Stories & Songs; Siren and Otherwise

By Christine Hennebury


Our Wednesday story adventures began with a Community Culture Circle at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre where activist and storyteller Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue shared stories and fostered a lively discussion of Innu culture.

Next up, we headed to the Engaging Evenings event at The Rooms where Shoshana Litman ensured that the event lived up to its name. The audience was indeed fully engaged in her traditional stories from Israel, Afghanistan and Somalia and even lent their voices to a charming chorus to accompany the tales.

After ending on that high note, we traipsed over to ‘Ships at the Ship’ where host Randy Crane presided over an evening of stories that explored our complicated relationship with the sea.

Randy’s stories gave us a vivid glimpse into the hearts and minds of shipwreck survivors. We all felt as if we were right there with them, crowded into the Marconi House on the Florizel, or clinging to the rocks on the shore waiting for rescue. Just listening to him caused a huge storm of emotions.

Lynn Hamilton McShane and Eugene Kane also told a Florizel story, recounting a 1980s interview that Lynn did with her Pop, Tom Kane, one of the men who participated in the rescue and salvage operation after the wreck. Hearing his despair, his sadness and his resignation to the facts of a life near the sea was sobering and powerful.

Between the intensity of the shipwreck tales, we had stories of a lighter note.

Jim Payne regales us with a story of a fisherman-turned-cow owner, by rather nefarious means…

Dave Paddon’s recitations were charming, as always. In the first, we were carried along into a game of one-upmanship as two men tried to claim that they each had the better boat. We’re not sure it ever got sorted but we enjoyed listening as they tried to figure it out. And in the second, we found out all about how hapless boys went a bit astray while on a task for their mother (spoiler: she fixed it all up after).

Christine Hennebury told a couple of what she called ‘ship-adjacent’ stories. In the first, she reframed the story of a Siren into a feminist tale of a woman who just wanted to do her own thing. Her second story featured the vicious last words that the Pirate Anne Bonny said to her husband (note: those words were NOT love-adjacent).

Jim Payne’s stories about his brother being saved by a spirit boat and about the devil making a bad deal were delightfully rich in the daily details of life in fishing communities and spoke to a long history of shared understanding of the ‘the way things are here.’ If you ever have to make a deal with the devil, ask Jim how to get the upper hand.

Between Sirens and punts and shipwrecks and spirit ships, we had wave after wave of emotion at Ships at the Ship and we loved being along for the ride.

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