When  Ron White (above) rows his dory from Cooper’s Cove to Jimmy Gilbert’s Garden across Come By Chance Arm in Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s not just for recreation. Each time he rows, he re-enacts a 95-year-old chapter in his family’s history.

Family Tradition

In 1926, while her husband was away at work, Ron’s grandmother found herself alone with her ailing father-in-law. He passed away on August 13, and “Nan Gilbert” had to make the dark and dangerous journey alone in a dory to the nearest neighbour.

“It was said that she was pregnant at the time,” says Ron.

That voyage has become a part of Gilbert family lore.

“The story was told to us small children,” says Ron, a retired schoolteacher. “And as we grew up, the story continued to be told to me and my cousins. Everybody in the family knows about it.”

Sometime during the summer, “I take my grandchildren in my dory, and I make the same journey that my grandmother did. I tell them the story of how she did it all those years ago. It’s becoming a family tradition.”

Rowing for a Cause

This past August 13, Ron rowed his dory yet again, but this time for a different reason.

“I’ve been volunteering with The Salvation Army in Clarenville for seven years,” says Alice, Ron’s wife. A retired nurse, she helps out with the Christmas toys and hampers.

“Clarenville is a larger town and so the Salvation Army food bank there gets a lot of support,” she explains. “But I noticed that there was an increased need at The Salvation Army’s food bank at Arnold’s Cove.”

Ron had mentioned to Alice that the next dory ride he took would be for charity, so Alice said, “Well, what about the food bank?”

Ron phoned Salvation Army Majors Beverley Dart-Stokes and Anthony Stokes in Arnold’s Cove.

“I don’t know how much money I’m going to raise,” he told the Salvation Army pastors, “but whatever I do raise, I’m going to give it to the food bank.”

“Bring It On”

Ron advertised his event on social media, and VOCM, a radio station that broadcasts throughout the province, interviewed him a number of times and covered the journey.

It was a foggy and damp Friday, but there was a small, enthusiastic crowd at the beach, and people from as far away as Alberta watched the livestream.

Attired in period dress, Ron made the kilometre-and-a-half round trip in calm water in 44 minutes.

“My grandmother did it in less-than-ideal conditions, and in the dark,” he says.

Ron collected $2,300, “and there’s still money coming in,” he smiles.

“I had dreams of $300-$500 for the dory ride—anyway, that’s what my goal was,” Ron says. “So it’s been a huge success and I think the food bank is going to be quite happy when they accept the money from us.”

Best of all, there’s already been interest from people to accompany Ron in their own kayaks and boats next year.

“It’s not about just me doing it,” he smiles. “I want other people to get involved and if they can raise money for the Salvation Army food bank, bring it on!

“Whether it’s a fire in the community or a disaster around the world, when you need help, the Army is there for those in need. That means a lot to Alice and me.” 

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On Sunday, November 14, 2021, Captain Phyllis Vega said:

God Bless you sir, as you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Many Blessings upon you & yours for your generosity. What a beautiful story of History in your family 🙏🏻🙏🏻

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