Spaniard's Bay gathering explores old ways to treat ailments

Published on July 31, 2017

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador folklorist Dale Jarvis, far left, listens as Dianne Carr, far right, shares a story during a discussion of folk medicine at the Wesley Gosse Heritage Museum in Spaniard's Bay.

©Andrew Robinson/The Compass

SPANIARD'S BAY, NL — If you were on the lookout for different ways to treat burns, colds or arthritis, the Wesley Gosse Heritage Museum would have been the place to be last Wednesday.

Inside the confines of the former United Church in Spaniard's Bay, people shared recollections from their youth about the sort of techniques used to treat any number of maladies. Dale Jarvis, a folklorist with the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, led the discussion, which will help inform a booklet about the subject. The event was a part of HFNL's Oral History Roadshow.

As was pointed out towards the end of the discussion, these methods were employed during a time when doctors and hospitals were not always close at hand, forcing people to engage in the do-it-yourself spirit.

Through the course of a casual discussion that exceeded an hour, there was plenty of laughter as people shared memories of trick their parents employed decades ago — though some remedies still hold credence.

For a toothache, one woman used clove.

"It worked for a little while," she said, before adding, "Nothing's as good as drugs."

If you're predisposed to car sickness, salt in a cloth bag draped around the neck is said to help. When sick at sea, ginger could hit the spot.

And for a cold, one could try making a mustard plaster wrapped in flannel to leave on the chest.

"Did it work?" Jarvis asked when this remedy was mentioned.

"It must of," a woman answered as others laughed heartily.

The health benefits of Newfoundland's fairy circles came to light, with one woman relaying an amusing story about her cat. As a child, she was dead set on placing it in a fairy circle upon realizing her parents were prepared to put it down. After doing so, the cat vanished without a trace.

For a year, she believed the circle did its job, though she subsequently learned the cat was in fact put to sleep, unbeknownst to her.

If one was cut years ago, you might try applying tree sap or break out an iodine bottle.

To prevent freckles, there was talk of using May snow — a resource that also was apparently good for sore eyes.

For an upset stomach, one woman said she still uses a mixture of two tablespoons of cider vinegar, two tablespoons of honey and water.

"You can't go wrong," she said.

Perhaps the most interesting remedy mentioned Wednesday involved the consumption of gin-soaked raisins for arthritis. One adherent suggested a dosage of nine raisins a day — no more, no less.


Folklorists will now follow up with those who took part in Wednesday's session for one-on-one interviews to prepare a special booklet. The museum hosts weekly chats called "Yarns and Such" with its oral history archivist Thomas Lane, a summer student who is compiling his own interviews and digitizing them for a provincial archive. Those talks are held Wednesdays from 7-8 p.m.