A town called Dildo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 1995, 12:00am

THE bay is pretty enough in a bleak kind of a way. White, wood-frame homes jostle for space along the shore, while the sea is dotted with ice slabs which have drifted south from Labrador. There is a fish processing plant but, like most in Newfoundland, it stands idle. Everyone understands, though, it is not the scenery or the cod crisis that has drawn us here.


'You've hit the spot, all right,' exclaims Diane George, apologising that she has no postcards in her shop to mark our visit. 'It does rather stick out at you from the map, doesn't it?' Indeed. This may be Newfoundland, where the coast is crammed with rude-sounding place-names, like Come By Chance, Pushthrough and Tickle Bay - not to mention Cupids, Little Tickle and Nancy Oh - but for the folk who live here, their home goes beyond suggestive innuendo.


This is Dildo.


Exactly how it came to be so named is a matter of local debate. Gerald Smith, a fisherman, ventures the name was introduced by Spanish sailors fishing in the area as long as 500 years ago.


If Dildo was not a town in Spain, it might, he suggested, have been the name of a visiting ship or even its captain. 'I guess we are hoping that it's from Spain,' he concludes uncertainly.


In the tiny Dildo Post Office, assistant postmaster Stella White is more confident, asserting it surely has nothing to do with the word's modern usage, to wit - to quote Webster's Dictionary - a 'substitute for the male sexual organ'.


'I feel sure we've been here a lot longer than artificial penises have been around,' she declares, without the slightest embarrassment - adding the name has never worried her.


'It doesn't bother me,' White says, a fading photograph of Queen Elizabeth looming above her. 'There's a place in the United States called Intercourse and we don't tease them about that.' She conceded, however, that things did get awkward for her children when they, like so many of the young in Newfoundland, left the province to study and work elsewhere in Canada.


After repeated embarrassment when joining the Navy, her son eventually took the offensive. 'He used to tell people: 'Didn't you know that's where they come from?' They never knew whether to believe him.' A brief effort was made about five years ago to collect a petition to get the name changed. A precedent had already been set up the coast at a community formerly called Gayside, whose residents had grown tired of the insinuations it provoked about their sexuality. With a nod to an altogether warmer beach on the Florida coast, which is a favourite with Canadians at this time of year, they renamed it Baytona.


The man behind the name-change campaign in Dildo was Robert Elford, an electrician. He said he was only thinking about the young. 'Things always got a bit sticky for my son when people asked him where he lived,' he says.


But many of the older people in the community were offended by his crusade and after being harassed on the street and on the telephone, he gave up and changed his address from Dildo to New Harbour, the next-door village. 'It all got too personal,' he says.


Today, the name seems, if anything, to be a source of pride. Each summer the village celebrates 'Dildo Day', featuring, as the highlight, a flotilla of decorated boats that circles the bay. In the prow of the first boat stands an effigy of an old Newfoundland sea-dog called 'Captain Dildo'.


Last year's model is still propped up on the sea-front, his face and beard blasted half-away by winter winds.


Baseball caps and T-shirts are printed. I have one with a picture of Captain Dildo sailing past a point called Dildo Head. I also have a Dildo Day '94 cap, but I doubt I will ever wear it in Manhattan. Sadly, the 'I Survived Dildo Day' T-shirts are all gone.


It might even be Dildo could make a tourist attraction of its name. Fisherman Gerald Smith has persuaded a tourism consultancy firm from St John to look into the potential of Dildo, perhaps as the highlight of a 'Saucy Safari' of Newfoundland's cheekier place-names.


It is a prospect that cheers Diane George, who only took over the management of the store recently. She promises to get some postcards printed and to stock Dildo Day T-shirts.


The shop, by the way, is called Kwik Serve Dildo Convenience. And what should be on the top shelf of the video rentals? Free Willy, of course.