Recently my mother presented me with a family heirloom, an unglazed ceramic plate from England. Before I get into any more details, you’ll need a bit of background to fully understand this story.
For over half a century my father sold dishes from Europe. Royal Doulton bone china. Waterford Crystal. Duralex tempered drinking glasses from France. Heavy duty Steelite restaurant-ware from Stoke on Trent.
General Traders Ltd, the company Dad owned, was a wholesaler that operated out of the two floors above the Family Barber Shop (now the Dog House) on Duckworth Street. When a shipment of dishes arrived on the waterfront, eight children would report to Hanley Place, the laneway between Holloway Street and King’s Road to cart heavy awkward boxes up ancient flights of stairs. Butchered knuckles were a normal part of growing up.
There were perks though. Dad also distributed liquor-filled chocolates which sometimes got a bit too sugary in the overseas crossing and us children were allowed to spend Saturdays consuming them. Imagine my shock when I went to work for Auntie Crae’s in Churchill Square when I was in Grade 9 only to be told I had to ask for ID if someone wanted to purchase these. I attribute my taste for rum back to these chocolates.
Another perk of having a father who sold dishes meant that in later years when I moved out on my own, like the soleless daughter of the shoemaker, my cupboards were always full of mismatched samples.
That`s not true. I do have one complete set of Ridgeway, an identical set having been presented by General Traders to Premier Smallwood on August 29, 1968.
“This tableware, styled Heritage is decorated with scenes of early Canada taken from the famous W. H. Bartlett prints of the period. Mrs. Lester Pearson accepted a set for the Canadiana room of the Prime Minister`s residence,” the letter to Smallwood reads.
“I have shipped a set to you at Roache’s Line via Conception Bay Forwarders and I trust that you will accept this with our compliments.”
I always liked knowing that my house had the same dishes as 24 Sussex Drive. And I wonder if the heritage set is still in the Smallwood family. It is green rimmed and each scene from Bartlett is titled on the bottom of each piece. My serving plate is the “Scene among the Thousand Isles,” whereas a bowl shows “The Market Place Quebec” and my milk jug depicts “A Shanty on Lake Chaudiere.”
The plate my mother recently gave me is also Ridgeway from England but it is a hand-painted sample, unglazed. The rim is yellow where some resin has been added to preserve the artwork. A hand-written note stuck on the back advises users to “handle carefully.” The back is stamped with the Ridgeway crest and a picture of a craggy mountain and their Vitrock slogan “Strong as a Rock.” What is most interesting about this sample is the pattern – a hand-painted Newfoundland coat of arms adorned with a bow of Newfoundland tartan and topped with two pitcher plants.
In 1962 Samuel Wilansky, proprietor of a clothing store on Water Street approached Pat Watson, then owner of General Traders Ltd, who in turn contacted Fred Bourne, president of Royal Doulton, to produce Newfoundland dishes with a hand-painted Newfoundland coat of arms and pitcher plant. Wilansky, with his great knowledge of fabrics, had already in 1955 developed the Newfoundland tartan by interpreting the words to the Ode to Newfoundland. You know the yellow is the sun rays, the green is the pine-clad hills and the white is the frozen land. Royalties from tartan sales (not sure if this refers only to actual cloth sales) were supposedly donated to Boy Scouts.
So by the 1960s Wilansky wanted to incorporate the tartan with the pitcher plant and coat of arms to create a design for tableware that he could sell in his shop. Dad is no longer around to verify details but here is how the story was relayed to me. If I make a mistake please let me know. Wilansky’s design was then sent to Ridgeway in England which created the proofs. The Vitrock Vitrified proofs were then sent to General Traders and Wilansky for approval. Once approved, the dishes were produced in Stoke-on-Trent, and then imported to St. John’s from England by General Traders and sold in The Model Shop on Water Street east (now site of Bianca’s) which Wilansky had taken over in 1957.
This pattern enjoyed great success and was mass produced in England and sold by General Traders to government institutions like Confederation Building and hospitals. An almost complete set of Newfoundland crest dishes is just inside the door in the #2 Mine Museum on Bell Island.
I have several pieces of Newfoundland crest dishes but my favourite is my unglazed proof proudly displayed in my china cabinet.
