Ron Lee is an extraordinary man living an ordinary life. According to the producers of the film who are a part of the On the Move Partnership, Making the Rounds: Ron Lee’s Lifetime of Service (2019) is a story about a life of moving to different places for work, including as a CN train employee, a teacher, and a clergyman. It highlights the role of several means of transportation throughout the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. People live marvellous lives, but after they die, they become forgotten.
I discovered the film at a screening on Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) St. John’s campus. Although I do not have the mobility experiences of Ron, as the son of an Anglican priest, I do know what it is like to move around and live in different communities. All people do not recognize the sacrifices made by those who travel for vocation or work. Ron’s name is familiar throughout the Anglican church in the province and other areas in Atlantic Canada.
On the Move is supported by several organizations, including The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, InnovateNL, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It is a SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health & Safety Research project at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). The HSS Film Unit, Digital Research Centre for Qualitative Fieldwork at MUN produce films. Derek Norman is the Coordinator. The film’s director is Sharon Roseman, and the producers are Sharon Roseman and Lesley Butler.
Ron Lee was born in 1934 and was the third of ten children. In the film, Ron states, “In my family, there were eight boys and two girls, a girl at the beginning and it was eight boys, and then there was a girl at the end… so now I’m old as the hills.”
Ron grew up in a small town called Petty Harbour outside of St. John’s. In the film, he speaks about the different transportation methods available back then: “From my earliest memories there, a lot of the men, and back in those days some women, worked in St. John’s, so we had a transportation of getting from Petty Harbour to St. John’s,” says Ron. He says that he can remember construction workers going to St. John’s in a truck, “a rubber truck with a tarpaulin over it.” Then there was the introduction of buses as a means of transportation. They also used more traditional transportation methods such as the traditional fishing boats and a little boat that they referred to as a “Rodney.” Fishing was a big part of the community, and fish would be sold and transported to St. John’s either by truck or boat.
Ron’s first employment was at the Canadian National Railway (CN) in the summer months, and so he has a lot of experience working on trains. In the film, Ron talks in-depth about his experience at CN.
Back in Ron’s day, the government gave students $600 to attend university to participate in teacher training, but you had to commit to teaching for two years. Ron taught in Cox’s Cove and Labrador. In the film, Ron talks about how difficult transportation was around the province, especially to the more isolated towns. In some places, dog teams were the means of transport.
After Ron’s short teaching career, he entered Queen’s College to train to be a clergyman. Ron’s first parish was in the town of Hermitage. Other towns Ron served in include Buchans, Grand Bank, and Gander. After his retirement, he served in PEI, Annapolis Valley, Lewisporte, Pouch Cove, Portugal Cove, and Bell Island.
Throughout his seven years of service on Bell Island, Ron only missed two Sunday services because of the ferry or weather but has more than one story of arriving and having to “fly by the seat of my pants.”
The story of Ron Lee is a fascinating one — he had a great life and a great ministry. The documentary was well-produced, and I would highly recommend it. These stories often get lost when people pass away, so preserving this history is essential.
Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.