A Real Thanksgiving for Idrija Sailors

Extract from Alice Sharples Baldwin’s Metis – Wee Scotland on the Gaspéas it appeared in the October 2018 Info Métis

Well done, Metis

The morning of Sunday, Oct. 10th, 1976 – Thanksgiving Day Weekend – dawned stormy and cold the wind was wild and the waves high. Early Risers, Breakfast-Getters, Hunters, Mass-Goers and Joggers looking casually out to sea, stopped dead, rubbed their eyes or the window pane, incredulously looked a second time. Apparently directly before them, not more than a mile off shore lay a large vessel seemingly in flames – there was a rush for binoculars; scantily-clad seamen could be seen lining the deck and attempting to signal Distress. The vessel proved to be the Jugoslavian Bulk Carrier M.B. Idrija, bound for Baie-Comeau to pick up a load of wheat. The bad weather had driven her from the harbour. Then fire had broken out at 0100 hrs, resisting all efforts to control it; the radio then went out of commission. At six o’clock the engines had stopped – Dropping both anchors, the crew found themselves 600 feet west of Metis Lighthouse. They knew nothing of the Canadian Thanksgiving but they had a cause for thanks; in the course of an ordinary week, few watchers might have been found along the shore.

Now calls poured in to the Police at Rimouski and Matane, to Mayor Rousseau, to the Metis Volunteer Fire Brigade. From all accounts, the rescue was organized with speed and efficiency but the time seemed endless – ghosts of the unhappy ships wrecked on those same reefs, in that same icy water, at the same season of the year; the Ocean, the Amanda, the Laurel and the Montmorency, came to haunt the anxious watchers from the shore.

Then the situation clarified: the Security Police would take the men from the vessel by helicopter, two at a time to the Metis School. The yard afforded landing space and shelter and warmth would be immediately available to the sailors, who had been fire-fighting mostly half clothed throughout the night.

Despite high seas and fierce winds, the crew of thirty-four were successfully air-lifted from the ship to the school – a few suffering from superficial burns and smoke inhalation – all exhausted. Here clothing was waiting for them. The resourceful Metis women had canvassed the village for men’s wear. One source of supply was the Town Hall where a rummage sale had recently taken place and the men’s clothing had not been in great demand. When the supply of shoes gave out, Mme Leblond of Les Boules opened her shop and produced footwear… Visitors helped where they could.

Mrs. Winnie Turriff writes that although they were “chilled to the bone” and tired, the men “took time to select the best fit they could find and something that suited their taste” discarding sweaters or shirts that did not match. One man now wearing blue and grey checked trousers with a blue sweater and grey jacket was delighted with his appearance…” Soon all the refugees were better dressed than the townspeople gathered at the school”…

[…] Edith Turriff and her sisters-in-law and other members of the family arrived at the school with thirty-four dinners containing roast turkey, dressing, vegetables, cranberry sauce, etc., individually packaged in foil dishes! They were followed by several kinds of pie… “I don’t believe” writes Winnie (Mrs. Lorne) Turriff – “that we ever enjoyed a dinner more than this one that was eaten by someone else”…

Following this memorable meal the sailors slept exhausted on the floor of the schoolroom, in a circle, feet to feet.