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From a penny barrel to a wishing well

The wishing well that sits in the lobby of the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre in Port aux Basques. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — Before pennies were discontinued by the federal government, the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre Foundation came up with a unique way to put those spare coins to good use. In 1995, a barrel was placed in the lobby, and a tradition was born. “The barrel, how it got originated was it was called the penny barrel. People years ago, we used to have pennies, people used to have pockets full of pennies, and they figured at the time to put pennies in the barrel, which people did,” said Wayne Green, Chairperson of the Dr. Charles LeGrow Health Centre Foundation. “We had great success with it over the years, and I know at one point in time we had to get a tractor to lift the barrel because it was so heavy – there was so much in it – to count it.” That was back in 1997, and the tractor was used to take the barrel to the Bank of Montreal to be counted. The final tally was $2,080.77, mostly in pennies. Since then, a number of smaller deposits have been counted: $120, $311, $611.26, $497.40, and $1,360, for a grand total of $4,979.73. The barrel itself was a simple, blue, plastic barrel like those used for fishing. “Where this exact one came from, I do not know because that was there before my time on the foundation,” said Green. “It was in the front lobby of the hospital for years and years, just the barrel itself, and we thought it was time to change the look of it, so then they came up with the idea of a wishing well with the barrel inside of the wishing well, the wishing well fits right over top of the barrel.” In February of 2012, the Canadian government announced its plan to phase out the penny, which meant the penny barrel didn’t receive as many coins as it used to. Couple that with the COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous restrictions that were put in place eight years later, the penny barrel sat in the lobby, inactive. “It was just sitting there, the blue barrel, and we thought that we have to revamp that, which we did,” said Green. “With all the restrictions due to COVID, we haven’t emptied the barrel in the last four or five years because there hasn’t been a lot of people putting anything in there, but we are hoping, after revamping it, having it there and more attractive than a big, blue barrel, in the front lobby, a nice wishing well that stands out when you go into the lobby of the hospital, that people will take it upon themselves to chuck in some coins, paper (money), whatever it is they want to do.” In February 2020, at a hospital Foundation meeting, the idea was circulated to change the penny barrel name and design to encourage more donations. Foundation member, Hedley Clarke, took the reigns for the project and worked tirelessly on it. “He said that he will take on this project, being a member of the foundation, to see what ideas he could come up with. Things got put on hold because of the fact that COVID restrictions and access to the facility was restricted, but he continued to work on the idea,” said Green. “He came up with an idea and said, ‘why don’t we do a wishing well,’ which we thought was a great idea.” Sadly, Hedley Clarke was never able to witness the fruits of his labour. “In 2020 he passed away, suddenly, and didn’t get to finish the project he was working on, so mid-year 2022 it was decided that we would try to revamp the project, and members of the foundation thought the idea of the wishing well was a great idea. We pursued that and followed up on it and we had someone take the time to make the wishing well to put right over the barrel.” Even though he was unable to complete the project he was so passionate about, the Foundation found a way to include Clarke in the final design. “It was suggested at one of our meetings that we would put it in memory of Hedley Clarke because he’s the one who took on the project, came up with the idea, so we thought it would be nice to put it in memory of him.” Clarke’s family represented his memory and hard work at the official unveiling. “We talked to his wife about it and she had no problem with it, so then on the 19th of December we had the unveiling of the wishing well, and we dedicated it at that time in memory of Hedley. Hedley’s wife, Joanne, was there and her son was there for the unveiling of the new wishing well,” said Green. “There’s a sign there on the wishing well, on the front, and there is a plaque onto it as well in memory of Hedley Clarke. It’s all placed there on the wishing well.” Gerald Fowlow, carpenter at LeGrow, built the wishing well, which now stands in the lobby as a testament to Hedley Clarke and is a beautiful reminder of the history of the penny barrel.

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