceptional people."
And in a further tribute to his stature in the region, a formal announcement is expected to be made next week, naming Dr. Wells as the patron for the 2012 Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games, which will be co-hosted by the towns of Carbonear and Harbour Grace from Aug. 18-25.
Dr. Wells oversaw a very successful tennis competition the last time the summer games were held in the region in 1992.
"I'm honoured to have been asked," he said.