CommunityTop Story

The Bee is Back

The late Helen Fleet and her favourite young readers, Gerard and Deanne Fleet. Deanne Fleet has established an awards program for young readers in her mother’s memory. The awards will be handed out next Saturday at the 2024 St. John’s Metro Mini Bee sponsored by The Shoreline News and

By Deanne Fleet

The last provincial spelling bee was in the Spring of 2020. Then Covid hit. Then the future of the long-time bee sponsor, The Telegram newspaper, became less certain.

Next week, however, the spelling bee is back and one of the reasons is Helen Fleet, even though she died more than 40 years ago.

My mother was raised on a farm in Kilbride. Back then young women had limited choices – marry a farmer or other young man in Kilbride and have children; or perhaps become a schoolteacher or nurse. Or, perhaps enroll in the secretarial program at Littledale.

That’s what Helen did. She got a job at one of the largest law firms in St. John’s. Then one day around 1950 she abruptly quit. I remember overhearing something about one of the partners who couldn’t keep his hands off her. The story I was told is that my Mom walked out and walked up Water Street and applied for and got a different job. That’s who she was.

My brother Gerard and I often laugh about the Christmas Eve when she told us to get the axe and our toboggan. I remember it was dark. Our father had gone to a pub or Christmas party and not returned home. We lived in the east end of St. John’s close to Logy Bay Road. Mom, my brother, and I walked across Logy Bay Road to the closest stand of trees and cut down a tree (sorry Bally Haly). We took it home and decorated it. That’s who she was too.

There were books under the Christmas tree the next morning and there were always books as presents for holidays and birthdays. My mother wanted us to read. In retrospect I understand it was her way to seeing that we had more choices than she did.


I had just turned 16 when I graduated from Holy Heart.

At school assemblies in those days students were told to ask themselves if they had a “vocation” to join the church. I worked on the high school newspaper. Once I spoke up at an assembly and was told, “That’s why we need more young nuns with a journalistic point of view.” That wasn’t the future I wanted.

I went to Memorial University, one of the first in our family to do so. My mother saw me graduate. It was a month before I turned twenty.

When I’d saved enough money that summer to catch up with back-packing friends in Europe my mother bade me a tearful farewell. She died before I got home.
She was only fifty years old.

Our mother Helen Fleet was our rock. We always knew she would be there for us. Then one day she wasn’t.

I’d always wanted to be a journalist. Months after she died, I was accepted for the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario. But I didn’t have any money. My mother’s family and friends in Kilbride held a card game at St. Kevin’s Parish Hall in the Goulds to help me go to graduate school.
Even with the card game money, some earnings, and a small student loan my brother sat me down, added up tuition and residence costs and said, “You can’t do this. You don’t have enough money.”

I said, “I can. I’m doing it.”

I completed graduate school. A career at CBC television followed.


When Helen Fleet died in 1980, I inherited her hope chest. My father died in the winter of 2018-19. His estate was willed to the children of the woman he married after Mom died. There was a small amount of money for my brother and I. Not much. My husband jokes that it wasn’t enough for a night at the Fogo Island Inn.

My brother donated his bit to a charity. I decided to do something to remember Helen Fleet.

In 2020 The Telegram was still organizing the Scripps provincial spelling bee. I asked Chapters bookstore if they wanted to cost share some prizes. They agreed and the Helen Fleet Young Readers Awards were created.

This winter I learned that The Telegram did not have any plans to stage a provincial spelling bee. Then, one conversation led to another. The Elks Club agreed to host a mini bee. The Shoreline and agreed to sponsor it.

Most importantly stalwarts like Dr. Shannon Sullivan at Memorial University and Carol Wadden and Leo Gosse at The Telegram, whose commitment and hard work made The Telegram Spelling Bee succeed all these years, were willing to help. Then, Chapters bookstore again stepped-up.

On June 8 the Helen Fleet Young Readers awards will be given out at a metro mini spelling bee at the Elks Club in St. John’s. It will be wonderful if The Telegram hosts a provincial spelling bee in 2025, but if it’s not The Telegram then maybe it will be another service club or a team of service clubs, or a business or a credit union that will make it happen.

Whoever steps forward will find a wealth of community support and that support will include the Helen Fleet Young Readers Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *