A Bear of a Dog

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Every morning, he boarded the ferry from Dartmouth to Kings Wharf for a day like every other. When he got toHalifax, he traveled the streets and took his regular place at the tavern on Argyle Street, where he was served free beer. When he was done his day he took the 1:00 a.m. ferry back to Dartmouth. Not such an unusual night for an unemployed man, but Newf was a dog. 

The era in which Newf lived was that of the mid-1950s, when memories of the Second World War were still fresh in people’s minds; when people were keeping busy to avoid remembering the recent past; before Halifax turned into a modern city, back when people still said hello to strangers. 

Newf was the size of a bear, as many remember, black, eyes as big as half-dollars, and a friendly face to a lonesome person needing company. He was “owned” — for no one really owned Newf — by my great-grandfather Harold Stroud and his family. 

Newf minded his own business. When he roamed Halifax, if someone tagged along, he didn’t mind. If no one followed him, that was okay, too. He seemed like a solitary being, and didn’t often have much to say.

During his time with the Strouds, he pulled their children around in the harbor in Burnside. He memorized the route of my grandfather’s furniture truck and waited to be picked up and taken home, apparently tired from his day in the city.

The behavior of this Newfoundland dog was peculiar. He was a world traveler, a pet, a companion, and a mascot. If Newf was there, then all was normal in our bizarre world. He was the first one on the ferry in the morning, and legend was that he never missed a trip. 

Many of the men working on the ferry remember wondering what Newf would do if he ever missed a boat trip. Where would he go? But it never came to that, for Newf was one of those [lucky] type of beings with internal clocks.

One day as a few sailors from the ferry followed Newf around town, a shore patrol officer stepped out. He told them that they had to keep their dog on a leash. They laughed, for two reasons: one, no one could ever own Newf; and two, it would take a tow-rope rather than a leash for that dog. One of these sailors eventually wrote an article about the adventures of Newf.

 This huge Newfoundlander led two lives: living as a pet with the Strouds; and then he’d disappear for days at a time. No one was sure where he was during these binges of freedom, but he always came back eventually. I’m sure a few regarded him as an unruly teenager, set to go his own way, but never able to go too, too far.

 Then, one day Newf missed the ferry trip. A few of the sailors asked around, but no one had seen him. Some disregarded it; habits have to change, after all, especially for a dog. Others were unsettled. It was a disconcerting thing to miss the bear-sized dog. It had been awhile since my great-grandfather had seen Newf too. Many assumed he had found a new forte in anew city, with a new female cocker spaniel. Perhaps he had moved on. Maybe their teenager grew up at last.

The man who wrote the news article about Newf asked around occasionally, but no one had seen him. Then, someone told him that Newf had died. This loveable beast of a dog was given a military funeral, staged by the sea cadets at the HMCS Shearwater. They told the man that he was buried on the base.

There’s a picture of my great-grandfather with a massive black dog standing eye-to-eye with him, its paws on his shoulders. My sister and I grew up asking again and again about the fantastical story of Newf; we still never tire to hear of him. It almost seems made up, but Newf is something of a family celebrity, something told around the candlelit kitchen table during a snowstorm.

[NOTE: 29/02/12 The photo might not be showing up, but if you click on it, it should. ]

I have a feeling Newf will show up in my writings often, a friendly cameo in the world of Cillin and that dratted nameless girl I mentioned earlier. Master Locksley is a supporting character, and his young son Bear is actually named after the bear-like dog that often lodges in their home:

When Master Locksley crossed the threshold of his home, he was immediately bowled over by a massive black and giggling blur. Chubby fingers tangled themselves around the fabric of his shirt while a pink tongue eagerly swept all areas of bare skin.

“Papa!” the squirmy child shouted. It took Master Locksley a moment to distinguish his son from his dog, though the latter was twice as big as the former.

“Did you really miss me that much?” the locksmith gasped, kissing both boy and canine.

“It was all I could do to stop Newf from following you to the King’s City,” his wife answered. “Bear was threatening to ride him there; I nearly tied them both up in the yard.” Marian ducked down to rescue her husband from the 170-pound dog and six-year-old son. 

 

 

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