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Hidden talents

A beekeeper, international hiker, artisanal vinegar-maker and a toe-tapping mandolin player

Campus and Community

By Mandy Cook

How do you like to spend your off-hours?

Some members of the Memorial community are just as busy off campus as they are on.

Learn a little more about four of your colleagues in the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Technical Services, Office of Research, and their extracurricular pursuits in the profile below.

Phillip Cairns

Phillip Cairns, who works in Media Services in the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), currently has seven hives at his home in Flatrock and tracks his adventures on his blog and YouTube channel (one video has had more than four million views!).

Phillip Cairns tends to his bees in Flatrock.
Photo: Submitted

Inspired by a man who blogged about his rooftop beehives in Chicago, Mr. Cairns figured if someone could keep bees in the Windy City, he could do it in St. John’s, N.L.

“I managed to start up my first two hives in the tiniest speck of a backyard when I lived in the city, when there were hardly any beekeepers around to talk to, and when there wasn’t a local beekeeping supplier on the island and I had to ship everything in from Manitoba,” he said.

Ten years on, Mr. Cairns says he is just as fascinated with his backyard beekeeping as he was when he got started. He says he likes being in the bees’ presence, as they are docile little creatures who do everything for a reason. Mr. Cairns can attest to the fact that “busy as a bee” is an apt expression.

Bees will swarm when a queen honeybee leaves her colony to create a new one, taking a number of worker bees with her.
Photo: Submitted

Each colony, which lives in its own beehive, contains about 50,000 bees at the height of summer when flowers are in bloom. It may sound like a lot, he says, but most of the bees are inside their hives caring for baby bees and making honey. And, the bees that are flying around collecting pollen and nectar have very little interest in humans.

“Most people, even closely situated neighbours, wouldn’t know the location of a beehive unless I pointed it out.”

And as for the sweet, sweet bonus of keeping a watchful eye on 350,000 bees?

Mr. Cairns and a honey bee.
Photo: Submitted

“When things are running smoothly, I usually get somewhere between 20-50 pounds of honey per hive beginning in August. I’ll either crush and strain the honeycomb for liquid honey or I’ll keep it intact and eat it as comb honey, wax and all, which is absolutely 100 per cent delicious, especially on a fancy cracker with blue cheese.”

Dr. Linda Rohr

It’s not too far a stretch of the imagination to learn that the dean of the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation spent July 2017 trekking Spain’s 799-kilometre long Camino de Santiago trail.

One of the vistas along the Camino de Santiago trail.
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Rohr says her background in exercise science is grounded in healthy active living, and that she understands and values the impact that physical activity has on one’s overall health and well-being.

“For me, this adventure was equally about embracing this significant challenge while positively contributing to my physical and mental states,” she said.

A selfie on the road.
Photo: Submitted

Hiking for 33 days straight, with no real breaks, Dr. Rohr and her hiking party ranged from 18-25 kilometres per day (that’s 40,000 steps!).

Prior to travelling, she trained for the epic adventure by walking 2-3 nights each week for 60-90 minutes, accompanied by progressively longer weekend walks.

Although she says she felt prepared physically, “you really can’t mimic” trekking through forests, cattle fields, towns, deserted stretches of roads, uphill, downhill and straight and flat for days on end.

Dr. Rohr describes the walk as an opportunity to free her brain and that life was reduced to the bare necessities.

“We needed to take care of our bodies, feet in particular, we needed to eat, to sleep and to follow the sign posts along the path. With only two changes of clothes, one pair of shoes, and one direction to go, there was considerable time to reflect and contemplate life.”

In addition to the physical and mental journey, there were spiritual aspects, as well – fitting, as the trail is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Northwest Spain.

Another scenic shot along the trail.
Photo: Submitted

“One night we stayed at a place run by nuns,” Dr. Rohr recalled.

“After a community sing-a-long in six-plus languages, we shared a meal, attended mass and received a blessing from the church. This was an incredibly moving experience — one, because I did not understand a word of Spanish, nor am I Catholic — but the sense of shared history, the love and support from everyone and the realization we are not alone in our journeys was very powerful.”

