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.”
When Calvie was fifteen, he used this three piece mould method to build his first boat. The day he had her out on the water for the first time, someone came along and wanted to purchase her.
“Harold and Francis were down by the wharf when a man came along asking about my boat. Harold came up to the shed where I was and told me I was wanted. But I was a shy boy and I didn’t want to go out, so Harold came back in again and said, ‘You better come out, the man already has your boat tied on.’ It was Mac Rogers, he had a schooner called The Cutler. So I went out but I didn’t say anything, I was too shy. By-and-by Mac asked, ‘When’s the man coming along for that boat?’ Francis said, ‘He’s here now.’ He looked over at me and said, ‘My son, did you build that boat?’ ‘I ‘spose,’ I answered. ‘Well sell her now, I want her.’ I didn’t really want to sell her. She was my first boat. I knew that Uncle Lige was getting $120 for his boats, so I told him that I wouldn’t let her go for less than $75. ‘Good enough,’ was all he said, but by-and-by he took the money out and put it on the table. A little later I saw Uncle Lige coming in the road, and when I went out he asked, ‘Is Francis telling me lies? I heard you got $75 for your boat.’ ‘That was no lie,’ I said. ‘My oh my,’ he said, ‘I built two and I only got $120.’ It turned out that Uncle Lige was selling his boats $120 for two!”
In 1942 Calvie went to work building boats at the Clarenville Shipyard – the same year they built the shipyard itself. “The first thing I built was the office,” he tells me. As his first hourly wage job, Calvie was making 40 cents an hour with 75 cents a day going to pay his board. He worked at the shipyard for two or three years, playing a role in the construction of ten identical 500 tonne vessels known as the Splinter Fleet, operated by the Newfoundland Government.
Calvie spent most of his life earning his income as a fisherman, building boats in the off-season. “It was like doing everything else,” says Calvie about building a boat, “just put it together and go on. It was just handed down I suppose.”
While circumstances preventing Calvie from harvesting timber have led him to retire from boat building, we know that at least one of his boats continues to be enjoyed by its owner. Kevin Price of St. Jones Within, where Calvie himself now resides, can often be found putt-putting around the harbor in his motor boat built by Calvie in 1989.