“I was only about fifteen, I’d say, when I built the first dory with my father,” said Sam King. His father, Gabriel, was a carpenter in North Creston and built and repaired dories for others. “We never had it built before a fella wanted to buy it,” he said.
Now retired from the Marystown fish plant, Sam has built around fifteen boats. He was working on a dory at the time of our visit to his home in Epworth in 2016. “A fella wanted me to build it… well, I didn’t know if I was going to do it or not. He was two years after me to do. I finally decided I would build it,” he said. “It’s a hobby, that’s all… You gotta do something when you’re used to working all your life.”
Robert Boyd Coleridge was born February 28, 1928 in Trinity, Newfoundland. He learned how to build boats from his grandfather, George Henry Christian, who repaired schooners for Ryan Brothers Limited. Boyd built at least seven boats over his lifetime, including row boats, motor boats, and speed boats. “You’d have to look for special trees for timber,” said Boyd, “with all different crooks in them.”
“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.
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.
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.”
Born in Summerville in 1928, Tom built his first boat at the age of 12. “It was what we called a rodney – a small boat about 12 feet long. We used to tow her behind the trap boats.”
Tom spent 15 years fishing with his father for cod, mackerel, herring, squid, salmon and whatever else was in season. He learned how to build boats watching his neighbour Abe Fry as he worked in his shed, “I would spend hours. I helped him to plank a boat. I’d go in there in the nighttime and help him – he lived alongside us. I’d hold onto a plank for him, and he’d show me that, then show me something else…it was right fun for me.”
Earl Feltham was born on Deer Island in 1937. His father Ephraim, was a fisherman and a carpenter. In 1953, when Earl was 16 years old, Ephraim and his wife Suzy moved their family to Glovertown.
Earl went on to St. John’s where he attended the College of Fisheries (now the Marine Institute) and spent six seasons working on vessels along the Labrador coast.
William James Feltham, better known as Bill, was born on Deer Island in 1938 to Noah and Daisy Feltham. His paternal grandfather, Caleb Feltham, was one of thirteen men tragically lost on the schooner Little Jap in 1909, shortly after the birth of Bill’s father Noah. Bill’s grandmother remarried to Avlin Feltham, the man that Bill would know as his grandfather.
Bill fished on Deer Island with his father Noah, his grandfather Av, and his Uncle Ralph from eleven to eighteen years old.
Stewart’s grandfather Peter Sturge was born in 1888 on Flowers Island in Northern Bonavista Bay. His great-grandfather participated in the inshore cod fishery and land-based seal hunt, an economy that was in decline by the time of Peter’s birth.
In 1890, the family relocated to Salvage where Peter eventually married and raised his own family. Salvage would be where the next four generations of Sturges would call home.
In a small fishing community where everyone built their own boats, learning how to build was part of growing up for a young boy. “You’d go from one stage to the other,” says Sam, “listen to what they were telling you and watching them work. That’s the way I got my training.”
Sam Feltham was born on Deer Island in Bonavista Bay on March 3, 1928. He built his first boat on his mother’s kitchen table at fourteen years old.