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A sweet exhibition

Online project documents the Bay Roberts chocolate factory and other historical treats

By Chris Lewis

For those with a penchant for history, museums and libraries are popular destinations. With the current state of the world, however, most museums and libraries are closed. That is where the world wide web can come in handy.

Carved By The Sea is an exhibition developed by the Town of Bay Roberts’ heritage committee with Heritage NL. As part of that exhibition, a number of stories and research has recently been posted online, free for the viewing by anyone with the inclination.

The virtual exhibit is a continuation of the work being done between the town and Heritage NL that aims to showcase the community’s history, dating back to the 16th century when fishermen from places like Brittany and Normandy visited, naming the harbour Baie de Robert. Now, centuries later, the community is thriving in the heart of Conception Bay North, but still holding on to the history that made it what it is today.

The main goal of the exhibit is to introduce, and sometimes re-introduce, readers and historians to various landmarks and locations that can be found within the limits of Bay Roberts. These range from the widely known Klondyke Bridge, to some lesser known areas such as Muddy Hole.

Dale Jarvis is a cultural heritage development officer with Heritage NL and is no stranger to the region. He explained the idea for a virtual exhibit has been a long time coming. Although no one could have predicted that the majority of the province would be isolated under a quarantine, releasing the exhibit in the middle of April has proved to be a good decision, as more and more people find themselves with extra time on their hands.

Jarvis said the exhibit will acquaint people outside Bay Roberts with the things that residents know make their community unique.

“It’s a way of sharing local stories,” he said. “Bay Roberts has been doing a lot of heritage work for years and years, and (Heritage NL) has partnered with them on a couple projects in the past. Still, there are plenty of stories to be told, and when this opportunity came to us, we knew it would be a great way to get those stories out there for everyone.”

Jarvis said an application for funding the project was sent out approximately two years ago, and approved last year. Over the last 12-months or so, he and the group have been busy talking to people, collecting information, and putting it all together into one big exhibit.

“It just so happened that we released it now, at a time when people have lots of time to sit at home and access things online. They can go on, and learn plenty about Bay Roberts,” he said.

That, he added, is one of the major benefits that virtual exhibits have over traditional museums. By having the information available online, and easy to navigate, it introduces the history of a small Newfoundland town to a whole new audience on an international level.

This has proven to be true, according to some of the e-mails that Jarvis has received since the exhibit’s launch on Wednesday, April 15.

Only two days after it went up, Jarvis was contacted by a woman from the United States who had traced her family history back to Bay Roberts.

“She was delighted to see this exhibit, because that’s where her ancestors came from. Those kinds of people, living so far away from Bay Roberts, now have access to that historical information that they otherwise might not have been able to,” Jarvis said. “Of course, that doesn’t happen every day or anything, but when it does it helps validate the work that you do.”

Jarvis said the Town has been pleased with the outcome of the exhibit. His personal favourite aspect of it is that the project aims to encompass all of the different neighbourhoods that make up Bay Roberts.

“Like many communities, Bay Roberts was originally a series of smaller communities which have since been amalgamated over the years. Sometimes, when people think about Bay Roberts, they might not necessarily be thinking about, say, Shearstown or Coley’s Point,” said Jarvis. “To some people it may feel like those places are not a part of the Bay Roberts story, which of course they are. So, this is an opportunity for people to learn about those lesser known aspects of the local history.”

Among those lesser known places is Adler’s Chocolate Factory – a short-lived chocolate factory that was located in Bay Roberts. On the online exhibit, an entire page dedicated to the factory can be found, including some audio clips of interviews conducted by Heritage NL with women who, in their early years, worked at the factory.

This is actually the second such virtual exhibit that Heritage NL has compiled. The first one was launched in 2019 and focused on Grand Falls-Windsor. In the future, Jarvis hopes to see even more projects of the like be carried out for various parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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