Susan Flanagan is a packrat who noticed you can buy a Ridgeway Newfoundland crest cup and saucer on eBay for $35. She can be reached at email@example.com
Caption: Cup, saucer and dinner plate are the original proofs sent to NL from England in 1962 to General Traders Ltd, which dissolved in 2010.
Newfoundland Crest plate feedback:
Angela writes: “I enjoy your column; it brings back memories when my children were home and I was a very busy mom driving them all around town. They both went to university out of Canada and no longer live at home so enjoy being busy with your children as in no time they will be gone. We are now empty nesters and we enjoying ourselves.
Your article "Prize possession" - I just thought I would correct you on one point. You stated that Wilansky, in 1955 developed the Nfld. tartan. Nfld tartan was designed by a cousin of mine Ted Coleman, Wilansky was the money behind it. Ted worked at Wilansky's at that time. The Newfoundland Tartan was designed in 1955 by Ted Coleman. The colors of the tartan are partly based on the lyrics to the Ode to Newfoundland- gold-sun; green- the pine clad hills: white-snow; brown for the minerals under the earth while the red represents the province's British origin. Ted has since passed away, a veteran of WW2, 166 Nfld. Reg. An artist and gracious man. His wife Joan is … 87 years young…(and still lives in St. John’s)”
Skerwink vs Spurwink feedback
Wayne Fowlow and Judy-Ann Watson-Fowlow write: “Wayne my husband has family and roots in Trinity East, and after we read your article in the Telegram today, we wish to apprise you of an error we discovered. The Skerwink Trail starts and ends in Trinity East, not Port Rexton. We are very proud of our community of Trinity East and do not wish to see it "swallowed up" by neighbouring communities.”
Susan’s note: Although we started and ended our hike in Port Rexton, the official trail head is in Trinity East.
Unknown phone caller says: “The best way to remember the difference between Skerwink and Spurwink is Spurwink has a u in it and so does Aquaforte.”
Jantje Van Houwelingen, volunteer and hiker, ECTA writes: “I enjoyed your article as I have enjoyed both of those trails myself. Great coverage of the Spurwink and I appreciate you pointing out the difficulty as well as the beauty of that path. The ECTA is currently addressing the post Leslie blow-down and leaners on the trail -- volunteers as well as crew - and it is a serious challenge. We are updating www.eastcoasttrail.com Trail Detail pages as individual paths are cleared...”
Judy Butler from Gander writes: “I enjoy all of your articles in the Telegram, however, I especially enjoyed your recent column Skerwink vs Spurwink as my husband and I are avid hikers and have hiked the Spurwink Island trail three times and the Skerwink trail once. We are East Coast Trail members and have hiked 90% of the East Coast Trail at least once and many trails two or three times. We also enjoy hiking in Gros Morne National Park and climb Gros Morne every year along with Green Gardens trail in Trout River in the park. We are actually set to do Wreck Path Hike this coming weekend with the East Coast Trail. I also emailed your recent article to my sister in Toronto as she has hiked both the Spurwink and the Skerwink trails with us and she also enjoyed your article.”
Canada-Russia Series feedback:
Bieber's Bookbag writes: “What a great piece of writing - brought back many memories. Well done, and thanks for the flashback of Zellers.”
Northwest Passage feedback:
Victor writes: “Philos was one most eluding yachts at Northwest Passage this year. Had AIS/HAM tracking at the beginning and it was lost. Good they made to Gulf of Alaska as constant storms of Bering Sea are not the best thing to have. Last heading I had about them heading to Bristol Bay, the very expensive place to winter.”
Neil writes: “Reached the ripe old age of 66 this week and was given a gift of a Magellan Explorist GC. So far have not got any further than my computer screen, (a bit on the dense side when it comes to computers) but realise that geocaching opens a whole new type of adventure which costs little, will keep me fit and let me sleep well at night. Thing is, I need someone to start me off including showing me how to operate the computer and GPS link........Any tips as to who or where to contact someone....Must be a ton of older people who would find this advantageous to body and soul.....Heck I would even consider teaching a course myself to fellow seniors.”
Susan’s note: She and her friend Alastair are going to meet Neil and show him the ropes. If anyone else would like to help him decode his GPS, please email firstname.lastname@example.org