During a visit to Newfoundland’s west coast last spring, my colleague and I were directed to Benoit’s Cove to talk to the McCarthys about their experiences building and using dories in the Bay of Islands.
Earlier this year, WBMNL Folklorists Crystal Braye and I travelled to the West Coast in search of the Bay of Islands dory and her builders. As we turned off the Trans-Canada Highway and drove along Route 450, the unique orange and green dories could be seen scattered along the coastline. We continued to the end of the road and found ourselves at a wharf in Little Port in the midst of lobster season. After explaining the purpose of our visit to the nearby locals, there was one name that came up repeatedly: Sam Sheppard.
“I was one of the very few girls down in the stage…” said Rhoda, sitting at the table in her home on Pinhorn’s Beach. It overlooks the landwash where her family operated their fishing premises for decades. “I used to love to get the prong to help with the fish. I pronged hundreds of fish from this point [the stage head] to the barrel, to feed the fish to them… But the prong wouldn’t be in my hand very long if one of the boys saw it.”
I first met Edwin Bishop in September of 2015. When I pulled into his driveway, I was greeted with an open garage door and the stem of a small boat barely visible in the sunlight. Freshly planked and without paint, it was a clever looking boat that revealed a particular attention to detail.
The inside rooms were painted a deep blue with white accents on each side. Edwin was working diligently in the back corner of the shed, but was eager to stop and chat about his project.
The Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador Boats & Builders Project records the knowledge, skills and stories associated with wooden boats built and used across the Province.
Oral histories collected from boat builders, fishers and their families weave a story of history and heritage as experienced by outport communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Taking a closer look at skills and techniques tied to building and using wooden boats reveals the complexities of traditional knowledge and its connection to a heritage of innovation and adaptation. For hundreds of years, outport communities have demonstrated examples of applied sciences that remain relevant today.
Look Aft and Learn
Seafarers commonly say “look aft” to mean look behind, to the rear and the wake of the vessel. As the Wooden Boat Museum, we’ve adopted the phrase as our motto to demonstrate our commitment to looking to our history and heritage as a means of learning for the future.
Henry Vokey was born with boat building in his blood; His uncles and grandfather before him were boat builders. Henry Was born in 1929 to parents Joseph William and Mary Vokey and grew up in Little Harbour, located in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. As a boy, he took an interest in boat building and at age 12 Henry built his first model boat, which measured six feet long. In the 1950s, at age twenty-five Henry built his first boat. In 1964, Henry and his family resettled to the town of Trinity and that’s when he took up boat building professionally.
Prior to the seventeenth century, Winterton (originally named Scilly Cove) was seasonally inhabited by migratory fishers working the waters of Trinity Bay. At the end of the fishing season, fishermen would return to England with their catch.