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Accidental archaeology

by Rosalyn Roy Staff Reporter

Workers digging for a leaky water line were surprised to unearth an old building beneath the parking lot of First Choice Convenience Store in Port aux Basques on Saturday, October 24. For more photos turn to page 2. – © J. René Roy / Wreckhouse Press, Inc.

PORT AUX BASQUES – There used to be a building standing on the corner of First Choice Convenience store, but owner Jeannette Tobin didn’t know that before Saturday, Oct. 24. She was completely surprised when the backhoe brought up piles of wood, canvas and other materials before reaching the largely intact concrete foundation of an old basement about 10 feet beneath the store’s parking lot.

“We are getting water in our basement, so we figured it must be outside,” explains Tobin. “When we started digging up this is what we found.”

Tobin had no idea the structure was there when she first bought the store five years ago. She says there was nothing on the property deed or surveys, and she has no idea how far the basement extends or if anything else lies buried beneath the rest of her parking lot.

“What they did is they just buried everything,” she says. “We never knew it was there. We’ve been walking on it all along.”

Friend Barry Musseau says, “I’m 99.99 percent sure. There used to be an old barber shop there. Russell Anderson’s.”

Musseau says that was about 55 years ago, back when he was just a wee lad. He’s 61 now. He remembers being a little boy going for haircuts. Anderson died tragically in a car accident on Barachois Hill.

Tobin wonders aloud if the barber shop was actually next door. This unearthed basement might have been an old store or a private home. She remembers walking down steps that weren’t quite level with the road.

Musseau shouts back over the howl of a crisp autumn wind laced with the threat of snow. Workers have moved to another hole, closer to the current store’s basement, still looking for that elusive leaky water pipe.

Musseau recalls Johnny and Calvin Warren building the current First Choice Convenience Store, which they eventually sold to the Porters. He peers down into the basement, hoping to spot a forgotten pair of hair clippers which might clarify what this building used to be.

“Might find buried treasure down there!” chuckles Tobin.

So far the only treasure they’ve unearthed is a battered orange and brown Frostie Root Beer can. Some research reveals that brand was manufactured by Pepsi Cola beginning in 1939. It was available in Newfoundland from 1964 until the mid-seventies.

Those cans are currently selling for $11.88 on eBay, but only if it’s still in mint condition with the drink inside. Otherwise all Tobin is going to get for that is a good story, because it’s not in good enough condition to get the five cent deposit returned at the local recycling depot.

Nadine Osmond, Chair of the Southwest Coast Historical Society, isn’t entirely able to help clear up the confusion. She has some old photos of Main Street as it was back in the fifties and sixties, and adds another name into the mix.

Edna Davis’ father had a small shop next to the Brake house and Hulan’s barber shop. Osmond is inclined to believe it’s the basement of Frank Brake’s old house, and thinks the old barber shop is now the house next door to First Choice. But she can’t declare it with absolute certainty.

“It’s hard to say exactly what the foundation found today was. If it wasn’t Frank Brake’s house it could possibly have been Eric Hulan’s barber shop as well,” offers Osmond. “Edna Davis’ father’s store, that would have been torn down, and then I guess Frank Brake’s house was torn down. And the house and the store would be, I guess, the parking lot to First Choice Convenience.”

Whatever the building used to be will have to give way to what it must now become. Once the water problem is fixed, Tobin has the old concrete basement filled back in. First Choice Convenience is there now and it still needs the parking space.

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