On Sunday, August 30, Robert (Bob) Bragg will turn 90 years old. The Port aux Basques native recalls that back when he was growing up children had to “find their own fun”, which he concedes is likely considered unsafe by modern standards.
Those were the days he and some friends spent sunny days running across the roof of the old red shed at the CNR and jumping into the harbour for a swim, or perhaps they would just go swimming in Grand Bay Bottom. As he grew older, Bragg would enjoy a quiet Friday night but on Saturday he would go out in search of adventure, which usually meant venturing to the Royal Canadian Legion or playing cards.
“When playing cards we would play until we raised the blinds to see the sun, which was around 6 a.m. We would go home then and get dressed to go to church.”
Bragg also enjoyed playing badminton in the basement of the United Church, and in the winter it was hockey, which meant taking the train to play games in St. George’s, Stephenville or Corner Brook.
That first summer after finishing high school he joined a ship called The Christmas Seal for the summer. The ship was on a mission to sail around Newfoundland to care for people who had tuberculosis. Realizing this was not what he wanted to do, he returned to dry land and took a job with W. Pike & Sons, a wholesaler and retailer.
Having found something he enjoyed, he started his own business called R. Bragg Wholesale in 1967, distributed for Dominion and Jockey Club Beer, and developed a subdivision called Browning Harvey Co. Ltd. which sold Pepsi products.
He met his wife Shirley while delivering wholesale goods to Tom Windsor’s Store and asked her to go to a movie. They are still married 67 years later. He has saved her twice from drowning, having earned his Red Cross certification in St. John’s in 1957. He also saved another local man.
Bob and his friend had been snowmobiling when the friend plummeted over a huge waterfall. Bob recalls that all he could see was the end of the skidoo sticking out of the water, and eventually found his friend 200 or 300 feet away, clinging to a chunk of ice. Bob threw a rope down and dragged him back to shore, recalling that his friend’s clothing was frozen solid to his body.
A passing motorist helped the pair get back home, but even with a hot stove and blankets the friend couldn’t seem to stop shivering. Bob went to the liquour store and bought a 40 ounce of Old Sam, then mixed the liquour with boiling water.
“By the time I left he wasn’t shivering!” grins Bob.
He says he has taught many children to swim at Edna’s Pond. Together the couple raised three children of their own.
“My kids were in church, school and hockey. They did things outside all the time,” says Bob.
In 1976 he sold the business he built from the ground up to semi-retire, selling wholesale or retail from the back of a truck for a friend in North Sydney or for business owner Harry Anderson. By age 70 the semi-retirement became full retirement and he began taking trips to Florida and the Caribbean.
These days Bob still keeps active, fishing for cod almost every single day he can. He figures he’s only missed a couple of days and that’s only because of the weather. He likes to jig his own fish, then clean and fillet them too.
“I go out because I enjoy it. I get up at 5:30 in the morning, sometimes earlier to turn off the alarm so it won’t wake Shirley. I am at the boat, waiting for my buddy to arrive.”
Some of Bob’s community tenure includes a stint on the town council for 4 years, and 25 years as a Mason. He is a lifelong member of the United Church congregation and the only living chartered member of the Port aux Basques Lion’s Club. He says it’s really nice when the Lion’s Club asks him to join them for their special dinners.
Nowadays Bob and Shirley live in one of the cottages next to the community hospital. He is pleased with what the present day town council is doing and feels fortunate to live where he does.
“I am living very comfortably and I wish the town could provide more such cottages or apartments for seniors,” says Bob, before offering a tip to the younger generation. “You have to get an education and look after the funds for your own retirement plan. You cannot expect others to do that for you anymore.”