Marina Ploughman was 15 years old when she took the trip of a lifetime – through the ice-infected cold waters of the North Atlantic, aboard a legendary boat – The S.S. Northern Ranger.
The year was 1953 and she was heading back home to Port au Choix from St. John’s, where she had journeyed for a check-up for a medical condition which affected her spine.
Diagnosed with TB (Tuberculosis) spine, she had spent several years at the Sanitorium (the San) in Corner Brook (6 months of these were with her head down). The TB had left Marina with a slightly fused spine and a bag of fluid on her leg.
The S.S. Northern Ranger was a coastal boat operated by the Newfoundland Railway (and later by CNR) on behalf of the Federal Department of Transport. At 1366 tons and 228 feet in length, the steamer boat would trek from St. John’s to Corner Brook on the west coast on a two-week schedule, bringing with it passengers, sometimes mail and much-anticipated freight for the numerous communities where it made call.
For a 15 year-old, travel on the coastal boat was an adventure; and as she travelled alone, it was likely a little scary. With just one outfit to call her own, Marina stepped aboard the large vessel in the busy port of St. John’s for a “trip of the boat,” as it was called back then.
As it turns out, she would spend nearly a month, including Christmas day, on board this famous coastal boat. The normal 2-week trip was unexpectedly lengthened due to ice conditions and winter weather.
During her month-long trip on the ocean, she visited such places as Fogo, Lewisporte, Conche, Roddickton and St. Anthony, taking in the seascape and the landscape of her ports of call, as well as any excitement on the boat.
For pastime, she would play cards and hang out with new friends.
“I had fun”
At one point, they were stuck in Battle Harbour as the ice had come into the harbour.
“The boat couldn’t go any further,” recalls Marina.
Eventually free from the grip of ice, they had to return to Corner Brook as the boat’s bunker fuel was running low.
When the boat arrived in Corner Brook – on Christmas Day – her father, a Port au Choix merchant, Ernest Billard, had telegraphed his family friend and her husband (Vange and Roland Cadet). The couple picked her up, bought her a white coat and took her to midnight mass.
After mass, it was back to the boat to continue her journey northwards towards home.
One of the most memorable parts of the journey for the young lass from Port au Choix was when she received a new outfit from a rather legendary person.
Her father, again took to the telegraph looking for a favour – this time it was to a travelling sales man whom he had made acquaintances many times as a shop keeper. He wanted to ensure his eldest daughter had something else beside her one outfit to wear on the boat.
The man was none other than Gerald S. Doyle. This famous Newfoundlander was a businessman, folksong collector and founder of the Doyle Bulletin. Doyle spent a great deal of time travelling in boat, calling into hundreds of outports.
The kind man was happy to oblige – he bought her a new outfit, a dress.
All in all, Marina would spend 31 days on the boat.
She finally arrived in Port Saunders on December 31, recalling that it was a full moon night.
Her father was there to greet her and finally take her home after a long time away on land and at sea.
Marina, my mother, passed in Aug 2017, loved to tell stories and she had a remarkable memory, recalling many happenings which took place over the years.
The trip on the S.S. Northern Ranger was one of her favourite episodes of her life she often shared with family and friends. It was one of those memories which always warmed her soul.
For a young girl from a small rural community in Newfoundland, spending 31 days at sea aboard the grand S.S. Northern Ranger was truly an example of being “closer to heaven by sea.”
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