Janet Harron

When she’s not promoting the people, projects and events as the communications advisor in the busy Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Janet Harron is cooking up all kinds of tastiness as an artisanal vinegar maker.

Janet Harron in her Wild Mother kitchen.
Photo: Submitted

As a lifelong analphylactic with a deadly allergy to peanuts and an interest in “forgotten foods” — foods whose recipes are in danger of being lost — Ms. Harron began making and selling things like oat cakes and potato scones under the Flour of Scotland label at the St. John’s Community Market.

And since Ms. Harron’s husband, Liam Mckenna, is the master brewer at Yellow Belly Brewery in St. John’s, it was a natural progression to making alegar — vinegar produced from fermented ale — or, the more customer-friendly, beer vinegar.

“Newfoundland Beer Vinegar is a full-flavoured vinegar that is useful in a variety of ways, but I think the connection between Newfoundland and Labrador, fish and vinegar is a natural fit,” she said. “I would really like to see it in fine fish and food stores across the country.”

To say the product has taken off is an understatement: she’s sold almost 3,000 bottles this year locally and on the mainland, including the Toronto-based fish shop, Hooked.

“The act of choosing what we consume is a political one.” — Janet Harron

Her company now rebranded as Wild Mother Provisions, a nod to the wild yeast in her vinegar but also to the role of mothers and women in feeding the community, Ms. Harron says her business is a feminist food company.

“That means, in addition to recognizing the role of mothers and women in nourishing communities, Wild Mother is also intentional about supporting local social enterprises,” she said.

To that end, Wild Mother Provisions’ product labels are made by The Hub’s printing service, and the company has recently begun a partnership with Choices for Youth to bottle and package the beer vinegar.

“And we make a point in supporting organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Persistence Theatre Company, Rise Up Fundraising, and others.”

Ms. Harron at the St. John’s Community Market.
Photo: Submitted

Although Ms. Harron says she stumbled upon her craft, it appears to be more than a natural fit.

She says she is learning a lot about the history of and uses for vinegar, branching out into other vinegar-based products such as switchel, a kind of 16th-century Gatorade commonly served in Newfoundland prior to Confederation. She is also passionate about the connection between food and society.

“Obviously, food is extremely important to us all, but the act of choosing what we consume is a political one — one of the few things we can control in life is what we put in our mouths.”

Craig Barnes

If you’ve ever dropped into Quidi Vidi Brewery’s Friday night Kitchen Party for a jig and a pint, you very likely have danced to the music of Craig Barnes’ mandolin.

Mr. Barnes is a member of the six-member house band at the popular watering hole in St. John’s.

Craig Barnes on the mandolin (far left) at Quidi Vidi Brewery.
Photo: Submitted

“It used to be that we’d sit and jam around the table,” said Mr. Barnes, a 31-year-veteran of Memorial and the supply supervisor at Technical Services, Office of Research.

“It’d be Artie Snow, Gerry Beehan and me, then Hank Snow, Bob Candow and Jacki St. Croix joined in.”

Over time, they became the Brew Crew — a name of Mr. Barnes’ invention — playing every manner of music in the brewery’s tap room: traditional Newfoundland, Irish, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and more.

Mr. Barnes says he plays the mandolin because nobody else can and now he’s “stuck with it” and also sings harmonies as a backup to his bandmates.

Regulars and tourists alike pack the place, he says, creating a night of fun and enjoyment for patrons almost year-round. There are nights that are more memorable than others, though, such as the evening a newly married couple from Ontario arrived on the dance floor.

The full Brew Crew in action.
Photo: Submitted

“They eloped! They went down in the Gut to get married, right on the water,” Mr. Barnes recalled. “They asked us to play The St. John’s Waltz. Gerry is not shy, but he said it was one of the most nervous moments of his life.”

And while his bandmate usually has his nerves under control, Mr. Barnes says it’s not so easy for him. He’s been honing his craft for the past 30 years, but says he has constant stage fright and has only recently built up his comfort level to get up off his stool to stand and play.

“I’ve got butterflies as big as bats!”

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