By Maelissa Watson
Recently, I was a guest for brunch at the unique architectural log home of Norma Prest Kennedy in Pleasant Harbour. The purpose of the brunch was a fundraiser for “The Mission of Seamen.” Joyce Webb has been the treasurer of this venerable charity organization for over 40 years. Norma and her friends knit socks, caps, and scarves for gift boxes for seamen. Since these gift boxes originated on The Eastern Shore over a half-century ago, they are “Christmas Boxes.”
Everyone was in awe of Norma’s cottage, built entirely of wood. Norma hails from the Mooseland, Prest lumber barons, so 30 ft. 6” by 6” logs that only old growth timber can provide were available. Norma’s creative son Dan Kennedy built her cabin when Norma sold her Mooseland home to live in Dartmouth because she wished to stay connected to her Eastern Shore family roots and friends.
Norma is a hard-working soul, benefiting more than seamen with her knitting. Her auxiliary project is shawls for hospice hospital patients at Christmas. To date Norma has knitted 250 shawls; her goal by years-end is 300. In my youth, we called these creations “bed jackets.” Attendees could buy Norma’s shawls for gifts, or contribute $10 for yarn for hospice patients. Joyce remembers when she was ill in Dartmouth Hospital, getting one of these easy- to- slip- on bed jackets, and said how warm and comfortable it felt.
I listened to the attendees sharing personal heartwarming stories going back to a different shipping age, regarding how different Anglican bishops in Halifax, depending on their personalities, distributed the gifts.
I asked Gerald and Joyce Webb the history. Gerald took a deep breath and said, “We have The Port of Sheet Harbour Santa Gift Mission and Halifax Port Christmas Gift Giving. For 60 years we have had the Mission of Seafarers in the Anglican Church, with the ministers in Halifax doing the honors. Eastern Shore Anglican churches sent their boxes to Halifax.
“I was sailing in 1946 and 1947. I noticed that Sheet Harbour had no Mission for Seafarers. I was aware that No.1 Northern Wheat Canada was directly transferred from one ship to another, trans-shipped. The sailors were from the Caribbean, India, and Africa, and I watched them on the gangway, freezing to death. The crew had no gloves, heavy socks, heavy shirts, caps, or scarves.
“When I mentioned this to Joyce, she said, ‘Why send boxes to Halifax if we can do it in Sheet Harbour?’ So in 1947, we had a ‘Santa Claus ship’ from South Africa. I was the first Santa Claus in Sheet Harbour. The delight I experienced when gown men 35 or 40 years old stood up and donned their socks, caps, mitts and scarves! Some of the men cried with excitement. Others said they had never seen Santa Clause before. Some jumped up and down and hugged me.
“Ray Webb was a Santa the next year, Louis Boutilier the following year, and a Santa Ship Sheet Harbour was born. I got to the point that my knees did not permit me to climb the ladder. Yet, I hope to be Santa this year again, as the Port Manager said I could use the lift. HO, HO HO!”