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“We were fairly well isolated in Herring Neck. We thought this was the world here when we were growing up. Twillingate was big- you know, to make a trip to Twillingate would take a day almost to get there,” Max Hussey recalled.
Located on the northeastern side of New World Island in Notre Dame Bay, Herring Neck is composed of a number of communities including Ship Island, where Max was raised in the 1950s.
“Everywhere we went we went by boat because there was no way off the island other than that,” said Max Hussey about Ship Island, Herring Neck in Notre Dame Bay.
Growing up in the 1950s, Max recalls a time when boats were not only used to earn a living, but for transportation, recreation and everything in between.
“You see, to we, a boat is only a boat. That’s all. It’s just nuttin’” Lance Short told us over tea and desserts served by his wife Pat. It was a chilly, damp October day and the crackle of the fire in the kitchen stove can be heard on the interview recording.
I first met Lance during boat documentation research in Trinity Bight in summer of 2014. We arrived at his home in New Bonaventure and explained our interest in speaking to him about boat building. Though he denied being a boat builder, he eventually admitted to building about twenty boats.
“Everything is governed by the moon,” says boat builder Sam Feltham, “You wouldn’t cut timber when the moon was wasted; you would cut on a new moon. If you cut it after a full moon the wood shrinks faster.”
Jack Casey from Conche, on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula, also abides by the cycle of the moon when cutting wood for his boats.
In summer of 1909 the schooner Little Jap left from Deer Island to fish on the Labrador Coast. She returned home with “six hundred quintals of salt bulk cod” at the end of October, a little later than was usual.
Known for its wild Atlantic salmon, the Gander River hosts thousands of tourists from all over the world each season. Located in central Newfoundland, the Gander River is the third largest river on the island and is internationally recognized as a world-class sports hunting and angling destination. The river flows through Gander Lake and past the towns of Appleton and Glenwood before draining into the Atlantic Ocean at Gander Bay.
Juniper (Tamarack) is a strong softwood that grows mostly in wet swampy areas and is the preferred timber for the ribs of the Gander River Boat. Builders heat thin strips of juniper in steam or boiling water to make it pliable to bend the wood to the desired shape.
“I usually put about half a gallon of Javex in the water with it. That makes the juniper pretty soft.” – Eugene Saunders, Glenwood
Ernest Hodder was born to Archibald and Clara in Davidsville, Gander Bay in 1933. The oldest of seven children, Ern followed in his father’s path working as a guide on the Gander River in the summer and spending the winters working in lumber camps. “I enjoy it out on the river. If you’re getting paid for something you love that’s the way to go.”
“In my father’s early day, there was no outboard motor. They had canoes that were the same on both ends.” Born in 1905, Ern’s father Arch was almost forty-years-old when he got his first 3 horsepower outboard motor.
Eugene was born in 1944 on Indian Islands, Notre Dame Bay to Frank and Netta Saunders. When he was three years old, his family moved to Glenwood where Frank, a blacksmith, worked with Anglo-Newfoundland Development (AND) Company.
Eugene grew up in Glenwood alongside the Gander River and learned how to build boats at a young age. “It always enthused me building boats. I used to go out to my uncle Nat Gillingham’s when I was growing up. They were boat builders,” Eugene says.
Basil Gillingham was born in 1940 in George’s Point, Gander Bay and spent fifty years guiding on the Gander River. He learned how build boats at a young age by watching his father Leslie Gilllingham.
In Leslie’s earlier days, these boats were double-ended and propelled primarily by a black spruce pole. “To get Gander you’d have to pole up the river and then get the train from Glenwood,” says Basil, “and it would take you three days.” Today, the trip from Gander Bay to the town of Gander can be done in less an hour by car.
Basil built his first Gander Bay Boat when he was 16-years-old and has built over 100 of them since. “There were a lot of boats built here in Gander Bay, and a lot of people built them. Older people now, a lot of them are gone, and there don’t be many built anymore.”
Lester Vivian was born in 1932 in Gander Bay, Newfoundland. By the age of sixteen, he had learned how to build Gander Bay boats and began to work on the Gander River. “The river was our highway,” Lester says, and served as the primary route between Gander Bay and Glenwood until the Trans-Canada Highway was completed in 1962.
“It would take two days to get to Glenwood before motors,” says Lester about his father’s generation. Without a motor, rivermen used paddles, a pole, and a sail on the centre beam, “if the wind was right.” Lester’s father got his first motor in the 1940s – a 3.3 horsepower Evinrude.
In 2013, the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador travelled to Glenwood, Appleton, and Gander Bay to learn about the unique Gander River Boat. Designed and modified by generations of boat builders, these boats are specially crafted for the rapids and shallow waters of the Gander River.
Once necessary for travel between the coast and inland settlements, Gander River Boats are now used for recreational salmon fishing and travel to cabins and outfitter camps along the river.
The Gander River Boat (also known as a Gander Bay Boat or Gander River Canoe) was designed and modified by generations of Gander Bay builders to suit the specific conditions of the Gander River.
Originally written by Gordon Slade for The Globe and Mail: Lives Lived published Monday, Feb. 18 2013
Boat builder, fisherman, husband, great-grandfather. Born March 26, 1936, in Wild Cove on Fogo Island, Nfld., died Dec. 25, 2012, on Fogo Island, aged 76.
Calvert Meadus was born in Loreburn, Trinity Bay on December 23, 1927. As a boy Calvie recalls watching his father Keid, Uncle Lige [Elijah] Price, and others as they built boats, using a three piece mould to shape every frame before assembling onto the keel.
Learning the Craft
“There was an old fella down there, Uncle Lige Price, he used to be in always building boats. That’s all he done, most all his lifetime. I used to watch him, and then I thought I’d build a boat too. When I started I was fifteen, I wasn’t yet sixteen. I was sixteen before I got her finished.”