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DAVID CLARKE: The strange case of Maggie Power

Road stock.
Road stock. - -File photo

As we bid adieu to 2018 we’ll no doubt reflect on the many ups and downs of the year that was; its trials, tribulations, joys and celebrations.

Despite the antics of our politicians and some grave crises worldwide, the past 365 days are unlikely to be remembered as one of those momentous periods in human history. On the other hand, some years – 1066, 1776, 1929, etc. – are forever etched in our folk memories. Newfoundland and Labrador has seen its share of milestone years, perhaps most famously, 1949, when we joined our fortunes to our Sister Dominion, Canada.

One of the most trying years for Newfoundland, and much of the world, was 1914, which saw the outbreak of the Great War. By the time the conflict ended in 1918, millions were dead or broken in body and spirit.

Even so, 1914 started out like most other years, with more immediate concerns than the threat of war. Newfoundland had its own troubles in the spring of 1914, with the tragic loss of dozens of sealers in the ice in the SS Newfoundland and Southern Cross disasters. Like many of their fellow Newfoundlanders, residents of the dominion’s “Capital of the North,” Twillingate, pitched in to help the families of those men lost in the tragedies.

At the same time, Twillingaters had their own tragedy to deal with. A few weeks after the frozen bodies of the Newfoundland sealers were brought into St. John’s, and the Southern Cross was confirmed as lost, The Twillingate Sun newspaper reported the mysterious death of a local house servant, Maggie Power. Born at Triton, the daughter of James and Edith Power, Maggie was 18 years of age when her body was found near the community of Little Harbour on Twillingate South Island.

According to later witness testimony, the young lady had tired of living at home and in November 1913 went to Purcell’s Harbour, also on South Twillingate Island, to work for Edgar Warr and his wife. Her decision may have been influenced by the fact that Maggie had an aunt, Mrs. John Bulgin, living in nearby Farmer’s Arm (Durrell).

By most accounts, Maggie had grown unhappy in her situation, not through any ill-treatment by the Warr family, but simply because she felt lonely at Purcell’s Harbour. By April, Maggie had decided to take up a new job with a Mr. Powell at Merritt’s Harbour, New World Island.

Though no “marks of violence” were found on the body, her bootlace was tied tightly around her neck.

On April 9, the Thursday before Easter, with Maggie still living with the Warr’s, the quiet, church-going girl paid a visit to her aunt, Mrs. Bulgin. She left the following Tuesday to return to Purcell’s Harbour. Though it was a clear day, there had been some drifting snow, and Maggie’s aunt wanted her to stay longer. Still, the young lady was eager to be off, and was soon on her way back to the Warr residence.

At least two men saw Maggie as she made her way across South Twillingate Island, walking alongside the road and apparently in good spirits. The following Monday Edgar Warr received reports that Maggie had been spotted on the way to Little Harbour nearly a week earlier. In 1914, Twillingate had no telephone service, so Mr. Warr, hearing nothing to the contrary, had assumed Maggie was making an extended stay at her aunt’s home. Now alarmed, he travelled to Farmer’s Arm the following morning to make inquiries with Mrs. Bulgin. Realizing that something was seriously amiss, Warr organized a search party.

Maggie’s body was soon located about 90 metres from the road, near a feature known as Little Harbour Hill. She was not wearing her hat, boots, gloves, and belt, all of which were found some 18 metres away.

This ruling probably satisfied very few people, though it appears no further developments occurred. Maggie was laid to rest, and her story gradually forgotten.

The Twillingate Sun’s editor was at first informed that no official inquiry would be held into the death, but this decision was later reversed, and a number of witnesses questioned about Maggie’s fate. It was learnt that the unfortunate woman, when found, had been wedged between a pair of small trees where Maggie had apparently crawled before expiring. Though no “marks of violence” were found on the body, her bootlace was tied tightly around her neck. Suspicion at first fell upon a local youth, with whom Power (apparently) broke off a relationship. However, nothing was found connecting him to the death.

In the end Twillingate physician, Dr. John P. Smith, gave it as his opinion that Maggie had committed suicide.

This ruling probably satisfied very few people, though it appears no further developments occurred. Maggie was laid to rest, and her story gradually forgotten.

She still lies in a small cemetery at Little Harbour, and it’s not likely we’ll ever know the true facts surrounding the strange case of Maggie Power. Still, echoes of Maggie’s life do remain. According to a friend who grew up in the area, Little Harbour Hill was haunted by the unfortunate woman’s ghost, some 60 years after she died.

Though 1914 was tragic for Maggie Power and so many others, I extend my sincere hopes that 2019 will be an altogether different year: a time of peace, health, and prosperity for all Central Voice readers. Best wishes to everyone!

David J. Clarke is a graduate of Memorial University's Doctoral program in history, and he is the author of eight books focusing on central Newfoundland. He can be reached at baymandave16@gmail.com

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