Weather lore in coastal Newfoundland, has always been a valuable part of everyday life for fishermen eking out a living on the ocean. A determining factor for safe voyages, understanding the various indicators of weather was crucial for sailing out to or heading home from the fishing grounds.
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.
Located on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, La Poile Bay runs northward for some nine miles from its entrance. As you continue into the harbor, the bay is divided into several smaller bays, including North Bay and East Bay, with Dolman’s Cove separating the two. North Bay and East Bay are both well protected, with East Bay being much easier to access and closer to the cod fishing grounds.
St. Lewis, formerly known as Fox Harbour, was one of the earliest locations recorded by Europeans on maps of the New World. Depicted as Ilha de Frey Luis by Portuguese explorers on 1502 charts of Labrador’s coastline, the area’s sheltered harbour with access to fishing grounds and migrating seals made it an ideal location for both migratory European fishers and native Inuit inhabitants. In the eighteenth century, Europeans began to settle permanently and the community became a vibrant fishing centre on the southwest coast of Labrador.
“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.
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.
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.
Originally known as Bloody Bay, and later as Alexander Bay, Glovertown was first settled in the early 19th Century. Rich in timber, by the end of the century at least ten sawmills were in operation and the area had developed a reputation for producing schooners. The construction of the Newfoundland Railway and establishment of Alexander Bay Station in 1894 helped to establish the town as a service centre for the surrounding communities.
Deer Island was once a fishing community located on the north side of Bonavista Bay. Labeled “Popplestone Island” on modern navigational charts, Deer Island was home to seventeen families before it was resettled between 1952 and 1955.
Each spring, Jack Casey of Conche would set out in his rodney and row twelve to fourteen miles to the Grey Islands in search of seals. “It was a long row,” he remembered. “The worst part was when you wanted to come home,” he laughs, “if you could find seals to chase it’d be alright, but sometimes we wouldn’t see a seal for miles and miles.”
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.