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John Hartson Canadian Connection!


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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Hartson and home


Burin native Pius Hartson watches a Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games soccer match between the Host and Eastern teams last week in Marystown. Hartson joined the British navy in the Second World War and has lived in Wales since 1945. He’s the grandfather of John Hartson, a star player with Glasgow Celtic of the Scottish Premier League. (Joe Gibbons/The Telegram)

“That Marystown team has a few of nice players,” said the reporter to the man with the sunglasses, deep tan and sailor’s tattoos on his arm as they watched a soccer match last week at the 2004 Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games.

“That they do,” came the reply in an accent that was delightful combination of Wales and south coast Newfoundland.

“You’ve got to like that young Francis,” continued the reporter, referring to Shannon Francis, a member of the province’s Canada Games team for 2005 and one of the standouts for Marystown at this year’s provincial Games.

“Yes, he is. He’s a good player,” said the former sailor, undoubtedly with a twinkle in his eyes hidden behind his shades.

For Pius Hartson is Shannon Francis’s great, great uncle and the 86-year-old native of Salt Pond-Burin undoubtedly knows a little about soccer talent, since he also the grandfather of John Hartson, the 29-year-old star striker for Glasgow Celtic of the Scottish Premier League.

Pius Hartson wasn’t even 20 when he left Burin, first to work as a woodsman on the west coast of the island. By 1940, he was overseas as part of Newfoundland’s forestry battalion stationed in the forests of Scotland and providing lumber for the Allied war effort during the Second World War. But within a year, Hartson was out of the woods and on the water. He joined the Royal Navy, serving on corvettes and minesweepers that plied the convoy routes of the North Atlantic. By war’s end, he was married to a Welsh girl and settled to a life in Swansea, where he and his wife Annie, raised three sons. He didn’t return to Newfoundland for more than 40 years.

“What was the biggest change for me when I came back the first time? To tell you honestly, I think the biggest change is all the wood, all the timber around here now,” he said. “When I was boy, there was none. It was all cut for firewood and for flakes.

“You had to go a long way to get a load of wood. Now, it seems people can cut logs in their back garden.”

Another is the Burin Peninsula Highway, non-existent when Hartson was a boy. He recalled when he first left Burin, it was to join a woods crew working the Birchy/Sandy Lake area, providing logs for the paper mill in Corner Brook.

“I left here on the S.S. Kyle to sail to Argentia,” he said. “From there, it was to Whitbourne (on a spur line) to catch the train, but we had to wait a night. By the time we got to Howley, it was more than two days since I had left.”

Hartson explained he never got to return to Newfoundland during the war, even though St. John’s was an important port on the so-called triangle run of convoys.

“We only came halfway across (the Atlantic) before heading back,” he recalled, “but I always knew when we were close to Newfoundland because we could pick up the signal from the radio station there. I always remember the song Come to the Church in the Wildwood. That’s when I knew I was closest to home.”

Hartson himself never played soccer, but his sons did and of course he follows the career of his famous grandson, a Welsh international who suited up with Arsenal, West Ham, Wimbledon and Coventry City in England before a six million-pound transfer brought him to Celtic three years ago. A back injury meant last year was pretty much a washout for John Hartson, but his grandfather reports “he had a disc taken out and he’s great now.

“But I don’t get to see him so much now that he’s in Scotland. We used to see him a lot when he was with West Ham.”

After his long absence, Pius Hartson has been returning to Newfoundland almost every year for the last two decades, spending his summers in Burin visiting with his sister Mary and his many nieces, nephews and other relatives.

A widower for the last number of years, he comes over at the end of May and leaves in late August, his arrival timed to coincide with trouting season.

“I love doing that,” said Hartson, who looks 20 years younger than his age.

When it’s mentioned there is good fishing to be had in parts of Britain, especially Scotland, he laughed.

“Yes, but you want to be a millionaire to fish over there. It’s better here anyway.”

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