a bite-sized podcast about Newfoundland

Season 2 Episode 1: Al Clouston

Hi everyone. Long time no talk, huh? I know I promised I’d be back in January, and it’s now March, but I hope once I tell you what’s been going on, you will understand. I’d planned to be back much sooner, but just after Christmas, my sister passed away unexpectedly. She wasn’t just my sister, she was my best friend. We lived together. It’s still not even real to me. I don’t want to get into it too much, because I will cry. I will just say, treasure the time you have with the people you love. You never know when someone will be gone.

My sister was my biggest fan, and she’d be the first one to tell me to get back into my podcast, so here I am. This one is dedicated to you, Brenda.

Today, I’m going to tell you about a beloved Newfoundlander, Al Clouston.

Al Clouston, also known as Uncle Al, was a folklorist, a storyteller and a humourist. He started out as a salesman, and after he retired in the seventies, he released several books and albums of Newfoundland humour that he had been collecting since the age of 17. His intent was to counteract the bigoted “Newfie jokes” that depicted our people as buffoons. He said “I tell funny stories about ourselves. People are put down by Newfie jokes. They don’t present a good image. Newfie jokes books were the worst thing that ever happened to Newfoundland.“

Al was born in 1910 in Freshwater Bay and grew up in St. John’s. He was the 7th of 9 boys and attended Prince of Wales Collegiate. He has a few jobs before going to work for his father at John Clouston Ltd. a heating and tinsmith business located on Water Street. I believe the family’s home was located on Duckworth street, the site is now the empty lot across the street from the Sir Humphrey Gilbert Building. He eventually married a woman named Ida and they had two children, Carol Ann and Ian.

Al’s personality made him perfect for sales, and he travelled across the province for his work, gathering stories and anecdotes along the way. After he retired, he wanted to share those stories so he began travelling around and performing them. Though he did write a few books, he believed that the best way to share the stories was to hear them, not read them.

After he’d retired from his sales job, he found himself in Toronto and decided to leave three self recorded records of him reciting stories with CBC radio. He said if they found them funny, they would call him. He got that call, and appeared on As It Happens with Barbara Frum.

Even though he believed that his stories were best shared verbally, he was convinced, after a year of trying, by a man at Dicks & Company to start writing his stories out and to publish a book.

He said, “It took me quite awhile because when you are on stage telling a story if you miss out something essential to the punch line, you can backtrack and put it in. With writing you’ve only got one chance-it’s got to be right. I ended up writing some of the stories four times. This was by hand. I never learned to type.”

After that, he enlisted Dermot Duggan to do the illustrations. That first book was self published, printed at Dicks & Company. He printed 10,000 copies of “Come “ere Till I tells Ya” and he swore he would sell them door to door if he had to. The book was released in June 1977 and by November, they had completely sold out. He was advised to get more printed and many more thousands of copies. He always made sure to seek the advice of people in the industry and he made sure his books were priced affordably.

The books he released included:

Come ‘Ere Til I Tells Ya 1978

We Rant & We Roar in 1980

A Collection of Newfoundland Recipes 1983
When I Grow Too Old To Laugh, Shoot Me 1986
Al Clouston’s Newfoundland Christmas Carol 1987
Christmas Stories From Newfoundland 1988
I’s The B’y From Newfoundland 1989
The Best of Al Clouston 1994

He also edited

The Night Before Christmas In Newfoundland

The records released included:

Spinnin’ Yarns in 1975
Proper Ting in 1977
Cinderelly in 1979, which was nominated for a Juno Award in 1980

Laugh To Your Hearts Delight, release in 1983 and nominated for another Juno award in 1984.

I think this is the complete list. It was very difficult to find this information online. I figured that I would have easily found a lot of info about Uncle Al online, but there really isn’t too much of it.

Al gave back a lot to the community. He was a Sunday School teacher for 25 years, was the National Director of the Boys Club of Canada, the National and Local President of the Canadian Bible Society. He was also the St. John’s Citizen of the Year in 1962.

Al passed away in 2004, due to complications from surgery, at the age of 94.

I will end with a quote from him: “Humour is the food of living, essential as bread and butter, it’s made every day.”

Thanks so much for listening today. If you can, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts or whatever podcast app you use. I’d really appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, just search NewfoundPod. The site with all my previous episodes is NewFoundPod.com. You can contact me at newfoundpod@gmail.com. Thanks so much to my supporters on Patreon. If you’d like to support me there, you can do so for as little as $1 a month. You can support me for free by sharing episodes with your friends and followers.

Thanks again everyone and I’ll talk to you soon!