History of Happy Valley

History of Happy Valley by Alice Perrault (cover)

Alice Perrault’s History of Happy Valley is a small book, but an important one.  It clearly and succinctly lays out the early history of Happy Valley from the point of view of one who helped establish it.  Many of the details it records are difficult or impossible to find anywhere else in print—such as the dates and other particulars for the openings of new local institutions like schools, post offices, churches, and even stores and movie theatres.  The booklet also contains a wealth of information on practical considerations such as how public buildings were heated, how transportation networks were developed, and how medical services were managed.  Anyone wishing to learn the outlines of all these things could not ask for a better contemporary source, nor one where they are all pulled together so conveniently in one volume.

From the author’s point of view, anybody undertaking to tell the whole history of a place has their work cut out for them—as we have seen already in the case of Bill Rompkey’s The Story of Labrador.  Alice Perrault takes a different approach, sticking to the local scale and relying primarily on her own personal knowledge (presumably with the benefit of supporting information and verification from close contacts).

The booklet’s first few pages tell Perrault’s story of the first settlement at Refugee Cove (later Happy Valley).  Much of this story has gone on to become Happy Valley’s founding myth—that is, not a myth in the fictional sense, but an origin story that is recalled and retold by many people until it takes on special cultural prominence. The central narrative is that three families came from the North Coast so that their men could find construction work helping to build the base at Goose Bay, and that together these families became the nucleus of the future Happy Valley community.  These were the Saunders, Broomfield, and Perrault families, from Davis Inlet, Big Bay, and Makkovik respectively, and their employer was McNamara Construction.  Alice Perrault herself was among these first settlers, having come to Happy Valley with her husband, Thorwald, whom she had married at Makkovik, where she had been a teacher.  By birth she was a Perrett, the daughter of Moravian missionaries at Hopedale.

Perrault gives a fascinating account of Happy Valley’s earliest years in the first half of the booklet, and she is the perfect person to do so, since she played as large a part in shaping the community during those years as anyone.  Among other contributions, she ran the community’s first school, teaching no fewer than fifteen children in her own house!

Gradually, however, as the booklet proceeds, it becomes less the story of a specific cluster of people, and more the story of the growing town itself. By the sixth page, Perrault’s focus is primarily on specific facts and chronology, and she walks the reader through event after event, mainly focusing on new developments in institutions and infrastructure: everything from boy scouts and girl guides to roads and hospitals.  She weaves all these happenings together naturally, conveying a spirit of tremendous community solidarity and civic engagement from all sides, so that the development of the community seems quite orderly and purposeful. For even greater clarity, the booklet ends with an explicit timeline of “dates of growth in Happy Valley,” which helps to make the booklet almost like a school-text in itself. The tone is can-do and optimistic throughout, with just a few brief comments here and there to acknowledge the great difficulties faced and overcome, and to hint that the whole process of development might not have been quite as perfectly tidy and harmonious as the booklet on the whole suggests.

All in all, History of Happy Valley is surely absolutely essential reading for local history, not only for its factual content, but also for its particular portrayal of a community and its emerging identity.  At the same, there are advantages and disadvantages in reading a booklet written in 1967.  The great advantage is that the source is contemporary.  Perrault actually lived through and participated in the history she relates, so that she has personal knowledge of the events and a deep understanding of their context.  Plus, she wrote things down not too long after they happened (at least relatively speaking).  Anyone recalling the same events now would have to contend with the obscuring effects of an additional 53 years!

The corresponding disadvantage is that Perrault also did not have the benefit of those additional 53 years to help place Happy Valley’s history in the context we understand today.  For one thing, today we might be more inclined to think about the history of Happy Valley-Goose Bay as a whole—in which case its many other constituent areas might be more prominently considered, including for example Groves Point, Otter Creek, Terrington Basin, Birch Island, the various civilian neighbourhoods of Goose Bay, the Base itself, and others.  In that context, it becomes less accurate to consider only those three particular families as the sole or primary founding members of the town.  Certainly other families might have different stories to tell!

On a related note, the modern reader’s eyebrows might also rise at Perrault’s very first sentence, which is set off as its own paragraph: “The history of Happy Valley begins in 1943.”  Perrault chooses her own family’s arrival as the beginning of local history.  In a way, that actually makes a lot of sense.  First, since Perrault writes from personal experience, she can’t very well extend the history back before she was there; and second, the three families she identifies did by all accounts begin a new chapter in the area’s development, upon their arrival and by their swift organization and initiative. Nevertheless, the history of Happy Valley certainly began before 1943.  Even the immediate story of how the three families themselves came to be there goes back before that. More importantly, it must be noted that the booklet self-identifies as a settler’s history (though several of the prominent people in it are Indigenous), and Indigenous presence at Happy Valley predates twentieth-century “settlement” by thousands of years!

To be fair, History of Happy Valley does not pretend to address such a broad notion of the Valley’s past and present.  Rather, Perrault provides one invaluable and uniquely positioned perspective on a twenty-five year period that was pivotal in the development of our modern community and municipality.  And the booklet is now also a remarkable historical document in itself!

Unfortunately, it is long out of print, but as libraries begin to open up again, it will soon be available for borrowing once more (it is listed in the NLPL catalogue for both the HV-GB and Labrador City branches, for example, as well as at Memorial). Look for it either as a stand-alone booklet or as reproduced in Them Days issues 1.4 and 2.1 in 1976.

Student Cheat Sheet

History of Happy Valley, by Alice Perrault (1967)

Author. Alice (Perrett) Perrault (1896-1990) was born in Hopedale to Moravian missionary parents.  She was sent to England for her education and trained there as a teacher before returning to Labrador.  In 1943 she was among the first coastal Labradorians to move to present-day Happy Valley, when her husband Thorwald began working in construction at the air base.  Perrault remained a community leader in Happy Valley throughout her life, in recognition of which service she was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1984.
Summary. History of Happy Valley is a slim booklet detailing the community’s history during a 25-year period from 1943-1967.  The text is dense and mainly fact-based, emphasizing firsts and outlining a chronology for the community’s development, with a focus on public institutions and infrastructure.  The opening paragraphs also furnish a more personal narrative and establish the point of view as that of a “settler.”
Origin. The booklet contains little information about its own production, and it was not commercially published.  However, Perrault was well-prepared to write Happy Valley’s history by her long-time role as local educator and community organizer.  Her interest in public administration and community record-keeping may also reflect her Moravian missionary upbringing.
Legacy. Perrault’s booklet remains the leading print source for many details of Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s early municipal development, and it was reproduced in two parts in Them Days magazine in 1976.  More broadly, Perrault's influence has strongly contributed to shaping popular understandings of the community’s origins and character.

Working on a book report for school?  Here’s how to cite this article:

Mills, Morgon. “Book of the Week: History of Happy Valley.” LILA Online. Labrador Institute, 31 July 2020, lilaonline.ca/2020/07/31/history-of-happy-valley/. Accessed [today’s date].

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