Hello! Welcome to my first history column for the Wreckhouse Weekly!
My name is Melissa Samms. I attended Bélanger Memorial from 1995-2008. Back then I had no interest in learning about history – I had such a hard time memorizing dates and names!
Then I met history students while attending Memorial University (MUN), where I took a few history courses and had a fascinating ride in perspective. The most important thing I feel that I learned was that the study of history isn’t always about specifics (although they can be fun).
Rather it’s about understanding the cause and effect of time up to our lives today. It’s true, though, that as you learn more about history your perspective widens.
Our region of Newfoundland and Labrador has an extremely long and complex history that has been shaped by world events over centuries and millennia. Our colonial history goes back hundreds of years, and our indigenous roots are thousands of years deep. Our lens of history and time is wide, and I feel like the hours and hours of research I’ve already done is just a drop in the bucket.
Over most of 2020 I worked on contracts for the Southwest Coast Historical Society, researching and writing articles about local history.
I jumped headfirst into research, trawling MUN’s Digital Archive Initiative (collections.mun.ca), looking at old newspapers, reading books with any mention of our communities’ names, checking old magazines and journals, and trying to find the start of written records for the region. That meant a lot of colonial and European encyclopedias, navigational books, dry government reports, and many charts and maps.
It goes back far b’ys. Like, real far. Potentially over 1000 years far.
The earliest records I can find so far are Basque. Later came the French, then much later Scots dropped in, followed by the English, especially Channel Islanders. We’re a remarkably diverse area where not too long ago four languages were commonly spoken –English, French, Scots Gaelic, and Mi’kmaq.
With such a colourful past, I’ll have a lot to share with my fellow history fans and readers. Some topics I want to touch on are language and communication, religion, economics, colonialism, Wabna’kik, Mi’kma’ki, our education development, and more.
We have a lot to be proud of here on the Southwest Coast. Let’s talk about it!