Getting Around the Rock by Leonard Lahey

The challenges of establishing and maintaining various forms of transportation on the island colony of Newfoundland (pre-Confederation) posed various challenges and these are well documented in Leonard Lahey’s book Getting Around the Rock: by Land Sea and Air (2016, Flanker Press). The stories were primarily based on the recollections of William (Bill) Joseph Lahey, the author’s uncle and Raymond Lahey, the author’s father. Both were involved in various forms of transportation in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as establishing wireless telegraphy in the early days of communication. The book takes us through the mid 1800’s up to the post WWII years, before Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada.

I found Getting Around the Rock to be consistently interesting and never simply a dry recitation of names, places and dates.

Trains, Planes & Ships

The railway was the first form of transportation brought to the island, and of course, everything had to be brought in by ships from the mainland (Canada) or the U.S. A narrow-gauge railway was built (rather than the standard gauge employed just about everywhere else), and due to its smaller capacity and the topography of the land, slower speeds were necessary, leading to the passenger service being affectionately called the “Newfie Bullet”.

Shipping is covered next with the history of the coastal steamers, the tsunami of November 1929 and other personal experiences related by Uncle Bill Lahey to the author.

By far, the most interesting section of the book is that on the history of flight in Newfoundland. Due to its close proximity to Ireland (3200 km), Newfoundland was the site of many attempts to cross the Atlantic in an effort to win a £10,000 prize offered by the London Daily Mail newspaper. Aviation was the topic of the day and the account abounds with famous names such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and others who initiated their trans-Atlantic attempts from the Rock. Then there came the establishment of the Botwood Seaplane Base and then the Newfoundland (Gander) airport. It was commented that, at the outbreak of WWII, the Newfoundland Airport was “as significant as Singapore, the Suez Canal or Gibraltar”.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the most fascinating section was the one pertaining to air travel, but sections on the history of the building of the railway and wireless telegraphy were also interesting, and all the more so as the author’s father and uncle were closely involved in the early days of their implementation. While this book will no doubt be of interest to Newfoundlanders, I certainly found it to be consistently interesting and never a dry recitation of names, places and dates.


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