TWILLINGATE, N.L. – Now in its 38th year, the Fish, Fun and Folk Festival continues to grow its legacy in the Twillingate community.
The festival’s creator, Lorna Stuckless, looks back to the past and towards the future with warm contentment, knowing her festival offers the area a continuing renewal of cultural celebration. For her, this desire to preserve the community and its traditions was always the festival’s foundation.
Around 40 years ago, Stuckless was on the town’s committee for rural development, the sole female in a room otherwise filled with fishermen. She realized then the area needed a new direction to maintain its survival.
“From all their stories, you could tell something was happening to the fishery,” she said. “You could never replace it, but there had to be something to keep the economy going, so that’s what I tried to do.
“Because I love this community and I want to see it grow and prosper.”
Recalling all her cherished memories since the festival’s early days, Stuckless thinks silently for a moment and says one word that summarizes it all: “People.”
“If I could only tell you the people that have come down for the festival, sat around this table and enjoyed a cup of tea with me,” Stuckless said as she sat her flower-filled kitchen, situated in her historic home in Twillingate.
“It was very rewarding in the end to know that all of Twillingate did well from the festival. Everybody looked forward to that week because they knew it was going to be busy and they were going to do well.”
Pointing to her nearby living room carpet, she remembers when the Newfoundland comedy group CODCO came down to perform a free show at the festival. That night 17 people, including Mary Walsh and the other CODCO crew, slept on her living room floor.
This memory is only one of many from the festival she so passionately pioneered.
The events that led to the festival’s creation all unfolded in a very sudden but successful manner.
In the early summer of 1980, Stuckless was discussing with a friend ways they could display the town and its folk. While looking down at a plate of fish and brewis, the name suddenly came to her – Fish, Fun and Folk Festival.
With that, work was soon underway to turn the idea into a reality. She gave the festival name to Jim Pearce, an artist with whom she worked at the Twillingate Museum. That same day he took a pencil and paper and sketched out the image of a fish playing an accordion.
“That’s what he came up with, and he made the tears come out of my eyes because it was exactly what I wanted to see,” Stuckless said.
Although the image has now been redone, the fish playing the accordion still remains the staple symbol for the festival.
Committees were put in place to handle entertainment, food and other necessities.
When the festival, scheduled for late July, was coming near and they still had no entertainers in place, Stuckless took the helm and wrote a play to ensure there was something to perform.
“I wrote it because people was saying ‘Fish, folk, fun…’ getting it all messed up,” she explained. “I made this play using all the F words I could come up with – the sensible ones.
“The play was about Frank and Fanny Fudge from Farmer’s Arm, who were not farmers but fishers, and their friends Frida and Freddie who were coming up from Fogo on the first ferry and landing in Farewell.”
The festival used only local talent at that time, with different markets and demonstrations from people around Twillingate and New World Island given the chance to showcase their work. The festival even held a fishing competition for the biggest fish caught that weekend, and offered locally-made prizes like knitted mitts or socks.
Because then it was one of the only festivals around, people from across the central region and beyond made their way down for the first annual celebration.
Growth and changes
Stuckless remained chair for those early years until Wally Dalley took over in the mid-80s.
Shortly afterward, Wally’s wife Audrey Dalley took over as festival co-ordinator. They both remained in their roles for over 20 years.
Audrey recalls with awe the immense popularity and attendance in those days.
“Back then the only time we got entertainment through town was festival week, everything circled around that,” she said. “The tickets for the adult dance would go on sale Thursday afternoon, and in one hour we’d have 900 tickets gone.”
Audrey says the church parking lots would be filled, RVs would be parked across town, and nearly every organization from sports teams to churches served meals to hundreds of people each day.
What was most satisfying for the couple was the prosperity the festival always brought to the town’s businesses and people.
“It was a lot of work, and at times it was pretty nerve wracking and stressful. But overall we had a wonderful festival, and to see it still having a tremendous success – that was the encouragement you needed.”
“It was very rewarding in the end to know that all of Twillingate did well from the festival,” Audrey said. “Everybody looked forward to that week because they knew it was going to be busy and they were going to do well.”
The festival experienced its major expansion in 1997, going from a three-day to a seven-day affair. The main cause of the extension was the scheduled arrival of The Matthew into Twillingate’s harbour that year.
The Matthew is a replica of the vessel John Cabot sailed in from Bristol to the shores of Newfoundland in 1497. Twillingate was one of only a few locations selected, so the ship’s arrival was a major draw.
That was also the year they first built the Fish, Food and Folk Festival sign. The large white letters are now lit every year to begin the festival.
Wally built the letters himself, and he is content to still see them stand high on the hillside.
With the expansion to a week-long festival, other staples such as the scavenger hunt and the Hospital Pond seniors event were also inaugurated.
“It was a lot of work, and at times it was pretty nerve wracking and stressful,” said Wally. “But overall we had a wonderful festival, and to see it still having a tremendous success – that was the encouragement you needed.”
Onto the present day
For the past nine years the festival co-ordinator has been Sharon Anstey. Born and raised in Twillingate, Anstey’s relationship with the festival goes back to her days working as a student with Lorna Stuckless when the event was only beginning.
Now onto festival 38, Anstey still keeps that same spirit that birthed the whole thing.
“Lorna founded this to keep the area’s culture and history alive - and I wanted to keep this alive,” Anstey said.
There are several newer challenges she faces with the festival today, from difficulties getting more young people involved with the committee, to the price of hiring entertainment nearly tripling since she first got on board.
Anstey says she feels the pressure of having to continue the festival’s now near-four-decade legacy, but as she meets with helpers and businesspeople preparing for the meet and greet in Twillingate’s George Hawkins Memorial Stadium, she says with the community support she feels assured.
“If you don’t have community support, you don’t have anything,” she said. “And this is all for the community.”
Anstey plans to keep her leading role as co-ordinator at least until 2020 when the festival will hold its 40th anniversary. She may pass it on then so she can go out with a bang, though already Anstey has stayed as co-ordinator much longer than she first expected.
“It gets in your blood, you almost get hooked like you got to do it,” she said. “I’m someone who likes having a challenge and this is the one I jumped into.”
The bond of place
What started as a conversation in a kitchen is a now a continual bond of celebration for the outport communities of Twillingate.
With this reputation so longstanding, Stuckless says she still receive calls to this day from people seeking advice for their own community festivals.
“People from all over call wondering ‘How’d you come up with this?’” Stuckless said with a smile. “They just have to think about the community they live in, what the people have to offer and work from that.”
“Lorna founded this to keep the area’s culture and history alive - and I wanted to keep this alive.”
- Sharon Anstey
When Wally left as chair, he had dedicated 25 years to his hometown festival. To put the years of time and effort into ensuring a successful run each year, Wally says it takes a serious love of the work to do it.
“I did it because I love my town,” he said. “The millions – and I don’t say that lightly either – millions of dollars brought into this town through tourism and the festival in that 25 years is something to be very proud of, and I am.”
Through its many years, this love of home is what unites all of those involved with the festival.
Now 86, Stuckless is pleased to know this love has not only kept the Twillingate community alive and flourishing, but her festival remains as a permanent testament to this love.
“My intention was always to show people what we could do as a community,” said Stuckless. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”